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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Robert Crowther's Pop up Dinosaur Alphabet by Robert Crowther

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

ABC books could stand for A Boring Concept, but you might want to wait until you find out what the D is before making a decision. In this case D stands for Dinosaurs and there is nothing boring about them. There is also nothing boring about pop-ups. The two together may just join up to make something pretty special. Use this book to learn your basic alphabet and gain the some pretty intellectual knowledge on dinosaurs; from Allosaurus to Zapalasaurus. Full review...

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel

5star.jpg General Fiction

Katie and her friends in Elephant Beach, Long Island are going to make the most of summer 1972. High school is behind them, there's booze to be drunk and weed to be smoked. There's also a lot to contend with. This is a working class community, ignored and disenfranchised by those with the money and influence to help. Also the Vietnam War rages on, producing local heroes like Luke and Mitch. For some of the young people the future is a blank canvas, for others their future is foreseen or foreshortened. As for Katie's hopes and dreams, they all revolve around the hope of a date with Luke. Full review...

Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her Son John Julius Norwich 1939-1952 by Diana Cooper

4star.jpg Autobiography

Though she is perhaps little remembered these days except as the mother of writer and historian John Julius Norwich, Lady Diana Cooper was one of the towering figures in society life between the wars and for much of the period before her death in 1986. Full review...

Blazing Obsession by Dai Henley

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

When our story starts we know that events are going to be cruel to James Hamilton. We might be envious of his high-end car business, with multiple dealerships and (as we later find out) a home in one of the nicer parts of Blackheath, but a couple of years down the line he'll be visited in his office by two policemen who tell him that his holiday cottage went up in flames the previous night and there are three bodies in the shell of the building. James won't believe that he's lost his wife, Lynne, stepson Georgie and daughter Emily. He was going to leave shortly to join them, so obviously there had been a mistake... Full review...

Tight-Lipped by David Barrie

4.5star.jpg Crime

It's a little bit different in the UK but in Paris intellectuals are lauded in much the same way as rock stars. Jean-Jacques Marsay is a philosopher and equally as famous as his wife, the beautiful and talented actress, Carine Dufour. Marsay is writing a book about Appoghiu Terra - an eco-terrorist organisation - and its leader Gabriel Agostini. His editor is Virginie Desmoulins - or rather was - because Virginie was murdered at her flat in a rather unusual way. The case is being investigated by Captain Franck Guerin of the Brigade Criminelle and he and Agostini have a history. Agostini shot and seriously wounded Guerin when Guerin was with his previous employers, the French version of the security services. He was moved on to the Brigade Criminelle when it was thought that he might have become just a little too sympathetic to Agostini - and Agostini to him. Full review...

Hummingbirds in My Hair: Adventures of a Diplomatic Wife in the Caribbean by Pamela O'Cuneen

4star.jpg Autobiography

Pamela O'Cuneen was what is known in the business as a 'diplomatic wife': the spouse of a diplomat sent abroad to represent his country. It's generally unpaid and extremely hard work - I've always thought of it as one of the original BOGOF deals. When we first meet Pamela she and her husband, KJ, have been transferred from their beloved Africa to Suriname, or Suri-where? as people always responded when it was mentioned to them. It used to be Dutch Guyana on the Caribbean coast of South America and there are few people who would think of it in terms of a holiday destination. Full review...

An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

The Naremores, a family with a troubled past, leave London in search of peace in the quiet Somerset countryside. Finding the perfect home – 'The Hollow' – appears to symbolise a turning point and the end of all their problems. The Hollow seems possessed of a healing magic which can restore health and relationships as well as hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, the positive power of the Hollow is suddenly challenged and the family are plunged into horrors that perhaps they should have foreseen… Full review...

The Moon Pool by Sophie Littlefield

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

Comfortably off Colleen Mitchell is loath to let her 20 year old son go to North Dakota to work on the oil rigs but he's made up his mind. Unfortunately her worst nightmares begin to materialise when he vanishes soon after starting work. So, leaving her lawyer husband at home, she follows her maternal instinct to where he was last seen. His big corporate employers and the local police don’t seem that concerned. However, in her suffering there is another person who knows exactly how Colleen feels: Shay, the mother of another lad who went missing at the same time. Hoping it's not too late they join forces and start their own investigation. Full review...

Shifting Shadows: Stories From the World of Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

To recap, then – meet Patricia Briggs. Besides one standalone book Aralorn her many novels have been set in one universe – a world in the NW USA where all kinds of fantasy creatures live in amongst humans, whether officially or otherwise. Car mechanic Mercy Thompson is part-coyote, and therefore can shapeshift, but we've also seen how she has other minor talents in solving problems and identifying threats that other aspects of the fantasy world can deliver. Her colleagues have been fae, her best friends (and worst enemies) vampires, and she's now the partner of the region's alpha werewolf – who employs a witch as fixer; everywhere you look there is lore as to how all these species interrelate and the books drip with rules about every aspect of living beyond the mundane. So far there is a minor trilogy set on the edges of Mercy's world, but eight major – and majorly successful – books fully focussed on her. But Patty Briggs must clearly have a very restless imagination, and a will to narrate strong stories, and the results have also led us to this fat volume of short stories, that come from instances, characters and times scattered throughout her mythology. Full review...

Black Greek Coffee by Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou

4star.jpg Short Stories

If your experience of Greece is as a tourist then you'll almost certainly think of it in terms of history, mythology and startlingly white buildings against sapphire blue sky and sea. It looks idyllic, but there's a darker side to Greek life, explored by Konstantina Souzou-Kyrkou, in Black Greek Coffee - a neat metaphor for the lives she looks at: sharp, bitter but ultimately addictive. In twenty three short stories she illuminates the chauvinism and superstition, the concepts of honour and the status of women, the dominance of religion and the lives led by ordinary people. They sound like grand themes, but the stories are grounded in domesticity and there will be few people - in any country - who have not been touched by one of the problems. Full review...

Good Dog Lion (Little Gems) by Alexander McCall Smith

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Being a firm fan of Alexander McCall Smith's novels for adults, I wasn't surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this children's story. Written with the same gentle understanding of human nature, and so very deftly told, I read this story with a great deal of pleasure. Although the story behind Timo's life is rather sad, with his father leaving him and his mother when Timo is only young, and his mother then struggling to find enough money to raise both of them, it never descends into tragedy but remains positive and upbeat. It's a story of strength, and bravery, and I'm not just talking about Timo and his mother. Full review...

Seen and Not Heard by Katie May Green

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

During the day the eight children of Shiverhawk Hall are seen and not heard for they are images captured on canvas. 'Don’t they look so sweet and good, so well behaved like children should?' They certainly look a picture, picked out in the silvery moonlight. As night sets in and all is quiet, only the black cat and a handful of mice are there to see the portraits come to life and step out of their frames. What mischief can these children from across the ages make? Full review...

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

4star.jpg General Fiction

Rachel Joyce envisions The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy not as a prequel or sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry but as a companion volume. Giving Queenie's side of the story through an extended letter she is writing to Harold from St Bernadine's hospice as she awaits his arrival, Joyce gives readers a new perspective on her character's unrequited love for Harold, a surprising friendship she kept up with his son David until his suicide, and her sudden move from Devon to Northumbria, where she lived in a quaint beachside cottage and maintained her sea garden until she became ill with cancer. Full review...

The Bonkers Banana by Allan Plenderleith

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Father Christmas has a problem. Because the house had no chimney he had to use his magic dust to shrink himself down so that he could slip into the house through the keyhole. All went well until the very tiny Santa bumped into a fruit bowl containing just one banana and all his magic dust flew up in the air - and landed on the banana. The banana was rather pleased - brought to life he jumped up and down and began dancing and singing - but Father Christmas was distraught. Without the magic dust he couldn't ride his sleigh and deliver all the presents. Eventually the banana calmed down sufficiently to realise that Santa had a problem and the only way out of it was for banana to fly Santa to the moon so that he could get more magic dust. Yes - I know - it's bonkers. Full review...

Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

When the author of a book is also the illustrator, and he has a wild and thoroughly silly imagination, it's not surprising if that book is swiftly turned into a highly successful film. This story, part of the Ratsbridge Chronicles, is a lively and wondrously eccentric tale of greedy villains bent on revenge, brave and resourceful heroes of all shapes and sizes, and brilliant (if occasionally sinister) Heath-Robinson-style devices. Full review...

Thunderbirds Comic: Volume 1 by Gerry Anderson and Frank Bellamy

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet the Thunderbirds. If you don't know anything about the Tracy family and their International Rescue organisation, then I'm not sure where you've been. For people of a certain age (OK, mine, at least) they were the staple of Saturday morning cinema clubs, a highlight of BBC2 when repeated teatime, and even managed to make those 3D rotating card-a-vision things worthwhile. They've been in cinemas since then, of course, but now with the world needing everything everywhen we've got a welcome chance to look back at some of the original comic book spin-offs, that probably haven't been much seen since then. With five volumes of these books on the cards, it's worthwhile sticking to the first and seeing just what these retro delights – or otherwise – could bring. Full review...

One Step Closer To You by Alice Peterson

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Single mum Polly has a lot of baggage, but it all basically boils down to two things, boys and booze. She’s been to hell and back, but for right now, she seems to be doing ok, holding down a job in a café, looking after son Louis and staying off the sauce. She’s even in a position to help those she meets, like her fellow AA-ers and single dad Ben at school who is adjusting to his new role. Full review...

Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

The reign of Henry VIII is drawing to a close. It's heresy to speculate on the death of the king, but obvious to anyone who sees the bloated man who can barely walk that he cannot have much longer. Matthew Shardlake is still drawn to the queen - Catherine Parr as was - but he'd prefer to avoid court politics particularly when there's someone as suggestible and changeable as Henry on the throne. Ultimately though he doesn't feel that he has much choice when he's summoned to Whitehall Palace. It seems that the queen has a problem which could put her life in danger - along with the lives of all those who are seen as her supporters. Full review...

Beautiful Patterns by Various Authors

4.5star.jpg Crafts

If you are going to make a colouring book aimed at adults I say do it 100% and go all out. You can keep your minimalist landscapes or your naïve animals; give me a page packed to the gills with something that needs filling in. This can make a creative colouring book for grownups feel more like a military operation, but at least you will have fun doing it and improve your skills. Full review...

The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

The opening of this book is a brilliant one, being thrust into the midst of Stella’s confusion as she wakes with no memory in a first aid station near the front line. She knows nothing other than the fact that she can drive an ambulance, and the reader knows nothing more than her. She soon discovers that she can draw, too, and this is a really nice angle to help learn about her and her past without having to unveil everything all at once. I think the use of present tense within this novel works incredibly well in order to keep the reader at the same speed as the character, and it’s also a writing style I enjoy as a whole because it’s a little bit unusual and brings a different pace to the text. Full review...

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

5star.jpg Teens

Sorry-in-the-Vale has been taken over by Rob Lynburn and his merry band of evil sorcerers. But Kami Glass has never been one to let danger of death and dismemberment stop her on her quest for truth. And Kami has to know the truth about what happened to Jared, Jared who rescued her brother and hasn't been seen since. Full review...

Indian Summer by Marcia Willett

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Mungo is a retired actor and director. His brother Archie is a landowner, struggling to make ends meet. Kit is a good friend who comes to stay, wanting a safe place while she decides whether or not to get in touch with a former boyfriend. Neighbours include Emma, an army wife with two small children who is tempted to an affair with a friend of her husband’s, and the elderly brothers Philip and Billy who have a secret that’s been hidden for forty years... Full review...

The Wolves of London - The Obsidian Heart Trilogy (Book 1) by Mark Morris

5star.jpg Fantasy

Alex Locke has grown from the young petty criminal he once was. Now a psychology lecturer with a beautiful 5-year-old daughter he has every incentive he needs to stay straight. It would take something devastating to make him return to his former life but devastation happens. Alex is coerced into doing on last job: stealing a piece of heart shaped obsidian from someone it didn’t belong to in the first place. What are the consequences? What's so special about this piece of rock? As all hell breaks loose, Alex is about to find out. Full review...

The Twilight Hour by Nicci Gerrard

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Eleanor has been persuaded by her children to seriously consider sheltered accommodation. At the age of 94 and blind, she isn't considered safe rattling around a big old house. She doesn't surrender without conditions though: before she considers moving out, a stranger should be employed to sort her photos and papers before burning them. The family agree and Peter is appointed. Gradually he realises why Eleanor doesn’t want her children to see the documents as the story of hidden life, love and loss is revealed. Full review...

Cover Your Eyes by Adele Geras

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

For London fashion journalist Megan forbidden love ends suddenly and painfully, just when she thinks it will blossom into something lasting and legitimate. Elsewhere, in the countryside, Eva Conway lives with her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters in Salix House – the house that Eva used to call her own when she was a famous fashion designer. Now she feels alone, even in the heart of her family. Not only this but she also faces the loss of the home that means so much to her. As Megan and Eva's paths cross they discover that each of them has a dark guilty secret eating away at them, but then Salix House has secrets too. Full review...

The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

4star.jpg Fantasy

Revelation (Reve) Maskelyne is the latest of a long line of girls named Revelations in the Sears family. This has a significance she's unaware of as she divides her time between a happy marriage, parenthood and sharing the limelight with her husband Jeremy as illusionist team The Amazing Maskelynes. Until the day she kills Jeremy… The tragic event triggers the realisation that someone has been stalking Reve for most of her life. For the protection of her 15-year-old twins and 10-year-old daughter, Reve runs to Hawley Five Corners, a large New England estate that's been in the family for centuries. Reve has always known that not all magic is illusion but now she has to rely on that. Full review...

Twinkle by Katharine Holabird and Sarah Warburton

5star.jpg For Sharing

Pink. Glitter. Magic. Right from the start this book has all the ingredients needed to be a hit with little girls. I hate to stereotype but there’s no denying it with this one. From the author of Angelina Ballerina comes the first in a new, rather magical series. Full review...

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Stella is an author working on her second book. Though now back in Ireland, she talks of a life in New York. It sounds fabulous. But something has changed. Whatever it is, we’re not sure. Maybe the mighty have fallen, the stars have stopped colliding. Either way, that adventure is over as the book starts. It’s not where the story starts, though, and we’re soon plunged back into the past, with the events that have lead Stella to this point. First on the list, a serious illness, without which nothing that followed would have happened, or at least not in the way it did. This may sound confusing but the book is anything but, and despite its great length, I sped through it. Full review...