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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A Lover's Pinch by Jean Ravencourt

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Hettie (Henriette to be formal) has grown up in straitened times. Her mother was a former mistress of Charles IX but now Henri IV is on the throne. A different king means different favourites and Hettie’s family have to live on the memory and favours of others. However Hettie has attracted the attention of Henri which is enough to give her mother ideas. She’s not the only one though: King’s mistress Gabrielle d’Estrees also has plans for the teenage girl. Hettie is definitely embarking on an adventure but the twists it takes are unforeseen by anyone and dangerous to all. Full review...

Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp and John Kelly

5star.jpg Confident Readers

12-year-old maid Ivy Pocket is at a loose end after her employer the Countess Carbunkle leaves her for South America "for no other reason than it is far enough away from Paris to ensure that I never see you again." Charitably deciding that the old woman is 'bonkers' on the basis that anyone who doesn't see how wonderful she is couldn't possibly be in their right mind, Ivy thinks she'll stroll into another job but finds it more difficult than she'd expect - until the Duchess of Trinity gives her an important mission; to deliver a priceless diamond necklace to the granddaughter of an estranged friend. But what should be a simple task becomes fraught with danger as Ivy faces obnoxious aristocrats, strange creatures, and betrayal. Full review...

The Pleasure of Reading: 43 Writers on the Discovery of Reading and the Books That Inspired Them by Antonia Fraser (editor)

4star.jpg Entertainment

There has been a trend for lists in recent years, with numerous websites and books cashing in on this craze for cataloguing must-see films, favourite foods, and things to do before you die. ‘’The Pleasure of Reading’’, edited by Antonia Fraser, may be, then, the most sophisticated and erudite result of this fascination for listography, since its premise is straightforwardly based around the top ten books chosen by famous authors. Behind this book is the curiosity readers feel for each other or the question, as Fraser puts it, ‘What ‘’do’’ other people read?’ But these people are some of the greatest writers working in recent years, with contributions from Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, and Tom Stoppard and others. The book, however, returns us to those early moments in their lives – before fame and prizes – when reading was a hobby like it is for so many people. Full review...

Boo by Neil Smith

5star.jpg General Fiction

Oliver Dalrymple is dead. He realised this the moment he woke up in the rebirthing bed. His friends and tormentors had always called him Boo because of his ghostly pale complexion and now he's finally earned the nickname fully. What he hasn't realised is the way in which he died; he thinks he died of holey heart problems in front of his locker while reciting the periodic table. The location is correct but, meeting Johnny (an equally dead former classmate) reveals, he was actually murdered. What's worse, their murderer has been spotted there in 13 year olds' heaven. Full review...

The Infidel Stain by M J Carter

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1841. Newly returned from India, Jeremiah Blake and William Avery find life back in Victorian England difficult to settle into, having left a disconnected country travelled by pony and trap, and returned to one in the grip of railway mania. When a series of murders occur, all connected to the press, Avery and Blake find themselves back in action. But with connections between the murdered and those seeking revolution, it is a race against time to find the killer before he strikes again. Full review...

National Geographic Kids Infopedia 2016


Annuals. They are not what they used to be. As a child, I remember snuggling into a chair with my 1983 “Crackerjack” annual and being completely immersed by the facts, stories, jokes and activities inside. Maybe I'm getting old, but many of today's annuals seem to be little more than a few flimsy sheets of colouring paper and posters sandwiched inside a hard cover. If, as a parent, you are aching to buy your children something with a little more substance and quality, then the National Geographic Infopedia 2016 may be just what you are looking for. Full review...

Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders (Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates) by Gareth P Jones

4star.jpg Confident Readers

It's a three-way battle in the Slurring Mariner pub. On the one hand, four Steampunk Pirates – a fine mix of vicious, nefarious and metallic mariners who would make any passing human gulp (which is more than you could ever say of the beer). On another, the Dread Captain Inkybeard, who is married to a squid who lives on his head and keeps his facial hair dark. On the third, a ridiculously rich, ridiculously French and ridiculously successful recruiter – but to just what is he taking so many seamen? Whatever it is, it's enough to get the Pirates and Inkybeard working together (ish) to solve the problem – but someone else might just be controlling the whole farrago… Full review...

Yes! No (Maybe...) (Tom Gates) by Liz Pichon

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Work. It's not something Tom Gates has been guilty of much before now – unless it's to work out how and where to hide his favourite caramel wafers, or how to deflect the evil grin of his slightly goth older sister. But it's on the cards this time round – not only does his mother have the inspired idea of clearing the house out for a car boot sale (which causes disasters) the school is having an enterprise competition, where groups of students have to create something to sell on to their peers at a profit. But it's not like Tom wants much – of course, he's a simple lad, with no real desires as such – he's never going to want to go hell for leather to get anything, is he? Full review...

Cellar by Minette Walters

4star.jpg General Fiction

To my mind, The Dark Room is the most perfect psychological thriller ever written (and I've read lots in this genre). In her later works, Minette Walters seemed to veer away from this particular path to glory as her novels became steadily darker and with increasingly dislikeable characters. So it was quite refreshing to discover that The Cellar was written from the point of view of a rather likeable protagonist. Muna is an African child living in, shall we say, somewhat unusual and very cruel conditions: she was stolen and now lives in captivity. Her voice is compelling and from the first page I found myself wanting her to make good her escape from the dreadful - and sadly all too believable - circumstances in which she finds herself. So, naturally, I admired her cunning and resourcefulness, knowing that these attributes would serve her well. But, of course, this is Minette Walters and nothing is as simple as it first appears. As the story unfolded I found myself questioning who exactly were the victims and who, if anyone, was innocent. Full review...

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

5star.jpg Fantasy

Many years ago, in a village deep in Eastern Europe, the locals live a life of relative peace and happiness - knowing to always avoid the wood that borders their land, and safe in the knowledge that they are guarded by a powerful wizard - the Dragon. Aware that he is the one thing keeping them safe from the dangers of the wood, the villagers take part in a ritual called 'The Choosing' every ten years - when a young girl is sent to serve the wizard for a decade. Agnieszka is of age for the choosing, but nobody fears that she will be picked - her best friend Kasia is pretty and graceful, and sure to catch the eye of the immortal Dragon. However, Agnieszka is not aware of the talents she holds that may attract the wizard - talents that the safety of the entire kingdom may come to depend on for their survival... Full review...

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Natty and Sean seem to have a good marriage - to have everything, in fact. They didn't have a particularly propitious start: Natty's pregnancy precipitated the marriage and meant that Sean couldn't do the law degree he'd set his heart on, but they now own an upmarket hotel in the lake district, have a lovely home and drive the sort of cars more commonly associated with premier league footballers. Their daughters are in their teens now and it's when the younger, Felicity, is on a school trip to France that the problems start. Full review...

The Slaughter Man by Tony Parsons

4star.jpg Crime

This is the second novel by Tony Parsons, which features DC Max Wolfe, single parent to daughter Scout, who first appeared in, The Murder Bag. This book is, without a doubt, a huge step up from the first in the series – an extremely fast paced, exciting crime novel, with a gripping plot and twisted characters. There is no guessing which turn the story will take as every page throws in another plot twist; it’s impossible to figure out who the killer is. On New Year’s Eve, a rich, well established family living in Highgate, London are brutally murdered and the four-year-old son has been abducted. Now it is up to Max to track down the child and figure out who was behind the murders. Full review...

Flight by Isabel Ashdown

4star.jpg General Fiction

Mothers are supposed to adore their children - to be willing to give up everything for them and to devote their lives to being mothers. But, for some people it doesn't work that way. Wren Irving, mother of six-month-old Phoebe had bought a ticket for the first-ever National Lottery draw in 1994, without telling her husband and she said nothing when her numbers came up. Instead she simply packed her bags as soon as she was alone and left - also alone. Later a letter would arrive from a solicitor saying that she had no intention of returning. Her husband Robert and best friend Laura were left to cope, to pick up the pieces and endure the vacuum. Full review...

The Trains Now Departed: Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain's Railways by Michael Williams

3.5star.jpg History

Beaching wasn't the only buffer to the fate of various train lines of our land – it could have been sheer managerial incompetence, the birth of the package air holiday, or even road-builders' bloody-minded spite that served to bring down the end of the line. Yes, the fact you can easily pepper your words with idiom from the world of trains shows how important they have been over the last two hundred years, and this book is geared around that as well, if happily cliché-free. Our author takes us on a journey around various sites where train lines and elements of what once rode proudly upon them have been and gone. So grab a platform ticket (RIP) and see what class of journey we're travelling in. Full review...

Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs! by Paula Metcalf and Cally Johnson-Isaacs

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Life’s boring in the burrow so Rupert rabbit decides to tunnel over to the neighbouring farm. There he meets a very bossy duck, Dora, who tells him that only animals who can do a job can live on this farm. What can a rabbit do? Full review...

Cakes, Custard and Category Theory: Easy recipes for understanding complex maths by Eugenia Cheng

5star.jpg Popular Science

Eugenia Cheng is a professor of maths and a lover of cake. If you’re wondering how those two things could ever intersect, it’s quite easy. And the result, the middle of the Venn diagram, if you will, is this book which makes maths fun, meaningful and relatively easy to digest. Much like her recipes. Full review...

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

4.5star.jpg Teens

Finch and Violet are both counting the days. Violet is on countdown to graduation, to getting away from the school and town that hold so many torturous memories. Finch, meanwhile has started from zero and is logging the number of days in a row he is awake. And he doesn’t mean that in terms of physically awake, but more so in terms of his emotions. Neither of them are particularly happy. At least one of them has a plan to make the pain stop in the most final way possible. It’s pretty horrific. Full review...

Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary by David and Ben Crystal

4.5star.jpg Reference

David Crystal, renowned linguist, writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster has collaborated with his son Ben, Shakespearean actor, author, director and producer to create an eye catching, exquisitely detailed, carefully colour coded and incisive reference guide. It is extensive and meticulously researched- a fusion of the Crystals’ Shakespearean knowledge, linguistic skill and theatrical enthusiasm. Lavishly illustrated by Kate Bellamy, who favours a bright, attractive primary colour palette, this dictionary is a treasure trove for any student of Shakespeare. This would be a five star review but for a minor quibble- it is missing an index of characters which would have been useful for pupils assigned character studies as they could have cross referenced the explanatory entries with quotes or themes. It also only concentrates on Shakespeare’s twelve most performed plays so it is not an exhaustive treatment of his work. Full review...

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

5star.jpg General Fiction

Sophie Stark wasn't born Sophie Stark - that's the person she decided to become. She didn't know that she wanted to become a film director either, but that is what she evolved into as she fought being the one who was different, as she tried to fit in but found that making movies actually drove her away from people. She was a genius when it came to making movies, but genius scythes through other people in pursuit of perfection, leaving disaster casually in its wake and Sophie was no exception to ‘'that rule. Full review...

System: With his face in the sun by Jon A Davidson

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

Wallace Blair, like everyone else, is used to the benefits of a life guided by The System. After all, The System knows best. However he is somewhat dismayed when he wakes to a System message on his Commcuff informing him that his happy marriage is about to be dissolved and that's not his only concern. After being sent to retrieve papers from his grandfather's house, Wallace reflects on how long it's been since he's seen the old man. Wallace decides to drop in on him but what should be a trip to an elderly care facility takes him down an unexpected path. Full review...

Bedtime Rhymes by Tony Ross

3.5star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

It is getting late so it is time to start the bedtime routine; upstairs for a wash, clean your teeth and then into your PJs. Settle into bed and what now? A story perhaps, or some night time nursery rhymes. Is it just me or do many of these bedtime tales feel a lot more sinister than their daytime cousins? Full review...

Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

4star.jpg Teens

Many readers can identify with the idea of falling in love with a hero from a book. After all, they are written to be appealing, with rugged good looks, charming personality, strength and wit. But what if the hero from your favourite book came to life and joined you in the real world? Can a storybook romance flourish in a High School setting? Or will our fairytale prince be keen to return to his homeland of unicorns, fairies, castles and mermaids? These are the dilemmas faced by awkward teen Delilah and her fantasy prince Oliver, who swaps places with a human boy in order to join his true love in the real world. The lovers may be together for now, but the book has other ideas, and soon begins rewriting itself to put everything back to how it was. Full review...

Re Jane by Patricia Park

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Growing up in Flushing, New York –Jane Re has long been hoping to escape her whole life. A half-Korean, half-American Orphan, Jane struggles to find her place as a spirited and intelligent young woman growing up in a strict and mirthless family, observing the traditional Korean principle of “Nunchi” (a combination of good manners, obligation and hierarchy). Desperate to escape, Jane is thrilled when she becomes the au pair for a rich couple – two Brooklyn based professors of English, who have adopted a young Chinese girl into their family. Jane soon falls for the man of the family, but their blossoming affair is soon curtailed by a family death, prompting Jane’s return to Korea. As she learns more about herself, her history and her culture, Jane must make huge decisions about her life, her future, and her man… Full review...

Minecraft Beginners's Handbook: Updated Edition by Stephanie Milton

5star.jpg Entertainment

If you haven't heard of Minecraft, where on earth have you been? This popular construction/survival game has captured the imagination of almost 30 million people worldwide and the craze shows no signs of abating. If, like me, you are curious as to what all the fuss is about and wonder why you can no longer get near the computer until after the kids have gone to bed, then this new series of books by Egmont are just what you need. In no time at all, you will be happily chatting about mobs, redstone, endermen and zombie pigmen as if you were an expert... Full review...

Made For You by Melissa Marr

4.5star.jpg Teens

Eva Tilling comes from a wealthy, influential family and reigns supreme at school - she is well thought of and has expectations to live up to - nothing ever changes for her, but that’s just how things are in obsolete Jessup: nothing unusual or unexpected ever happens… Full review...

Secrets of the Pomegranate by Barbara Lamplugh

4star.jpg General Fiction

Home in Bristol, Alice gets the news from her sister's partner, Paco. Her sister, Deborah Hardy, was on board one of the trains bombed at Madrid's Atocha station on 11 March. No one can yet confirm whether she is alive or dead. Deb had moved to Granada nearly 20 years ago, after her divorce from Mark's father, and was starting to make a name for herself as a scholar of women in Andalusia's history. Alice and her nine-year-old son Timmy fly to Spain to find that Deb is alive, but in a coma in hospital. Over the weeks she keeps vigil for Deb, Alice lives in her sister's home in Granada and reads her diaries, which proves to be a way of feeling closer to her and learning more about her than she ever knew. Meanwhile, Mark and Paco keep their distance, working through their complicated grief in their own ways. Full review...