The Bookbag

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The Bookbag

Hello from The Bookbag, a book review site, featuring books 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 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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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

London 1883: Thaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist in a government office, finds himself living and working in a city at siege during a Clan na Gael bombing campaign. It's around this time that he also realises that his pocket watch seems to have some odd, previously unnoticed functions. Grace Carrow, a 'bluestocking' physics student also owns such a watch. The two total strangers may think their watches odd, but 'odd' takes on a new meaning when they meet Mr Mori, the Japanese watchmaker. His clockwork pet octopus is only a small measure of the oddity ahead. Full review...

English Gothic: Classic Horror Cinema 1897-2015 by Jonathan Rigby

5star.jpg Entertainment

Wow. Every once in a while you come across a book such as this, which represents in two covers the complete sine qua non of its subject and type. There is little vital to say about this book except it is essential for anyone with any remote interest in British horror in motion picture form – yes, it covers cinema to a minute level but also regards TV in an addendum that will bring back equal memories to those who watch it. A book as long and detailed as this – and boy, is it long and detailed – is immediately marked out as a sterling, five-star read, and yet the humble reviewer (like perhaps a victim of one of these gothic fictions) has an exhaustive and exhausting time ahead. Yes, we here at The Bookbag do read every word of the books we cover, even if the only verdict regarding them is blatantly evident from the first hour's perusal. Full review...

Queen of Fire: Book 3 of Raven's Shadow by Anthony Ryan

4star.jpg Fantasy

THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE FIRST TWO RAVEN SHADOW BOOKS (ONLY) Queen Lyrna has been badly burnt but lives to rule and seek vengeance through her massed armies. She also lifts the prohibition of the Dark due to their healing properties and three Gifted, the practitioners of the power are promoted with less than popular approval. Meanwhile Lyrna's right hand man Vaelin Al Sorna has lost his blood song, that precognition that made him such a strong and feared opponent in the past. Talking of opponents, the Volarians have a surprise – the mysterious entity known only as The Ally. To Vaelin he's anything but and so he must go to the ends of the world (or at least to a pretty inhospitable climate) to find him… her… it. Full review...

Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Paul Leibovitz was a journalist. That was before. Before he had a small child, who did not survive as long as he should have. Before the end of the marriage that did not survive the loss of a child. Now Leibovitz himself, merely survives. He lives in a kind of self-imposed exile on Lamma, third largest of the Hong Kong islands, a place of greenery and solitude. Full review...

To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

4star.jpg Teens

A collection of 21 short stories loosely divided into six different categories, ‘’To Hold the Bridge’’ will probably divide opinion amongst readers. It’s undoubtedly a must-read book for fans of Garth Nix and these fans will, I suspect, quibble with my four star rating and challenge me to add another star. Those new to Garth’s writing might, in turn, think I’ve been over-generous given the mixed nature of the stories in the book. Full review...

Hitler's Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate

4star.jpg Autobiography

You see that name that credits the author of this book? Forget it, it's not accurate. (I don't mean Tim Tate's workmanlike, journalistic ghost writing, more of which later.) The narrator of this book did change her name by deed poll to something like Ingrid von Oelhafen some time ago, but not exactly how she wanted. She grew up as Ingrid von Oelhafen, although that was the name of her father, who was so desperately absent, in being over a generation older than his wife, with whom he was separated. She might well have had her mother's maiden name if her parents had divorced – and indeed her mother did move on to have a second family, and was terribly distant herself – young Ingrid would plead and plead for her company while in a remote children's home, and a lot of family secrets were not passed down at opportune times. Oh, and legally, due to what little documentation was to be seen, such as immunisation record cards, Ingrid was not Ingrid at all, but Erika Matko. Through this book, we find she was not blood-kin with her brother, her step-brother was to die, she was not blood-kin with her sister, but was her brother's, – oh, and even in this day and age you can still find a changeling foundling. Such incredibly convoluted family trees are the fault of the Lebensborn. Full review...

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Catrin is a mother without children. It’s a horrible situation to be in, and a role that will define her for the rest of her life. A few years ago, her two boys were killed as a result of her best friend’s actions. It was an accident but that doesn’t make it any better. And Catrin can neither forgive nor forget. Full review...

Elmer by David McKee

5star.jpg For Sharing

Everyone knows the story of Elmer , the elephant who is ‘’not’’ elephant colour, and this board book allows him to be introduced to an even younger audience. Full review...

A Better Man by Leah McLaren

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Maya and Nick are both the same type of person. A special type of person. She doesn’t really see it, but they are. He is obsessed with his company, an advertising agency, and the expected long hours of not just shoots and post-production, but also client relationship management that such a field entails. She is just as obsessed, but it’s not with her former life as a hot shot lawyer – now she’s obsessed with their twins and every moment of their little lives, from enriching activities to bonding sleepy times in the family bed. The one thing they’re no longer really obsessed with, though, is each other. And therein lies the problem. Full review...

Birdy by Jess Vallance

4.5star.jpg Teens

Frances has always been a loner, quiet and isolated, so when she's asked to look after the eccentric new girl Alberta for a few days she doesn't expect anything to come of it, only hoping that the whole incident will pass without embarrassment. The last thing she expects is for the new girl to become her best friend. Alberta's warm companionship is everything Frances has been missing for so many years, so when conflict inevitably arises, Frances is determined to do anything to save their friendship. Full review...

Motherland: A Novel by Jo McMillan

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Jess is a teenage Communist which isn't a surprise since she comes from a Communist family. Her late father was a card carrying member and Jess spends her weekends selling The Morning Star with her equally enthused mother Eleanor. It's not only a thankless task, it's not a very welcome sight for some citizens in their native Tamworth of the 1970s. However Eleanor and Jess' lives are about to change, thanks to an all-expenses paid trip to the GDR – Communist East Germany; a place on the same side of the Berlin Wall as Jess' and Eleanor's hearts. However, they both learn that even a political heaven has its lessons and, indeed, its downside. Full review...

The Woman in the Picture by Katharine McMahon

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

In February 1926 London was tense and divided between those who supported the principle of a general strike and those who were prepared to break it at whatever cost to themselves. Evelyn Gifford is a newly qualified solicitor and whilst she's sympathetic to the miners she's preoccupied by two cases from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Trudy Wright is a maidservant accused of theft and Evelyn has undertaken this case pro bono: her argument is that the 'theft' was of a letter asking for a reference for Trudy, but she was too frightened to hand it to her bullying employer, so only she was the loser. The Wright family worm their way into Evelyn's life: the father is a bullying, drunken, wife beater, the mother is scared and brow beaten, but the son, Robbie, is deeply involved with the unions. Full review...

Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Ollie and Moritz can never meet. Because if they did, one of them would almost certainly die. Why? Because Ollie is allergic to electricty and Moritz has an electrical pacemaker inserted in his heart. Ollie spends his life hidden away in a log cabin in the forest - away from all the electricity that sends him into life-threatening seizures - with only his mother and the occasional visit from Dr Auburn-Stache for company. He did also have a friend, Liz, but he lost her a while back. Moritz is equally isolated even though he goes to school. Born without eyes, Moritz "sees" the world through echolocation, like a bat. You might think that's miraculous, but Moritz just thinks it makes him a freak. Full review...

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

4star.jpg Thrillers

Matt, a wildlife film maker is reported to have perished in a fierce fire that sweeps through the first nation Alaskan village in which he's working. All that's left of him is his wedding ring. This is a huge shock to his wife Yasmin who has flown to see him with their 10 year old daughter Ruby. Yasmin has come to talk to Matt to see if they still have a relationship worth saving. Some would say that his death is an answer to that question but Yasmin doesn't accept that. She doesn't even accept he's dead and will search the frozen Alaskan wastes to prove it. Full review...

Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History by Francis O'Gorman

4.5star.jpg History

‘’Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History’’ begins with a familiar scene for anyone who experiences that persistent feeling of fretful panic: lying awake in the early hours, unable to switch off, thoughts turning over in your head. If this common situation hits home, ‘This book’, its author Francis O’Gorman writes, ‘is for you.’ Full review...

The Seventh Miss Hatfield by Anna Caltabiano

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Cynthia is a simple, All American girl who whilst generally happy – she’s fed and watered with a roof over her head - and relatively care free, she is somewhat bored of her existence in Suburbia. Miss Hatfield is Cynthia’s mysterious and rarely seen neighbour. What an enigma she is and how compelling and irresistible it is for Cynthia to attempt to discover more about her. Ever hear the phrase Be careful what you wish for?. Full review...

Dead End Kids: Heroes of the Blitz by Bernard Ashley

4.5star.jpg Teens

It's London in 1940. Most of the men have been conscripted and the East End is populated mainly by women and children. Josie and her friends are carrying on much as usual, though, grouping into little gangs and arguing over turf via mud fights along the Thames. But then comes a terrible night of bombing. It's the start of the Blitz and 57 consecutive nights of bombing for the East End. The fire service is stretched way beyond its capacity and the lucky ones make it out of the shelters in the morning, while the unlucky ones don't see another sunrise. Full review...

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

4star.jpg Teens

For a month in every year, the month leading up to Halloween, Cara's family are susceptible to accidents. There are cuts and scrapes and bruises. Sometimes there are broken bones. And sometimes, the accidents are even fatal...

... it's a curse, right? What else could it be? Full review...

How to Be Happy (or at least less sad): A Creative Workbook by Lee Crutchley

4star.jpg Lifestyle

I gave up hoping for happiness many years ago and settled instead for enjoying contentment when it arrived and trying to make the most of it. 'Happiness' seemed to be rather like 'privileges' - something which you shouldn't expect as of right. Most of the time it works well, but just occasionally an extra boost - a new approach - is needed. Lee Crutchley has suffered from depression and he knows that this book is not going to help when you're clinically depressed, but those of us who have been down that road know that there are certain laybys where you stop and possibly turn around. Full review...

In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll

5star.jpg Confident Readers

In the early hours of the morning Alice’s mum receives the phone call they have been waiting for. The long awaited heart transplant that may save her sick brother, Theo’s, life is now possible. Alice finds herself sent to stay with a grandmother she doesn’t know, miles away from her friends and the life she knows. There is no TV, no phone signal and no internet but Alice feels drawn to the mysterious Darkling Wood surrounding the house despite her grandmother’s wish to have it chopped down. Meanwhile back in 1918 a young girl desperately waits for news of her brother’s safe return from the front. Her mother doesn’t like her playing in the nearby wood but it is there that she discovers secrets and magic that give her hope for the future. Full review...

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine

5star.jpg Teens

Iris has never known her father. He didn't want her, her mother has always said. He threw them out years ago. But now she's about to meet him again. Her father is rich, you see, and dying, and Iris's mother and stepfather have worn out their welcome in LA. So they're running away from debts and towards a rich, terminally ill old man, ripe for exploitation. There's also the small matter of some of Iris's own bad behaviour. But the less said about that, the better Full review...

The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward

4star.jpg Teens

Samantha is a mixer of potions extraordinaire. Which is just as well, because someone has to save a princess who has fallen in love with herself. Yes, you heard right! You might not think this is the most enormous problem - princesses are so spoiled and pampered, is it any wonder they fall in love with themselves? But this isn't what's happened. Princess Evelyn has taken a love potion meant to make someone else fall in love with her. And the resulting havoc caused by the wrong person taking the right potion leads to some very unstable magic that could threaten the very kingdom itself.

Hence the Wilde Hunt, a national quest to find the ingredients for a cure. Full review...

Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt

4.5star.jpg Teens

Luke Manchett really isn't that upset when he gets the news that his father has died. You might think that's a tad harsh, but Luke has been estranged from his father for years. His primary concern is his mother, who is disabled by crushing cluster headaches. So, rather than worry her, Luke heads off to a lawyer's office to deal with the reading of his father's will by himself. And he gets a shock. Luke's inheritance adds up to six million dollars. SIX MILLION! Full review...

Half a World Away: Surviving the Move to a Land Down Under by Alistair McGuinness

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

Sometimes you read about a particularly exciting time in an author's life but later you find yourself wondering how they're doing, how life worked out for them. Since I read Round the Bend: From Luton to Peru to Ningaloo, a Search for Life After Redundancy by Alistair McGuinnessabout eighteen months ago I've often wondered how he and Fran were doing in Australia and I was delighted when Half a World Away landed on my desk. When we left Ali and Fran they'd had an exciting and eventful year during which they'd travelled through Central and South America and then on to Africa, but they were planning to settle down in Australia. Don't worry if you haven't read Round the Bend as both books read well as stand alones and you can always go back to the first book later, can't you? Full review...

Hibernia Unanimis: "Pro Deo, Rege et Patricia, Hibernia Unanimis" (For God, King and Country, Ireland is United) by John Piper

4star.jpg Crime

Benedict Plunkett calls a meeting of a small but select and distinguished group of Irish and US politicians, clergy and business men to whom he explains his plans for Hibernia Unanimis – a united Ireland. It will be raised up by and for the Irish in response to the new UKIP government in London. Before the great and the good leave Benedict's mansion they are asked to sign contracts if they want to be part of his future. Some sign, some don't but all think he's deluded and nothing will come of it. Then the accident happens and everyone takes Benedict a little more seriously as, in time, will the English government. Full review...

Foretold by Thunder by E M Davey

5star.jpg Thrillers

A university professor is randomly killed by a thunderbolt after posting a package of history texts to journalist Jake Wolsey. Was his death really that random? Jake doesn't have long to ponder that before he's off to Turkey with archaeologist Florence Chung to investigate the ancient religion of the Etruscans. He's not the only one interested; MI6 are tailing him for a reason even the agents concerned don't know. As history starts to reveal its secrets and connects with names centuries after the Etruscans died, Jake and Florence realise this is as much a fight for their lives as it is for knowledge. Full review...

Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Wars are often written about and the further back you go the more unreal they feel. The description of a Roman Soldier being killed seems to have little impact on our lives today, but, what about Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam? How far must one go back before we feel detached from events? World War Two ended 70 years ago, but it still ripples through to today. There are stories still to be told from this time, but they must be written well and sensitively. Full review...

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Bees of Stupidity by John Dougherty and David Tazzyman (illustrator)

5star.jpg Confident Readers

We've been here before. The lovely children whose name is in the title of all these books – handy when they make time to try and check if they're in this one or not – are woken up in a ridiculous way by a blackbird making his usual cameo. The Army of Great Kerfuffle is asleep – all single cat of it. The King is wearing a badge that allows him to pretend to not be the King – this time he's thinking of keeping bees, although he has four animals that go 'quack' in a hive instead. Oh yeah, and the evil badgers are in prison having been naughty. But they will never follow the pattern and be evil and naughty and break out in order to be eviller and more naughty, will they? Full review...