Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Review of

Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl and Don Bartlett (translator)

3star.jpg Crime

Part of the Oslo Detectives series, this crime story is a mixture of police procedural and thriller. Beginning with the death of a young woman in a carpark, that looks very much like an overdose, it unravels into a far-reaching investigation of murder, fraud, and international pharmaceutical dealings. Our two detectives are Gunnarstranda and Frolich, who end up working separately on the case as Gunnarstranda remains in Norway whilst Frolich is led to Africa as they follow the twists and turns of the investigation. Gunnarstranda and Frolich are tenacious, chasing down the truth in increasingly difficult, frustrating circumstances, trying hard to uncover the truth as they are sure that something much bigger, and much more dangerous, is going on. Full Review


Review of

Clarice Bean: Scram! by Lauren Child

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It was a hot summer day right at the beginning of the summer holidays and Clarice Bean was bored:

Nothing ever happens except for sometimes... And only on rare-sh occasions, which is hardly ever.

There are seven members of the Bean family living in the house: Grandad (who lives on the ground floor because he's wobbly), Mum and Dad, Clarice's older brother, Kurt and younger brother, Minal Cricket. There's also Marcie, who's main claim to fame seems to be that she steals the batteries from Clarice's torch, which means that she can't read in the airing cupboard. Clarice would love to have someone who listened to her, rather than wanting to talk, but the only one who does that is Granny and she lives in New York. The Bean family is different. Full Review


Review of

The Secret Life of Birds by Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker (illustrator)

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I have recently discovered a great pleasure: I sit and watch the vast numbers of birds which visit our garden on a daily basis. An hour can pass without my noticing. I've established which species feed from the ground, which pop to the feeders for a quick snatch of some food and who settles in for a good munch but I wish I was more knowledgeable. It would have been wonderful if, as a child, I'd had access to a book such as The Secret Life of Birds. So – what is it? Full Review


Review of

Bag O'Goodies by Jolly Walker Bittick

4star.jpg Anthologies

Sometimes, you deserve a treat and mine was Jolly Walker Bittick's Bag O'Goodies. I first encountered his writing about a year ago, when I read his Cape Henry House, a rollicking tale of what happens when five young men find a base for their partying. Right now, I didn't want a full-length novel, so I turned to this anthology of verse and short stories. Bittick's writing has matured - and so have his characters. Well... most of them! Full Review


Review of

Seed by Caryl Lewis and George Ermos

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Marty has two parental figures in his life, and they both might be thought of as complete embarrassments. His grandfather runs an allotment, and manages to stink the entire town out from it when he douses it in fish guts each spring to fertilise his vegetables. His mother somehow combines the dual roles of housebound failure and hoarder – while she seems to do nothing and hasn't left the building in years she has still managed to fill it to the brim with junk. What Marty's classmates don't know about this they can draw lines to from how poor Marty always looks, with his one school uniform built from lost property. We see him as once again the council threaten her and him with eviction, and as he celebrates his birthday with the gift from his grandfather of a solitary plant seed. Full Review


Review of

Our Sister, Again by Sophie Cameron

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

After Isla's older sister Flora dies, her family struggle to find a way forward. In particular, Isla's mum who can’t seem to be able to let her daughter go. When Isla passes her mum's details onto a support group she finds online, she thinks they might be able to help. But actually, it turns out they are part of an experimental company who offer the family the chance to have Flora back again, in robot form. But this won't just be a look-a-like. They use all of Flora's online history, and interviews with family and friends, and through this data they will recreate Flora as closely as possible. But what will it really mean for the family, to have Flora back? And is it really Flora at all? Full Review


Review of

Cold Reckoning by Russ Thomas

4.5star.jpg Crime

DS Adam Tyler never believed that his father committed suicide and for the last sixteen years he's been searching for evidence to prove that he's right. When a frozen body was found in Damflask Reservoir, there was a link back to a cold case from 2002. There didn't immediately seem to be any connection with DI Richard Tyler's death but Adam Tyler senses a link to the case his father was investigating before he died. Above all there's a growing sense that the criminality of Det Supt Stevens is going to be brought out into the open. Perhaps Tyler is going to get the answers he needs? Full Review


Review of

Blind Justice (DS McAvoy 10) by David Mark

4star.jpg Crime

Acting DI Aector McAvoy hadn't even had time for breakfast when the call came through. A body had been found in the roots of a fallen tree at Brantingham, near Hull. When he gets to the scene, he will find what greets him is even worse than he could have imagined. A young man's corpse is entangled with the roots of a newly-fallen tree – the roots have grown through him – and two silver Roman coins have been nailed through his eyes. It would seem that this was done whilst the man was still alive. McAvoy makes a promise to the victim: I will find answers. You will know justice. But justice always comes at a cost and this time the cost might be to McAvoy's own family. Full Review


Review of

This World Does Not Belong To Us by Natalia Garcia Freire

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Early comments on this debut novel from Ecuadorian writer Natalia García Freire include Tremendous, a delight. I will agree with the first – tremendous is no understatement – but 'a delight' is perhaps using the expression in a way I'm not familiar with. I have to confess my ignorance of the Spanish-language literary tradition so forgive my generalisation here. From the little I have read (in translation, I don't read Spanish) there does seem to be a tendency towards the fantastical – the mystical realism. Full Review


Review of

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin

5star.jpg Teens

Kurara has spent her entire life as a servant on the Midori, a massive dining hall floating in the sky where soldiers of the Empire come to drink and make merry between their conquests. However, when a man named Himura arrives to tell her that she is a Crafter like him, someone with the power to form paper into whatever she desires – a power sought after all across the Empire. He asks her to come with him, to leave the life of dreary servitude that is all she has known. Well, soon Kurara won't have any say in the matter, because the Midori is destroyed by a monstrous paper spirit known as a shikigami, and she is forced to flee out into the world. She joins Himura aboard the Orihime, a sky-ship whose express purpose is to hunt down shikigami, and a whole world of adventure awaits her… Full Review


Review of

Needle by Patrice Lawrence

3star.jpg Teens

Brave. Charlene, the 'heroine' of this piece is extremely hard for some people to like, characters and readers both. Kicked out of multiple homes and schools, she's fostering with a pleasant yoga tutor, Annie, and has taken up residence in her son Blake's old room while he's at uni. Such a tempestuous personality may be in need of a comfort blanket, you might perhaps think, and the creation of one such item is part of the plot here, as Charlene is a wonder knitter, and is making something full of love for her younger sister – a younger sister she's allowed contact with no more. We see Charlene prove her belligerence with a store detective, and then force people to give her two days off school, when she shouts someone down as expletively ignorant. And then... well, what exactly happens is not for me to say, only to remark how sharp and pointy those knitting needles can be... Full Review


Review of

The Birdcage by Eve Chase

4star.jpg Thrillers

It's the 7th of January 2019 and we know that a body has been pulled out of the sea at Zennor in Cornwall. We don't know whose body it is. Four days earlier, Flora, Kat and Lauren had gathered at Rock point at the request of their father, Charlie Finch, a famous artist. The girls are actually half-sisters and their dates of birth are embarrassingly close. Finch was known for his fecundity, if not for his fidelity. It's been a long time since the girls have been at Rock Point together: just over twenty years ago, at the time of the total eclipse, something happened. Kat and Flora were obviously involved but Lauren was a victim and it's left her very wary of her sisters. Full Review


Review of

No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride

4.5star.jpg Crime

We're in Oldcastle and Malcolm is in trouble. He's in an abandoned house and he's being threatened by two young people. One is Allegra (we'll soon learn that she's Allegra Dean-Edwards) and Hugo. It seems that Allegra bought Malcolm a new coat to keep him warm (she often does this for homeless people, apparently) but she'd put a tracking device in it so that she and Hugo could find out where he was sleeping. It won't be long before the police realise that Malcolm was one of their own: not many other people are going to have the Oldcastle police crest tattooed on their backs. Full Review


Review of

Elektra by Jennifer Saint

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

'Elektra' by Jennifer Saint tells the story of three women who live in the heavily male-dominated world of Ancient Greece. Cassandra, Clytemnestra, and Elektra are all bit players in the story of the Trojan War. Yet Jennifer Saint shows us that often the silent women have the most compelling stories and the most extreme furies. Full Review


Review of

Things You Can Do: How to Fight Climate Change and Reduce Waste by Eduardo Garcia and Sara Boccaccini Meadows

4star.jpg Home and Family

We begin with a telling story. All the birds and animals fled when the forest fire took hold and most of them stood and watched, unable to think of anything they could do. The tiny hummingbird flew to the river and began taking tiny amounts of water and flying back to drop them into the fire. The animals laughed: what good was that doing. I'm doing the best I can, said the hummingbird. And that, really, is the only way that we will solve the problem of climate change – by each of us doing what we can, however small that might be. Full Review


Review of

Leilong's Too Long! by Julia Liu and Bei Lynn

4star.jpg For Sharing

Every morning Leilong, the brontosaurus school bus, makes his way through the city, picking up children as he goes. Children who live at the top of tower blocks don't even need to go downstairs – they simply climb out of the window and slide down his neck. It's perfect, isn't it? What could be a more fun way of going to school? There is a problem, though. Leilong isn't happy in the city: he's always having to be careful about where he puts his feet and – because he's longer than a tennis court – he often causes damage without intending to and traffic regularly gets snarled up. The school decides that he can't be the bus anymore. Full Review


Review of

Disaster in the Boardroom: Six Dysfunctions Everyone Should Understand by Gerry Brown and Randall S Peterson

5star.jpg Business and Finance

Boards must act in the best interests of their stakeholders and ensure that they are well-managed and financially secure. This might seem obvious but a series of disasters - some of which have resulted in death or the collapse of a major company - have left interested parties asking what the board was doing. Where were they? Occasionally the boards were unaware of what was happening or they preferred to turn a blind eye, leaving watchers wondering which was worse - ignorance or criminality. The 21st century has delivered some major company scandals but what has happened is nothing new: Gerry Brown and Randall S Peterson give us a very readable trip through such major debacles as railway mania, the South Sea Bubble and even tulip mania. Over three centuries we seem to have learned very little. Full Review


Review of

In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

It's July 1948 and Helen Crowther is due to start work as a qualified medical almoner the following morning - on the day that the NHS is born. She'll be working for Dr Deuchar and Dr Strasser in their GP surgery and her job will be to help patients with those non-medical problems which affect their health. The hardest part of the job will be to persuade people that the services she offers really are free and that they don't have to do anything to qualify for them. Some of the problems will require delicate handling but Helen has a problem of her own which might give her some insight. Her marriage has never been consummated. Full Review


Review of

Galaxy by Mark Lingane

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Spark, who is an elite pilot with the Space Academy, barely makes it through a battle alive. His co-pilot was not so fortunate. Waking from a coma that lasted years, he remembers little and is in no physical shape to resume his duties. But Earth is under threat and he must. Returned by his superiors to the space station, he finds himself amid a last ditch attempt to save humanity - and not just from the alien threats against it, but also from its own sins against itself. Full Review