‘Boy Meets Hamster’ – Birdie Milano

A quirky story, that will have you laughing out loud and (probably) falling in love with a giant orange hamster.

Dylan is used to being dragged on rubbish holidays with his parents and younger brother. This summer he’s taken to a caravan park in Cornwall, and the only consolation is he can take his best friend Kayla. Nothing much happens at this park, but in his quest to have the holiday of a lifetime Dylan ends up causing chaos.

Upon arriving at their holiday home, Dylan develops an enormous crush on the boy in the van next-door. Unfortunately, this crush causes him untold pain…not helped by the fact that everywhere he goes he’s accosted by the park mascot, hamster Nibbles.

Of course, things don’t quite go to plan. There’s enough awful things happen to Dylan to leave him traumatised for life, but he bounces back from them all. He even ends up finding the boy of his dreams-though not where he was expecting!

Thanks to publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication.

‘Ringer’ – Lauren Oliver

Bestselling author Lauren Oliver digs deep into questions of how to be a human being in a world where humanity cannot be taken for granted.

In Ringer we catch up with Lyra after she has escaped from the Haven. She and Caelum are on the run, trying to work out who can help them.

Again, we have the flip book format. You can read alternate chapters or the stories in turn. For this one I read Lyra’s story before Gemma’s and, having got to the end of the story, I confess to feeling rather perplexed.

I loved the idea behind this story, and it was good to see a little more into the minds of those who have created the replicas. It posed interesting questions about mankind and what it means to be human.

While the idea is exciting, there were sections where I found my attention wandering. Splitting the focus between the characters meant I never felt fully engaged by either.

‘The Impossible Vastness of Us’ – Samantha Young

India Maxwell hasn’t just moved across the country—she’s plummeted to the bottom rung of the social ladder. It’s taken years to cover the mess of her home life with a veneer of popularity. Now she’s living in one of Boston’s wealthiest neighborhoods with her mom’s fiancé and his daughter, Eloise. Thanks to her soon-to-be stepsister’s clique of friends, including Eloise’s gorgeous, arrogant boyfriend Finn, India feels like the one thing she hoped never to be seen as again: trash.

But India’s not alone in struggling to control the secrets of her past. Eloise and Finn, the school’s golden couple, aren’t all they seem to be. In fact, everyone’s life is infinitely more complex than it first appears. And as India grows closer to Finn and befriends Eloise, threatening the facades that hold them together, what’s left are truths that are brutal, beautiful, and big enough to change them forever…

I love it when a book delivers more than you’re expecting.

When India’s mother drops her bombshell, she’s unsure how to feel. With one action she’s gone from being a popular girl to a nobody on the social rung of her new school. India’s new stepfather has money, lots of it, and lives in an environment where your name and reputation is everything.

India’s journey in this novel is an interesting one. She slowly learns there’s more to people than they always want to present to the public, and gradually learns to trust herself.

There’s a lot in here that you need to discover as you read. The characters India meets are not without their flaws, but combined it makes for a pretty explosive read. There are some views expressed here that are never going to be okay – and they are necessary for the credibility of the characters/plot but it doesn’t make them any easier to read.

‘The Dollmaker of Krakow’ – R.M. Romero

Karolina is a very special doll. Once a seamstress in the Land of Dolls she had to leave her country behind when rats invaded and started to destroy the once peaceful land simply because they could. She and her friend, Fritz, journey across their land to a place where they have been told a spirit resides who can send them to a place where their heart will be safe. A dangerous journey, but one they feel compelled to make.

We first meet Karolina when she awakens in the toy shop owned by Cyril Brzezick, the Dollmaker of Krakow. A private man, Cyril is shocked to discover that he has brought this doll to life. Slowly, they learn to trust each other.

Set against the backdrop of events in Poland in 1940 it is inevitable that we have to read about intense hatred and prejudice. We watch as Cyril befriends Josef and his daughter, Rena, only to have their friendship taken away because they are Jews. Throughout these events Karolina is by Cyril’s side…right until the end.

For readers of 9 upwards I think this will be a great book to introduce some of the issues linked to WWII. Inevitably, it’s upsetting to see the hatred experienced by Josef and Cyril because of their religion or refusal to follow Nazi orders. I think the blending of historical and magical is a perfect mix. What happens to these characters is awful, but there’s glimpses of humanity that reduced me to tears.

A beautifully presented book, with wonderfully depicted characters (even the nasty ones) and I can’t wait to see how others feel about it.

‘The Start of Me and You’ – Emery Lord

This is one of those feel-good romances that is just sweet enough.

Paige Hancock is pretty well-versed in The Look. She is used to everyone around her – apart from her friends – giving it to her when they realise Paige was the one whose boyfriend died a year ago.

I felt rather awful when I started reading this, because Paige had only been going out with Aaron for a couple of months before he died. I couldn’t understand how you’d let such an event define you in the way Paige does.

That minor gripe aside, Paige is determined to plan a way to move her life on. So, at the start of the new academic year she comes up with a plan to push herself to try new experiences.

I couldn’t help but think the activities she resolves to try were rather formulaic, but – of course – things wouldn’t be good to read about if they went exactly to plan.

We watch Paige grow in confidence, and her group of friends – old and new alike – were fun to watch. They had a close bond and seemed so mature in their approach, particularly with regard to support offered.

I spotted the romance a mile off and it was more about watching how Paige and her new love interest finally get to this stage. Books featured highly in the novel so it had definite appeal.

‘Clean’ – Juno Dawson

Clean. To be clean involves removing dirt. And, in this, there’s A LOT of dirt.

Due for release in April 2018, I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this latest release from Juno Dawson. It brought back memories of the first time I read ‘Junk’ by Melvin Burgess, and I sincerely hope that this does not get ignored because people think teen readers can’t handle such topics.

We first meet our main character, Lexi, as she is passed out in her brother’s car on her way to a rehabilitation centre for heroin addiction. I’d read the opening some time ago, but it was just as disorientating and confusing this time around. Watching Lexi go through the first steps in her seventy day treatment is hard to read.

Dawson packs a serious punch here and we get a warts-and-all account of not just Lexi’s addiction but those with her in the centre. We relive some of the experiences that bring Lexi to this point and, though there were some alarming situations, there was no scare-mongering ‘just say no’ preaching.

What this novel conveyed so well was the deception that someone who is addicted might practise. Particularly on their sense of self. If you surround yourself with enablers, it’s easy to deny you have a problem.

Initially I did not think Lexi would be a character I felt much for. But, thankfully, she is not simply a shallow spoilt little rich girl. She, like a lot of the other characters we meet, is lost and needs help finding her place. As we learn more about Lexi it becomes easier to see beyond the persona she presents to the world.

There was a sense of knowingness to ‘Clean’. Sometimes the first attempt at rehabilitation is unsuccessful, but it doesn’t mean you should stop trying. There were moments of humour within this – which I wasn’t really expecting – and I found myself wanting to know more about some of the other characters Lexi meets. I also found myself really irritated by Lexi’s so-called friends and the ‘rich absent’ parents who seemed to be being held more than accountable for their childrens’ issues.

While it doesn’t give us all the answers, it certainly raises some interesting questions.


‘Only Child’ – Rhiannon Navin

After finishing this I was reminded of the cliché ‘out of the mouths of babes’…

Part of me wishes stories about school shootings were not such high-profile at the moment but, with recent events in America, it seems to be a problem that is not going away. This will not be a book for everyone. The topic is hard to read about, and there’s an element of earnestness to the message that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

Our story begins with first grader Zach hiding with his teacher and classmates in the closet. He recounts the reactions of those around him as he listens to the repetitive pop-pop-pop sound that signals a gunman has entered the building.

From the outset we are placed in the middle of what must be a terrifying experience. For anyone. Zach’s youth and innocence mean we are seeing this through very different eyes and it’s hard to take. I sighed with relief as Zach and his classmates are escorted out of the building. This didn’t last long.

As Zach is collected by his mum we learn that his older brother, Andy, is missing. From this point onwards the pain level is hiked up.

Sadly, Andy is one of the victims. Through Zach’s eyes we watch how this event shatters and tears apart the family.

Zach has, at times, a voice just that little too adult and knowing. I can’t picture many six/seven year olds articulating some of their thoughts in the way he does. However, his observations of the family and those around them as they exist in the months afterwards are telling.

The child-narrator means we miss some of the details we’d like to know. Much of what Zach experiences is either directly related to him or gleaned from half-heard conversations. But what we get is enough.

By the end of the novel – perhaps because it would be simply too depressing otherwise – we are given signs that things may settle down with the family. There is hope.

Unfortunately, the question of the shooter, how he has access to the guns and how steps could be taken to prevent such events happening are never explored. They can’t feasibly be in this (probably not questions a seven year old would dwell on/even raise unless repeating things said around them), but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to my publication. I’m sure readers’ “prayers and thoughts” will be with all the characters in this fictional story – as they are every time another school shooting takes place – but, ultimately, that changes nothing.

‘Zeroes’ – Scott Westerfeld

Having a superpower must have been high on everyone’s wish-list as a kid. But what do you do if you actually have a superpower…and don’t really know how to control it?

In Zeroes – the first in a new trilogy – we meet a group of teens who each have their own power. They’re not always in control of their power, and the after effects of them using their power can be catastrophic.

We open meeting Ethan, Scam, a boy who has two voices; one of which always knows just what to say. Unfortunately this voice doesn’t always think about the consequences that come into play. When he is caught up in a bank robbery and becomes an internet sensation, he has little choice but to contact the friends he hasn’t really seen for the last year. The Zeroes.

There’s nothing particularly new here, but this story of a group learning to use their powers is a thrilling story. It introduces us to a very varied cast and makes us intrigued by all of them, which is no mean feat. Of course, you’ll have a favourite but it’s fascinating to watch them go about their business. There’s also some explosive action, some serious villains and a real need to see what happens next.