Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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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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Wink by Rob Harrell

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

When Ross is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, aged 12, his desperate attempts at school to just be 'normal' become impossible. Suddenly he is the cancer kid, and everything he does, how he looks, and how he behaves falls under the scrutiny of the other kids in school. Ross is, understandably, angry. He is facing potential blindness, whilst dealing with an eye sealed in a permanent wink. He has gloopy eye medicine to try to help with the pain, plus the need to wear a hat at all times to protect his face due to the ongoing treatment. With the sudden ghosting by one of his best friends, and a series of horrible memes that someone at school creates about Ross, nothing about his life is normal any more, and he has to find new ways to deal with his feelings, and survive. Full Review

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Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

5star.jpg Crime

When we first meet Dee she's talking to Nick Law, the new college master. Law's lately of the BBC and he doesn't come with an entirely good reputation: he's a bit of a bully and Dee can sense something of that in their first conversation. She had been planning to return home to Scotland before taking on a new job as a nanny, but somehow she finds herself going to see Mariah, the Danish wife of the master. She's pregnant and looking for help, not with the new baby but with the master's daughter by his first wife, Ana. Felicity is selectively mute: she does talk to her father, but to no one else. The eight-year-old is grieving for her dead mother and struggling at school. Full Review

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The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

There is a legend that God came to visit Adam & Eve in the Garden. Eve had not finished bathing her children and ashamed of those still not cleansed, she attempted to hide them from the eyes of God, denying that she had more children that those, already bathed, that she willing paraded for him. God was not to be deceived, however, and decreed that what was sought to be hidden from the eyes of God would henceforth be hidden from the eyes of man, and so the Elves were born: the hidden folk. They can see man, but man can only see them if they so choose. Full Review

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From the Auld Rock to a Hard Place by Wendy Cheyne

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

After the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden, many Scottish estates were given to English lords. They were not kind to their crofting tenants. Many on the mainland were cleared and while this did not happen much on the islands such as Shetland, the new exploitative conditions led many Shetlanders to leave - to port cities on the mainland, to North America and even to Australia and New Zealand. Full Review

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Lost by Ele Fountain

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Lola lives in an Indian city with her father, and her brother, Amit. She lives with them in a nice apartment, and although they are not rich like some of the girls at school, they have enough money to be comfortable. Lola spends her time thinking about her school friends, and trying to fit in with them, until one day, suddenly, everything in her life changes. After taking a work trip away, Lola's father doesn't come home. They have nobody else to help, and as they wait day after day, Lola wonders what will become of them until, finally, they are evicted from their flat, and she and her brother find themselves forced to live on the streets. Full Review

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The City We Became by N K Jemisin

4star.jpg Science Fiction

New York is being born, the city has reached critical mass and has matured into a living almost-breathing entity and is ready to make its way out into the world. Before it can be established, an ancient evil appears to attempt to destroy it just as it destroyed Atlantis and other forgotten places. The city is not alone through the birthing process, people who embody the values are selected to become the living embodiment of the city, some cities have one, some have twelve and New York has six. Together these human-embodiments must defeat the woman in white and save New York from very real destruction. But these are five different boroughs which don't always see eye to eye, it's a personality clash on an epic scale and unity is both critical and not remotely guaranteed. Full Review

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Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena Ernman, Greta Thunberg, Beata Thunberg and Svante Thunberg

5star.jpg Politics and Society

The Ernman / Thunberg family seemed perfectly normal. Malena Ernman was an opera singer and Svante Thunberg took on most of the parenting of their two daughters. Then eleven-year-old Greta stopped eating and talking and her sister, Beata, then nine years old, struggled with what was happening. In such circumstances, it's natural to seek a solution close to home, but eventually, it became clear to the family that they were burned-out people on a burned-out planet. If they were to find a way to live happily again their solution would need to be radical. Full Review

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Keep Him Close by Emily Koch

3.5star.jpg Crime

Alice had two children: Benny (well, Benoît, actually) and Louis. Lou's seventeen and he's just got his A level results and he and his brother are going out to celebrate. Someone has to find something to celebrate in the letters, D, D and E. Alice has always had a good relationship with nineteen-year-old Benny but it's a touch problematic with Lou and being honest, he's not terribly likeable. The letters which kept coming to my mind were ADHD. Full Review

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Keeper by Jessica Moor

4.5star.jpg Crime

Katie Straw worked in the women's refuge and the women who lived there liked and respected her. She treated them well and seemed to have an understanding of what they were going through. Why then did she jump from the local suicide spot into the river below? There had been no signs that she was unhappy and she and her boyfriend seemed to have been content together - and Noah has a decent alibi for the time when she died, but what other explanation could there be for her death? The police are convinced that it's suicide, but the women who knew her believed otherwise. Full Review

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Murder at Enderley Hall (Miss Underhay) by Helena Dixon

4star.jpg Crime

It's the summer of 1933 and Kitty Underhay is on her way to visit the family which she never knew she had, at Enderley Hall. Her grandmother, Mrs Treadwell, and Great Aunt Livvy are back at the Dolphin Hotel in Dartmouth. Kitty gets easily bored working at the Dolphin - every day is much the same - but her real reason for going away is that she needs a break after her recent adventures, which involved three vicious murders, an arson attack and an attempt on her life. Full Review

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Where the Innocent Die (D I Ridpath) by M J Lee

4star.jpg Crime

It was easy to assume that the death of the young Chinese girl at the Immigrant Removal Centre was suicide. Her throat was cut, there was a lot of blood and the knife was on the floor at the side of the bed, She was due to be deported that day. But... how did the knife get into the secure centre and why was the girl's room the only one which was unlocked? DI Thomas Ridpath, the coroner's officer, is sent to investigate and he quickly becomes suspicious, There's a snag though: the inquest is due to open in a couple of days' time, the girl's parents are coming over from China and they want to take their daughter's body home with them. Ridpath has just five days to solve the case. The coroner is disinclined to delay the inquest: for her, it's about giving closure to the parents. Full Review

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Burnt Island (Ben Kitto) by Kate Rhodes

4.5star.jpg Crime

The 5th of November was D I Ben Kitto's thirty-fifth birthday and the occasion for the usual bonfire celebrations, but it would be marred this year by the discovery of Professor Alex Rogan's body on a bonfire. He'd obviously been alive when he was put on the fire and can only have died a terrible death. The body was first discovered by Jimmy Curwen, better known on St Agnes as the Bird Man because he speaks little or nothing and his only concern is the welfare of the birds he looks after. His instinct is to cover Rogan's body and he uses his sheepskin coat to do this, with the result that he's the prime suspect. Full Review

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A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed

4star.jpg General Fiction

This is the story of a young boy, William Tyce, who is being raised by his uncle after the death of his mother and his father's abandonment. However, it isn't told in the usual narrative way. Instead, the book is made up of glossary entries, written by William, as a way of describing certain events, situations and emotions. It runs alphabetically, starting with ABSENCE, then moving to ALPHABETICAL ORDER. As I began to read I did find myself thinking 'what on earth?!' but I soon grew used to the style, and was instead caught up in William's story. Full Review

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Black River by Will Dean

5star.jpg Crime

Tuva Moodyson returns - and this third book in the Tuva Moodyson mystery series delves deep into her personal life, returning her to the isolated town of Gavrik and into a desperate search for her missing best friend. With the Midsommar sun blocked out by the dark pines of the forest, Tuva fights to save her friend. But who’ll be there to save Tuva? Full Review

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Bird Love: The Family Life of Birds by Wenfei Tong and Mike Webster

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

I was a little perturbed when I looked at the blurb for Bird Love on a couple of on-line booksellers: exploring the sex life of birds it said. I very nearly passed over the book, but a closer examination suggested that the book is about the family life of birds, which is rather different. If the book was confined to the sex life of birds, you would be missing an opportunity to understand how birds live day-to-day, bring up their families and cope in the wild. Not only that, you have missed the treat of so many beautiful illustrations about a wide variety of birds which run through this book from the first page to the last. Full Review

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You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce

4star.jpg General Fiction

Eccentric, isolated romance novelist Cassandra Tipp has been missing for a year and has been pronounced legally dead by her lawyers. Her will instructs her niece and nephew to enter her home and find the key to their inheritance in an old manuscript left in her office: the last story she'll ever tell. Full Review

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The Pear Affair by Judith Eagle

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Set in the 1960's, this is a mystery adventure story, all about a little girl called Nell and her quest to find her nanny, Perrine (Pear) who left her very suddenly and then, after keeping in touch regularly by post, disappeared completely from her life, leaving Nell bereft. There's everything in this story, with underground tunnels as the playground of gangs of children, to travel and detective work, a mystery mould infecting Parisian bakeries, mysterious figures following Nell around, and a set of truly dreadful parents! Full Review

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Little Doubt (D I Kelly Porter) by Rachel Lynch

4star.jpg Crime

Ella Watson was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was out running in the park when she was randomly attacked and stabbed to death. Her husband, Thomas, and children, Jordan and Millie were devastated and Detective Superintendent Neil Ormond was outraged that a decent, middle-class woman should be the victim of knife crime. Despite being a golfing partner of Thomas Jordan he declined to distance himself from the case and told DI Kelly Porter that he would be taking a great deal of interest in how the case was handled. He wasn't anywhere near as interested when a second woman was stabbed to death a few hours later. Keira Bradley lived on the Beacon estate and Ormond's view seemed to be that anyone living there should expect this sort of thing to happen. He could hardly bring himself to mention Keira's name. Full Review

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Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

4star.jpg Crime

Malcolm Kershaw was the co-owner and manager of the Old Devils Bookstore on Beacon Hill in Boston. The store specialises in crime novels, but Mal has given up reading crime. His life's been pretty chaotic of late: It's five years since his wife, Claire Mallory, died and he's never really got over it. She was driving whilst inebriated, having just been to see the man with whom Kershaw suspected she was having an affair. His interest in crime fiction comes back when he's approached by Special Agent Gwen Mulvey. She's interested in a blog post he wrote a few years ago: My Eight Perfect Murders. Full Review

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Bobby March Will Live Forever (Harry McCoy) by Alan Parks

4.5star.jpg Crime

In February 1964 Bobby March was on his way to London with fellow band members Tom, Scott, Barry and Jamie. He'd had to get his father to sign the contract for The Beatkickers, as Bobby wasn't old enough. And his father had been reluctant - he'd have preferred Bobby to get an apprenticeship, for the regular money. By July 1973 Bobby is back in Glasgow. The Beatkickers didn't survive and March is on his own, but hardly thriving. There's an obvious drug habit. Meanwhile, the police are consumed by the search for a missing girl, Alice Kelly. Full Review

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Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane (editors)

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Curses. They're there throughout tales of faery and other fantastical folk – people being cursed to do this, or not to be able to do that. Children can be cursed, as can princesses on the verge of marrying, and older people too. It seems in a way there's no escaping it. Which is why the theme of this book of short stories is such a standout – we may well think we know all there is to know about this accursed character, that demonised place, and that other bewitched person. We'd be very wrong. Full Review

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Havenfall by Sara Holland

4star.jpg Teens

Maddie Morrow is supposed to spending the summer with her Grandma Ellen. But after a visit to her mother in prison, Maddie wants nothing more than to go to Havenfall to see her uncle, Marcus. It's the only place she feels truly at home. Maddie's father, understandably, is not keen on Maddie spending time with her mother's family - because the crime Maddie's mum is languishing on death row for committing is the murder of Maddie's brother... Full Review

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Ghosted: The Treason House Trilogy by Baye Hartshorne

4star.jpg Fantasy

'Julia Crawley has lost her job on Celebrity magazine and so she decides to cut her losses and return home to the village of Monmouth Cove on the Jersey Shore, hoping to return to her harder hitting journalistic roots via local news. She'll be staying with her grandmother - a woman always ready to help younger relatives in need of a hand. There's only one problem with that: creepy Uncle Dex, who doesn't always keep his hands to himself. Full Review