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.

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An Italian Summer by Fanny Blake

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Women's Fiction

Set against the backdrop of Rome and Naples, ten very different people meet on a small 'Taste of Italy' sightseeing trip. This is a story of family, friendships and relationships – my favourite. However, it was a departure from the usual formulaic chicklit I normally read focused on sassy independent female characters in their twenties or thirties. Here the characters are middle-aged with children in their twenties and rather than looking for love they are facing different life challenges of maintaining love, empty nest syndrome, and the loss of loved ones. Essentially it is a story of breaking out and new beginnings. Full Review

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Believe Me by J P Delaney

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime, Thrillers

Claire Wright wanted to be an actress, but she was penniless and living in New York. She might have had a scholarship to cover her school fees, but she still had to find the money to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. There was a solution, although it didn't provide a regular income: she became a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. The job was to trap straying husbands and tape them as they propositioned her. There were rules though: she couldn't hit on them directly - they had to proposition her. There was no intention to trap the innocent. Full Review

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Hell's Unveiling by Laura Solomon

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Short Stories, General Fiction, Fantasy

A little while ago I really enjoyed Marsha's Deal and I was delighted by the opportunity to read the sequel, Hell's Unveiling. It's probably not much of a spoiler to say that Marsha bested the devil in Marsha's Deal, but the devil is not one to take defeat lying down. He's out to wage war on Planet Earth and particularly on Marsha (who's thought of as a 'goody two shoes' in Hell). Although a strong person, she's vulnerable where her foster children are concerned. Daniel is framed for a crime he didn't commit and sent to juvenile detention and refused permission to return to live with Marsha. Then, of course there are all the other children who are not only targeted, but - worst of all - subverted to the devil's evil ends. He's out to prey on their fears and weaknesses and as with many foster children, their self esteem is very fragile. This is no small-scale operation, either - the devil has set up a training complex on earth, complete with an elevator to Hell. Full Review

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A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime (Historical)

It's 1863 and a little girl has been found murdered at the family home in Stoke Newington. A few days later and a few miles across London, a man is found dead in a similar way outside the opulent townhouse of Heloise Chancey, courtesan and part-time detective. Could they be connected? And what, if anything, does either of them have to do with Heloise's maid, Amah Li Leen, and the troubling events in her past which are threatening to resurface?Full Review

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Apollo by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker and Mike Collins

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Popular Science

This incredible graphic novel is a love letter to the Moon landings and the passion for the subject drips off every Apollo by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker and Mike Collins. This is a story we know well and because of this the authors take a few narrative shortcuts knowing that we can fill in the blanks. These shortcuts are the only downside to the book. If you've ever read a comic book adaptation of a film you will be familiar with the slight feeling that there are scenes missing and that dialogue has been trimmed. This is a graphic novel that could easily have been three times as long and still felt too short. Full Review

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The War in the Dark by Nick Setchfield

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Fantasy, Science Fiction

Europe – 1963. The world is used to the constant tensions between the West and Russia, with the Cold War a seemingly never ending threat in the lives of everyday people. What they don't know however, is that the real cold war is fought on the borders of this world, far from prying eyes at the edges of the light. British Intelligence agent Christopher Winter is forced to flee London when an assassination attempt goes horribly wrong, and is forced into a tense, unwelcome alliance with the lethal Karina Lazarova. As the threats rise, Christopher finds himself caught in a quest for centuries old hidden knowledge – an occult secret that will give instant supremacy to whichever nation possesses it. Racing against the enemy, Christopher is taken from ruins in Bavaria through to the haunted Hungarian border, all in search of something unholy – born of the power of white fire and black glass. It's a world of treachery, blood and magic. A world at war in the dark. Full Review

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Run Wild by Gill Lewis

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Dyslexia Friendly, Confident Readers

Meet Izzy and Asha. Bullied away from the local attempt at a skatepark, they find a huge waste ground in the shadow of a derelict gasometer to practise on, which they duly do, even though they have to drag Izzy's younger brother with them. The following day they all want to return, as does the brother's schoolfriend, despite – and of course because of – there being a huge wolf living in the site. Can the children survive living in the urban wilderness, alongside such obvious dangers? Full Review

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Staying On by C M Taylor

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction

Tony Metcalfe is a Yorkshireman through and through and being honest, Yorkshire's where he'd really like to be. You suspect that Scarborough would be perfect, but he's living in a mountain village just beyond the Costa Verde and running a pub. The Viva Espagñe isn't flourishing: Tony would really like to sell it and return to the UK, what with the uncertainty of Brexit and everything, but there are a couple of problems. First off, his wife - Laney - refuses to go back to the UK. She'd have you believe that she's not well, but there's a backstory there that's not being talked about. Then there's the pub, which isn't doing well enough to sell. In fact Tony's cleaning the swimming pools of expats who have left Spain and returned home, in order to make a bit of money to try and make ends at least come in sight of each other, even if they never meet. Full Review

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The Truth About Lies by Tracy Darnton

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Teens

Jess is in a meeting with Dr Harrison, the school counsellor. Dr Harrison is hoping to help Jess come to terms with the death of her room-mate, Hanna. But he's not having much success, largely because Jess has no intention of telling him how she feels. Instead, she feigns a grief she does not feel so that he is satisfied and she gets out of there as quickly as possible. Full Review

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Where Do You Go, Birdy Jones by Joanna Nadin

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Confident Readers

Bridie - Birdy - Jones is eleven and finding life rather hard. After her mother died, it used to be just Birdy and Dad and that was okay, but now there's Birdy, Dad, an overbearing step mum, a little sister and another baby on the way. There's precious little room for Birdy any more and the only place she really feels happy and secure is at her grandfather's pigeon loft. Birdy loves pigeons. She loves caring for them, training them, and releasing them to wait for them to find their way home. Full Review

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All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Thrillers

Elizabeth Klehfoth's debut novel is a mystery thriller written from the perspective of Charlie Calloway, a teenage girl in her final years at boarding school who is plagued by her mother’s disappearance. As the story progresses she begins to learn more about what happened to her mother, finding out along the way that not everyone was who she thought they were. Titled All These Beautiful Strangers it really makes you question whether you are surrounded by strangers too. Full Review

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When The Curtain Falls by Carrie Hope Fletcher

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Paranormal, Crime, Women's Fiction

A thoroughly, magical and riveting story that hooks you in from the first page and takes you on a roller coaster ride towards the last. Fletcher weaves together a dash of Whodunit the thrill of romance, (the course of which never runs smoothly,) and an unpredictable ghost. The ghost appears once a year, the principal star of her very own show, to meet with the love of her life and re-enact her death. A tragic accident with the roots buried deep within the whole array of human nature. Love, joy, care, friendship, jealousy, possessiveness, selfishness, cold ambition, all laid bare on centre stage.

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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Fantasy, General Fiction, Teens

Miryem comes from a long line of moneylenders – but her Father isn't very good at it at all. Lending freely and rarely collecting, he leaves the family on the edge of poverty, until Miryem must step in. Hardening her heart and collecting what is owed from local villagers, she becomes a person of great interest when she borrows a pouch of silver pennies from her Grandfather and returns it full of gold, soon becoming entangled with an array of strange creatures, from the dark beings that haunt the wood through to a King who's eager to exploit Miryem's talents – she soon becomes aware that her skills may be more trouble than they're worth… Full Review

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The Party by Lisa Hall

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Thrillers

Rachel wakes up in a strange bedroom, with the worst hangover she's ever had and no memory of the night before. And even though she has no memory, she knows at the core of her being that something very bad has happened to her at her neighbour's New Year's Eve party. But with everyone there appearing to be hiding something and no one giving her a straight answer to her questions, will Rachel ever find out what happened at the party? Full Review

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The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime, Humour

Comic-Cons are a place of wonder and sanctuary for many people, and when Comic book artist Mike Mason arrives at San Diego Comic-Con, he's looking for both that and sanctuary with other fans and creators, plus the chance of maybe, just maybe reuniting with his ex. However, when his rival is found dead, Mike is forced to navigate every dark corner of the con in order to clear his name – from cosplay flash mobs and intrusive fans to zombie obstacle courses – Mike must prove his innocence and, in doing so, may just unravel a dark secret behind a legendary industry creator. Full Review

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The 100 Best Novels in Translation by Boyd Tonkin

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Reference

Consider, if you will, translated fiction. Some say it's impossible – that if a book was so good in one tongue it could never survive being put into another. Samuel Beckett must have laboured over ever syllable and Breath, but he could translate his own works, and other equally complex pieces can cross borders. It's a market that has actually doubled in sales volume between 2000 and 2016 (thanks, Millennium Trilogy). Novels, in particular, in translation, are – as the introduction here so smartly puts it – a privileged means of passing border posts, a sort of universal passport issued by that Utopian state, the Republic of Letters. We here at the 'Bag regularly try and give equal credit to the translator, without whom we wouldn't be reading what we have in our hands. But all that said, do we really need one of those list books about the subject? I got given a book the other year detailing 1001 places to go to before I die, and I might even then have missed out a zero. It would take as long as a fortnight's holiday to wade through, and even though this is not as long as your typical Bolano housebrick, it's not a short thing. Should it take our time? Full Review

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The Day of the Orphan by Dr Nat Tanoh

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction

Saga is eighteen and, like many eighteen-year olds, his prime concerns are listening to what his mum calls hop-hip, eating copious amounts of food, and learning about girls. Living in an affluent, liberal and protected suburb, he has a good life. However, the suburb is in Africa, where childhoods can be snatched in an instant. When his friends and family are dragged into the conflict raging around the dictatorship that Saga lives under, he is forced to become an unlikely revolutionary. Can chubby Saga really stand up to a murderous regime? And can he stay one step ahead of the soldiers desperate to stop him? Full Review

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The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Confident Readers

Fionn is off to spend some time with his grandfather on the island of Arranmore. His older sister Tara is going with him. Tara is well into adolescence and she can be quite dismissive of her rather green younger brother. The siblings need some time away because their mother isn't coping well with the death of their father and needs time alone to get better. Grandfather is a strange, eccentric old man who lives in a tiny cottage full of candles. He has a crabby but wicked sense of humour and sometimes has trouble keeping hold of his memories. But he makes the candles dance and his eyes contain depths that hold the secret of the seas. Full Review

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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews LGBT Fiction

The Great Believers follows a group of friends whose lives are devastated by the AIDS crisis in Chicago during the late 1980’s. Beginning in 1985, the reader follows Yale and his friends as they come to terms with the increasingly virulent illness spreading throughout their community, alongside their demonisation at the hands of a conservative America. Thirty years later Fiona, a devoted friend to Yale, is searching for her estranged daughter on the streets of Paris, trying to rebuild a relationship beset by memories and old hurt. Full Review