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. We can even direct you to help for custom book reviews! Visit to get free writing tips and will help you get your paper written for free.

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Santa Claude by Alex T Smith

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Ah Claude! He is such an endearing little dog. He's back on an adventure with Sir Bobblysock and this time it is a Christmas adventure. There are baubles and trees and carols and reindeer and, of course, there's trouble! For who else but Claude would accidentally handcuff Santa to an armchair on Christmas Eve, and then need to deliver all the presents himself? Full review...

Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face-and the Great Kerfuffle Christmas Kidnap by John Dougherty and David Tazzyman

5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's Christmas Eve and Father Christmas is missing. Brother and sister Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face wake up in the middle of the night expecting to find a huge pile of presents. Instead they find a huge pile of nothing. They know something must be wrong because they have been good all year long (honestly). The only possible answer is that Father Christmas is in trouble so they have to save him and save Christmas for everyone on the island of Great Kerfuffle. Full review...

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol: A Colouring Classic by Vladimir Aleksic and Kate Ware

4star.jpg Crafts

A Christmas Carol has always been my favourite book by Charles Dickens. Perhaps it's the fact that it's a novella rather than the usual brick of a book, but the plotting has always seemed tighter and the story more fast moving. I also like to idea of Ebenezer Scrooge not so much getting his comeuppance as his seeing the error of his ways. I've read the book and seen numerous film adaptations - now I've had the opportunity to do some relaxing colouring of scenes from the classic story. Was it fun? Full review...

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

5star.jpg Teens

They don't know who we are. Not really. They don't know what we've done, what we've managed together… so let's show them they picked the wrong damn fight.

First things first if you haven't read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo yet, the first book in the duology, you should read it as soon as possible, buy it or borrow it before anything else and then read Crooked Kingdom. Trust me, because while Six of Crows is unimaginably clever, with diverse characters and a brilliant heist plot, Crooked Kingdom is on a whole other level. Full review...

The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

4.5star.jpg History

After a series of individual biographies on the major Tudor women, mostly royal, this book brings a new dimension in touching on the lives of individuals from all walks of life. However it is much more than a collection of lives. While the Queens and princesses naturally dominate some of the chapters, it looks beyond the surface to devote attention to serving maids, businesswomen, activists and martyrs, as well as focus on various aspects of life for women and girls in Tudor England. Full review...

Ludwig the Space Dog by Henning Lohlein

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Before there was Neil Armstrong and before there was Yuri Gagarin, there was another explorer of Space – Laika. This was no man however, but a dog. Laika was one of the first animals to explore space; the less said about her fate the better, but surely her adventures would encourage other canines to explore the great beyond? Ludwig is one such Mutt and although we may not have a rocket ship to help him with his adventures, we do have a set of 3D glasses. Full review...

Fred by Mick Inkpen and Chloe Inkpen

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It's tricky being a puppy. There are so many things to try to understand, like sit, and stay, and fetch! Whilst the pup in this story has learned all of these tricky commands, and is doing very well at being a good boy, he is having some issues around the word 'Fred'...what on earth does everyone mean when they keep shouting it at him? Full review...

101 Things To Do When You're Not Drinking by Robert Short

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If you're thinking about giving up alcohol long term, short term or for Dry January then you might be wondering if it's going to leave one helluva hole in your social life. You might be thinking about what you'll do with the time you normally spend out socialising (just having a quick one before you get the train home...) as well as the time you spend recovering from having had just one too many the night before. Sunday mornings will loom large as uncharted and largely unknown territory. Robert Short has a few answers for you - well 101 of them in fact - in a pocket-size book which should give you some inspiration. Full review...

The First Ever Christmas: And Who to Blame by Gray Jolliffe

5star.jpg Humour

If I tell you a secret, will you promise not to tell anyone? Well, I really don't like Christmas: it's my least favourite time of year and whilst some people count down to the day itself, I look forward to that point when I can say that it's all over for another year. It's all too commercialised for me, with a coating of faux religion. I've never found it in the least funny - that is, until I found Gray Jolliffe's The First Ever Christmas: And Who's to Blame. Amazingly, I'd never encountered Gray Jolliffe either, but I'm a convert to his skills as a cartoonist (if not to the idea of Christmas) after reading this collection of Christmas-themed cartoons from his archive. Full review...

The Storm Whale in Winter by Benji Davies

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The Storm Whale in Winter is a sequel to the highly popular The Storm Whale. Noi's father embarks on one last fishing trip before the Arctic Winter sets in. All alone, with his six cats, Noi patiently waits for his father's return. As night sets and the sea begins to freeze, Noi starts to worry and believes he can see his Dad's boat from his bedroom window. Full of courage, he sets off out in the snow to find his Dad. Getting lost in the blizzard, Noi is in need of help which comes in the form of his old friend. Full review...

Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond by David Long and Kerry Hyndman

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

There can be few people who are not captivated by stories of survival - those people who by chance, through knowledge but mostly because of their strength of will, survive against all the odds. Survivors is a collection of such stories of people, some of whom knew that what they were doing was dangerous, but many are those who found themselves in situations which seemed impossible, but who didn't give up. The result is a wonderful mixture of the scariness of the peril and the glorious uplift of survival. It's insightful, inspirational and all absolutely true. Full review...

Crafting with Feminism: 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy by Bonnie Burton

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For far too long it has been accepted that men will have free choice as to what they do and that women will somehow accommodate and adjust around them. It's been a hard fight to get to where we are now - and there's still a way to go, particularly when you read the views of people such as Member of Parliament Philip Davis, but the cause can't always be moved forward by being deadly serious, no matter how serious the cause: sometimes what you need is a little whimsy. We might take the cause seriously, but we don't take ourselves too seriously. And besides, what's better than to unleash your creativity? Full review...

A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

4star.jpg Horror

I don't normally go in for horror stories, mainly because I usually can't take them seriously enough to suspend disbelief. But A Head full of Ghosts appealed to me, somehow - perhaps I was just curious to read the novel that scared the living hell out of Stephen King. Or maybe I was interested to see how Paul Tremblay dealt with the schizophrenic behaviour of his teenage protagonist. And I was certainly intrigued by the highly original storyline described in the blurb: when Marjorie, a teenage girl, starts behaving erratically, her family can't cope and call in the local priest and, ultimately, a TV crew who start to film a reality show about exorcisms. Full review...

Theory of Mind by Sanjida O'Connell

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Sandra works in a zoo, studying the minds of chimpanzees, mankind's nearest living relatives. Her involvment with the animals starts to affect her own relationships, in particular that with her new boyfriend Corin. His energy stimulates her, his passion excites her and his work as a TV producer fascinates her, but are his feelings real, or does he want to control her? As her feelings preoccupy her, Sandra continues her research into the emotions of chimps and whether or not they are capable of empathy. During a visit to the zoo, Sandra meets a strange and isolated child, Paul, son of one of the keepers, and she also meets Kim, a scientist who has built a killer instinct into the robots she makes. As Sandra worries about her friends and her relationship, things race to a thrilling climax - putting much more than Sandra's emotions at risk. Full review...

The Sword of Hachiman by Lynn Guest

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Set at the dawn of the Shogun era, The Sword of Hachiman follows two warrior clans, the Minamoto and the Taira, as they struggle for power under the Emperor. At first the Taira are in uneasy control, but the three Minamoto sons, separated at birth, plan to secretly reunite in order to defeat the Taira and avenge their Father's death. The youngest, Yoshitsune, is deemed most worthy and is granted the family heirloom, the Sword of Hachiman, the War God. Initiated into love and espionage by a young Taira noblewoman, and tested in the ferocious hand to hand combat that is his birthright, we follow Yoshitsune as he meets his faithful retainer, Benkei, and as he goes behind the scenes of the Cloister court, where two extraordinary women enter his life… Full review...

Threadbear by Mick Inkpen

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We have all had a special teddy, the teddy which is not perfect, the one that would never be classed as beautiful but the one that is loved more than any other. Threadbear is that very teddy. The man who made him put so much stuffing in him that his arms and legs were too hard. Sadly, because of all the extra stuffing, the squeaker in his stomach has never squeaked. Not once. Ever. Threadbear feels he is letting his Ben down, so he embarks on a mission to fix his squeaker. He tries and tries but fails, until he decides that there is one special person he must meet and maybe this will be the only person who can fix his squeaker. Full review...

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield

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This is the story of a boy and his Grandma. An award-wining architect, Grandma promises to build the boy a special house on a hill over the horizon, over a city and beyond the sea. But Grandma is getting old – too old to make houses. And, one day, she is gone. Without Grandma, the house is empty. It’s just rooms. But the boy has an idea – it requires a lot of work but the result is totally magical. Full review...

The Demon Undertaker by Cameron McAllister

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Fourteen-year-old Thomas has already seen much sorrow in his young life –notably the death of his beloved father and the accidental loss of his own hand. His mother hopes to give him a new start by sending him away from Virginia to join his uncle Sir Henry Fielding, chief magistrate of London, but before the boy has even had the chance to greet his new family he is embroiled in a life and death chase through the grimy back streets of the capital in the hopes of rescuing a young noblewoman. All London is agog: what happens to the people who disappear, never to be seen again, and what exactly does the terrible masked fiend in the hearse want them for? Full review...

A Piglet Called Truffle by Helen Peters and Ellie Snowdon

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Living on a farm, with her father who works as a farmer and a mother who is a farm-vet, Jasmine has spent all her young life learning how to care for animals. On a visit to a neighbouring farm, Jasmine is excited to see the new baby piglets. Expecting to see eleven piglets, she is stunned to find one extra - a tiny little runt hiding in the corner. Being smaller than her hand, the farmer has no sympathy and expects it to die by the end of the day. Of course, Jasmine can't allow this to happen. The story is then set for a struggle to save the smallest piglet, called Truffle. Full review...

Writing Lines by Tony Stuart

4.5star.jpg Humour

George Gordon Wentworth (1946 - 2011) lived a humdrum life. He was a barely adequate teacher in a fairly world renowned independent school in Kent and kept a copious diary of his quotidian existence. Most of what he recorded was dross. However, amongst all the utterly uninteresting tailings of his life there were some nuggets and grains to catch the attention. Author Tony Stuart has created these amusing anecdotes, panning them out over twenty six episodes which give us the best of Wentworth - comedy gold. Full review...

The Song Machine: How to Make a Hit by John Seabrook

4star.jpg Entertainment

The popular music business has always been about – well, business – and some might say that music comes a poor second. Ever since the advent of the 78 r.p.m. disc, record companies have competed with each other and sought new ways of marketing their goods. The songwriter, or if you like the person or partnership at the controls of ‘the song machine’, has long been a vital link in the chain. In today’s climate of increasingly free music, how much does this still hold true? Full review...

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Megan Shepherd has written a stunning tale, which is exquisitely illustrated by the artwork of Levi Pinfold. Secret Horses tells the story of a young girl and her friendship with a magical winged horse. When Emmaline is evacuated from Nottingham during the Second World War, she enters a fantasy world of discovery behind the silvery glass of the mirrors in her new country home at Briar Hill. An old sprawling mansion once owned by a wealthy family, Briar Hill has become a children’s hospital run by Nuns. Emmaline and the other children are struggling to recover from a serious illness and have been quarantined away from their families. To add to their plight, they worry about their fathers away at war and their mothers left at home to face bombing raids and the scarcity of food. Emmaline and her friends are carefully nursed by the Nuns through the harsh and snowy winter of 1941. This is a story of bravery and fortitude, good and evil and how one small child can find light even in the darkest of places. Full review...

Spinderella by Julia Donaldson and Sebastien Braun

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From high above the classroom, Spinderella watches in fascination the classroom activities at Scuttleton Primary School. She wants to be able to do two things: play football and count. However, her family of spiders are only interested in flies, flies and flies. They also have no desire to learn how to count Down with numbers they all cry. Unperturbed by their lack of enthusiasm, Spinderella goes in search of numbers and playing football. Along the way she meets a familiar wish granting character (no spoilers here) and her journey begins. Full review...

The Road More Travelled: Tales of those seeking refuge by David Beckler

5star.jpg Short Stories

The Road More Travelled is an anthology of short stories - and one poem - written in response to the refugee crisis as it exploded across our TV screens and newspapers throughout 2015. To the horror of the authors, the language used by many was aggressive and dehumanising, describing this mass of desperate people as a swarm or a horde. The stories together form a response to this othering. Full review...

Letter to Pluto by Lou Treleaven

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Letter to Pluto is a story told through an inter-planetary pen-pal friendship. Set in the year 2317, writing with a pen and sending letters has certainly become a dying art-form. However, Jon’s teacher, Mrs Hall, decides it is important to keep the art of letter writing alive. The only difference is that Jon’s pen-pal lives a long way away. 75 billion km to be precise. On Pluto. At first the idea of writing at all is bad enough, but when Jon finds out that his pen-pal is a girl he nearly quits the programme. Encouraged by his teacher’s bribes of merit awards for his best writing, Jon soon learns that Pluto is not as boring, small and smelly as he first thought. Full review...

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

4star.jpg General Fiction

The USA is an odd place at times, and not just during election season. There are all sorts of nooks and crannies, places that time forgot, places that ‘’people’’ forgot. Broken Wheel, Iowa is one such place. You’d have no reason to go unless you knew someone there. And Sara does, her pen-pal Amy. Invited by Amy to come for a visit, and with time on her hands due to a recent redundancy, Sara packs her bags (and her books) and buys a plane ticket from her native Sweden to the US of A. Full review...

Tell Me No Lies by Lisa Hall

4star.jpg Thrillers

Steph, husband Mark and son Henry have just moved into a new house. That always leads to a fresh start, but even more so here as there are a few dodgy incidents in the past they are trying to move on from. Fingers crossed it’s all going to work out well. As a freelancer, Steph doesn’t have regular colleagues, but the neighbours seem nice enough even if some of the other mums at the school gate are a little stand offish at first. With Mark away a lot with work it’s up to Steph to make the house a home and get Henry settled in the run up to Christmas. Full review...

Conquest: Daughter of the Last King by Tracey Warr

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Princess Nest ferch Rhys is the only legitimate child of Rhys ap Tewdr (there's a surname to make hist-fict addicts smile!), the last king of Deheubarth, Wales. Playing on the beach with her brother one day she's captured by Norman soldiers. From there she's held hostage by the noble Montgomery family, loyal to King William Rufus. The standard of captivity in which Nesta is kept isn't bad. Lady Sybil is particularly kind to her, realising that Nest is still mourning the deaths of her father and most of her siblings at the hands of men from that same household. There is an ulterior motive though. The object of Sybil's attentions is to make Nest a suitable wife for English nobility but she's already promised to a Welsh prince. Who will Nest actually marry and, more importantly, will Nest have any say in it? Full review...