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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Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

4star.jpg General Fiction

After seventeen year-old Vera's mental breakdown, her father Lucas takes her on a trip to the tiny Lithuanian town of Vilnius to recover and reconnect with their family history. Full review...

Hendrix the Rocking Horse (Fables from the Stables 2) by Gavin Puckett and Tor Freeman

5star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

Poor Hendrix. He has a nice life and a nice farmer's field, but he's bored. All the excitement of the world is just too far away, except for the time the fairground came to town, complete with Ferris wheel, rides, stilted jugglers and the Tumbling Pebbles playing a gig. He could hear all of their concert – even dancing and prancing around his field as a result. But little did he know what would happen when the lead guitarist's instrument literally fell off the back of their tour bus, and Hendrix had a chance to find the music within… Full review...

Get Coding!: Learn HTML, CSS & JavaScript & build a website, app & game by Young Rewired State

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Learning to code, even heading into my seventh decade, changed my life and for today's children it's important because it opens so many doors. It might look complicated, but all it required is concentration and - eventually - imagination. I had a reasonable mastery of the skills of basic HTML in three days with the benefit of a personal tutor, but where to go if you don't have that privilege or if you need some extra support? Get Coding! seems like the perfect answer. Full review...

Dragons: Ten Entrepreneurs Who Built Britain by Liam Byrne

4star.jpg Business and Finance

Liam Byrne MP, a minister in the last Labour government, has come up with a novel way of telling British history through the ages in this book. His approach is not one of Kings and Queens, wars or scientific discoveries, but through the business world and several of the key – and often unsung – entrepreneurs and commercial venturers from medieval times to the twentieth century. As he says in his preface, the people through whose lives he has chosen to narrate the saga reveal the best and worst of human endeavours, as he serves us up several explorers, inventors and moral leaders alongside a motley crew of fraudsters, warmongers and unembarrassed imperialists. All of them took risks, some made fortunes and some lost them, but for better or worse they all contributed towards the tale of British enterprise and the making of the modern world. Full review...

Artist in Residence by Simon Bill

5star.jpg General Fiction

The nameless protagonist of artist Simon Bill's first novel is almost instantly dislikeable. He's a slob with an alcohol problem whose endeavours in the art world appear lackadaisical and who seems to have behaved questionably to his ex-girlfriend Susan. In his antihero, Bill gives himself an uphill struggle to keep the reader turning pages, let alone engage their sympathy. And yet, Artist in Residence is a funny, thought-provoking, informative read which is all the more enjoyable for the mental and emotional demands it places on the reader. Full review...

The World's Worst Children by David Walliams and Tony Ross

5star.jpg Confident Readers

At last David Walliams has produced a book for me. I'm damned sure the previous ones (eight full novels and four picture books, and counting) are fine enough quality for me to consider, but I'm contrary. Whether the author sells ten copies or a million I'll look for the more esoteric titles on their list – the essays not the novels, the short stories that get ignored and not the big-sellers, the Lee Scoresby spin-off and not the full His Dark Materials. But if you think that makes me bad – a reviewer who can spout about only the less populist works – I'm sure you will agree, after reading these pages, that I could be a heck of a lot more bad, if I tried. The children here, what's more, don't have to try. Full review...

Nemesis by Alex Lamb

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

I'm not a great lover of back-cover blurb, but every now and again it tells you everything you need to know…if you read between the lines. Hugely promising said SFX. Hits the ground running said the Guardian. I can't disagree with either of those two statements. Unfortunately for this particular reader, it ran very quickly into a swamp of dense pseudo-scientific-explicatory-strangle-weed. And didn't live up to the promise. Full review...

Paralian: Not Just Transgender by Liam Klenk

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

Paralian is an Ancient Greek word, meaning one who lives by the sea. Here, we follow the author's journey through life, narrated by his relationship to water – the river he grew up near, the oceans he crosses, and the water that later becomes his place of work. A tumultuous journey, we follow the author in his quest to find authentic self and happiness, against an incredible array of adversities. At five months old, Liam was adopted from an orphanage – and thus began a journey to conquer childhood disability, issues with parents, marriages, divorces, and gender dysphoria. Full review...

Top Of The League by Andrea Mills

3.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Football is known as the beautiful game and when I was younger I kind of believed this. I would spend my free time playing Heads and Volleys with my mates and then go home to try and complete my Panini sticker album. There was even the halcyon days when Blackburn Rovers won the title. As I have grown older, my cynicism has grown too. Leicester may be champions, but the day I feel that a group of multimillionaires beating a group of slightly richer multimillionaires is a win for the everyman, will be a sad one. Perhaps the love of football still burns bright in the youth of today? Top Of the League certainly hopes so as it is full of facts and figures all about the ball they call foot. Full review...

Fatal Pursuit: A Bruno Courreges Investigation by Martin Walker

4star.jpg Crime

Two young racing drivers come to the Perigord region to hunt for clues as to the whereabouts of the missing Bugatti Type 57c Atlantic. Only four were made and three are accounted for - but stories would have it that the missing car is somewhere in the Perigord. It's more than seventy years since the car was last seen and that was in war time - but it's worth finding: a Californian museum paid $37,000,000 for one of the cars. One of the young racing drivers has local connections and another is in a relationship with Annette, a magistrate. The race to find the car is not going to be kind. Full review...

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G S Denning

4.5star.jpg Paranormal

A wise fictional character once said that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. With this in mind – what is Sherlock Holmes? A genius eccentric whose mind works on a different plain, or perhaps the more obvious option is that he was a Warlock? Surely his ability to see what others cannot is more likely to be through magic, rather than intellect? Full review...

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Oh, The Places You'll Go is the classic Dr Seuss tale of one man's journey through a bizarre land. The book takes you on a trip into the imagination of an author who was never shy of the bizarre. You will sail high into the sky in a hot air balloon and walk through strange forests with trees that you have never seen. One thing is for sure, this will not be a dull outing and if you are new to Dr Seuss, one you may never forget. Full review...

The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee

5star.jpg Popular Science

We live by stories. Novelists weave tales that may or may not reflect reality, and that we accept as their job: to create fictions with intriguing character plots that draw in, surprise and touch the reader is at the core of their job description. But story telling goes beyond profession: everyone, writer or not, sometimes more consciously, sometimes less, creates their own history, selects memories that they retain, repress others, and constantly weave together a story of who we are, a tale of identity. Full review...

Mystery and Mayhem by The Crime Club

5star.jpg Confident Readers

There are days when all you want is to shut out the world and sink into the delights of a detailed full-length story, crammed to the covers with fascinating characters and plot twists. And then there are days when you require something shorter – a tale that's nonetheless richly colourful and exciting, a perfect jewel of a story that will stay for you for days afterwards. Well, luckily for you, the twelve members of The Crime Club provide both! Full review...

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

The Great Detecitve's ghost has walked London's streets for an age, given shape by people's memories. Now someone's put a ceremonial dagger throug his chest. But what's the motive? And who - or what - could kill a ghost? When policing London's supernatural underworld, eliminating the impossible is not an option. DI James Quill and his detectives have learnt this the hard way. Gifted with the Sight, they'll pursue a criminial genius - who'll lure them into a Sherlockian maze of clues and evidence. The team also have thier own demons to fight. They've been to Hell and back (literally) but now the unit is falling apart... Full review...

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

As a Bristol-area 'phenomenaut', nineteen-year-old Kit projects herself into the lab-grown bodies of all sorts of creatures. She's recently spent a lot of time as a fox (appropriate given her nickname) and got particularly close with a vixen named Tomoko. It's becoming much harder for her to leave the animal world behind at the end of her 'jumps'. Even after Buckley, her neuroengineer, signals her to 'Come home' and she resumes her original body, she has trouble giving up animal tendencies like territorialism, toileting outdoors and raiding bins. Full review...

Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Trying to find a tiger's smile is no easy feat. The chances are that it will be on the end of their face and this is a face full off teeth, attached to a powerful cat with claws. Personally, I would leave finding a tiger's smile to someone far more trained that I, or the animal themselves. Thankfully, Augustus is a practical chap and he sets out to discover what exactly did happen to his smile. Full review...

Private Investigations (Bob Skinner) by Quintin Jardine

4.5star.jpg Crime

When Bob Skinner's wife has a yearning for a particular cake from Marks and Spencer he thinks nothing of taking a detour on his way to work, snatching the last one available and heading back to the car. It's then that the fates start being naughty. Reversing out of his parking space he's hit by a speeding BMW - only the driver doesn't get out to exchange insurance details and offer apologies. He gets out of the car and legs it. Checking his own car for damage Skinner notices that the boot of the beemer is slightly open - something which presumably happened on impact - and his attempts to close it mean that it opens instead and the body of a small child is revealed. Full review...

Night Monkey, Day Monkey by Julia Donaldson and Lucy Richards

5star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

A night monkey should only be awake in the night. A day monkey should only be awake in the day. They should never have to experience the 'wrong' side of their routine. But what happens when they each in turn wake the other up, and night monkey has to suffer the brightness of day, and the day monkey the spooky life without sunlight? Well this lovely book is what happens – proof positive that despite the old adage, polar opposites can be a twain that can meet – and just about get along perfectly well, thank you. Full review...

Little Sister (Detective Pieter Vos) by David Hewson

4.5star.jpg Crime

Late one night, after a talent content on the waterfront, Kim and Mia Timmers returned to their home to find a scene of utter carnage and their mother, father and sister dead. It would have hit any eleven-year-old child hard, but the dead girl, Little Jo, was their triplet and there was a special bond between the three of them. The girls then left the house and apparently murdered the lead singer of The Cupids, a world-famous band, in the belief that he had been responsible for the deaths of their family. Officially there didn't seem to be any doubt about what had happened to the musician, despite the fact that there were certain points about the murder scene which might have suggested that someone with more worldly experience was responsible. Full review...

How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

4star.jpg General Fiction

It is with a heavy heart that Emilia Nightingale returns home to the pretty Cotswold town of Peasebrook. Her beloved father Julius has just passed away; his legacy, a well-loved bookshop that serves as a beating heart to the community. Julius was loved by all: he always had time to listen to his customers and share a recuperative cuppa in times of need. However, his finances were another matter entirely and Emilia wonders how she can keep the bookshop open with an ever-mounting pile of debt. Greedy property developer Ian Mendip would be only too happy to help out, but can Emilia really give up on her father's dream? Full review...

Minecraft: The Survivors' Book of Secrets by Stephanie Milton

3.5star.jpg Entertainment

Ready to take your Minecraft game to the next level? Then you just might need the advice of a professional. 'The Survivors' are an elite group of gaming experts who are proficient in survival skills. They are breaking their cover to share their most precious secrets with us; valuable insider knowledge on the best ways to survive and prosper in the most inhospitable online environments. Minecraft proudly present their latest official book: The Survivors' Book of Secrets. Full review...

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

5star.jpg Fantasy

Two spies employed by the Republic of Seresta are sent to the court of Jad's Holy Emperor Rudolfo, 'The Destroyer'. The first, Leonora, knows what she's doing right down to hiding behind the cover of a sham marriage assigned for that purpose. The second, Pero, is a young artist kidnapped for the task. He has no previous experience but he's expendable so that's not completely necessary. Events transpire to ensure that both spies will need to rely on mariner and merchant Marin and Serjani fighter Danica more than they think. Yet even they can't stop the conflict that's on the horizon. Rudolfo has his eye on extending his empire globally and Jad help anything that gets in the way. Full review...

Fire by CC Humphreys

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Puritan/former Roundhead Pitman and former highwayman/Cavalier Captain William Coke have formed a deep respect for each other. Their first mission was to track down the Fifth Monarchists, an organisation out to avenge those who were found guilty and hanged for signing Charles I's death warrant. That was then, during the Great Plague. A mere year later, the Plague has lessened but the Fifth Monarchists are back, taking Pitman's and Coke's interventions personally. We therefore find our heroes defending themselves, their families, the monarch, and, on top of that, a new disaster is about to hit the capital. Full review...

No Pasaran: Writings from the Spanish Civil War by Pete Ayrton (editor)

4star.jpg Anthologies

In ¡No Pasarán!: Writings from the Spanish Civil War, Pete Ayrton has chosen a majority of texts by Spanish writers, arguing that the conflict has long been written about from the point of view of the international brigades. Full review...

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator)

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Sixteen-year-old Mani Stein - Moonstone in translation - existed on the fringes of society. He lived in Reykjavik and in 1918 the night sky (and the day for that matter) was lit by the eruptions of the Katla volcano. The Great War was raging, or possibly grinding on, but life in the capital carried on much as usual. There were shortages, such as coal, but there was the new fashion and it was for the movies that Mani lived, seeing every production he could, sometimes several times. He dreamed about the films, changing them to suit his tastes, working his own life into the plots. But there was another reason why Mani was a misfit: Mani was gay and frequently made a living as a sex worker. Full review...

Mapping the Airways by Paul Jarvis

4.5star.jpg Art

Before I start, there is nothing wrong with being an anally retentive trainspottery type. Having said that, do you see what on the front cover of this first edition marks this book out as being completely and utterly for the trainspottery type? It is the fact that the foreword is both credited, and dated. Yes, unless a major change was imminent and the Executive Chairman of BA was going to be someone else within weeks, this book gladly states that March 2016 was when he put finger to laptop and came up with his page-long contribution. Have you ever known such attention to detail? I guess it's to be expected, when the book concerns such a singular entity as the visual history of charts and maps as used by the airlines that became British Airways. Full review...