Friday 19 February 2016

Time Travelling with a Hamster - Book Review

Time Travelling with a Hamster - Book Review
Ross Welford
Middle Grade SCI-FI
UK Publisher: Harper Collins Childrens Books

Other Books by Ross Welford:

What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible 
The Dog Who Saved The World


“My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty nine and again four years later when he was twelve. The first time had nothing to do with me. The second time definitely did, but I would never even have been there if it hadn't been for his time machine…”

When Al Chaudhury discovers his late dad’s time machine, he finds that going back to the 1980s requires daring and imagination. It also requires lies, theft, burglary, and setting his school on fire. All without losing his pet hamster, Alan Shearer…


I really enjoyed this book although it was nothing like I expected. Full of twists and turns, the story was far from predictable. Also despite being dubbed a children's book, I think parts of the story are complex enough to have definite crossover appeal. This is without doubt a novel for both the young and old alike!

When twelve-year-old Al receives a letter from his dead dad, containing a set of instructions for a homemade time machine, Al realises he has the power to change his life—or at least save his dads. But when a trip to the 1980s ends horribly wrong, Al creates an even bigger catastrophe. Now armed with only a spare jumper and his pet hamster, he must set about making things right. Otherwise he may be stuck in the past with no home, no family, and no future to return too…

This is lovely story full of humour, drama and time-travelling action. However what starts as your typical children book soon turns into an emotional roller coaster and while I didn't cry, the last few pages certainly had me choked up and my eyes were admittedly damp.

The characters were all vibrant and very life-like. I loved the relationships between them, and particularly adored the exchanges between Al and his quirky, Indian grandfather, Byron. Not only are Al and his grandfather really close, but I found it both interesting and honest how Al respects and admires his grandfather in general, yet can sometimes be embarrassed by his grandfather’s flamboyance, especially in front of his classmates. 

Yet as the book progressed, I enjoyed watching Al grow more confident with both himself and the world around him. He learned to confront the bully, accept his family for who they are and better yet, learned that time travel is a pretty bad idea. Even the smallest of changes can have consequences. 

 However what made this book extra special for me was its setting. Not only am I from the Blyth/Cullercots area where the story takes place, but I knew every local area referenced, as well as all the Geordie terminology that I’m sure was interesting for a lot of readers. I also must confess that I too once had a black and white hamster named Alan Shearer. So as you can imagine, there was a lot about this story that made me smile.

My only niggle with the book is that—while I think tween readers would enjoy the humour—the latter half of the story is pretty intense and may be too heavily worded for younger readers to understand. With references to Albert Einstein and his work along with the idea of paradoxes… I’m not sure how a younger audience will receive this.

Overall I actually think teen to adult readers would appreciate this story more, however I hope this becomes the kind of book children take delight from, but maybe re-read again when they are older. Basically, since the story reads more child-like in some chapters and more adult-like in others, I’m really not sure where this book belongs on the bookshelf!

Ultimately though, the story is extremely well written and thought out. I personally enjoyed it very much and hope every person who picks it up goes into it with an open mind. A true masterpiece of fiction, I can’t wait to see what Ross Welford comes up with next. 4.5 stars!

Want more fun, edge of your seat adventures? Try THE BLACKTHORN KEY or KNIGHTS OF THE BORROWED DARK

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Salt to the Sea - Book Review

Salt to the Sea - Book Review
Ruta Sepetys
YA Historical
UK Publisher: Puffin


In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en-route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, not culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: Survival.


This book was one emotional rollercoaster after the other, but as heart-wrenching as it was, I absolutely loved it! A beautifully written story that offers a haunting glimpse into the journey undertaken by thousands of refugees in 1945, it follows the lives of three people as they travel across wintery Prussia in the hopes of escaping to a better life.

Joana is a nurse running from the horrors of her past. Florian is man on a deadly mission. Emilia is a tragic girl without papers. When the three cross paths in the snowy hills of Prussia, they form a reluctant band of travellers that together, face many perils. It is a journey not everyone will survive…

One thing that really came clear through the prose was the research the author put into this story. Through the eyes of her characters, Ruta Sepetys brought the world of 1945 Prussia to life, sharing with us the horrors of the war and the injustices suffered by so many. Yet she also revealed the kindness of others, such as the bonds that formed between the refugees, how they shared food and cared for each other, forming friendships to the point that new families were created from the heartbroken survivors. 

Yet while many of the events in the book are both sad and horrifying, they were portrayed in a way that the reader could resonate with and understand, tastefully written without being all blood and gore. Also the small details and facts weaved through the story were interesting as much as they were shocking. However like all good historical fiction, this book accomplished the great feat of subtly teaching without the reader ever being aware they are learning—something I think is doubly impressive considering this book was written for teens.

What moved me most about this story however was the attention it drew to the largest maritime disaster in history, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gosloff. Before this book I knew nothing about either the ship or the thousands of people who tried to escape to fairer shores on her, and I feel it’s a tragedy that should not be forgotten. Almost 9000 people, half of which were children, died in one night.

Ultimately though this is a fictional story, and I thought the plot moved at just the right pace. Each chapter was told from the view point of one of the main characters, with each of their secrets and histories revealed bit by bit as the book progressed. Admittedly due to the change in POVs, it did take me several chapters to get into the story, especially as in the beginning things were a little confusing until you learn a little more about who each character is. However this didn't take away my enjoyment of the book and I soon found myself immersed. 

The characters I loved most though were the secondary ones. The old shoe maker and the little boy really moved my heart, along with the blind girl and bossy “I’m sorry” woman. Despite being made up, they each had very distinct personalities that really helped bring this story to life.

All in all, Salt to the Sea is a tragic, eyeopening yet beautifully written book that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Thought provoking, emotional, and a great tribute to those whose lives were touched by the war. 5 stars!