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 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. We can even direct you to help for custom book reviews! Visit to get free writing tips and will help you get your paper written for free.

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Quieter than Killing (D I Marnie Rome 4) by Sarah Hilary

4.5star.jpg Crime

The attacks all seemed to be quite random, but the nights were dark, the weather freezing and D I Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake were spending quite a lot of time on the streets of London. Then Marnie's family home was ransacked and every indication was that it had been done by someone (or on the order of someone) who knew her. Normally Commander Welland would have been able to give Marnie a degree of protection - he knew her history all too well - but his cancer had returned and he was going to be away for four months. His stand-in was nowhere near as understanding in this or other matters. Then it was established that a child was missing - had been missing for ten weeks - but no one had reported it. Full review...

Condition: Book Two - The Curing Begins... by Alec Birri

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Discovering an infamous Nazi doctor conducted abortions in Argentina after the Second World War may not come as a surprise, but why was the twisted eugenicist not only allowed to continue his evil experiments but encouraged to do so? And what has that got to do with a respected neurologist in 2027? Surely the invention of a cure for nearly all the world's ailments can't possibly have its roots buried in the horrors of Auschwitz? The unacceptable is about to become the disturbingly bizarre. What has the treatment's 'correction' of paedophiles got to do with the President of the United States, the Pope and even the UK's Green Party? Full review...

Little Bones by Sam Blake

4star.jpg Crime

It was a fairly ordinary break in. A young artist's home had been given a going over, but it was hard to see that much had been taken. There were suspicions that it might have been one of the usual suspects, only the shoes weren't as they'd have expected to find them if that was to be the case. Something else was not as you might expect to find it: a wedding dress, an old heirloom piece by the look of it, and in the hem, stitched in there, tiny bones. Human bones. Full review...

Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins and Stephen Biesty

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I take it as read that you know some of the history of space exploration, even if the young person you buy books for doesn't know it all. So I won't go into the extremes reached by the Voyager space craft, and the processes we needed to be expert in before we could launch anything. You probably have some inkling of how we learnt that we're not the centre of everything – the gradual discovery of how curved the planet was, and how other things orbited other things in turn proving we are not that around which everything revolves. What you might not be so genned up on is the history of books conveying all this to a young audience. When I was a nipper they were stately texts, with a few accurate diagrams – if you were lucky. For a long time now, however, they've been anything but stately, and often aren't worried about accuracy as such in their visual design. They certainly long ago shod the boring, plain white page. Until now… Full review...

Knife Edge by Robert Swindells

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

I'm just not interested. I'm not interested in there ever being a knife in junior fiction, unless it comes with a lesson. And I'm just not interested unless that lesson tells you one thing – that they're quick. Knives can be quick to find, are quick to whip out, and quick to get the bearer into trouble, whether they actually meet flesh or not. Sam is the student of that lesson here – his school has a Citizenship campaign whereby the pupils do odd jobs for local elderly, and he finds a perfect knife he thinks will defend him from the local gang – a gang whose leader he constantly rattled in primary school. As for the rest – I'll leave his personable first-person narrative to teach you… Full review...

The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Colgan has a diverse portfolio of chick lit (and she also writes Dr Who novels) under her belt but starting with Meet me at the Cupcake Café in 2011, she has established herself as one of the queens of the chick-lit subgenre of comedy romance with food, the Queen of Hearts and the queen of fruit tarts, to an obvious benefit of her popularity and presumably her bank balance and to the sound of satisfied ahhhhs and mmmms from her growing fanbase. As you can see I do miss the Old Jenny a little bit, the brasher and swearier characters and the much more cutting humour. But. There is something to be said for a well written feelgood novel and I did enjoy the sweetshop, the café, the bakery and now the Summer Seaside Kitchen which has all the tried, tested and well loved ingredients of a perfectly escapist, mostly but not totally predictable chick-lit romance with a foodie angle that Jenny Colgan has made something of her house special. Full review...

Pairs Underwater by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Following on from Pairs in the Garden by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie, comes the aquatic themed Pairs Underwater. It's a lift-the-flap book with the added twist of a game of Memory thrown in, as you try to match the pairs across each double page spread. Full review...

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

4star.jpg Science Fiction

When hundreds of worlds have been at war for a long time, the announcement of a ceasefire takes a while to reach everyone. It's perhaps not surprising that the worst of the soldiers using the war as an excuse for crimes, don't immediately give up. Scur, a conscript who has just been given the hope of returning to her family, has the misfortune to run into one of these war criminals before the peacekeepers arrive. He leaves her to die, but she subsequently wakes up from hibernation on a prison ship, only to discover that he is there too. And that's the least of her worries. Full review...

The Chalk Pit (Dr Ruth Galloway) by Elly Griffiths

4star.jpg Crime

Norwich is - apparently - riddled with tunnels, many dating back to the time when chalk was mined there. When bones are discovered in one of the tunnels it seems obvious that they've been there for hundreds of years, but Dr Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist, isn't so certain. The colour doesn't look right and she has a suspicion that the bones have been boiled: they've also not been there that long. DCI Harry Nelson has a murder case on his hands. His team has other problems: DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper and there's not a lot to go on other than the rumour that she's 'gone underground', but what, exactly, does that mean? Full review...

Helper and Helper by Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Snake and Lizard, after deciding not to eat or be eaten by the other, have set up their business designed to help other animals in need. But they need a new sign for their premises, and work done to the entrance burrow. But what name goes first on the advert, and who is to do the labour for the expansion? Those arguments done – and there will be arguments aplenty before this book is out – they find a rival has stolen all their traffic. Can they get any business back to their door? A rabbit that's too pale for the desert life, critters in need of a bed for the night, and even one wondering if the world is flat or round, all prove they can. It's a hard life being such unlikely partners… Full review...

The Midnight Mystery (Dotty Detective, Book 3) by Clara Vulliamy

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

If you haven't already, meet Dot. She's an ace child detective, inspired by her favourite TV programme, and her pet dog and best friend from school. But at least one of those is left behind this time, as Dot and the rest of her class go to an adventure camp playground for a couple of nights. Daytimes are spent being sporty and adventurous, as are the evenings supposed to be, but someone seems intent on ruining things for Dot. What is the evil and bragging Laura up to? Full review...

Secret FC by Tom Palmer and Garry Parsons

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Meet Lily, Maddie, Zack, Khal, and James and Batts. They all go to a school together – and they do it eagerly, as their inner city life is so devoid of nature and the open space that the playground is the only room large enough for football. But lo and behold the new head teacher has banned all ball games, on health and safety grounds. How do these friends get over their disappointment? Why, with imagination, hard work and a firm belief that what they're doing is right, is how – they convert a rotting tennis court handily hidden in the school's woods into a pitch, where after a lot of labours they can play to their heart's content. Or so they think… Full review...

Bruno by Catharina Valckx and Nicolas Hubesch

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Meet Bruno. No, not that Bruno – for pity's sake, this is a book for the under-eights and not a character from teen comedy movies. No, Bruno is a quite unmistakeable cat, in a bright blue cloth cap, and this is a book regarding various days in his life that he thinks are of note – whether they're the day the power goes out, or a day that would be completely uninteresting were it not for a joke from his best friend. But don't you dare make the mistake of thinking this sounds mundane – here is a background couple, of a hippo and a crocodile, just walking past the heroes. Here is said best friend, an elderly pony, forced somehow to walk backwards. Here is when Bruno is playing host to a turtle dove addicted to jam, who is forced to hide when a wet wolf gate-crashes. I think you'll agree that any day spent reading this book will not be a boring one. Full review...

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G Thompson

4star.jpg Teens

Six years ago, cousins Amy and Dee were abducted. They were never recovered and no trace of them was ever found - that is until Amy suddenly returns home, alone and unable to tell anyone where Dee is or what happened to her. Amy's unexpected homecoming gives hope to her family, but she's a different person after spending most of her teen years in captivity, and she's not sure if she can ever fully go back to her old life. Amy is someone she left behind when she was 10 years old and in the years of her absence, she became Chelsea and Dee became Stacie. But why has she come back now? Who took them in the first place? And where is Dee Full review...

Corpus by Rory Clements

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

A suicidal overdose and the murder of upper class Cecil Langley and his wife are two events that may be unconnected. However this is England in 1936, a magnet for opposing forces and their first moves in preparation for the coming conflict, assisted or prevented by a royal crisis (depending on which side you're on). Cambridge history professor Tom Wilde may fall into the middle of this accidentally to begin with but his curiosity has been piqued enough to ensure he's not walking away. Full review...

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Solimar wants more from her life than her Mexican home can offer and now she's 18, she can go find it. Her target is to get to the USA, a target so blinding that she doesn't realise what reaching out for it will cost. Meanwhile Kavya is living the American dream. She's rich in friendship, family, a loving husband and life prospects and yet Kavya has a baby-shaped hole in her world. The problem is that there's only one baby for both of them… Lucky boy! Full review...

Polly and the Puffin: The New Friend by Jenny Colgan

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Polly was just about to start Big School and, being honest, she wasn't keen. She couldn't wear her spotty wellies for one thing, but worst of all, she couldn't take Neil with her. We heard about Neil the rescued puffin in the first book in this series and although Neil now has a nest in the nearby lighthouse, he and Polly are still very close. When she gets to school Polly doesn't really feel like joining in any of the games: she's the lonely little figure on the edge of everything. Her teacher suggests that she and Ronita make friends: have you ever noticed how difficult it is to even speak when someone suggests something like that? Polly and Ronita don't make friends - they end up shouting at each other in a 'mine's bigger/better than yours' argument. What about? Well, birds of course. Ronita has a macaw. Full review...

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

4star.jpg General Fiction

Kate Battista is in an odd and not entirely satisfactory situation. At the age of twenty nine she finds herself working as a teaching assistant and running the home for her scientist father (who is eccentric, to say the least) and her younger sister Bunny, who might be fifteen but is actually three going on thirty. Dr Battista has other problems - and when he has a problem he offloads them onto Kate (he's concerned that she hasn't yet done his taxes). This time though, it's serious. Pyotr, his brilliant young lab assistant, is in the USA on a visa and it's about to expire. If that happens Dr Battista is convinced that he'll not be able to complete his work and all that he's done will be for nothing. Full review...

Good Dog McTavish by Meg Rosoff

5star.jpg Confident Readers

McTavish did wonder whether he was making a mistake in adopting the Peachey family: it was a decision which came from the heart rather than the head. You see the Peacheys were dysfunctional: Ma Peachey, an accountant by profession, decided that she was fed up with chasing around after an ungrateful family, so she resigned and dedicated herself to her yoga with half a hint that she might also dedicate herself to her yoga teacher. She gave up cooking, cleaning, baking, washing and all the other things which kept the family going, such as finding lost keys and getting people out of bed so that they got to wherever they were going on time. And the family? Well, they had no idea of how to cope, with one exception. Full review...

Nancy Parker's Spooky Speculations by Julia Lee

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Nancy Parker, likeable maidservant, and part-time super sleuth, returns in this enjoyable mystery story set in 1920. Nancy is delighted to be rescued from her job on the fruit and vegetable market stall when she is offered the job of housemaid at an old house by the sea thanks to her old friend Ella who lives nearby. However strange noises and bumps in the night coupled with ghostly appearances soon disturb Nancy's contentment. The two friends team up and decide to investigate the mysterious happenings. However all does not go smoothly for our young heroines as they cope with unfriendly neighbours, spooky cellars and Nancy's kindly but eccentric boss. Full review...

A British Lion in Zululand by William Wright

5star.jpg History

During the reign of Queen Victoria, southern Africa was a land of opportunity. Fame and fortune was to be found for any brave soul willing to suffer the hardships and dangers the lands offered. For the government of Britain it was also the source of major headaches. The balance between abundant wealth and a native population that would not accept colonial rule created constant conflict. 'A British Lion in Zululand' is the story of the man, widely regarded, as the person who drew these conflicts with the Zulu tribe to a conclusion. Field Marshall Garnet Joseph Wolseley was a heroic and larger than life figure in Victorian Britain; however, even today his role in shaping the future of a continent is controversial. With the aid of extensive research from a number of new sources, William Wright has defined the man and brought fresh insight to a neglected area of British colonial history. Full review...

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Frau Isa

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Some little girls want to be princesses, but the girl who would become Marie Curie wanted to be a scientist. She was from a poor family in Warsaw but she was determined to do well and won a gold medal for her studies. In Poland, in the middle of the nineteenth century, only men were allowed to go to University, so Marie moved to Paris where she had to study in an unfamiliar language, but was soon the best maths and science student. It was here that she met and married Pierre Curie, another scientist and they jointly discovered radium and polonium: they would eventually win the Nobel Prize for Physics for this work. Marie was the first woman to receive the honour. Pierre was killed in a road accident, but Marie went on to win a second Nobel Prize, this time for Chemistry. Her work is still benefiting people today. Full review...

Waking in Time by Angie Stanton

4star.jpg Teens

Abbi has had a hard year. Her beloved grandmother died and, before the grief really had a chance to settle, Abbi has left the safety and security of home to start college in Wisconsin. And it really does feel as though she has left the two most important people in her life - mother and grandmother - behind. But it's hard to forget and somehow the past keeps hold of Abbi's mind. And then, one morning, she wakes in her dorm room to find herself transported back in time to 1983. And it won't be the first time-shift she experiences. As Abbi jumps further and further back in time, she meets Will. Time is pushing Will forwards, not backwards and his journey began in 1927. Full review...

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Elisa Munso

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

As a child Agatha Christie and her mother would read a book together every afternoon, but there were early signs of what the future novelist would become: she always had a better idea about how the story should end. She would read in bed at night and detective novels were always her favourites. In the First World War Agatha, who was then in her early twenties, nursed wounded soldiers in hospitals: her experiences with poisons and toxic potions would be put to good use when her first detective novels were published just after the end of the war. Most people have heard of her first and most famous detective - Hercule Poirot - or of Miss Marple. Mrs Christie's novels were widely read and her plays were very popular in theatres. Full review...

Quicksand by Henning Mankell

5star.jpg Autobiography

How do you judge a book? Not by its cover, we're told. In my case, often by the number of turned down corners or post-it-note-marked pages by the time I've finished reading it. Sometimes, by whether I worry about leaving its characters to fend for themselves while I take a break…or by how much of it stays with me afterwards or for how long. In this case, it doesn't matter. However, I judge Quicksand the judgement comes up the same. This collection of vignettes from an ageing, possibly dying, writer looking back on his own life is as powerful as it is simple, as easy to read as it is impossible to forget. Full review...

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope

5star.jpg General Fiction

It would be unkind and certainly unfair to say that it was Stacey Grant's mother who was the cause of Stacey losing her job: she might well have been the trigger but it was her manager, Jeff Dodds, who used her request to work flexibly as an excuse to make her redundant. There was a lot of support for Stacey - the staff were as stunned as she was, but in terms of the people she could rely on, there were just a few. Her mother was out of the equation : it was her dementia which started the problem and her husband Steve was wrapped up in the fact that he'd just been promoted to board level in his job. There were the girls: the four of them had met at University and Stacey, Melissa, Beth and Gaby had been firm friends ever since. And there was Bruno the dog. Full review...