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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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L is for London by Paul Thurlby

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I spend a lot of time in London for work, and we tend to walk to a lot of our destinations which works out quite well since London days are long days and long days tend not to include time for the gym. But, as you walk from Euston to Waterloo or Elephant and Castle, you also get to see a lot of a wonderful city. I've never lived there, but I feel like every week I know it a little better. This book is London all over and whether you live elsewhere in the UK or further afield, it's a fantastic way to learn more about the place. Full review...

Henrietta Maria by Dominic Pearce

4.5star.jpg History

The phrase 'tragic Queen' is an often overused one, but the French princess who became the second Stuart Queen Consort of Britain surely has as strong a claim as any to the title. In British history she was unique in that she not only lived to see her husband defeated in civil war, but also sentenced to death and in effect judicially murdered. Full review...

Bryant and May - London's Glory by Christopher Fowler

4star.jpg Crime

In the depths of the last B&M review I wrote I said Of course, it's unbelievable, farcical. But then you don't come to a Bryant and May story for realism. You come for absurdity. Naturally, I stand by that comment. Fowler has concocted his characters and has no shame in shunting them up and down the time-line of British history as he sees fit. Full review...

Prunes for Breakfast by John Searancke

4star.jpg General Fiction

Edward Searancke was called up to serve his country in 1940, not long after the outbreak of the Second World War and we hear his story from initial call-up, through the years of preparation for the invasion of France, to his eventual release as a Prisoner of War and return home to attempt to pick up the pieces of everyday life. It's a delightful mixture of the mundane (the difficulties of getting dry clothing, problems with his feet) and the dramatic (being surrounded and captured in an orchard in Northern France and his life as a prisoner of war) and much of the story is told through the genuine letters from Searancke to his wife which were handed to his son after his father's death. John Searancke tells us the story of his father's war. Full review...

The Shakespeare Trail by Zoe Bramley

4star.jpg Trivia

It has been 400 years since William Shakespeare, the man heralded as the greatest writer in the English language, and England's national poet, died. Shakespeare has made a profound mark on our culture and heritage, yet many aspects of his life remain in the shadows, and many places throughout England have forgotten their association with him. Here, Zoe Bramley takes the reader on a journey through hundreds of places associated with Shakespeare – many whose connections will come as a surprise to most. Filled with intriguing titbits of information about Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, and the places that she talks about, this is no mere travel guide. Full review...

Tales from Schwartzgarten: Marius and the Band of Blood by Christopher William Hill

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Frankly, it's a surprise to discover there are still people left alive in the gloomy town of Schwartzgarten. In this story, the fourth in the series, creepy bad guys in masks roam the town after dark. The local kiddie catcher is determined to rid the streets of orphans by any means he can (quite a challenge, considering how high the death rate among parents is) and for some reason the chocolatiers of the town are being murdered in inventive and frequently sticky ways. Full review...

Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories by Alexander McCall Smith

5star.jpg General Fiction

Sometimes, if I'm in a cafe by myself, I like to watch the people around me and imagine stories about their lives. Just a single sentence, overheard, can lead to wonderous tales of mystery and intrigue whilst I sip my cappuccino! So I was delighted to sit down to read the latest offering from AMS, not only because he wrote it, but because he wrote it after looking at 5 different black and white photographs, and then imagining the stories behind them. Who are all these people, and what are their stories? Each story is unique, and yet they all have one abiding Full review...

The Spectre Trilogy by Ian Fleming

4star.jpg Thrillers

With the new Spectre film in the cinema, it's time to revisit the original stories… what exactly is SPECTRE, who is Blofeld… and how exactly does 007 come into the picture? Full review...

Trashed by Derf Backderf

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

For those people who think graphic novels are rubbish, this is the epitome of that baseless argument. Its subject is junk, it's trash, it's landfill, and garbage. That's not a verdict on its qualities, which are great and fine ones, but its very topic. Straight from school, our author was actually a bin man for a few seasons – riding on the back of something like Betty, the garbage van featured here. It's a job nobody wants in all honesty, of course – but the book is fine enough to actually make the subject something most people should read about. Full review...

London (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

4.5star.jpg Trivia

What makes a city? Is it the materials, such as the very London Stone itself, of mythological repute, that has moved around several times, and now forms part of a WH Smith's branch? (This has nothing, of course, on Temple Bar, which has also been known to walk.) Is it the people – the butchers (Jack the Ripper), the bakers (or whoever set fire to the entire city from Pudding Lane) and the candlestick makers? Is it the infrastructure, from the Underground, whose one-time boss got a medal from Stalin for his success, to the London Bridge itself, that in its own wanderlust means it's highly unlikely the Thames will freeze again? However you define a city, London certainly has a lot going for it as regards weird and wonderful, and the trivial yet fascinating. And, luckily for us, so has this book. Full review...

London Underground (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

4star.jpg Travel

From initial worries about smutty, enclosed air with a pungent smell to decades of human hair and engine grease causing escalator fires; from just a few lines connecting London termini to major jaunts out into Metro-land for the suburbia-bound commuters; and from a few religious-minded if financially dodgy pioneer investment managers to Crossrail; the history of the world's most extensive underground system (even when a majority is actually above ground) is fascinating to many. This book is a repository of much that is entirely trivial, but is also pretty much thoroughly interesting. Full review...

Murder For Christmas by Francis Duncan

4star.jpg Crime

Mordecai Tremaine used to be a tobacconist and he was a lover of romance novels, but these were not his main claim to fame: he has a reputation as a sleuth. He was somewhat surprised to be invited to spend Christmas in the peaceful village of Sherbroome at the country home of Benedict Grame, not knowing the man well. When he arrived on Christmas Eve the festivities were in full swing, but - observer of people as he was - he sensed tensions amongst the odd assortment of guests. In the early hours of Christmas Day the household is woken by screams and as everyone assembles downstairs they discover a dead body under the Christmas tree - and he looks decidedly like Father Christmas. It's up to Tremaine to establish who committed the murder. Full review...

Shadow Spell (The Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy Book 2) by Nora Roberts

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Spoilers ahead for Book 1, Dark Witch. Life goes on for the O'Dwyer cousins but that doesn’t mean they've given up on Cabahn, the evil one who has stalked their family for centuries. He hasn't given up on them either unfortunately. As the cousins' resolve increases so does their links with their 13th century ancestors from when their powers – as well as their problems – originated. Meanwhile the problem of their friend Meara Quinn may seem paltry by comparison but it's still a problem. She's desperate not to fall in love with Connor O'Dwyer. Good luck with that Meara! Full review...

Anything That Isn't This by Chris Priestley

4.5star.jpg Teens

Frank Palp lives in a dull, dystopian world, where The Grey pervades every aspect of life, from the food to the architecture. So insidious are these changes, that no-one seems to have noticed them, apart from Frank. His family, schoolmates and society in general seem to be completely oblivious to the sinister nature of the world around them and seem strangely content with the status quo. The all-powerful Ministry has a stranglehold on everything and everyone, with each household having its own assigned student, who records everything and reports suspicious activity to the mysterious Mr Vertex. Frank thinks he is the only person who hates this oppressive world, but one day he finds a message in a bottle with a wish for anything that isn't this, and goes on a desperate search for the person who wrote it; his potential soul-mate. Full review...

Autumn Gold by Beverley Hansford

4star.jpg General Fiction

While on holiday with her friend, Debbie soon has a different reason for remembering the Dorset beaches and countryside. On the beach she meets John who gallantly comes to her rescue. Both are widowed, in the autumn of their lives and just seem to click. The holiday romance has the potential to continue but they both have responsibilities, adult offspring and other obstacles that creep into life. Does love conquer all or is that only in story books? Full review...

Skyborn: 1 (The Seraphim Trilogy) by David Dalglish

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Twins Kael and Bree Skyborn witness the battle in which their parents died and yet still want to follow in their footsteps. The pair train as Seraphim, members of the winged force that are on the front line of the war, proud to serve their people and the Theocrats who have devised the whole support system for their world. There are those who speak out against the Theocrats but even consorting with people like that means death. Everyone knows it and yet… Full review...

Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald

4star.jpg Reference

Words of a Feather. The title alone suggests an engaging read about language, and the book certainly delivers. It pairs seemingly unrelated words, digs up their etymological roots and reveals their common ancestry. The English language, of course, provides rich pickings indeed for a book of this type and it is fascinating to see the hidden meaning behind common and not-so-common words. Some connections are fairly obvious once you read them. For example, the link between grotto and grotesque is easy to grasp: the word grotesque derives from unpleasant figures depicted in murals in Ancient Roman grottoes. Other connections are just extraordinary, like the so-crazy-you-couldn't-make-it-up connection between furnace and fornicate. These two words date back to Ancient Rome when prostitutes took over the city's abandoned baking domes. And some connections are more than a little tenuous, seemingly just a collection of words banded together, as is the case with the insult and salmon pairing. One of my personal favourites: the Italian word schiavo for slave was used to summon or dismiss a slave; this word became corrupted to ciao, a word the more well-heeled among us use instead of goodbye. Full review...

The Crossing by Christina James

5star.jpg Crime

When DI Tim Yates is called to investigate a tragic collision between a train and a council lorry on a level crossing, he expects it to be a straightforward investigation. However, he soon realises there's nothing straightforward about it. Full review...

Black Wolves (Black Wolves Trilogy) by Kate Elliott

5star.jpg Fantasy

Dannarah has achieved her childhood dream: she's a reeve marshal, one of the army who fly eagles to defend king and kingdom. However Dannarah' s dream comes after a nightmare. Lady Dannarah (as she's more properly known) is daughter of King Anjihosh and his son Prince Atani both of whom have been killed. Two decades later the current ruler, her great nephew Jehosh gives Dannarah an ultimatum. She will be promoted to Grand Marshal if she brings him a bodyguard to guide him through dangerous times ahead and not just any bodyguard. He wants Kellas, the captain of the former Black Wolves, the elite royal guard who were disbanded after the regicides. Kellas had walked away from the palace in a fog of shock and self-blame and he may not want to come back. Full review...

This Should be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle and Martin Aitken (translator)

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

This is the first novel of Helle Helle's, an award winning Danish author, to be translated into English. It is easy to see from this novel why she is gaining accolades in her Danish homeland. The rhythmic, natural flow of the narrative is mesmerising and appears to lull you through the book. It has some lovely, spare sentences of description: There were run-down cottages with open doors and news on the radio. Gulls flocked around an early harvester in the late sun. But mostly, it is written in a modernist, almost stream of consciousness style, which I found refreshing. Full review...

Charlie and Lola: One Thing by Lauren Child

5star.jpg For Sharing

I am yet to meet a child that doesn't like Charlie and Lola, and Lauren Child doesn't disappoint at all in this latest book in the series, which combines numbers with the usual warm humour and fun of this brother and sister double act. Full review...

A Painted Smile by Frances Fyfield

4star.jpg Crime

Diana Porteous is young, rich and a widow. She's reached the stage of being over the initial grief after the death of her husband, but her life lacks focus. It's then that her beloved step-grandson, Patrick, comes up with an idea: he suggests an exhibition of portraits entitled A Question of Guilt which encourages people to really look at the pictures and work out what they think the subjects are doing. It began in a rather light-hearted way but it's not long before everyone is caught up in the preparations for the exhibition, to be presented in the large wine cellar under the old schoolhouse. Not everyone is sure that it's suitable though... Full review...

Boyfriend by Christmas by Jenny Stallard

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Genie works as a writer for an online women's lifestyle site, the sort that tells you to eat at the cereal café down the street (before everyone starts rioting outside), advises you on where to get the best seasonal homewares, reviews getaways from cottages in the Cotswolds to mansions in Miami, and throws in interviews with important/influential/IT women for good measure. Genie, though, has a rather niche role. She writes on dating and love and being single in the city. But since she's been single a while, her editor is getting fed up with it and sets her a challenge: find a boyfriend by Christmas, and blog about the process. Full review...

Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife and Her Alligator by Homer Hickam

5star.jpg General Fiction

Elsie and Homer Hickam were West Virginians and knew how to make their tales as tall as the hills that surrounded them on all sides. There is a Hickam family legend that has been told and retold so many times over the years that the lines between myth and reality have become well and truly blurred. Carrying Albert Home is the story of a man and his wife, a sweet pet alligator and a very lucky rooster who decide to take a road trip to Florida in 1935; the year of the Great Depression. What follows next is all completely true, well, except for the parts that are made up... Full review...

Old Bear's Bedtime Stories by Jane Hissey

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

I'm not sure you ever grow out of Old Bear stories. I just curled up in a blanket to read this latest collection of stories, and when I'd finished my nine year old daughter sneaked over and took the book upstairs to read it by herself! Here we have twenty one stories and poems, all fairly short so useful when you need a quick bedtime! All your old favourites are here - Bramwell Bear and Duck and Little Bear, just waiting for you to snuggle up and read about their latest adventures. Full review...

The English Countryside (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Ruth Binney

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

I live in the countryside and spend as much time as the weather will allow exploring it, so the chance to read Ruth Binney's The English Countryside was too good to be missed. We've met Ruth before at Bookbag and we know that she writes well and interestingly, but just one thing was worrying me about this book. It's a hardback and beautifully presented but its the size of book that you slip into a pocket or handbag. Would it be rather superficial? Full review...

Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe

5star.jpg Lifestyle

Serendipity often brings you to the important books. Recently I heard myself say to a friend: I'm far too busy to do some of the important stuff. It pulled me up short: there was definitely something wrong here - and then I had the opportunity to listen to an audio download of Busy and I knew that it was something I had to do and take notice of if I was to stop going backwards. Because that was what I was doing. Full review...

The World of Poldark by Emma Marriott

5star.jpg Entertainment

Back in the seventies I watched Poldark on television: it was enjoyable, but I'll confess that if I'd missed an episode it wouldn't have worried me too much. When the gentleman rebel reappeared in 2015 I had no intention of watching, but a friend saw the first episode and said how good it was. I caught up on iPlayer, almost for politeness - and was hooked. It wasn't just the story - but perhaps I'm more in tune with it now that I was forty years ago - it was the quality of the production which kept me watching week after week. When Emma Marriott's book landed on my desk the temptation to 'just have a quick look' proved far too much for me. Full review...

As Quiet as a Mouse by Karen Owen and Evgenia Golubeva

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There are a whole host of things that Elephants are excellent at; they reportedly never forget and they can hold loads of water in their trunk. One thing they are not known for is being quiet. However, their erstwhile natural enemy, the mouse is – hence someone is as quiet as a mouse. Can these two great animal tribes put aside their differences so that you can teach a nelly to tread carefully? Full review...