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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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review 2018-06-13 02:14
Twofer Murder by Lauren Carr
Twofer Murder - Lauren Carr
Note: This book works fine as a stand alone even though it is an intersection among 3 of Lauren Carr’s murder mystery series.
 
I’ve listened to many Lauren Carr novels and the Mac Faraday stories are my favorites. Still, I looked forward to seeing all of the main characters for the 3 intersecting series come together. The start was a bit slow for me and I think this was because Carr was introducing her characters for those that are unfamiliar with one or more of her series. The men are off fishing and the ladies are attending a murder mystery convention and awards ceremony. After 3 hours, I really wanted to spend all my time with the guys. There is so much about how the ladies look (pretty, gorgeous, voluptuous, luscious, beautiful, etc.) and then plenty about fashion (shoes, dresses, handbags, etc). I especially found all that very boring mostly because I know these ladies are so much more than their looks and clothing. I wouldn’t recommend starting with this novel if you’re just venturing into Carr’s novels. These characters show much better in other novels being more rounded and interesting.
 
There are basically two plots going on for the majority of the book. The guys are dealing with the Mud men (father and his sons) in a logging community. The Muds are bullies and there’s an old fatal car accident that has affected several people in area deeply. The ladies are on the track of the Black Diamond, an assassin for hire that some of them have run into before. There’s more than meets the eye with this lady! Our ladies have to learn how to play nice with some FBI while keeping it under wraps.
 
I really liked Gnarly’s addiction to cheese puffs and the trouble that leads to. There’s also Monique the tarantula who belongs to Jessica. I loved that suite’s butler had no trouble with setting Monique up in her own little bug house.
 
I liked both mysteries though I felt it took a little too long to get them to dovetail and bring all the main characters to play under one roof. This novel wasn’t as concise as much of Carr’s works and, once again, I think this is because she brought so many main characters into the story. All together, it’s a good tale for those that have read some of Carr’s other works, especially if you’ve dabbled in all 3 series. 3.5/5 stars.
 
The Narration: Anita Alger and Mike Alger tag team the narration for this book. Mike makes a good Mac Faraday and he does a pretty good job with all the male voices. Sometimes his female character voices sound feminine and sometimes they don’t. Anita had several regional accents for the ladies which I liked as it kept them distinct. Her male character voices often did not sound like men. I especially didn’t like the voice for Liam, a grown man with delusions of grandeur; he sounded like a 10 year old. The recording quality was good. 3/5 stars.
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review 2018-06-12 23:02
Book Review of The Truth about Eggs by Delphine Richards
The Truth About Eggs - Delphine Richards

The Truth about Eggs by Delphine Richards is a novel featuring ‘The Welsh Detective’ DCI Tegwyn Prydderch in his latest outing investigating the mystery and horror surrounding characters and events in the small Welsh village of Llanefa.
Llanefa's Devil Tree is a hoax thought up by locals trying to boost tourism in the area. During the month of August, it was said that the Devil Tree released evil spirits into the community unless it was visited and paid homage to.
Nobody tells the tourists that this is a scam to bring income to the area and it remains Llanefa's Best Kept Secret!
Some people have no interest in tourism or hoaxes.
Manon, Anna and Natalie are keeping their own secrets.
Why does Manon keep the baby hidden from everyone?
Anna's secret wish is to break into the film industry. When she is brutally raped, she knows she won't be believed, so her only alternative is a bleak one.
Why is Natalie's secret so shameful that she cannot even share it with her best friend?
On an August Bank Holiday, DCI Tegwyn Prydderch is hoping for a quiet few days while he is 'on call' in the area. His wishes are shattered when things begin to go wrong and he has to deal with the fallout.
Will the Devil Tree myth become reality?

 

Review 4*

 

This is a wonderfully thrilling read. I loved it!

 

Llanefa is a small Welsh village that is struggling to survive. The local's make up a legend around an old oak tree, which they call the Devil Tree, to encourage tourists to visit. But when terrible events unfold, is the legend coming to life?

 

There are several characters in this story that have their say. There is Manon, a young woman hiding a baby; Anna, a young woman haunted by a brutal sexual assault, and Natalie, another young woman with an eating disorder. There are a couple of other characters that are introduced too. Then there's DCI Tegwyn Prydderch, a Welsh police detective who finds himself trying to piece together what happened.

 

This story is a chilling, suspenseful tale which kept me guessing and had me sitting on the edge of my seat throughout. Each chapter follows a specific character, though some chapters follow the character of Natalie the most. When I first started reading I wasn't sure how all these separate story lines actually fitted together. However, as the story progressed, it became a little clearer towards the end; there is one common denominator that ties them all together. Nevertheless, the author successfully wove several red herrings into the tale that kept me guessing for ages. I feel I need to mention that there is a scene that I found to be incredibly disturbing. This scene is of Anna's brutal sexual assault. It is graphic in content, but I didn't feel that it was used in a gratuitous way. It depicts the horror of such an attack and it leaves a bitter taste of disgust in ones mouth when reading it. It felt incredibly realistic and it still sends shivers down my spine when I think of it, even days after reading the book. Therefore, reader beware. The other characters' stories are also not easy reading, and I'm sure Manon is in need of some psychological help.

 

I reached the end of the book feeling emotionally wrung out. Although the story concludes satisfactorily, it hints at a possible continuation of the series and I'm looking forward to it. The Devil Tree is stirring! *Dun Dun Duun* (cue evil music).

 

Delphine Richards is a new author to me and I've not read her other works before. I love her fast paced writing style, which kept me turning the pages, and the flow is wonderful. I would definitely consider reading more of her books in the future.

 

Due to explicit scenes of sexual assault, as well as violence, I do not recommend this book to younger readers. Or those who have a nervous disposition, or have been in an abusive relationship, as this story may cause flashbacks. I do, however, highly recommend this book if you love horror, psychological thrillers, thrillers, detective or mystery genres. - Lynn Worton

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review 2018-06-12 21:19
Venetian Blood by Christine Volker
Venetian Blood: Murder in a Sensuous City - Christine Evelyn Volker

Venetian Blood does the setting justice. I really felt transported to modern Venice and it was done so well. There were no large info dumps but rather small little things scattered throughout the tale showing me what an average day was like in Venice for Anna and her friends.

I also really like Anna’s character. She’s smart, loves her job, and also has some life behind her. She’s 40, heading into a divorce, no kids, and perhaps wondering if she wants a change in her life or not. While I like that she has a degree in astrophysics, I never quite figured out how she ended up working in an office crunching numbers for the US Treasury. Numbers are neat but analyzing radio waves from distant stars sounds awesome! So, yeah, that was a quirk about Anna that I didn’t quite get but then I also know people who got degrees in one area and ended up working in a totally different field. So perhaps that just makes her more human.

Anna has a few friends in Venice, which is good because she has at least one enemy. I did find Margo a little annoying, especially how loose lipped she was about Anna’s business. Then there was Angela, Margo’s pregnant cousin. Angela doesn’t really appreciate the beauty and history she’s surrounded by in Venice.

Even though Detective Biondi is a bit hard on Anna I still liked him. After all, Anna starts off by lying to him and that can tick anyone off in the best of situations. Biondi suspects Anna of murdering a philandering Count Sergio. He’s well known in the art world and also well known for his wandering eye. Unfortunately Anna didn’t check him out before getting to know him and now she regrets that.

I did find Anna’s part in the mystery to be rather sloppy. She lies to Biondi about things that are easy enough for him to check up on and she’s honest with others about her whereabouts that night, which leaves yet another route for Biondi to check up on her. So, yeah, Anna – what were you thinking? No wonder Biondi wants you for this murder.

There’s a little romance in the tale and some action. Considering Anna’s latest fail in having a fling, I was surprised that she was letting herself wander into another one. Again, it seems that Anna isn’t using all her brain cells. Sometimes, I liked this about her because it made her human. Sometimes, I wanted to give her a little smack upside the head.

In the end, it’s the setting that really shines through. Venice herself is the true star of this story. The murder mystery was decent, Anna was likable and approachable, and the side characters were a colorful bunch. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Gabrielle de Cuir gave us a most excellent performance with this narration. There is plenty of Italian throughout this story and it was all well pronounced along with plenty of characters with Italian accents. Her male characters sounded masculine and all the characters were distinct. I also appreciated her various US and UK accents, South American accent, etc. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Christine Evelyn Volker. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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review 2018-06-11 02:14
Lady Justice and The Black Widow, Robert Thornhill

This was an interesting murder mystery. It's given from the viewpoint of the serial killer who called herself the Black Widow. I received this story for free and I voluntarily chose to review it. I've given it a 4* rating. I thought it was a little different by being from the killer's point of view and a private detective's point of view. It took a while to realize it was jumping back and forth between the two. It disturbed me a little bit how little remorse she had. The ending was a bit shocking as well.

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