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text 2018-06-22 23:59
Phoenix Blood by Jenny Schwartz 99 cents
Phoenix Blood (Old School Book 1) - Jenny Schwartz

In a grim biker bar with wizard mercenaries on her tail and a “found” amulet around her neck, Sadie Howard needs a miracle. What she gets is the man who broke her heart nine years ago.

Marcus Aurelius is a changed man, in more ways than one. The preppy, confident medical school student is now a hard-bitten, magic-wielding assassin. He’s also a man on a mission. He has debts to pay and old wrongs to right before he dies—sometime this week.

As the secrets of Marcus’s heart are revealed, Sadie learns that nothing is as it seems and that the man who broke her heart also saved her life and paid in agony for her freedom.

With wizards trying to kill her, phoenix blood burning in Marcus’s veins, and a villain who’ll stop at nothing to acquire the amulet Sadie has promised to a friend, their roadtrip is a one-way ticket to extraordinary adventures. The question is, who will survive?

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review 2018-06-13 05:45
The Dark Maidens (book) story by Rikako Akiyoshi, art by Booota, translated by Kristi Fernandez
The Dark Maidens - Rikako Akiyoshi,Booota,Kristi Fernandez

The Dark Maidens is structured like a meeting of the Literature Club at St. Mary's Academy for Girls, a mission school in Japan. It begins with the current club president, Sayuri Sumikawa, opening the meeting by explaining its rules and purpose. This is both one of the club's infamous "mystery stew" meetings and also the first meeting since the club's previous president, Itsumi Shiraishi, either jumped to her death on school grounds or was pushed.

"Mystery stew" meetings are one of the club's traditions. Each member brings an ingredient to add to the stew. At some meetings only edible things are allowed, but at others, such as this one, inedible things may be added, as long as they aren't unsanitary, like bugs or shoes. Each member must eat the stew in darkness until the pot has been completely emptied. While everyone is eating the stew, members take turns telling stories. The theme, this time around, is Itsumi and her death.

I bought this knowing only that it was a mystery and that its author is a woman - my brief check for English-language reviews prior to hitting the "buy" button didn't turn up much. Happily, it turned out to be a quick and interesting read, despite its flaws.

I disliked the format, at first. Sayuri's introductory section was odd and a little awkward, as she described a room the club members she was speaking to should already know and discussed the death of her best and closest friend in what seemed to be a remarkably calm way. Readers were given no sense of what was going on in the room or how Sayuri or the other members were behaving unless Sayuri put those things into words. Fortunately, the stories the club members told were more traditionally written, and I eventually adjusted to Sayuri's parts.

The first character to tell her story was Mirei, one of the school's few scholarship students. After that came Akane, the club member who preferred baking Western-style sweets over reading, then Diana, an international student from a small village in Bulgaria, then Sonoko, a student aiming for medical school who was also Itsumi's academic rival, and then Shiyo, one of the club's first members and the author of an award-winning light novel. The book wrapped up with a story and closing remarks by Sayuri.

The first story, Mirei's, made it crystal clear that this was not going to be a book about female friendship and support. No, these girls were going to verbally tear each other to shreds - apparently in a very neat and orderly manner, since there was never any mention of outbursts and denials in the breaks between stories (I assume there were and it just wasn't included in Sayuri's text, because I cannot imagine a bunch of girls keeping silent as they're each accused of murder).

The second story added an interesting, if not terribly surprising element, as it directly contradicted the first story. From that point on, I started keeping track of details that came up in more than one story, trying to sort the truth from lies. Literally everyone in the room was lying, but what they were lying about and why wasn't always easy to figure out. Also, some stories had more truth to them than I originally assumed.

I can't say whether the translation was very accurate, but it was pretty smooth and readable. I flew through this book like it was nothing, and I appreciated the way the differing styles of some of the stories reflected the characters. For example, Shiyo's story had a very bubbly and conversational style, while Sonoko's was more detached and stiff (at least at the beginning).

As much as I enjoyed attempting to sort out the truth and lies in the girls' stories, this book definitely had a few glaring flaws. The biggest one was the mystery stew. It wasn't believable in the slightest that the club members would willingly eat the stew when they all thought that one of them was a murderer. Heck, one of them even suspected that

another club member had been poisoning Itsumi's snacks! Since the meeting was supposed to be happening in the dark, it would have been easy for the poisoner to refrain from eating, or fake eating, and wait until the soup had done its job.

(spoiler show)

 
I also had trouble believing that the girls would have been as open about some things as they were. For example, one girl shared that she'd been in love with Itsumi, while another girl admitted that she'd lied to Shiyo about having read her book. Several girls said things they had to have known that others in the group would recognize as lies. Why didn't they worry about being called out for it?

Another problem was that Akiyoshi seemed to have trouble keeping certain details straight, or perhaps hadn't thought them through very well. For example, Sayuri said that the usual rule for "mystery stew" meetings was that club members could only bring edible ingredients and that the rule had been changed for this particular meeting, and yet only a few paragraphs later it was clear that inedible items had been allowed in the past. Also, club members were supposed to eat the soup "in total darkness," and yet the room had 1-2 lit candles in it (one by Sayuri, to allow her to put ingredients in the pot, and one by the spot where members were supposed to read their stories). There was enough light for Sayuri to notice that one girl's face had paled, even after she'd left the storytelling spot - hardly "total darkness."

Despite the book's problems, I had a lot of fun with it and could see myself rereading it in the future. Next time, I think I'll start with the final two chapters and then go back to the beginning, just to see if everything really does fit together.

Extras:

Several black-and-white illustrations. One of them shows all the girls at once. When I tried to attach names to faces, I realized that there wasn't enough descriptive information in the text to do that. I know what Sayuri and Itsumi looked like, because they were both introduced with illustrations, but, as far as I can tell, most of the others were never described.

 

Rating Note:

 

I feel like I'm probably giving this too high of a rating, because, oof, some of those flaws. But I really did have a lot of fun, especially during the last couple chapters, and I decided to reflect that in my rating.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2018-06-12 10:25
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review 2018-06-12 05:19
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The School for Good and Evil - Soman Chainani

Every year in Sophie and Agatha's village two children are taken away. The children are always opposites of each other: one kind, one mean; one handsome, one ugly, etc. The children never return, but a new book of fairy tales arrives every year, and children will sometimes recognize one of their former friends in the pages of the book.

Most children dread being taken away, but Sophie can't wait to be taken. She knows she will go to the School for Good. She's pretty, does what she thinks are good works, she's pretty, and....Then there's Agatha, who is an outcast, dresses in black and likes cemeteries. Sophie is sure Agatha will go to the School for Evil. Agatha doesn't seem to care.

The one aspect of 'School for Good and Evil' that truly worked was the switching of the obvious roles Agatha and Sophie play in their respective schools. Hideous, hideous Agatha is set down amidst wannabe princes and princesses and taught etiquette and cosmetics use (because she's a girl, the princes learn sword-fighting and whatnot), while Sophie is cast in with the uggos and taught 'uglification' and black magic. At least the School for Evil allows the girls equal opportunities. Within your school you compete to be the leader of the story, while lower-ranked classmates become bit players in new fairy tales. Good and evil compete with each other to see who triumphs in the end. The headmaster(s) is a two-headed dog with a dual nature played for comic relief. Does not scan.

So, the switching of expectations worked for about five to ten pages, but the book doesn't go deep into morality, but focuses mostly on how appearances determine how good or evil you are. The book challenges that assertion, but not soon enough. It makes the argument about appearances for too long and

 

Agatha is celebrated as being super pretty when she embraces her good side

(spoiler show)

 

Boooooo. And don't tell me its self-confidence, either.

Still, the book does raise some interesting questions about the nature of good and evil. It doesn't have any answers, maybe the raising of the question is what matters - even if they're paired with half-hearted answers. It was readable, if regressive. Younger readers probably won't care about the drawbacks. I'm hoping that Chainani addresses a lot of these issues with the Schools in next parts of the series, as part of the resolution of what happens at the end of this book.

Evil had controlled the school for ages. So maybe it threw in the gender stereotypes and the emphasis on appearance.

(spoiler show)

But that seems a little too subtle. The doubt keeps a star on the review, however.

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review 2018-06-04 23:11
Nighttime is My Time
Nighttime Is My Time - Mary Higgins Clark

I was having a bad day yesterday and pretty much did nothing after I got out of bed but sit on the couch.  I started this book but couldn't concentrate on reading so I got the audio book.  I got out my knitting and tried to relax.  It was my husband's birthday so we had planned to go to a movie and dinner.  I wished I could have an out-of-body experience because inside my body was not a good one.  Too bad I can't move out.  

 

Anyway, I was enjoying the book and I could tell because I wasn't getting much knitting done.  I kept finding myself holding my knitting needles paused in front of me while I stared into space, listening.  I finished it the same day I started it.  

 

__________

 

Jean doesn't want to go to her 20 year school reunion where she was to be honored but once they decided to have a memorial for her friend that passed away she couldn't skip it.  She had planned to go with her friend when she died in an accident.  There are a lot of memories there and she hated to bring them all back to the surface.  Several of her classmates had died in accidents and one committed suicide.  She also visited the mother of a classmate who had been stabbed in her bed 20 years before.  The first day there she was accosted by a pushy teen reporter doing interviews for the school paper and he asked her to look at list of names.  She was started to learn that 5 of the girls she used to share a table with during school lunches had died over the past 20 years and there were only 2 of them left.  She was shocked when the reported asked if she thought it was odd that they had died in the order they sat at the table.  Laura, the next one in the lineup disappears and the other's get worried.  She hasn't checked out of her room but it isn't the first time she changed her plans and took off.  The other's don't know what to think.

 

____________

 

I was really surprised to see so many bad reviews for this book since I loved it.  To each his own I guess.  

 

 

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