Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Review of

Signs of Life by Stephen Fabes

5star.jpg Travel

I was brought up on maps and first-person narratives of tales of far away places. I was birth-righted wanderlust and curiosity. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit what Dr. Stephen Fabes clearly had which was the guts to simply go out and do it. I also didn't inherit the kind of steady nerve, ability to talk to strangers and basic practicality that would have meant that I would have survived if I had been gifted with the requisite 'bottle'. In order words I'm not the sort of person who will get on a bike outside a London hospital and not come home for six years. Fabes did precisely that. Full Review

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Review of

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

4star.jpg Teens

18-year-old Amir is American Iranian, a Muslim, and gay. He struggles with his identity, unable to face telling his parents who he really is, so when another student at his school starts blackmailing him, threatening to show his parents photographs of Amir kissing his boyfriend Amir panics and runs away...to Italy! So begins a journey for Amir, and his family, where they all discover more about him, and who he really is, and who he really wants to be. Full Review

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Review of

The Readers Room by Antoine Laurain

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Violaine's publishing house has had a great success, and it was through the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts. The three people who work in the Readers' Room to sift through what is ninety-nine per cent dross – plus the fourth advisor in her rarefied mansion up the road – all agreed the book would be a huge smash, and so it has proven. But there are several 'howevers' to that. As in, however – Violaine herself is not having life all her own way, for she has been involved in a near-fatal accident, and starts this book coming round from a coma. And, however – despite all urging, the author of the book has never once made themselves known to the publishers in person, and in fact offered up a most peculiar statement-come-threat in their last email. What is going to befall Violaine, her memory, her staff – and how much is any of it due to the hit novel? And just where the heck did that come from? Full Review

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Review of

Think Outside the Box by Justine Avery and Liuba Syrotiuk

4star.jpg For Sharing

Whenever you find a problem
Wherever there's a puzzle to solve
However you get stuck in a sticky situation
Just think outside the box

And so begins the latest picture book from Justine Avery and Liuba Syrotiuk. It's a clarion call to children to use their imaginations and not logic alone when it comes to solving problems. Full Review

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Review of

The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn and Rosie Hedger (translator)

4star.jpg Crime

Come here for a thriller that interestingly doesn't even try to suggest a genre of any kind until we're a full fifth of the way through. We start with our couple, she a literature lecturer, he big in medical provision and decisions at the council, being forced to move out of their home, a building that had existed throughout her life since childhood and which they'd occupied for over thirty years. The building he's inherited, meanwhile, and which they let out to a single mother, is needed by their adult daughter, who quite blatantly says to its occupant 'take a hike, I'm moving in and you're moving out'. Now, at this stage you may well, if you know this is a genre read, think it's going to be a throwback to those 'home invasion' thrillers Hollywood gave us in the 1980s, but no. We avoid genre completely, as I say – instead learning about Greek tragedy, in case that has any bearing on what happens here, and seeing how an older-middle aged couple live their lives. Until at that twenty per cent stage we find something that raises an eyebrow as any crime book should – until the point where the evicted tenant is found to have completely vanished. Full Review

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Review of

A Song of Isolation by Michael J Malone

3star.jpg Crime

Film star Amelie Hart throws up a career that is only beginning to hit the heights to retire to the highlands with an ordinary guy…an accountant of all things, though to his credit he would rather be working in forestry. They have found a hideaway on a small Scottish estate, but things are starting to feel wrong between them. Full Review

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Review of

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

5star.jpg Science Fiction

On the moon of a distant gas giant, Xenobiologist Kira Navárez is helping with the efforts to make the planet habitable to human life. However, a discovery of an ancient alien bunker under the moon's surface leaves her bonded with a strange alien entity. After the entity bonded to her loses control and kills half the staff of the research station, the United Military Command cruiser Extenuating Circumstances arrives in the system to take Kira in for examination. Things go from bad to worse when the Extenuating Circumstances is attacked and destroyed by an alien ship, and she has to flee to the 61 Cygnus star system. She is revived aboard the freighter Wallfish, crewed by Captain Falconi and a rag-tag bunch of misfits, and the news is grim. The same aliens that destroyed the Extenuating Circumstances are now wreaking havoc across all of human-occupied space, and only a mythical weapon known as the Staff of Blue can stop them. As the death toll climbs and more players are introduced into this war, Kira slowly begins to realise that she may have had a greater hand in the conflict than she could've possibly imagined… Full Review

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Review of

My Life as a Cat by Carlie Sorosiak

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

This is the story of an alien who has come down to spend some time on earth living as a human. It's something that each member in the alien collective is allowed to do, for 1 month, once they reach a certain age. Leonard comes to earth but gets distracted en route, and so something goes wrong with his arrival and he finds that instead of landing in Yellowstone Park, ready to work as a park ranger, he is instead in the body of a cat on the other side of the country! This is not what he had planned! Not only is he in the wrong place and the wrong body, he is also in the middle of a storm, stuck in a tree! And so he meets Olive, the little girl who rows out in a boat to rescue him, and who names him Leonard. Full Review

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Review of

Astral Season, Beastly Season by Tahi Saihate

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

We long for our past even though it is a place to which we can never return. Tahi Saihate, in her debut novel Astral Season, Beastly Season illustrates how these rose-tinted glasses often lie. Her novel is a meditation on youth and how the things we do as a teenager can seem intensely important and often life-altering. Full Review

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Review of

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire) by Andrea Stewart

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

I could never be what he wanted if I did not take what I wanted

In an empire controlled by a bone shard magic that powers animal-like constructs, an heir to the throne, a smuggler, and a warrior will fight to find their place in the world.

Lin is the emperor's forgotten daughter, kept locked away in a palace of secrets and closed doors. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to show him she is capable of reviving a dying empire and in secret, she begins to unlock one door after another, searching for the mysteries of her past and the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet Lin is playing a deadly game and her quest for power will come at great cost. With revolution in the air and creeping closer and closer to the gates of the palace, Lin must decide just how far she will to go to become a catalyst of change and save her people. Full Review

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Review of

She Lies Close by Sharon Doering

4star.jpg Thrillers

Ava Boone was five years old when she went missing, around 6 months ago. There has been no sign of her since, and no arrests have been made. And yet, this book is not about Ava. Not really. This book is about Grace, who has just discovered her neighbour in her new house is a suspect in Ava's disappearance. As a single mother to two young children, she's really wishing this sort of information had come to light before they moved in. Full Review

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Review of

The Adventures of an Urban Fox: Maggie Arrives by Yara Evans and Luciana Betti

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Black Cat and Tabby Cat are minding their own business in their own house when a very alarming thing happens. A creature - a large, dog-like creature - appears in their house. Black Cat, always one to take charge, challenges this fearsome creature with all the courage he can muster. Tabby Cat backs him.... from a rather safe distance. The creature is indignant - I'm not a dog. I'm a fox! Full Review

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Review of

Jamie's Keepsake by Michael Gallagher

4.5star.jpg Teens

When we first meet Alex Hannah, he's just being released from the Southern General Hospital. The nurse thinks he'll come back to visit the other patients but Alex has no intention of doing that: he's been there for a year, on the same ward where his brother died and now, with his hair all shorn off, he's going home in his dead brother's clothes. He wants to get outside and back with his friends: his brother, Forbes, says that the fresh air will do him good and his mother tells him that he's not to mention TB and to say it was tonsillitis. Good luck with that one, Alex. Full Review

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Review of

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

4star.jpg Teens

Victoria Spring has returned to Year 12 following Christmas break and feels dead to the world. Nothing is interesting. People are stupid and boring. She has one real friend; the rest are just people she sits near so she's not a complete loner. She hates a lot of things - including herself. But suddenly, a blog called Solitaire has arrived and is pulling pranks throughout the school. And Michael Holden has appeared and is showing up everywhere in Tori's life. Tori doesn't know (or care) why she's involved, but suddenly she is. What does Solitaire want? Who's behind it? Why does it all seem to be linked to Tori? Why does Michael want to be in Tori's life so badly and who is he, really? Things are only getting stranger and darker, and only one thing is certain – Tori isn't bored anymore. Full Review

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Review of

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Set in England in the aftermath of World War One, this is the story of two children, Lotti and Ben, who have lost everyone they love, but don't want to let go of their last, tiny glimpses of hope. Ben is living on a narrowboat on the canal, lying to the police about his brother's imminent return from the battlefields to take care of him. Lotti, meanwhile, has been expelled from school and is back at home; it's a beautiful house that belongs to her but that her terrible Aunt and Uncle currently have guardianship for. The day Lotti meets Ben (the day she steals a dog!) is the beginning of a deep, and powerful friendship. It sees them become each other's family, and undertake a perilous trip to France, in the boat, to try to find out the truth of the people they both love. Full Review

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Review of

House of Correction by Nicci French

5star.jpg Crime

When we first meet Tabitha Hardy, she's in prison, on remand. She's sharing a cell with Michaela, who's more caring than she first appears. She delivers tough love and gets Tabitha eating and drinking - and encourages her to have a shower, unpleasant as the whole processes might be. And how did Tabitha get here? Well, on 21 December the body of Stuart Robert Rees was discovered in her garden shed by Andrew Kane, who was helping with the renovations to Tabitha's house. So far as the police are concerned, Tabitha is the only person who could have killed Rees - and when they arrived at her house she was covered in his blood. Full Review

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Review of

Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment by Darren Shan

4star.jpg Confident Readers

This third and final book in the first volume of Darren Shan's new Archibald Lox series sees Archie and Inez make it almost all the way to the Cuckoo's Nest, where the Vote of Alignment will be held. But how will they get in? Full Review

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Review of

Truth Be Told by Kia Abdullah

5star.jpg Crime

The Hadids are an effortful family. Flowers are sent for the slightest problem or achievement: letters are sent to thank and this prompts a phone call in return. There are two sons of the family, seventeen-year-old Kamran and sixteen-year-old Adam. Their mother, Sofia, regrets that she didn't name them the other way round: 'Adam and Kamran' trips off the tongue so much more easily than 'Kamran and Adam'. Sofia worries about that sort of thing. Both boys go to the prestigious Hampton school, where they board, despite the school being less than ten miles from their Belsize Park home. Kamran has a place at Oxford next year and all seemed to be going well until the night when he was raped. Full Review

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Review of

The Darkest Evening (D I Vera Stanhope) by Ann Cleeves

4.5star.jpg Crime

It was a mercy that DI Vera Stanhope took the wrong turning as she drove home in the blizzard. If she hadn't the car might not have been found until the morning and who knows what would have happened to the toddler strapped into the car seat, particularly as the car door had been left open. Vera took the boy and drove to the nearest habitation. She thought it would be the village but it was Brockburn, the ancestral home of the Stanhopes: her father had been the younger brother of the man who inherited - and Hector was the black sheep of the family. Calling there unannounced, particularly as they seemed to have guests was going to be embarrassing, but there was little else that she could do in the circumstances. Full Review

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Review of

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

4.5star.jpg Crime

The first member of The Thursday Murder Club we encounter is Joyce Meadowcroft. She used to be a nurse and is thus the perfect person for Elizabeth to consult about how long it would take a person who has been stabbed to bleed out. Details of where and how are exchanged and Joyce confirms that it would have taken about forty-five minutes and that the victim could have been saved if she'd received prompt medical help. It didn't put Joyce off her shepherd's pie (which tells us that it was a Monday) but it does get her interested in The Thursday Murder Club. They meet each Thursday (as you might have guessed) in the Jigsaw Room at Coopers Chase Retirement Village. Full Review

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Review of

What Wonders Await Outdoors by Justine Avery and Liuba Syrotiuk

4star.jpg For Sharing

The second book in Justine Avery's Wonders series is the perfect antidote to long summer days with bored children - or, indeed, as we've found recently, for those long lockdown days when an awful pandemic is rolling across the world. What do you do when every book has been read and every toy has been played with, repurposed, and played with again? Full Review

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Review of

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

3.5star.jpg Teens

In the end, we all become stories

Spending the summer in Paris sounds like a dream for most people, especially art-lovers, but Khayyam can't relax and stop thinking about the mess she left behind in Chicago. On a chance encounter with a descendant of Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam finds herself on a historical journey with him to unveil the truth about the 19th century Muslim woman who may have crossed paths with Alendre Dumas, Eugene Delacroix and Lord Byron. As the two teenagers travel the city they not only discover themselves, but uncover the true story of the woman and why it was one that should never have been forgotten. Full Review

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Review of

Loveless by Alice Oseman

5star.jpg Teens

Georgia is a teenager who's embarking on her first year of university and is in a desperate struggle to figure herself out. She's always been in love with love. With the idea of love, the idea of falling madly for someone and finding bliss. But the reality for her has always been different. She's never had a crush. She's never been kissed. And she's desperate to feel something and fall for someone. But when the opportunity presents itself in any kind of real, tangible and physical way for her - she's disgusted by it. But isn't that what she's supposed to want? Isn't that what everyone is supposed to do? How come everyone else can do it? Why can't she? Full Review

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Review of

Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan by Darren Shan

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Archie's second foray into 'the Merge' opens with a fantastic vista. All of the Born's most famous buildings and monuments - Big Ben, the Taj Mahal,  the Eiffel Tower - are collected together, joined by those clever Merge vines. But there's no time to waste in admiration: Archie is carrying an urgent cry for help from Inez to a venerable locksmith called Winston.Winston is a darling but is afraid to help - what is to be done? Despite yearning to go home and worry for his foster parents, Archie feels an obligation to take Winston's place. And so Archie embarks on a new, and even more dangerous, adventure.... Full Review

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Review of

Still Life (DCI Karen Pirie) by Val McDermid

4star.jpg Crime

It was the middle of February and bitterly cold when a fishing boat out of St Monans pulled a body out the Firth of Forth instead of a lobster pot. It fell to DCI Charlie Todd and DS Daisy Mortimer to investigate and it didn't take too long to establish that the man was Paul Allard, ostensibly a Frenchman, but in reality James Auld of Edinburgh. A decade earlier he's gone missing when he was the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of his brother, prominent civil servant, Iain Auld. DCI Karen Pirie, as head of Police Scotland Historic Crimes Unit, had been the last person to review the case, a couple of years earlier and it seemed sensible to bring her into the case at an early stage. Full Review

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Review of

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

4.5star.jpg Science Fiction

Wow – this novel is gigantic, in every sense of the word. "Epic" is a word that's thrown around a lot these days, but if a book ever earned the name it's this one. It's a doorstopper full of big ideas, and at times it almost felt too big for my brain. Full Review

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Review of

Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Hinton Hollow, population 5,120. It sounds like one of those signs you see on improbably wide highways in America's mid-west, but this particular Hinton Hollow is a small town in Berkshire, England. Detective Sergeant Pace grew up here, until something happened and he ran away to the city. He's running away again…only this time evil is following him and is going to touch just about everyone in town. Full Review

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Review of

Love Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

4.5star.jpg Teens

Frankie is nearly fourteen. Being nearly fourteen is not easy when your mum has been diagnosed with MS when your dad has decided to leave her for another woman, when your older sister has turned into the girliest girl who ever lived, and, above all when Sally and her mates are bullying you at school. Oh, and when Sam, your best friend since forever, suddenly starts sending out signs that he might fancy you - and you don't fancy him back.

Poor Frankie! Full Review