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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Tennyson: To strive, to seek, to find by John Batchelor

4star.jpg Biography

Most readers, if they were asked to name the ultimate poet of the Victorian age, would almost surely choose Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He was Poet Laureate for over forty years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and inevitably her favourite versifier. Full review...

My True Love Gave to Me by Stephanie Perkins (Editor)

4.5star.jpg Teens

I mentioned when reviewing Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle that there was a real lack of festive YA around – at the time, I think the choice seemed to be pretty much limited to that or Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Both fantastic books, but a thin spread compared to the amount out there for adults and for younger children. (If I’m missing obvious ones, by the way, please let me know!) Thankfully, a dozen authors, with Stephanie Perkins as the editor, have got together to produce a perfect Christmas present here with twelve short stories set around the holidays. Full review...

No Known Grave (A Detective Inspector Tom Tyler Mystery) by Maureen Jennings

4.5star.jpg Crime

By the middle of 1942 Detective Inspector Tom Tyler has had a difficult two years and he's making a fresh start in Ludlow. St Anne's Convalescent Hospital is on the outskirts of the town and it's staffed by nursing sisters who are Anglican nuns and they're there specifically to help people who have been maimed and injured by the war. It should be a peaceful place of recovery but then a double murder in the grounds of the home shatters all that has been so carefully built up. Many of the patients are blind or unable to walk and most are suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder - but it seems as though one of the patients must be a murderer as this is almost a classic 'locked room' mystery. Full review...

Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

3.5star.jpg Dystopian Fiction

There have been times in history when governments have thought they knew who the criminal underclass was. This did not lead to anything good under the Nazis and the same can be said of the Goodhouse regime. If we knew that certain genetics led to an increased chance of criminality, wouldn’t educating these people when they were young be a good thing? Prevention is better than cure, but I am not sure if fascism is. Full review...

Silent Night by Jack Sheffield

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

I read a couple of Jack Sheffield’s books about five years ago, and enjoyed them very much. They were written in a similar style to those popularised by, for instance, James Herriot or Gervase Phinn, told mostly in the first person, describing the author’s first couple of years as Headmaster at a small village primary school in Yorkshire. The village of Ragley is fictional, as are most of the characters, but the incidents and situations encountered are based on the author’s experience. Full review...

Sausage Hall by Christina James

4.5star.jpg Crime

Kevan de Vries, food processing magnate and grandson of a Dutch immigrant to Lincolnshire, is trying to help his terminally ill wife Joanne relax on an exotic holiday. Unfortunately the news he receives from home is less than relaxing: a random break-in committed by local opportunistic youths has uncovered a batch of counterfeit passports. Kevan travels back to the UK to answer questions but it gets worse. Skeletal remains are found in his cellar followed by a discovery elsewhere of an all too fresh employee's dead body. This is bread and butter to DI Tim Yates of the Lincolnshire Constabulary but it's another complication in Kevan's all too complicated life. Full review...

The Jolly Dodgers! Pirates Who Pretended by Neil Griffiths and Janette Louden

4star.jpg For Sharing

I’ll get started with this point; the layout of this book is utterly wonderful. It’s got a great subject matter, pirates are always popular both with adults and children, and the story of a group of pirates who don’t really want to be pirates but who are being forced into it by their pushy wives, is a terribly entertaining one. But it is the layout, style and all the extras which are working the hardest in this book's favour. Full review...

Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper by Elizabeth Kiem

4.5star.jpg Teens

I was caught up by this novel from the first pages and read it with absorption in a single sitting. The young heroine, Lana Dukovskaya, is a third generation ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet but the experiences of her mother and grandmother are shrouded and lost. Her grandmother's name, we discover, has been erased from the records and her mother is a troubled secretive figure. Lana challenges the conventional notion of a ballerina: she has close cropped hair, loves high speed motor bikes and most of all she wants to experiment with the repertoire. Full review...

Horrid Henry's Tricky Tricks by Francesca Simon

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Horrid Henry is up to his usual antics in this latest compilation of trickiest tricks ever. The book features ten stories, which include some outrageous pranks, like Henry trying to wake the dead, win a pet talent contest and spend a hair-raising weekend with his awful cousin, Stuck-up Steve. But none of this compares to his scariest challenge ever; braving a girls' sleepover at his neighbour, Moody Margaret's house. Full review...

The Royals: Masters of War by Rob Williams and Simon Coleby

5star.jpg Graphic Novels

It's World War Two, but not as we know it. The circumstance is building up to be pretty much what we know – the Allies have ideas to land at Normandy, the Germans have rockets ready to pummel a Blighty only just getting over the Battle of Britain, and the Americans are being pressured by Churchill to enter the war, little knowing what Japan would have in mind to force the issue. But many things are different. For this is a world where the Royal blood disease of Europe is not something ailing, debilitating and embarrassing, but instead the giver of super powers. The names in Buckingham Palace are different, but the opulence remains, and with the history of the current incumbents one where their powers are not exercised, people are being tasked with making sure that remains so. But how can you stop an immovable force when it has enough might and strength to turn the tide of the war single-handed? Full review...

Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes by Walter de la Mare

3star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

It was a surprise for me to read online that Walter de la Mare spent so much of his life in and around London – born at least in what is now the borough of Greenwich, passing away in Twickenham. The reason I say this is that out of the copious poems collected here, it's as if cities don't live. Hardly anything of the subjects is manmade. The concentration is fully on the idyllic and pastoral, and in following on so closely in the footsteps of his debut collection, 'Songs of Childhood' from 1902, still very, very much Victorian. Full review...

It's In The Cards by Pamela Fudge

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Ellen Carson was just slightly put out that her family arranged a surprise birthday party for her fortieth, but more annoyed that they wouldn't accept that she was quite happy being single and unattached. She had a successful career as a card designer, a home she loved and no intentions of getting into any long-term relationship. What did make her wonder was why her brothers and sisters were so keen to get her involved with any remotely eligible male when their own relationships were so dysfunctional. She had no interest in the two men from her past who have come back into her life - or the one who has been hovering round the edges more in hope than expectation. Full review...

Tsunami Kids: Our journey from survival to success by Paul Forkan and Rob Forkan

4star.jpg Autobiography

On Boxing Day 2004, when many of us were celebrating the Christmas holidays with our families, eating leftover turkey, reading books and enjoying time with loved ones, a huge tragedy was unfolding on the other side of the world. The Boxing Day Tsunami killed over 230,000 people, and caused widespread devastation to large parts of Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, the Maldives and Somalia. The Forkan family - Mum, Dad, and four of their children, were in Sri Lanka, a spur of the moment choice of destination that ultimately proved to be tragic. The parents, Kevin and Sandra, were killed in the flood. The children, orphaned, injured and without any possessions, traveled the 200 kilometres back to a city, where they contacted elder siblings and were swiftly flown back to the UK. Full review...

Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Brother of Sleep tells the story of Elias Johannes Alder, a child born into a god forsaken village high in the Austrian Vorarlberg. He came into the world as a silent child, while his mother was screaming and the midwife wasn't really paying attention. It took a couple of loud intonations of the Te Deum from the neglectful nurse before he finally uttered a sound. Full review...

Macaulay: Britain's Liberal Imperialist by Zareer Masani

4.5star.jpg Biography

If Thomas Babington Macaulay is remembered at all today, it is probably for the historical writings to which he devoted himself during the last few years of his life. Yet earlier in his career, he was also a Member of Parliament, a government minister, and served for some years in India, playing a major reforming role as a member of the governor-general’s council. Full review...

Tales from Acorn Wood: Hide-and-Seek Pig by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

5star.jpg For Sharing

Pig and Hen decide to play hide-and-seek and whilst Pig counts to ten, Hen goes off to hide. Pig thinks that she's found Hen straight away when she spots a yellow beak behind the gate, but when we lift the gate flap we discover that the yellow beak belongs to Blackbird, who happily joins in the hunt for Hen. Could that be Hen hiding in a tent? There's a long brown ear peeping out from behind the flap, but when it's lifted, we discover Rabbit, who joins the two hunters. She was having a drink when she was found, but she brings her mug along with her. Before Hen is eventually found we've collected quite a few seekers! Full review...

The Viking Hostage by Tracey Warr

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Sigrid and her brothers are taken from their native Norseland and sold as slaves separately. Sigrid then begins her life alone as maid to Aina, daughter of Ademar, Viscount of Segur in Limoges. Her life could be a lot worse. Sigrid's pagan beliefs could condemn her to a tough time in Christian France but she's fallen on her feet, forming a close friendship with Aina, albeit a servile one. Meanwhile elsewhere in the region, Adalmode, daughter of the Viscount of Limoges is about to become a marriage pawn in a power struggle. Although she loves her family, she disagrees with their choice and has another in mind – one of her father's prisoners. This is a tough world where love takes second place to survival and having it all is generally not an option compatible with staying alive. Full review...

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Claire Limye Lamne (Claire of the Sea Light) is born in the fishing village of Ville Rose, Haiti as her mother dies. Her father Nozias, a poor fisherman, spends his life trying to make a better life for his baby to such an extent that he eventually encourages a local fabric seller to take Claire. This happens on the night of Claire's 7th birthday; the night that little Claire goes missing before the fabric seller can take her. Full review...

Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There are so many books about unusual pets, that I was a little wary when first opening this book. On one hand, it’s a subject which I think works really well and is always popular. On the other hand, is it over done? I needn’t have worried, this book is really ever so slightly different. It’s aimed at an older reader, I’d say primary school age, and in the end it makes for a pretty poignant read. Full review...

Sins of the Father by Graham Hurley

4.5star.jpg Crime

Rupert Moncrieff was beaten to death in his waterside home early one Sunday morning in December 2013. All his money had not saved him from his throat being cut and his face slashed and hooded. One of his sons and his daughter still lived with him, but during the past week an African had been staying with the family. Strangely no one knew his name, but when the body was discovered the man had disappeared. DS Jimmy Suttle is investigating the case but like the family in the waterside mansion he has demons of his own to fight after the abduction and death of his daughter Grace and subsequent separation from his journalist wife, Lizzie. Full review...

The Cinderella Murder by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke

4.5star.jpg Crime

'Under Suspicion' is a TV show that aims to shed light on cold cases by re-enacting the crime and interviewing those closest to the victim. The pilot episode was a runaway success when it led to the successful apprehension of the murderer and now producer Laurie Moran has been given the green light to continue the series. Her curiosity is piqued by a 20 year old case dubbed the 'Cinderella Murder', in which a bright young UCLA student was found dead in parkland, miles from her car and wearing only one shoe. The investigation will take Laurie and her team to some of the most glamorous locations in California, but it soon becomes clear that certain individuals will do anything to stop the truth from being revealed. Full review...

Wrinkles by Paco Roca

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

Never let them tell you life begins at 40, or ends when you enter a retirement home. Ernest has just entered an old folk's establishment, and life is ever-changing. There's the time he meets a person hounded by the idea at least of alien abduction, the moment he forgets the word for 'ball' when holding one while doing armchair exercises, and the galling day he finds out he shares a medication routine with the most helpless and locked-in of inmates. No, for Ernest, especially in the hands of his new room-mate Emile who will do anything to earn a fast buck, life is full of some kind of variety. Full review...

Accidents of Marriage by RS Meyers

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

What if your marriage is crumbling? What if you are living on borrowed time? What if a terrible accident occurs and your role in the family has to change from absent father to man about the house? Would you rise to the challenge or add this to a long list of things you don’t do well? Full review...

To The Edge of Shadows by Joanne Graham

4star.jpg General Fiction

Sarah awakes from a coma to find her world destroyed, a long lost aunt her only remaining family, and life as she knows it irrevocably changed forever. Moving to a new town and a new school, making new friends is the least of her challenges as she struggles to regain her physical and mental health following the accident. Full review...

Girl Genius: Agatha H and the Voice of the Castle by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Agatha H and the Voice of the Castle is the third novel in the Girl Genius series, adapted from the award-winning steampunk-style webcomic. Following the dramatic events of the previous two books, this volume sees Agatha returning to her family home in Mechanicsburg in order to claim her place as 'The Heterodyne'. She also needs to restore her war-damaged ancestral castle, which is in poor condition following a devastating attack by “The Other.” Of course, in the world of Girl Genius, nothing is straightforward and Agatha's mission is complicated by several things: the castle is a sadistic sentient being with a fractured personality; Agatha has a copy of her evil mother locked away inside her brain that could reappear at any moment AND a huge pink airship has just appeared in Mechanicsburg heralding the arrival of a fake Heterodyne heiress. Full review...

This is Shyness by Leanne Hall

4.5star.jpg Teens

This is Shyness is an unusual and brilliant story about Wolfboy and Wildgirl, two strangers who meet in a pub in the town of Shyness. The teenagers are drawn together, each adopting a different identity so for the night they can be anyone but themselves. Full review...

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

3star.jpg Crime

Linda Wallheim, to most who know her, seems a woman who has everything. Loving mother to five beautiful children, devoted Mormon, and kindhearted wife of a Mormon Bishop, she lives at the centre of her community and has little to be unhappy about. Full review...

Moone Boy: the Blunder Years by Chris O'Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Poor Martin Moone, surrounded by his sisters who drive him crazy, he decides to get himself an imaginary friend. He enlists the help of his friend who already has an imaginary friend, and thus begins a wild adventure because what happens when the imaginary friend you imagine isn't any good at being your imaginary friend, and who you'd really like to be your imaginary friend is the customer services representative who comes to try and help you out?! Full review...

Esther's Rainbow by Kim Kane and Sara Acton

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There's something rather magical about rainbows. Even now I find I get a little bit excited when I see one and will rush over to the window to see how big it is, and where the pot of gold might be! In this rainbow story, Esther spies a rainbow on the floor. When she touches it, it's soft and warm and smells slightly like honey. After the rainbow goes away she finds herself noticing, throughout the week, the different rainbow colours in her every day life. Full review...