The Invisible by Tom Percival

Isabel and her family are poor but happy. They have each other. Isabel finds positives in her world. But one day there is no longer enough money to pay their bills. They have to move to a block of flats in a more urban area.

Isabel struggles to find positives around her and feels herself becoming more and more invisible every day.

Then she realises she can see other “invisible” people. She sets out to help them do small but good deeds. Their invisibility soon disappears and Isabel realises she and her new friends have made a difference.

Tom’s illustrations just add to the power of his words.

You feel the chill of Isabel’s frosty bedroom in winter.

You feel the warmth of the fire, the family sitting around it.

You feel the invisibility of Isabel as she wanders around her new neighbourhood.

You feel hope when she realises she has made a difference.

Tom Percival has based this story on his own lived experiences. There are too many still living this experience.

We all have a place, somewhere we belong. It is not just poverty that can make people invisible to others. This book is an excellent way into having these unfortunately necessary discussions.

The message of hope the book delivers is powerful. It reminds us that small acts can make a big difference. It reminds us to look for the helpers.

I received an eARC from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster UK Children’s to review. Thank you

Bone Music by David Almond (due to be published 1st April 2021)

“It’s no good rewilding the world , if we do not rewild ourselves.”

Sylvia has been brought from her city home in Newcastle to the vast, never-ending landscapes and skies of rural Northumberland for a break. She feels cut off, isolated and, in a strange way, enclosed by the depth of seemingly endless darkness that first night.

She then meets enigmatic Gabriel, who shows her the countryside and links to the past. Their walks and talks enable Sylvia to look within herself and within the landscape for connections to the past, her past, the past of the landscape and nature. This is deepened by her making of an ancient musical instrument from the wing bone of a buzzard.

Sylvia is concerned about humans and the destruction they bring to the planet. By embracing her surroundings, the history, the music and the people, by letting herself get lost in them, she finds her true self as well as hope and light, which gives her a deep, deep sense of belonging and courage to fight for the future.

David Almond is a master wordsmith, painting stunning images in the reader’s head. His prose is poetic, lyrical. It evokes the infinite landscape and skies of Northumberland, the musicality of nature and the wilderness through time.

As I read this, I could not help but reference the words and images of The Dam (2019, David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold), which has the same modern/ancient, music/ghostly themes. The flooded village is later mentioned in Bone Music, the lake now part of the natural, ever changing but constant landscape.

The themes of humans verses the environment, ancient verses modern, light versus dark, destruction versus creation are deep. Sylvia’s journey to Northumberland and inside herself provide hope, light and music that will strengthen and heal.

Whilst Sylvia is the main character, for me the landscape and music are the unconventional stars of this story.

The cover design, by David Litchfield, is hauntingly beautiful. It encapsulated so much of the meaning in this story.

I was provided with an eARC of this by NetGalley and Hachette Books. Thank you.

The Follower by Kate Doughty (due to be published 23.3.2021)

The Follower is a YA story that follows the story of teenage triplets, Cecily, Amber and Rudy Cole. They are the personalities that front the family’s social media influencer account about house flipping. They take on multi million dollar makeovers, live-streaming and photoshopping their way to sponsorships that increasingly become needed due to the family finances. The majority of followers (The Cole Patrol) are in awe.

The triplets each had their own “thing” on social media. Cecily does make up and wanted to delve into the chemicals and science of the make up. Amber has been relegated by mum to the behind camera operations, despite wanting to promote her plus size fashion tips and Rudy has become the “host with the most”, when all he wants to do is investigate and dabble in his music.

But all is not as “prefect” as it seems, both on social media and in their lives. The triplets are increasing fed up with their mother’s control of their output (mainly due to financial pressures) and the never ending need for the perfect shots to up the follower count.

When they take on a house in the New York suburbs that has been empty for a few years after a suicide, the locals are none too happy and neither is one particular follower. This is when things start to totally unravel for the Cole family.

The Follower posts messages to their account warning them off “my house”. The family ignore these until strange things start to happen. Items are moved or disappear, doors are locked that were previously open, shadows are seen, footsteps heard…but no solid evidence. The normally encouraging and cheerleading followers start to take notice of The Follower’s postings and accuse the Coles of fake news and faking accidents for internet hits, turning against the family.

I wanted to tell them to stop posting, but like all horror stories, characters always do things we all know would be sensible not to.

The incidents become increasingly life threatening but are difficult to prove to the police. Rudy takes on his own investigation, with the support of his sisters and a couple of local teenagers they have befriended. This just increases the rage of The Follower.

The tension builds during the story, clues lead in a range of different directions until the final, slightly bemusing denouement. I felt there were not enough hints earlier in the story to have possibly worked out who The Follower was. However, the explanation added to the depth of the back story. There is no final “happy” ending…we are left wondering what will happen next.

There are some difficult themes in this book: loss, disfigurement, stalking, death, suicide, as well as the overarching theme of social media portrayal of life vs reality (lies vs truth?), which leads the narrative and is very uncomfortable at times.

There are some follower posts between each chapter, on a background of a shadow (The Follower). These add to the creepiness of the story. I noticed that the shadow is not always in the same place, which added to my unnerved feeling.

Cover and other illustrations are by Hana Anouk Nakamura.

This is a story loosely based on an ongoing true story. It is deeply unsettling.

Thanks to NetGalley and Amulet Books/ABRAMSbooks for an eARC.

Girl 38 by Ewa Jozefkowicz

Girl 38 is three stories in one. Kat finds herself, as a teenager, feeling lonely and realising her best friend since nursery is actually very controlling, bullying her into things she does not want to do.

As an escape from this, Kat creates comic strip stories set in the future about Girl 38, a strong, brave character. People in her life provide her with inspiration for the qualities, both good and bad, of the comic strip characters.

At the same time as a new boy joins her school, annoying her best friend, Kat finally meets and begins a friendship with the elderly Polish lady, Ania, who lives next door.

Ania begins to tell Kat about her search for a friend in World War II, a story that includes jumping from a train, sewers and grim determination. Kat, without telling Ania what is happening in her own life at the time, reflects on Ania’s experiences and makes links to her own situation.

As the tale unfolds, will Kat find inspiration and courage from Ania’s experiences to finally stand up for herself? Will she find the right ending for Girl 38?

This is one of those books that has been on my tbr pile for too long. I cannot believe I did not read it before now.

The author deals with the difficult subjects of control, bullying and the occupation of Poland in WWII with aplomb. There are themes of moral courage, bravery, friendship, hope and finding light in the dark, which Ewa Jozefkowicz tackles with a sure touch, enabling the readers to enjoy the story whilst also contemplating the impact people in your life have.

The stylish cover illustration, by Anna Hymas, beautifully depicts the three stories told in the book.

Beyond the Setting Sun by Sarah J. Dodd, illustrated by Cee Biscoe

Beyond the Setting Sun is due to be published in July 2021. I received a digital preview copy via NetGalley.

In the African Savannah, beautifully portrayed by Biscoe’s illustrations, very hot and tired Ekundayo and his mum, along with their herd, search for water to drink. Mum keeps Ekundayo distracted by singing to him. The rains finally arrive, but too late for mum.

Ekundayo at first refuses to believe she has died and tries singing to her. As his loss sinks in, Ekundayo refuses help from his aunt and he becomes very sad, angry and frustrated, wandering off on his own.

With the support and understanding of his aunt and father, Ekundayo learns to remember his mum through the happy memories and the songs she sang to him, realising her love and influence will always be with him.

The end papers are glorious silhouettes of elephants travelling, against the backdrop of a stunning evening sky.

This is an excellent, sensitive picture book to help support discussions about death, and the emotions surrounding it, with children.

There is useful information about grief at the back, as well as some links to support.

The House of One Hundred Clocks by A.M. Howell

It is 1905. After the death of her mother Helena finds herself moving to Cambridge with her father, a clock maker, and her precious parrot Orbit. Her father has accepted a job in the house of Mr Westcott. The job is a strange one, to keep all the clocks in the house ticking, never letting them stop and to never discuss any strange goings on. Helena finds this bizarre but then discovers other things that deepen her resolve to get to the bottom of the mystery. Just as she works out one puzzle, another one appears.

She befriends Florence, Mr Westcott’s daughter, and Stanley, the only servant left in the house. Together they try to work out why the clocks can never be allowed to stop, why Mr Westcott and his sister, Katherine, do daily clock inspections, what happened to Helena’s father’s predecessor, what is behind Katherine’s mysterious behaviour and why the clock keys disappear.

This is a well paced story with plenty of twists and turns. It also provides plenty of discussion points along the way, including the historical backdrop of the development of flight by the Wright Brothers.

The story has many themes, including loss, grief, superstitions, attitudes to females in engineering/academia at the time and that doing the wrong thing for whatever reason is not going to end well.

It is unusual to find end papers in paperback novels so I was excited to discover this book has them. Saara Söderlund has beautifully illustrated clues to different aspects of the story…clocks, books, hats and feathers.

Space Oddity by Christopher Edge

Do you want Cosmic capers? UFOs? Alien Abductions? Killer Robots? Smelly aliens? Embarrassing dads? Zorbs?

Then this is the book for you.

It also has numerous references to Star Wars, Doctor Who and a certain David Bowie Song…”and there is nothing I can do”.

Space Oddity is a fast paced adventure. Jake thinks his dad is embarrassing (is that not the role of parents though?) and when asked at a dad and son space adventure weekend if he would rather have a boring dad or an out of this world dad, he really wants to say the first option. But then, when his dad is abducted, he will do anything to get him back.

This is a story about relationships, perception of others and how you feel others see you. It is also about songs and music but I won’t spoil that part.

There are, in my opinion, not enough sci-fi novels for children. This is an excellent entry to that category for 8+ to read on their own or, even better, to enjoy as a bedtime shared read.

Christopher Edge has also created an out of this world book soundtrack to go along with the book. You can find it here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0gcbXz0uHZePqLDMermKyJ

Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi

Eight Detectives is cleverly structured. It is seven short stories within an overarching eighth story. It brought to mind Christie and Conan Doyle style set ups.

Julia Hart is a publisher who travels to a secluded island to meet an author who self published seven short, in some places gruesome, stories 30 years previously. She wants to republish the book of stories and delve deeper into his “mathematical rules for murder mystery” research paper, the basis for his short stories.

As she delves into his past the author, Grant McAllister, becomes increasingly less forthcoming. Why? This leads to her becoming the eighth detective.

Each short story is interspersed throughout, as the author and publisher go through each one. Julia points out what she feels are discrepancies in each story, trying to elicit information from Grant as to why he put them into his stories.

I do not want to give spoilers, however I will say I was left feeling short changed when information that had previously been hidden from me as reader was revealed towards the end. This went against the rules as set out by Grant in his theories of murder mystery by numbers. It would not have spoiled enjoyment of the book, or given anything major away, had readers been given a hint of what Julia was actually up to.

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Pádraig Kenny

Nothing is as it seems in Rookhaven. No one is as they seem in Rookhaven.

Mirabelle and her family are suddenly exposed to the outside world when two orphan siblings, Tom and Jem, accidentally find their way through the invisible shield that protects them from the outside world…or is it the other way round? Who wouldn’t want to be protected by carnivorous plants?

The family are a bit of a mismatched group, all with their own past experiences and special skills. Especially the enigmatic Piglet, the being locked in the cellar. Is everything as it seems? Would it make things better or worse if Piglet is released?

Pádraig Kenny has written a classic gothic tale for children. There are echoes of other fictional worlds but the author has created a unique world with unique characters. Every one of them finds out more about themselves and we as readers are led to think one thing then forced to re-evaluate what we already thought we knew.

Themes of family, friendship, trust, fear, community, grief, morality and mortality are tackled deftly.

Edward Bettison’s illustrations are used to superb effect throughout the book, like light shining through the dark.

Endpapers…I love them and these by Edward Bettison are stunning. They are an added extra that echo the illustrations throughout the book that complement the story telling.

Elsetime by Eve McDonnell

Elsetime is a time travelling story that will suck you in. It is set in both 1864 and 1928, with a backdrop of the danger and loss of life possibilities of the Great Flood of London on 6th January 1928.

Needle is a creative mudlark who finds treasure and makes items from them for his mother to sell. He can “see” the history of the items, and their owners, when he holds them. His father has also mysteriously disappeared.

Glory is a 12 year old orphan, with only one hand, who pretends to be older to get work making fine items for the mean Mrs Quick, in Frippery & Fandangle Emporium, to help her sister pay the rent and buy food. Unfortunately they lack finesse and fall apart.

Neither know of the other’s existence (although they both know a helpful crow called Magpie/Dust) until Needle finds treasure that, being from the future, makes his hand burn. This leads him to discover a hag stone through which he finds he travels through time to a London that is both familiar but different.

Needle and Glory end up working together, thanks to the crow engineering their meeting, to try to save the people who they think will perish in the flood. This is difficult as no one seems ready or willing to listen to their wondrous tale.

We are taken on a journey with Needle and Glory through time as well as the development of their friendship, which is not without its misunderstandings, to a high octane conclusion on the night of the flood. A twist in the tail left me with lots to ponder once the reading was done.

I love endpapers in picture books and hardbacks. They are rarely found in paperbacks so it was a lovely surprise to find the crow illustrations by Holly Ovendon inside the cover. Holly’s cover and illustrations throughout the book are a joy.