The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton

The Marvellers


Goodreads: The Marvellers
Series: The Marvellers #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022


Eleven-year-old Ella Durand dreams of attending the prestigious Arcanum Training Institute, which previously had accepted only Marveller students and not Conjurors like herself. So, when the opporunitey comes, she seizes it–only to realize that not everyone wants her there. Ella will have to avoid all the whispers and stares if she is to succeed. But things only become more complicated when a notorious criminal escapes from a Conjuror prison, and the Marvellers start pointing at Conjurors like Ella.

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Dhonielle Clayton’s The Marvellers was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I adore a good magical boarding school story, and I was eager to read a more diverse representation of that genre. However, despite strengths such as some winning characters and plenty of diversity, I found the worldbuilding lacking and the pacing slow and uneven. I think The Marvellers will appeal to many readers, especially the young readers for whom it opens a door to a new magical world they can see themselves in. It is simply not immersive enough for me to want to read the sequel.

A detailed, logical world is one of the things I value most in fantasy stories, and I was looking forward to seeing what kind of world The Marvellers would transport me to. Sadly, however, exactly how and why this world works is never really explained. Much of the “magic” of the world is given in shorthand–everything in the Marveller world, for example, seems to have “star” appended to it to indicate its enchanted nature– “star ink,” “star post,” and so forth–without any real explanations of what those things are and how they work. The most extravagant descriptions are left to the food–most of which seems to either fight or talk back–and the rest is simply there. Most unfortunately, the really big things are never explained–the politics, the history, and the different types of magic.

The whole premise of the book feels uncertain without any explanations of how Ella’s world works. The starting point is that Conjure folk (such as Ella and her family) have been shunned by the Marvellers. Conjurors, who seemingly practice growing magic and who look after the Underworld, are looked down upon by Marvellers and thus must live upon the ground with the wretched Fewels (non-magic folk, whom the book routinely dismisses as cruel, dangerous, and bad without saying why, which seems ironic in a book preaching the values of inclusion–but maybe that conversation is for the sequel?). The Marvellers live in the sky cities and have their own light magic and their own schools. Ella desperately wants to attend one of the most prestigious Marveller institutions, and she does so once a new law is passed allowing her to do so.

Why exactly do Marvellers hate Conjurors? Why does Ella want to learn to be a Marveller instead of (or…in addition to?) a Conjuror? Why does she stay all year in a school where everyone except about four people hate her and the teachers constantly try to get her expelled? It’s never explained. I don’t even understand the difference between Marveller and Conjuror magic, or even the categories of Marveller magic (which are divided into five Houses of sorts, each one with its own (not very creative) catchphrase, such as, “The ear listens well!”). Being able to understand Ella’s motivations would have made the story fall more into place for me. But, as it was, I have to wonder why Ella is so desperate to be part of a world that does not want her and that she seemingly does not need, when her own family is at the top of the Conjuror hierarchy.

The plot pacing did not really save the story for me. It feels slow, even with the lack of worldbuilding, and does not pick up until about 190 pages in. At that point, stuff finally starts to happen–but in a stop and go manner. The ending in particular feels rushed and uncertain, with Ella and her friends saving the day too quickly and too easily. Then a few chapters are appended after the climax to tidy up loose ends such as Ella’s future at the school and her sorting into a magical category. And then readers still have to read the little epilogue to set up the sequel. I would have preferred a book that jumped into the storyline more quickly, kept the pacing consistent, added more to the climatic scenes, and removed some of the housekeeping at the end.

On top of all this, I found myself truly distracted by all the authorial name dropping in the story. Kwame Mbalia, Ellen Oh, and Anne Ursu are teachers. Lamar Giles is an author of magical books. Justin A. Reynolds, Tochi Oneybuchi, Angela Thomas, and Julie Murphy are students. Other authors appear glancingly, with their last names only–Mark Oshiro as the chef Oshiro, L. L. McKinney as the presumed owner of McKinney’s Mojo Mansion, Zoraida Córdova as the presumed owner of another shop, and Bethany C. Morrow as “Ms. Morrow” the beauty shop owner. I assume Ella’s friend Jason Eugene is actually named after Jason Reynolds. I imagine all these references are supposed to fun, or a nod of acknowledge to people Clayton knows and respects. However, I found it all a bit distracting, both because it feels like an Easter egg hunt, with readers on the lookout for how many names they can spot, and because, when the full names are used, I now imagine the actual authors as teaching and working in this fictional world–and I don’t really know if I’m supposed to. I do wish that Clayton had stuck to first names only to acknowledge her friends and favorites, as this would keep me immersed in the story and not wondering which real life people were going to pop up next.

Despite all this, The Marvellers is a solid enough book. I can see it appealing particularly to tween readers who love fantasy (and who are often more agreeable than I am in their assessments of literature, in my experience). If you love magical boarding schools, it’s worth a try. You might find yourself transported in a way I was not.

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3 Stars

One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

One Year at Ellsmere


Goodreads: One Year at Ellsmere
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2020 (first published 2008)


When Juniper receives a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere Academy, she finds herself immediately the enemy of popular girl Emily. Emily is determined to have Juniper kicked out of school altogether. But a mystical beast allegedly roams the forest outside, and it may be more than both Juniper and Emily imagined.

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I picked up One Year at Ellsmere because I enjoyed Faith Erin Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy, both story and artwork. However, though Hicks’ expressive, cartoony style is still in evidence in this work, but One Year at Ellsmere is admittedly lacking in the story. The concept of a scholarship student running afoul of the school’s queen bee is nothing new, and adding in a bubbly roommate and whispers of a horror in the forest do little to make the story feel fresh–especially when the spooky forest ends up being at first nothing but a footnote and later on an awkward add-on. I wanted to love One Year at Ellsmere, but nothing about the book makes me inclined to recommend it over a number of more effective graphic novels.

Simply writing a lengthy review about One Year at Ellsmere feels difficult because the story feels too short and too standard to inspire any meaningful commentary. Readers probably do not have to pick up the book at all the have a sense of its trajectory: scholarship student arrives feeling out of place, makes one good friend, makes enemies of the popular girl, has secret run-ins with her tormentors, is falsely accused by authority figures, then finally sees justice served. The title suggests this all takes place over the course of the year, but it all happens so fast and so predictably, that this storyline rather seems like it ought to be just one subplot in a lengthier book–one probably having to do with the magic that is barely discussed.

I think the addition of a monster in the forest outside the school is meant to add interest to what is otherwise a standard tale. However, putting monsters in a story only works if, well, they monsters are a meaningful part. At first, I was not sure if magic was even meant to be real in the world of One Year at Ellsmere because all readers get is a secondhand account of the disappearance of man decades ago–a disappearance said to be the result of the creatures in the trees. Then the topic never comes up again, until the end of the book, where the characters all conveniently run into the forest.

But all this leads to questions. Is the forest commonly known to be magic? Is it forbidden to students? Does anyone ever try to go in there? Why or why not? Usually when there is an enchanted wood in a story, the people living right next door to it know about it, and treat it cautiously. The students at Ellsmere seem to never think about the woods at all, however. This would suggest in part that maybe magic is not a common element in this world. But then… the ending of the story should come as more of a shock. The creature is real! Magic is out there! But, eh. The characters just seem to note it as just another thing that happened to them that day. This is all very confusing, and arguably shoddy worldbuilding.

One Year at Ellsmere does at least have Faith Erin Hicks’ wonderful artwork, but that is not enough to make the book feel like it is worth reading. Not when so many graphic novels are being published and there is a wealth of amazing content to choose from. There is an interesting premise here, but it needs an extended storyline and more detailed worldbuilding for the book to be really great.

3 Stars

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson


Goodreads: The Hand on the Wall
Series: Truly Devious #3
Source: Library
Published: 2020


Three people have died. David has gone missing. It’s only a matter of time until Ellingham Academy is closed. Stevie Bell, however, is convinced that she has identified the person behind the 1936 Ellingham kidnappings. And she believes the case may be linked to what is happening in the present. Can she crack the case before it is too late?

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The Hand on the Wall moves between the past and the present as teenager Stevie Bell attempts to solve the cold case of the century–and determine if it is linked to the student disappearances of the present day. Maureen Johnson keeps readers guessing even as new evidence comes to light. Readers who enjoy a good boarding school murder mystery will not want to miss The Hand on the Wall.

The Hand on the Wall is the final book in Johnson’s twisty mystery trilogy, and it does not disappoint. Book two suffered a bit from “middle book syndrome;” it felt a little like the story was dragging, even though Stevie was making progress on the case. Even an infusion of new characters could not really give the second book an extra boost of life. Book three, however, proves a satisfying conclusion–and that is just what readers need.

My main interest in the books is, admittedly, the mystery, even though so many of the characters are sympathetic, and even wonderful. Stevie’s supportive friend group is just the kind of friend group every girl needs–people willing to follow her into dark tunnels, even though they know it is the worst idea. I loved to see Stevie spending more time with the other students and finally relying on their expertise to help her with her case. But, I still mainly wanted to know who the culprit was. This focus helped me, I think, overlook the somewhat awful romance.

Honestly, I am not 100% sure what was going on with the romance in this trilogy. I was never too worried about that, though, because Stevie clearly does not understand it, either. However, I was a little confused that her love interest, David, seemed self-destructive and maybe actually a little unstable. There is a suggestion that David may be engaging in a Hamlet-like charade, but, like Hamlet, David probably is not wholly acting. The book does not really address any of this, however. Stevie has hormones and they are attracted to David and that is that, as far as the book is concerned. I had my reservations, but ultimately I decided I would just ignore the romance subplot and focus on the mystery. Problem solved!

Most YA books try to go for more of a “swoon-worthy” romance, less of a “Is he okay?” feeling with their pairings. However, the sense of unease this romance gives was present from the first book, so there is really nothing new going on here. And so, The Hand of the Wall ultimately delivers. Readers get to delve more into the romance, into Stevie’s relationships with her fellow students, and into the history of Ellingham Academy and its notorious kidnappings. Culprits are identified and plots resolved. If you liked the first two books, you will probably like this one, as well.

4 stars

The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson


Goodreads: The Vanishing Stair
Series: Truly Devious #2
Source: Library
Published: 2019


Stevie Bell thought she had solved the mystery of a fellow student’s death. But now another student is missing. Did that student commit the crime or is something more sinister afoot? Meanwhile, Stevie is still determined to crack the cold case of the century: to figure out who kidnapped the wife and daughter of 1930s tycoon Albert Ellingham, founder of Stevie’s school, Ellingham Academy. Could the murders of the past be connected to the present?

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The first book in the Truly Devious trilogy introduced readers to a gripping mystery that ended, of course, on a cliffhanger. Now, Stevie Bell is back at Ellingham Academy, ready to solve the cold case of the century, but also determined to discover if the Ellingham kidnappings are related to the crimes of the present. Maureen Johnson fills her book full of twists and turns, but, ultimately, The Vanishing Stair cannot wholly escape the “second book slump.”

Truly Devious delighted me with its witty narration, its lovable characters, and its elusive mystery, so I was excited to be able to pick up the sequel. The Vanishing Stair delivered on many of the same fronts of the first book, keeping me on my toes with new clues and evidence, while immersing me in Stevie’s strange, but charming, world. Perhaps inevitably, however, I found myself somewhat disappointed, anyway.

One of my main disappointments comes from how Stevie begins to piece together the mystery. At times, clues seem to literally fall into her lap, allowing her to solve the mystery no one else could simply because they never had the advantage of being able to dig around the Ellingham campus for clues. This makes sense, of course, but I still wish the clues were a little more subtle in some cases–something that required Stevie to do some deducing and not simply look at a note that basically says, “I am the criminal! I did it!” The book wants me to believe in her superior mystery-solving skills, but it is a little hard to do this when some of the clues are so obvious anyone who can read English can figure out what they are.

I also ultimately felt that the book lacks direction or perhaps a sense of purpose. Even though Stevie is still on the case, and very close to solving it, the lackluster conclusion makes The Vanishing Stair feel like it’s just an interlude between books one and three. I really wanted a book that felt like readers had made significant strides on the case and, as a result, ended up with some satisfying bit of knowledge, along with a sense of accomplishment, at the end. I did not get that, however, though that is perhaps unsurprising as I thought the ending of book one was weak, as well.

The few weaknesses of the book, however, cannot ruin its appeal for me. I am still invested in the case and I plan to be glued to my seat once again as I head into book three. This case is not so easy to solve–and that’s exactly what makes it so compelling.

4 stars

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte


Goodreads: A Study in Charlotte
Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
Source: Library
Published: 2016


Jamie Watson is the descendant of the Dr. Watson, the one who chronicled Sherlock Holmes’ amazing powers of deduction. Now he’s being enrolled in a boarding school in Connecticut, where Charlotte Holmes, descendant of Sherlock, also happens to go. Watson dreams of becoming friends and going on adventures. What he does not expect is that he and Holmes will be framed for murder. Can they crack the case before it’s too late?

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Content advisory: Sexual assault, substance abuse, murder and violence

I have been a devoted fan of Sherlock Holmes for many years, so a YA mystery series based around his descendant Charlotte and her ally Jamie Watson seemed like it could be a dream come true. However, I regrettably discovered from the first page that A Study in Charlotte was not going to make my list of favorite mystery stories. The book is narrated by an unlikable protagonist (Jamie) with a wooden prose style and it tends to focus, at least initially, more on Jamie’s obsession with Charlotte than it does on the crime. Midway through, the plot picks up, but it relies on heavily on Charlotte missing obvious clues, which seems an odd way to pay homage to Sherlock. In the end, I think A Study in Charlotte banks on readers’ love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories to make them appreciate it; general mystery readers will probably be less forgiving of the book’s flaws.

The prose style was one of the first indicators that I was not going to be amazed by A Study in Charlotte. While not excruciating, it does feel somewhat lifeless, which in turn makes Watson and Holmes feels a little lifeless, too. It does not help that the plot moves a little too quickly to remedy this problem. Jamie arrives at a new school, is introduced to Charlotte who tells him off, discovers a dead body, and is now Charlotte’s new best friend as they go off to solve the mystery together. Readers get little sense of who the characters are from narration or plot–it seems like stuff just happens all at once in a bid to keep readers’ interest without boring them with stuff like character development or background history.

Despite the quick set-up, however, the story gets dragged down again almost immediately, largely by Jamie’s terribly dull storytelling. He spends quite a bit of time trying to describe Charlotte, with whom he is obsessed in what can come across as a little creepy. I think maybe the author was trying to indicate that Watson is crushing on Holmes, but his intensity makes him feel close to some sort of emotional stalker. He is not charming. He is not cute. He feels like a hero who is actually very much at odds with the #MeToo movement, even if he does not mean to be.

The book’s handling of sensitive matters, however, leaves much to be desired, so it is not wholly surprising that Watson comes off as a bit of an unintentional creep. [Major spoilers ahead.] Substance abuse is a part of the plot as a reference to Sherlock Holmes’ addiction. But it never feels like the book seriously engages with the complexities of an addicted teenager–other characters just accept that the Holmes family all need “stimulation” and Charlotte’s reliance on drugs ends up being written like it’s just another part of her hard-shelled quirky persona, another riddle Jamie needs to solve. Additionally, a rape occurs, but seemingly mostly so readers can understand the deep villainy of the perpetrator. Serious issues occur, but they do not feel meaningful.

The plot finally begins to get interesting sometime after the halfway point of the book. However, while the original Holmes stories created suspense by keeping Watson in the dark and making Sherlock a genius who simply keeps his cards close, A Study in Charlotte makes drama by having Charlotte find clues, but fail to put them together. Arguably, this is realistic seeing as she is a teenager just getting started in the business (aside from her repeatedly mentioned role as advisor to Scotland Yard). However, it ends up feeling kind of cheap. I would love to see a Holmes putting the case together but still being outwitted–that would be great writing.

A Study in Charlotte is not a completely terrible book. However, it is not so well-written that I have any keen interest in reading the sequel. If anything, I think I now want to revisit some of the original Holmes stories. They will undoubtedly be better than anything the sequel can offer.

3 Stars

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious


Goodreads: Truly Devious
Series: Truly Devious #1
Source: Library
Published: 2018


Founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century businessman, Ellingham Academy in Vermont is one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country. It also has a dark past. Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and murdered years ago by a culprit who signed their letter, “Truly, Devious.” But now Truly Devious seems to be back. Can new student Stevie Bell crack the case when one of her own classmates is murdered?

Star Divider


“There is nothing so serious as a game.”

Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious is a compelling and complex mystery that will draw readers in from the first page. Flashing back and forth between the present and the past, it introduces readers to a deliciously atmospheric boarding school that seems freewheeling and artsy on the surface, but that harbors dark secrets beneath. Three murders occurred on the property in the 1930s and they were never solved. Now, the same murderer seems to be striking again. First-year student Stevie Bell is obsessed with the original Ellingham case and dreams of becoming a detective. But her skills may not be enough to keep her alive. Fans of boarding school mysteries will find everything they love in the genre in Johnson’s dark and twisty tale.

Truly Devious hooked me from the beginning with its witty prose and keen observations. The narrator’s voice is truly one of the delights of the novel, giving the book sort of a knowing feel as it plays with boarding school tropes, while making them feel fresh. I really felt glued to the pages, eager to find out what would happen next, eager to learn more clues so I could see if I could solve the unsolvable mystery.

Delightfully, I could not solve the mystery. The end of book one reveals a surprise twist, of course, but something still feels missing. Something is not quite right. And it makes me very eager to find book two so I can get to work using my own powers of deduction alongside Stevie. Stevie is an extremely likable protagonists, a girl who is extraordinary in many ways, but still humble. In her mind, she’s just a girl who lives mysteries, and she is not entirely sure how she ended up in a school where students wear garbage bags while playing instruments off-key in a “study yurt,” but she’s willing to go with it. Her “why not” attitude is a key part of what makes the book.

The one thing about Truly Devious I did not enjoy was the romance. It is obvious Johnson is going for a sort of “enemies to lovers” trope, but it really does not work here. Instead, the romance seems to arrive out of nowhere. One minute Stevie hates the guy and the next they are literally rolling around together over her bedroom floor. I never had any sense that there was any built-up chemistry between the two, so this is more confusing than anything else. Plus, her love interest does actually seem legitimately obnoxious at times–it was not all just a huge misunderstanding. Maybe their romance will progress in the next two books, but I do not really care. It just feels like a distraction from the mystery at this point.

Altogether, however, Truly Devious is a deliciously atmospheric boarding school mystery sure to engage fans of the genre. It has everything you could want from such a book–hidden tunnels, secret passages, creepy ransom notes, and a truly twisty plot. Bring on the sequel!

4 stars

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood


Goodreads: Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded
Source: Library
Publication Date: March 2017


At Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens, the girls learn small spells and, most importantly, deportment–because a woman with magic might be too frightening for the city to contemplate, if she is not submissive and polite.  But then Miss Ellicott and all the other sorceresses go missing.  Chantel worries that without them, no one will be able to strengthen the city walls against the attacking Mauraders.  But what can a thirteen-year-old girl and her friends do?  And whom can they trust?


The premise of the book feels simultaneously heavy-handed and underdeveloped.  Chantel and her friends live in a city ruled by the patriarchs who hold little respect for women.  In fact, Chantel and the other girls spend most of their time learning to be “shamefast and biddable” lest their ability to work magic alarm any of the men.  However, this state of affairs ultimately passes without much commentary as the plot begins to veer into more standard fantasy fare–the fight to rule a city.

There is a lot of room for complex world building here and I would have loved to see Blackwood elaborate more on the rules that govern magic, the politics of the city and its neighbors, and the history of the city.  Instead, readers receive only tantalizing glimpses, just enough for readers to understand that the rulers of the city are not very nice and their neighbors are tired of it.  This allows Blackwood to neatly sidestep the issue of politics in favor of focusing on Chantel’s concerns–find her missing teacher, figure out whose side she is fighting on, harness her magic, and defeat the enemy.  And, to some extent, this makes sense since a thirteen-year-old may not have a firm grasp of foreign diplomacy or politics.  However, it also makes the plot and the solution to the city’s problems feel a little facile.  A short acknowledgment that Chantel does not really understand government is all readers get.  This is a huge problem–but not one the book wants to engage with.

The pacing, too, feels a little off.  The book begins slowly with a focus on the characters and their development.  Then stuff starts happening–and happening fast.  Suddenly everyone is fighting, with no clear idea of which side they all should be on or want to be on.  Small events with the characters continue to occur at breakneck pace all while this fighting continues on indefinitely in the background.  Theoretically, Chantel is racing against the clock.  In reality, it feels like she’s going to let the city burn while she tries to find a lost spell that may not be all that important.

Fortunately, the characters are very charming.  Though I was not impressed with the plot, I wanted to continue reading because I was invested in the fate of Chantel and her friends.  I am not sure I would read a sequel, but I did enjoy the short time I spent with the characters.

4 stars

Spying on Miss Muller by Eve Bunting

Spying on Miss MuellerINFORMATION

Goodreads: Spying on Miss Muller
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1995


Miss Muller, half-Irish and half-German, has always been a favorite of the girls at Alveara boarding school, but WWII has made that teacher an outcast.  Then one night Jessie sees Miss Muller wandering up to the roof.  Could it be that Miss Muller is really a German spy?


Spying on Miss Muller is a classic 90s historical fiction/coming-of-age novel, and that may or may not be a good thing.  Perhaps some will find reading it nostalgic.  I thought the book felt a little dated, and that I was perhaps too old to read and appreciate it now.

The charm of this for middle schoolers is, I think, obvious.  It’s set in a boarding school in Ireland during WWII–all very romantic stuff for young readers.  Furthermore, there’s a lot of girl talk going on; Jessie and her friends like to lie awake at night and talk about boys, or even pass notes about them during class. Younger readers might find all this very tantalizing or even daring–the boys and girls are mingling in the dark, even kissing!   Much of this is very amusing to an older reader, however–the girls constantly speculate about what horrible thing one girl must have done to be asked to leave, or what it is that the boys and girls do behind the shed.  The girls all like to act like they know–but clearly none of them do.

Aside from Jessie’s dreams of the handsome Ian McManus, the book is filled with speculations about the titular Miss Muller.  Can it be her father was a Nazi?  Why is she wandering the halls after hours?  Can they still love Miss Muller and be good citizens?  These are intriguing questions for girls in time of war.  As an older reader, however, I could not help but sigh.  Here are girls blaming a half-German woman in Ireland for what Germany is doing.  They are prepared to ruin her life, if they can, in retaliation for events she has no control over.  The cruelty and hatred of children is astounding.

The answers to me were obvious.  The woman is not a criminal and there is no reason to make her life horrible or to try to hurt her.  So watching the girls speculate about her actions and form plans to reveal her supposed spying activities was not amusing.  I didn’t even feel a sick fascination as one might from reading The Lord of the Flies.  I just felt jaded.  These girls know so little and are so mean.  Reading felt more like plodding.

And the whole structure and writing style of the book reminded me of the 90s so much that I couldn’t help but be amused.  I never really liked those kinds of coming-of-age stories, the ones where they worry about their bra size or kissing or whatever.  So I had no fond memories to fall back upon while reading this; I just thought it was funny that it was so easy to know exactly when this book had been published.

I do love a good boarding school story, but this one, apparently was not for me.

3 starsKrysta 64

If You Like Boarding Schools, Then Read… (Part Three)

If You Like (60)

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera

At the Great Rapscott School for the Daughters of Busy Parents, Headmistress Rapscott believes firmly in the motto of Amelia Earhart: Adventure is worthwhile in itself.  Thus her new boarders suddenly find themselves Getting Lost on Purpose and learning how to fly through the sky and skim through the ocean, as well as write thank-you notes and groom themselves.  Their greatest adventure of all, however, will be to find missing pupil Dahlia Thistle.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

When the headmistress of St. Ethedreda’s School for Girls and her younger brother are poisoned at Sunday dinner, the seven boarders know just what to do.  Hide the bodies; convince the town that Headmistress Plackett is alive and well; and continue to live at the school as independent women.  But can the girls identify the murderer before he or she attempts to strike a second time?

Murder Is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have started their own secret detective agency at Deepdean school, but their most exciting case yet has been the case of Lavinia’s missing tie.  Then Hazel discovers their science teacher dead on the gym floor–and minutes later it has disappeared!  Clearly murder is afoot at Deepdean, but is one of the other teachers truly capable of disposing of a colleague?  Published as Murder Most Unladylike in the U.K.

the Grimmtastic Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Long ago the Grimm brothers collected characters from various fairy tales, folk tales, and nursery rhymes, and placed them in Grimmlandia, where they can live in safety.  But now villainous forces are threatening to steal magical objects from Grimm Academy so they can break the border that separates Grimmlandia from the outside world.  Can the students stop the villains in time?  Or will classwork get in the way?

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera

Ms Rapscott's GirlsInformation

Goodreads: Ms. Rapscott’s Girls
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: March 2015


The Great Rapscott School for Daughters of Busy Parents advertises its services for those parents too preoccupied even to teach their daughters what a birthday cake is or how to tie their shoes.  However, the greatest lesson, headmistress Rapscott believes is How To Find Your Way.  Soon her students are parachuting through the sky and skimming through the sea.  But on all their journeyings will they ever find Dahlia Thistle, the student who went missing before she even arrived?


 Ms. Rapscott’s Girls attempts to achieve a quirky tone reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Here we have the mysterious building, the slightly insane owner, and the host of children, each one more unlikely and perhaps unlikable than the previous.  Unusual adventures led by an adult apparently oblivious to danger complete the similarities.  Because, despite the presence of all the elements, this story fails to capture the same magic.

Roald Dahl manages to capture the personalities of his characters in a few deft touches, but in this book, even with informative backstories and and blatant capitalization (“That is how so-and-so become known as Trait”) could not make its girls come to life.  I should have felt sorry for them, sorry for their loneliness and their poor upbringing, which has led them to become so disagreeable because they never were taught how to get along or to be polite or to be useful.  Instead I had difficulty keeping track of them all (the lazy one and the other one, whoever she was) and really did not care what happened to them at all.  I figured Ms. Rapscott would not really let them drown or anything.

I love quirky books and middle grade books and books about boarding schools.  I love adventures and books that feature a band of girls who are (or become) friends.  Even so, I could not love this book.  Without any characters at its heart, the story simply fell flat.

Krysta 64