Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Hello from The Bookbag, a site featuring books reviews and recommendations from all the many walks of literary life - fiction, biography, crime, cookery and anything else that takes our fancy. At Bookbag Towers the bookbag sits at the side of the desk. It's the bag we take to the library, the charity shop and the bookshop. Sometimes it holds the latest releases, but at other times there'll be old favourites, books for the children, books for the home. They're sometimes our own books or books from the local library. They're often books sent to us by publishers and we promise to tell you exactly what we think about them. You might not want to read through a full review, so we'll give you a quick review which summarises what we felt about the book and tells you whether or not we think you should buy or borrow it. There are also lots of author interviews, and all sorts of top tens - all of which you can find on our features page. If you're stuck for something to read, check out the recommendations page.

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Hunter School by Sakinu Ahronglong

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

The flyleaf to this little collection tells us that it is a work of fiction. That's possibly misleading. I am not sure whether it is "fiction" in the sense that Ahronglong made it all up, or whether it is as the blurb goes on to say recollections, folklore and autobiographical stories. It feels like the latter. It feels like the stories he tells about his experiences as a child, as an adolescent, as an adult are real and true. But memory is a fickle thing, and maybe poetic licence has taken over here and there and maybe calling it fiction means that its safer and therefore more people will read it. More people should. Full Review


Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

4.5star.jpg Teens

When we first meet 17-year-old Lola, daughter to legendary horror movie director Nolan Nox, she is saying goodbye to New York City - by sneaking out and stealing from its residents. But when she is found by her father's assistant and forced to come home, she arrives to find an unlocked door, a trail of blood, and her father dying in his study. And so, while he recovers, she is sent off to live with her grandmother in Harrow Lake, the small 1920s town in Indiana that served as the location for the film that made her parents famous. But something about this place isn't right. There's a darkness inside the people here. Secrets about her mother and dark tales of the town's cannibal monster 'Mister Jitters' fill every corner, and disturbing happenings plague Lola. But with every passing hour, secrets long buried come painfully to light and she begins to think that these stories may not be stories at all, and something very real and sinister lurks in Harrow Lake. Full Review


The Shelf by Helly Acton

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

When we meet Amy, she's in a relationship with Jamie. You can't really call it a partnership, because things tend to get done on his terms, but she's sticking around because she hopes she can change him. Ah, yes. Haven't we all been there? Things are looking up when he tells her to pack for a surprise trip. Could this be it? Is he finally going to get down on one knee? Was the work (and the wait) worth it? Full Review


This Book Wants to Make You Laugh (Living Book) by Justine Avery and Daria Yudina

4star.jpg For Sharing

This Living Book is on a mission. What's the mission? To make you laugh! I can't think of many better missions than that, can you? Let's see how it does...

.... well, it opens up with a terrible joke. A groany joke, an eye-roll joke. The joke isn't very funny but it is funny to see how enthusiastic and how generously this book wants to make you laugh - Oh, I'm terrible at jokes. Some books are so good at them. I always wanted to help someone laugh. Full Review


Murder on the Moorland (Kitt Hartley Yorkshire Mysteries) by Helen Cox

3.5star.jpg Crime

DI Malcolm Halloran and Kitt Hartley's relationship is developing nicely: they're even into a spot of bandage now, although the details are (mercifully) scant. After a night of passion Halloran is called away in the early hours of the morning. There's been a murder in Irendale, where Halloran used to live and where his wife, Kamala, was strangled five years ago. There are sufficient details of the current murder to make Halloran suspect that the man who murdered his wife - and others - is in some way involved, despite being in prison. The DI heads off to speak to Jeremy Kerr. Full Review


The Cleaner by Mark Dawson

4star.jpg Thrillers

Ruthless and coldly competent, John Milton is one of the British government's best assets – a contract killer with lethal instincts. Now, after ten years, he wants out. But his job isn't one you can just walk away from… Full Review


I Am Unworthy by Angela Mack

4star.jpg Teens

Isabel is determined to start fresh. Start again. Sixth form will be different. Her tormentor doesn't go to Gilleford Secondary School anymore. She can escape the hurt, the fear, and the person she became. Josh is determined to keep going, even through the rage, the pain, and using his fists to solve any problem or situation. But he has secrets that threaten to tear him and his brothers apart. When Josh and Isabel's worlds collide, can they make their relationship work? Can they both finally be happy? Or will Josh's time run out? Full Review


The Phone Box at the End of the World by Laura Imai Messina

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In the northeast of Japan, in Inwate Prefecture a man installed a telephone box in his garden. Inside there is an old black, telephone, disconnected, that carries voices into the wind. It is a real place, a necessary place, and I am pleased to see the IMPORTANT NOTE that the author attaches to her story, that the place is not a tourist destination, it is a sacred place, a place that must be left to those who really need it. Full Review


Lies to Tell (DI Clare Mackay) by Marion Todd

4star.jpg Crime

When we meet up with DI Clare Mackay again she's at Daisy Cottage on the outskirts of St Andrews with her English Bull Terrier, Benjy. She's just had a postcard from Geoffrey Dark and he's in Provincetown, Cape Cod. He wishes that she was there, but Clare's struggling to think of what he actually is to her now. Is he her boyfriend? Her ex-boyfriend? She can't work it out and thinks that Geoffrey probably can't either. Work's about to get very busy and she can't work out why DCI Alastair Gibson has cancelled a meeting she'd arranged without discussing it with her first. They're off somewhere top secret. Full Review


To Tell You the Truth by Gilly Macmillan

4.5star.jpg Crime

When Lucy Bewley was nine-years-old she crept out of the house on the night of the summer solstice to watch the pagan celebrations in Stoke Woods. Her four-year-old brother, Teddy, would have woken the house if she hadn't taken him with her. But in the early hours of the morning, Lucy returned home without Teddy, hoping that he would have got home before her. He hadn't and no one has seen him since. Lucy's story was crucial to the police investigation, but it keeps subtly changing. Lucy is being advised by her imaginary friend, Eliza Grey and Eliza says that there are certain things which Lucy must not tell the police. Full Review


Cut to the Bone (DI Meg Dalton) by Roz Watkins

4star.jpg Crime

DI Meg Dalton and Ds Jai Sanghera are dealing with the case of a missing teenager. Violet Armstrong is well-known as a vlogger - championing the cause of meat-eating. She barbeques meat wearing only a bikini and has attracted the attention of animal rights activists. The meat-eaters (they wear meat suits) are determined that Meg Dalton is corrupt and not running a decent investigation (obviously she only got the job because she's a woman) because she's a vegetarian. As if the case wasn't enough, Meg's father is coming to stay with her despite having had little to do with her for fifteen years and Jai's convinced that his girlfriend, Suki, doesn't like his children and that she wants more, but he doesn't. Full Review


The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany by Roger Moorhouse

5star.jpg History

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of the Third Reich? Hitler? A swastika? The Nazi salute? The gate to a concentration camp? None of these are comfortable images but they are emblematic of the Third Reich's fascist regime in all its iniquity. But some objects and images from that time may be less familiar to you. In this short volume, Roger Moorhouse has attempted to illustrate the period of the Third Reich through one hundred of its material artefacts.  Full Review


The First Lie by A J Park

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

On the second of October 37-year-old barrister, Paul Reeve, returned home at 9 pm to find his house in darkness and the front door open. His wife was in the bedroom in a state of shock and in the bathroom there was a dead man who had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck with Paul's paper-knife. In that moment Paul takes a decision that will be irrevocable: he decides that he and Alice are not going to ring the police and tell the truth. They're going to bury the body in woodland and go on as though nothing has happened. Full Review


Grave's End (DS Alexandra Cupidi) by William Shaw

4.5star.jpg Crime

Gram Hickman, who worked for an estate agent, took his girlfriend, Angela Booth, to a house which his firm was marketing. Guildeford Hall was an old Kentish oast house and was on the market for millions of pounds. Gram was hoping that he could get Angela into bed and he'd brought a bottle of prosecco along. It was when searching for somewhere to chill the bottle that he found the body of a man in the freezer in the garage. DS Alexandra Cupidi and DC Jill Ferriter are on the case. Full Review


Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right by Ukamaka Olisakwe

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

The new novel by Ukamaka Olisakwe is a look at the trauma and heartache of being a woman in 1980s Nigeria. The title is Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right. Ogadinma is the eponymous heroine of the story. We are with her in every scene and it is her narrative voice that leads the story, although Olisakwe writes in the third person. This provides a sense of detachment for the reader and highlights the isolation of Ogadinma. She is exiled from her father's home and sent to Lagos where she is married to an older man named Tobe. Their marriage descends into violence and indignities and Ogadinma must utilise her resourcefulness to escape. Full Review


Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes by Lun Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud, Ameziane and Edward Gauvin (translator)

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

I never really followed the events of Tiananmen Square with much attention when it was playing out – someone in the second half of their teens has other priorities, you know. I certainly didn't know of the weeks of protests and hunger strikes from the students before the massacre and the birth of the Tank Man image, I didn't know how the area had long been a venue for political protest, and I didn't know more than a spit about the people involved on either side. This book is practically flawless in giving a general browser's context for the whole season of protests back in 1989. Full Review


Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

5star.jpg Fantasy

Heroes cannot be forged without villains Princess Hesina of the kingdom of Yan has never wanted the throne. Instead of craving power, she has always considered the crown her inescapable duty and shrank away from the responsibilities of being Queen. To her, it has always been a distant, faraway future. Until that is, it isn't. When her beloved father suddenly dies, she is thrust into ruling. But contrary to the official report, Hesina knows all is not as it seems, her father didn't die. He was murdered. Determined to seek the truth and discover her father's killer, Princess Hesina will stop at nothing to find justice, even committing treason. Under the cover of darkness, her feet lead her to a soothsayer to learn what happened that day and who killed the King. Full Review


The Grot: The Story of the Swamp City Grifters by Pat Grant

4star.jpg Graphic Novels

Everything in this world runs on pedal-power, and that includes the punk bands. There are three pedallers at the front of the Heath Robinson contraption taking our lead characters to the ferry across the swamp to Falter City, where a mother and her two sons aim to set up a yoghurt factory. You could say that yoghurt would be the only culture around, for this is a really rough-and-ready dump of a place, but everyone is interested in small things that grow. For the only money to be had – the only fortunes to be found in Falter City – come from algae, gunk and other crud that – well, the use of it is never really made clear. Once there, the two brothers set themselves each up with a guide – Lippy, the more forward-thinking, industrious of the two, with a besuited gent, Penn with a ballsy young teenaged girl with bright red hair. But which of the two will come off the worse as they make their own way in this dystopian, semi-Apocalyptic hellhole? Full Review


Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

3.5star.jpg Teens

Set after the ExcelsiCon, we are introduced to Rosie Thorne, a Small Town, USA girl who has recently lost her mother and is entering her final year of high school. Things keep piling up for Rosie, and when she follows a stray dog into what she thinks is an abandoned castle in her town, things just get worse. Rosie accidentally destroys a rare book and with her mother's hospital and funeral costs she has no money to cover the damage. She finds herself working for Vance Reigns, Hollywood royalty on a paparazzi escape, to repay the debt.

For most Starfield superfans this would be a dream but Rosie soon realises Vance is a jerk - and he isn't too fond of her either. However, as the two are forced to get to know each other, their guards begin to lower and they discover that maybe this situation might not be so terrible after all. Full Review


Baby Trolls Get a Bad Rap (Underrated Babies Book 1) by Justine Avery and Daria Yudina

4star.jpg For Sharing

Horatio, Saul and Grizelda are three baby trolls who are fed up that everyone forgets about baby trolls. They are ignored in books and TV shows and films in favour of their very scary grown ups. Our three heroes want equal rights for baby trolls. They want to be seen and heard and they've started a petition about it that they want you to sign. But how should they go about it? Full Review


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 Alexandre 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


Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth

3.5star.jpg Crime

Too hot to sleep. Too hot to think straight. Too hot to go back

During a British heatwave 15-year-old, Lily Dixon, has left home and is reported missing. Rachel is a teacher at Lily's school and the mother of Mia, Lily's best friend. As Lily's family and the police struggle to find any evidence that may lead to Lily, Rachel takes it upon herself to start looking for clues. However, as the case goes on Rachel becomes fixated on finding Lily and finds herself crossing boundaries, breaking trust and facing some impossible choices. Will they find Lily? Does Lily want to be found? And will life for Rachel ever be the same again? Full Review


Simple Abundance: 365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life by Sarah Ban Breathnach

5star.jpg Lifestyle

Someone once said: it's not self-indulgence, it's therapy! I think they were talking about shopping, but it probably can be applied to most things. In my case, it applies to writing about things because I want to, rather than because I can sell it or because I've got something to sell. Full Review


A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros

5star.jpg Politics and Society

I confess I picked this one up from the library in my pre-lockdown forage of random stuff. Now I have to go out and buy my own copy so that I can turn down the pages I have marked and return to its varying wisdom when I need to. Some books draw you in slowly. This one had me in the first two pages, wherein Gros explains why walking is not a sport. Full Review


Rodham: What if Hillary hadn't Married Bill? by Curtis Sittenfeld

4star.jpg General Fiction

I was tempted to read Rodham by the success of Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife. That book wasn't marketed as being a portrait of Laura Bush, but the word thinly-veiled seemed to occur very regularly in reviews. How would Rodham compare? Unfortunately, there is a difference: relatively little was known about Laura Bush, which gave the book a freshness which the first third of Rodham lacks. We've all heard the stories, read the books - about Hillary and particularly about Bill. It's still an interesting concept, though: how would Hillary have fared if she hadn't subsumed her own ambitions into Bill's career, if she hadn't had to carry the burden of all Bill's baggage and if she hadn't left her own run at the presidency so late? Could she have done better without the Clinton surname? Full Review