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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Do Not Wash This Bear by Sam Hay and Nick East

4star.jpg For Sharing

Dad is not very good at washing. There are those of us who would shrug this off and feel happy that at least he gives it a go, but then I guess after a while shrunken T-shirts and dyed vests become a little tiresome! Anyway, one day dad decides that Bear has become a little bit stinky and needs to go in the wash, and although the child in the story shows dad the very clear label stating Do not wash this bear he decides to ignore the advice and throws him into the machine. Washing Bear turns out to be a very big mistake, since some combination of the bubbles and the spin setting drastically alter poor Bear's personality, and when he comes out he is a very decidedly naughty and troublesome Bear! Full review...

Escape From Rome: The Roman Quests by Caroline Lawrence

5star.jpg Confident Readers

It is 94AD, and the Emperor Domitian is busy killing those he suspects of being disloyal to him. The accused are allowed no trial, no chance to prove their innocence: the soldiers simply come in the night and slaughter the whole family. Anyone who is civic-minded enough to denounce a 'traitor' gets half their property as a reward, so as you can imagine it is the richest people in Rome whose names are most often mentioned. Then comes the turn of Juba's family... Full review...

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

4star.jpg General Fiction

The Japanese Lover is an unassuming novel. The beginning leads the reader to anticipate an enjoyable light read, a good holiday book perhaps – a very well plotted story with an interesting cast of characters and settings. Irena, a Moldovan girl with elfin looks and a passion for fantasy novels, starts working in bohemian care home Lark House in San Francisco. She meets the stately and somewhat aloof Alma Belasco, whose story starts to unravel, beginning with her being brought over from Poland (just as Jews became increasingly vulnerable to the Nazis) to her wealthy aunt and uncle in Cliff House, San Francisco, as a little girl. Allende almost makes us think that this opening tone, entertaining but fairly shallow, will continue for the rest of the novel. Full review...

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall

4.5star.jpg History

As one of the generation who was introduced to English history through the 'Kings and Queens' principle, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I have long since regarded the period between the Roman invasion and the Norman conquest as a bit of a blur. For me it is a rather murky area, punctuated by the likes of Hengist and Horsa, Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready, not to mention the Athelstans, Edgars, Egberts and others who are so often little more than names. In order words, what exactly did they do? This admirable title brings it all into focus. Full review...

The Mood Hoover by Paul Brown and Rowena Blyth

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

No one could ever have confused Stan with a sunbeam. He was mischievous (well, personally, I'd have said 'unpleasant') and he had a secret: an invention, in fact. He'd created a machine which could suck up anything which was happy or fun and it was called 'the mood hoover'. His sister's bedroom was the first place he put the machine through its paces and within a matter of moments all the girly niceness had been replaced by dull, grey ordinariness. It didn't just work in confined spaces either: the couple admiring a rainbow were surprised to find the vivid colours turned to dullness. You don't want to know what he got up to in the zoo... Full review...

New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Classicist Nick Houghton is employed by Novus Particles to assist them with a reconstruction of Pompeii – a reconstruction that includes the original, living first century inhabitants. NovusPart have discovered a way to pull historical artefacts (and indeed people) through time; an amazing innovation. The conspiracy theorists mumble about there being sinister reasons and the disappearance of key personnel helps to feed these rumours, but Nick needs a job and this is too good an opportunity to turn down. Anyway, that's what he tells himself to combat the repercussions of saying no. Full review...

Gallows Wedding: A dark novel of witchcraft and forbidden love set against the backdrop of religious upheaval in Henry VIII's times by Rhona Martin

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Hazel, an orphaned peasant during the 16th century has had a tough time to say the least. Therefore when she comes across Black John, an outlaw about to be hanged she sees her chance. By proposing to him she'll save his life and, marrying him, her own. At least that's Hazel's theory but the fates will make it a bit more of a struggle. Full review...

100 Facts Butterflies & Moths by Steve Parker

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Damn those bees. They're not the only flying creatures vanishing from our world at alarming rates, and the others, like butterflies and moths, are actually runners-up to Mr Bumble and his mysteriously dying ilk in pollinating plants. Plus they're more visually attractive. But even though this book has two nudges and a thanks given to the Butterfly Conservation body, that's certainly not the more notable feature of these pages. What stands out is the superlative content. Full review...

Ripped Apart by Geoffrey Arnold

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

Qwelby and Tulia are teenage aliens, growing up in a world and environment far removed from our own. When the twins interfere with a forbidden experiment, they find themselves transported to opposite ends of our Earth – Qwelby in Finland and Tulia in Africa. To survive, they must re-establish their telepathic connection, find each other, avoid capture, and return home. They say that their people arrived on Earth 75,000 years ago, were the cause of the development of the human race, and now need the help of those humans if their race is to survive. Full review...

Indigo's Dragon by Sofi Croft

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Indigo is a free spirit who loves exploring the mountains near his home in the Lake District. For all of his life, his family have entertained him with stories of dragons, but at thirteen, he's too old to believe in them now. However, when he receives a mysterious parcel in the post, Indigo is forced to rethink everything he thought he knew about mythical beasts, especially when he comes face to face with one that urgently needs his help... Full review...

I Love My Daddy by Jonathan Litton and Fhiona Galloway

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Father's Day is a great time to really pump up your Dad's ego. If he is anything like me he already thinks he is a bit of an Adonis; seeing that paunch in the mirror more as relaxed muscle than the beer gut that it is. To be honest, as a Pop, I am pretty much content with a pint, a book or a football game, but if a child does insist on getting their elder a gift, a nice book about the parent/child relationship may just warm the coldest of cockles. Full review...

Max and Bird by Ed Vere

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Ed Vere has a unique style of artwork for his picture books. The colours are vibrant, the characters are distinctive, the style is a little bit scrappy, in a very charming way. We are big fans in our house so we sat down eagerly to read the latest offering. Here we have Max, a sweet black cat with enormous eyes who meets and befriends a bird. Well, initially his plan is that they play chase and then Max will eat up Bird for a tasty snack but Bird has another idea… Full review...

Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Sometimes people don’t quite fit in. Perhaps they are much taller than you, or perhaps they aren’t round enough to roll. Does this mean, then, that if someone is so different you can’t be their friend? When it comes to Colin and Lee, they are about as different as you can get, since one is small and round and green and a pea and the other is, well, a carrot! But does that get in the way of their friendship? Full review...

Ghosts of Karnak by George Mann

4star.jpg Science Fiction

The superhero market is crowded and sometimes a little boring. Who cares about what a God-like person can do when the rest of us are scrambling around trying to avoid papercuts, never mind trying to repel a rogue asteroid. The best heroes are those that are just normal blokes or ladies dressed up in some fancy outfit. When it comes down to it Batman or The Shadow are just men, but it is their vulnerability that makes them ace to read about. Add to this list George Mann's 'The Ghost', a World War One veteran who returns to New York no longer willing to watch the criminals taking over his home town. Full review...

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Only at the end of the world, among the glaciers and icebergs of Antarctica, do Deb and Keller feel at home. For a few blissful weeks each year they study the habits of penguins, finding solace in their work and in each other. Yet Antarctica, like their romance, is imperilled by the world to the north. A new season has begun, and the two play tour guide to the passengers on the expedition ship that ferries them to their research destination. But when Keller fails to appear, Deb has to consider new feelings of love, loss, and a voyage deep into both the Antarctic, and the human heart. Full review...

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Arianwyn is about to take her all-important witch's assessment. Ignoring the taunts of her classmates, led by the beautiful and mean Gimma, Arianwyn looks set to pass until the test begins and her vision is blurred by a mysterious unknown glyph (the symbols used to control magic.) To her great humiliation, Arianwyn fails the evaluation. She is labelled an 'Apprentice Witch' and sent to the remote town of Lull in disgrace. Things don't get off to the best of starts there and the situation is made worse when Gimma arrives on holiday. Arianwyn is not happy but soon she has bigger problems. The townspeople have spotted a strange dark creature and, when a child is attacked, Arianwyn finds everyone is looking to her to prevent others getting hurt. Full review...

King of the Wood by Valerie Anand

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A young William Rufus is brought back to England from clergy training in France by his father William the Conqueror. England has changed and needs a soldier more than a priest or monk, especially as Rufus' brother Richard has died, leaving William to fill the void. Eventually King William I decides to split his inheritance between Rufus and eldest son Robert, something that doesn't go down well with an heir who expected to get it all. The brothers were never friends but this brings a new dimension to their hatred and, when royal brothers fight, nations become involved. Full review...

In the Month of the Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ekback

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

1856, Blackasen Village, Sweden: A Lapp sits surrounded by three dead bodies – the vicar, a constable and one other. The murders coincide with the arrival of Magnus Lille, a geologist sent by the Swedish government to map the mountain that gives the village its name. Magnus doesn't realise what he's walking into as up till now he thought his main problem was his sister-in-law, brought with him at his wife's father's, (the Minister for State's), insistence. The events that will take place will cause them both sleepless nights and a real chance that neither will live to go home. Full review...

Chaos Queen - Duskfall (The Chaos Queen Quintet) by Christopher B Husberg

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Winter and Knot's wedding is a brave move and not just because Winter is a Tiellan. Knot was brought back to life after nearly drowning the year before, a fate that removed his memory. All he knows is that there are people chasing him and when Knot's angry… you just don't want Knot to get angry. Meanwhile Cinzia is a devout priestess with a problem: her beloved sister is leading a religious revolt. Neither woman will come out of this the same. Cinzia will need to think about her life afresh while Winter… Let's just say big changes lie ahead. Full review...

The Secrets of Time and Fate by Rebecca Alexander

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Having killed Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the revenant from the 16th century, 21st century Jackdaw Hammond did something she's regretting. By depriving it of its host, the spirit Saraquel has moved from the Countess to Jack. Can she get some help to banish it before someone else does it a little more terminally both for Jack and Saraquel? Meanwhile back in the 16th century of Edward Kelley and Sir John Dee, Elizabeth Bathory still lives and Saraquel proves he can wreak havoc across time. Full review...

Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Egypt. 58 BC. Arsinoe has been abandoned by her father, Ptolemy XII, who has fled Alexandria and taken her beloved sister Cleopatra with him. It is now Arsinoe's half-sister Berenice who has seized the throne, leaving the young princess to fight for survival in the bloodthirsty and treacherous royal court. Berenice too has her own demons to face – having taken the throne from her weak-willed father she now has to prove herself worthy of being queen, as the possibility of her father and Cleopatra's return forever threaten to crush her new found power. Full review...

The Last Pearl by Leah Fleming

4star.jpg General Fiction

I always think, without the grit there would be no pearl. Sorrows have a way of strengthening the heart, never forget that, child.

Greta Costello lives in in poverty with her mother and siblings and must work as a skivvy to put bread on the table. She manages to find some joy in her work though, especially in her 'Sabbath' job working for a kindly old widowed Jew. The two become friends and he offers to take her on as his apprentice, stringing pearls. Could this highly-skilled job be her key to a better life? At the same time, many miles away in Scotland, Jem Baillie and his father can't contain their delight when they discover a magnificent, flawless freshwater pearl at the end of a long day of fishing. They call the pearl 'Queenie' and from that pivotal moment, the fates of Greta, Jem and Queenie will be inextricably linked. Full review...

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I confess to a bias… when I came across a reference to Sarah Perry's latest novel; I wanted to read it for two reasons only. She is a local writer, and the book is set in a place not too far away, but that I have yet to explore and which fascinates me: the Blackwater estuary in Essex. That's a place of the kind of wide open skies and mud creeks that you will find up much of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast as well, and a landscape type that probably only appeals to a certain type of person. Full review...

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Ada has a club foot, and she has spent all of her life hidden away in her mother's flat in London, used and abused by her mother who is ashamed of Ada, and angry with her. Told that she is worthless, a monster, Ada is left to crawl around the flat on her hands and knees. She tries, secretly, to use her foot to walk and it leaves her bleeding and in agony, but when Ada's little brother, Jamie, tells Ada that he is to be sent away, evacuated by the school because of the war Ada knows she must find a way to leave with him, and to escape her mother at all costs. The two children manage to escape to the country, yet find themselves left unchosen on arrival in the new village. They are foisted upon a single lady, Susan, who declares she does not want any evacuees, and that she is not a nice person. Has Ada gone from one nightmare situation straight into another? Full review...

Baturi by Matthew Stephen

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

It's Nigeria and it's the 80s. Matthew is a VSO, on a placement at a college teaching electronics. Or trying to at any rate. When language skills are limited and resources are scarce, you have to make the most of what you've got, even if that means teaching the odd class on American culture rather than rewiring. If I tell you that the Prime Directive applies a lot when you're a VSO, you'll appreciate the difficulties Matthew has when his students want to stray further into the modern world and learn about how things work in Britain, concepts of inventions such as ATMs that are decades off reaching Nigeria (Those days may still be some way off. I actually had a hand written bank card a few years ago while a VSO in a country not too far away). Full review...

Great Britain Concise Catalogue 2016 by Hugh Jefferies

5star.jpg Reference

It's difficult to believe that it's the 30th anniversary of the first publication of Great Britain Concise, but this is the thirty-first edition, with just under 500 pages and over three and a half thousand illustrations. It feels almost painful to look back to the days when the choice was between the Collect British Stamps series which never pretended (or pretends) to be more than a checklist (but got many people off to a sound start - myself included) and the specialised series, which is beyond the purse of many amateur collectors. Great Britain Concise sits comfortably between the two extremes with an affordable cover price. Full review...

24 Hours at the Somme by Robert Kershaw

5star.jpg Reference

They came past one by one...walking lumps of clay, with torn clothing, hollow cheeks and sunken eyes...There was a dreadful weariness, but a wildness burning in their fevered eyes, showing what this appalling hand to hand fighting had cost them. Utterly unforgivable for me...

So goes the description of the men, the ghosts, at the end of the first day of the Somme. July 1 2016 will mark 100 years since this most bloody of battles took place. It was supposed to be the optimistic 'Big Push' that would end the Great War, but by sunset of the first day the British casualties numbered 57,470. The battle would rage until November that year, with the total number of casualties on all sides exceeding one million. Full review...

Angry Birds Playground: Atlas (Angry Birds Playgrounds) by National Geographic Kids

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Angry Birds Playground is a new educational book series based on a geographical theme. Rovio-the team responsible for the popular game- have teamed up with National Geographic Kids to create a stunning set of books that perfectly blend the cheeky humour from the game with informative text and breathtaking real-world photography. The series will appeal to young fans of the game and anyone who has an interest in the wonders of the natural world. Full review...