Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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, the charity shop 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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Rodham: What if Hillary hadn't Married Bill? by Curtis Sittenfeld

4star.jpg General Fiction

I was tempted to read Rodham by the success of Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife. That book wasn't marketed as being a portrait of Laura Bush, but the word thinly-veiled seemed to occur very regularly in reviews. How would Rodham compare? Unfortunately, there is a difference: relatively little was known about Laura Bush, which gave the book a freshness which the first third of Rodham lacks. We've all heard the stories, read the books - about Hillary and particularly about Bill. It's still an interesting concept, though: how would Hillary have fared if she hadn't subsumed her own ambitions into Bill's career, if she hadn't had to carry the burden of all Bill's baggage and if she hadn't left her own run at the presidency so late? Could she have done better without the Clinton surname? Full Review

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The Red, Red Snow by Caro Ramsay

4.5star.jpg Crime

In Glasgow, Eric Callaghan of Inkermann Tattoo Parlour had been to the ice show with his wife, Geraldine and daughter, Lisa when he was stabbed in Planet Burger. He died within minutes, but his murder seemed motiveless and there were no clues. He was a genuine man and a talented artist: those investigating his death had hit a dead end. There were two deaths to investigate in the north of Scotland: it wasn't thought wise to involve the local murder team as someone on the Glen Riske police force was indirectly involved in the case. Christmas - and a lot of snow were rapidly approaching. Full Review

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Tokyo Traffic (Detective Hiroshi) by Michael Pronko

4star.jpg Crime

There were three young women, girls really if you wanted to be pedantic about their ages. Sukayana was Thai and she'd come to Japan in the belief that she'd be able to pick up the documentation to get to the States. Celeste was just fourteen and when we meet her she's already dead of a heart attack caused by an overdose of amphetamines. Then there's Ratana, who's the de facto leader of the group, but she's disappeared too with the group's passports, leaving Sukayana in the midst of a scene of carnage at the Jack and Jill Studios. The dead bodies are definitely not props though. Full Review

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Little Girls Tell Tales by Rachel Bennett

4star.jpg Crime

In 2004 Rosalie, Beth and Dallin were walking in the boggy wetlands by Rosalie and Dallin's cottage. Beth and Dallin, both twelve-years-old, got ahead of ten-year-old Rosalie and it wasn't long before she realised that she was lost. Trying to find her way back to the main path she found a skeleton, but when she finally got to the road she could never find her way back to the bog when she'd seen the body. Most people didn't believe her, putting the story down to her vivid imagination. Full Review

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Remain Silent by Susie Steiner

4star.jpg Crime

When we first meet Matis and Dimitri, Matis is in a bad way, vomiting and obviously traumatised. When he's able to speak he tells Dimitri that Lukas is dead. Lukas was in his late teens and he and Matis had come to Cambridgeshire from Klaipeda in Lithuania. They'd answered an advert offering good money and accommodation in return for their labour: they could have a decent life and send money home to their families. Sadly, it doesn't work out like that. When they arrive in the UK - on an old, uncomfortable bus, - they're dropped at a filthy house where several men have to share rooms and sleep on dirty mattresses on the floor. It's modern slavery, which isn't uncommon amongst agricultural workers. Full Review

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The Disoriented by Amin Maalouf

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Adam has lived in Paris for years, speaks French more easily than his native Arabic. In fact, he hasn't been back to his homeland for 25 years. An old friend is dying…or as Adam prefers to think of him a former-friend, perhaps not as harsh as an ex-friend, or maybe. The falling out was a long time ago, and Adam's partner has no idea what it was about, even so she urges him to go knowing that he'll regret not doing so. Not knowing whether he's going because he needs or wants to, or simply because he was asked, he's on the next plane. Full Review

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Where We Belong by Anstey Harris

5star.jpg General Fiction

I've always believed that places and buildings absorb what happens within them and reflect it back; this is how we can tell that a sacred space is sacred. Cate Morris believes a similar thing, she believes that A house absorbs happiness, it blooms into the wallpaper, the wood of the window frames, the bricks: that's how it becomes a home. She is having these thoughts as she packs up her home. She has to leave. A combination of circumstances means that is not only redundant but also homeless. With nowhere else to go, she has called on her late husband's family for help. Just for a few weeks. Full Review

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A Shooting at Chateau Rock (A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel) by Martin Walker

4star.jpg Crime

It was a couple of days after old Driant's funeral that Bruno Courrèges got an angry phone call from his son. Gaston's father had sold the family farm in order to buy an insurance policy which he had used to secure a life of luxury at an expensive retirement home near Sarlat, owned by a Russian oligarch. Before he even got to go there he died, apparently of a heart attack, and the retirement home collected the proceeds of the policy and Gaston and Claudette Driant were left with just the contents of the farmhouse. The family hadn't exactly fallen out, but Gaston lived some way away and Claudette had fallen out of favour when she announced that she was gay, but they weren't expecting to be almost completely disinherited. Full Review

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Broken Silence (DS Nikki Parekh 2) by Liz Mistry

4star.jpg Crime

When we first meet him Stefan Marcovici has been in the UK with his daughter Maria for a while. He came expecting to work as a gardener and Maria was to be a nanny. Stefan ends up doing slave labour in a chicken factory: you can imagine what happens to an eighteen-year-old girl. Full Review

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This Book Is Alive! (Living Book) by Justine Avery and Daria Yudina

4star.jpg For Sharing

Books want you to read them! They're not intimidating or standoffish or particular about readers. Books want to be read.

This is the key message in Justine Avery's latest offering, This Book Is Alive!. By anthropomorphising the relationship between book and young reader, she's sending an invitation to all - pick me up, read me, be my friend, we can go on a journey together. It's a great message, don't you think? Full Review

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I Made a Mistake by Jane Corry

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

We know from the very beginning that there's a tragedy about to happen. On a January evening on a very crowded platform 3 of Waterloo Underground station a man falls under an oncoming train. That man is Matthew Gordon. Much later we see Poppy Page in the witness box of a crown court, getting a very rough ride from the prosecuting barrister. Full Review

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The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

We live in a post-world: post-colonialism, post-modernism, post-truth. The list goes on. There are numerous works that utilise the prefix post- in their categorisation, but perhaps none more so than Maryse Condé. In her new novel, The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Condé writes with fervour about the scars left by colonialism on the countries to which it latched itself. Ivan and Ivana are twins born in Guadeloupe, a French overseas department. They grow up with intense and passionate feelings for each other. As they grow up and move overseas, the ravages of a post-colonial society drive them apart with tragic consequences. Full Review

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Jungle Drop (The Unmapped Chronicles) by Abi Elphinstone

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Abi Elphinstone has said that she connects with her world-building through her characters. In an interview with [Books For Keeps], she described visualising her characters "wearing head torches which gradually reveal the world they are seeing to her and to the reader." Just as the darkness of a mine is cut through by a spear of light so too do quarrelsome Fox and Fibber get their first glimpse of the phantasmagorical glow-in-the-dark realm of Jungle Drop when they emerge through the mouth of a Dragon on the Here and There Express. Running from the opprobrium of their demanding and selfish parents, they must address what is in their hearts to find what they seek. Full Review

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Killing Mind (D I Kim Stone) by Angela Marsons

5star.jpg Crime

It looked very like a suicide, and to begin with, that was how both DI Kim Stone and Keats, the pathologist called it. It was only later that Stone and her team realised that when Samantha Brown cut her throat, hers was not the only hand holding the knife. It was murder. Sammy's parents. Myles and Kate were a little bit reluctant to say what their daughter had been doing recently. The property where she was found was less homely than most hotel rooms: her mother was about to accuse her husband of saying that Sammy was ready... But what was Sammy ready for and where was their other daughter, Sophie? Full Review

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The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

5star.jpg Confident Readers

In the winter of 1880, five babies are abandoned at the Little Tulip orphanage in Amsterdam, much to the annoyance of matron Gasbeek. Twelve years later, Milou, the last of the five babies to be abandoned back in that winter, struggles to work out the identity of her parents from the clues she was abandoned with: a small coffin with claw-marks on the outside, a cat doll made by someone called Bram Poppenmaker and a velvet blanket. She, along with the other four, patiently wait for Milou's parents to come back and take her home. However, when the five children are sold to the dodgy merchant Meneer Rotman, they know they have to escape. And so begins the adventure of a lifetime as the Unadoptables join forces to reunite Milou with her parents, all the time being pursued by the Kinderbureau and Rotman… Full Review

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Six Tudor Queens: Katheryn Howard The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Katheryn was seven when her mother died, thus we are thrust into this tumultuous time in young Katheryn's life, trying to find a home, both figuratively and literally, where she can grow and grieve. Unfortunately, Katheryn is followed by bad luck and she learns an important lesson, she is too young, too poor and too unimportant to be of any value to anyone, but she is beautiful and surely, that will count for something in the end, won't it? Full Review

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The Glass House by Eve Chase

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Rita lost both her parents in a car crash when she was just six years old: since then she's always craved a family. She'd lived with her grandmother in Torquay until she got a job as a nanny with the Harrington family in London. Soon her engagement to Fred, a Torquay butcher, fell through and the Harringtons became her family. In 1971, after a fire at the London house, Jeannie Harrington, her children, 13-year-old Hera and 6-year-old Teddy, along with Rita went to the family's house in the Forest of Dean. It wasn't quite dilapidated, but it certainly wasn't the same standard as the London house had been before the fire. Full Review

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Just My Luck by Adele Parks

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Elaine Winterdale took the fall for the landlord. Aged 37, she got a suspended sentence because a faulty gas boiler had caused the deaths of 29-year-old Reveka Albu and her 2-year-old son Benke. Toma Albu, husband and father, had found them when he returned home. Full Review

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I Dreamed You by Justine Avery and Ema Tepic

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

It is always a pleasure to review a new book by Justine Avery and I Dreamed You carries on the tradition beautifully. This little book is the perfect exemplar of our category name, For Sharing. It is a mother's love letter to her child, told in rhyme form. Full Review

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If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie

5star.jpg Biography

I normally say that you can tell how much a book means to me by how many pages have corners turned down. Perhaps an even greater measure of impact is setting out to buy my own copy before I've finished reading the one I've borrowed. I want to avoid clichés like 'powerful' 'inspiring' 'life-changing' – although it is definitely the first two and only time will tell about the third – but clichés exist for a reason and I'm not sure I can succinctly put it any better. Full Review

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Burn by Patrick Ness

5star.jpg Teens

On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957 - the very day, in fact, that Dwight David Eisenhower took the oath of office for the second time as President of the United States of America - Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he'd hired to help on the farm.

It's 1950s America but not as we know it. In this alternate US, there is still a Cold War with the Russians, still a concomitant arms race. And the stain of racism is just as crushing - something mixed-race Sarah and her Japanese American friend Jason are only too well aware of. As is the deeply unpleasant town deputy, Kelby. But one thing is very different. In this alternate world, there are dragons. The dragons live in an uneasy peace with humans and communication is minimal. But a few of these winged creatures do hire out their labour to human in return for gold - they are dragons, after all. Poor Frankie! Full Review

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Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairytale Cover-Up by Angela Woolfe

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

After her father gets married for the umpteenth time, Roxy Humperdinck is sent to live with her half-sister Gretel in Rexopolis, the capital city of the Kingdom of Illustria. Gretel works as a toilet cleaner for the Ministry of Soup. Why does a country like Illustria need an entire ministry dedicated to soup, you ask? Well, after Roxy finds a secret passage in her bathroom and meets a snarky young woman known only as Jones, she soon finds out why. Turns out, fairy tales are real, and the Ministry’s official job is to safeguard all knowledge of them and monitor the living fairy tales. And, when an evil queen breaks out of a maximum-security prison and threatens to reinstate her reign of terror, Roxy and Jones hold the fate of the world in their young hands…so, no pressure then! Full Review

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Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

4.5star.jpg Teens

It's Paris, 1794. The Revolution is five years old and the country in the midst of violent political turmoil between the Revolutionaries, trying to maintain their control by whatever means necessary, and the Royalists, still loyal to monarchy intent. Caught in a no man's land between the two warring factions is the Battalion of the Dead. Led by a disillusioned revolutionary's daughter, the band of outcasts have made a name for themselves rescuing innocent citizens from the violent fallout. But they may have gotten in over their heads with their latest rescue, Olympe, a girl with a disturbing history and powers that might just make her the spark that blows up the powder-keg of revolutionary Paris. Full Review

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A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M Harris

5star.jpg Confident Readers

I have always been of the mind that once you're above picture-book level and before you get to graphic sex & violence, there is no difference between books for children and books for adults. There are good books and poor ones. And Joanne Harris does not produce poor ones. A Pocketful of Crows is clearly aimed at the younger readers as witness the use of the middle initial in the author's name to differentiate from her adult offers. Ignore that if you have loved anything from Chocolat onwards you will know that Harris is mistress of the modern fairy tale. This is no different. It is an utter delight. Full Review

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The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

5star.jpg Teens

On the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl has assumed the identity of Florian the man in an attempt to fit in with the crew. Life is hard as a pirate, trust and empathy are the first things to be discarded, but anything has to be better than starving on the streets. Meanwhile, the young Lady Evelyn Hasegawa boards the Dove, headed off to be married to a military man she's never met on some far-flung colony of the Nipran Empire. Neither of them expects to be thrown together by fate, never mind fall in love… Full Review

Last modified on 5 June 2020, at 13:34