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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Generation by Paula McGrath

4star.jpg General Fiction

How can we know the effect that our choices may have on the next generation? Even a seemingly minor decision has the potential to create ripples and waves of unforeseen repercussions in the future. This fascinating theme is explored in “Generation”, an intelligently-written début novel that approaches the subject from multiple perspectives over an eighty-year period. Full review...

Colour Me Mindful: Birds by Anastasia Catris

4star.jpg Crafts

About half a century ago I mentioned to someone that colouring was relaxing and enjoyable and received a lecture on my lack of creativity and willingness to use what other people had drawn for my own ends. I still did colouring - at a time when there were considerable pressures in my life over which I had no control - but it was just that it became my guilty secret. Now colouring is mainstream and there's a considerable range of design books to choose from. Orion have published three by Anastasia Catris: this book, Colour Me Mindful: Underwater and Colour Me Mindful: Tropical. So, how do they stand out from the crowd? Full review...

Shadow Cat by Gillian Cross

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

When Nolan's effervescent mother suddenly takes him on a surprise journey he is in as much fear and doubt as the reader about what will happen next. Meanwhile music sensation Midir's daughter Feather is tired of being controlled and dreading the next photo opportunity for the press. Then, one night, as her father prepares for a shocking, spectacular event, everything changes. Cross keeps us guessing as Nolan's world is turned upside down and he has to make difficult choices. Why is his mother in the clouds on an exultant high one minute and grey, stressed and in the doldrums of despair the next? Does Feather really want to be his friend or do they just have the serval they have sworn to protect in common? Full review...

Kipper's Beach Ball by Mick Inkpen

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

It's play time at the beach for Kipper and Tiger in this magical book about living in the moment because it might be over before you know it. Full review...

Katie McGinty Wants a Pet by Jenna Harrington and Finn Simpson

5star.jpg For Sharing

Katie McGinty wants a pet. Really, really, REALLY wants a pet. Daddy says no, not yet, not until she's bigger. So she waits. And she waits. And then the time comes. Full review...

Thirst by Kerry Hudson

4star.jpg General Fiction

London – Summer. Alena, a young siberian immigrant is caught stealing shoes. Dave, the man who catches her, is a security guard – surviving on a minimal income and with little drive to better his quiet, repetitive life. As Alena and Dave grow closer, Dave finds his life turned upside down. But will Alena ever let down her guard, and reveal the truth about her past? Full review...

Beneath London by James P Blaylock

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

The collapse of the Victoria Embankment uncovers a passage to an unknown realm beneath the city. Langdon St. Ives sets out to explore it, not knowing that a brilliant and wealthy psychopathic murderer is working to keep the underworld's secrets hidden for reasons of his own. St. Ives and his stalwart friends investigate a string of ghastly crimes: the gruesome death of a witch, the kidnapping of a blind, psychic girl, and the grim horrors of a secret hospital serve the strange, murderous ends of perhaps St. Ives' most dangerous nemesis yet. Full review...

Dead in the Water (Campbell and Carter) by Ann Granger

4star.jpg Crime

It was the wettest winter on record and coming up to Christmas it wasn't the floods that the residents of Weston Saint Ambrose were worried about - or even the forthcoming festivities. On his way to a call the local vet had spotted something in the river and closer inspection showed that it was a body of what he thought was a young woman. When he managed to get back to the scene and meet the police the body had disappeared, but it drifted under the landing stage of a large house down river and was spotted by a man delivering logs. The owner of the house, a reclusive writer, was shocked to realise that he recognised the girl. Inspector Jess Campbell and Superintendent Ian Campbell had to investigate the brutal killing. Full review...

The Bolds by Julian Clary and David Roberts

5star.jpg Confident Readers

The Bolds, Mr and Mrs and their two small children, live in an ordinary semi-detached house in suburban Teddington. They have jobs; Mrs Bold designs and sells flamboyant hats and Mr Bold writes jokes for Christmas crackers. But they are most definitely not an ordinary family. Oh no! They are in fact hyenas. So far they have managed to successfully pretend to be human beings. Although very hairy and prone to laughing a lot they have kept the truth (and their tails!) a secret from everyone. But their grumpy next door neighbour, Mr McNumpty, is growing suspicious and then a trip to the local safari park has repercussions. Will the Bolds' carefully long kept secret be revealed? Full review...

Without a Trace by Lesley Pearse

4star.jpg General Fiction

Cassie's arrival was bound to cause a stir in the sleepy Somerset village of Sawbridge. She had flaming red hair, a voluptuous figure accentuated by very tight clothing, towering heels, heavy make-up and no wedding ring. But the thing that really shocked the locals was the fact that she had a little mixed-race girl in tow. Petal, as she was called, soon melted the hearts of the residents, but no such courtesy was extended to Cassie, who was dubbed 'that red-headed whore' by some. Her only friend was the kind shopkeeper Molly Heywood, who would often visit Cassie and Petal at their isolated stone cottage on the outskirts of the village. Full review...

The Self-Esteem Team's Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs?!! by The Self-Esteem Team

4star.jpg Teens

Did you know that there are (on average) three children in every British classroom who are self-harming? Or that 48% of teenage girls avoid everyday school activities because of a lack of body confidence?

Shocking, isn't it? Full review...

Nina Goes Barking Mad! by Anita Pouroulis

4star.jpg For Sharing

Nina and George are Jules' dogs. George is badly behaved. He once dug up the entire front lawn. Mum said she wanted to give him away. It's Nina who is in the dog house though in this edition of the Jules, Nina and George series. She just won't stop barking. Mum, Jules and even George are being driven crazy. Inspired by a TV show, Jules sets out to think like a dog and pin down what on earth the matter can be. Full review...

Wish You Were Here by Catherine Alliott

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

The Murray-Browns are off for their usual summer holiday - a month with the in-laws in the highlands - when a surprise encounter lands them a holiday in an amazing French chateau - all for free. Flora is teeming with excitement until she realises her idea of a blissful break as a family of four isn't going to be what she gets. For a start, her teenage daughters are determined they're not going without their boyfriends. And since the family are no longer going to Scotland to see her husband's father and sisters, they must be invited as well. Oh and if they're coming, so is Flora's slightly eccentric mother and if that's the case then no-one is stopping Flora's mad best friend joining the party. Soon the Murray-Brown holiday is looking less like a peaceful getaway and more like a circus. Flora remains determined to enjoy herself but between policing her daughters' bedrooms (and her mother's), a beautiful, French host who is just too friendly with her husband and a blast from the past rolling into their lives, this holiday becomes more like purgatory than paradise. Full review...

Born to Rumble by Jeff Scott

4star.jpg Sport

Rumble. It's an odd word, isn't it, with that sense of a noise like thunder (or even of a motorcycle engine) and of a street fight between rival gangs. Author Jeff Scott has picked the perfect title for his journey around various speedway venues looking at those occasions when the combination of brakeless bikes, adrenalin, ridiculous speeds and not a lot of space explode into confrontation on or off the track. It's hardly surprising that it happens - in fact it's surprising that it doesn't happen more often given the competitive nature of the sport and the diva-like qualities of some of the top riders. Full review...

The New Woman by Charity Norman

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Charity Norman has written yet another thought provoking book that will hook the reader in from the very first page. This is the story of Luke Livingstone who becomes Lucia Livingstone as the story progresses. It is also the story of a family that is ripped apart by Luke's revelation and how each one deals with having a husband, father or son who is really a woman. Full review...

Pirates Don't Drive Diggers by Alex English and Duncan Beedie

4star.jpg For Sharing

Ah, that age old dilemma or whether to go into the family business or whether to set out alone and follow your dreams! In this story we meet Brad, who has been born into a family of pirates but who dreams of life on a building site. His dad (friendly looking pirate though he is) has no time for Brad's nonsense, and packs him off to sea to learn what pirates do. Is this to be a tale of tragedy and woe? Don't worry, Brad may get to drive a digger after all… Full review...

Poo in the Zoo by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey

5star.jpg For Sharing

If you’re one of those parents who really can’t stand farting jokes, or avoids nappy changing discussions with your peers at all costs then step away from this review now! This is a story that is made for families who enjoy a funny poo story, and who can bear a few armpit fart noises now and then! For this is a book that is entirely about poo, from start to finish, so make sure everyone who needs to be is in a nice clean nappy, then get ready for a treat of a read! Full review...

The Bear Whispers To Me: The Story of a Bear and a Boy by Chang Ying-Tai and Darryl Sterk (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Award winning Taiwanese writer Chang Ying-Tai's emotive, elegiac fable is a meditation on the art of storytelling. Its immersive detail and enchanting musical cadences give it a magical, dream like quality. It is a special work as it is one of the few examples of Taiwanese fiction available in English. The blind Paiwan poet Monaneng said of aboriginal Taiwanese culture:

"With tender care let us set in motion our blood that is once again warm.
Let us recall our songs, our dances, our sacred rituals.
And the tradition of unselfish mutual coexistence between us and the earth.

This is exactly what "The Bear Whispers to Me" effortlessly does. Full review...

The Dying Season: A Bruno Courreges Investigation by Martin Walker

4.5star.jpg Crime

It's said that you should never meet your heroes but Bruno Courrèges, chief of police of the sleepy Dordogne town of St Denis, has no such thoughts when he's invited to the 90th birthday celebrations of the man who has been his hero since he was a child. Marco Desaix is a war hero, flying ace and a man with high level political connections in France, Russia and Israel - and he's known as The Patriarch. The party - if you can use such a mundane word for an occasion which includes a fly past by the air force - went well, with only one minor disruption when an old family friend accosted one of the daughters of the Desaix family and was disinclined to let go. Still, it was well known that he was an alcoholic and no one seemed surprised when Gilbert was removed without ceremony by the gamekeeper. Full review...

Black Cat, White Cat by Silvia Borando

4star.jpg For Sharing

'Black Cat, White Cat' made me laugh out loud. In a lifetime of consuming literature greedily, I can count on one hand the number of books that have had this effect on me. I couldn't wait to read it with someone else to share the joke. Given that the humour relies on an element of surprise, I'm torn about how much to reveal here so, for the moment, I'll tell you a bit more about the book. Full review...

The Only Pupil in the School by Hsukung Liu and Xinlin Wang (translator)

4star.jpg For Sharing

On the first day of the school term only one pupil appeared and the teachers began to worry about losing their jobs. So they made their minds up that they would make their only pupil the best in the school, which - when you think about it - wasn't going to be all that difficult. They began by trying to persuade her to come to their classes and when that didn't persuade her they began fighting amongst themselves and didn't notice our heroine creeping away. She went to the forest and met an old man who taught her lots about the flowers and the insects. A chef showed her how to make soup - it was delicious and warming - and then she had lots of fun (and exercise) with a dog she met in the park. The further she looked, the more she learned and at the library she drew a book about what she had seen - and it was there that the teachers found her. Full review...

The Boleyn Reckoning (Anne Boleyn Trilogy) by Laura Andersen

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1 & 2 AHEAD: Henry IX is still in love with his childhood sweetheart Minuette and is determined to marry her, despite being betrothed to Princess Elisabeth of France for political reasons. What he still doesn't realise is that Minuette is married to the third member of their childhood trio, his trusted advisor Dominic, Duke of Exeter. Meanwhile there are some who feel that Henry's sister Princess Elizabeth would make a better ruler than he. Then there's his half-sister, Lady Mary, who is starting to realise what she's given up for Henry's future. The beginning of the end has started… but whose end/ends will it be? Full review...

Rama and the Demon King by Jessica Souhami

4star.jpg For Sharing

Rama was a brave and good prince, the king's favourite son. He loved his wife, Sita and his best friend was his brother Lakshman. Everyone loved him, except for one person. His stepmother was jealous and she was determined to get rid of Rama. Long ago she had saved the king's life and he had promised to grant her any wish. She asked that he send Rama into the forest for fourteen years and although the king was horrified he had to keep his promise. Rama was sent into the forest, but he did not go alone, as Sita and Lakshman went with him and for a while all was well. They fought off the demons who first appeared and then built a house and led a simple life among the forest animals. Full review...

The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch by Maudie Smith

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Max doesn't believe in happy endings. How could he, when lovely, brave, caring Mum got killed climbing a mountain? He doesn't like heights or small dark spaces and he doesn't like silly fairy stories. He absolutely hates being dressed in knickerbockers, silk slippers and a cape for Dad and Ilona's wedding, and in fact, the only thing that's worse, in his opinion, is the fact that once it's over he'll have to share his home with a horrible new brother and sister. I mean, come on, people! Nettle is a total grouch who's clearly never cracked a smile in her whole life, and little Wild is just . . . well, to tell the truth, he's plain daft. He prances about the place like a demented butterfly, and he never takes his baseball cap off, even to go to bed. How's Max supposed to get along with that pair? Full review...

When I Am Happiest by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson

5star.jpg Emerging Readers

If Dani leaves her school for the summer holidays with one souvenir, it will either be the memories of the fabulous friendship she formed with Ella, who struck a chord in book one then moved away, or it will be a book she has written and compiled to remind her of all the happiness she has encountered along the way. That is not quite finished, for the following day is to be the great end of year party, and her classroom decorations are complete and her dress has been bought new specially. But not all of life is happiness and jollity – and Dani is removed from the classroom to face very bad news. What ending is in store, for her book and for ours? Full review...

Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli

4star.jpg For Sharing

As befits a book about dinosaurs, 'Dinoblock' is suitably chunky. Not monstrously large but enticingly substantial in a 'pick me up and read me' kind of way. Inside this board book, twenty plus beasts are on parade. If you don't know your Triassic from your Jurassic step this way… Full review...

The Dead Assassin by Vaughn Entwhistle

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1895. Arthur Conan Doyle is summoned to the scene of a mysterious crime – a senior member of the Government lies murdered. Close by, the body of the attacker is found, riddled with bullets. The dead assassin is identified, however, as a man who was hanged several weeks previously. Mystified by the strange incident, Arthur Conan Doyle calls on a friend for advice – Oscar Wilde. Together, the two of them are swept up into a bizarre investigation – one that threatens their lives, their families, and the very establishment itself. It seems that someone is reanimating corpses, and programming them for murder… Full review...

Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead

3.5star.jpg History

Village of Secrets is an account of resistance (with a small 'r') and rescue in a series of small villages scattered across the Vivarais-Lignon plateau in Vichy France. Residents of these villages harboured a number of people, many of them children, many of them Jews, seeking to avoid deportation to concentration camps, at great personal risk. There have been other accounts of this chapter in French history and, of course, a great many books about Vichy France in general. However, Village of Secrets is, perhaps, the most detailed, much of it based on primary sources (interviews with both rescuers and the rescued, or their families), backed up by extensive documentary research. Full review...