‘Beck’ – Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff


Going into this I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Early reviews on the Carnegie Shadowing site seem to be focusing on the inappropriateness of this novel for teen readers, and the concerns over the graphic nature of the abuse experienced by the main character. Looking beyond these comments I learned that Peet had been inspired to write this after reading something about the historical abuse of children sent to Canada and Australia. Of course it’s not going to be all sweetness and light!

With something of a heavy heart I set myself to read this. Oh, how I was doing this book a disservice.

The opening part gives us, very tersely, the background to Beck and immediately makes it clear that this is a boy who was not going to get a good deal in life. I read with a sense of detachment of his early years in the orphanage in Liverpool. Beck gives little comment on this, and the decision to not write this in first-person means we don’t have to go too deep into the emotions/thoughts of the character though it’s all too clear how he’s feeling. I was disgusted by the way in which these boys were packed off to Canada and the lack of care and compassion shown to them.

As part one focuses on the historical element of Beck’s story we cannot shy away from the time he spends with the Brothers. From early on there are hints of bad things happening, and the little details suggesting the abuse experienced by many of the boys indicates the scale of this horror. A number of reviews express concern at the graphic nature of the bath scene where Brother Robert attempts to seduce Beck. I confess to reading this feeling very uncomfortable, and my relief when Beck fought back was chillingly quashed moments later when we were categorically told the results of him not complying with events. An event that will linger long in the memory but, however uncomfortable it made me, it is fact and a truth that deserves to be told.

Watching Beck as he journeys through life was bleak. He is not treated well, and on the rare occasions he is shown love and compassion events conspire to make him feel that he cannot trust anyone. It was a sobering thought that the criminals he encounters are actually the people who treat him most kindly.

When Beck is finally discovered by Grace they appear to have little in common. Over time, they establish a close bond and this attempt to provide Beck with some redemption was welcomed by me. I certainly didn’t read this section feeling that their intimacy was unwelcome. If anything, the fact that someone who had experienced such pain and misery could still find it within themself to love was inspiring.

Peet – and Rosoff who completed the novel after his death – are favourites to win this year’s award. By the comments on the Shadowing site there’ll be lots of students denied the chance to read this and form their own opinion of it. That is a shame. It’s a tough read, without a doubt, but there’s a lot to admire in this.

‘Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth’ – Frank Cottrell Boyce

Sputniks Guide to Life on Earth

A rather typical Cottrell Boyce story, full of good-humour and also packing an emotional punch that seems rather at odds with its cover.

In this story, short-listed for the 2017 Carnegie Awards, we follow a young boy called Prez. Prez is being fostered by a larger-than-life family as his grandfather is suffering from dementia and cannot look after him any more. Whether Prez is unaware of this or in denial about it is not immediately clear, but he is a boy who is having a tough time of it.

This background to Prez’s story immediately warms us to him, but then things take an unexpected twist when Sputnik arrives on the doorstep of the Blythe family. Sputnik, to everyone else, looks like a dog but to Prez he reveals himself to be an alien come to Earth as part of a mission to find ten things to recommend about Earth in order to save it from part of a galactic tidy-up. What follows is utterly fantastic, but tremendous fun that will certainly appeal to younger readers.

There are some wonderful comic scenes – Sputnik interfering with the toy lightsaber and turning it into a weapon of destruction, and the ‘break-out’ of a busload of young offenders were amongst my highlights – and yet increasingly coming to the fore is a focus on the relationship between a  young boy and his grandfather, two like-minded souls who have to come to terms with their shifting relationship.

While I don’t see it as a winner for the Carnegie – it seems to be in the wrong age-group for the intended audience – this was a surprise hit.

‘Windfall’ – Jennifer E. Smith


Alice has, by anyone’s standards, had a pretty tough life with both her parents dying close together. But she has a loving cousin, aunt and uncle, and a good friend. In this story those bonds are tested…by an unexpected windfall.

When Alice buys her best friend, Teddy, a lottery ticket for his birthday she never expected anything to come of it. But he becomes the youngest ever winner and is suddenly responsible for over 140million dollars.

If you ignore the improbability of this story you will definitely enjoy this story. The fun Teddy has squandering this money is probably everyone’s fantasy, but he soon comes to realise money is fairly meaningless. It’s the people around us who matter, and this fortune helps him make a difference to so many people.

What follows is, I think, rather obvious but this is a heart-warming story about love and what it means to people (with the money forming a nice backdrop).

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this.

‘Railhead’ – Philip Reeve


I picked this up as it was on the short-list for 2017 Carnegie Awards. There’s been a fair amount of criticism over the choices for this year, so I’m curious to read those on the list and see why they’ve been selected (having read a lot of the nominations and been surprised not to see some on the final list).

This is a book that I can’t help but feel doesn’t do itself justice. The cover and blurb very strongly hint at its sci-fi/cyberpunk style, and I don’t think it screams ‘read me’ to teen readers. What a shame for those who don’t bother to pick it up!

In ‘Railhead’ – the first in a trilogy – Reeve creates a world where humans are no longer bound to Earth, and are able to move from planet to planet by passing through gateways while travelling on sentient trains. Those who travel in this way (railheads) form something of a unique community, and not all seem so keen to allow such travel to take place freely.

‘Railhead’ tells us the story of petty thief Zen Starling. He is one of the aforementioned railheads, and from the start it is strongly suggested that there is more to him than meets the eye. When we are initially introduced to Zen and his family his selfishness was clear to see. This is the boy who himself says he will always choose the winning side, but there is something admirable about him. As we see him get caught up in something we don’t fully understand it takes a while to get answers, but we soon come to realise there’s a whole lot more going on here than we first thought.

The style of the book is eminently readable, and the characters – though quite selfish and unlikeable – do act in ways that I couldn’t help but warm to. The depiction of the futuristic world was incredible, and I have to admire the way Reeve actually got me to care about what are, essentially, machines – whether that was the trains (including the Thought Fox, about which I could see myself having nightmares), the creepy Hive Monks or the wonderful Motoriks! I really liked most of the main characters and the sense of threads coming together as I progressed through the story was immensely satisfying.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I felt this really held a mirror up to many of the advances/concerns of our world and will encourage readers to consider their views on a number of topics. Going into this with fairly low expectations, I am pleasantly shocked by how much I enjoyed this story. So much so I’ve ordered book two!

‘Bad Little Girl’ – Frances Vick

Bad Little Girl

Lorna Bell is one of those girls who live on the sidelines of life. She comes from ‘a bad family’ and her peers think she is a thief. It seems that, sadly, nothing is going to happen to help Lorna overcome the prejudices of others dealing with her.

Claire Penny is regarded as a bleeding heart teacher. She has taught in the same school for years, cares deeply about the pupils and is somewhat ridiculed by her peers. When she comes across young Lorna Bell there are definite suggestions that things aren’t right with the family, but Claire is manipulated into a dangerous situation.

Initially, the novel focuses on Claire and the extent to which an event in her past seems to have shaped her reaction to the pupils she teaches. She comes across as naive but well-meaning.

As the novel progresses we come to a much less credible scenario. There’s a definite sense of us not wanting to distrust Lorna-nowadays there’s too much potential for it to go wrong-but everything about her is just a little too calculating, a little too knowing and I found myself wondering just how far this would go.

Vick takes this story way beyond where it might have seemed credible into far-fetched territory. There may be readers who like the character of Marianne, and I suppose she does allow a Claire to take a step back from the situation, but I find it hard to believe that two grown women would get themselves into this scenario and also allow a child to terrorise them in the way Lorna does.

Sadly, for me, this was a book that was an interesting premise but just went into incredible territory and lost me.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my thoughts.

‘The Marvels’ – Brian Selznick

The Marvels

When I ordered this from my local library I really did not know what to expect. First impressions – and I’m being honest – were that it was VERY heavy, but that it looked beautiful with the gold trimmed pages and the intricate design on the front cover.

The story begins with almost 400 pages of pictures. They are wonderful illustrations, but it did make me nervous as it is so different to the usual thing I read.  However, from the opening pictures – where we see young Billy Marvel shipwrecked and his rescue – I was entranced. This is the kind of thing that you could return to time and time again, and not tire of looking for further details as you become more familiar with the story. Watching the history of The Marvels unfold before my eyes was intriguing, and I was rather sad when our story turned to 1990 and the prose section.

For those who admire the illustrations I can imagine this section – focusing on Joseph Jervis running away to London to visit his mysterious uncle – will be off putting. However, unravelling the mysteries of Albert’s story and the links to the earlier part of the book were immensely satisfying.

As soon as I finished this I felt I’d spent time with something truly wonderful. It was a real work of art, and I was most intrigued by the afterword, where the author reveals the source of this story. I’ve never heard of Dennis Severs before reading this, but I feel compelled to read more about his amazing home.

This didn’t make it onto the shortlist of the 2017 Carnegie Awards, but it is on the Greenway Awards shortlist and is a book that I can see finding itself a place on my bookshelf in the near future.

‘The Selection’ series – Kiera Cass

The Selection series The HeirThe Crown


Book One – The Selection (read and reviewed July 2016)

Link: http://mygoodreads.co.uk/?p=950

Book Two – The Elite (read 06/03/17)

Book two picks up after the events of the first in the series. America has a firm foothold in Maxon’s affections, but she can’t bring herself to trust her feelings for him/feelings about the caste system and her indecision is the focus of most of the novel.

On the surface we have the superficial Selection process – like Blind Date gone horribly wrong we see the girls who are left put through a series of tasks to prove their worthiness. Lest we forget, we’re reminded regularly that though Maxon gets to choose, there are other forces coming into play that he has less control over.

The book was fairly well-paced and we get some further understanding of just what Maxon is put through as part of his role. This, however, seemed a bit cobbled on to explain why he didn’t stand up to people more.

The threat from the Rebels is closer, and there’s certainly more to this than we’ve been told so far. What annoyed me here though was America herself. She’s reckless, headstrong and so flamin’ indecisive I was really irritated by her. I can see why she’s appealing to some of the characters in the novel, but I hope the anger she was feeling at the end of the book forces her to act with some sense of decisiveness in book three.


Book Three -The One (finished 08/03/17)

A really emotional read, which is no mean feat for a book that is, at heart, focused on the superficial Selection process of choosing a wife for Prince Maxon.

In spite of many of the characters being more than irksome, here we got a real chance to see beyond the surface and come to know more about them/their hopes and fears. I even found myself liking America at points as she wrestles with her feelings for Maxon, comes to acknowledge the true state of her relationship with Aspen and finally acknowledges her role in the process.

For me a strength of this book was the fact it moved beyond the Selection and showed us more about the rebels/state of the country. It was much easier to get emotionally invested in people once we stopped seeing them in isolation.

While the actual process of Maxon and America forming their alliance came under pressure, I was quite stunned by the pace of the final part of the novel. Having already hit us with a death-blow that felt absurdly painful, I couldn’t read fast enough for the closing moments. Though I can’t help but feel shamefully manipulated, those final moments of the process and the emergence of the new order contained some of the best scenes of the series.

Book Four – The Heir (read 11/03/17)

We get to see America and Maxon years after their wedding, and we gain an insight into the changes they brought to their country. This novel focuses on their eldest daughter, Eadlyn, and the attempt to quell disturbances by holding another Selection.

There’s no escaping the fact that this felt like the same book, just with different characters. What I did like in this was the characters who aren’t part of the process. I didn’t particularly like many of the boys and the artificiality of the setting. It seemed an unusual situation to leave the book in, but I’m looking forward to seeing where we end up.

Book Five – The Crown (read 12/03/17)

First, this was full of romance and high on emotion. Second, there are some unexpected twists and turns that you might not see coming. Third, that’s it…
Eadlyn begins the novel in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s heart attack. Things are tense, and the turbulence in the Palace is mirrored in the country.
I unashamedly fell for the events of this novel. Rather predictable in places but Eadlyn grew as a character and there was a lot to like here.

‘Gilded Cage’ – Vic James

Gilded Cage

TARNISHED CITY is published early September 2017
BRIGHT RUIN concludes the trilogy in June 2018

A dark fantasy that immediately had me intrigued, and now I’ve read the first part I am desperate to see where James takes this next (it’s not that long to wait until September, honest!)

Our story opens with the death of a young slave at the hands of her ex-lover as she tries to leave the estate with their young child. Immediately it is clear that this is a brutal existence and the Jardine family – as one of the foremost Equals – are a force to be reckoned with.

In this world the ruling elite – the Equals – have authority over the masses, and everyone is forced to give up ten years of their life to servitude. Some romanticise the Equals and their Skills, but the reality of their power and capabilities is truly frightening (and isn’t really shown fully until we are immersed in the world).

We focus on the events involving Abi and Luke Hadley, the older children of a family who are set to spend their slave period working for the Jardine family. Unfortunately, Luke is not found a position and ends up in one of the slum towns working in a highly dangerous place. What is more dangerous is the group of people he encounters who hold beliefs that could result in a lot of trouble.

Without giving too much of the plot away, I found myself gripped by this. The characters were all intriguing, and it was exciting to see how each of them coped with their varied experiences. James skilfully sets up this world, and gives us a clear history/sense of where these ideals have come from, yet keeps racking up the intrigue. Throughout my reading I was vacillating between which of the Jardine brothers was least to be trusted, and there’s just enough revealed to satisfy us while keeping plenty back for the next in the series.

This was an unexpected treat, and I think it’s a definite must-read for fantasy fans.

Lauren Kate – ‘Fallen’ series



Book One – Fallen (read 02/03/17)

This is the kind of story that carries you along quite happily, and it is only after you finish reading that you start to pick holes in it.

Luce is sent to a reform school due to an unfortunate incident involving a boy and flames, lots of flames. She has, since she can remember, seen mysterious shadows around her and is, understandably, keen to not share this information with people. Unfortunately, everyone she comes across at this new school clearly knows a lot more about her and her situation than Luce is allowed to know.

Things happen fairly quickly, and the inevitable relationship dilemma is dealt with in a fairly engaging way. There’s a lot of characters, many of whom are expendable and don’t seem to have much impact on the story.

While this book was not particularly bad, it was frustrating because we watched Luce get into ridiculous situations without questioning what was happening. There were a few too many unanswered questions for my liking, but I’m looking forward to seeing the development of the story in the rest of the series.

Book Two – Torment (read 05/03/17)

‘Torment’ picks up immediately after the events of ‘Fallen’. We start with Luce being taken to a new school where it’s hoped she’ll be safe as she’s surrounded by the Nephilim (offspring of humans and fallen angels).

It’s no surprise to see that it all goes rather wrong. She gets to see Daniel occasionally but Luce spends most of the book digging round and trying to find out more about her past. We meet some new characters, learn a bit more about angels and watch Luce bumble from one disaster to the next as she tries to lay low. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it was incredibly frustrating to have yet another book where we get no closer to any answers.

Book Three – Passion (read 06/03/17)

In the third in the series Luce is determined to go back through time, to the times she and Daniel have met, in order to try and work out how she can put an end to her fate. What follows is a bit of a mish-mash of us seeing Luce and Daniel fall in love through history.

I understand that there is something slightly romantic about watching Luce and Daniel fall in love in their various incarnations, but we remain pretty short on answers in this novel. The style felt even more fractured than the previous two, but there were some nice scenes.

Where this did become fun was as we drew closer to the Fall and start to gain an insight into exactly what happened and how the curse affecting Luce came into being. We get some hints of where we might be going, but it does seem that things are being drawn out rather for the sake of it.

Book Four – Rapture

Book Five – Unforgiven