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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Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

5star.jpg Teens

Anwell lives with his physically abusive father - vicious corporal punishment for a minor infraction is a constant threat - and his mentally abusive mother who loses no opportunity to belittle her young son and express her disappointment in him. Anwell is not popular at school and his life at home is severely proscribed. So, when Finnigan appears, Anwell is grateful for a friend. Finnigan is strange and wild and full of a dark freedom. He doesn't even go to school. Full review...

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

4star.jpg Confident Readers

My daughter first read Dragon Rider when she discovered it in her school library aged about 8. She loved it, so much so that she borrowed it over and over, reading and re-reading it, her head full of dragons. I finally sat down to give it a read myself, excited at the prospect of a good fantasy story. Firedrake is the one, brave dragon from a small dragon community who, when faced with the incoming humans who will destroy their home, decides to go out into the world to try to find the Rim of Heaven, a hidden home for the dragons. There's a far-ranging, adventurous journey, and there are fantasy creatures galore, such as Firedrake's brownie friend, Sorrel, a djinn, a basilisk, a sea serpent and the big baddie, Nettlebrand. Full review...

Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices 2) by Cassandra Clare

4.5star.jpg Teens

After the cataclysmic events of the devilishly macabre 'Lady Midnight', Cassandra Clare produces another melodramatic magical mêlée for its sequel, conjuring up new risks and agonisingly painful decisions for the Blackthorn family and their friends. Their troubles are by no means over as they face the aftermath of Malcolm Fade's reign of madness and the malicious machinations of the cohort [a sect of power-hungry Centurions who want to punish Downworlders and minority groups with draconian legislation]. Above all Julian wants to keep his siblings safe but his self-destructive love for Emma and the reappearance of Annabel threatens to tear them apart. Full review...

Man Up by Rebecca Asher

5star.jpg Politics and Society

When a couple of years ago my university introduced compulsory consent workshops along with an option of 'good lad' sessions for boys, all debate broke loose. Shouldn't consent be self-evident for everyone? Would the workshops reinforce the stereotype of 'laddish' boys? Would it all be about pointing fingers at boys and victimizing girls? What about non-binary people? In short, how could these workshops be anything else than a mission doomed to failure? Full review...

Buddha: An Enlightened Life (Campfire Graphic Novels) by Kieron Moore and Rajesh Nagulakonda

4star.jpg Graphic Novels

I don't do religion, but still there was something that drew me to this comic book. For one, the whole Buddhist faith is still a little unknown to me, and this was certainly going to be educational. Yes, I knew some of the terms it ends up using, but not others, such as bhikshu, and had never really come across the man's life story. Yes, I knew he found enlightenment and taught a very pacifist kind of faith, but where did he come from? What failings did he have on his path, and who were the ones that joined him along the way? Full review...

Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Equus, Waiting for Godot and A Mid-summer Night's Dream – three very distinctive plays, and my favourite three, out of which you won't often get me choosing just one. But were I to do so, it might actually be the last, for the simple reason I would delight in playing any and all characters from it. Yes, I know Hermia and Helena look a bit implausible now – but I put it to you stranger things happen on stage… Some of the strangest things involve a player himself, a lowly actor who gets given an ass's head and is forced to be the enamoured of a fairy queen. It's this section of the play that this book concentrates on, in quite stunning form. Full review...

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Tom is an albatross. That's not to say he has a freakish wingspan, or anything, but it means he's not a mayfly. In contrast to all us regular humans with our temperamental bodies living out short lifespans, he ages at a speed roughly one-fifteenth of that at which we do, and barely gets touched by any disease. It means he will live for several more centuries than the ones he has witnessed so far, but ever since his mother was drowned as a witch due to his teenaged self never ageing, he has known the best thing for him – and others – is to regularly move on. Solitude has been tempered since the late Victorian era, when other people even older than him press-ganged him into their society of albatrosses, but the fact of the matter is that falling in love really is a no-no. But that's not to say it never happened, and that's not to say that he can't feel things for the albatross daughter he's not seen for centuries. It might be the only thing he has to live for… Full review...

Lost Boy by Christina Henry

4star.jpg Fantasy

Everybody has their own story to tell, and more often than not people only see things from one perspective. In the original Peter Pan Captain Hook is an angry, perhaps slightly jealous, tyrant. But why is he this way? Christina Henry weaves a terrifying narrative together in response to such a question, a response that has the potential to alter the reader's perception of the original work forever. Full review...

The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Great by Joanna Arman

4.5star.jpg Biography

Aethelflaed, the 'Lady of the Mercians', was the daughter and eldest child of King Alfred. Considering the scanty details of her life which have been handed down to posterity, the author has done a very good job in presenting us with a portrait of her life and times. Full review...

Resurrection by Derek Landy

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Skulduggery Pleasant – the sharply dressed and wise-cracking skeleton – is back and he needs help. A small group of disgruntled sorcerers have banded together and have plans to use their unique set of skills to wage war on the mortal world. Others have tried this in the past but this particular group have a scheme that should guarantee their success: they're going to resurrect a terrifying evil. Despite his powers, Skulduggery can't defeat them alone. He successfully persuades his former partner – Valkyrie Cain – to join him for just twenty-four hours. But will she stay when the time runs out? Will they be able to save the world? Full review...

Spandex and the City by Jenny Colgan

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Touted as a super-hero romantic comedy, Spandex and the City features a girl-next-door Holly, a typically insecure 20-something rom-com heroine, enjoying her life in Centerton (Colgan's stand in for Gotham). When a handsome stranger she meets at a bar turns out to be the Ultimate Man, a vigilante superhero straight from the Marvel or DC universe (the superpowers are more of a Marvel kind, but the character - both of the UM and of his adversary - reference Batman, among others), she can't help falling for him. Full review...

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

4.5star.jpg Teens

Like Other Girls is a story about a girl called Lauren. She is not like other girls, though she does sometimes like other girls. For one, her mum is the headmistress of her school, for two, she doesn't fit in to a clique, and for three, her boyfriend thinks she's mad. Lauren's world has been turned upside down by a revelation of someone close to her and when something enormous happens to Lauren, she has no one she can turn to, or so she believes. Full review...

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

4star.jpg General Fiction

Barry Bleeker and Sophie Ducel are two very different people destined to take the same journey. As they are both aboard a flight to the Marquesas Islands, their tiny plane crashes leaving Barry and Sophie the only survivors. Until recently, Barry was an investment banker in New York before he decided to leave his life behind and pursue his dream of painting. Sophie meanwhile, was a French architect who along with her husband Etienne was planning a honeymoon of a lifetime. Now Barry and Sophie are alone on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific, where they must learn to put aside their differences and survive. Full review...

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards

5star.jpg Reference

It's easy to be confused by the various 'ages' of crime writing: if you've an interest in the genre you'll almost certainly have heard of the Golden Age of Crime, generally acknowledged as being the period between the first and second world wars. 'Classic Crime' on the other hand extends the time frame at either end and covers books published in the first half of the twentieth century. Throughout my adult life there's been just one genre of books which has fascinated me, and that's crime, so I could hardly resist the chance of reading The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books particularly as the author, Martin Edwards is an accomplished author within the crime genre and an acknowledged expert on the subject. Full review...

Our Dark Duet by V E Schwab

5star.jpg Fantasy

Monsters, mayhem, revenge

Six months after the final events of This Savage Song, Verity is in chaos. All-out war has broken out and the city is now divided into two – with monsters gaining more and more territory in the North and humans battling for survival in the South. At the centre of the action is August Flynn, a monster of incredible power who once longed to be human. He will now stop at nothing to fight and play the part he believes he must. No matter what the cost, no matter how much of himself he loses. Meanwhile, Kate Harker, V City escapee and kick-ass monster hunter, has been busy in Prosperity. But with the arrival of a new monster leaving devastation in its wake and heading straight for Verity, Kate knows she must to return. She must fight for humanity's survival and play her part just like August. Alliances will be tested; old enemies will rise from the dead and past mistakes will come to haunt both August and Kate at every turn. Will they be enough to save the city? And will they each be enough to save themselves from the darkest places within? Full review...

If We Were Villains by M L Rio

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Murder most horrid amongst a group of 4th Year university students of Shakespeare. We open as our protagonist is released from jail having served his time for a crime that he may or may not have committed. What did he do? What happened that year? Why did things turn out the way they did? We have to push our way through the undergrowth of flashbacks to find out. Full review...

The Beta Mum: Adventures in Alpha Land by Isabella Davidson

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

To say that Sophie Bennett didn't want to move to London is something of an understatement. She's a shy person who doesn't make friends easily and the thought of losing all her support systems and having to start again fills her with dread. But, husband Michael has been offered a big job on London's RailLink project and it's not a chance he can turn down - even if he wanted to, and he doesn't. So before long their three-year old daughter, Kaya, has been left with Sophie's parents and Michael and Sophie have found a flat in west London and they've even, against all the odds, managed to secure a place for Kaya at London's most exclusive nursery school. Well, when I say that they managed to secure the place, I actually mean that they required the services of a nursery consultant, who has a double-barrelled name and a friendship with the headmistress. Full review...

Super Creepy Camp (Beaky Malone) by Barry Hutchison

5star.jpg Confident Readers

First of all, I'd like to start off by making a complaint to Barry Hutchison. His latest book, Super Creepy Camp has been giving me sleepless nights. I've been kept awake by the raucous laughter emanating from my son's bedroom as he reads it before bed. I'd just be settling down and then it would start again, bouncing off the walls in the dead of night and probably keeping the neighbours awake too. I'd stomp angrily across the landing, open his door, to find him helplessly rolling around on the bed in fits of giggles. So thanks, Barry. Thanks a lot. Full review...

Let's Make Lots of Money: My Life as the Biggest Man in Pop by Tom Watkins

4star.jpg Entertainment

Who on earth would be a manager in the larger than life, here today gone tomorrow world of pop? Anybody with an ego, a ruthless streak, an opportunity to embrace the chances and accept that it's not going to last, evidently. Tom Watkins is just one of several to have walked the fine line, and for part of the time, quite successfully. As his memoirs suggest, part of the time was achievement enough. Full review...

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

5star.jpg Thrillers

Helena Pelletier was having a normal afternoon: making deliveries of jams and jellies to her sales outlets and taking her younger daughter Marigold to play at the side of the lake. It was on the journey back to meet her older daughter from the school bus that she heard the news: the notorious child abductor and rapist Jacob Holbrook, known as the Marsh King, had escaped from prison, killing two guards in the process. Helena knew that she was in danger: Jacob Holbrook was her father and she was the daughter of the woman he had abducted when she was fifteen years old. She'd been brought up until the age of twelve as a captive. There was another problem too: she'd never actually got around to telling her husband about her background. Full review...

Here's To Us by Elin Hilderbrand

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Obituaries follow a pretty standard format, talking about how much someone meant to the loved ones in their lives – partner, children, wider friends and family. In Deacon's case, though, he's leaving behind not one wife but three, if you count the exes. And he has children across several decades. It's a true smorgasbord, as a chef might say. But yes, Deacon is dead and his family are gathering together, possibly for the first time ever in one place, to say good night to their sweet prince. That place is Nantucket where the chef kept a house, and where all the children (and all their mothers) have spent many happy summers over the years, albeit not in each others company. Full review...

This Modern Love by Will Darbyshire

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Love is love, but at the same time love is changing, the way we find it, the way we express it, the way we walk away from things. You can change a Facebook status and tell the entire world the ins and outs of your relationship, you can meet people online, you can conduct long distance relationships in much more real time than in the past when you had to rely on the postman to deliver your heartfelt, handwritten note. This book, a compilation of letters and other contributions, explores what love is in the 21st century. It's certainly international – there were 15,000 submissions from over 100 countries – and it's also touching, funny, frustrating and all those other things. Full review...

The Obsession by Nora Roberts

5star.jpg Crime

Naomi Carson lives in New York but she hasn't always lived there. Actually her name hasn't always been Naomi Carson. Naomi's life had to start again when, aged 11, she sneakily followed her father into the woods to see if he was hiding her birthday present. That night she saw something no child… no person... should see. As an adult she's now putting her life back together and even coping with the advances of Xander Keaton but danger still lurks. The past will one day repeat itself and this time Naomi will find she's the target. Full review...

Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession: Six Tudor Queens 2 by Alison Weir

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Thomas Boleyn sends his daughters abroad to be trained at the courts of European royalty. Not only does this give them an education in the ways of the elite, it could also ensure a good marriage. Unfortunately he hasn't reckoned on the ideas that one of them, Anne, picks up and as for marriage… Anne is determined to marry for love not through some paternal arrangement. Yet the reality turns out to be different, driving a wedge through her family on a road leading to dark tragedy. Full review...

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

4star.jpg Thrillers

Ava and Zelda are twins, their naming triggering a family joke about being opposite ends of the alphabet. That's all past tense now though as Zelda is dead. Ava is told the news via her mother's terse, dispassionate email before Ava can come home to the US from Paris. Zelda burnt to death in the family's barn where she sometimes slept… at least that's the story and human remains were indeed found in the barn. But then why is Ava still receiving emails from Zelda? Emails that taunt, emails that remind and emails that suggest Zelda is very much alive. To discover the truth all Ava needs to do is follow the clues and relive some painful memories. Full review...

Friends and Liars by Kaela Coble

5star.jpg Thrillers

Kaela Coble's debut novel Friends and Liars is a gripping read that tells the tale of 'the crew', a group of friends who once made a pact to always be honest with eachother. So what happens when none of them keep this pact? After not being together for over ten years the crew are reunited at the wake of one of their own, Danny Deuso, who has left a haunting suicide note along with an envelope for each crew member containing their darkest secret. They are now faced with two options: reveal their secrets or face the risk that Danny will reveal them from beyond the grave. Full review...

The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

5star.jpg Science Fiction

If anyone thought that the short story as a form had been relegated to the pages of women's magazines (no disrespect) – think again. One genre that has always been a stalwart supporter and encourager of the short form is Sci-fi. So when you pick up a collection of Sci-fi shorts, you know that it will have just as much depth and thought-provoking philosophy as any similar novel. Add to that the intrigue of seeing how the concepts are approached by someone from China which – to be polite – has a somewhat different world-view in many ways to much of the rest of the planet…and add to that an author who is not only a best-seller in his home country but has the distinction of having produced the first translated work of SF ever to win the Hugo Award…this has got to be good! Full review...

Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm

4star.jpg For Sharing

Bear is waiting for Goliath. That's Bear on the cover and it was what first drew me to this book. He looks so forlorn that I wanted to know what the problem was. He's not exactly forlorn, but he has been waiting at the bus stop since dawn and he might be getting just a little bit bored. He lies down (legs dangling down and tummy flat on the seat) and explains to everyone that Goliath is his best friend. Robin wanted to know if Goliath is as strong as Bear and Bear says that he is. He's smart too. He can count to eighteen. Bear's obviously been at the stop for quite a while as the spring flowers have fallen from the trees. He's there through the dark too - he just curls up and sleeps on the seat. Full review...

The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

When young seamstress May Bedloe is left alone and penniless on the shore of the Ohio, she finds work on the famous floating theatre that plies its trade along the river. Her creativity and needlework skills quickly become invaluable and she settles into life among the colourful troupe of actors. She finds friends, and possibly the promise of more. But cruising the border between the Confederate South and the 'free' North is fraught with danger. For the sake of a debt that must be repaid, May is compelled to transport secret passengers, under cover of darkness, across the river and on, along the underground railroad. But as May's secrets become harder to keep, she learns she must endanger those now dear to her.

And to save the lives of others, she must risk her own... Full review...