Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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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.

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The Monstrumologist: The Terror Beneath by Rick Yancey

4star.jpg Confident Readers

In late 19th century America, young Will Henry has been the apprentice of the stern, forbidding Dr Warthrop since the death of his parents, who were also employed by the doctor. The twelve year old boy has seen many things in his service to the monstrumologist - a specialist in monsters - but nothing can prepare him for the fateful day when an elderly grave robber brings the doctor the twin corpses of a young girl and the headless creature with fangs in his chest who had tried to feast on her. Full review...

Midsummer Madness by Stella Whitelaw

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

You'll like Sophie Gresham. She wanted to be an actress but suffers from paralysing stage fright and when the side effects became too much for her she worked behind the scenes. She's a very good prompt despite the fact that you need to wrap up very warmly to survive in the prompt corner she loves her job and most of the cast in the theatre company. It's a bit of a shock though when she realises that the guest producer from New York is Joe Harrison, the man she helped out when he had nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep. Sophie was a little softer in those days – in the meantime she's had to develop a protective shell. Full review...

Obama Music by Bonnie Greer

3star.jpg History

This is an interesting read, but unless I'm missing something, the focus of the book seems a little difficult to grasp. It's best if I start with the author's intentions as set out in her Prologue. It is a mixture of tales of her own life growing up on the South Side, she writes, interspersed with stories and observations about Obama, linking it with the music, musicians and music scene, past and present, including hip hop, country, classical, and rock'n'roll. All of these, she notes, were heard on the President's Inauguration Day. To them she adds the blues, gospel, soul and jazz of the South Side, when the people began to build the great institutions and great solidarity that enabled him to become the most powerful man on the planet. Full review...

Dead of Winter by P J Parrish

4star.jpg Crime

Loon Lake, Michigan is picture-postcard pretty – an idyll that sits serenely and snugly in the midst of a pine-peppered winter wonderland. Louis Kincaid needs a little serenity in his life and on arrival in Loon Lake he feels almost as if he has come home. Life has not been easy for Kincaid. A troubled, unhappy child of mixed race, passed around various institutions and foster homes, Louis figures that if he is going to put some integrity back into the world, he will need to wear a badge to do it. Full review...

The Ninth Wave (New Stories from the Mabinogion) by Russell Celyn Jones

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Pwyll rules a medieval-style fiefdom in a post-climate change Wales. Life is different in many ways - there's a new-but-old social order built on feudalism and horsepower is the main means of transport. But in many ways it's much the same - people still fight one another, towns still have sink estates, rich boys still have too much time on their hands and precious little meaning in their lives. Full review...

White Ravens (New Stories from the Mabinogion) by Owen Sheers

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In the old tale, Branwen is the sister of Bendigeidfran - the giant King of Britain. She marries the King of Ireland, who doesn't treat her well. She manages to send Bendigeidfran a message via a tamed starling and war and killings ensue.

In this new tale, a young girl has just walked away from her brothers who, in the wake of the devastating foot and mouth outbreak, are despoiling their heritage by rustling and illegally slaughtering sheep. She meets an old man who tells her a story involving the superstitions about the ravens in the Tower of London, propaganda work during World War II, and an equally doomed love affair. Full review...

Follow Your Star by Jennifer Bohnet

3.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

It's three years since Nanette Weston left Monaco. She'd been engaged to a Formula 1 racing driver and had lived the life of the wealthy but a serious car accident had ended all that. The accident could have killed her fiancé and she lost her driving licence because of the alcohol she'd consumed. Her slow recovery was hindered by the end of her engagement but she's found some contentment in being a nanny to two young children. When her friend and employer, Vanessa, remarries and takes an extended honeymoon in the Amazon Nanette is asked to take the children back to Monaco where their father lives. Full review...

Crooked Justice by J R Stephenson

2.5star.jpg General Fiction

Meet Barry Johns. You'll see him coming - he's five hundred pounds if he's an ounce. Just don't ever lend him money - he won't pay it back. A businessman with a share of a nightclub on Cyprus, he goes there for a customary break, and finds his sort-of moll-type sort-of girlfriend has been installed as the bar dancer. He manages to tread both on the toes of his local colleague and some Greek rivals. And when a rival in London chases him up for thousands of pounds owed he decides to pack up and shut up. It's a big stone that hides him, but he leaves a very awkward trail for everyone wanting to upturn it and get their revenge. Full review...

They've Got Your Number by Stephen Baker

4.5star.jpg Popular Science

If you are in the slightest bit paranoid, worry that Big Brother is always watching or like to believe that you are not a number, but a free man (or woman), then this may not be the book for you, as it will do nothing to dispel any of those worries. If, on the other hand, you think 'the mathematical modelling of humanity' sounds like one of the sexiest things ever, and are chomping at the bit to learn more about it, then you might well be interested in what Business Week journalist Baker has to say. Full review...

Fear in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope

4star.jpg Crime

Thea Osborne is a house sitter by profession. When people go away she moves into their homes and looks after their animals and the property. This time it's winter and she's spending a month in the Cotswold village of Hampnett. It wouldn't be a job for all of us but Thea delights in getting to know the local people and the area. In the past she's also been involved with the police in solving various cases but it looks as though that might have come to an end as the relationship she had with DS Phil Hollis has crumbled. For the first time Thea feels like an outsider – and a foolish one - when she finds footsteps in the snow which lead to a body in a nearby field. When the police finally arrive the body has disappeared and the police obviously wonder if she's imagined it all. Full review...

A Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases by Tad Tuleja

3star.jpg Home and Family

Take a look at the cover design of this book, and you'd be mistaken for thinking this was a trivia compendium for all those foreign words that have taken part in our English language since whenever they crossed over from their original homes. But the title is definitely honest, for this is a dictionary book first, for reference, and a browser for the trivia buff second. Full review...

Angel Time by Anne Rice

2.5star.jpg General Fiction

Toby O'Dare is an extremely efficient hit man with a passion for music, history and playing his beloved lute. He's also something of a lost soul having turned his back on God many years ago. One day while on a 'job' he is visited by an Angel who offers him a chance at redemption. Toby agrees to become the Angel's human instrument and help save lives rather than take them. He is sent on an assignment to help a Jewish couple accused of murder in 13th Century England. Full review...

1415: Henry V's Year of Glory by Ian Mortimer

5star.jpg History

The medieval, in fact time-honoured, view of King Henry V as one of England's greatest heroes was propagated though not originated by Shakespeare, and again more recently to some extent by Olivier's portrayal in film. At least one historian has called him the greatest man that ever ruled England. Full review...

Dancing With The Dead by Deborah Gregory

3star.jpg Literary Fiction

I wanted to read Dancing with the Dead, because I'm interested in family history. The blurb on the back of the book also mentioned Gill – our heroine of the piece – was moving from Bristol (my current home) to Lincolnshire (where I was born and brought up). I felt with all these links, the novel could not fail to interest me – but this was not the case. Full review...

Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Set in the rural village of Thrush Green, this book is the latest in a series surrounding familiar characters. There is the feisty Ella Bembridge, who is finally having to admit that old age is creeping up as her eyesight fails. Friends such as Dimity and Charles Henstock are concerned about her, but she refuses to accept any help. Albert Piggott has decided it's time to retire now that his wife, Nelly, is a successful cafe owner and can afford to take care of him! And relative newcomer Phil Hurst and her husband are arranging the local nativity play, despite a number of set-backs. Will everything be in place for Christmas? And will independent Ella make a decision about her future? Full review...

Yuck's Robotic Bottom by Matt and Dave

4star.jpg Confident Readers

It's concerned me for a while that it's relatively easy to pick up early readers for girls – princesses, magic soft toys, mermaids and pets abound – but there's a much smaller choice for boys. It's important too with early readers that the content is interesting and reading becomes more than just something which you have to do at school and moves into being fun. Matt and Dave have found the answer in Yuck. Full review...

The Great Death by John E Smelcer

4star.jpg General Fiction

'As Western Europeans settled Alaska, they brought with them diseases against which the indigenous people had no natural immunity. At the beginning of the twentieth century, fully two thirds of all Alaska natives perished from a pandemic of measles, smallpox, and influenza. No community was spared. In most cases, half of a village's population died within a week. In some cases, there were no survivors. It was the end of an ancient way of life. Natives still refer to the dreadful period as the Great Death.' Full review...

River Deep by Maxine Barry

3.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Two young women both have a love of the Thames. Melisande Ray's beloved hotel, the Ray of Sunshine is on the river bank. It's here that guests come who want to be pampered and looked after in the way that only the best hotels can do well, but when Wendell James checks in to the hotel it's not pampering he's looking for. He's buying a piece of land not far from the Ray of Sunshine and he's sussing out the competition. There's something personal in there too – if his new hotel means that the Ray of Sunshine goes under then that would be an added bonus. There's just a slight doubt in his mind when a red-haired maid catches his eye. Full review...

Spade and Archer by Joe Gores

4star.jpg Crime

Sam Spade decides, bravely, to set up his one-man detective agency. It's the 1920s in San Francisco so we have the prohibition era and all that that entails. Many locals, of course, choose to disobey the law, stick two fingers up, so to speak and as a result there's lots of bootleg liquor.

Straight away, it's evident that Sam is a man of few words. He has the mannerisms of a cat - stealthy, quick on his feet. He's also a compulsive chain-smoker, but then again, most people were. In that era, holding a cigarette was an elegant, almost essential accessory. How times have changed. Full review...

The Best of Times by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Most children enjoy a good traditional tale and this lovely book by Michael Morpurgo seems to have all the right ingredients – a handsome prince and a beautiful princess who fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. Or do they? Sadly, not long after Prince Frederico marries the lovely Princess Serafina, she becomes very sad. Nobody knows what has caused such great sadness, but poor Prince Frederico is desperate to find a cure for his wife's misery. He tries everything in his power and eventually decides to offer his kingdom to anyone who can make her happy again before she dies of a broken heart. Lots of people come to the palace to try and help but in the end the solution is a simple one provided by some very kind travellers. Full review...

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Mary Katherine Blackwood, also known as Merricat, is eighteen, and lives with her older sister Constance in the family home where 'Blackwoods had always lived'. Merricat quickly draws the reader into her world by a series of matter of fact but bizarre statements – her likes include her sister and death cap mushrooms, and everyone else in her family is dead. The wealthy Blackwood family has always kept the house 'steady against the world', shutting out other people, and they live near a village. Merricat believes that 'The people of the village have always hated us', and tells us that she hates them too. Full review...

Nelson to the Rescue by Simon Weston

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Nelson used to pull Mike the Milk's milk float, but he has now retired. He lives in the stable at the back of the dairy along with a couple of tricky rats, Rhodri and Rhys, a pigeon who has no sense of direction, a frog who thinks he's a secret agent spy and an old racehorse who spends most of his time sleeping. Rhodri and Rhys find a mysterious message on Mike's fridge and the animals believe that Mike has been invited to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE. Somehow our hero, Nelson, finds himself travelling down to London, pulling a ceremonial coach for Prince Charles as well as giving a TV interview about his experience. Full review...

Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Becoming a mother brings a whole new world of fear into your life. Suddenly you see the danger in every situation, and fear and trepidation can be become your constant companions. In this novella, we meet a young mother who is married to a logical scientist. They attempt to control their children's futures on a scientific basis, growing their own fruit and vegetables, giving their children nothing sugary, eating no eggs for a whole year until any adverse affects from them were disproved. But after meeting with an enigmatic stranger our young mother begins to struggle as he introduces ideas of freedom into her world. She begins an affair with him, begins to let things slip at home and with the children, yet finds she is still continuously haunted by the sense of an ever-present danger. Full review...

Burning Out by Katherine May

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Violet has it all – a well-paid job, and a luxurious apartment all to herself. Everything is catered for; her meals, her clothes, and her health are all how she would like them to be. But the life she is leading is beginning to take its toll. On the verge of snapping, a drained and somewhat out-of-sorts Violet, withdraws back to her home town. There, she meets someone familiar, a ghost reminding her of how she used to be ten years earlier – a young carefree girl, full of life. Only this isn't a ghost, but a girl living the life Violet once lived – exactly the same. Haunted by the past Violet realizes history is repeating itself and is convinced events will happen again. Events that will in turn haunt the girl. Full review...

The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

In a nutshell, you're reading this because you're wondering whether The Drowning City is good, bad or mediocre. You've probably glanced at the rating and guessed the latter. I'm afraid it's not quite that simple. This is a debut that provokes decidedly mixed feelings. I started off convinced that I was going to love this book. The cover art is effortlessly cool, the premise intriguing, the characters laden with potential for greatness and the backdrop is certainly evocative. Full review...

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Most people of my age will have come across Jansson's work unwittingly, via the televised renditions of the Moomin tales. The readers amongst us would then have been entranced a few years ago to discover that at last Thomas Teal had set about the translation into English, first of The Summer Book and then of a collection of short stories which were published as 'A Winter Book'. Full review...

Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

After reviewing several long books, it's been refreshing to read such a fluent yet pared down story as 'Kaminski and Me'. In it, Sebastian Zollner, the obnoxious main character, shoves himself forward in a desperate attempt to research a best seller which will re-ignite his career as an art critic. Kaminski, the proposed subject, was a fashionable painter long ago, but now, ancient and chronically ill, has virtually slid into oblivion. So the second-rate writer is on a loser unless he can dig up some juicy details to hook the art world and general public. Full review...

Turned Out Nice Again: The Story of British Light Entertainment by Louis Barfe

4star.jpg Entertainment

Light entertainment is often looked down upon, as if it's a bit naff, tepid and ignorable. What's often forgotten is that it's hugely popular, enjoyable and much of it is of the highest quality. Louis Barfe's Turned Out Nice Again tells the complete story of British light entertainment. Full review...

Oh No, Monster Tomato! by Jim Helmore and Karen Wall

4star.jpg For Sharing

Marvin is entering the Great Grislygust Grow-Off, but just like him, his tomatoes aren't growing very big. He takes the only sensible course of action: he sings his tomatoes a song. The results are spectacular. Victory is surely within his grasp. Full review...

The Spook's Stories: Witches by Joseph Delaney

4star.jpg Teens

'Warning: Not to be read after dark,' are the only words on the back of The Spook's Stories, and on the inside flap, 'The Times' warns us that this book is 'seriously scary'...

The whole thing kicks-off relatively tamely, though, with a story about a young Spook (a sort of monster-hunter) who falls in love with a witch and is forced to bear the consequences when the witch's sister comes to stay and exhibits a taste for the neighbor-children. Full review...

Die For You by Lisa Unger

3.5star.jpg Crime

Best-selling novelist Isabel Connelly is married to successful video game designer Marcus Raine. Or so she thinks. But when her husband fails to return from work, she realises something is wrong. Going to his office to try to find out what happens to him, she gets attacked and ends up in hospital, while his co-workers are killed. Things get worse for her, however, when investigating detective Grady Crowe reveals that Marcus Raine has been dead for several years, and the man she married was using a false identity. Infuriated by the betrayal, and the realisation that she's been living a lie for the past five years, Izzy takes matters into her own hands and sets out to find her husband and work out why he lied to her for so long. Ignoring police warnings, she delves deeper and deeper into a nasty underworld, and finds a tale which has its roots in Prague and rivals anything she could have plotted in one of her novels. Full review...

Wake by Lisa McMann

4star.jpg Teens

Janie is seventeen and studying hard for college. She's also working lots of hours at a local nursing home to earn money for college as it's unlikely her alcoholic mother is going to provide much in the way of resources. College is Janie's only chance at a life better than the one she's lived so far and so you can't blame her for being so single-minded in the pursuit of her goal. Only one thing stands in her way... Full review...

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor by Jaclyn Moriarty

3.5star.jpg Teens

Listen Taylor's father has just moved in with his girlfriend and they are adopted into the Zing family, with all of its delightful eccentricities and unusual behaviour – the Zings meet every Friday night for dinner and then disappear into the garden shed to work on the 'Zing Family Secret'. Marbie Zing is terrified of doing something wrong and losing Nathaniel and Listen. Her sister Fancy is becoming increasingly disillusioned with her home life, and her daughter's year two teacher is coming to terms with a break up. The stories of these people come together to create a tale of life, love, and ultimately, what being part of a family means. Full review...

The Magdalena Curse by F G Cottam

2.5star.jpg Horror

Mark Hunter is the sort of father who would do anything for his son. After losing his wife and daughter in a tragic accident, his surviving son Adam has become his whole world. And Adam is an exceptional child – beautiful, incredibly smart and mature beyond his ten years – only recently he's been channelling the voices of the dead. Plagued by horrific dreams, able to speak Russian in the hours after he wakes, drawing occult symbols when he doodles, Hunter believes Adam to be possessed. Doctor Elizabeth Bancroft is sceptical, until she meets Adam, and witnesses the horrors the poor boy endures for herself. Full review...

The Lightning Key (Circus Trilogy) by Jon Berkeley

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

I shall start with a word of advice. When you're being hounded by a circus master, and a magician, for the soul of a tiger that's contained in a tiger's egg that's contained in the brain of your teddy bear, and your best friend - a fallen angel - is trying her best to make sure the other angels do not turn on you in a big way - then you're probably living the third book in a fantasy trilogy. Still - never mind, the angel's efforts will involve you entering a dream world of flight and cloud cities, the chase after your enemies will take you across the world to desert oases and back, and friends new and old will be on board to help. Full review...

Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years by Sue Townsend

5star.jpg General Fiction

Adrian Mole is now 39¼ and living, quite literally, in a pigsty, sharing an all too thin party wall with his parents and working in a bookshop. It's not quite how life was supposed to turn out. As he spends his days wrestling his strong willed 5 year old Gracie into her school uniform, trying to reassure glamorous wife Daisy that life in the provinces is not as bad as she would like to believe, and desperately attempting to talk his mother out of her quest to appear on the vile Jeremy Kyle show, worrying over his increasingly frequent visits to the toilet is really the last thing he needs. And yet, the worst is still to come. Think a crumbling economy, redundancy, affairs, death, a family member challenging him in the novel writing stakes and a query over the big C – it's going to be a tough year for the Moles, and there's little that ol' Adrian can do except sit back and watch his life spin out of control around him. Full review...

Fallen by Lauren Kate

4.5star.jpg Teens

A 17 year old girl at a new school meets a mysterious and impossibly good-looking boy, who she's immediately drawn to. He seems determined to either ignore her or be outright rude to her, until he saves her life, and the two of them end up drawn together. This isn't Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, but it certainly has striking similarities. Full review...