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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Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

On the day Kyndra comes of age, she accidentally destroys the relic of an ancient ceremony, ending centuries of tradition. So when terrible phenomena target her community, Kyndra is blamed. Fearing for her life, she is saved and rescued by two mysterious strangers – one who wields the power of the Sun, the other – the Moon. Together, they flee to the hidden citadel of Naris. And here, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions of the past, and is brutally tested in a bid to unlock her own magic. If she survives the ordeal, she'll discover a force greater than she could ever have imagined. But could it create as well as destroy? And can she control it, to right an ancient wrong? Full review...

Oceans in 30 Seconds by Jen Green and Wesley Robins

5star.jpg Popular Science

Oceans in 30 Seconds is the latest book in the innovative series from Ivy Press, which aims to give an informative and entertaining overview of a given subject in bite-sized chunks. Each given subject has its own two-page spread, with a concise description on the left, covering all of the main points, and a colourful illustration on the right hand page, complete with extra snippets of information. Each chapter also has a handy 3-second sum up, which further condenses the main idea of the chapter into a single sentence. Full review...

Personal by Lee Child

5star.jpg Thrillers

If you've never read a Lee Child novel but have seen the trailers for a film starring Tom Cruise… can I seriously suggest you read at least one of the books before seeing the film. To be fair, I haven't seen the film and Cruise might do a decent job of whatever script they've given him… but Jack Reacher he isn't. Full review...

Ten Little Dinosaurs by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty

5star.jpg For Sharing

When I was a child it was ten green bottles standing on the wall. Since then Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty have brought us the exploits of Ten Little Princesses and Ten Little Pirates. Now they invite us to explore the prehistoric world of Ten Little Dinosaurs. Full review...

Guernsey Retreat: The Guernsey Novels Book 3 by Anne Allen

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Louisa returned home one night to the house she shared with her mother, but as she opened the door a man pushed past her and dashed away. Her mother was shocked and injured by what had happened - and died in Louisa's arms, but not before telling her that the man had come for 'the jewels' - the ones which she'd worn to a ball. Betty had never married. Time and circumstances had separated her from Louisa's father before he could know that she was pregnant and no man had ever been able to match Malcolm in her heart - and it was Malcolm who had the jewels and who had to be warned that he was probably in danger. Full review...

Mum Never Did Learn to Knock by Cathy Hopkins

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

  1. People are worrying about Emily: her Dad and the staff at school are all worried that she's spending a lot of time talking to her Mum. You might think that there's nothing wrong with that - in fact that it's entirely commendable and young people ought to spend more time talking to their parents - but Emily's Mum died a few months ago. Emily has reached the stage of hiding the fact that Mum appears to her in very real form, perhaps just a little bit ghostly, but then you wouldn't expect her to look just like she was when she was alive, now would you? At school she's sent to see a counsellor, but it doesn't go quite the way that the counsellor was expecting... particularly when Emily asked where people go when they die and the ultimate 'what comes after space?'

Full review...

How to Speak Spook (and Stay Alive) by Ally Kennen

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Everybody knows if you have a special gift like seeing through walls or the ability to speak giraffe you have to keep it secret. If you don't, men in dark suits and wrap-around shades take you away to experiment on you. (And if it's the wall thing, girls will assume you're spying on them when they get changed for PE and beat you up.) Full review...

The Confectioner's Tale by Laura Madeleine

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Petra is researching the life of late historian, author, critic and greatly missed grandfather JG Stevenson when she should really be writing a dissertation for her doctorate. While looking through his belongings she comes across a photo taken in Paris at the turn of the 20th century and an intriguing note in his handwriting. Petra has never consciously realised that Grandpa Jim (as he was to her) had been to France so the revelation spurs her on against all odds, an unscrupulous competitor and academic pressure. Gradually the search reveals a romance and notorious scandal; the sort of scandal would lead a man to regret it for the rest of his life. Meanwhile in 1909, Guillaume du Frere moves to France from the provinces in order to escape poverty and changes his life completely, although not in the way he'd expected. Full review...

Persist by Melvin Burgess

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

When we first meet Marianne she's confused. People keep coming and looking at her, but they don't seem to see her. She wonders if she's something shiny, such as a mirror. Her family are desperate: Marianne has been in a coma for so long that even her mother is beginning to doubt that she can surface from wherever she is. The doctors are sure that there's no hope for the girl and they're talking about switching off the machines which are keeping her alive, allowing her to fade away painlessly... It all comes to a head on Marianne's fifteenth birthday. Full review...

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

When something is too good to be true, maybe it is. Christy and Joe Davenport have found the house of their dreams in the luxurious enclave of Lime Park Road, and are thrilled by the asking price. After all, properties rarely come up here and when they do, it’s for an eye-watering amount. Pretty soon, though, they’re left wondering. Why was this house so cheap? Why did the previous owners clearly invest so much in giving the place a fabulous finish only to move out straight after? And why won’t any of the neighbours talk about ‘’the situation’’ which clearly went down? Full review...

Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub

4star.jpg General Fiction

Diary of the Fall is a story about regret, guilt and resentment. It's told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, who reflects on not just his own life but also the lives of his father and grandfather. Full review...

Bomber by Paul Dowswell

4.5star.jpg Teens

Harry Friedman is only 17. But WWII is raging all across Europe and Harry felt the call to serve his country and the Allied cause. And that's how he became a gunner on the Macey May, an American Flying Fortress stationed in East Anglia, far away from Harry's New York home. Full review...

Ready, Steady, Jump by Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

If children’s books are a great way of introducing the varied world of the animal kingdom. There are books on lions, kangaroos, monkeys, aardvarks, ostriches and so many others. However, children’s books since the days of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘‘Just So Stories’’ have also been confusing kids with animal facts that just aren’t true. Are we to believe that an elephant got its trunk by having it pulled on by a crocodile? To compound the issue, author Jeanne Willis is now suggesting that not only do elephants have an elongated nose, but they are also unable to jump – how silly! Full review...

This is My Rock by David Lucas

4star.jpg For Sharing

Once you have claimed something as your own, the temptation to not share it is enormous, whether you’re three years old or thirty three! In this story we are introduced to a little goat who has climbed to the top of a mountain, claimed it as his own, and is unwilling to allow anyone else up there with him. Full review...

Please: A First Book of Manners by Patricia Hegarty and Fhiona Galloway

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Ah, that age old battle, of how to teach your children to be polite. I had a teacher who had magic hands, and she would only release what she was holding if you remembered to say please and thank you to her! This board book introduces the word please in a lovely way, right from a very early age! Full review...

As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust by Alan Bradley

4.5star.jpg Crime

Flavia de Luce has left Buckshaw, the family home where she has lived all her life and has gone to school in Canada (actually, 'was sent' is more accurate - the decision was none of Flavia's making and she felt that she'd been banished). On the trip over she was accompanied by Dr Rainsmith and his wife, who were associated with Miss Bodycote's Female Academy, the school which Flavia would be attending. In fact, they delivered her there with scant ceremony late on the night they arrived. Flavia would have settled down to sleep, but first she was attacked by another pupil and then a dead body fell down the chimney. She already felt quite at home... Full review...

The Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

The Lady from Zagreb begins and ends in 1956. Series detective Bernie Gunther is enduring a 'subtle kind of punishment' as he watches and re-watches beautiful Dahlia Dresner, a woman he has loved and lost. This is the tenth of the novels that began with the publication of the Berlin Noir trilogy (in the early 1990s) and within a few pages the action has catapulted back to the summer of 1942 and the heartland location, Nazi Berlin. Full review...

The Giant of Jum by Elli Woollard and Benji Davies

5star.jpg For Sharing

The Giant of Jum is hungry and it’s making him grumpy. Luckily he remembers his brother telling him a story about a beanstalk and a boy called Jack and this leads the Giant to set off to find his own Jack. The boy will, he decides, make a very tasty snack. But things don’t work out as he plans. Instead of eating the children he meets along the way he ends up helping them, using his extra height to fetch a lost ball and rescue a cat from a tree. When he finally finds Jack will he really be able to eat Jack up? And if he doesn’t eat Jack, how will he fill his rumbling tummy? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Full review...

The Stolen Ones by Owen Laukkanen

4.5star.jpg Crime

By book four in any series things start to go one of two ways; stagnation or consolidation. Are these going to be a collection of books that slowly become the same story over and over again, or will the author distil what made the first books so good and build upon them for a stronger, richer and varied series? Looking at the score for ‘‘Stolen Ones’’, it would appear that the future is bright, the future is Owen Laukkanen. Full review...

Clash of Iron (The Iron Age Trilogy) by Angus Watson

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Lowa is now queen at Maidun Castle as she, Dug the reluctant (but highly effective) warrior and his young ward Spring attempt to defend it from the local tribes chancing their arm. Spring seems to have lost her magic but hopefully this is only temporary. There are bigger worries however; Lowa knows that the Romans will come and so sends Ragnall and Dunstan, former prince and his druid tutor Durstan to Rome on a mission to gather intelligence about the enemy. Unfortunately things don't go to plan on either front! Full review...

The Summer of Broken Stories by James Wilson

5star.jpg General Fiction

England 1950: Soon-to-be-10, Mark Davenant is a typical lad with a typical lad's life. He loves adding to his model train layout, he plays with his mates and walking best friend Barney the dog. It's on one such walk he comes across Aubrey, an elderly writer living in the forest. They build a friendship based on shared stories and imaginings. Not all in the village are accepting though and, when they try to drive Aubrey out, Mark feels himself torn between old loyalties and new. Full review...

Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Book 1 by Eric Colossal

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet the latest adventurer to scour the land. He has a talent for finding the obscure and seeking out the rare, and surviving all the undignified fates the world has in store. He even has a magical companion. He will be open to any challenge set upon him, from locating dragon-smiting swords to besting the largest, most locally loved, rival. He is Rutabaga, and he is, of course, a chef. Full review...

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley: Return of the Geek by Ben Davis

4star.jpg Teens

Joe Cowley has got it bad. Whatever it is, he's got it bad. The hots for his girlfriend, Natalie? Bad. Living arrangements with his ex-school-bullying-nemesis-turned-step-brother? Very bad. Some greasy swazz trying to take his girlfriend from him, at the same time as sucking up to her father who is also his business mentor? Pretty awful. An attitude that means a devil-may-care voice in his head leads him to support his oddball friends through a dance music competition just to get one over on the swazz? You can guess, what with that being the main thrust of the plot here, that that too is B A D bad. Full review...

The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi

4star.jpg Biography

Author Marlena de Blasi lives in the (as far as I can tell from having a quick google), beautiful small Italian city of Orvieto – deep in the beautiful Umbrian countryside. Having lived there for some time, she gradually becomes aware of the Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club – a group of Italian ladies who meet once a week for supper, and to talk. Whilst it takes her some time, Marlena eventually manages to be accepted into the group, and begins to cook and eat with these unique and fascinating ladies, sharing both tales of life, love, and death, and taking part in delicious home cooked meals. Full review...

Will Gallows and the Wolfer's Deadly Magic by Derek Keilty and Jonny Duddle

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Will Gallows is just a week away from being a fully-fledged member of the Sky Cavalry – and his talking, winged horse is even more keen on hitting the passing out ceremony on the nose. But things aren't all going to go their way – Mid-Rock City has received a blackmail note, extorting the town out of a lot of gold for threat of a 'death mace', of which nobody has ever heard. Certain factors all point to Will being the best cadet to take part in nixing the handover to the criminal, not least of which is his half-hidden secret magic skill due to being part-elf – but as soon as it's realised who the baddy is, things immediately step up a gear. And if that isn't bad enough, Will's grandma and great-uncle have just turned up for a pleasant trip based around his graduation… Full review...

Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd

4.5star.jpg Biography

Charlie Chaplin dominated the formative years of the cinema, as actor and director, like no other. As we are told in an early chapter of this book, on his first visit to America in 1910, he is alleged to have shouted, ‘I am coming to conquer you. Every man woman and child shall have my name on their lips!’ Within a few years he had indeed conquered the entire movie-going world Full review...

Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler

4star.jpg Crime

The Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) has a new set of overlords. For reasons that were explored in the previous couple of outings they have been transferred to the City Of London Police. The Met are still the big players in the area. City of London Police only police the old city, the square mile, the financial district in other words, that has very little in the way of street crime, because no-one lives there anymore and the people who work there are, by and large, either too rich to need to steal, or too smart to have to do so on the streets. Full review...

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

3.5star.jpg Crime

Bill Hodges is a retired cop, spiralling down into a seemingly inescapable depression. Stuck at home each day watching dreadful American daytime TV, toying with the idea of shooting himself, it is only with the sudden arrival of a letter claiming to be from someone who committed an unsolved multiple murder, one of Hodges’ old cases, that he finds a new interest in staying alive. Is this actually the murderer? Why is he crawling out of the woodwork now? And can Hodges stop him from killing again? Full review...

Mariella Mystery Investigates: A Kitty Calamity by Kate Pankhurst

4star.jpg Confident Readers

When Mariella Mystery (amazing girl detective, aged nine and a bit) and the other Mystery Girls – Violet and Poppy – start to investigate the disappearance of their neighbour’s cat they think it’s going to be an easy case. Aren’t missing cats usually just stuck up a tree or off visiting a house where there’s tastier food? But the girls’ views begin to change when more and more cats start to disappear. Soon everyone in Puddleford is worried. The situation is suddenly serious and it’s up to the Mystery Girls to put an end to the catnapping. Full review...

Horrid Henry and the Comfy Black Chair by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Horrid Henry just can’t catch a break. Perfect Peter has been interfering with his weekend morning television watching, but mum and dad are clear it’s first come first served. So Horrid Henry hatches a plan to get up a bit earlier than usual and be the first one downstairs, gaining full uninterrupted access to the remote control in the process. It seems like Perfect Peter has the same idea, though, and however early Henry gets up, Peter’s already down there, beating him to it. Week after week he’s thwarted. Can he pull out a signature, and horrid, trick to finally get his own way? Full review...

The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

5star.jpg General Fiction

There are some authors who I pick up with a contented sigh, knowing that I am in safe hands. Alexander McCall Smith is currently my favourite, and thank goodness he is so prolific with his writing that my reading habit is fed on a regular basis! This is the tenth novel in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, and we settle down once more to a visit to Isabel Dalhousie in her beloved Edinburgh. Isabel is wondering, perhaps belatedly, if she is sometimes rather judgmental of people. In particular, she’s having an awful lot of qualms about her niece, Cat’s, latest romance. Will Isabel find herself forced to intervene, or can she sit back and let nature take its course? Full review...