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Review of

Against a Peacock Sky by Monica Connell

5star.jpg Travel

Monica Connell went to Nepal to do the fieldwork for her Ph.D. in social anthropology. I think it is important to know that. She went on a grant-supported trip, with a relatively specific objective. She wasn't a hippy wanderer looking for Shangri-la. She wasn't a mere tourist passing through. She went with a fundamental aim of learning about these people and how they lived. She also went, presumably, with the academic discipline of how to find these things out, how to organise them in her mind, how to "understand" them in the context of her own paradigms, and how to keep enough notes and files and photos to help her create some greater sense of the experience after the event. Fortunately, she also went with a sense of open-ness and curiosity and a willingness to muck-in, to break her own rules and to truly connect with the people of the village where she hauled up. Full Review

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Review of

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

5star.jpg Crime

Mariana was convinced that Professor Edward Fosca had committed two murders and looked likely to get away with them both. She needed to think carefully about what she knew and decide how she should proceed.

Everything - or so she thought - had begun with the death of Tara Hampton on the Paradise nature reserve in Cambridge. She'd been brutally stabbed and Mariana's niece, Zoe, had telephoned her in distress. Tara had been her best friend and she was struggling to cope. Mariana wasn't entirely happy about having to go to Cambridge, but she caught the first fast train from King's Cross. Mariana and Zoe were close and had been made all the more so by the death of Mariana's husband, Sebastian, in a swimming accident on Naxos some fourteen months earlier. Zoe had been their surrogate daughter after the death of Zoe's mother and Mariana's sister, Eliza. Full Review

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Review of

Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths by Maisie Chan

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Danny is eleven years old, and what he really, really loves to do is draw. He creates fantastical comics, whilst his best friend Ravi adds the words. Danny's dad, however, wants Danny to concentrate on his maths, and forget about the drawing, because he says nobody can make a living from drawing! At least Danny has his own room, where he can draw in secret and in peace. But then one day his parents tell him they have a surprise for him, and this surprise turns out to be his grandmother who has come over from China to live with them, and who will not only be sharing Danny's bedroom but she will also be sleeping on the top bunk of his bunk bed! Danny is horrified! His Nai Nai (grandmother) speaks no English, and Danny finds himself forced into being her babysitter, and showing her around the town. Poor Danny, stuck on a maths project, frustrated with his bedroom situation, and then he even has a falling out with Ravi...how on earth will things ever get better?! Full Review

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Review of

Rabbits by Terry Miles

4.5star.jpg Science Fiction

Welcome to the world of The Game. Or should that be the game, for while it ought to be capitalised to high heaven, it never leaves lower case throughout this book. It's also called Rabbits, although only as a slangy term for it – as far as anyone knows, it has no official title, no official source, no hard and fast structure, and to the average person no obvious entry point. A bit like the game of life then. Yes, this is the game of life for a certain tribe of people – the fan of the conspiracy, the computer game, the hack from the darkest of webs. People like our hero, K, named like that in the least Kafkaesque manner possible. K and his bezzies are trying to be historians of the game, and have studied amongst many things the most unique of high score boards, for the lists of who has successfully won the game are in the most peculiar places, and are still very short. However this time it's different. This time the game seems the most dangerous, nay lethal, the most broken it's ever been – morally and otherwise. Unfortunately for K, in trying to sort out what the game is doing, if it's even being played, and how his loved ones might be kept safe, he is only to find out that the line between observing and learning about the game, and playing it, is a very thin one indeed... Full Review

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Review of

Widowland by C J Carey

4star.jpg General Fiction

It's April 1953, and Adolf Hitler's schedule includes going to Moscow to attend the state funeral of Joseph Stalin then within weeks coming to London, parading around a bit, and watching over the sanctioned return to the throne of Edward VIII with his wife, Queen Wallis. For yes, Britain caved in the lead-up to the World War Two that certainly didn't happen as we know it, and we are now a protectorate – well, we share enough of the same blood as the Germanic peoples on the mainland. But this is most certainly a different Britain, for Nazi-styled phrenology, and ideas of female purpose, has put all of that gender into a caste system, ranging from high-brow office bigwigs to the drudges, and beyond those, right on down to the childless, the husbandless and the widows. Female literacy is actively discouraged. And in this puritanical existence, our heroine, Rose Ransom, is employed with the task of bowdlerising classical literature to take all encouragement for female emancipation out of it – after all, not every book can be banned, and not every story excised immediately from British civilisation, and so they just get a hefty tweak towards the party line before they're stamped ready for reprint. That is her job, at least, until the first emerging signs of female protest come to light, with their potential to spoil Hitler's visit. Full Review

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Review of

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech

4star.jpg General Fiction

Veronica is a devoted single mother to her son, Sebastian - but she can't give him everything he wants. Sebastian has decided that it's time for him to have sex. But as an autistic 20 year-old, that's easier said than done. And it's starting to cause them both problems. Full Review

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Review of

Cape Henry House by Jolly Walker Bittick

4star.jpg General Fiction

Meet Bosner, or, to give him his full title, Petty Officer Third Class Bosner. We never really find out if he has a first name: there's merely a hint that he had the nickname 'Secretary' at one point. He's simply Bosner to one and all. When we first encounter him he's exploring his memories of 2008 when he was a greaser on helicopters (or helos, as they were called) at a naval establishment. The hours could be long and he was often working nights but at the age of twenty-one, there was always a way to work some fun (think drinking and eating) into his day. Full Review

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Review of

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

5star.jpg Fantasy

In Red's family, the first daughter becomes queen, and the second daughter becomes a sacrifice. To Red's misfortune, she is the second daughter. Sent alone into the woods with nothing but the cape on her back, Red knows what to expect: within the woods is a wolf, and he is the one who will decide the fate of their kingdom. If she is not a worthy sacrifice, the monsters he keeps contained to the woods will be released, and the fabled kings he keeps hostage will never be returned—or so the stories go. But when Red enters the woods, expecting nothing more than to be killed within the hour, she finds that the legends are lies. The wolf is not a monster—he's a man. Full Review

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Review of

Twitch by M G Leonard

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Twitch is a boy who loves birds. He keeps pigeons at home, and chickens, and even has swallows nesting in his bedroom! His time spent watching and helping birds is easy compared to that of his time in school. But things are about to change for Twitch in all aspects of his life as there is a dangerous bank robber on the run, and it's possible that the missing bank haul is hidden somewhere in Aves Wood, the place where Twitch has his secret hide and that he knows like the back of his hand! Can Twitch solve the mystery, and find the missing millions? Full Review

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Review of

The Cursed Girls by Caro Ramsay

4star.jpg Thrillers

Megan Melvick's earliest memory is of her fourth birthday: she followed her grandfather down to the pond, only to find that he'd hanged himself. Twenty years later she's back home again and this time the occasion is no less sad. She's there to say her final farewells to her sister, Melissa, who is dying of anorexia. As she dies, Melissa whispers 'sorry' to Megan but what did she mean? There were lots of things, minor and major cruelties, for which Melissa might have been sorry - or was it even a question? Was she asking if Megan was sorry for sleeping with Melissa's husband, Jago, on their wedding day? The Melvicks might seem to have everything - Ivan Melvick was Lord Lieutenant of the County and money was never in short supply - but there did seem to be a curse. In addition to Melissa's health problems, Megan was deaf and their mother, Beth, had left suddenly three years before. Would she come back for her elder daughter's funeral? Full Review

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Review of

The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson and Victoria Cribb

4star.jpg Crime

Una was not thriving in Reykjavik: it was some years since her beloved father had committed suicide without leaving any explanation and since then she'd given up her medical studies and retrained as a teacher. She was thirty years old and money was tight. Her friend, Sara, showed her an advert for a job in Skalar on the Langanes Peninsula. There were only ten people in the village but a teacher was required for two children: a salary would be paid and accommodation provided. Una was the only applicant and the job meant that she could let her flat in Reykjavik and, hopefully, save some money over the winter which her contract covered. Full Review

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Review of

For Any Other Truth (DCI Jim Daley) by Denzil Meyrick

3.5star.jpg Crime

We learn that MI5 is having its problems with environmental terrorists supergluing themselves to awkward places. But that's London, isn't it? What's happening in Kinloch?

When a light aircraft crash lands at Machrie airport, DCI Jim Daley and his colleague, Acting DI Brian Scott, head off for the airport straight away. It soon becomes evident though that both occupants of the plane were dead before take off. How could that be? The sort of tech which would make that possible isn't available to the paying public. And why have the man no identification on them - or even labels in their clothes? Full Review

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Review of

Understanding Human Nature: A User's Guide to Life by Richard Brook

4.5star.jpg Lifestyle

I am a firm believer that sometimes we choose books, and sometimes books choose us. In my case, this is one of the latter. Not so very long ago, if I had come across this book I'd have skimmed it, found some of it interesting, but it would not have 'hit home' in the way that it does now. I believe it came to me not just because I was likely to give it a favourable review [ full disclosure The Bookbag's u.s.p. is that people chose their own books rather than getting them randomly, so there is a predisposition towards expecting to like the book, even if it doesn't always turn out that way ] – but also because it is a book I needed to read, right now. Full Review

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Review of

Autumn Camp by Barry Fowler

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

It was to be Brian's last camp. He'd founded the organisation some four years ago and had done all the organisation since but he was leaving school and the time had come to hand the reins to someone else. The obvious person was Gary, who'd always been the fun element of the camps and Brian had said that on this camp, Gary should act as the leader and he'd just be there to observe. The problem with this was that Gary wasn't really an organiser, an administrator if you like. He was the entertainer, the person who basked in the spotlight and made things fun - so Brian stepped in and did the organising. He handed the camp over - and then took it back. And Gary determined to have his revenge. This should have been his camp. Full Review

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Review of

The Farm Shop by Devon Avery, Justine Avery and Ema Tepic

4star.jpg For Sharing

Kirelle and her best friend Sam the cat decide to go for a walk. Kirelle is dressed for all weathers in her bright yellow wellies and Sam is perfectly turned out as ever in his smart grey fur coat. As they walk to the top of the hill, they see a big barn with a sign outside. It's a farm shop! But this is a farm shop with a difference: all the stallholders and customers are farmyard animals. There are sheep and ducks and cows, goats and chickens, and even some mice. Excited, Kirelle and Sam go shopping.

What will they buy? Full Review

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Review of

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

5star.jpg Crime

Difficult clients were nothing new to barrister Ingrid Lewis but John Webster came as something of a surprise. After all, it was her cross-examination of the 'victim' which saved him from a lengthy prison sentence. He'd been accused of stalking the woman but it didn't take long to establish that - if anything - it was the other way around. Soon Ingrid never seemed to be free of John Webster and then she came to see him as a threat and was forced to remember that the police officer at his trial had told her that this was the best chance they'd had to put Webster away for a long time: he was a very dangerous man. Full Review

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Review of

Both of You by Adele Parks

4star.jpg Thrillers

You could be forgiven for thinking that Leigh Fletcher has it all: great husband and two gorgeous stepsons whom she adores. Then, one Monday, she went to work and never came home. Mark, Oli and Seb are shattered. Well, Mark and Seb are but Oli's sixteen and at the stage where he thinks boredom is his best look. He's been a bit off with Leigh for a while but she put it down to him growing up and starting to become independent. Seb's only twelve and Leigh's absence hits him hard. Then Daan Janssen, a wealthy Dutch businessman, reports his wife, Kai missing. She too has vanished without trace. Full Review

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Review of

Unbreak Your Heart by Katie Marsh

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

When Beth Carlyle and Simon Withers first met they were on opposite ends of an angry exchange - well, Simon was angry and Beth was doing her best to apologise for having knocked Simon's son, Jake, off his bike. He wasn't hurt but Jake has history. He has HLHS - that's Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome for those of you who are not au fait with your medical acronyms. When he was born, the left side of his heart hadn't developed properly and he needed open-heart surgery when he was a few days old. So, Simon has every right to be over-protective particularly when someone isn't looking where they're driving. Full Review

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Review of

Otherland by Louie Stowell

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Myra and Rohan are like Yin and Yang – Myra is loud, bright and hates rules, while Rohan is very polite, serious and worries about the tiniest things. Their only connection? Being born and briefly dying at the same time at the same hospital on Midsummer's day. And so, every year their families get together to celebrate the two's birthday/deathday. But when Rohan's little sister Shilpa is taken by the fairy queen, they must journey to the Otherland, a magical realm full of fairies, vampires, dragons, and Gods. It's going to be the worst night of their lives. Full Review

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Review of

The Coldest Case (A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel) by Martin Walker

4star.jpg Crime

It was when he saw Elisabeth Daynes' work in the prehistory museum at Les Eyzies that chief of police Bruno Courreges had the idea which he thought might help his boss, chief of detectives Jalipeau, known as J-J, to solve a case that had haunted him for thirty years. The body of a young male was found in the woods but he was never identified and his killer never brought to justice. What if an artist could recreate the face from the skull and the resulting publicity be used to identify the young man? J-J calls the skull 'Oscar' and has a picture on his door: he sees it every time he leaves his office: he doesn't want to forget Oscar until his killer has been brought to justice. Full Review

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Review of

Invisible Ink: A Family Memoir by Martha Leigh

5star.jpg Biography

Martha Leigh begins her book talking about a childhood spent in a slightly eccentric, immediately recognisable upper middle class English family. Her father is a Cambridge don, forever clacking away on his typewriter as he edits the complete correspondence of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his life's work. Her mother is a concert pianist who practises for hours every day. Neither parent is hugely interested in the practicalities of life. There is love in the house but also darker undercurrents that a child does not fully understand but knows is there. Full Review

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Review of

Archibald Lox and the Slides of Bon Repell: Archibald Lox series, Volume 2, book 2 of 3 by Darren Shan

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

So. Having done the impossible and unpicked the lock to the Forgotten Crypt, from which the Departed communicate with the Merge, Archie now has grop to think about. But before that, soirees. Soirees! Archie, much to Inez's amusement, doesn't even know what one of those is. But he manages to come through the fancy party unscathed, even after an uncomfortable encounter with Kurtis, whose fledgling romance with Inez was crushed in the first volume of this series.  Full Review

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Review of

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed, warped into an unrecognisable shape by the moon-sized aliens known as the Architects. Humanity is scattered, constantly fleeing as world after world falls to the architect's reshaping. Then, just when they had the human race on the run, the Architects vanished. And so, the memories of the war fades, heroes are forgotten, and humanity begins to fracture and fight among themselves. Idris Telemmier, a man genetically engineered to try and communicate with the Architects, does not want to be remembered. But, when he and the crew of the salvage ship he calls home discover what appears to be recent Architect activity, suddenly he is thrust back into the spotlight. As he and his allies bounce from star system to star system, chased by alien crime syndicates, human secret police and rich slavers, he slowly begins to realise that the real war is only just getting started… Full Review

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Review of

Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

4star.jpg Thrillers

Eleven years ago, a man regularly came home to his wife with lipstick marks on his collar and lame excuses as to why he was late - again. His wife was in the habit of going out for a run late at night. It was the only time she had for herself when she didn't have to look after her baby - but when she was out she would meet up with a man, grateful for the unquestioning affection he gave her. The locality was stunned when Shelby Tebow disappeared, seemingly without a trace, leaving her husband to look after her disabled baby. Ten days later, a local woman and her six-year-old daughter disappeared. Meredith Dickey was a birth doula and she'd seemed to be under some strain for the last couple of weeks or so. Her body was eventually found in a seedy motel - it appeared that she'd committed suicide. She left a note saying that her daughter, Delilah, was safe and there was no point in looking for her. Full Review

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Review of

The Japanese Chronicles by Nicolas Bouvier

5star.jpg Travel

It never does to start a review of a book with a quote from the blurb, but sometimes it's unavoidable. Le Monde reviewed this book, at some point, with the words what the old master craftsmen would call a masterpiece. It is precisely that. A masterpiece in the sense of the craft as well as the art of writing. I'm going to hesitate to call it 'travel writing' because this is as much a history of Japan, a mythology-primer for the Japanese culture as it is a personal response to living and travelling in the country. Full Review

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Review of

The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

4star.jpg Fantasy

A modern and approachable reimagining of the Norse myths that centres around a witch named Angrboda. She hides in a forest at the edge of the nine worlds, remembering nothing of her past life but that fact that she was survived burnt at the stake three times because of Odin's wrath. Her attempts to live in peace, however, are quickly thwarted when Loki shows up with her literal heart—the one that was cut from her chest before she was tied to the stake—and refuses to leave her alone. After an initial period of mistrust, Angrboda begins to fall for Loki's charms, and the two start an unusual family made of up a half-dead daughter, a son that's a wolf, and another son that's a snake. Full Review

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Review of

The Distant Dead by Lesley Thomson

4.5star.jpg Crime

It was December 1940 and twenty-four-year-old Maple Greenhill had gone out for the evening 'with her friend Ida' leaving her three-year-old son, William, at home with her parents. The boy thought that Maple was his sister - it was better for the family than the shame of illegitimacy, but Maple had high hopes of putting her life (and William's) on a better footing. She was going to meet her well-to-do fiancé, hoping to persuade him to come and meet her family the following week. Later, her body would be found in the bombed-out home where he had taken her. Full Review

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Review of

The Perfect Lie by Jo Spain

4.5star.jpg Crime

It was July 2019 and Erin was happy. She and Danny Ryan were planning a few days away: that's always a dangerous thing to do when you're married to a cop but she was hopeful. They'd been married for six months and life was good with a decent apartment by the sea in Newport, Long Island. The knock on the door was insistent and when it was opened, Danny's partner, Ben Mitchell was there with a couple of other officers. Danny took one look, turned, walked to the open window and jumped to his death from the fourth floor.

Eighteen months later, Erin would be on trial for her husband's murder. Full Review

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Review of

A Women's Guide to Claiming Space by Eliza Van Cort

5star.jpg Politics and Society

She brings a hug-kick-thunderclap that every woman needs in her life. Again and again and again. (Alma Derricks, former CMO, Cirque du Soleil RSD)

To claim space is to live the life of choosing unapologetically and bravely. It is to live the life you've always wanted.

Sometimes the reviewing gods are generous: at a time when violence against women is much in the news, A Women's Guide to Claiming Space by Eliza Van Cort dropped onto my desk. Now - to be clear - this book is not a 'how to disable your attacker with two simple jabs' manual: it's something far more effective, but discussion at the moment seems to be about how women can be protected. I've always thought that women need to rise above this, to be people who don't need protection, people who claim their own space. If all women did this, those few men who are violent to women would realise that we are not just an easy target to be used to prove that they are big men. Full Review