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. 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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Thinking Allowed by Julian Wiles

4star.jpg Business and Finance

Thinking Allowed? Hmm, I thought, what has that got to do with building a thriving optical lens business? But within a few pages of starting to read, I was convinced that it was perfect. You see, this isn't a book which you read, rather like a Delia Smith book, to give you a precise recipe for how you must proceed to achieve a perfect result. No two businesses are alike, any more than any two owners are alike and Julian Wiles allows you to approach your business from all angles: there are even ways you can get his personal advice. This is no ordinary 'how to' book. Full review...

How to Read New York: A Crash Course in Big Apple Architecture by Will Jones

5star.jpg Travel

New York is home to some of the most iconic and instantly-recognisable pieces of architecture in the world. The city is a mishmash of architectural styles, a place where Classical and Colonial meet Renaissance and Modernist. The result is a glorious fusion that works perfectly and upon closer inspection has a plethora of secrets just waiting to be revealed. Welcome to New York... Full review...

Toby and Sox: The Heartwarming Tale of a Little Boy With Autism and a Dog in a Million by Vikki Turner

5star.jpg Autobiography

Sometimes I found myself holding him on my knee, quietly crying above his huddled little body – so quietly he wouldn't be able to tell – just hoping that I could physically hold all the broken pieces together and somehow make everything OK.

Vikki Turner is a busy mum of four, and for her, family is everything. Her first two children gave her no cause for concern, hitting their developmental milestones right on cue and behaving beautifully when in public. When Toby came along, she naturally expected things to be the same, but it soon became apparent that there was something different about him. Toby had a fear of bright lights and insisted on wearing sunglasses wherever he went. Sounds bothered him, so he constantly wore earphones to block out the outside world. Earphones in, sunglasses on and hood up, Toby had created his own 'bubble' in which he could feel safe. Full review...

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

3.5star.jpg Teens

The Zeroes have found a new home. If you didn't meet them all last time, they are six super-powered teens, with a guru amongst them and generally a skill that works best when concerning crowds of people. Their home is a night-club – one can imbue the simple act of handing out flyers to it with the magic of his inner voice that tells everyone what they want most to hear, the lighting gal is so in tune with technological signals she is practically part of her rig, and the DJ herself can feed off and feed back to the emotions of the revellers. But while their secretive little club – also a Faraday cage – is an ideal place for them to experiment, to enhance their powers and learn every nuance of using them and what that means, they are inviting regular humans to come along. That is, of course, until two brand new Zeroes slip the net – and prove to be quite talented, and more than a little malicious… Full review...

Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

4star.jpg Crime

Second and final book in sequence set in a world where Germany won WW2 and Nazi experiments on Jewish children has produced shapeshifting humans. Can Yael defeat the Wehrmacht? Interesting, moving and absorbing. Full review...

Shot Through the Heart (DI Grace Fisher 2) by Isabelle Grey

4star.jpg Crime

In many ways it was horrific, but quite simple. On Christmas day a man with a rifle shot and killed five people: the first was his ex-wife's new partner, a local policeman, but the other four were simply people who happened to be around. He then went to the local churchyard and turned the gun on himself. Six dead, no perpetrator on the loose and it looks as though all that needs to be done is to give evidence at the inquest, but DI Grace Fisher can't leave it at that. She wants to know where Russell Fewell got the gun and the bullets: she's also not convinced about the honesty of the dead policeman and that's an unpopular attitude to have about a local hero. Full review...

Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak

4star.jpg Thrillers

Her Darkest Nightmare has all the right ingredients for a crime thriller. Shrewd, intelligent, and hard-as-nails protagonist? Check. Fantastic setting? Check. A compelling mystery? Check! A thoroughly despicable villain? Check, and check again… and maybe check one more time… Full review...

Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band by Simon Callow

4.5star.jpg Biography

Orson Welles, the noted actor, director and producer, was one of those larger than life characters whose impact on the world of stage and screen during his lifetime was inestimable. Simon Callow has found the task of condensing his story into a single volume is impossible, and this is the third of three solid instalments. Full review...

Crush by Frederic Dard and Daniel Seton (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

In this story of Thelma and Louise, it's Louise we meet first, through her narration. She's a seventeen year old, telling us of a quite awful and smelly satellite town of Paris she lives in, with the sight of factories and stench of food processing plants keeping her company. She lives at home with her mother, complete with hare-lip, and abusive step-father, and is working at one of those factories until she sees a paradise in their midst – the ever-sunny, sexy and sophisticated life of an American NATO worker and his wife. Impulsively, she asks to be their maid – and indeed moves into the couple's large, messy home. But little does she know what lurks in the shadows in that building, behind their gigantic car and their cute porch swing and al-fresco dining – the unhappiness, and even the tragedy… Full review...

Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Kate Shackleton felt that she needed a holiday and since it was August when nothing ever happened, she decided that it was the ideal time to visit her friend Alma and goddaughter Felicity in Whitby. The timing was good too - Mrs Sugden was going to visit her cousin in Scarborough and Jim Sykes was taking his family to Robin Hood's Bay. Perfect! Well, it would have been except for a couple of things... Full review...

The Cornish Guest House (Tremarnock) by Emma Burstall

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

The Cornish Guest House is the sequel to the best-selling Tremarnock which introduced us to hard-working Liz and her disabled daughter Rosie who were adjusting to life in a small Cornish village by the sea. The sequel begins six months after the first book, and Liz and Rosie are happily settled in their new lives and enjoying the warmth of the close-knit community. The village is soon abuzz with gossip, however, as a new couple have just moved in and are planning to open a guest house. The affable and good-looking Luke soon charms the neighbours by immersing himself into village life. His wife Tabitha, on the other hand, seems aloof and reserved. Could she be hiding a secret? Full review...

The Dhow House by Jean McNeil

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Rebecca Laurelson is an English doctor working in an African field hospital in the midst of a political conflict when she is suddenly and inexplicitly forced to leave her post. She goes to stay with her estranged Aunt Julia and her family on Africa's east coast away from the violence and daily blood shed of war, however their lives are full of beach and cocktail parties which contrast greatly to Rebecca's way of living. But the threat of war is on the horizon for Julia's family and their fellow white Africans – terror attacks are on the rise all along the coast and Rebecca knows more about it than the rest of her family. With unrest brewing will the true reason for Rebecca's hasty departure from her post be revealed? Full review...

Highest Mountain, Deepest Ocean by Kate Baker, Zanna Davidson and Page Tsou

3.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The greatest thing a good library can do is lie in wait, holding the weight of the entire world on its shelves. Let alone all the imaginative fiction it can take guardianship of, it can also store a huge gamut of facts, opinions and true tales, transporting a reader when they choose to take a book down and read it wherever they want to go. This book is one of those that can take you places, too – 3.6 metres down into the earth, where a Nile crocodile might have dug itself to lay out a drought, its heart beating twice a minute; or to the hottest or driest, or most rained-on place. It can take you back to prehistory and size you up against the biggest raptors and other dinosaurs, or to the centre of the very earth itself. There the pressure is akin to having the entire Empire State Building sat on your forehead – now that's weight indeed… Full review...

Secrets of the Sea by Kate Baker and Eleanor Taylor

3.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When the young are urged to explore the world around them, we adults never state it, but there's a huge section of the world they are quite unlikely to go investigating in. And for obvious reasons – it can be slightly dangerous even to enter it, and while it's huge it's not on every doorstep. I'm talking about the ocean, of course – which is where books such as this come in to explain and illustrate the topic. With so much of it to be researched and encountered, you never know – this book might well inspire a pioneering discovery some time in the future. Full review...

The Widow by Fiona Barton

5star.jpg Thrillers

Newly widowed Jean Taylor is being interviewed by top investigative reporter Kate Waters. Jean sees that she's not like the other reporters, Kate's not battering down Jean's door, she's nice, patient, she feels like a friend. But Jean isn't completely fooled, Kate wants to know about her husband, about the terrible crime he was accused of, how Jean feels about him now and the most dangerous question of all… what Jean knows. Full review...

Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas by Alison Uttley and Margaret Tempest

4star.jpg Confident Readers

It's a little known fact that Alison Uttley used to live in my local pub. Not in an alcoholic sort of way, but when the building that's now a pub used to be something else, she was one of its residents. There's a sign on the wall and everything, right next to the table where I recently enjoyed an impromptu tiffin-tin curry one Friday night when I hadn't prepared anything for tea and really didn't fancy starting to do so. Little Grey Rabbit is far less slovenly than I am, and would never be so under prepared. A proper domestic goddess, in this book she demonstrates her ability to bake Christmas treats, source unusual gifts, decorate the house and all the while supervise the other animals. Full review...

Sinner Man by Lawrence Block

4star.jpg Crime

Everybody has to start somewhere, but if you are as prolific a writer as Lawrence Block, you may no longer be able to find the beginning. His first crime publication came and went in the early 60s and fifty years later he did not have a copy as the book had been published under an alias with a different title unknown to him. In 2016 that book has surfaced in the form of Sinner Man and has all the hallmarks of the veteran crime writer's early books; murder, dubious characters and a bit of pulp naughtiness. Full review...

The Purple Shadow by Christopher Bowden

4star.jpg General Fiction

Colin Mallory is a young actor in Paris. Colin had been working with a theatre company putting on English language Shakespeare productions. They were popular but unprofitable so Colin is now at a loose end while his partner, Bryony, is off shooting a film. Before returning to London, Colin meets up with Paul Barnard, an art gallery director and his sister's partner. At the Galerie Marion Ducasse, Colin and Paul come across a painting. The portrait of a young woman turns out to be Sylvie Ducasse, the great-aunt of the gallery's owner. Full review...

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

5star.jpg Teens

Three Dark Crowns is a high class fantasy novel following a set of triplets: Katharine, Arsinoe and Mirabella, who are each gifted with specific magic and are equal heirs to the crown. Katharine is a poisoner with the ability to ingest the deadliest poisons, a girl who cannot die. Meanwhile, Arsinoe is a naturalist, who has the power to bloom flowers and control the fiercest animals. Finally, Mirabella is an elemental, one gifted with the ability to create fire and incredible storms powerful enough to topple buildings. On the island of Fennbirn, as is tradition, the queens are separated at the age of nine and fostered by families who share their magic. From that point onwards, they are each trained to use their magic as a weapon in the fight to the death against the other sisters. On the night of the sisters'sixteenth birthday, they will each begin their quest to secure the throne and become the rightful Queen. While the crown awaits the victor, death awaits the two weaker queens. Full review...

I'll Be Home For Christmas by Benjamin Zephaniah and Others

5star.jpg Teens

Publisher Little Tiger and homelessness charity Crisis have got together and produced I'll Be Home For Christmas - an anthology of short stories from some of the most popular writers on the UK YA scene. The stories are connected by the theme of home. What does home mean to you? Is it your house, the physical place where you live? Is it your family? Your friends? Home can mean different things to different people, can't it? The book opens with a powerful poem by Bookbag favourite, Benjamin Zephaniah. The following stories are disparate - some telling tales of hardship and fear, some warming the cockles of your heart. But all of them are about home. Full review...

Beneath The Skin by Sandra Ireland

4star.jpg General Fiction

Robert Walton is ex-military – a soldier suffering from combat stress and what he now realises is clearly PTSD. He prefers to be called Walt; it's short and simple and Walt likes things that are not complicated. Alys is fragile, damaged and complicated and not the kind of woman Walt is looking for. A taxidermist by trade – a rather macabre one at that – Alys enjoys creating Walter Potter style tableaus in a slightly horrifying tribute to her sole career influence. Alys runs her business from her home, which she shares with her sister, Mouse and Mouse's son William. It's a strange set up and though Walt needs the job – of handyman/gopher/taxidermy assistant must not be squeamish – room and board included, he wonders what he has let himself in for. Full review...

Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery

4star.jpg Teens

Tired of Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity..? Maybe you'd prefer something more gritty, something more 'real?' Welcome to the evolution of reality TV: Death is Justice gives you, the viewer, the power of life and death. Listen to the evidence, decide whether the condemned criminal is guilty or innocent and then simply text DIE or LIVE to 7997 (Calls cost £5).

Since the abolition of the court system a few years ago, the power of jury has been given to the people. Those accused of murder have seven days in seven cells, each with their own particular method of psychological torture. On the last day, the accused is led to Cell 7, dominated by the imposing electric chair in the centre. As the public votes pour in, viewers wait with eager anticipation to see if there will be a live execution that evening... Full review...

Life 2 the Full by Raymond Floodgate

3.5star.jpg Lifestyle

Raymond Floodgate is a certified Reiki master and teacher amongst other things. He was a practitioner and instructor of Shokotan karate, but concluded that it wasn't right for him. He's now moved to Tai Chi, Qigong, and meditation: but his primary aim is preventing illness and it was this which tempted me to read his book. After a health scare some years ago I took a hard look at my lifestyle, changed a lot about the way that I ate and exercised - and have never looked back since: I was interested to know what Floodgate could add to my knowledge. He stresses that the changes he'll suggest will not make you live longer but they will make you live better. Full review...

A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England by James Sharpe

4star.jpg History

From the tragic tale of Mary Clifford, whose death at the hands of her employer scandalised Georgian London, to Victorian Manchester's scuttling gangs, to a duel obsessed cavalier, author James Sharpe explores the brutal underside of our national life. As it considers the litany of assaults, murders and riots that pepper our history, it also traces the shifts that have taken place in the nature of violence and in people's attitudes to it. Why was it, for example, that wife-beating could at once be simultaneously legal and so frowned upon that persistent offenders might well end up ducking in the village pond? How could foot ball be regarded at one moment as a raucous pastime that should be banned, and next as a respectable sport that should be encouraged? Professor James Sharpe draws on an astonishingly wide range of material to paint vivid pictures of the nation's criminals and criminal system from medieval times to the present day. He gives a strong sense of what it was like to be caught up in a street brawl in medieval Oxford one minute, and a battle during the English Civil War the next. Looking at a country that has experienced not only constant aggression on an individual scale, but also the Peasants' Revolt, the Gordon Riots, the Poll Tax protests and the urban unrest of summer 2011, this book asks – are we becoming a gentler nation? Full review...