‘Windwitch’ – Susan Dennard

Picking up from the events of book one, many assume Merik is dead but we follow him as he attempts to prove the treachery of his sister.

Having finished this my overwhelming feeling was of frustration. Our key characters aren’t together throughout the story, and there’s an awful lot of characters being managed here which did make it hard for me to focus on at times.

The opening of the book felt slower than I’d like-and there wasn’t a whole lot of time devoted to filling us in on the events of book one. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it was a while since I’d read Truthwitch and it took me a while to recall key events.

While the world described was interesting and well-portrayed I couldn’t help but feel that I spent most of the book waiting for something. There was plenty of action, and a lot of setting up for the next part, but I just didn’t feel as engaged by this as I’d hoped I would. That aside, I really am looking forward to what comes next.

‘A List of Cages’ – Robin Roe

A List of Cages

An incredibly moving – though somewhat hard to read – story of friendship and its power to heal.

Thanks to NetGalley and publishers Disney-Hyperion for granting me access to an advance copy of this hard-hitting book that focuses on the friendship between Adam, a popular senior, and Julian, a younger boy who does everything he can to keep himself apart from his peers.

The story is told from both Julian and Adam’s perspective, and I’ll admit that at first I found the book rather slow. We are gradually slipped details about how the two boys are linked, and little by little Roe reveals the extent of the abuse that Julian faces at the hands of his uncle Russell.

Throughout there was a real sense of discomfort as I read Julian’s narrative. Rightly so, as the level of abuse Julian experiences seemed so serious that I was amazed alarm bells hadn’t started ringing. It takes the reappearance of Adam – the foster brother he hasn’t seen for five years – to notice the changes in Julian and, as the boys’ friendship develops, Adam has to make some difficult decisions.

Sometimes we don’t make the right decisions. There was a point in the narrative when Adam allows his judgement to be swayed by the views of his friends. What follows does, sadly, seem inevitable but it leads to a dramatic climax to the story.

It was what came afterwards that interested me more. Learning to live with the events of this story – and coming to terms with the consequences of your actions – is a hard lesson to learn, and I liked the fact that Roe gave us a faint glimmer of hope that the friendship between Adam and Julian was strong enough to overcome the events they had survived.

‘Perfect’ – Cecilia Ahern


When I finished reading ‘Flawed’ – the first in the series – I was impatient to get my hands on the next part of the story. Not due for publication until April 2017, I was more than a little excited when Macmillan publishers and NetGalley approved my request to read an advance copy of ‘Perfect’.

Our story picks up with Celestine North on the run, desperate to avoid the clutches of Crevan. She knows that her sixth branding would, if the truth were to be revealed, bring him down – and he is prepared to go to any length to avoid this happening.

With publication still some way off, I will just give my initial thoughts. There will be time for a fuller review later (as I will, undoubtedly, read this again).

In Celestine Ahern has created a strong character who we remain invested in. The setting plays a major role in the success of the novel; we are urged to question what perfection is, and whether flaws are things to reject or learn from. Though this series is marketed as YA fiction, Ahern tells a good tale and, in ‘Perfect’, she has created a powerful story whose message is timeless.

‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ – Sara Barnard

A Quiet Kind of Thunder

An intriguing title, and the cover unashamedly sells itself as a romance. It’s not brash or showy – but it will leave a rather warm feeling in you.

Steffi has, since she was young, been selectively mute and she suffers with social anxiety. Rhys is the new boy to her school and, because she knows some BSL, Steffi is asked to show him around. Initially, Steffi is acutely conscious of the fact that what she calls the two oddballs are thrown together. As she gets to know Rhys, she realises that it doesn’t matter. In each other, they find their voice.

Perhaps the focus on their developing relationship will be more appealing to the target audience. Following them from their first talk, through their texting to the inevitable boyfriend/girlfriend conversation and then onto their developing sexual relationship felt a little earnest to me. However, it does seem churlish to criticise a romance for focusing on the romance!

On the whole, this was a well-writer read – it just didn’t strike quite the same chord with me as Barnard’s ‘Beautiful Broken Things’.


‘The Pants Project’ – Cat Clarke

The Pants Project

Due for release in March 2017, I have to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read Cat Clarke’s first journey into middle-grade writing prior to publication. A heartfelt, entertaining and thoroughly recommended read.

Liv (Olivia) is Transgender and has always known that, at heart, he is meant to be a boy. He hasn’t told anyone of his thoughts, and his voice immediately grabs our attention and has us rooting for him to come through what life throws at him unscathed.

Our novel begins with Liv about to start middle school. This is daunting enough, but Liv is horrified by the strict dress code that his new school enforces as it means he has to wear a skirt. His best friend – who suddenly isn’t as keen to be seen with him as she tries to ‘get in’ with the popular girls – is increasingly distant and, once his new classmates learn he has two mums, Liv becomes a target for bullying.

As I read I have to say that I could predict some of the incidents that took place. Perhaps this is inevitable given the target audience for the novel. In spite of this, ‘The Pants Project’ reminded me of novels such as ‘Wonder’ – full of charm, earnest in their message but ultimately uplifting.

I cannot wait to see what students make of this.


‘The Memory Book’ – Lara Avery

The Memory Book

Sammie is a girl with a plan – valedictorian, on the class debate team, determined to go to NYU – but sometimes the best-laid plans just don’t work out. Often it’s through something we have done – but in Sammie’s case it is because she is diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that she is told will slowly steal her memories.

Dementia/the loss of memories has to be one of the cruellest illnesses I can imagine as you lose your sense of identity and what makes you who you are. This is cruel at any time, but particularly for a young girl on the cusp of independence.

Sammie is determined to not give in without a fight…and so her memory book is born, where she writes notes to her future self about all the things that are happening to her. In turns funny, but often sad, this was an interesting technique to help us see the character develop.

Initially I found the book  little slow, but as we watch Sammie and her family trying to adjust to living with this condition it was quite heartbreaking. The obligatory first romance with her childhood crush, Stuart, was not all that appealing to me – I was far more invested in the developing relationship between Sammie and her childhood best friend, Cooper.

Like some of the other books that explore teen illness I guess there is no happy ending here. I’m quite relieved that Avery chose to leave us with Sammie in the best place she could be at that time, before it all got too miserable. I know there are people who like their books to be realistic, but in this case I was more than happy to be left wondering what might happen next.

Thanks to publishers Hachette and NetGalley for the chance to read an advance copy of this.

‘My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises’ – Fredrick Backman

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

I have ‘A Man Called Ove’ on my iPad and just haven’t got round to reading it, but I’d heard such positive things about it that I decided to give this one a whirl – and I’m so glad I did.

‘Every child needs a superhero’ we’re told near the start of this novel. The value of having someone to look up to and admire, who will fight your corner and simply love you because of who you are cannot be underestimated. I never saw enough of my grandparents to ever feel this strongly about them, but I can see the bond between my own children and their grandparents, and I was really touched by the relationship between Elsa and her grandmother. Their love for each other – even when they get angry at one another (which happens often) – pervades the novel.

When we first meet the pair I admit to being perplexed. Seven year old Elsa and her grandmother are in the police station having been caught breaking into a zoo. Grandmother has been throwing excrement at the police sent to get them, and it’s quickly established that this is not the first time the pair have been such a  situation. So different from most people’s experiences, I really didn’t know what to make of it. However, as we watch the pair bicker about how to deal with what happens next, and we’re given the real reason why they ended up at the zoo in the middle of the night, I was entranced.

Early on in the novel, Elsa overhears her grandmother talking. She has cancer, is going to die soon, and is desperate to ensure Elsa is looked after. Being left out of the loop by the adults around her results in Elsa’s imagination going into overdrive. At this point in the story I was hooked by the role fairy tales and imagination play in what is happening.

Backman maintains the persona of Elsa throughout, and I am convinced that everyone who reads this will fall a little bit in love with her. As Elsa carries out her grandmother’s last wishes she starts to lean more about the adults who live around her, and the ways in which their stories interconnect was skilfully revealed.

In the best possible way, this was a read I wasn’t sure what I was getting and it was a real treat. Now I guess it’s time to root out ‘A Man Called Ove’ and come late to that party…

‘The Underground Railroad’ – Colson Whitehead

Whitehead’s novel focuses predominantly on Cora, a young slave. When we first meet her there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a girl who has it tough. As with any novel focusing on slavery there is a lot of horrific detail here. Unflinching in brutality, Whitehead does not hesitate to show us the grim reality of life for many simply because of their skin colour. For anyone interested in this period, the book will undoubtedly be of interest.

We follow Cora as she grows into womanhood, and watch her as she decides to trust Caesar, a recent arrival, who persuades her to try and escape. There’s plenty of literature around that shows how harshly escaped slaves were treated, so it is no surprise to se how fiercely Cora fights for her freedom. However, when she kills a young white boy who attempts to capture her it is evident that Cora is going to need some luck if she is to survive.

In this novel the Underground Railroad is not simply a metaphor for those who helped runaway slaves – it has been transfigured into a literal network of tracks that cross Southern America. Watched over by sympathisers to the cause, the Railroad becomes Cora’s means to an end. Following its tracks, Cora crosses state after state – trying to escape the slave-owner desperate to have his property returned. This device also acts as an easy way in for a number of characters to feature in Cora’s life.

Where I found the book less successful was in regard to the sprawling nature of the content. There were a lot of characters dealt with, some of which were portrayed very superficially. At times, I’d have liked to follow one or two characters in more detail but this was ambitious in tone and it’s clear to see why many feel it hold a light to contemporary attitudes to race.

‘The Song of Achilles’ – Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

When we first meet Patroclus he is a young prince, awkward in his own skin, and definitely feeling that he is seen as a disappointment to his father. When he is exiled to the kingdom of Phthia, Patroclus comes to spend time with Achilles – the boy who is rumoured will grow up to be the greatest Greek fighter of all times.

We watch the boys grow up together and, even though they are very different, they form a strong bond. This disappoints Thetis, the mother of Achilles, who does all she can to separate the two young men.

An interview I read with Miller while I was reading this talks of her desire to understand why a character such as Achilles acts as he does (which didn’t seem to be of much interest to Homer). This, I think, explains why the first half of the book feels rather slow-the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has to be established so that we understand the love they share.

Once we venture into the war of Troy, Miller’s writing really came into its own for me. Richly evoked, while holding little back, and seamlessly blending the worlds of mortals and gods.

The concepts explored in this story are, indeed, timeless and it really made me wish I had more than a passing acquaintance with some of the stories of Greek mythology.

For anyone who thinks Classics is a dull subject…I’d say read this and you may be pleasantly surprised.

‘We Come Apart’ – Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

We Come Apart

Sarah Crossan appears to be on a mission to highlight for teen readers the joy that verse can bring – and when it’s as good as this collaboration I am not going to complain.

Scheduled for publication on 9th February 2017, I’m really grateful to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this early.

The story is told through two distinctive voices. On one hand we have fifteen year old Jess, spiky and caught up in a lot of trouble, but hiding the sad reality that her step-father beats up her mother and makes Jess record it. Then we have Nicu, a fifteen year old Romanian whose family have come to make enough money to enable them to return home and marry Nicu off. Neither character has it easy, and telling the story through their alternating voices allows us to reflect on the information they give us.

When the two teens meet it takes a while for them to engage with each other. Although the book felt like a quick read, it took them a while to break down their initial wariness of each other and take time to establish a bond. I liked the fact that – not through want of wishing on Nicu’s part initially – this was more about friendship and mutual support than a romance.

The voices created were distinct, and I felt represented the characters and their personalities well. I was more than a little stunned by the speed at which we reached the rather shocking climax, and though it felt unresolved in some ways I have to say the ending left me rather dewy-eyed and hoping, desperately, that some good would come out of what happened. Then I reminded myself that it was only a story!