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 Deaths by Mark Lawson

4star.jpg General Fiction

In an idyllic enclave in Buckinghamshire, within spitting distance of Milton Keynes, there are four houses. You might even call them mansions, as they are not the sort of homes to which most people can aspire. But the residents are not most people - they are rich and the lives they lead are different. They're not the old aristocracy for whom the houses were built, but the new elite - barristers, business tycoons, bankers, magistrates, doctors. One of their number runs a security business, so they're all protected by expensive security systems and when they leave their little haven it's usually to travel first class to London or on their way to catch a flight. The Eight seem to lead charmed lives - but the financial world is changing and there isn't the money around that there used to be. Full review...

The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

'The Shadow of War' is the first book in a sprawling series with a new book being released once a year for each year of the First World War. Binns writes about five British communities, all very different – an aristocratic Scottish family, a family of working class Welshfolk, a group of friends in a Lancashire factory town, a pair of Cockney soldiers, and Winston Churchill, alongside his wife Clemmie and various government figures. The groups interact at various points in the book, which leads to some very genuine and touching relationships forming, in particular the one between Margaret, a nurse, and Bronwyn, youngest daughter of the Welsh community. Full review...

Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth by Andrez Bergen

4star.jpg Fantasy

16 year old Mina lives in Nede (that's 'Needy' out loud), a suburb of the Australian state of Victoria where she's in the final throes of school. However she feels very much an outsider, especially after the recent death of her mother. Mina's alienated further by her bullying elder brother and her father's attempts to move on with his life before Mina is ready. She has friends that she spends time with in a disinterested Goth way, the friend who understands her most being Animeid. Animeid is even more different than Mina, being half-girl, half-bird, but neither of them seems to mind. It doesn't affect anyone else after all – Mina's the only person who can see her. Full review...

Strictly Shale: Circling British Speedway by Jeff Scott and Rachael Adams

4.5star.jpg Sport

When I was young I remember Speedway being a regular item on Saturday sport programmes on television. My father was an aficionado and loved the noise, the risk and the sheer energy of the sport - my mother less so and she quoted the noise and the strong possibility of there being 'a nasty accident' when the riders slid their motorcycles sideways. It is still on television but I'll confess to not having watched for many years and it was for this reason that Jeff Scott's Strictly Shale achieved the unusual feat of both being an eye opener and bringing back long-forgotten memories. Full review...

Tower Lord: Book 2 of Raven's Shadow by Anthony Ryan

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Reva, young adherent to the True World Faith, has a mission: murdering Lord Vaelin Al Sorna. Frentis (one time Sixth Order Brother to Vaelin) also has murder on his mind but can't help it as he works through the deathly wish-list of the mysterious woman who binds his will. Lyrna's brother Malcius now rules as King of the Unified Realm and she's happy to remain princess. However someone else thinks differently; she's summoned to a meeting that will prepare her for an uncertain future. Meanwhile the greatest threat the Realm has ever known advances. Friend or foe? The difference may be indiscernible but differentiating means survival. Full review...

The Clown Service by Guy Adams

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

If British Secret Intelligence Service operative Toby Greene worked for MacDonald's he'd be sacked for ineptitude. Unfortunately for the nation he cost thousands of pounds more to train than your average burger-flipper so he's off to Section 37 instead. The Section's label mentions anti-terrorism but, as his former boss told Toby If the security service is the circus, then Section 37 us where we keep the clowns. Meanwhile an old school Russian spy is coming to the UK with enough power to destroy London. This may only be Toby's first job for 37 and will include a touch of astral projection but what could possibly go wrong? Full review...

Death Sentence by Montynero and Mike Dowling

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

It's AIDS, Jim, but not as we know it. G+ is the new sexually transmitted disease sweeping the nation's reckless youth, and it has even further-reaching consequences. It boosts your brain activity, and makes you a stronger and more promiscuous carrier of the virus – so you can be beating a supercomputer at chess one moment and rolling around a bed with a host of ladies the next. But either way, it kills you within six months. Here it affects three people with more cerebral, supernatural powers – a young female artist in need of confirmation, an egotistical junkie rock star, and a certain highly-rated comic with Russell Brand's hair and Kasabian's wardrobe designer. It's a combination of the three people and their own G+ that will make sure the world is most certainly aware of their activities – death sentence or no death sentence… Full review...

The Remaining: Aftermath by D J Molles

4star.jpg Dystopian Fiction

A week is a long time in politics, but it feels infinitely longer in a zombie apocalypse. The Remaining started a new series of books that followed trained military expert Captain Lee Harden and his mission to rebuild America should the undead hit the fan. As an introduction, The Remaining did a great job in creating the world and exploring Harden’s tenacity to stick to the mission, but it ended so abruptly. The Remaining: Aftermath picks up moments later and continues the tale, but does it still deliver a week into his mission? Full review...

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Eaden and Son is looking for the next Mrs Eaden. The original Mrs Eaden, Kathleen, has recently died and in her honour the upmarket grocery store is running a baking competition to find someone to advise the store on its baking products; to write a monthly magazine column; and to front Eaden’s advertising campaign. It’s an extremely appealing prospect and attracts many willing contestants that are eventually whittled down to five who will take part in weekly bake-offs in order to showcase their talents in all aspects of baking. Full review...

Jelly Baby by Jean Ure

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Flora, who is generally called 'Bitsy' and sometimes 'Jelly Baby' because she's well rounded, doesn't really know what it's like to have a mother. Mum died when she was two and only her elder sister, Emily, who's thirteen, has any real memory of her. Since then the girls have lived happily with Dad - the rather absent-minded Professor - and Aunt Cass. They've not really bothered about keeping the house tidy and things do get rather scruffy but it doesn't seem important until they're told that their father is bringing a girlfriend home. The girls are delighted. They want their father to be happy. Full review...

Wild Boy and the Black Terror by Rob Lloyd Jones

5star.jpg Confident Readers

In Victorian London, the city has been plunged into shock and confusion by a poisoner who strikes without trace, driving victims insane before killing them. Wild Boy and Clarissa, still hated and feared by much of the population, must try to avoid detection as they aim to solve the case and free the capital from the terror. Full review...

Sew Quick, Sew Cute: 30 Simple, Speedy Projects by Fiona Goble

4star.jpg Crafts

I have a patchwork quilt on the go at the moment and it will take me months to complete. But sometimes you want to have the satisfaction of making something which might take hours or a weekend and which is more relaxing and fun. Sometimes you want a project which you can do with the kids which will encourage them to feel that they can be creative - and which produces something which is relaevant to their lives. I was 'encouraged' to knit tea cosies as a child. It didn't cut the mustard even then... I think I might have found the answer. Full review...

Buckle and Squash and the Monstrous Moat-Dragon by Sarah Courtauld

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

In this story we have two sisters. There is Eliza, who dreams of being a swashbuckling hero, whilst her sister Lavender spends her time mooning over pictures of princes, hoping to become a real princess. One day Lavender gets kidnapped out in the forest by a rather dreadful villain, Mordmont. Will poor Lavender ever escape? Will Eliza get to be the hero? And what about these monstrous moat dragons?! Full review...

My New Home by Marta Altes

4star.jpg For Sharing

We moved house a lot when I was a child. I became an accomplished letter writer in a desperate attempt to keep in touch with old friends. I wish I had had a book like this one. It's hard moving home as a child, and as much as grown ups can tell you it's exciting and wonderful and won't it be marvellous to have a new pink bedroom it actually leaves you feeling very lost and scared and alone. This story introduces us to a little raccoon who has moved house and who is struggling a little bit with missing her old friends and making new ones. Full review...

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

5star.jpg Teens

'Listen. I was alive once and then I wasn't. Simple as that. Now I'm alive again. The in-between part is still a little fuzzy, but I can tell you that, at some point or another, my head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado.'

Erk! That's how Noggin begins and I defy you not to want to read on. Travis Coates was terminally ill. In a last ditch Hail Mary, he consented to cryogenic preservation. And now, he's back, his head grafted onto a donor body. Of all the original volunteers, Travis is one of only two patients successfully brought back to life. It's a cause for celebration, right? Full review...

Freddy and the Pig by Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

When Freddy send a pig to school in his place, wearing his school uniform and not looking entirely dissimilar to him, he thinks he's hit upon the perfect plan! The pig can work all day in school whilst he stays at home and plays his console game and eats and eats, and no one will ever know! Full review...

Top 10 of Everything 2015 by Paul Terry

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The Top 10 of Everything 2015 is, as the title implies, a compilation of 'top ten' lists covering a wide variety of topics including the natural world, pop culture, sport and technology. The style of the book will appeal to its target audience of pre-teens with its use of bright colours, vibrant images, fun facts, puzzles and quizzes. Full review...

The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning by Chris Colfer

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

My house is a mess, the laundry is piling up around me, my poor children haven't been fed and I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Chris Colfer. From the moment I opened the cover of his latest book, I have been spirited away to a magical land of fairies, elves, dragons and trolls and I'm afraid all of my mundane, everyday tasks and responsibilities have been sadly neglected ever since. Full review...

Treat Petite: 42 Sweet and Savoury Miniature Bakes by Fiona Pearce

4.5star.jpg Cookery

I know that they're not good for me, but I do love cakes. There's always so much of them though - and I'm not going to let them go to waste, am I? I love making them too, but no matter how hard I try they always seem to end up more Little Chef than Masterchef. When I found Treat Petite it seemed that I just might have found the answer to my prayers. It's a book of forty two recipes for tiny petit fours, little sponge cakes, jewel-like macaroons and gorgeous savouries. They're all mere morsels - just big enough to pop into your mouth. Full review...

The Classic Adventures of Paddington by Michael Bond

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Some characters have stood the test of time and few would deny that accolade to Paddington, the bear from darkest Peru who now lives with the Browns at 32 Windsor Gardens, London. We've enjoyed him for over fifty years now and to celebrate the occasion eleven of the classic books have been collected in one, slipcase volume. All the stories are unabridged and accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations by Peggy Fortnum. Full review...

The Maison Sajou Sewing Book: 20 projects from the famous French haberdashery by Lucinda Ganderton

4.5star.jpg Crafts

When I was younger I dreamed of going to Paris and visiting the fashion houses. Now I would love to go to visit Maison Sajou, the haberdasher who seems to have everything that someone who works with material could want, so when I saw The Maison Sajou Sewing Book there was no way that I could resist it. It's a confection of twenty projects, the very essence of French chic, with something for everyone. Full review...

The Strain Book One by Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan, David Lapham and Dan Jackson

4star.jpg General Fiction

A liner ends its journey from Europe in a port city, and waits, silently, holding whatever secrets it had with little signs of life. It is found to contain a heavy box, almost coffin-like, containing mud – and something else. But this is not the coasts of England, and this is not Bram Stoker. This is also not a sailing boat, but an airliner – a Boeing 777, stuck at JFK airport with no signs of life. The CDC and one man – Dr Ephraim Goodweather – are tasked with looking into it. But he won't like what he finds – and nor should anyone. The problem is, some do… Full review...

What I Think About When I Think About... Swimming by Eleanor Levenson and Katie O'Hagan

4star.jpg For Sharing

On the face of it, this is a very simple book. Straight forward images and very few words would lead you to believe that this was a book for a very young audience. This is not, however, the case. While it does work well for a younger reader, it also manages to raise some very interesting questions, such as that of climate change or 'what it will be like to be old'. This makes for an intriguing read, as there are times where the juxtapositioning of the images and text make it a little difficult to pitch. Full review...

Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre

5star.jpg Crime

Monday 20th August 1900. Silvestre sets store by dates in his books. Time is important. Time, he seems to feel, fixes everything we do, because of what everyone else is doing at that time. History winds on, or unravels, while we do what we do – but we are part of that history.

Until and unless someone might chose to write us out of it. Full review...

Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died by Dylan Jones

5star.jpg Entertainment

The phrase ‘Elvis has left the building’ was first used by a promoter in December 1956, when he assured a passionately pro-Elvis audience from the stage that their idol had gone home, and would they please resume their seats to watch the rest of the acts on the bill that evening. Ever since then, it has become a kind of showbiz punchline. Full review...

Kill Baxter by Charlie Human

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

Having pretty much saved the world in the previous story and receiving no appreciation for it Baxter Zevcenko is feeling a little hard done by. Add to that the fact that he has to change schools and is attempting to turn over a new leaf and become a better person and you have a character who has a scathing internal monologue. Baxter is only sixteen but he has already seen and experienced things that make him incredibly bitter, he also has a really vicious streak and sharp tongue, making him an exciting and hilarious protagonist. Full review...

Survivor by Lesley Pearse

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Lesley Pearse is an author who demands compulsive reading as her strong female protagonists suffer and survive by overcoming overwhelming odds. She has a talent for drawing you into her novels as she crafts her characters’ amazing, at times horrific, and continually perilous journeys. There is a strong sense of place about her books which are meticulously researched and rich with period detail and propel readers on a dizzying odyssey through history. She is frank about the problems and pain that ill-judged sexual acts can cause but balances this with the joy and pure passion that is inherent in true love. Her characters are not perfect stereotypes. They are often flawed and must find an inner strength to grow and develop as loyal and caring human beings. Full review...

The Story of Matthew Buzzington by Andy Stanton

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Ten year old Matthew Buzzington was less than impressed when his father got a new, high-powered job and they had to move to the big city like IMMEDIATELY. It meant a new school, complete with a bully called Pineapple Johnson. (No. Sorry. You'll have to find out for yourself.) Matthew held on to one fact though - he knew that he had a superpower. He could turn himself into a fly. There's only one problem. It didn't work. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how he concentrated on thinking himself into being a fly, he was still a ten-year-old boy with curly hair and he was getting bullied. Then everything changed one night when Matthew, his four-year-old sister Bella and Pineapple Johnson were accidentally locked in the school one night. And burglars broke in. Full review...

Acts of Omission by Terry Stiastny

4star.jpg Thrillers

In 1998 Mark Lucas was a recently-appointed minister in the Foreign Office, determined to do his best, but not yet long enough in the job to have abandoned his principles and beliefs. It's these that are tested when a disc containing the names of British informants to the Stasi has fallen into government hands. Understandably the Germans want the information back so that they can complete their opening up of the Stasi's archive. Lucas believes that the Germans should be accommodated on this: he was elected on a platform of transparency and openness - handing the information back seems right to him - but there are those within the government, both politicians and civil servants, who are determined that this should not happen. Full review...

The Life of a Car by Susan Steggall

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

As the daughter of a car worker and the mother of a little boy who is fascinated by wheels, The Life of a Car stood out on the shelf. Part of the Busy Wheels series, this non fiction picture book illustrates the life cycle of a car from manufacture to scrapping with the help of just the odd word or two or three. Full review...