The Bookbag

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The Bookbag

Hello from The Bookbag, a 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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Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki and Polly Barton (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Murakami, and (long before the film) Endo's Silence. That's my limit as regards contemporary Japanese writing. But now there's Tomoka Shibasaki, and her noted work Spring Garden. Which, make no mistake, is definitely Japanese. For instance, if I told you it starts with a man looking up to watch his female neighbour on her balcony, and concerns obsession, you could well think it was his about her. But no – perhaps only in the west is the gaze so male. The obsession is very much hers here, and it – and the novel – concern a singular house. And the very singular country it lives in, and the changes it is going through… Full review...

His Royal Whiskers by Sam Gayton

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

What would you do if your only son was accidently transformed into a cat? The Czar is beside himself, as a war chief, the emperor of the land, he needs an heir strong enough to follow his legacy. Instead, he has a fluffy ginger kitten. He is the laughing stock of his enemies, and he really needs to turn these odds back in his favour. So he forces those responsible to change the cat into a giant cat through the same magic they used the first time: alchemy. Full review...

English Animals by Laura Kaye

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

When Mirka gets a job in a country house in rural England, she has no idea of the struggle she faces to make sense of a very English couple, and a way of life that is entirely alien to her. Richard and Sophie are chaotic, drunken, frequently outrageous but also warm, generous and kind to Mirka, despite their argumentative and turbulent marriage. Mirka is swiftly commandeered by Richard for his latest money-making enterprise, taxidermy, and soon surpasses him in skill. After a traumatic break two years ago with her family in Slovakia, Mirka finds to her surprise that she is happy at Fairmont Hall. But when she tells Sophie that she is gay, everything she values is put in danger and she must learn the hard way what she really believes in. Full review...

Everybunny Dance by Ellie Sandall

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Children's book have a long history of the lion lying down with the lamb when most adults understand that the only thing that the lamb would be lying on is the lining of the lion's stomach. However, there is plenty of time to learn about what creature eats what creature and perhaps we should just allow children to imagine that bunnies like to dance the night away and perhaps even get along with a fox. Full review...

Scotland Yardie by Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

Things are grim in London. 'People of colour' can no longer stand at a bus stop or cross the road without white cops shooting them down, and planting drugs and guns on them. Heaven help them if their satnav leads them past certain corrupt coppers. But obviously one of the problems there is that there are no black police, so to encourage their growth Boris has built Jamaica a prison, and borrowed their finest – Scotland Yardie, a dreadlocked and heavily-armed skunkhead rasta. It's purely thought of as a PR exercise, but Yardie knows different. When you add on a mystery regarding a new chain of chicken shops, and the nasty cops, he has his work cut out. Seen? Full review...

Sarah Valentine, No Great Expectations Part 1 by Philip Valentine Coates

4star.jpg Biography

Sarah was the first of several children born in dire poverty to Jim and Sarah Valentine, and these pages tell her story from birth in December 1819 to her eighteenth birthday. Everything is vividly conveyed, from the poorly-clothed barefoot children in crowded living quarters in the Whitechapel Road area, without a lock on the door and with no possessions worth stealing except for the occasional shilling, to the noisy public houses with their fist-fights and the dirty, evil-smelling streets with sewage overflowing down the alleys and where epidemics spread all too rapidly. Full review...

Tilt by Mary Hoffman

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

To make an author, you first show someone books. To make a reader, you first show them the books they want to, and/or can, read. To make a builder, you first show someone buildings. I use those platitudes to introduce Simonetta, or Netta, who lives in Pisa late in the thirteenth century. She is surrounded by fabulous buildings – it's not for nothing the area will become known as the Field of Miracles, for the Cathedral, Baptistry and bell tower look gorgeous. But something is wrong with the latter one – it's definitely leaning, cracks are showing, and over the hundred-plus years it's taken to get this far people have built the floors at odd angles to correct the problem. Netta is intent on being the person who can solve it, alongside her father who's employed to finish it off. But therein lies the problem – it's all well and good showing someone buildings, and making them want to be an architect, but if they're the wrong gender then all hope is lost… or is it? Full review...

Neuromancer by William Gibson

4star.jpg Science Fiction

He still dreamed of cyberspace…all the turns he'd taken and the corners he cut in Night City, and he'd still see the matrix in his dreams, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void

Neuromancer follows Case, who used to be a cyber cowboy with exceptional hacking skills, before attempting to steal from his former employer, who as a result severed his connection to cyberspace by injecting him with a mycotoxin. No longer able to enter the Matrix, Case enters a dark depression having suicidal thoughts and developing a drug addiction, which is where the reader first meets our troubled protagonist and antihero. Waiting for someone to help him escape his misery, a mysterious stranger proposes a deal to restore Case's ability to connect to cyberspace in exchange for working for him. Surrounded by secrecy, Case joins the recruits on their mission to uncover artificial intelligence and start life afresh. Full review...

A Collection of Short Stories by Gillian Fletcher-Edwards

4star.jpg Short Stories

Marged Evans allowed a break-up with a lover to affect everything in her life. Osian wanted to invest in the present but Marged loved the past. Since they drifted apart, Marged's life has been careful, ordered, unadventurous. But then Osian sends her a Christmas card and everything changes. Marged Evans is the first and longest in this collection of short stories from Gillian Fletcher-Edwards. It's almost a novella and its initially slow pace sets off quite the masterclass in how one event can throw everything into unexpected - but lovely - chaos. Full review...

Until We Win by Linda Newbery

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

The best journeys are made with little steps. Lizzy is slowly leaving her boring village behind – by being cheeky yet clever at her lessons, and getting a job in an office in the nearest proper town – and by saving to buy, and teaching herself to ride, a bicycle. All that's under the watchful eye of a mother insistent she learns to knuckle down with the housework on behalf of the men, and an older brother working at the village hunt. At the office, however, further steps are suggested to her – shorthand and typing classes, but she gets diverted. A chance encounter in a tea rooms puts more stepping stones in her way – en route to becoming a fully committed Suffragette, concerned only with making demands for votes for women. Full review...

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

5star.jpg Teens

Flora Banks has anterograde amnesia. This means that she hasn't laid down any new memories since she was ten years old and had a brain tumour removed. She's now seventeen and can remember life before the tumour but can't hold on to anything that happened after that for more than an hour or two. She gets by with the help of her very protective parents and her best friend Paige, and from the endless notes she writes to herself that tell her who she is, what's wrong with her, and what's been happening in her life. Flora has a tattoo on her arm. It simply says be brave. Full review...

Worst Ever School Trip: Beaky Malone by Barry Hutchison

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Dylan 'Beaky' Malone has a reputation as a prolific liar. He lies to his teachers, friends and family and has become so good at it, he rarely gets caught out. Everything changed, however, when he stepped into Madame Shirley's magical truth-telling machine. Now it's impossible for Beaky to tell a lie, but worse than that, he now has a habit of blurting the truth out without warning. So whether it's telling the headteacher that his breath smells, confessing undying love for the dinner lady, or embarrassing his friends by sharing their deepest secrets, the saying: the truth hurts has never been more appropriate. Full review...

Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands

5star.jpg Confident Readers

London during the plague – a terrifying place to be in any era. And in 1665, a time when relics and blessings are considered just as effective – if not more so – than medicines, it spreads at a horrific rate. Imagine it: if one person in a family starts to show the distinctive signs, everyone in the household is sealed in, meaning that they too will almost inevitably succumb and die a painful death. Quacks sell all manner of rubbish to desperate townsfolk, and prophets draw large crowds as they preach repentance for sin. Full review...

The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire) by Ian Ross

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Warning: spoilers ahead for previous books in the series. 305AD: Castus Aurelius, following the death of his predecessor, has been promoted to commander (or vir perfecctissiums) of the Roman forces at the Rhine. He's also been ordered to take Crispus, Constantine's son and heir, for the character-building experience. That complicates matters as when Castus isn't trying to keep Crispus alive, he's finding it difficult to increase his own chance of survival, especially considering how the last Rhine commander met his end. Full review...

Harry Potter: Magical Artefacts Colouring Book by Warner Brothers

4star.jpg Crafts

With a big production film you can be almost overwhelmed by all that's there to see, but what most of us forget is that in the film-maker's archive there's an awful lot which we never get to see. Harry Potter: Magical Artefacts Colouring Book is packed with stunning pieces of artwork from the Warner Brothers archive, giving you the chance to colour the magic of J K Rowling's wizarding world. There are the props from the Harry Potter films: an enchanted map, a piece of jewellery that can turn back time, vials full of liquid memories and newspapers with moving photos. What an inventive brain that woman has! Full review...

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

5star.jpg Thrillers

It's Ireland, it's the 1980s, and a young woman is dead. Whether or not she deserved to die is up for debate, but Lydia, our first narrator, certainly thinks she had it coming. By the end of the book, Annie will not be the only person in whom life is extinguished, and for all the characters life will be irrevocably changed. Full review...

Kingdom's End by Charles D Blanchard

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

The rats made their massive colony inside the ruins of an abandoned motion picture palace, where for thirty long dark years, an aged blind leader ruled over them. A beloved figure held in high regard, he rules with patience, understanding, justice and love. When a young upstart challenges all he has built, ruling with harsh punishments and rash decisions, the rats must decide how best to protect their colony in order to preserve all that they have built together. As the rats clash amongst themselves, some fail to notice the ever growing threats and dangers that the outside world provides - who will come out on top in this very literal rat race? Full review...

What are Aunties Made Of? by Carna Brooks

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

We all know what little boys and girls are made of, although I have to confess to having always been just a little bit jealous of the puppy dog tails and quite willing to pass on the sugar, spice, slugs and snails. But what are aunties made of? Could it be:

Smelly old cars and old milk jars?
Or fragrances of lavender and roses in our noses? Full review...

Rockadoon Shore by Rory Gleeson

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Cath is worried about her friends. DanDan is struggling with the death of his ex, Lucy is drinking way too much and Steph has become closed off. A weekend away is just what they need. They travel out to Rockadoon Lodge, to the wilds in the west of Ireland. But the weekend doesn't go to plan. JJ is more concerned with getting high than spending time with them, while Merc is humiliated and seeks revenge. And when their elderly neighbour Malachy arrives on their doorstep in the dead of night with a gun in his hands, nothing will be the same again for any of them... Full review...

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

4star.jpg Teens

Jared Stone has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. It's inoperable and he has only a few months left to live. Desperate to ensure financial security for his family after he's gone, Jared decides to auction himself - the rest of his life, his death, everything - on eBay for a reserve price of one million dollars. Unsurprisingly, eBay cancels the auction as against their terms and conditions but that's okay because Jared has come to the attention of a reality TV producer... Full review...

Queen Munch and Queen Nibble by Carol Ann Duffy and Lydia Monks

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Queen Munch and Queen Nibble are two very different queens, in two very different kingdoms. Queen Munch, as you might imagine from her name, really loves her food. Her Saturdays begin with 'The Munching of the Breakfast' which is a grand extravaganza that her people all come and watch involving a grand setting, the Royal Musicians playing the 'Queen Munch Tune', dancing and an important reader of the menu, a delicious breakfast all finished off with a nice belch from the Queen! Queen Nibble, then, is much the opposite of Queen Munch. She is tall and as pale as a stick of celery! She lives alone, barely eats, but she makes beautiful jewellry from raindrops. One day, Queen Munch invites Queen Nibble over for a visit, and what will happen when these two extremely different rulers come together? Full review...

The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor

4.5star.jpg Travel

Meet the Isles of Scilly. (I know they should be called that – the author provides a handy guide to the etiquette of their name, their nature and location, etc.) For our more distant readers, they're several chunks of granite rock out in the Atlantic, where Cornwall is pointing, with just 2,200 permanent residents. They're big on tourism, and big on growing flowers in the tropical climate the Gulf Stream bequeaths them – although the weather is bad enough to turn any car to a rust bucket within years. They're so wee, and so idyllic-seeming, especially at night, you can be mistaken for thinking there would be no need for a police presence. But there is – at least two working at any one time. And one of them in recent years has been Colin Taylor, who has done his official duty – alongside maintaining a well-known online existence, which has brought to life all the whimsical comedy of his work. Full review...

Living With Depression by Nick Weatherhogg

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Nick Weatherhogg has been diagnosed as suffering from severe depression. Many of you will be nodding wisely and thinking that you know how he feels: but there are two points he wants to make here. You don't know how he feels. This is his depression and only he knows what it feels like - if he's able to think or express how he's feeling. The other point is that there's a big difference between feeling depressed and being depressed - fepression and bepression as he terms them. He's right: I've been there. My feelings, my experience will have been different, but I do know that it was hellish. He describes the experience as a mental state in which your brain regularly and consistently lies to you. Full review...

View from the Cheap Seats by Barry Holland

4star.jpg Anthologies

A little bit about Barry Holland: he was born in Newport, South Wales, to working class parents. He loves rugby and his son - his son is his favourite rugby player, which is just as it should be. He is a qualified engineer but is unable to work because of mental ill health. All of these things feed into View from the Cheap Seats, which is a collection of poems and imaginings as vivid and immediate and striking as you could hope for. Barry sounds like a thoroughly nice bloke and his book was a pleasure to read. Full review...

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's the mid nineteenth century and Thomas McNulty has left his home in Sligo, his family dead from famine, to make a new life in a new nation. He teams up with prairie fairy - a dancer in drag - John Cole and together they sign up for the US Army. Their journey will take them through the American Indian wars and eventually to the Civil War. Along the way, the two soldiers form a lasting bond with a young Sioux girl called Winona and their travels take them from Missouri to Wyoming and Tennessee. It's the story of perhaps the most violent birth of a nation in history but it's also a convention-defying love story. Full review...

Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest by Julian Gough and Jim Field

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Rabbit was struggling. There he was having a nice, peaceful sleep in his friend Bear's cave when a terrible noise woke him. Was it thunder? No, it was Bear snoring. Very loudly. Rabbit tried putting his paws over his ears although that's not very successful when you have small paws and very big ears. But there was something good: when Rabbit went outside the cave he realised that spring had sprung. Suddenly he felt strong. After a winter spent in his friend Bear's cave it was time to go home to his burrow. Only there was a surprise lurking there - and it looked suspiciously like a snake. Full review...

Under A Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill

4.5star.jpg Horror

Seb Logan is being watched. He just doesn't know who by. When a dark figure appears and shatters Seb's idyllic life, he soon realizes that the murky past he thought he'd left behind has far from forgotten him. What's more unsettling is the strange atmosphere that engulfs him at every sighting, plunging his mind into a terrifying paranoia. To be a victim without knowing the tormentor. To be despised without knowing the offence caused. To be seen by what nobody else can see. These are the thoughts that plague his every waking moment. And once his investigation leads him to stray across the line and into mortal danger, he risks becoming another fatality in a long line of victims. Full review...