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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Blackwing: The Raven's Mark Book One by Ed McDonald

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Perfect for fans of Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence, this dark adventure is gripping and bloody; it is a twisted story that spins a web of deceit. Nothing is as it seems, as ageless powers manipulate and control the lives of the characters. The world is a staging ground, all leading to one dramatic confrontation that has been a century in the making. Full review...

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Stanley was four feet tall, about a foot wide, and half an inch thick.

Yes, there's proof that this is the original text of this classic children's book – at least it's not been updated to metric. So while the illustrations are new, we get the real deal, with the young Stanley squished one night, to such an extent he can limbo under shut doors, get airmailed to America to visit relatives, become a kite for his younger brother to play with, and more. But then you don't need to update perfection. Full review...

The Mermaid's Scream (Wesley Peterson) by Kate Ellis

4star.jpg Crime

In 1884 a wealthy young woman became infatuated with the man who ran a travelling puppet show. We'll follow the story of John Lipton's courtship through excerpts from his journal.

In August 2016 Zac Wilkinson was writing the biography of the reclusive novelist Wynn Staniland. It's not easy work as Staniland isn't inclined to give more away than he has to and is unwilling to discuss the one thing which the public will want to know about: his wife's suicide which seemed to follow a scene from his most famous book. Wilkinson is doing his best to drum up interest in the forthcoming book: he does talks at local libraries which are well attended and he was seemingly on his way to one of these talks when he disappeared. Full review...

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight: A Young Man's Voice From the Silence of Autism by Naoki Higashida and David Mitchell

5star.jpg Reference

Naoki Higashida was only 13 years old when he wrote the international best-seller The Reason I Jump. The book was popular because it gave a rare glimpse into the workings of the autistic mind, as told from the unique perspective of a teenager with non-verbal autism. Naoki communicates by using an alphabet grid, or by tracing letters on the palm of a transcriber. Despite this slow and laborious method of writing, he has published several books in his native Japan, and manages to give public presentations to raise awareness of his condition. Fall Down 7 Times Get up 8 reintroduces us to Naoki as a young adult in his 20s and explains how his perspectives on life have changed since writing his first book. Full review...

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

In 1998 a girl called Maryanne disappears in Ireland. In 2017 a woman called Alice is found dead in London. In both cases, Detective Constable Cat Kinsella is coincidentally close by, but she's more worried by the fact her father is too. And he cannot be trusted. Full review...

Girling Up by Mayim Bialik

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Aimed at teenagers, this book focuses on growing up as a girl, or Girling up if you will, and what it means to transition from school girl to grown up, via that hideous detour of teenage years. Full review...

The Ghost in Annie's Room (Little Gems) by Philippa Pearce and Cate James

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Emma is on a family holiday in an older relative's seaside cottage, where she is to sleep in the room in the attic. Her brother has passed on what he says he has overheard – that it is haunted. But even with the mementos of the person that once lived there all around her, and with a strange feeling of being watched, even with the stormy winds knocking tree limbs on to the window – Emma can sleep through it all. But that's not to say things will forever be that way… Full review...

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (translators)

5star.jpg History

War, says Svetlana Alexievich, is first of all murder, and then hard work. And then simply ordinary life: singing, falling in love, putting your hair in curlers…. This extraordinary book is a collection of first-hand accounts by Russian fighting women in the Second World War. A million women joined Russian military forces as soldiers of all ranks, medics, pilots, drivers, snipers, cryptographers. Most were very young, little more than girls of 18 or 19. They were passionate about defending their homeland and often extremely keen to join up, returning again and again to recruitment offices until someone could be persuaded to take them. Their ambition was to help their brothers, fathers, husbands to fight the terrible invader. They were trained and sent to the front, where they were greeted at first with disappointment and disgust by fighting men, who had hoped for reinforcements of able-bodied men. The women had to prove themselves. Full review...

Alison Jay's ABC by Alison Jay

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

At first glance, this is a beautiful but fairly standard alphabet book: one letter per page with a nice big picture of an apple or a panda front and centre - after all, the ABC format is pretty restrictive, isn't it? And truth be told, that's all most small people will see first time round. But look a little closer . . . Full review...

Opposite Things by Anna Kovecses

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Rearing a child is not a competition, but have a conversation with a certain type of parent and they won't agree. Their child can speak four languages. Their child wrote their first sonnet at the age of three. Their child can be seen wistfully looking into the middle distance just wanting to play on the bouncy castle. For me, I am happy, if my child is happy; be that doing sums, or eating play-doh. However, even with a relaxed attitude to educating your kid, it can be fun to learn a little, especially when a book is as fun as Little Mouse's Opposite Things. Full review...

Mudpuddle Farm: Hee-Haw Hooray by Michael Morpurgo and Shoo Rayner

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Two collected stories from Mudpuddle Farm series – Nowt to Worry About and Tickety-Boo. How will the animals react when the sky goes strange and horrifying noises abound? Changes are afoot that could mark the end of Mudpuddle farm; or is it just a new beginning? Full review...

Returning Home by Stephan Santiago

3.5star.jpg Spirituality and Religion

Stephan Santiago has experienced life in a way that's led him to believe we're all on a soul journey back home – that place we inhabited before we were born. This book is a guide as to how we can optimise this journey for ourselves, those around us and our children. Full review...

Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn

4.5star.jpg Biography

John Craske was a fisherman, from a family of fishermen, who became too ill to go to sea. He was born in Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast in 1881 and would eventually die in the Norwich hospital in 1943 after a life which could have been defined by ill health. There were various explanations for what ailed him, what caused him to sink into a stupour, sometimes for years at a time and he was on occasions described as 'an imbecile'. But John had a natural artistic talent, albeit that his work had to be done on the available surfaces in his home. Chair seats, window sills, the backs of doors all carried his wonderful pictures of the sea. Then he moved on to embroidery, producing wonderful pictures of the Norfolk coast - and, most famously, of the evacuation at Dunkirk. Full review...

She Be Damned by M J Tjia

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1863: prostitutes in the Waterloo area are turning up dead, their sexual organs mutilated and removed. When another girl goes missing, fears grow that the killer may have claimed their latest victim. The police are at a loss and so it falls to courtesan and professional detective, Heloise Chancey, to investigate. With the assistance of her trusty Chinese maid, Amah Li Leen, Heloise inches closer to the truth. But when Amah is implicated in the brutal plot, Heloise must reconsider whom she can trust, before the killer strikes again. Full review...

Search and Find: Pride & Prejudice: A Jane Austen Search and Find Book by Sarah Powell

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Search and find books are usually aimed at children. They are a good bit of fun, but they are also a good study tool for adult readers alike. Jane Austen is a fantastic novelist, but her style of writing can be daunting for those not used to such heavy prose. It is very easy to become lost in the myriad of dialogue, characters and events. I find a good plot summary helps when approaching her works, this was especially so in the case of the perplexing and long-winded Emma. Full review...

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence

5star.jpg Teens

In Bailey's opinion, Indigo didn't look like she needed a hero. One by one, she looked Mona, Saskia, Betti and Kay in the eye. Then she gave them the finger: slow motion. Headphones on again, she sauntered off towards the science wing. Hell. That was... She was...

That's Indigo for you! Indigo is seventeen. And on her umpteenth school. Pitt Academy is a last chance for Indigo and her foster mother Keeley is anxious that she makes it there. But it's not easy for Indigo - her reputation for kicking off always precedes her. And that's the least of it - because someone always finds out about her past: that she is the tiny little girl who was found by the body after her father killed her mother. Full review...

Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin

4star.jpg For Sharing

Ah Rapunzel, how well we all know about her long golden hair and her difficult-to-escape tower! Here, however, the story is told with a twist, because there is no handsome Prince who comes riding by to save Rapunzel from her incarceration. No, instead we see Rapunzel is smart enough to figure her own way out, defeating the witch, and going on to a successful witch-hunting career. Full review...

10 Reasons to Love an Elephant by Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Ten reasons to love an elephant, eh? Well, personally, I've never needed ten reasons as they've always been my favourite large animal, the gentle giants of Africa and India, but it was good to find out more about them. Perhaps the most surprising fact which I discovered was that they live in herds headed by their grandmothers. Female elephants and their calves stay together and the oldest female elephant is the one in charge as she knows where to find food and water - and she knows her herd. She remembers about people too. Full review...

The English Civil War in 100 Facts by Andrew Lacey

4.5star.jpg History

The '100 Facts' series is now sufficiently well-established as a guarantee of useful introductory histories. This latest addition, recounting the struggle between King and Parliament, is no exception. Full review...

Terrible True Tales from the Tower of London by Peter Cottrill

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The history of the infamous Tower of London is full of gore and death. Its rich history dates back to the eleventh century and since then it has played host to many famous figures, many of them ill-fated prisoners. The history of the Tower is told within this book's pages, only this time it's told by the ravens that live there. They are the Tower's guardians who reside there permanently due to an ancient legend that all of London will fall should they be removed, and after centuries of watching over the Tower they have their own version of history to tell. Full review...

Murder in Saint-Germain by Cara Black

4star.jpg Crime

Who is Aimee Leduc? I have to be honest and say that though this novel may be seventeenth in series from the best-selling Cara Black, it is in fact my first outing with the deft Parisienne detective. And so, if I'm honest, I wasn't sure what to expect. How does a character with so many investigations under her belt retain the gusto we've come to expect from all good literary detectives? Moreover, how does an author with so well established a character as Aimee Leduc keep her interesting enough for those of us coming late to the party? After reading Murder in Saint-Germain I would suggest that Black manages it quite easily. Full review...

Three Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre and Frank Wynne (translator)

4star.jpg Crime

Christmas week, 1999, and Antoine hasn't got the best of situations. Some of his friends have parted company with him because of the new-fangled Playstation, which his mother refuses to let him waste his time on. He's built a treehouse all by himself, and decided it was solely to woo the girl next door that he loves, but she's rejected it. And his best company, the dog from the other house next door, was injured in a hit and run, and shot to be put out of its misery. In the process of angrily demolishing the treehouse, he's visited by his very friendly and adorable neighbour, the dog's six-year-old owner, and Antoine's swung some of the wood at him – and killed him with one fell and very foul sweep. As the title suggests, there will be a very tense few days and nights while the guilt amasses with the lad – and/or a lifetime of living on a knife-edge, where any false move could lead to him being found out… Full review...

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ years Old by Hendrik Groen and Hester Velmans (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

As the old adage goes, to walk a mile in someone else's shoes is to gain some understanding of what it is to be that person. Admittedly, Hendrik Groen isn't much up for long walks any more, but he does acquire a swish mobility scooter to zoom around in; one could say that we get to zoom a mile in Groen's shoes, and oh, what fun shoes he wears! Full review...

The Exile by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy

4star.jpg Politics and Society

An account of the fate of Al Qaeda and the Bin Laden family since the events of 9/11, The Exile plunges into the murky waters of international terrorism, espionage and politics. Detailed and meticulous, the book tackles the subject from all angles, providing a panoramic view of the subject and acting to enlighten and inform the reader. Full review...

A Storm of Strawberries by Jo Cotterill

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Darby lives on a strawberry farm with her mum, big sister, step dad and step brother. She loves music, dancing, chocolate egg hunts and her big sister Kaydee. She is warm and funny, and she has Down's syndrome. The story looks at the events of one weekend in Darby's life when the farm is threatened by a tornado, and her family is threatened by the revelation of a closely-guarded secret. Full review...

Shelter by Sarah Franklin

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Connie Granger has escaped her bombed-out city home, finding refuge in the Women's Timber Corps. For her, this remote community must now serve a secret purpose.
Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war, is haunted by his memories. In the forest camp, he finds a strange kind of freedom.Their meeting signals new beginnings. But as they are drawn together, the world outside their forest haven is being torn apart. Old certainties are crumbling, and both must now make a life-defining choice.
What price will they pay for freedom? What will they fight to protect? Full review...

Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

5star.jpg General Fiction

18 year old Rachel Fullsmith returns home to Kenya after being away at school in England and finds a lot can change in 6 years. Of course she realises her mother's death would alter things but she's not prepared for her father's live-in 'companion' Sara nor Sara's son Harold sleeping in Rachel's old room. Michael the Kikuyu servant boy she grew up with is still there though and now a man with his own ideas. Meanwhile the unrest between the British rulers and the local Mau Mau fighters is increasing and about to blow. Full review...

The Legion of Flame: Book Two of the Draconis Memoria by Anthony Ryan

5star.jpg Fantasy

WARNING: There are spoilers for Book 1 from the beginning. Lizanne Lethridge, Blood-Blessed and secret agent of the Exceptional Initiatives Division has survived another mission, only to be forced to go out again. This time it entails a man-hunt in a place from which no one has emerged alive. Talking about alive, Claydon Torcreek, having escaped several types of death in the jungles now goes to the southern ice with Hilemore in their current attempt to defeat the dragons and put the world on a safe footing. What if all that waits for them is more dragons and more inventive ways to die? That's a thought that's soon banished from his mind. 'This is where we save the world' says Clay… but he's been wrong before! Full review...