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 www.everychildareader.org to get free writing tips and www.genecaresearchreports.com will help you get your paper written for free.

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Reviews of the Best New Books

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You Will Grow Into Them by Malcolm Devlin

5star.jpg Short Stories

You Will Grow Into Them is a thrilling collection of ten short stories all centred on the nature of transition and change. The often grisly, macabre and ghoulish nature of the stories included in Devlin's debut collection are intoxicatingly illicit and the darkness within each tale is deviously addictive. Full review...

Letters From Klara by Tove Jansson

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Famed in the UK for her creation of the Moomin family, Jansson is rather belatedly beginning to gather the richly deserved esteem for her adult writings. For that I offer my heart-felt thanks to publishers Sort of books and Thomas Teal, who has been responsible for most of the translations. Receiving this one, two things strike: firstly I somehow seem to have missed one of the series, and secondly there'll come a time sooner rather than later when there'll be no more to be had. The former will be rectified, the latter is a sad thought. Full review...

An Unlikely Agent by Jane Menczer

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1905. Margaret Trant lives with her ailing, irascible mother in a dreary boarding house in St John's Wood. The pair have fallen on hard times, with only Margaret's meagre salary from a ramshackle import-export company keeping them afloat.When a stranger on the tram hands her a newspaper open at the recruitment page, Margaret spots an advertisement that promises to 'open new horizons beyond your wildest dreams!'. After a gruelling interview, she finds herself in a new position as a secretary in a dingy backstreet shop.But all is not as it seems; she is in fact working for a highly secret branch of the intelligence service, Bureau 8, whose mission is to track down and neutralise a ruthless band of anarchists known as the Scorpions.Margaret's guilty love of detective fiction scarcely prepares her for the reality of true criminality, and her journey of self-discovery forms the heart of this remarkable novel, as she discovers in herself resourcefulness, courage, independence and the first stirrings of love. Full review...

Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

It's more than two years since I read Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery but the memories have stayed with me. I had thought then that a book about brain surgery might sound as though I was taking my pleasures too sadly, but the book was superb - and very easy reading and when I heard about Admissions I decided to treat myself to an audio download, particularly as Henry Marsh was narrating. I knew that my expectations were unreasonably high, but how did the book do? Full review...

Children's Illustrated Thesaurus by DK

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

One of the most valuable literary skills which children can learn is how to use reference books. As a child every question which I began with how do you spell...? would be answered with EXACTLY as it says in the dictionary. This was fine, but the family's Collins Little Gem Dictionary didn't encourage exploration, not least because the font was small and difficult to read. Fortunately those times have now changed and reference book for children are now much more inviting. Not every book comes with a set of instructions but it's worth studying the How to... section, not least because similar systems are used in other reference books. Full review...

Hunting Ground by Val Harris

4star.jpg General Fiction

Nyara Camp is one of the newest camps in the Masai Mara and it's run by James and Alexia Sackville. The guests might sleep in tents, but it's still luxury accommodation in anybody's book. Chui Camp, on the other hand, sticks with the traditional way that safaris were run, including bucket showers. Owner Ralph Somerton is convinced that's what the guests should want and he won't listen to any of his wife Tessa's suggestions for updating the tired venue. It's beginning to be reflected in the profits Chui makes, but instead of upping his own game Somerton would rather see Nyara as unfair competition and it's only a small step from that reasoning to looking at ways of ensuring Nyara's failure. Full review...

Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility by Marian Veevers

4star.jpg Biography

The idea of a dual biography of two contemporaries who never met throughout their lives is an intriguing one. However, there were several unifying factors, which makes it seem logical enough. Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were both renowned writers though one was much more famous than the other, and both were born just four years apart, in the 1770s. Full review...

Blood Forest by Geraint Jones

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Felix. The lucky one. He doesn't feel especially lucky when he staggers out into the grove and finds twelve of his comrades butchered and mutilated in the worst possible ways. He felt even less lucky when the soldiers arrived, Roman cavalry. He might have run, but he knew he'd never make it. He stepped out to face whatever came next. Full review...

First Science Encyclopedia by Dorling Kindersley

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I wasn't introduced to 'science' until I was eleven and went on to senior school: I wasn't alone in this, but it really was too late. Thankfully, times have changed and children at primary school are getting to grips with plants and animals, atoms and molecules and even outer space from a very young age. What's needed is a good, basic reference book which will introduce all the subjects and give a good grounding. It needs to be something which would sit proudly in the classroom library and comfortably on a child's bookshelf. The First Science Encyclopedia would do both well. Full review...

Supertato Run Veggies Run by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

I've heard of these so called superfoods, they are reported to boost your immune system and flush out areas of your body that have gone unnoticed for decades, but does this make them super? In my mind to be a superfood you need to do something spectacular; lift a car from a trapped child, or leap over a building in one bound. The vegetable and fruit in my house can't do any of this, but then they aren't Supertato; a spectacular spud that, more than once, has saved the day with his powers. Full review...

Origami, Poems and Pictures by The British Museum

5star.jpg Crafts

Sometimes you find a delight of a book. On an afternoon when it was unseasonably cold and decidedly wet I discovered Origami, Poems and Pictures and I was transported to Japan. As the title suggests we're looking at three celebrated arts and crafts: the ancient art of paper folding, haiku poetry and painting. I'll confess that it was the origami which caught my attention, but I was surprised by the extent to which the rest of the book caught my imagination. We begin with something very simple: a boat and in case you're worried, all the entries have a degree of difficulty (from 'simple' through to 'tricky') and this one is at the lowest level. Full review...

Harry Potter Colouring Book Celebratory Edition: The Best of Harry Potter colouring by Warner Brothers

4star.jpg Crafts

Imagine pages and pages of images from the Harry Potter books and films for you to colour as you wish. You might have seen some of the images before - I know I have - as they've appeared in the Harry Potter Colouring Book, Harry Potter Magical Creatures Colouring Book, and Harry Potter Magical Places and Characters Colouring Book, but there are several exclusive never-before-seen images which will please the collector of Harry Potter memorabilia. If you're in need of inspiration as to colours then you'll enjoy the sixteen pages of film stills, unit photography and concept art at the back of the book. Full review...

The Secret of the Wooden Chest (Roman Magic) by Catherine Rosevear

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Hannah lives with her parents in a flat above the nursing home where her mother is matron. Hannah is an only child and so she enjoys making friends with some of the home's residents. So when Mrs Oberto moves in, Hannah is keen to make her acquaintance - Hannah has never met anyone Italian before. Mrs Oberto is quite standoffish at first but Hannah persists and soon they are the best of friends. Mrs Oberto is particularly keen on helping Hannah with her school project about ancient Rome and relates many interesting stories about her Sicilian childhood. But she remains tight-lipped about the mysterious wooden chest, the key to which she keeps around her neck... Full review...

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

If you find the techniques used by Rembrandt and Vermeer fascinating, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos provides a masterclass in how to work up a canvas in stages. Framing the novel as the story of a seventeenth century Dutch painting, Dominic Smith vividly sketches out the main contours of his characters and the three time periods they inhabit before we are even one fifth of the way through. Sara is one of the few women artists of the period and her painting is of children skating on a frozen canal, her now dead daughter its central figure. The painting has been in Marty de Groot's family since before Isaac Newton was born and he is the patent lawyer from whom it is stolen in 1950s Manhattan. Ellie Shipley forged a copy of the painting in her postgraduate student years and in 2000 finds herself at the centre of a gathering storm which threatens to destroy her reputation as one of Sydney's foremost fine art academics. Satisfying though those first descriptions are, we then understand these are merely the author's equivalent of the delicate chalk lines used by painters of the Dutch Golden Age to mark out the composition which will follow. Full review...

The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945–2010) by Deirdre Osborne (Editor)

5star.jpg Reference

This literary companion offers fifteen essays addressing the contribution of black and Asian authors to the British literary canon since 1945. It covers not just fiction, but also poetry, plays and performance works. It sits as a kind of joyful cuckoo in the nest, interrupting the usual narratives of literary waves and movements in Britain that take little notice of any perspective other than the dominant white - and posh! - direction of travel. It's a disparate, varied collection of essays, covering spoken word performance poetry, black British urban fiction, LGBTQ writing, liberationist writing and much more. I was really happy to see children's authors such as Malorie Blackman, Jamila Gavin and Catherine Johnson discussed and respected. Full review...

Dr Seuss's ABC by Dr Seuss

4star.jpg For Sharing

No one who has read his work can deny that Dr Seuss had a powerful imagination. He was able to pluck from his brainpan not only interesting takes on old ideas, but also new creatures and worlds that had never been seen before. His books are often madder than a box of March hares, but even he must have had his limits? The humble ABC book (dare I say the dull ABC book), surely he could not bring his sense of anarchic fun to this staple of the children's education market? Full review...

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

4star.jpg General Fiction

The Red Lobster seafood restaurant chain is closing some of its poorly-performing branches just before Christmas. Amid the Christmas lights, office parties and forced jollity Manny DeLeon, the manager of one of these failing outlets, has to keep it all together for one last day. Short-handed, with most of the staff who've bothered to turn up facing unemployment, he tries to make the best of a bad job, all the while knowing this will be the last day he'll spend with the waitress he shouldn't still be in love with, particularly not now he's about to be a dad. Oh, and there's a blizzard on the way. Full review...

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist and Henning Koch (translator)

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tom Malmquist is a poet from Sweden. Originally published in Swedish in 2015, this is his first work of prose. While it's being marketed as a novel, it reads more like a stylized memoir. Similar to Karl Ove Knausgaard's books, it features the author as the central character and narrator, and the story of grief it tells is a highly personal one. Full review...

Your Father's Room by Michel Deon

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I don't feel altogether qualified to review Michel Déon's 2004 fictionalised memoir Your Father's Room, translated here into English for the first time. I hadn't heard of Déon before receiving my copy, let alone read any of his books, published over a 70 year period to much acclaim in his homeland. But it's part of the pleasure of book reviewing to read with no prior knowledge or prejudice, all the more so if you discover an absolute gem. Full review...

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Agatha Christie wrote some tantalising crime thrillers back in her day, and here Andrew Wilson makes her a victim to a plot not unlike one of her own. It's all about the mystery, and it really drives the story forward. Agatha is ambushed by a strange man at the train station; she is given a proposition that confuses her and secretly intrigues her. Indeed, for this man wants her to commit a murder. Full review...

Contagion: Book 1 (Dark Matter) by Teri Terry

4.5star.jpg Teens

It's not a spoiler if I tell you that Callie dies because she does die and she dies in the first few pages of Contagion. Callie - Calista - disappeared more than a year ago. Her brother Kai is still looking for her, hopeful that she will be found alive and well. But Callie isn't alive and well. She's been taken to a secretive medical facility on the island of Shetland, experimented on, and then burned to death. But Callie survived the burning in non-corporeal form. How? Full review...

Siracusa by Delia Ephron

4star.jpg General Fiction

Michael and Lizzie are a writer–journalist couple from New York City; Finn and Taylor live with their ten-year-old daughter, Snow, in Portland, Maine, where Finn (an old flame of Lizzie's) owns a restaurant. After meeting up by chance on a trip to London last year, they decide to go away together for a proper holiday in Italy, to the Sicilian island of Siracusa via Rome. In alternating chapters, the narrative moves fluidly between the perspectives of the four adults, all of whom are reflecting – with the help of hindsight and therapy – on what ended up being a disastrous trip. Although we don't learn until very late on in the book exactly what went wrong, there's a sense that it might be something to do with Snow. Full review...

Politics: Between the Extremes by Nick Clegg

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

The political landscape is changing rapidly at the moment. A little more than two years ago we were facing the end of the UK's first coalition government since World War II and fully expecting that we would see another. Instead we saw a Conservative government elected with a workable majority. Brexit saw the end of one Prime Minister and another elected by a few members of parliament. As I write we're facing another general election, with a Conservative landslide predicted. In two years we've seen the Liberal Democrats collapse from being part of the ruling coalition to a party whose MPs could hold a meeting in a decent-sized car. Full review...

The Beautiful Game by Alan Gibbons

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Football is all about its colours. And even if I write in the season when one team in blue knocks another team in blue from the throne of English football, it's common knowledge that red is the more successful colour to wear. But is that flame red? Blood red? The red of the Sun cover banner when it falsely declared 96 Liverpool FC fans were fatally caught up in a tragedy – and that it had been one of their own making? And while we're on about colour, where were the people of colour in football in the olden days? There are so many darker sides to football's history it's enough to make a young lad question the whole game… Full review...

Lena Lenik S.O.S. by Bernard Ashley

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Lena's mother seems very ill. Scary noises are coming from the bathroom, she's off food and completely listless, complaining of the effort involved in sewing a patch onto a cub scout uniform. It might be a surprise to the young reader of this book when we learn what the reason is – certainly it was obvious from page two for me – but there are definitely more surprises to come. Mother makes a slightly unusual decision about her condition – leaving Lena with a lot on her plate when fate sets in with a surprise of its own… Full review...

The Power by Naomi Alderman

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It started with the girls and spread. From younger woman to older woman, it was awoken and everything changed. Womankind now has the power of electricity in their fingertips and, slowly at first, the balance of power in the world starts shifting. We follow the stories of different people, in different walks of life, who see this from the very beginning and hurtle towards 'the event'. One thing in this startling new development is certain, patriarchal archetypes and chauvinist thinkers are in for the shock of their lives. Literally. Full review...