Life on the Refrigerator Door – Alice Kuipers

Some of you have probably read this book, it was published a while ago but always seemed to be out of the library when I wanted to read it! My daughter wanted me to get a copy and she read it in an hour so I thought I’d add a quick read to my reading list and give it a go.

The premise of the book is that Clare and her mum are really busy people and leave each other notes on the fridge. The author said that she got the idea after her boyfriend left her a note and she realised that someone who read it would know quite a lot about them from just reading that one note. So the book is written entirely in note form.

Clare lives with her mum, who is a midwife. Her parents are divorced and her mum works really long hours. So to communicate they leave notes for each other. Just simple things like shopping lists or when to clean out Peter, their guinea pig/ rabbit. Then things start to get a bit more serious. Clare is only 15 and starts mentioning boys and friends and staying out. It is also obvious from the notes that she has a strong relationship with her dad and spends some time with him. It’s a lot to take on at 15 but Clare seems to do a lot around the house and the bulk of the shopping and cooking.

One day, her mum leaves her a note telling her that she has found a lump in her breast. She had been trying to arrange a time to tell her face to face but they keep missing each other. The notes then take a more emotional, and sometimes angry tone. Clare is scared and angry and still trying to be 15. She starts a relationship with an older boy called Michael and her mum is worried that it may not be appropriate. Gradually we learn that her mum has a mastectomy and starts chemo. Clare struggles to deal with this and spends more time with her dad.

This book is such a great concept. The notes mean that we have an insight in to their lives without becoming too involved. We know that Clare spends a lot of time with her friend Emma but we never meet her. Clare and her mum seem to have a strong, loving relationship but never seem to see each other.

If you are looking for a quick read that you will invest in but not too much, they try this one. It will make you realise that you should spend more time with he people that you love and less  time worrying about stuff because who knows how long you will have with that person? That sounds depressing but it’s actually quite life affirming.



Kids of Appetite – David Arnold

Kids of Appetite is a split time and split narrative book told from the perspectives of Vic Benucci and his girlfriend, Mad. It’s set in a place in America called Hackensack which I think is near New York!

Vic has Moebius Syndrome. It is a rare neurological disorder that affects the sixth and seventh cranial nerves which causes facial paralysis. Basically, he can’t move his face in any expression and is unable to blink or smile. He has to use eye drops all the time and has a problem with swallowing. He sleeps with his eyes half open (my brother also does this, it’s weird!)  and spends a lot of the  book wiping his face because he has problems swallowing too. Vic has been dealt some bad cards.

Vic’s dad has died and his mum has got a new boyfriend. At the beginning of the book we meet mum and boyfriend and the boyfriends two sons. The sons are not very nice. Just as they finish dinner, Frank (the  boyfriend) pulls out a ring and gets down on one knee. Vic freaks out and runs away. While walking out the door he takes his fathers ashes that have been sitting in the hallway. Vic hasn’t been able to touch them as he is still so unbearably sad about his dads death. While wandering around he decides to go and scatter the ashes in the river. Here he meets Mad, she is also a runway and introduces him to a group of other kids who have all run away from home. She offers to give his somewhere to spend the night and he accepts. He fancies Mad you see.

Because of the way the book is written, we know from the beginning that Vic and Mad have been involved in a murder and are currently being questioned at the Hackensack Police Station. The book is a series of flashbacks where we learn what they have done (or not done) to end up there.

The head of Mad’s little family is called Baz. They also live with his brother Zuz who doesn’t speak but clicks his fingers, and a feisty 11 year old red head called Coco. Baz is writing a book about people that they meet and pick up, while saving to start his own cab company; Renaissance Cabs. All the kids who join their group are called Chapters, and they have to agree to appear as a chapter in Baz’s book and say that they need help before Baz will help them out.  Baz and Zuz are from the Congo and have seen their parents and sister killed in the civil war.

When they open Vic’s dads ashes they find a note inside with a series of wishes of where he wants his ashes scattered; they are a bit cryptic so they need to figure out the  clues and then go and scatter the ashes. Vic also has an obsession with racehorses…

I haven’t read anything else by this author, Mosquitoland looks good too so that has gone on my reading list! This book is a bit quirky, the characters are all a bit out there but I liked the way that you are drip fed the story. You know that something has happened and the book is written in a series of flashbacks and this can sometimes be confusing. I also kept forgetting to check who was narrating so had to go back and check, it was a bit difficult to follow sometimes.

It was enjoyable though, and kept me going right to the end. I eventually managed to work out who had been murdered but not how or why, and there is a clever twist at the end about who the actual murderer is! A good thriller which will keep you guessing with a few storylines to keep you interested. I think that Vic didn’t really need to have a disability though, it felt a little unnecessary and was really only there so that he got bullied by a group of kids once or twice!

‘Kids of Appetite – they lived and they laughed and they saw that it was good.’

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

This book is on the shortlist for the Carnegie this year, and my first one on the list! It’s quite a small one so a good introduction to the shortlist.

The  book is set in Alaska in 1970 and has four main narrators: Ruth, Dora, Alyce and Hank. Ruth lives with her grandmother and her sister. Her father was killed in a plane crash when she was five and her mother has disappeared. Her sister, Lily was a few days old when their mother went AWOL and her grandmother has brought them both up. In 1970, Ruth is 16, as are all the main characters.

Dora lives with her mum who is an alcoholic. Her father is in prison for smashing up a bar when he was drunk. There is some kind of abuse going on here which is alluded to but not talked about openly. It gets so bad that she moves in with her neighbour, who for some reason is called Dumpling. Her family is much is nicer but Dora feels that she won’t be allowed to stay with them.

Alyce’s parents are divorced. She lives in Fairbanks with her mum but goes salmon fishing with her dad every summer for a few months. The trouble is that she wants to be a ballerina and the trials for her to get a scholarship at university are also in the summer. She hasn’t told her dad that that’s her dream so she sacrifices her place and goes with him.

Hank has two brothers. His dad is also a fisherman but has disappeared, presumed dead. His mum has met someone else that they don’t get on with him so they decide to run away. They stow away on the local ferry which will take them to the mainland when disaster strikes.

All four main characters are connected, or will be by the end of the book but Ruth is the more dominant narrator and her story is implied rather then spelt out.

The connections in this book, although clever, felt a bit too coincidental for me. I really enjoyed the storyline though, I learnt something about what it was like to live in Alaska in the 1970s and how hard it must have been. The different local communities are battling against the weather and the government and Alaska was officially made a US state in 1959. Ruth’s father was fighting against this when he was killed. There is some friendship stuff in  there and Ruth’s situation felt a little bit archaic to me  but….

All in all a good book to start off with. The characters fitted together nicely and the end was good. It left me with a warm fuzzy feeling, but that may have been the tea!


The Hawkweed Prophecy – Irena Brignull

The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull is the first in a series about two girls who have a strange connection. One lives in a coven in the woods with other witches, and no men. The other lives with her Dad and moves around a lot. It soon becomes clear that they move around so much because the girl, Poppy has problems settling in at school. Things seem to happen around her.

Poppy and Ember have been switched at birth. Poppy is living with her dad and moves a lot. Ember lives with her mother Charlock Hawkweed and the rest of the coven. The coven is led by her aunt Raven. There is a prophecy that one of the Hawkweed daughters will become Queen of the Witches and that means that it will either be Ember or her  cousin Sorrel.  Raven is determined that it will be her daughter, hence the reason that Poppy and Ember were swapped. Ember has little or no magical powers and there is no real possibility that she will ever be queen.

Poppy is on her 11th school and is struggling with the fact that her mum is in a mental hospital. Her mum is there because she has rejected Poppy and claims that she is not her daughter. Poppy is understandably struggling with this and doesn’t get on too well with her dad either; he is getting fed up with all the moving. Strange things happen when Poppy gets annoyed and most of the schools she has been in have asked her to leave.

One day the two girls meet in the woods by chance. They have no idea that they are connected but form an instant bond with each other. Poppy starts to talk about the outside world and Ember longs to be a part of it. Although she is not allowed the talk to ‘chaffs’ (non magical people) about the coven, she finds herself telling Poppy bits and pieces and lends her some of her books about spells. Poppy soon realises that there is more to their connection then either of them thought.

The other main character in the book is Leo, a boy who lives on the streets. Poppy meets and forms a connection with him and he helps her through some stuff with her cats. Leo has had a hard time and is living in fear of his stepdad and stepbrothers. Leo plays an important part in the lives of both the girls and, without giving too much away, will definitely make an appearance in the next book.

The book has some great elements in it; magic, jealousy, love and revenge. The strong female characters are refreshing to read about, and the idea of a load of ladies living in the woods making potions is kind of cool! As Poppy’s magic grows and she becomes more sure of her abilities she becomes a likeable person that we can identify with. Ember is a little too soft for my liking, but I think this might change later.

All in all a good book that you will enjoy and will keep you guessing. There are some violent elements to it but this is in context and the whole waiting to be queen thing will hopefully be fleshed out a bit more in the next  book, along with the East witches who turn in to big cats. Did I mention that there was people changing in to animals as well?

Further reading: The Thirteen Treasures series by Michelle Harrison, Harry Potter (obviously!) The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – basically anything with magic in!


Side Effects May Vary – Julie Murphy


This book makes me have conflicting emotions. The main character, Alice, has discovered that she has leukemia and only has months to live. Her childhood friend, Harvey, decides to care for her while hiding his feelings, that he is hopelessly in love with her, even though she has been totally ignoring him for the last couple of years. The trouble is that Alice isn’t very nice. In fact, she is a total user who knows that Harvey is in love with her and will do anything she asks.

It all starts with an unfortunate incident where Alice and her boyfriend Luke sneak out of school and go back to Alice’s house. They see something that they weren’t meant to see and Alice swears Luke to secrecy. Unfortunately he is also seeing Alice’s frenemy Celeste and the next day everyone knows. When Alice is diagnosed and realizes that she is not going to make it, she makes a bucket list of revenge. She dumps Luke and gets revenge on both him and Celeste, as well as doing some other stuff like sneaking in to an abandoned camp and smoking pot.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Just as she thinks that she is on her last legs and got all the revenge out of her system, a visit to the doctor’s tells her that she has gone in to remission. She no longer has cancer and is going to live. She finds out the night after Harvey has told her that he loves her. She says it back and then realizes that she is not ready for that kind of commitment and panics.

As she recovers and goes back to school she starts to ignore poor old Harvey and he is in total turmoil. Then she takes up with another boy (can’t remember his name but it doesn’t matter, he isn’t around for long) and Harvey finds out. He tells her enough is enough and goes off with someone else. I won’t spoil the ending but, suffice to say, I still feel conflicted. Alice is not a nice person. Harvey is a nice person but a total doormat. I don’t think that Alice really cares about anyone except herself, and the problem is that because she is dying everyone thinks they should feel sorry for her. There is a really horrible incident towards the end where the people she has been really mean to get their revenge on her, and I just kind of felt that she deserved it! Anyway, you read it and decide what you think.

It’s a good book because it makes you ask yourself whether you would do the same thing in her shoes. If you knew you were dying would you get back at people or would you let the bitterness go and fundraise or something. I like to think I would do good things  but, I’m pretty sure I would give some people some home truths as well! But also, just because you think you should feel sorry for someone, if they are as horrible as Alice is, do you still need to be nice to them?


We Are All Made of Molecules – Susan Nielsen


We Are All Made of Molecules  was one of the books available as part of the Booktrust box of books, another great selection this year and I read it as part of my book club with year 8.

Stewart and his dad live together in their house which, until recently, also contained Stewart’s mum. A year before the book is set, she died. Stewart is a highly intelligent 13 year old and attends the Little Genius School for gifted children. He is very clever.

Ashley lives with her mum, her dad lives in a little house in the garden (apparently it’s called a laneway house) because he has  decided that he is gay. Ashley is not the brightest button in the box and is mortified by this. She is, as she describes it, at the top of the social ladder and is always worrying about her position on it. She is desperate to keep the fact that her dad is gay a secret.

Their worlds collide when Stewart’s dad starts dating Ashley’s mum and they decide  to move in together. Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mum and Ashley is super not happy about it. To make things worse (for her) Stewart decides to move from Little Gifted to the same high school as Ashley.

Stewart is not the most popular kid in school, but Ashley is the Queen Bee. She resents everything he says and does and doesn’t really want anyone to know that they know each other. Stewart starts to get bullied by the new boy, Jared, and Ashley fancies him. Stewart overhears a conversation about Ashley and decides to help get them together. This will also help with Jared trying to pull Stewart’s shorts down in PE (it must be a boy thing!). Jared is almost as unpleasant as Ashley so they deserve each other.

I loved the split narrative of this book. Stewart’s voice was warm and funny, Ashley was horrible and really made me dislike her. I could understand that they both had issues but I felt that Stewart was far more willing to compromise. Ashley was a bit of a spoilt brat. She does get her comeuppance in the end but it still left me thinking that she was horrible. Stewart is obviously on the Autistic spectrum and is very literal. But what a lovely boy he is, and the way he manages his life is really great.

This is a fun short read and it will help you appreciate the finer points of families coming together in these situations. It is also a good book club choice as there are a few things to discuss here. Most notably, Ashley and her relationship with her dad and Stewart and his obsession with molecules! You will like Stewart though, he’s one of the good guys.


The Girl in the Blue Coat – Monica Hesse


I have just finished reading a book about old people’s homes in Holland (for a book group before you ask!)  and decided to pick  this one up because it is about the German occupation of Holland during WW11. I didn’t know much about so it was an interesting read.

Hanneke Bakker is an 18 year old girl living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. When we first meet her she is on her way to make a delivery of black market goods for her employer, the local undertaker. She  goes around delivering hard-to-get items to the wealthy people of  Amsterdam. She is also mourning the loss of her boyfriend, Bas, who was killed in the short lived resistance of the Dutch Army before the they succumbed to the German invasion. This was two years previously and Hanneke feels a lot of guilt. She thinks that Bas, who joined up early, did so  because he wanted to impress her.

Hanneke is stopped by a young German soldier and flirts her way out of trouble. She then calls on her next customer, Mrs Janssen, who has several sons. One has  been killed and the others have fled to America and England. Her husband has also not been seen for a while. She asks Hanneke to do her a favour. She has been harbouring a  young Jewish girl who was a friend of the family. Her husband had  been hiding the family at his factory but they had been betrayed and all been killed, including her husband, except for the girl. The girl has since gone missing and Mrs Janssen wants Hanneke to find her, as she is the only family she has left.

Coincidently, the same day her dead boyfriends brother Ollie appears at her door and, although Hanneke does not want to become involved, she agrees to meet with a friend of Ollie and realizes that he is involved with the Dutch resistance movement. He knows someone that can help her find Mirjam (the Jewish girl in the blue coat) and bring her back to Mrs Janssen and safety. Judith is a member of Ollie’s supper club and is Jewish. She works at the local centre where Jews go after they have been rounded up by the Germans. Her sister Mina works in the crèche looking after the very young and both girls are active members of the resistance. We also meet Willem, who is Ollie’s roommate.

What follows is a roller coaster of missed connections and double dealing. Hanneke is unwittingly drawn in to helping the resistance and is nearly caught on a few occasions. All the time she is carrying this guilt about Bas and we learn some of their back story. Hanneke  is a strong character that makes you feel that, if you were in the same situation as her you would  hopefully be as brave. The people of all occupied countries suffered such fear and hardship during the years that the Germans invaded their countries and people must have been constantly afraid of doing anything wrong. The rounding up of the Jews is poignantly portrayed, a boy cries because two girls in his class have been deported to concentration camps because they are Jewish. Hanneke has no hope of a future because she cannot see past her grief. Her relationship with her parents also changes significantly during the course of the book.

Every time I read a book like this, and there are so many out there that I have read a few, it astonishes me. How can ordinary people cope with such an extraordinary situation? Would I be able to cope with it? Would you? People do all sorts of amazing things when they have to, and so many people fought the Germans in their own way, small items of resistance that showed the enemy that they won’t give up fighting for their country. Hanneke is an ordinary girl trying to get by in a world that she no longer recognizes, and this book is so well written that you feel sorry for her but, at the same time, you will wish that you were like her.

The book has also  been compared to the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I didn’t really see the connection, or rather I did but didn’t agree.  This book will make you sad, but it will also make you glad that you live in a society where this will never happen again. It’s a study of human endurance and bravery and it made me tingle.

Further Reading: The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas and The Boy at the Top of the mountain by John Boyne.