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Thornhill by Pam Smy

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Thornhill by Pam Smy Thornhill by Pam Smy
Published by Roaring Brook Press on August 29, 2017
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Middle School, Ghost Story
Pages: 544
Format: eARC
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Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a Ella unravels the mystery of the girl next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it's shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill's shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines Mary s through intimate diary entries and Ella s in bold, striking art Pam Smy's Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, and a suspense-filled story.

Thornhill is spooky and heart-breaking. Ella is sad and lonely, but when she glimpses a girl in the window of the Thornhill Institute, she becomes obsessed with finding out who she was and what happened to her. Mary lived at the Institute in the 1980s, also a sad, lonely girl who is bullied and terrorized by the other girls.

Thornhill is at heart a ghost story. We know from the beginning that Mary’s a ghotst, but her diary entries made me cry. Her life at Thornhill was miserable, and few of the adults around her seemed competent or truly caring. Ella’s story is just as sad. I assume her father loves her, but he’s never home and her mom is gone, presumably dead. Her side of the story is depicted in black and white illustrations that are striking and add to the dark atmosphere of the novel. We know something happened to Mary, but not what.

I think this is one of those stories that a middle-schooler would enjoy. It’s just spooky enough and the ending was dark and and an appropriate, if sad, conclusion. I was talking about it quickly with my daughter and she said kids in middle school like sad books, and i’ll have to take her word for it. Thornhill It deals with big issues like bullying, revenge, and suicide, and there were adults that could have helped, but didn’t.

It’s an engrossing story, but to be honest, I wish I hadn’t read it. For me it was a depressing book. I cried through half of it and I’d like to give it 1 star for that reason. However, I gave it 4 starts because it is engrossing and relevant.

About Pam Smy

Pam Smy studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University, where she now lectures part-time. Pam has illustrated books by Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles), Julia Donaldson (Follow the Swallow) and Kathy Henderson (Hush, Baby, Hush!), and her own, among others. She lives in Cambridge.

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

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Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner
Series: DS Manon #2
Published by Random House on July 4, 2017
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
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Detective Manon Bradshaw is five months pregnant and has officially given up on finding romantic love. Instead, she is in hot-pursuit of work-life balance and parked in a cold case corridor—the price she’s had to pay for a transfer back to Cambridgeshire. This is fine, she tells herself. She can devote herself to bringing up her two children—the new baby, and her adopted 12-year-old son Fly Dent. He needed a fresh start—he was being forever stopped and searched in London by officers who couldn’t see past the color of his skin. Manon feared Fly, increasingly sullen and adolescent, was getting in with the wrong crowd at school, or possibly that he was the wrong crowd. Being there for the children, and home by five, is what Manon tells herself she needs.

Yet when a wealthy victim is found stabbed close to police HQ, she can’t help but sidle in on the briefing: he is a banker from London, worth millions. More dramatically, he was also Manon’s sister Ellie’s ex, and the father of her toddler son. The investigation swirls with greater and greater urgency, and as it begins to circle in on Manon’s home and her family, she finds herself pitted against the former colleagues she once held dear—Davy Walker and Harriet Harper.

Can Manon separate what she feels about the people she loves, from the suspicion hanging over them? Can she interrogate the evidence, just as she would with any other case? And when Manon instructs defence lawyer Mark Talbot to work alongside her, can she refrain from throwing herself at him in a manner unbecoming to a woman at an advanced stage of pregnancy? Manon must fight to find the truth with every fiber of her being.

Persons Unknown started out slow for me. I read the first in the series and knew Manon and Fly and how they can to be a family, but I guess I forgot how unlikeable Manon can be. I do like her, but she will rub just about everyone the wrong way at some point or other, including the reader. And now she’s pregnant, which I’m not sure was the best decision with just recently adopting Fly, but there you have it.

This time around the mystery hits very close to home for Manon. Manon and Fly are sharing a home with Manon’s sister Ellie and her toddler son, Solly, when Solly’s father turns up murdered. Once Fly is accused and sent to juvenile, the story picks up pace. Of course, Fly’s innocent, we know that, but it’s a complicated case, one Manon is not allowed to directly work on. With Davy’s help, she does manage to get the right information to the right people. The dead man was not a nice guy and worked for a financial firm that was not a nice place, so there are several possibilities of who killed him and why. The mystery is well-plotted and I while I wasn’t surprised at the ending, I was a bit disappointed.

While the mystery was clearly foremost in the novel, Steiner does an excellent job with characters. Sometimes characters in mysteries can get run over by the plot, but here most of them are well-developed. They each have their own motives and secrets. The “good guys” sometimes make bad choices and the “bad guys” can sometimes be helpful. People are shades of grey. The characters, including Manon, Davy, convenience store owner Birdies, and prostitute Angel, make this one stand out from a lot of the mysteries out there.

Persons Unknown can be read as a stand-alone, but I think it was helpful to have read Missing, Presumed first since it gives background on Manon and Fly’s relationship and on Manon’s (lack of a) personal life.

 

About Susie Steiner

Susie Steiner is a novelist and freelance journalist. She was a staff writer and editor on the Guardian for 11 years, specializing in lifestyle features. Her first novel was published by Faber & Faber in 2013. Her DS Manon series is published by Random House.
She lives with her husband and two sons in north London.

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Thursday’s Tale: Brave Red, Smart Frog

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Thursday’s Tale: Brave Red, Smart Frog Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: Rohan Daniel Eason
Published by Candlewick Press on September 5, 2017
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Childrens, Fairy tale
Pages: 104
Format: eARC
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Step into a wintry forest where seven iconic fairy tales unfold, retold with keen insight and touches of humor. There once was a frozen forest so cold, you could feel it through the soles of your boots. It was a strange place where some kisses broke enchantments and others began them. Many said witches lived there -- some with cold hearts, others with hot ovens and ugly appetites -- and also dwarves in tiny houses made of stones. In this icy wood, a stepmother might eat a girl's heart to restore her own beauty, while a woodcutter might become stupid with grief at the death of his donkey. Here a princess with too many dresses grows spiteful out of loneliness, while a mistreated girl who is kind to a crone finds pearls dropping from her mouth whenever she speaks. With empathy and an ear for emotion, Emily Jenkins retells seven fairy tales in contemporary language that reveals both the pathos and humor of some of our most beloved stories. Charming illustrations by Rohan Daniel Eason add whimsical details that enhance every new reading.

I truly enjoyed these lovingly retold fairy tales. Jenkins has taken some favorite, familiar tales and while not adding anything new, has made them into charming tales. We have Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, the Frog Prince, and Diamonds and Toads among others. While she keeps the traditional plots and characters. she gives some extra depth, like why the Frog Prince loved the princes or how Hansel and Gretel’s father could have let them be left in the woods. She asks why the step-mother was so cruel and how Red could have been tricked by the wolf. I also love how the cold, frosty wood figures into the tales. The tales have touches of humor and amusing dialogue, especially in Three Wishes and the Frog Prince. I appreciate how the tales are connected in ways that make the book fit together well, rather than just a random collection. For example, the same huntsman who doesn’t kill Snow White does kill the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood’s story.

Overall, while the stories here don’t offer anything unique, they are told well and I enjoyed them. Everyone gets a happy ending, well except the dead step-mothers and witch.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

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