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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Blue and Bertie by Kristyna Litten

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Bertie is a creature of habit. Every day is predictable but Bertie likes the certainty of the routine. I know how he feels. One day, though, something happens. He oversleeps and when he wakes up the others are gone and he is all alone. Although he still ventures out, he gets a little lost and is soon quite upset. Enter Blue who is just like him but oh so different too. Full review...

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

4star.jpg Thrillers

Nora Shaw hasn't seen her friend Clare since Nora left school ten years ago and didn't look back. Now working as a crime writer and living in London, she is naturally surprised when she receives an invitation to Clare's hen party – a weekend in a woodland cottage in the Northumberland country. Curious as to why Clare would invite her after all these years Nora reluctantly agrees to come, but as the weekend unfolds something goes very wrong and old secrets are slowly revealed. Full review...

Mungo Monkey to the Rescue by Lydia Monks

4star.jpg For Sharing

Fans of lift the flap books may have come across Mongo Monkey before as he has a series of adventures that always seem to entail lifting up some things and flapping others. The interaction in the books is very enjoyable, but sometimes it feels like you are just following a monkey and his family around on a normal day. Couldn't creator Lydia Monks combine this touch and feel element with a story that actually goes somewhere? Perhaps Mungo's day out with his Dad will be key. Full review...

I Love You Already by Jory John and Benji Davies

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You may have met Bear and Duck before; one is a recluse who just wants to go to sleep, whilst the other is full of energy and just wants to play. The friction between the two may have been resolved by the end of Goodnight Already by Jory John and Benji Davies, but that does not stop Duck from wondering if Bear really likes him or not. Do our best friends really have to tell us they love us, or should we just assume by their actions that they do? Full review...

Death Wears a Beauty Mask by Mary Higgins Clark

4star.jpg Short Stories

In 1972, Mary Higgins Clark began writing a novella entitled Death Wears a Beauty Mask. She struggled with the story and put it aside, where it lay forgotton for several decades. When the author rediscovered the manuscript amongst some old files, she decided that she liked it and was ready to complete the long-awaited ending. Death Wears a Beauty Mask joins some of her other works, both old and new, in an entertaining collection of short stories full of mystery and suspense. Full review...

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

4.5star.jpg Teens

Caddy and Rosie have been best friends for years and even going to different schools hasn't parted them. And this is the summer that Rosie intends to be different. She'll get a boyfriend, finally. Perhaps even lose her virginity. And experience a Significant Life Event. But the best laid plans and all that... Full review...

Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris

4star.jpg Thrillers

On the face of it they look like the perfect couple. Jack is handsome and a dedicated lawyer. He's never lost a case in his work with battered women. He looks like a loving husband too. His wife, Grace, is elegant and a brilliant housewife. Her sister Millie has Down's Syndrome but Grace is her guardian and they're close. She and Jack go to see Millie at her school most weekends and she'll soon be coming to live with them when she's eighteen. You might wonder why Grace is very careful about what she says in front of Jack and why you can never get her on her own and you're probably a little bit curious as to why Grace is never available for social events during the day when she doesn't work, but there's a very simple answer. Grace is a prisoner. Full review...

Hamish and the Neverpeople by Danny Wallace

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Ok. You may know this already but Hamish recently saved the world. And now he is about to meet the Prime Minister, who wants to say thank you. Very much. But things don't quite go to plan. The Prime Minister appears to have gone quite mad. Something about pants. And one by one, people start following him. Before he knows it, Hamish is pulled right into the thick of a second threat to humanity, this time involving the Neverpeople. The same Neverpeople he's been told his father was helping during his personal battle against evil. Full review...

Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den by Aimee Carter

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Simon Thorn doesn't see his mother often. Instead, he lives with his Uncle Darrell in his small New York apartment. But to be honest, an unusual family structure is the least of Simon's worries. Simon has a secret: he can talk to animals. You might think this to be a singular talent and something to be happy about. But Simon's ability makes him relate to animals differently to other children and, as we all know, any kind of difference is like a red rag to bullies. And Simon is firmly on the radar of the school bullies. Full review...

Little Why by Jonny Lambert

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Many of us have felt the pain of insistent question asking from the back of the car; are we there yet or why is the sky blue? In 2016 we can attach our children to multimedia devices so that they learn all they need to know from the Matrix whilst we get on with driving. However, curious young minds will keep asking questions. Sometimes it is better to give them an answer, rather than just telling later. Full review...

Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes

4.5star.jpg Entertainment

Oh, how the book reviewing gods like to give, and equally like to take away. Here before me is a brand, spanking new collection of journalism by the wonderful Marian Keyes – but it's a proof copy, so there's no photo of the author. Even if over the years I have stopped reading her novels, I have always turned to the author picture to remind myself such sights exist in this world. Himself is a lucky man, for sure. But beyond sounding like a letch, what can I say about this – the beauty's third large dose of essays, web columns and other journalism? I can start with agreeing that I am not the target audience, but it's easy enough to see from these pages exactly what the target is. So much like that test you do – you know the one, that formulates decisions about the age and commonality of all things in space to come up with how many billions of planets are likely to have alien life on – you can narrow things down quite readily here, and still come up with a huge number. Full review...

Young Eliot: From St Louis to The Waste Land by Robert Crawford

5star.jpg Biography

Did T.S. Eliot like ice-cream? I should really be asking, of course, whether Tom liked ice-cream, since Robert Crawford in his marvellous biography insists on bringing us into intimate and personal contact with this so closed and impersonal of poets. For many of us, to wonder what this literary giant's favourite flavour of ice-cream was seems a somehow unsuitable curiosity – irreverent or frivolous even – as if to think about his taste for such ordinary pleasures would distract from the appreciation for his very momentous achievements in poetry. It is, however, Crawford's aim to make these kinds of commonplace aspects of T.S. Eliot's life and personality much more familiar to us, as he draws our attention to the poet's childhood years and youth. Full review...

Unforgettable Walks by Julia Bradbury

4star.jpg Travel

I've long been a fan of Julia Bradbury's walking programmes on television - I credit her with sparking my own interest in walking - so the news that there would shortly be another series of programmes and a book to accompany the series was music to my ears. This time she's looking at Britain's best walks with a view and she roams through Dorset, the Cotswolds, Anglesey, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lakes, Cumbria, the South Downs and the Peak District. Unless you're in Scotland there's something reasonably close to just about everyone, with a good spread around all points of the compass. Full review...

Nod by Adrian Barnes

4.5star.jpg Dystopian Fiction

For anyone who has suffered from insomnia, the idea of a world with no sleep is an unsettling place as it feels so real. The thought of having to drag yourself to work after a night with no sleep is bad enough, but what about two nights, or three, or four? Society will crumble if everyone missed five meals in a row, but what would happen if we all missed five nights of sleep? If you end up in the land of Nod, we are all in trouble. Full review...

The Gessami Residence by Jane L Gibson

3star.jpg Women's Fiction

Jenny Walker has been a widow for three years. She's had support from her parents (Dad's still a bit protective), her two sons, who are at university, and her three girl friends. The four women have had a meal together every week but now they've decided to go on holiday for a fortnight. One of the women - Rose - is in the business so she's in charge of making the arrangements and she insists that they have to turn up at the airport before they find out their destination. Ibiza wasn't quite what they were expecting, but then three of the four women are unattached (Amanda is married - in an unenthusiastic sort of way) and they all like to drink and flirt. What couldn't go right? Full review...

Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Holly Sparkes is an ordinary 11-year-old schoolgirl, until she is struck by a mysterious bolt of lightning and then everything changes and she becomes extraordinary! Just like one of the characters in her brother's much loved comics Holly has developed superpowers. Holly can generate a massive amount of electricity in seconds, a skill that can, as Holly discovers, cause mayhem unless she can learn to control it. Her brother Joe, an expert in these things, decides to become her mentor and together they resolve to use Holly's new powers to good effect. They get the opportunity sooner than they expect with the arrival in their town of the company CyberSky and the sinister Professor Macavity. Full review...

All The Stars In The Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

4star.jpg General Fiction

It was 1935 and Loretta Young wanted fame and success in Hollywood. Part of it was being young (just twenty one) and beautiful but she was also conscious that the money she brought in mattered to her family. She was hungry for love too: her father had left when she was young. Her step-father had done little better and there was a need for a man she could love and look up to. She developed a reputation for falling in love with her leading men: first it was Spencer Tracy but on the set of The Call of the Wild she fell for Clark Gable - and he for her. Full review...

I Am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz

5star.jpg For Sharing

The first time we meet Bear he is bare! Imagine – a naked animal, in the forest with his bottom on display. Squirrel is so shocked he's dropped his nuts. Ooh matron. Full review...

The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Sarah's son has just died in an avalanche and as such this is a book very much about bereavement and grieving and what next. It's odd to think that a basis of personal tragedy made this an intriguing read, but that was the case. Full review...

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

1805: Napoleon Bonaparte is on the way to conquering Europe while what's left of Europe (including the Russian army led by Tsar Alexander) stands in his way. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky quickly gets a reputation as military hero although few know this is allied to his death wish. Meanwhile back in Russia the remaining aristocracy have no doubt that their motherland will win and so they continue with daily life. Pierre, the illegitimate son of Count Bezukhoff buries his life in wine, women, song and more wine but the death of his father takes him on a journey to find happiness, the long way round. 12-year-old Natasha Rostov dreams of love and happiness, searching with age-related exuberance and inexperience. The older generation are there to help and hinder as they take their places as pawns and puppeteers in the manipulation and social climbing that's become second nature… that is until the tide of war changes. Full review...

Little One by Jo Weaver

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

There is a subtle balance needed when finding a book to read to a toddler; one that takes into account the needs of the child, but perhaps also the needs of the adult. Do you really want to be stuck reading an ugly book about a pair of underpants for several months? (Oops we seem to have lost that book!) However, a book with striking visuals that strikes a chord with a parent may not always chime with a child. Is a children's book always meant to be just for kids? Full review...

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

3.5star.jpg Crime

Detective Casey Duncan has a dark past, and it's about to catch up with her. When her best friend Diana is attacked by an abusive ex, the two women realise they have to disappear, fast. And they need sanctuary. Diana's heard of a hidden town that's so remote it's almost impossible to reach. A town that desperately needs a new detective. Full review...

3, 2, 1... Draw! by Serge Bloch

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I can't draw. I've never been able to draw. A blank sheet of paper and a pencil frightens me. I thought I was probably a little bit old to change my ways but then I discovered 3, 2, 1... Draw! and there might have been a movement within the tectonic plates of my brain. It's a drawing book which isn't about blank pages: it's about imagination and inspiration, with the first encouraged and the second delivered by the barrow load. I've just had more fun than I thought possible with pencil and paper! Full review...

Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Darcy's a typical teenager whose natural habitat is the shopping mall and the multiplex. It's, therefore, not surprising that she's finding it almost impossible to adjust to living in a snowy wilderness without television, a phone signal or wifi. It doesn't help that she's also recovering from pneumonia and tires quickly. But it is this very weakness that changes her life when, exhausted, she stumbles into the shelter of a cave and finds herself embraced by a hibernating grizzly bear. Full review...

Atticus Claw Hears a Roar by Jennifer Gray

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

If you haven't already, meet Atticus Claw. This is the seventh chance you've had, may I mention. He was an outstanding burglar, but now, as he is 'owned' by the children of a policeman, he has come over to the light side, and is solving crimes and not causing them – which is especially important as no end of criminality has been going on. Chancing on a lost explorer's lost treasure chest, mysterious clues are dropped to lead both goodies and baddies on the trail of jaguar gods, once worshipped by the Maya – did they really take all their treasure to a hidden valley in a last-ditch attempt to appease their sacred spirits and save their civilisation? How many of the diverse characters, including a gang of idiotic magpies, are going to contrive to come along on the adventure? And is one of them a witch – and if so, what does that make Atticus? Full review...

Sammy the Shy Kitten by Holly Webb

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

An adorably, warm and cute story about what happens when Emma falls in love with a tiny sweet feral kitten whom she names Sammy. To persuade Mum and Dad to let her keep him she must learn all she can about taming wild kittens – and, of course, win little Sammy's confidence and trust. Full review...

History's People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan

4.5star.jpg History

According to the 19th century historian Thomas Carlyle, 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men'. Historian Margaret McMillan acknowledges in her introduction to this volume, based on a series of recent lectures, that there is a long-standing debate in history over whether events are moved either by individuals or by economic and social changes or technological and scientific advances, and suggests that there is no right or wrong answer. Full review...