Ranking Recent Reads 13 – Thornhill, Ruby & Olivia, The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding, 13 Minutes and The Trials of Morrigan Crow

When bad (or odd) endings happen to good books.

  1. Thornhill by Pam Smy

What it’s About:  In 1982, the diary of a young girl tells of a horrible existence at the Thornhill Institute for Children.  The mute girl named Mary is tormented by the others, in particular one girl who takes a truly sadistic pleasure in torturing her.  In 2016, pictures tell the story of Ella, who is settling into her new home when she sees a girl in the yard of the abandoned Thornhill Institute, and begins to investigate.

What I Thought:  First, I don’t really care about one story being told by diary and the other in comic form.  That sort of thing appeals to some, I know, but it doesn’t mean anything to me.  As for the story itself, while intriguing (and very dark), there were some big issues.  The bullying of Mary is quite vicious, but it feels off that the main bully is mostly interested in publicly humiliating Mary and getting the other girls to join in, but also apparently spends every night standing outside Mary’s bedroom, scratching the door to frighten her.  That seems like a pretty big leap from even her more vicious bullying.  As for the present day story, I didn’t feel like I knew Ella enough to really understand her actions and motivations.  Which was a definite problem, especially with how the story concludes, though I can’t say too much about that.  Ultimately, this one has promise, but it just didn’t come together for me.

  1. Ruby & Olivia by Rachel Hawkins

What it’s About:  Olivia takes the fall for her twin sister Emma’s shoplifting, allowing Emma to go to summer camp while Olivia get sent to a different kind of camp, where a small group of youths spend their summer cataloguing the  contents of an abandoned mansion.  Ruby, who grew up with the twins, but was much closer to Emma, is also sentenced there for the summer.  When spooky things start happening, Ruby and Olivia must put aside their differences to get to the bottom of the mystery.

What I Thought:  Hawkins books have run the gamut for me, from the high of the Hex Hall series to the low of the Rebel Belle trilogy, with Journey’s End being solid but not spectacular.  This one is closer to Journey’s End than anything, though I think Journey’s End is a bit better.  Ultimately, this is an okay middle grade story.  If you’re looking for a quick read you might want to consider this, but it’s not anything that’s going to stick with you.

  1. The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

What I Thought:  Prosper learns that there is a demon living inside of him, thanks to a deal that his ancestor made with the demon to get success for the Redding family, only to then betray the demon and break the deal. After his family tries to kill him, Prosper works with an estranged uncle and previously unknown cousin to banish the demon before it can find a way to get revenge on him and the rest of his family.

What I Thought: Bracken is a beloved author, but I haven’t been as big a fan of her previous works as many others have. I decided to give this one a chance, and I’m glad I did.  Or at least, I was until I reached the end of the book.  Glancing at other reviews, it seems that some felt the ending made the slow build of the story worthwhile, while others found it rather abrupt.  I lean more towards the latter, and was left with mixed feelings at best when I finished the book, though I’ll probably still check out the next book in the series when it comes out.  But while some of the character reveals at the climax worked well, others rang false for me, so I’m concerned about where things are going with this series.

  1. 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

What it’s About:  Years ago, Becca was dumped by her best friend Tasha, since Becca’s weight problems didn’t fit with Tasha’s image as queen bee.  When Tasha is mysteriously found unconscious in the water, Becca reluctantly decides to make an appearance at the hospital.  This decision drags her into a disturbing mystery, as Tasha, who doesn’t remember what happened to her, is suspicious of her current friends and turns to Becca for help to uncover the truth.

What I Thought: Mean Girls with an almost-murder mystery. A surprisingly thoughtful book that really examines friendship as a whole, what with Becca and Tasha’s relationship, plus the friend who chose Tasha over Becca, and the girl who replaced Becca in the “Barbies” group.  Then there is poor Hannah, good natured and loyal, but so often dismissed by her classmates, even her best friend Becca.  As with the previous selection on this list, there are some issues with the end.  The mystery is tied up and the book comes to a fitting conclusion (if not quite the end I was hoping for), but then there is an epilogue of sorts that seems completely out of left field and like it’s from a different story than the rest of the book.  Honestly, it felt like the epilogue was written while the author was high on something, it’s just so out of place.  And I don’t expect to see the epilogue in the upcoming Netflix adaptation of the story.  The ending was perhaps bit too quick, which might be why the epilogue was added.  Anyway, it’s not like the epilogue ruins the book or anything, as the story is tied up before we get to it.

  1.  The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

What it’s About: A cursed child, Morrigan is blamed for anything bad that happens to the people around her, as well as being fated to die by the age of twelve. But then a mysterious benefactor offers a chance to escape her destiny, and whisks her away to the mysterious land of Nevermoor.  But in order to stay, Morrigan must compete for a spot in the Wundrous Society, and to do that she must have a talent of some kind.  While the other candidates have talents ranging from singing to dragon riding, Morrigan doesn’t have anything, unless you count causing misfortune to people as a talent.  Can she find a way to pass the tests and save herself?

What I Thought:  This is a fun story with engaging characters.  There were a few points where the world seemed to be weird for the sake of weird, such as when the giant cat is said to be the housekeeper, and the question of how a being with no opposable thumbs does housework is just waved away.  I kind of wanted to know how that was supposed to work.  But I did love the cat (and hey, two books on this list with magical cat characters!), and if the world-building is a bit haphazard, the character arcs in the book that worked perfectly for me.  One other thing that kind of bugged me is that I couldn’t shake the feeling that this had been written as a YA and then changed to MG because someone decided the story would work better there.  That didn’t really lessen my enjoyment of the story, and I’m definitely eager to see where the series goes from here.

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