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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Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band by Simon Callow

4.5star.jpg Biography

Orson Welles, the noted actor, director and producer, was one of those larger than life characters whose impact on the world of stage and screen during his lifetime was inestimable. Simon Callow has found the task of condensing his story into a single volume is impossible, and this is the third of three solid instalments. Full review...

Crush by Frederic Dard and Daniel Seton (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

In this story of Thelma and Louise, it's Louise we meet first, through her narration. She's a seventeen year old, telling us of a quite awful and smelly satellite town of Paris she lives in, with the sight of factories and stench of food processing plants keeping her company. She lives at home with her mother, complete with hare-lip, and abusive step-father, and is working at one of those factories until she sees a paradise in their midst – the ever-sunny, sexy and sophisticated life of an American NATO worker and his wife. Impulsively, she asks to be their maid – and indeed moves into the couple's large, messy home. But little does she know what lurks in the shadows in that building, behind their gigantic car and their cute porch swing and al-fresco dining – the unhappiness, and even the tragedy… Full review...

Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Kate Shackleton felt that she needed a holiday and since it was August when nothing ever happened, she decided that it was the ideal time to visit her friend Alma and goddaughter Felicity in Whitby. The timing was good too - Mrs Sugden was going to visit her cousin in Scarborough and Jim Sykes was taking his family to Robin Hood's Bay. Perfect! Well, it would have been except for a couple of things... Full review...

The Cornish Guest House (Tremarnock) by Emma Burstall

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

The Cornish Guest House is the sequel to the best-selling Tremarnock which introduced us to hard-working Liz and her disabled daughter Rosie who were adjusting to life in a small Cornish village by the sea. The sequel begins six months after the first book, and Liz and Rosie are happily settled in their new lives and enjoying the warmth of the close-knit community. The village is soon abuzz with gossip, however, as a new couple have just moved in and are planning to open a guest house. The affable and good-looking Luke soon charms the neighbours by immersing himself into village life. His wife Tabitha, on the other hand, seems aloof and reserved. Could she be hiding a secret? Full review...

The Dhow House by Jean McNeil

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Rebecca Laurelson is an English doctor working in an African field hospital in the midst of a political conflict when she is suddenly and inexplicitly forced to leave her post. She goes to stay with her estranged Aunt Julia and her family on Africa's east coast away from the violence and daily blood shed of war, however their lives are full of beach and cocktail parties which contrast greatly to Rebecca's way of living. But the threat of war is on the horizon for Julia's family and their fellow white Africans – terror attacks are on the rise all along the coast and Rebecca knows more about it than the rest of her family. With unrest brewing will the true reason for Rebecca's hasty departure from her post be revealed? Full review...

Highest Mountain, Deepest Ocean by Kate Baker, Zanna Davidson and Page Tsou

3.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The greatest thing a good library can do is lie in wait, holding the weight of the entire world on its shelves. Let alone all the imaginative fiction it can take guardianship of, it can also store a huge gamut of facts, opinions and true tales, transporting a reader when they choose to take a book down and read it wherever they want to go. This book is one of those that can take you places, too – 3.6 metres down into the earth, where a Nile crocodile might have dug itself to lay out a drought, its heart beating twice a minute; or to the hottest or driest, or most rained-on place. It can take you back to prehistory and size you up against the biggest raptors and other dinosaurs, or to the centre of the very earth itself. There the pressure is akin to having the entire Empire State Building sat on your forehead – now that's weight indeed… Full review...

Secrets of the Sea by Kate Baker and Eleanor Taylor

3.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When the young are urged to explore the world around them, we adults never state it, but there's a huge section of the world they are quite unlikely to go investigating in. And for obvious reasons – it can be slightly dangerous even to enter it, and while it's huge it's not on every doorstep. I'm talking about the ocean, of course – which is where books such as this come in to explain and illustrate the topic. With so much of it to be researched and encountered, you never know – this book might well inspire a pioneering discovery some time in the future. Full review...

The Widow by Fiona Barton

5star.jpg Thrillers

Newly widowed Jean Taylor is being interviewed by top investigative reporter Kate Waters. Jean sees that she's not like the other reporters, Kate's not battering down Jean's door, she's nice, patient, she feels like a friend. But Jean isn't completely fooled, Kate wants to know about her husband, about the terrible crime he was accused of, how Jean feels about him now and the most dangerous question of all… what Jean knows. Full review...

Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas by Alison Uttley and Margaret Tempest

4star.jpg Confident Readers

It's a little known fact that Alison Uttley used to live in my local pub. Not in an alcoholic sort of way, but when the building that's now a pub used to be something else, she was one of its residents. There's a sign on the wall and everything, right next to the table where I recently enjoyed an impromptu tiffin-tin curry one Friday night when I hadn't prepared anything for tea and really didn't fancy starting to do so. Little Grey Rabbit is far less slovenly than I am, and would never be so under prepared. A proper domestic goddess, in this book she demonstrates her ability to bake Christmas treats, source unusual gifts, decorate the house and all the while supervise the other animals. Full review...

Sinner Man by Lawrence Block

4star.jpg Crime

Everybody has to start somewhere, but if you are as prolific a writer as Lawrence Block, you may no longer be able to find the beginning. His first crime publication came and went in the early 60s and fifty years later he did not have a copy as the book had been published under an alias with a different title unknown to him. In 2016 that book has surfaced in the form of Sinner Man and has all the hallmarks of the veteran crime writer's early books; murder, dubious characters and a bit of pulp naughtiness. Full review...

The Purple Shadow by Christopher Bowden

4star.jpg General Fiction

Colin Mallory is a young actor in Paris. Colin had been working with a theatre company putting on English language Shakespeare productions. They were popular but unprofitable so Colin is now at a loose end while his partner, Bryony, is off shooting a film. Before returning to London, Colin meets up with Paul Barnard, an art gallery director and his sister's partner. At the Galerie Marion Ducasse, Colin and Paul come across a painting. The portrait of a young woman turns out to be Sylvie Ducasse, the great-aunt of the gallery's owner. Full review...

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

5star.jpg Teens

Three Dark Crowns is a high class fantasy novel following a set of triplets: Katharine, Arsinoe and Mirabella, who are each gifted with specific magic and are equal heirs to the crown. Katharine is a poisoner with the ability to ingest the deadliest poisons, a girl who cannot die. Meanwhile, Arsinoe is a naturalist, who has the power to bloom flowers and control the fiercest animals. Finally, Mirabella is an elemental, one gifted with the ability to create fire and incredible storms powerful enough to topple buildings. On the island of Fennbirn, as is tradition, the queens are separated at the age of nine and fostered by families who share their magic. From that point onwards, they are each trained to use their magic as a weapon in the fight to the death against the other sisters. On the night of the sisters'sixteenth birthday, they will each begin their quest to secure the throne and become the rightful Queen. While the crown awaits the victor, death awaits the two weaker queens. Full review...

I'll Be Home For Christmas by Benjamin Zephaniah and Others

5star.jpg Teens

Publisher Little Tiger and homelessness charity Crisis have got together and produced I'll Be Home For Christmas - an anthology of short stories from some of the most popular writers on the UK YA scene. The stories are connected by the theme of home. What does home mean to you? Is it your house, the physical place where you live? Is it your family? Your friends? Home can mean different things to different people, can't it? The book opens with a powerful poem by Bookbag favourite, Benjamin Zephaniah. The following stories are disparate - some telling tales of hardship and fear, some warming the cockles of your heart. But all of them are about home. Full review...

Beneath The Skin by Sandra Ireland

4star.jpg General Fiction

Robert Walton is ex-military – a soldier suffering from combat stress and what he now realises is clearly PTSD. He prefers to be called Walt; it's short and simple and Walt likes things that are not complicated. Alys is fragile, damaged and complicated and not the kind of woman Walt is looking for. A taxidermist by trade – a rather macabre one at that – Alys enjoys creating Walter Potter style tableaus in a slightly horrifying tribute to her sole career influence. Alys runs her business from her home, which she shares with her sister, Mouse and Mouse's son William. It's a strange set up and though Walt needs the job – of handyman/gopher/taxidermy assistant must not be squeamish – room and board included, he wonders what he has let himself in for. Full review...

Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery

4star.jpg Teens

Tired of Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity..? Maybe you'd prefer something more gritty, something more 'real?' Welcome to the evolution of reality TV: Death is Justice gives you, the viewer, the power of life and death. Listen to the evidence, decide whether the condemned criminal is guilty or innocent and then simply text DIE or LIVE to 7997 (Calls cost £5).

Since the abolition of the court system a few years ago, the power of jury has been given to the people. Those accused of murder have seven days in seven cells, each with their own particular method of psychological torture. On the last day, the accused is led to Cell 7, dominated by the imposing electric chair in the centre. As the public votes pour in, viewers wait with eager anticipation to see if there will be a live execution that evening... Full review...

Life 2 the Full by Raymond Floodgate

3.5star.jpg Lifestyle

Raymond Floodgate is a certified Reiki master and teacher amongst other things. He was a practitioner and instructor of Shokotan karate, but concluded that it wasn't right for him. He's now moved to Tai Chi, Qigong, and meditation: but his primary aim is preventing illness and it was this which tempted me to read his book. After a health scare some years ago I took a hard look at my lifestyle, changed a lot about the way that I ate and exercised - and have never looked back since: I was interested to know what Floodgate could add to my knowledge. He stresses that the changes he'll suggest will not make you live longer but they will make you live better. Full review...

A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe

4star.jpg History

From the tragic tale of Mary Clifford, whose death at the hands of her employer scandalised Georgian London, to Victorian Manchester's scuttling gangs, to a duel obsessed cavalier, author James Sharpe explores the brutal underside of our national life. As it considers the litany of assaults, murders and riots that pepper our history, it also traces the shifts that have taken place in the nature of violence and in people's attitudes to it. Why was it, for example, that wife-beating could at once be simultaneously legal and so frowned upon that persistent offenders might well end up ducking in the village pond? How could foot ball be regarded at one moment as a raucous pastime that should be banned, and next as a respectable sport that should be encouraged? Professor James Sharpe draws on an astonishingly wide range of material to paint vivid pictures of the nation's criminals and criminal system from medieval times to the present day. He gives a strong sense of what it was like to be caught up in a street brawl in medieval Oxford one minute, and a battle during the English Civil War the next. Looking at a country that has experienced not only constant aggression on an individual scale, but also the Peasants' Revolt, the Gordon Riots, the Poll Tax protests and the urban unrest of summer 2011, this book asks – are we becoming a gentler nation? Full review...

The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes - Christmas by Rebecca Jones

5star.jpg Crafts

Have you ever opened a Christmas card and had a sense of deja vu? It might be that you've already had a couple just like this one (it's one of the more popular ones being sold by M&S this year...) or you recognise it the design which a major charity sold last Christmas - and which they started selling off at half price in the Boxing Day Sale. Either way, you don't feel particularly special. An embroidered card is lovely, but not everyone has the skills and if you buy them they're a frightening price. But I've just discovered a relaxing, satisfying way of producing individual cards at a reasonable price: The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Christmas. Full review...

The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Thirty-something writer Vince Watergate sees his partner's pregnancy as a fresh start. He stops taking his lithium and the new clarity of mind lets him start writing his best work in ages. He befriends a blackbird in the garden with the help of a bag of sultanas, and begins preparing the baby's room. For a short while, everything seems full of peace and hope. But Vince and Lyd's first child, despite having died a couple of years earlier, might not have completely left them and the blackbird might not be as friendly as Vince first thought. Lithium withdrawal, stress, and the pressure of appearing 'normal' push Vince into a frightening, irrational place. Can he fight his way through it and return to his family? Full review...

The World is Elsewhere by Chris McIvor

5star.jpg Autobiography

As a Country Director, Chris McIvor has worked for a number of years at Save the Children. 'The World is Elsewhere' covers his time there and, his journeys across a number of countries. It is a beautiful mix of autobiography and travel. It also captures his philosophical thoughts on international aid. He reflects on both the good and the bad with a very easy, conversational writing style that makes the book truly captivating. I read from cover to cover in a single sitting, unusual for a reviewer. Such was the draw as he laid himself bare. Full review...

Cartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop

5star.jpg General Fiction

Postcards from Greece keep arriving at Ellie's flat addressed to former occupant Sarah Ibbotsen by a man signing himself as 'A'. They may not be for Ellie but she keeps them anyway and displays the pictures of blue sea, beaches and countryside until she can't resist it any longer; Ellie's off to Greece for a break. Just before she leaves home a package arrives from A. Something very different from the fragmented comments on the cards. This is a journal full of the stories told by people he's met while travelling and coming to terms with a love affair that ended almost before it began. So for Ellie the journal becomes her guide book and the journey begins. Full review...

The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costeloe

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

On her 21st birthday Adelaide discovers a family she wasn't aware of: a Mother Superior aunt in a French convent and a father who died in WWI rather than Richard - her mother's husband and the man who raised her. Adeline decides to go to France for a short holiday in order to learn more from her aunt that her family knew as Sarah Hunt. Both Sarah and Adelaide part, hoping that they will see each other again soon and they will, but in circumstances that neither of them envisaged. As the Second World War begins and Germany captures France, there's danger ahead for each of them. Full review...

Floored by Mark Lingane

4star.jpg Fantasy

1.Nemo has been brought back from death by Doctineer Viktor. The fact that she was once dead combined with her new form as a pleasure bot makes her worthless – a human/robot hybrid zero. But even zeros have ambitions, even if they're dangerous. Full review...