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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Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk

5star.jpg Short Stories

What are we to make of that subtitle-seeming writing on the front cover – stories you can't unread? Does that not apply to all good fiction? Clearly it is here due to the reputation of the author, and the baggage his name brings to the page. We'd expect a dramatic approach from anything Palahniuk writes, and an added frisson, an extra layer, from which we might be forced to shrink back. But a lot of the contents don't quite go that far. Yes, things are dramatic, when society starts attaching defibrillators to itself, to create the perfect, simple, care- (The Price is Right-, and Kardashian-) free happiness. A man buys a horse for his daughter – but boy is it the wrong horse to buy. A man falls in love – yes, sometimes the plot summaries of these stories really are better off for being short (speaking of which, don't turn to the three-page entrant here as a taster, it'll put you off by dint of being, almost uniquely here, a nothing story). A call centre worker can't convince people he's on the level and even in their country – until someone starts riffing back to him. A housing estate report conveys bad regulation violations, but not as bad as the happenings at a 'Burning Man'-styled festival, in a very clever couple of tales. But many too are the instances where that extra step has been taken. Full review...

Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

The tag line on the cover of Dave Pigeon probably sums this story up. It's about How to Deal with Bad Cats and Keep (most of) Your Feathers. Or, if you want a bit more, it's about two Pigeons – Dave and his trusty friend Skipper – who are unceremoniously attacked by a cat while on a routine croissant heist. Dave's wing is injured so he and Skipper set out to get their own back at the vicious cat. They plan to evict Mean Cat from his home and install themselves in his place with the kind Human Lady and her enviable supply of biscuits. You won't be surprised that things don't go exactly to plan. Full review...

The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as unchanging as the seasons. The scarred veteran Mr Tiller, left disfigured by an impossible accident on the battlefields of France, brings with him a message: part prophecy, part warning. As Shirley's village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future reborn, she must choose between change and renewal – will the missives Mr Tiller brings prevent her mastering her identity? Full review...

1,411 QI Facts To Knock You Sideways by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin

4.5star.jpg Trivia

Handsome is as handsome does. And you know what else benefits from being curt and succinct, alongside old housewives' saws like that one? Trivia. I always thought the QI books such as this one to be handsome things – perfectly presenting trivia, four (on rare occasion, three) statements to the page, in a very nice little cubical hardback. Now they're being represented in paperback, but you know what? They're still handsome things. Full review...

The World of Norm: 10: Includes Delivery by Jonathan Meres

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It is a truth universally acknowledged that while kids' series generally start by covering a whole term time or even a school year, by the time it's worked out that more books are called for all the following volumes will concern less and less ground. This is a case in point – it being book TEN in this series means it's just regarding two flipping days. That way Norm can carry on having adventures without aging, with little in the way of consequence that people reading future books before seeing this one will have missed out on. In lesser hands, it generally means the author can churn out a whole book without much forethought or providing much content. Luckily this series isn't the usual, and the author here generally is better than the routine. Full review...

Griffin and Sabine 25th Anniversary Edition: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock

4star.jpg General Fiction

Oh Griffin and Sabine, where have you been all my life? I've loved epistolary novels and ones that take the narrative two-and-fro of letters and bring us closer to the sender than any omniscient narrator can hope to do. I've still got the childlike love of picking at an envelope stuck in a book to pull out a sheet of something else – not only is there the wonder at the handmade construction of something so bluntly and undeservedly called 'a book', but there is the frisson of being the first person to see this artefact ever. So how have I never seen this book before, and its cycle of sequels, concerning the correspondence between two completely different people? Full review...

Steven Seagull Action Hero by Elys Dolan

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Steven Seagull is a retired cop. He used to patrol Beach City but those days are over. He was fired, you see, so that retirement wasn't entirely voluntary. Fired for being a renegade (quite a fancy word). But a crime wave is underway and no one has been able to find the culprit. Can Steven be coaxed out of retirement to see if he can help? Full review...

Gorilla Loves Vanilla by Chae Strathie and Nicola O'Byrne

5star.jpg For Sharing

One day, I imagine it's probably a sunny Saturday, all the animals are heading to Sam's Sundaes for special treats. A bit like the wonder that is Marble Slab (google it), Sam can create any flavour you desire. Blue cheese flavour for Mouse? Easy. Worm flavour for Chicken? Ick…but not problem. Mud flavour for Hippo, fish finger flavour for Cat, time and again Sam gets it right. But then Gorilla arrives and all the animals strain to hear what this big beast will request… Full review...

Armadillos by P K Lynch

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Aggie is one of Texas' downtrodden. Dirt poor and abused. a 'sub' from a 'sub' familyHer father and brother enact that 'sub'-ness on her, week in, week out. She has only the vaguest notion that there is something wrong with the abuse she endures.. Full review...

Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards (editor)

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

I'm not big on short stories, but two factors nudged me towards this book. Firstly, it's broadly golden age crime, one of my weaknesses and secondly, the editor is Martin Edwards, a man whose knowledge of golden age crime is probably unsurpassed and he's done us proud, not only with his selection, but with the half-page biographies of the writers, which precede each story. There's just enough there to allow you to place the author and to direct you to other works if you're tempted. It's an elegant selection, from the well known and the less well known, all set in and around the country house. Full review...

Super Stan by Matt Robertson

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Stan is no ordinary little brother, oh no, because Stan can run faster and throw further and jump higher than his big brother Jack. Stan can also fly, of course! Poor Jack finds that even when he is helpful and kind, his little superhero brother can go one better, so when Jack finds someone's wallet on the floor and returns it, Stan captures a burglar in his car & carries the car to the police! So when it is Jack's birthday he is hopeful that perhaps for just one day, he will be the special one in the family, and Stan won't do anything to spoil his fun. Full review...

Miracle: The extraordinary dog that refused to die by Amanda Leask

4star.jpg Autobiography

Amanda Leask has been obsessed with dogs all her life and it's been an obsession which needs the world and a lot of it's attitudes to dogs to change for the better. She's not daunted by the obstacles: she's simply determined to do all that she possibly can to make the world a better place for dogs. Amanda lives with her husband Tobias, son Kyle and more than twenty rescue and sled dogs near Inverness. Very nice, you're probably thinking. Wouldn't we all like to have that sort of lifestyle? But hold on a minute. Full review...

The Girls by Lisa Jewell

4star.jpg General Fiction

When Clare takes her two tween daughters Pip and Grace to live in leafy Virginia Terrace, she is hoping for anonymity, a blank slate and a fresh start. Not so long ago, her story was in all of the newspapers when her paranoid-schizophrenic husband burned down the family home. Her new house seems a world away from her previous life. The crescent has a communal garden at its heart, where friendly neighbours socialise and children can run free. But does this new freedom come with a price? Full review...

1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin

4.5star.jpg Trivia

A spermologer is a collector of trivia. Just that sentence tells you a lot – we're once more in the realm of the curt, succinct approach to the world's information and oddities. It says more, however – beyond the weirdness of the word is the obvious necessity for the word to exist – without people that could be called collectors of trivia you would not need the term. And rest assured, there are currently few people that stand as better spermologers than the chief QI elves. Full review...

Cold Calling by Russell Mardell

4star.jpg General Fiction

Five years on, Ray still can't get over the loss of his girlfriend. Five years is a long, long time to pine and mourn but Ray just doesn't seem to be able to get off the treadmill of it all. The only meaningful relationships he has are with his therapist and best friend Danny. And it's not as though his job provides much in the way of escape - Ray works for an insurance company as a cold caller. This is how, one day, he comes to speak to Anya. Full review...

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

5star.jpg Confident Readers

It is the summer of 1975 and ten year old Ramie's dad has left home with another woman. Raymie is utterly heartbroken and believes that everything, absolutely everything, now depends on her, because Raymie has a plan. If she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition her name and her photo will be in the paper and then, Raymie believes, her father may just possibly come back home. At least she hopes that he will. To win the competition she must carry out some good deeds and learn to twirl a baton so she enrols in a baton twirling class where she meets Louisiana, timid and prone to fainting, and Beverly, cynical and determined to sabotage the competition. As the competition draws nearer and Raymie starts to despair that her plan will work circumstances conspire to draw the three girls together in an unlikely friendship that will challenge and change all three of them. Full review...

Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake by David Melling

4star.jpg For Sharing

One day, Douglas wakes up to find honey footprints all over his bed. He follows the footprints only to discover that not only is his house all sticky, but his honey is missing! Continuing to follow the trail, he discovers the honey-stealing culprits...the sheep! And what, do you think, are the sheep doing with all of Douglas' honey? Why, they're baking, of course! Full review...

Leviathan's Blood (Children) by Ben Peek

5star.jpg Fantasy

BEWARE, spoilers for Book 1 ahead: The immortal Zaifyr is now in prison on Wila where he's facing trial for the murder of Keepers Fo and Bau. Ayae, the former apprentice is no longer the small child who walked unscathed from a burnt out shop. All she wants to do now is save lives but she's frustrated at every turn. Captain Aned Heast is on a mission he won't let drop; he wants a name for his band of mercenaries but not just any name. Meanwhile be afraid; somewhere out there is the Child. The Child is coming. Full review...

The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Rachel is a journalist covering a local conflict between a land developer and the small village community of Charlton Ambrose. The developer wants to level Ashgrove, a group of nine trees planted to commemorate those in the village who died serving in World War I. As she investigates, Rachel realises that only eight of the trees have corresponding names of the fallen. The ninth is for a mysterious unknown soldier. Why unknown? Rachel is determined to discover his story and, in so doing, she also discovers part of her own. Full review...

Rose Campion and the Stolen Secret by Lyn Gardner

4star.jpg Confident Readers

The Victorian era in London – a time of expansion and exploration, but also of poverty, dark alleyways, youthful pickpockets and moustache-twirling villains. Well, so writers like Charles Dickens would have us believe, and readers can be pretty sure that a detective mystery set in the glittering world of the nineteenth century music hall will have colour, excitement and danger in profusion. Full review...

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Dylan walks away from this family's small London indie cinema in 2020 to live on a Scottish caravan site. His new neighbours Constance and her transgender 12 year old Stella have troubles of their own, but the odd British winter isn't helping. As the country faces true Arctic temperatures life goes on… or at least it tries to. Full review...

The Leopards of Normandy: Duke: Leopards of Normandy 2 by David Churchill

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Normandy 1037: Duke William at 9 years old is surrounded by guardians and advisors but not all of them have his interests at heart. In fact whether he lives or dies will have more to do with William's resilience than the custodial duty of those around him. Meanwhile the fight for the English throne across the channel seems remote and none of his business as the sons of Queen Emma jostle for Canute's old crown. It's getting closer though; one day William Duke of Normandy will be William the Conqueror. Full review...

Fault/lines (Hadron Damnation Book 0) by Mark Lingane

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

What starts off as a day that should be remembered for a medical appointment soon becomes anything but for DCI Tracey Hanson. When planes start falling from the sky she and DI Reggie Chambers are thrown together in the thick of it. In the midst of the carnage, a teenager is orphaned. Definitely a tragic event but is there more to it than that? Full review...

The Hunt by Paul Bird

4star.jpg Teens

This is Britain after the Very Big Crash. Life is very different, especially if you live in one of the lower suburbs under the Local Government's authority. Cush lives in one such suburb. He works as a detective in the floating Krawczyk building and, though he thinks it himself, is pretty good at his job. His wife Samir doesn't work, even though she'd like to, and spends her days at home reading those most antiquated of things: books. Their son Nim is sixteen and is obsessed with a video game called The Hunt. Cush and Samir fall out constantly over their differing approaches to Nim's obsession. Full review...

Bossy Jonathan Fossy (The Ever So Series) by Julie Fulton and Elina Ellis

4star.jpg For Sharing

Jonathan Fossy was ever so bossy, demanding that his Mum bring him chocolate and gum and then paint his bedroom bright blue. He made demands of everyone, including the neighbours (a ten feet wide boat with a cabin for him) and you might wonder why anyone put up with it. (I had in mind a sharp slap across the back of a couple of bare legs, but that's probably illegal, albeit effective, these days.) Finally PC Moran hatched a dastardly plan: I'm not going to tell you what it was, but suffice it to say that he got his comeuppance in a most effective way and was a decidedly more pleasant young man thereafter. Full review...

Big Nate Blasts Off by Lincoln Peirce

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

First things first, no – that title is not the puerile British schoolboy's meaning of blasting off. I'm not entirely sure why the book is called that, to be honest. But I do know that said British schoolboy – and many from many other countries too – will take to these pages, even if they have never seen any of the other books in this series. The humble hero with the spiky hair and quick wit is in trouble with (a) his comics of the teachers, (b) his finding the time to practise Ultimate Frisbee for an interschool cup, and (c) his emotions, as he falls big-time for the delightful Ruby Dinsmore. Yes, the very Ruby Dinsmore the main school bully also wants to hang out with… Full review...

The Body on the Doorstep by A J MacKenzie

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

On the marshes of Kent in the late eighteenth century, Reverend Hardcastle discovers a dying man on his doorstep. Narrowly escaping a bullet himself, he is entrusted with the dying man's last words which leave him questioning the mystery behind this anonymous man's death. With smugglers rife along the Kent coast, it seems as though it was a simple falling out amongst thieves, but the Reverend believes the answer to this crime lies deeper. Assisted by the brilliant Mrs Chaytor they set off to solve the mystery – but with smugglers lurking all through the county and the French threatening to invade, there are unsuspected dangers around every corner. Full review...

Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

5star.jpg For Sharing

Lucinda Belinda is extremely beautiful and she feels it's her duty to bring beauty to the world. And if this means telling others to sort out their eyebrows, lose their big behinds, file their nails or just up their grooming generally then so be it. Full review...

Love from Paddington by Michael Bond

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Consider some of the more pertinent questions of literature. Would things have been better if Rhett Butler did give a damn? What would Jane Eyre have done if the men with the truth hadn't made the church in time? And, of course, how does a little bear with a fondness for marmalade actually turn up in Paddington Station, so very, very far from home? Well, while the actual short stories may never have answered any of those questions, this work does – in amongst suggesting why bears don't play cricket, and a host more. As a result it may have a very different structure to the original books of linked short stories, but it's just as wonderful and characterful. Full review...