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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What I Tell You in the Dark by John Samuel

3.5star.jpg Humour

A man called Will is fighting fiercely against corruption – desperate to expose his company's dodgy dealings to the press. Overcome with doubt and fear, he goes to kill himself. But, at the exact moment he attaches his noose to the back of the door, he is saved. By a curious housemate or a concerned girlfriend? No, by an Angel. Not the white-feathered guardian Angel you may expect, but one who wishes to help Will achieve his ends, and so possess the body of the hapless Will in order to finish what he started. It goes without saying that the Angel is hoping things go better than they did with the last guy he possessed – a hapless young man from Galilee called Jesus… Full review...

Brothers at Arms by Jemima Brigges

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Certain decisions are pivotal points in time; key moments that define everything that follows and create waves that ripple with repercussions for years to come. Kindly squire Tom Norberry could never have foreseen the impact that taking in two orphaned relatives would have on his future happiness. This single, altruistic act of kindness would set in motion a chain of events that would eventually cause a deep household rift and threaten to sully the good family name that he had worked to hard to uphold. Full review...

The Past by Tessa Hadley

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tessa Hadley writes beautifully subtle stories of English family life. Her understated style has a touch of the 1950s or 1960s about it, calling to mind Elizabeth Taylor or early Margaret Drabble, and she seems to adapt classic genres like the novel of manners or the country house novel. Here she deliberately channels Elizabeth Bowen with a setup borrowed from The House in Paris: the novel is divided into three parts, titled 'The Present', 'The Past', and 'The Present'. That structure allows for a deeper look at what the house and a neighbouring cottage have meant to the central family, and paves the way for one final shocker of a secret. Full review...

Girl on a Plane by Miriam Moss

5star.jpg Teens

It's September 1970 and 15 year old Anna is on her way back to boarding school in England. Friends of her family joke about the recent hijackings but Anna is far more concerned about leaving her home in Bahrain and their mongrel dog, Woofa. These worries are, however, wiped from her mind when her plane is hijacked by Palestinian guerrillas and diverted to a disused airstrip in the Jordanian desert. Here they are forced to wait for days with almost no food and very little water while their captors issue their demands to the British government. If these demands are not met within three days, they will blow up the plane killing all the hostages. Full review...

Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh's Curse by Laura Wood

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Poppy Pym is leaving the only home she's ever known (in Madame Pym's Spectacular Travelling Circus) to become a boarding school student at Saint Smithen's School. And, if starting school for the first time at age 11 isn't enough, Poppy and her new friends – Kip and Ingrid – find themselves in the middle of a mystery. Dangerous accidents start to occur at Saint Smithen's the moment a temporary exhibition of Egyptian artefacts enter the school. While everyone else attributes these to the Pharaoh's curse, Poppy and her friends are determined to discover who is really causing the accidents. Then, when the priceless ruby at the heart of the collection is stolen, their investigation broadens as they try to uncover the thief. Full review...

Bandaging the Blitz by Phyll MacDonald-Ross and I D Roberts

5star.jpg Autobiography

Why would anyone want to know about me, dear? she said.

Everyone has an interesting story to tell. Yet how many life stories actually make it into printed form, perhaps because the individuals involved did not feel that anyone would be interested in their lives? This was almost the case for Phyllis Macdonald-Ross, who served as a nurse in a busy London hospital during the Blitz. It was only thanks to her determined granddaughter and devoted husband that she finally decided to put her memoirs down on paper and submit them for publication. The result is an exciting and emotional coming-of-age story about a young nurse entering her training during one of the most turbulent times in British history. Full review...

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Seventeenth century England isn't always a comfortable place to live. Apart from the obvious differences from the modern day – no National Health Service, no laws to protect orphans like Christopher from cruelty and exploitation, and a constant foul smell from poor sanitation - fear and suspicion are a daily fact of life. In 1665 Charles II has been back on the throne for several years, but not everyone is happy about his extravagant and luxurious life-style, even among those who found the Puritan rules of Cromwell's time excessively strict. There are spies everywhere, and rumours of conspiracies fill the streets. It's a time to keep your head down and avoid attention from the authorities. Full review...

The School of Art: Learn How To Make Great Art With 40 Simple Lessons by Teal Triggs and Daniel Frost

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Written with an interesting approach, this book treats the reader as a new art student to The School of Art. The five professors of the school take the student through 40 different lessons, looking at a huge range of ideas right from how to draw a line, perspective and proportion, composition and aesthetics. Aimed probably at senior school children it could, however, also be used by older primary children who are particularly interested in art, and if you were working through the book with your child then a younger child could also try out some of the lesson ideas and suggestions. Full review...

No More Cuddles! by Jane Chapman

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Ah, what a problem it can be, to be just so snuggly that people can't stop cuddling you! This is poor Barry's problem. A solitary monster by nature, he does like cuddles of course, but too much of anything can become trying, and so when he is leaped on by all the other little forest animals every single morning, he wonders if perhaps there is some way to transfer their cuddles to someone else? Full review...

Honey and Me by Karen McCombie

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Most girls starting out Brook City School are hoping for something new and different, but Kirsten just wants things to be normal. Even good things seem to come with a sting in the tail and worst of all, Mum and Dad are really not getting on. In fact Kirsten is happiest at school and does all the after-school activities she can manage just to keep away from home for as long as she can. Her elder brother, Finn, who's at sixth form college, is struggling too: what used to be thought of as cheeky at school has turned into disruptive. When things get really bad Kirsten is suddenly reminded of her old friend Honey and wonders if she can get in touch with her. Full review...

Christmas Paper Play by Lydia Crook

4.5star.jpg Crafts

Christmas is a time of joy and goodwill to all men, but it can also be a time of bad weather, of being stuck in the house and feeling like you have nothing to do. The holiday period can need filling and for a crafty kid there are loads of activities that can be done simply by using paper; including creating their own decorations or making the best letter they can for Father Christmas. If only there was a handy book that contained loads of great Christmas crafting ideas in one place. Full review...

Nick and the Glimmung by Philip K Dick

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Nick. He lives on a future Earth, where multiple large classrooms are taught by just one holographic teacher, which might sound impractical but can actually help with advice when you declare to the class that you are breaking the law. Nick, you see, has a pet cat, and in this massively over-populated and under-resourced world, pets are illegal. There's a simple solution – wait for the anti-pet man to turn up with his weaponry and armour and dispose of it, but the family have decided to take the other way out – emigrate to an entirely different world. Hence they embark on the trip to be pioneer farmers on Plowman's Planet, even when they're forewarned of a host of different and most unusual animals already resident there. That advice still doesn't really prepare them for the battle whose crossfire in which they immediately get caught… Full review...

Rape of the Fair Country by Alexander Cordell

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

When we meet Iestyn Motymer it's 1826 and he's just eight years old, but starting work at the Garndyrus furnaces near Blaenavon. His father sees it as the right thing to do and his mother knows that the money will be needed as there's another child on the way, but Iestyn's older sister, Morfydd, is adamant that it's wrong for women and children to work in either the mines or the ironworks. She believes in the aims of the Chartist movement whilst her father, Hywel Mortymer, is loyal to the ironmasters, but events involving his own family will later force him to question this loyalty. The Mortymers are better off than many in Blaenavon, but they're still at the mercy of the ironmaster and the agent: suspension or blacklisting (which can extend to relations) can leave any family penniless and starving. Full review...

Swords Around The Throne (Twilight of Empire) by Ian Ross

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Centurion Aurelius Castus' time in Britain is over but not his propensity for being on the wrong side of danger. Due to an adventure on the journey he comes to the notice of Emperor Constantine, and is promoted to his elite bodyguard – the swords around the throne. The multiple emperor model that has evolved to govern the Empire is shaky to say the least, riven by plots, conspiracies and worse. Therefore Castus' new job is neither safe nor easy but it's not something he can refuse… unfortunately! Full review...

Claude's Journey by John Piper

4star.jpg General Fiction

One routine, normally uneventful journey changes Claude's life forever,. It begins with a chance encounter with a malevolent hen party and carries on with the betrayal of those he thought he could trust sending him into a spiral of captivity and fetishist slavery. Full review...

The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan

4star.jpg Fantasy

Ringil Eskiath, Egar Dragonbane and Archeth Indamaninarmal have been through hell. Almost literally, in some cases. Now without fight or cause, they find themselves bored, searching for answers and fights wherever they can. But then the fight arrives, along with the Dark Court, the Empire and the greed of men. It soon becomes clear that a war fought thousands of years has not ended, but still rages fiercely on. A war that will take more than our adventurers to stop… Full review...

The Good Neighbour by Beth Miller

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Minette has not had the best experience of neighbours. It's hard when you have a new born. They're not known for being quiet as a mouse at all times and occasionally, well, occasionally they scream through the night. So she's glad when the nasty couple move and are replaced by Cath and her two kids. A fellow mother! An ally! Surely she will be more understanding? Full review...

The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Victoria Cribb (translator)

4star.jpg Thrillers

If you're lucky enough to go to Iceland they will tell you, even in this day and age, that the place is heavily populated with trolls. Yrsa Sigurdardottir may or may not agree with that, but she certainly peoples her world with ghosts. Here is Odinn, and to some extent his ghost – certainly there's the ghost of 'what if' around him, and the man he might have been if he hadn't abandoned the young mother of his child. Here is that very wife, who is now dead herself. Here is the spirit of failure as he takes over a job at work from someone else who had a fatal heart attack – that task, to investigate a children's care home in the 1970s to see if anything nefarious went on. And that place certainly should be haunted – already a dead child has been disposed of, and more is to come… Full review...

The Ghosts Who Danced and other spooky stories by Saviour Pirotta and Paul Hess

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Ghosts are all over the world, don't you know. I don't know of any as of yet but I dare say that people have fixed ghost stories to be set on Antarctica; they're certainly common on all the other continents. York has 500 spectres to itself allegedly, all corners of all civilisations claim to know of spirit world entities – and people even go as far as being so undignified they see them in Auschwitz. The lesson from this excellently put-together book is that ghosts are worldwide, and any one from just about anywhere can have a very interesting story to tell. Full review...

Jeff Lynne: The Electric Light Orchestra - Before and After by John Van der Kiste

4.5star.jpg Biography

Jeff Lynne grew up in a Birmingham suburb right at the end of 1947: even as a child he was passionate about music and was a much respected guitarist as a teenager. He was a member of various semi-professional groups - critical acclaim came when he fronted Idle Race in the late sixties and popularity and a degree of commercial success arrived when he joined the popular group The Move. Whilst still playing with that group he co-founded, along with Roy Wood, the groundbreaking Electric Light Orchestra, but it was with Wood's departure that Lynne turned what had been an occasionally uneasy fusion of classical and rock into a successful and popular act. Full review...

Where's Will? by Anna Claybourne and Tilly

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Taking 10 of the best known stories, this book neatly summarises the plots and highlights the must-know elements of each. That's just the start, though, because after you've read what's going on, you get to see it in another form. Each story is followed by an illustrated two page spread, highly detailed and bursting with activity and characters. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the stars of the play among the many other people on the page. They're hidden, but can you find them? Full review...

Confluence by Paul McAuley

5star.jpg Dystopian Fiction

Yama is a foundling orphan adopted as a baby by the Aedile (chief civil servant) of a small city downriver of the mighty, ancient city of Ys, capital of the man-made world of Confluence. Longing to become a soldier and take his late brother's place in the long-running war against the heretics, the restless seventeen year old is about to be taken as an apprentice clerk despite his young age, to keep him out of trouble. Destiny, however, has other plans for him. Full review...

Lion Practice by Emma Carlisle

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Laura loves practising at being different kinds of animals. As well as being a kangaroo and an elephant, she's an expert at being a crocodile (much to the other children's dismay in the swimming pool!) But one day she decides that it's time for lion practice, and this is the day when her parents think her imagination has gone just a little too far… Full review...

Molly Maybe's Monsters: The Dappity Doofer by Kristina Stephenson

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Molly Maybe lives in Smallsbury, a snoringly, boringly, ordinary place - well, it is until you discover the town's best kept secret. But before we talk about that, let me tell you about Molly's treehouse, where she and her dog, Waggy Burns, can look out over her neighbours' gardens. Mr Bottomly Brown is doing some digging (it's going to be a pond) and he's discovered something rather peculiar: it looks like a small statue. Three days later the statue is in place in the middle of the pond but that's not what's making Mr Brown angry - there are piles of soil all over his perfect lawn. He's convinced that it's moles, but Molly has spotted a claw and she knows better. Full review...

Danny Dread by Ben Davis

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Danny Dread. He's a pupil at Demento's Academy for Young Evil Geniuses, where classes range from bank robbery and 'applied superhero torture' to creating flying craft and machines with which to do the most dastardly deeds, and where the head mistress is only too pleased to see bullying happening in the corridors. Now meet Mynah Boy – freshly costumed, and talented inasmuch as he can mimic lots of people and things. He might not be the world's best superhero, but neither is Danny Dread the world's best villain – the Dread family have slowly been getting worse at being evil, and Danny is so hopeless he can't even kill a fly. You might think they'll be set up for the most clumsy, calamitous adventure against each other, until you learn that actually they're one and same lad – but things will still get clumsy and calamitous enough… Full review...