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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Wheat Belly: The effortless health and weight-loss solution - no exercise, no calorie counting, no denial by Dr William Davis

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Dr William Davis poses an interesting question: why is it that people who are leading an active life and eating a healthy diet are putting on weight despite all their best efforts? He has a simple and worrying answer: wheat, which he argues increases blood sugar more than table sugar. The problem isn't restricted to weight gain, either: there's evidence to suggest that wheat affects psychosis and autism too. In fact - the more that you read, the more you'll wonder if there's an organ in the body which isn't adversely affected by wheat. Full review...

1864: The forgotten war that shaped modern Europe by Tom Buk-Swienty

4star.jpg History

The brief but bloody clash of arms between Denmark and Prussia which took place in 1864 has never been regarded as one of the major 19th century European wars, and I cannot recall having ever seen a single volume devoted to it so far. In this book, which forms the basis of a new TV drama series, Tom Buk-Swienty has done us a service in reminding us that it had a far greater political impact than we may have appreciated. Full review...

The Pearl a That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Kabul 2007: Rahima and her sisters are followed home from school one day by a boy on his bike. He taunts them innocently enough as little boys do, but with no sibling brother, the girls are unchaperoned in this land that is ruled by the laws of men. And as daughters in a household without sons, in a country that is governed by fear, the consequences will weigh heavily for them all. Full review...

Recipe For A Story by Ella Burfoot

4star.jpg For Sharing

I’m sure you love reading, but have you ever wanted to write a book? Would you even know where to start? In this delightful, whimsical look at the topic, we learn that writing a story could be like baking a cake, with lots of ingredients mixed together in just the right way for a wonderful creation. Full review...

Horrid Henry's Mothers Day by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross

5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Horrid Henry isn’t always horrid. Did you know that? Sometimes he tries hard but someone still comes along to out-do him. Like goody two shoes Perfect Peter. With Mothers’ Day around the corner, Horrid Henry is determined to up his game, shame his brother and show he’s the best son. Yeah, I know. Even when he’s trying to be nice he’s being a little horrid, really, but still. It’s the thought that counts. Full review...

Frida and Bear by Anthony Browne and Hanne Bartholin

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Frida, the elephant, and Bear, the, um, bear, are great friends who love to play together. This book teaches us one of their favourite games and it stems from their mutual love of drawing. If you didn’t think that was a two-player activity think again. Full review...

Lupo and the Secret of Windsor Castle by Aby King and Sam Usher

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Based on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's real dog, this is Lupo's story, and although it uses the real Royals it is, of course, a fictional story as you soon realise with the talking mice from MI5 and the evil villain in the form of one of the Queen's Dorgi's (a cross between a corgi and a Dachshund). If you're looking for a fantasy animal adventure, with plenty of action, then look no further. Full review...

I Need a Wee! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

4star.jpg For Sharing

Is there anyone who looks forward to the potty training stage? No, I didn't think so. I'm there again at the moment with my little boy. Everyone delights in telling me how boys are a lot harder to train than girls. So far they're right! I was hopeful that this book might help things along a little but, sadly, it succeeded only in making all of us laugh (and left us hoping that our small boy didn't get any naughty ideas from it!) Full review...

Best Friends' Bakery: Cupcakes and Contests by Linda Chapman and Kate Hindley

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Hannah's favourite TV show is Junior Brilliant Baker, and when she hears that they are auditioning for new contestants for the show she simply can't wait to apply. She rushes to tell her best friend, Mia, about the competition as she's also a fan, but then what will happen if only one of them gets on the show? And what would they bake for the auditions? And would the show live up to everything they've imagined? Full review...

Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life by Michael Pronko

4star.jpg Travel

Adapting a Buddhist metaphor, Michael Pronko declares that 'writing about [Tokyo] is like catching fish with a hollow gourd.' In other words, it is an elusive and contradictory place that resists easy conclusions. Anyone who has seen the Bill Murray film Lost in Translation will retain the sense of a glittering, bewildering place that Westerners wander through in a daze. A long-term resident but still a perpetual outsider, Pronko is perfectly placed to notice the many odd and wonderful aspects of Tokyo life. Full review...

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

2005 Alabama: Sookie Earle awakes one morning a 59 year old happily married female Methodist with American roots that go way back in history and a wonderfully steadfast dentist husband. However before she goes to bed that night all that (apart from the married and female bits) will change.

1940s Wisconsin: a Polish immigrant family lose their men to wartime conscription and so have to make a go of their family gas station alone. Fritzi and her sisters rise to the challenge and then take on another more dangerous adventure, taking to the skies for the war effort. Full review...

The Mechanical (Alchemy War) by Ian Tregillis

5star.jpg Fantasy

There is a truce between New France and the Dutch; a truce during which the Vicomtesse Berenice wants to learn the secrets of the Clakkers. These are robotic slaves that power everything Dutch just beyond the New French border: culture, industry, domestic duties, transport and they're also the most dangerous, relentless kind of soldier the world has ever known. Common knowledge confirms they're incapable of free will, thought, communication or freedom. Common knowledge is wrong: Clakkers' free will is suppressed by pain, their thoughts and communication are only shared between themselves and their freedom? Jax may be a Clakker, but he's working on freedom. Full review...

The Storms of War by Kate Williams

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

England - 1914. The de Witt family live in Stoneythorpe Hall, an English manor that allows them to lead lives of relative luxury. Behind the ornate doors and heavy drapes of the house though, things are less than ideal - the approaching shadow of war makes things increasingly difficult for German born Rudolf, and Verena struggles to find her role in both the home and society. With their sons studying, one daughter marrying and one fast growing up, war will change all that these people know, and force them to either adapt, or suffer untold consequences. Full review...

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A Place called Winter is the story of Harry Cane, a young man in Edwardian England. Left with a sizeable inheritance, Harry follows tradition, marrying and raising a young child. A passionate affair, however, forces Harry into exile, separated from all that he knows, and forced to try his hand as a farmer in the plains of Canada.

In Canada he finds love and acceptance, although the fragile happiness is soon threatened by the return of an old enemy, war, and madness. Full review...

Meet Me In Malmo by Torquil MacLeod

3.5star.jpg Crime

British journalist Ewan Strachan was invited to Malmo in Sweden to interview film director Mick Roslyn. They'd been friends at University but had drifted apart. Strachan was holding on to his job in journalism by the skin of his teeth, but Roslyn had made it big time in Sweden and was married to Malin Lovgren, the glamorous star of his latest film. It hadn't been easy to persuade his editor to fund the trip, but when Strachan found himself at the door of Roslyn's home at the appointed time there seemed to be no one there. When he tried the door he walked in only to find Lovgren dead on the floor. Full review...

The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Rory Rooney is a boy who likes to be prepared. His mum owns a book titled Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared and he knows every page of it. Rory is the type of boy who knows how to survive a hippo attack. Then one day on a school trip Rory turns green. Not pale, feeling a bit queasy green but bright broccoli green all over. Even Rory isn't prepared for this. Full review...

Windhaven by George R R Martin and Lisa Tuttle

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

As a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I love George RR Martin’s writing style and the vivid world and characters he created, and was interested to see what his other work might be like. Conversely, not being at all familiar with Lisa Tuttle, I was even more intrigued to read this book. Full review...

Bears Don't Read by Emma Chichester Clark

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

You might think a picture of a bear reading a book, on the cover of a book itself called Bears Don’t Read is confusing, but it quickly becomes clear. George is a bear doing bear things with his friends and family but he’s getting a bit bored of the same old, same old. So when he finds a book some poor human type person has dropped he’s a bit excited. The only thing is, he doesn’t know how to read it, so he can’t release the exciting adventure that’s cooped up inside. With his fellow bears showing little interest in his find, he sets off for the town to try to locate someone who can help. Full review...

The Empire of Time by David Wingrove

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Otto Behr is a German agent, fighting his Russian counterparts across three millennia of history. With only remnants of the two nations remaining, Otto is forced to travel through time - changing brief moments in order to alter history forever. As the stakes grow ever higher - what will Otto be forced to do in order to end this war? Full review...

Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown

3.5star.jpg History

With Franco’s Crypt Jeremy Treglown has taken a highly charged subject – life in Spain under Franco – and placed it under what to some might appear a somewhat revisionist microscope. His aim appears to be twofold: to consider the nature of collective memory, particularly in the light of the exhumations of mass graves that commenced earlier this century, and, secondly, to examine – and celebrate - Spain’s cultural output during Franco’s years as dictator. Full review...

How to Get Inside Someone's Mind and Stay There: The business owner's guide to content marketing and confident copywriting by Jacky Fitt

4star.jpg Business and Finance

As a small business owner I know it's difficult - sometimes it feels impossible - to get your message out to your potential customers in a manner which is going to reward the effort which you put into it. Besides, how do you know who your potential customers are? How do you know how they would like to be approached? In fact, how are you going to get inside their head - and stay there? Jacky Fitt has written a comprehensive guide which takes you through what's needed and allows you to develop your own action plan for your business. Full review...

Tom Jones - The Life by Sean Smith

4.5star.jpg Biography

Few singers have sustained a career over half a century and appealed to succeeding generations in the way that the former Thomas John Woodward of Treforest has managed to do. Almost written off during a lean period or two, he proved himself the master of re-invention, and now in his mid-70s he is loved and revered as something of a national treasure. Full review...

The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith

5star.jpg For Sharing

Dolce and Gabbana would not like this book, that much I’m sure of. I think it’s ace, though.

Families are no longer 2.4 children with a mummy and a daddy. To be fair, that wasn’t even the case 30 years ago when I was a toddler, but most books at the time hadn’t clocked the change yet so in literature at least that’s what a family was. Not any more. This book, not the first of its kind, I’m sure, but a very welcome addition to the market, highlights and celebrates the diversity of family life in Britain today. Full review...

The Grindle Witch by Benjamin J Myers

4.5star.jpg Teens

Deep in the woods something evil is stirring...

You can say that again. Jack Jolly's father is a pathologist and neither he nor the armed police with him have ever seen anything like Tom Moore's body. Whoever or whatever killed the old man has carried out the most savage attack anyone has ever seen. And Jack, who has just moved to the remote village of Grindle from the city, had thought it a boring and dull place with unfriendly people, where nothing ever happens. How wrong could he have been? Full review...

Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Back in 1999, when The Hours won the Pulitzer Prize, Michael Cunningham set a precedent for depicting Woolf's later life and suicide. Nicole Kidman won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Woolf in the film version of the novel; she is best remembered for wearing a prosthetic nose. Fast forward 15 years. In 2014–2015 alone, three major novels about Virginia Woolf have been published. That confluence, especially in a year that does not mark a significant anniversary, speaks to a continuing interest in Woolf's life and writings. Full review...

Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

The rebellious cult leader is executed so that's that. Then someone steals the body. The police appoint Cassius Gallio to investigate but it all goes terribly wrong. He not only fails to find the body, the police informant from the initial conviction is killed in a way that mimics suicide. Gallio's career and life both stall until the case is secretly re-opened and he's deemed the man for the investigation as he's already comparatively invisible. It seems straightforward in that Gallio must uncover the truth but the people he needs to speak to are being culled one by one by the most innovative and bloodthirsty means. Full review...

Rose Water and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood

4.5star.jpg Cookery

Rose Water and Orange Blossoms began life as a blog. Maureen Abood grew up with flavours of the Lebanon around her - the scent of floral waters and cinnamon, lentils, bulgur wheat and yoghurt, but most of all, the succulence of lamb. She revisits the recipes which nourished her childhood, sometimes remaining faithful to the original, but occasionally giving them her personal twist. The whole family has contributed (even if not directly) to the food which she produces and sometimes the recipes have been handed down for generations, but it's not just the food which comes alive in her hands, but the people who come alive as you read. Full review...

Ghosts of War by George Mann

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

In 1920's Manhattan, a lone hero patrols the streets and the skies, using his immense wealth and futuristic technology to keep evil at bay. However, at the start of Ghosts of War, the Ghost is in mourning, following the tragic events that concluded Ghosts of Manhattan, the first book in the series. Thankfully for the Ghost (and for the reader) - Manhattan is under seige, and he has little time to lick his wounds. Mechanical winged beasts roam the skies, an alcoholic ex-lover is back on the scene, and a British spy may have to be dealt with in order to prevent a cold war turning hot... Full review...