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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Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

3.5star.jpg Crime

Bill Hodges is a retired cop, spiralling down into a seemingly inescapable depression. Stuck at home each day watching dreadful American daytime TV, toying with the idea of shooting himself, it is only with the sudden arrival of a letter claiming to be from someone who committed an unsolved multiple murder, one of Hodges’ old cases, that he finds a new interest in staying alive. Is this actually the murderer? Why is he crawling out of the woodwork now? And can Hodges stop him from killing again? Full review...

Mariella Mystery Investigates: A Kitty Calamity by Kate Pankhurst

4star.jpg Confident Readers

When Mariella Mystery (amazing girl detective, aged nine and a bit) and the other Mystery Girls – Violet and Poppy – start to investigate the disappearance of their neighbour’s cat they think it’s going to be an easy case. Aren’t missing cats usually just stuck up a tree or off visiting a house where there’s tastier food? But the girls’ views begin to change when more and more cats start to disappear. Soon everyone in Puddleford is worried. The situation is suddenly serious and it’s up to the Mystery Girls to put an end to the catnapping. Full review...

Horrid Henry and the Comfy Black Chair by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Horrid Henry just can’t catch a break. Perfect Peter has been interfering with his weekend morning television watching, but mum and dad are clear it’s first come first served. So Horrid Henry hatches a plan to get up a bit earlier than usual and be the first one downstairs, gaining full uninterrupted access to the remote control in the process. It seems like Perfect Peter has the same idea, though, and however early Henry gets up, Peter’s already down there, beating him to it. Week after week he’s thwarted. Can he pull out a signature, and horrid, trick to finally get his own way? Full review...

The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

5star.jpg General Fiction

There are some authors who I pick up with a contented sigh, knowing that I am in safe hands. Alexander McCall Smith is currently my favourite, and thank goodness he is so prolific with his writing that my reading habit is fed on a regular basis! This is the tenth novel in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, and we settle down once more to a visit to Isabel Dalhousie in her beloved Edinburgh. Isabel is wondering, perhaps belatedly, if she is sometimes rather judgmental of people. In particular, she’s having an awful lot of qualms about her niece, Cat’s, latest romance. Will Isabel find herself forced to intervene, or can she sit back and let nature take its course? Full review...

Merlin and Guinevere: A Happenstance Meeting: Volume 1 by R D Shanks

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Merlin is both ordinary and special. He is living a quiet, ordinary life with his father in his quiet, ordinary village. Murrow is a fisherman and he and his son have a great relationship, supportive and loving. So far, so ordinary, right? But Merlin isn't like the other boys. While they are raucous and social, Merlin is quiet and contemplative. His best friend isn't another boy; it's Happenstance, his cat. Murrow and Merlin might not realise it but the reader will - there's something special about Merlin. Full review...

Othergirl by Nicole Burstein

4star.jpg Teens

Imagine a world where superheroes are real and very much awesome. Imagine a teenage girl who discovers she has amazing powers, that she can fly and toss fire. And then imagine that you aren’t this girl, but rather her very normal best friend. The one who patches up her friend's costume and covers for her at school, who worries and frets about her GCSEs while simultaneously planning how to get her friend noticed by the worldwide network of heroes, the Vigils. This isn't the story of Erica the superhero, but rather the story of Louise, loyal friend and sidekick. Full review...

My Pet Book by Bob Staake

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

I have a deep regard for books; they led to my love of reading and later my career as a Librarian. Over the years I have had some books that I have read many times and are firm favourites, but would I go so far as to call them my pets? I don’t keep them in a little book house (unless that’s how you describe your bookshelf) and I don’t walk around the street with them on a lead. Who on Earth would do that? Full review...

The Angel and the Sword by Sally Wragg

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

We met the people from Loxley New Hall in Loxley but we've moved on quite a few years as we rejoin them for the story of The Angel and the Sword. Harry, eleventh Duke of Loxley is dead and the title has been inherited by his daughter - she's a lucky girl as that doesn't happen too often in the world of Debrett's. She's only in her mid teens, but Katherine, her grandmother is uneasy about her friendship with Bill, a local boy. She was very sniffy when her son married Bronwyn, the daughter of a doctor and only really came around to the idea when Bron made a good fist of running the estate when the Duke went off to the trenches with every able-bodied man on the estate. Full review...

Drawing Projects for Children by Paula Briggs

5star.jpg Crafts

Drawing Projects for Children is a beautiful, full-colour guide that encourages children to use a range of materials to create stunning and thought-provoking artwork. As the author points out, the end result is not always as important as the journey and this book helps children to move away from the more traditional, or 'safe' type of drawing styles and indulge in a little more experimentation and risk taking. The book is ideal for parents to use with their children, but each chapter is a self-contained lesson plan that facilitators and teachers can use with groups. Full review...

Glass Thorns - Window Wall (Book Four) by Melanie Rawn

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

The Touchstone Players begin another season but, once again it differs from previous years. Now each of the quartet have become or are about to become fathers; all apart from Cade that is. He still has to find that special person but isn't particularly looking as he has problems of his own. His kid brother Derien is starting to come into his own magical gifting which could potentially attract the wrong attention. Cade's elsewhens (his visionary glimpses of possible futures) have also stopped; or rather he has chosen to thwart them. Meanwhile there has been an accident badly maiming Jez, one of Mieke's brothers. At least everyone believes it's an accident until Mieke finds something suspicious in the debris. Full review...

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George and Simon Pare (translator)

4star.jpg General Fiction

Monsieur Perdu has a barge on the Seine, and in that barge he has his bookshop. Actually, rather than being a normal sort of bookshop it is more of a chemist's, since he is something of a literary apothecary, prescribing books to his customers that he senses will soothe their souls, and relieve whatever troubles are ailing them. He only has to speak to them a little, sometimes only has to see them, and he instinctively knows which book will help them. Despite his skills, however, he seems unable to diagnose and resolve his own emotional issues and he is, as the translation of his French surname tells us, Mr Lost. Full review...

Where's the Elephant? by Barroux

5star.jpg For Sharing

We've all had great fun with books such as Where's Wally, haven't we? They appeal to children and adults and everyone who has seen Where's the Elephant? has jumped in with great enthusiasm, keen to show just how observant they are. We start off with a forest - actually it's the Amazon Rainforest - full of glorious colours and our three friends, who are hiding in there. Elephant is probably the easiest to spot, but Snake and Parrot are in there too and with a little concentration you'll find them. When you turn the page you'll scan the trees again and discover their hiding places. You even wonder if it might get a little boring if it goes on like this. Full review...

The Blind Man of Hoy: A True Story by Red Szell

3.5star.jpg Autobiography

Redmond Széll was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at age 19. It's now 26 years since he got the life-changing news. Although not completely sightless – he sees shadows and shapes – he is registered blind and walks with the stereotypical white stick. This hasn't stopped him from pursuing his hobby of rock-climbing, though, both indoors on climbing walls and on Britain's cliffs. The culmination of his climbing obsession came in 2013, when he became the first blind person to climb the Old Man of Hoy, the 449-foot cliff off the Orkney Islands of Scotland. Full review...

A Few Words For The Dead by Guy Adams

5star.jpg Fantasy

Warning: spoilers for both The Clown Service and The Rain-Soaked Bride so best read them first. Remember the near-demonic Fratfield? Well, the honeymooning Toby and Tamara find themselves – and Fratfield – in the South American jungle. However, things aren’t running smoothly. Not only does Fratfield still control the forces of nature, now he has some help. Meanwhile back home a hit man prepares to continue his profession. The target? August Shining, Toby's boss, friend and wanted as an interview subject by MI6, should he live that long. Full review...

One Thousand Things by Anna Kovecses

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When you are just short of two years old there’s a whole lifetime of learning ahead. Where to begin? Well, you could do a lot worse than get Mum or Dad to buy a copy of Anna Kovecses’ One Thousand Things. Don’t believe the mouse on the front cover holding a balloon saying learn your first words. To bill this book as a ‘vocabulary builder’ is to woefully underplay its hand. Study hard and this book will see you safely through nursery and in to reception as an assured four year old who can hold their own in the cut and thrust of classroom debate. Full review...

The Detective's Secret by Lesley Thomson

4star.jpg Crime

Two 'hurricanes' link this story. There was the one in October 1987 which wasn't going to happen, but did and as it happened a man lay dying, locked inside an old water tower in west London. He had no identification, no one of his description was registered as missing and the body was never claimed. When the body was discovered there was a single, black glove on his back. In October 2103 there was the St Jude's storm. Late one night on the Piccadilly line a man seemed to jump beneath an oncoming train. Jack Harmon saw what happened and was sure that it was suicide, but the man's brother was convinced that it was murder. Full review...

Thieves Fall Out by Gore Vidal

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

If you look at history it is very easy to think that human nature never changes and that we are forever cursed to live through the same mistakes. Unstable regions remain unstable; atrocities are still being carried out. 1950s Egypt was as tricky a place to live as the modern equivalent is; a sense of revolution in the air. However, rest assured that in Gore Vidal’s ‘lost’ pulp novel you will be reading more about gun fights and scantily clad women, than politics. Full review...

A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Back in 2003, biologist Dave Goulson bought a run-down farmhouse and 33 acres of meadow in the idyllic French countryside. His aim was to create a sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife, where creatures could go about their business without fear of disturbance. Soon, the meadows were abuzz with activity, with insect species thriving. Birds, mammals and amphibians also colonised this tranquil patch of countryside, including the mysterious 'snake and owl-eating beast' and the elusive 'wack-wack' bird...but if you want to find out more about them, you will have to read the book for yourself. Full review...

That Girl from Nowhere by Dorothy Koomson

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Smitty Smittson (Clemency to be formal!) designs and modifies pre-loved jewellery. Smitty was adopted at birth by the straight and very correct Heather and her dearest, late Don. Although Smitty has always been curious about her birth parents she's never searched. However when her 12 year relationship with Seth crumbles, she decides to move to Brighton, the area from which three decades earlier, as a little black baby she was given away to a white family. There any idea of searching becomes redundant as the world turns and she's the one that's found. Full review...

Flesh and Blood: True Fiction by Marcus Dalrymple

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Brit John Colson is in Mexico teaching, having been invited out there by his godfather and local school owner Carlos Manuel Fermin. John soon settles in, soon forming a love of the country. But then it all changes… Visiting a public toilet at the wrong moment means that John hears a murder being committed beyond his cubicle door. He goes to the police as he would in the UK but this is Mexico; from that moment on John Colson is a marked man. Meanwhile elsewhere in Mexico tourists are being attracted by more than hot sunshine and tacos. Full review...

Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs by Sarah Forbes

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Imagine, dear reader, a poor girl who is never allowed to play outside like the other children. Instead, she has to spend her day performing horrid chores, like sweeping up mouse-droppings in the creepy, dark cellar and shooing away the cockroaches in the kitchen. So begins a long list of woes for shy Elspeth Hart, who toils tirelessly during the day and spends her nights sleeping in a dusty, cramped wardrobe. Full review...

Scarlet and Ivy The Lost Twin by Sophie Cleverly

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Ivy's twin sister Scarlet had been the strong willed, fearless one whilst Ivy, on the other hand, was timid and shy. Following Scarlet's sudden death Ivy is forced to take her twin's place at the sinister Rockwood Boarding School for girls and once there she finds herself thrust into a mystery she struggles to solve. Her only hope is to behave as Scarlet would have done, so with the help of her new friend, Ariadne, Ivy attempts to conquer her fears and stand up to the wicked Miss Fox and discover what really happened to her sister. Full review...

Creature Teacher by Sam Watkins

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Jake’s nervous about starting his new school. His class teacher, Mr Hyde, is new too but, unlike Jake, he has a reason to be worried. Although class 5b quickly decide that Mr Hyde is the best teacher they’ve ever had, they also discover a problem – whenever he experiences a strong emotion Mr Hyde starts to glow and transforms into a naughty, farting, biscuit-loving creature. Suddenly their teacher is wrecking the classroom and they need to work together to find a way to turn the creature back into their teacher before their evil headmistress finds out. Full review...

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, Emily Boyce (translator) and Jane Aitken (translator)

5star.jpg General Fiction

Meet Laure. She's a widow in her 40s, who is entering her Parisian apartment building one night when she's mugged, and her handbag stolen. Meet Laurent, a middle-aged bookseller, who happens upon the handbag the following morning in the street, just before the binmen take it away, never to be seen again. More or less snubbed when trying to hand it to the police as lost property, he decides to take it upon himself to reunite the bag with its rightful owner. He has no idea their names are so intimately linked, and despite a lot of things being in the bag (including the titular notebook) there is no cash, no phone and no ID documentation at all. What's more – and what looks like making the idea even more fruitless – he has no idea that Laure has fallen into a coma as a result of the mugging… Full review...

Haunt: Dead Wrong by Curtis Jobling

4.5star.jpg Teens

Will and Dougie have been friends for ages. They each understand how the other thinks (well, most of the time) and they stick together through thick and thin. Literally, in fact: Will's dead but somehow he's not only unable to move on to whatever comes next, he actually can't stray more than a few feet away from his best friend. The possibilities for embarrassment are endless. Full review...

Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire by Simon Nicholson

4star.jpg Confident Readers

As it happens, several facts about the childhood of the man who became world famous for his daring stunts and death-defying shows have been recorded. But fiction is the world of what-if, where anything can be imagined, anything can happen. So what if all those 'facts' were actually a cover, made up to conceal Houdini's earliest exploits? What if, as a boy, he ended up far away from his family and his native Hungary and all alone in New York, having to earn a few meagre pennies each day by shining shoes? And what if his fascination with theatre life led him into dangers even greater than anything he was able to create in his later stage act? Full review...

Train by Judi Abbot

5star.jpg For Sharing

Kids nowadays have far too many toys to play with; whilst I had to make do with a piece of string tied around a rock, today’s youth have rooms filled with more plastic contraptions than an aging Hollywood Starlet’s cheeks. Even with all this stuff at hand most parents will tell you that their child will still gravitate more to a few of their favourite things, ignoring a lot of the other offerings available. Perhaps they have a toy train that they are obsessed by? Train! Full review...

Chernobyl Strawberries by Vesna Goldsworthy

4star.jpg Autobiography

A book about a woman from a war-shredded country, who discovers she has breast cancer…Not a bundle of laughs, one would assume. One would be wrong. Chernobyl Strawberries is, amongst other things, very funny. Full review...

Professor Stewart’s Incredible Numbers by Ian Stewart

4.5star.jpg Popular Science

Incredible Numbers starts off easily enough, with a really interesting look at numbers as seen by the earliest people, before moving on to a brief explanation of natural numbers, rational numbers, negative numbers and complex and prime numbers. Subsequent chapters revisit old friends such as Pythagoras’s theorem, the Fibonacci cube, negative numbers, pi and quadratic equations, and other lesser known concepts such as kissing numbers, imaginary numbers and the winsomely-named Sausage Conjecture. Full review...

Waterloo: The Aftermath by Paul O'Keeffe

4.5star.jpg History

There have been several accounts of the battle of Waterloo and of the events that led up to it. But it is always interesting to discover a book which finds a different way of telling the tale, or in this case focusing more on what happened directly afterwards. Full review...

The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

In the summer of 1940, at the start of the Battle Britain, Evie Lucas has two things on her mind. She paints pictures of the war and she has fallen in love with Tony, a young pilot.

Seventy years later, Lucy, an art historian, begins a study into Evie’s life. Lucy is recently widowed and hopes to find solace in the engrossing project. Instead, she finds secrets that people have been working hard to protect for over half a century – and her discoveries have a profound impact on her own life. Full review...

Flirting With French by William Alexander

4.5star.jpg Lifestyle

I am not a bad linguist. I don’t tend to struggle with languages too much, especially when the goal is communicative fluency rather than precise grammatical accuracy, and I’ve taught English as a foreign language in a handful of countries too, so I have some ideas of what does and doesn’t work with language acquisition in adults. William Alexander is, perhaps, not so lucky. An American with a longing to be a Frenchman, he is devoting himself to learning the lingo and much more, and chronicles his efforts in this book. Full review...