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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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

4.5star.jpg Teens

The book opens with a prologue about an eight year old Bridget Barsamian, who woke up in hospital following a horrific and life threatening traffic accident involving roller skates and New York traffic. Bridget is told by a nurse that she is lucky to be alive and that she must have survived the accident for a reason. Bridget, who has no real memory of the accident, has to miss a year of school and on her return, tells everyone she now wants to be known as Bridge, as, I don't feel like Bridget anymore. Full review...

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Lucie Arnoux and Misha Hoekstra (translator)

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Listen closely! We're about to begin. Once upon a time, the devil created a hellish mirror, which only showed evil, ill intent and ugliness, and which was en route to Heaven to cast a new light on it when it shattered. One of the people affected by the numerous shards was Kai, who abandoned his childhood friend Gerda, and went off with the Snow Queen. Gerda was forlorn and fearing for his life, but soon found her way to start a miraculous journey to find the truth behind his disappearance and behaviour… Full review...

The Drowning Lesson by Jane Shemilt

5star.jpg Thrillers

Emma, a doctor from London, is somewhat reluctantly moving her family to Botswana for a year. In the choice between taking a new-born baby and his two primary school aged sisters to rural Africa for a year, or letting your husband go out there alone for work, she's decided that there's strength in numbers. Emma and Adam have a somewhat complex relationship that is disturbingly familiar to me. People who say 'not everything in life is a competition' are generally the ones who are losing, and I didn't doubt her for one moment when she said that she liked him to succeed….just as long as he wasn't succeeding more than her. Full review...

Ascension by Gregory Dowling

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Alvise Marangon is an artist 'resting' between commissions and so using his guile and enterprise as a tour guide to those taking the European Grand Tour in 18th century Venice. Everything has a business as usual feel to it for Alvise until he notices a fellow gondolier paying his friend not to take a couple of English tourists. Then, as the new Doge is inaugurated a man's head is thrown into the crowd. Showing people around a typical Venice is becoming increasingly hard for Alvise – Venice is not behaving typically! Full review...

101 Things to do Instead of Playing on Your Phone by Ilka Heinemann

5star.jpg Lifestyle

There's a great joke I saw online recently. One cartoon person says to the other, What's your favourite position in bed? and the other replies Closest to the plug so I can still use my phone while it's charging. It's funny because it's true. Full review...

The Wind's Twelve Quarters and The Compass Rose by Ursula K Le Guin

4star.jpg Science Fiction

I'll start by saying that I think the SF Masterworks series are pretty much always and without fail a really interesting read. I've bought quite a few from this publisher now and I find they will always pick interesting titles from the science fiction genre, making them a great place to start if you are either just dipping your toe into science fiction for the first time or if you're looking to build up your collection. Full review...

The Golden Anklet by Beverley Hansford

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Jane Carroll is becoming more and more successful as a young journalist on a woman's magazine. Yet, although her future looks secure, Jane would like to discover more about her past. As an orphan she was raised in a children's home with no information regarding the identity of her parents apart from what was on her birth certificate. Therefore armed with this certificate and the help of her new boyfriend Bob, not to mention genealogist dabbling neighbour Gerald, the search begins. However nothing is as straightforward, or indeed as safe, as she thought it would be. Full review...

Lockwood and Co: The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

5star.jpg Confident Readers

The adults are baffled (as usual) and only Lockwood, George and Lucy can save London from the murderous ghosts. But it won't be easy: as the smallest agency of licenced psychic investigators in the capital no one is willing to listen to them, and besides, they have their own problems. A new member of the team, secrets that threaten to destroy friendships, and the sheer exhaustion that comes from trying to deal with too many hauntings – it surely can't be long before something has to give? Full review...

A Different Reflection by Jane L Gibson

4star.jpg General Fiction

Eternal optimist Kat has always believed in fairytales and happy endings but can't help but wonder where her own life went wrong. Stuck in a dead-end relationship with dull workaholic John, it's hardly the happy-ever-after that she'd always hoped for. Things are about to change, however, when Kat discovers a mysterious house that has been cursed by an enchantment; a handsome Regency beau is trapped within the mirrors and only a declaration of true love can break the spell and release him... Full review...

Little Owl's Colors by Divya Srinivasan

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

When you pick up a children's book, sometimes things feels a little off. Books for kids can be almost too sickly sweet; the characters have massive eyes and enjoy themselves too much. Who has that much fun in one day? What is wrong with Divya Srinivasan's Little Owl's Colors? Perhaps it is the lack of attention to detail when printing a book for the UK market? Colour me perplexed. Full review...

Here Be Dragons by Sarah Mussi

5star.jpg Teens

Few people would be happy living in a remote farmhouse on Mount Snowdon, especially when that means spending Christmas without any electricity – no heating, no way to charge your phone, no telly and no Christmas dinner. But when you’re sixteen, like Ellie Morgan, it can become almost unbearable. All Ellie wants is a regular ‘four-by-four life’ with four walls around her and four wheels under her, all designed to keep her safe. But safe is one thing that Ellie’s not destined to be … not from the moment she glimpses the strange boy through the mist and snow and sets her heart on discovering who (and what) he is. Full review...

The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book by Thierry Robberecht and Gregoire Mabire

4star.jpg For Sharing

What would happen if a character from a story fell out of the book and into the real world? I'm sure this is an issue that many a Jane Austen fan has pondered whilst reading Pride and Prejudice, giving their copy an extra little jiggle to try and set Mr Darcy free! Here, however, it is the scary wolf who falls out, but he discovers that the world he falls into is a lot more scary than the one he's left behind in the book! Full review...

Cat and Dog by Helen Oswald and Zoe Waring

4star.jpg For Sharing

Cat always sleeps in the day, and Dog always sleeps at night, but in the evening, when they're both awake, they always meet for a scrap! One day, however, they have a really big argument, bigger than they've ever had before. Will they ever be able to be frenemies again?! Full review...

The Snow Beast by Chris Judge

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

The Beast always loves it when he wakes up and finds that there's snow on the ground. Every year - on the first day when there's snow - the Beast helps the mountain villagers to put on a festival to celebrate. Unfortunately, there's a problem. When the Beast goes to collect his tools they're all gone. He races down the mountain to the village, but every tool has been stolen from there too. Some of the villagers are very angry and they decide that it must be the work of the abominable Snow Beast and the Beast promises to find the monster and get everyone's tools back. Full review...

The Stolen Queen by Lisa Hilton

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Nine-year-old Isabelle of Angouleme is betrothed to Hal, son of Hugh de Lusignan. She doesn't like him much but she's learning to gently manipulate those around her so she feels life will be interesting and rewarding. Howeverwith England's King Richard the Lionheart all changes. Isabelle will marry King John instead – a totally different prospect for all concerned. This is a match that will not only be a challenge for the young girl but will show her the true heart of her mother and the true art of political manoeuvring. Isabelle may be the pawn in all this but it's not a role she takes to willingly, despite the nightmares of the horned man and the occurrences of a certain May night that will haunt the rest of her life. Full review...

Pom Pom the Champion by Sophy Henn

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Pom Pom is on a winning streak. He first discovered it when mum suggested that they should play a game - and he won! He liked winning. After that he won at all sorts of things, including not being the tallest or the shortest, finishing elevenses first, getting ready to go out, and packing his bag at the supermarket. Fortunately there was no prize for packing everything safely because he certainly wouldn't have won that one. He didn't go down too well with the librarian when he announced that he was the winner of the 'first to finish reading your book' competition. Full review...

Elmer and the Flood by David McKee

4star.jpg For Sharing

It's been raining heavily and the elephants are sheltering in a cave. It's a very large cave but Elmer had heard enough bad jokes and complaints about the weather to last him a very long time. So - rain or no rain - he's going for a walk. Other caves were full of animals too - and they all wanted Elmer to come inside and shelter, but Elmor just kept on walking. Predictably the ducks were loving it, but they were the only ones. Then Elmer came across two more elephants who were looking very serious. Young Elephant hadn't been seen since the rain began and they were worried about him. Full review...

Give and Take by Lucie Felix

5star.jpg For Sharing

Some of the best children's books are the simplest. Do away with pages too full of imagery; begone novelty characters and repeat references to underpants. Some books don't need this; they are so clean, crisp and simple that they border on being art. A book that can be fun for a child, educate them and look amazing is a rare thing, but does happen once in a while. Full review...

The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

So, three books in, I've now got to grips with the idea that Huxley doesn't so much want to tell a story as expound his ideas. Once you know that, it makes it easier to choose whether to read him or not. On balance, I have come down on the side of not – I won't be dashing out to work my way through the rest of his output the way I want to with, say, Nevil Shute, or George Orwell. Full review...

The Tapper Twins Tear up New York by Geoff Rodkey

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

If you didn't last time, meet the Tapper Twins, Claudia and Reese. They're in sixth grade at a posh New York City school, and are just trying to get on with things – while making no attempt whatsoever at getting on with each other. This time round, Claudia was instantly sniffy at her brother's idea declared to her on a school bus, just because it was his, but soon realised how great it could be – to host a school charity treasure hunt for gangs of four fellow pupils. With a great prize on offer she bows down from organising it and takes part, against her brother and everyone else – and that's when the problems start. It's not as frightening as the tabloids make out, she assures us – but let's face it, there's high drama, celebrity, greed, urgency – and those pesky adults, all making the smooth running of things most unlikely… Full review...

The Glass Girl by Sandy Hogarth

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Sandy Hogarth's debut novel opens in 1975 with fifteen-year-old Ruth Bishop attending a party with her older sister, Alexis. 'They called me VL, Virgin Lips, because I'd never kissed a boy. Sex wasn't mentioned at home.' That all changes when Alexis tells Ruth to go outside – someone is waiting for her. It's one of Alexis's friends, a notorious bad boy, and he assaults Ruth right there, up against the house. Could Alexis really have intended for this to happen? Ruth soon learns she is pregnant and arranges to move to Australia and live with her friend Lucy's aunt in Melbourne until the birth. She gives her beloved daughter Clare up for adoption, but never stops thinking about her. No one but Lucy knows there ever was a baby. Full review...

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

According to an interview I read with Tom McCarthy, more than half of anthropology graduates now find work with big corporations. Eh? You might say. Don't they all go on to academia and make documentaries for BBC4? Or rush about solving crimes with the FBI? (Bones reference, dears.) What are they doing in commerce? Full review...

Dog on a Train: The Special Delivery by Kate Prendergast

5star.jpg For Sharing

It's one of those mornings for Boy: late out of bed he grabs at his hat and hurtles out of the house to catch his train - only he drops his hat as he goes through the door and Dog chases after him with the hat in his mouth. They head to the tube station (Dog doesn't forget to wait at the zebra crossing) with boy just twenty or so yards in front, but Dog is losing ground as he has to find someone to carry him on the escalator. He misses Boy's train and has to wait for the next one, but remembers his manners well enough to stand up so that an old lady can have his seat. Will he catch up with boy when he reaches London Kings Cross? Full review...

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

4.5star.jpg Teens

Meet Pierrot. As a very young child in 1930s Paris he is going to have a very awkward journey through his young life. His father is a violent drunk, reacting badly to what he saw in WWI, and although married to a French woman, is still staunchly German. That woman, Emilie, is going to die, and leave Pierrot an orphan, which will leave him in a home where he is bullied. But from the reaches of Europe and from the black corners of his family comes an aunt, Beatrix, who will give him a home, of a kind, at a most unusual mountaintop building. It's not her home – she just works there and had to ask special permission from someone special. The place? The Berghof. Full review...