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I have been excited about this book since February when I first saw the proof in the bookshop.

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The story concerns 11 year old Josh who, since his mother’s death, has been living on a remote island with his uncle Calum. Calum is a hard working farmer who doesn’t really do emotions of talking. Josh is seen as an outsider by most of the children on the island and so he is lonely and still deeply grieving. However, he has one distraction – animals – which, of course, are in abundant supply on the island. He is naturally skilled at finding injured animals and then helping them get better. One day he discovers an abandoned Border collie pup and decides to take her home. Calum would never allow a pet and so Josh has to keep her a secret, vowing to train her up as a sheepdog and so show her worth.

This is a compelling story. Josh is mature in so many ways, caring for animals with great tenderness and devotion. Yet he is so young in other ways – and so lonely it is heart breaking. But the arrival of Reggae (named after his mother’s favourite kind of music) is the catalyst for great change. Yvonne, the vet’s daughter, discovers Josh’s secret and helps him out – developing a friendship along the way.

There are some nasty characters in this – a man called Dunham who mistreats his own dogs as well as his son Kearney. Kearney starts off as Josh’s foe but when Dunham steals Reggae and Josh and Yvonne set out to get her back, he makes a brave decision and stands against his father.

John is allowed to put Reggae through her paces at the local sheepdog trials and there is success. Uncle Calum softens and you know that things are going to be ok.

There are some real tense, nail biting moments. I’m not one for nature, but I felt I was there on the island, enjoying its beauty and searching for animals in distress. The story has great pace and the ending is satisfying but not over the top – things are just as they should be. It left a smile on my face for days.

Any Dick King Smith fans would love this – but equally, if you don’t think you really ‘do’ animal stories, then do read this – you will most definitely enjoy it.

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