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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Bicycling to the Moon by Timo Parvela

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Bicycling to the Moon is a series of short stories which all centre around two main characters: Purdy the cat and Dexter the dog who live together in a sky-blue house on the top of a hill. Purdy is a somewhat selfish cat who demonstrates rather impulsive behaviour and is always rushing around, whereas Baxter is much more refined, thoughtful and is careful to make the right choices. Each story works as an individual tale which could be read out of order; however there is a seasonal progression to the order of the book. Full review...

Boris Babysits by Sam Lloyd

4star.jpg For Sharing

Leaving your child with someone for the first time is a daunting task for any new parent. You want to pick someone for this task that you can trust; a sensible person who has some experience looking after a baby. Perhaps a parent, sibling or a good friend? The person that you are unlikely to pick is Boris. Not only is he irresponsible, he also happens to be a monster. Full review...

The Originals: The Secret History of the Birth of the SAS by Gordon Stevens

5star.jpg History

The SAS is a regiment shrouded in secrecy. Since its spectacular rise to fame during the Iranian Embassy siege in 1978, it has become a part of myth and folklore. The paradox is that more words have probably been written about this organisation than any other military unit in the world. Some are well researched, and have a genuine historical perspective on the regiments operations and activities. Others are pure fantasy, which add little, other than further the mystique of a regiment that lives in the shadows. The Originals provides a fresh perspective. It tells the story of the birth of the SAS, by the people who were there. In a series of long forgotten interviews, the regiment is brought to life with fresh insight and wonderful anecdotes. Full review...

Dogs on Instagram by @dogsofinstagram

3.5star.jpg Pets

I'm a sucker for dogs: I can't walk past one in the street without stopping and having a conversation, sometimes without bothering to speak to the owners, so a book of pictures of dogs was going to be right up my street. The wildly popular @dogs_of_instagram, run by Ahmed El Shourbagy and his wife Ashley and launched just four years ago gives us this book of over four hundred photographs of dogs. Originally I had no intention of reviewing it: in fact I wasn't even intending to read the book, just to have a quick flick through, but within five minutes I was showing other people in the office the picture of the Weimaraner riding a bicycle. Full review...

Wild Life by Liam Brown

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Adam Britman goes from a man with it all to homeless in the sniff of a line. While looking for somewhere to sleep Adam comes across an alternative community in the local park. They've come together and created structure (including an unofficial allotment) out of the disorder that's normally equated with living on the streets. It seems perfect so Adam joins them, but perfection can sometimes be an illusion. As for walking away… that's not going to be easy. Full review...

Unboxed by Non Pratt

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

When they were thirteen there had been five of them: Alix, Ben, Dean, Millie and Zara, and they had made a promise to return to the school where they had hidden a memory box five years later. Only five years later there are only four of them: Millie had died of stomach cancer. The remaining four are nervous about what they might find in the box, worried about what their thirteen-year-old selves might reveal about who they are now, but most of all they're missing Millie. Full review...

Lie with Me by Sabine Durrant

5star.jpg General Fiction

Paul is lots of things. A writer. A famous name (or at least he was a few years ago). A bit of a snob. A cheapskate. A ladies' man. And a liar. Oh boy, is he a liar. He fibs, he exaggerates, he omits, he tells porkies. Not about the really big stuff, nothing that will hurt anyone, just a few mistruths to see him through. It's for keeping up appearances, really. Full review...

Build Your Own Website: Create with Code by CoderDojo

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The Nanonauts want a website for their band, and who better to build it for them than the CoderDojo network of free computing clubs for young people? In this handbook, created in conjunction with the CoderDojo Foundation, children of seven plus will learn how to build a website using HTML, CSS and Javascript. Don't worry too much if some of those words don't mean anything to you - all will be made clear as you read through the book. There's also information about how to start a CoderDojo Nano club with friends - which has great benefits in terms of harnessing creativity, learning how to code - and the benefits of teamwork. Full review...

The Trouble with Henry and Zoe by Andy Jones

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Stop for a moment and look down at your belly, in the centre you should have something that looks a little bit like a button. It may be an innie, or an outie, but just consider it for a few moments. Do you feel better? Nope, you shouldn't do as all that navel-gazing does is make you over think things. However, without the concept a million romantic books would never be written as without the human compulsion to destroy things around them, how can any tension arise? Full review...

A Thousand Nights by E K Johnston

4star.jpg Teens

E. K Johnston describes 1000 Nights as a work fashioned around the creation of beautiful crafts charged with magic. She confesses that her setting is not historically accurate, explaining, I cheated a bit, because the usual date for the stories ranges from Middle Persian literature to the Caliphate Era, and I set the book about two thousand years before that. Her locations are beautifully evoked and based on her sensory experiences as an archaeologist in Jordan. A Turkish bath in Amman, the Umayyad palace on top of the Amman Citadel and the swirling sands at Wadi Rum are just a few sources she has used to recreate the spirit of Lo Melkhiin's dangerous qasr [Middle Eastern palace] juxtaposed with the mercurial nature of his wife's desert home. Full review...

Cuckoo by Keren David

5star.jpg Teens

Jake is a household name thanks to his role on the UK's most popular soap opera. But his character went upstairs to his bedroom six months ago and never came down again, and now Jake is facing an uncertain future. Add to that his dad's anger issues, the family's precarious finances and the demands of a severely autistic brother; Jake's home feels like a powder keg waiting to explode. It's easier to spend nights on friends' sofas and futons, but what happens when you feel like a cuckoo in every nest? Full review...

Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn

3.5star.jpg History

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was almost unique in Tudor history in that he was a close friend and companion – in fact the closest – of King Henry VIII throughout the latter's reign, never really fell out of favour, and had the good fortune to die peacefully in his bed, just eighteen months before his notoriously capricious royal patron. Full review...

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

1837: Sarah Gale is found guilty of aiding and abetting James Greenwood in the murder of Hannah, his fiancée. It's particularly gruesome as the body was brutally dismembered and left in various locations around London. Bound for the gallows and fearing for the future of her young son George, Sarah petitions for mercy from the Home Office and, as a result, the Home Secretary appoints barrister Edmund Fleetwood to re-investigate the case. Edmund approaches it with an open mind but nothing prepares him for what he'll discover and not just in the professional realm. Full review...

Acts of Love by Talulah Riley

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Bernadette St John presents herself as the very face of contemporary feminine independence. She is strong, career-driven, beautiful…and definitely holds the attention of the public. For Bernadette is the Man Whisperer, winning herself fame with her ability to coax secrets from the richest and most powerful men of the world, exposing them with controversial distaste in her articles. Hidden behind such a conniving and judgemental persona, however, is a deep insecurity, and a desperate longing to be loved by the perfect man. She has already decided that the newly engaged Tim Bazier is the only candidate for such a position in her heart, and will stop at nothing to win him back from his all-too-lovely fiancé. Yet what is perfect is a subject for discussion, and charismatic entrepreneur Radley Blake's unwavering attention has also fallen upon the feisty journalist. It is a weaving tale of will-they-wont-they that Riley spins here, one that I found myself unable to put down. Full review...

Star Wars: Colouring By Numbers by LucasFilm

4star.jpg Crafts

I've never had any talent as an artist: I once earned the comment from an art teacher that I would struggle to draw a straight line with a ruler, but it's something I've always wanted to be able to do. For a while in my teens I was seduced by oil-painting-by-numbers kits, which promised to allow me to produce paintings of horses grazing in the fields or boats at anchor in the harbour. In fact all I really produced was a mess - literally and artistically. I've had slightly more success with adult colouring books, providing that they didn't require too much skill, although I did succeed in establishing that Benedict Cumberbatch would not look good with a spray tan. If I was going to produce anything worth looking at then I needed a great deal of help with shading. Full review...

Hope and Red by Jon Skovron

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Bleak Hope is a young girl orphaned at the tender age of eight when the emperor's biomancers – mystics of biology with the power to make living things grow, decay or change into something else entirely – massacre her whole village. The lone survivor, Hope sneaks on board a travelling merchant ship and by chance becomes a servant at the old Vinchen monastery, home to the empire's best warriors. There she is secretly trained by the greatest Vinchen warrior in history, and is driven by her dream of vengeance against those responsible for her parent's death. Full review...

Somme: Into the Breach by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

4star.jpg History

One-hundred years ago this month, on the 1st of July 1916, the most notorious battle in the history of the British army began at 07:20 with the detonation of a huge mine under the Hawthorn Redoubt. The Battle of the Somme had begun, and by the end of the first day the British had suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, 20,000 of whom were killed. Published to mark the centenary of the battle, Somme: Into the Breach by historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore is a comprehensive account of the conflict told primarily by the soldiers who fought in it. Full review...

The Accidental Pirates: Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Brine leads a typical Cinderella existence, being a lonely orphan who spends her dreary life cleaning and tidying up after a tetchy wizard and his equally bad-tempered apprentice Peter. But then, in the way of all excellent stories, things go seriously wrong and the two young people have to flee their island. It's a total, horrible disaster: they get lost at sea together and only stop arguing about whose fault it was when they're picked up by a crew of bloodthirsty and ruthless pirates on a ship called the Onion (due to an unfortunate spelling mistake at the sign-maker's). Full review...

Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Bastard son, mercenary soldier, protector of the rightful king and seeker of a treacherous secret, Jack Wynter lives in dangerous times. In England, the Wars of the Roses ended a decade agao, with the victory of King Edward of York. But an uneasy peace is fast broken when the King dies, and feuds old and new are awoken. When Jack is sent from his life in Seville to gloomy and dangerous England, he must uncover the truth behind the secret that he has been guarding, and the reason for his Father's fall. As the new Prince Edward readies himself to be king, his uncle Richard makes a move for the throne - leading him and Jack on paths of intrigue, corruption, mystery and war. The old world is turning. A new world is rising. Full review...

Keep Your Brain Stronger for Longer by Tonia Vojtkofsky

4star.jpg Lifestyle

On the front of the book it says that our brains need a well-rounded workout just like our bodies. A decade or two ago I wouldn't have given very much thought to this - my body and my brain seemed to get all the workout they needed without me adding to their burdens, but close on the beginning of my eighth decade I've noticed something. I keep losing words: nothing major, you know, but this morning I couldn't remember the name of a flower which I hadn't seen since this time last year - until about half an hour later, when, of course it was no longer relevant. When you're young you don't worry about what you'll suffer from in old age. As you get older you develop dreads and one of the biggest for people who are still hale and hearty is that they'll develop dementia. Full review...

All About The Hype by Paige Toon

5star.jpg Teens

Jessie Jefferson, daughter of rockstar Johnny Jefferson whom I first got to know in the excellent Johnny be Good by Paige Toon has left the UK behind to move to the City of Angels and be with her long-lost, recently-rediscovered father. As the third book in the Jessie offshoot, there's a bit of back story to be had but long story short, she grew up not knowing about him, but then her mother died in horrible circumstances and one thing led to another and it all came out in the wash. Now, a year later, Jessie is living with Johnny, her step mum Meg and her two half-brothers. Full review...

Mind Writer by Steve Cole

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Everyone knows what a mind reader can do and Luke Mellows has this amazing talent, or maybe it is a gift. He uses this to great effect and for his own entertainment. Knowing what the teacher is thinking can be incredibly useful and can be used for amusing classroom antics. Luke thought it was only him who had this gift, however when he meets Samira he soon realises that there is one skill that can be even more powerful than his – a mind writer. Being able to change what a person will think can be a powerful and dangerous skill. When the mind reader and mind writer come together Luke soon learns that there is a much darker and sinister situation occurring than he could ever have imagined. Full review...

Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour; a dying breed in the Riven Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent's principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. Bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded, and whilst it'll never bring a man fame or wealth, he's not forced to rely on others or kill without cause. When a kidnapped girl forces Lynx to join a mercenary company, the job seems simple enough, and the mercanaries less stupid and vicious than most he's met over the years. So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine... Full review...

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

4star.jpg Crime

Poldi had not long been widowed when she decided to move from Bavaria to Sicily with the intention of drinking herself to death. She could, of course, have done this in Germany, but she felt that a sea view was essential. Once there, new friends, family already resident on the island and the corpse of a young man, his face blown off by a shotgun, whom she found on the local beach, intervened to give her life some meaning. For a while she was a suspect, but that (and her wig) were no obstacle to her falling for Commissario Vito Montana who was assigned to investigate the case. Assisting him (or having him assist her) came naturally to Poldi and before long there was an investigative and personal partnership. At least so far as Poldi was concerned. Full review...

Gold by Geraldine Mills

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Twins Starn and Esper are growing up in a world made dark and silent by massive volcanic explosions. Ash now covers the planet and every aspect of life is controlled by the government, policed by the strict, heavy-handed Sagittars. They long for sunshine, fresh air and the freedom of a life only vaguely remembered by a few. But a game of dares leads them to discover an ancient book written by their great-great aunt, filled with strange writing and a treasure map. This propels them headlong into a journey across the darkened skies in a hand-built glider, in search of the gold that will vastly improve their lives. What they find there is a hidden world; one left behind when the volcanoes exploded. The revelation of the gold is not at all what they thought it would be, and is a discovery that could expose the governments' lies and save a dying planet. Full review...

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

5star.jpg General Fiction

The Republic of Love is a mesh-like novel, peopled with a huge cast of characters interwoven in familial, friendly, neighbourly and romantic relationships. Winnipeg, the city in which virtually all the action in Shield's novel takes place, ties them together. The story follows two single, thirty-something characters, Fay and Tom, who live opposite each other and have a complicated array of mutual acquaintances but don't know each other. Shields alternates between their two points of view as they are slowly drawn together. This is a domestic novel in the best sense; there is a focus on the beauty and mundanity of ordinary people's unremarkable lives in an unexceptional city, from Fay's satisfaction in the pop sound and toasted crumb smell of her twin slice toaster, to Tom's ungainly Saturday morning jogs. Full review...

The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid by Craig Russell

4star.jpg Crime

Everybody liked quiet Tommy Quaid, a professional burglar who like Norman Stanley Fletcher saw arrest and imprisonment as occupational hazards and on the rare occasion he was nabbed, he'd raise his hands and come quiet. Turns out that's not what his nickname meant at all. Turns out there was a lot about Quiet Tommy Quaid that a lot of people didn't know. Even those who thought they knew him well, who thought they were his friends. Full review...