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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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God's Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England by Jessie Childs

4.5star.jpg History

It goes almost without saying that sixteenth-century England, at the height of religious persecution, was a pretty perilous age. Queen Mary was notorious for the number of Protestants who were burnt at the stake for their beliefs during her five-year reign. A belief widely held by many (depending on your religion, as likely as not) was that during the forty-five years that ‘Good Queen Bess’ reigned, greater toleration held sway. This has recently been disproved beyond doubt by several historians, and this book likewise helps to underline the savagery towards Catholics that was endemic under her rule. Full review...

Everyday Maths for Grown-Ups: Getting to Grips with the Basics by Kjartan Poskitt

5star.jpg Reference

We all need maths - or so it says on the back of Everyday Maths for Grown Ups and whilst you could exist without a basic knowledge, life is going to be so much easier if you can check receipts, do the calculations for that spot of DIY or work out if the 'bargain' you've been offered really is one. Kjartan Poskitt reckons that very few people are really confident with figures, but hopes that he can offer some help. Full review...

Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

It's no mistake that the cover of my edition of this book is a photo where the Trans-Siberian Railway is horizontal in the frame. It's well known for going east-west, left to right across the map of the largest country by far in the world. 9,288 kilometres from Moscow to the eastern stretches of Russia, it could only be a long, thin line across the cover, as it is in our imagination of it as a form of transport and a travel destination in its own right. So when this book mentions it as the spine or backbone of Russia a couple of times, that's got to be of a prone Russia – one lying down, not upright or active. David Greene, a stalwart of northern American radio journalism, uses this book to see just how active or otherwise Russia and Russians are – and finds their lying down to be quite a definite verdict, as well as a slight indictment. It's no mistake either for this cover to have people in the frame alongside the train carriages, for the people met both riding and living alongside the tracks of the Railway are definitely the ribs of the piece. Full review...

Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Venetia Stanley lives in Seventeeth century London. A celebrated beauty, she has had poems written in honour of her, and portraits painted by one of the leading artists of the time. Married to a handsome, kind and adventurous man, Venetia is kept in a life of luxury, and, at first glance - has everything she could ever have dreamed of. Except Venetia is not happy. A woman who has made her name and fortune because of her beauty, she is convinced that her allure is quickly slipping through her fingers. Signing a pact with an apothecary for his famed restorative 'Viper Wine', Venetia is set on a dangerous path. Full review...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (150th Anniversary Edition) by Lewis Carroll and Anthony Browne

4star.jpg Confident Readers

We here at the Bookbag aren't always of a Reithian, canon-following bent; we don't necessarily feel the need to urge classic texts down our readers' throats. But in this instance it is worthwhile. Not since this book first appeared 150 years ago has something so surreal, so oddball and so peculiarly plotted captured the imagination anything quite as this did. It's a classic that, if you haven't before, you can polish off in definitely under two hours. It's something then that on this occasion I suggest you should do, if only to find out what complete rubbish it is. Full review...

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

5star.jpg Teens

Toby would appear to be lucky, having the run of an isolated country mansion on a small island off the coast of Britain. But no. His domain only exists at night, and only then because he sleeps in the day and refuses to take the 'vitamin' pills given him by the staff of an evening. He is a captive of a mansion that works as a place of exile for teenagers with the Defective gene. Whatever it would normally lead to, even having it risks becoming suddenly really quite ill, and being the cause of the night-time lift ride on the one way route to the top floor Sanatorium. But Toby has it good as these things go, the teenaged head boy almost out of the small collection of children in his Dorm, the only one not to have suffered a loss of life. But things are about to change – new inmates arrive to bulk up the numbers, and one of them, Clara, is the agent of that change. For when she stumbles on Toby's nocturnal habits she doesn't want to sleep either… Full review...

The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Anne Neville, as youngest daughter of 'Kingmaker' Richard Earl of Warwick, grows up with all the advantages of 15th century aristocracy. Unfortunately Anne is also female so her life is used to expedite her father's plans. The dreams and innocent affections of the delicate child are dashed as she faces exile and a loveless marriage to the son of domineering Margaret of Anjou. It doesn't get better straight after that either as virtual imprisonment and then slavery follow his death. While England is tossed and turned by the houses of York and Lancaster, all Anne wants is the peaceful solitude of holy orders. That may be what she wants, but her God still has other ideas… Full review...

Real Monsters by Liam Brown

5star.jpg General Fiction

Lorna was 12 when she was sent home from school, watched the unfurling events of 9/11 on her TV and recognised her father's office block aflame and falling. Her fight for mental survival started at that moment and the use of alcohol to quell the memories came soon after but then she meets Danny – her life saver. Shortly after this they marry and Danny joins the army. He's sent to fight the monsters, the fundamentalist organisations, which destroyed Lorna's childhood. However when what's left of his unit becomes lost in the desert without food, water or equipment, the focus changes from military victory to personal survival and those monsters are still out there… Full review...

Eat. Nourish. Glow.: 10 easy steps for losing weight, looking younger and feeling healthier by Amelia Freer

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Amelia Freer had struggled with her own health for a while and it reached a stage where she was waking up feeling tired and groggy, relying on ten cups a day of sugary tea to perk her up and her food was mainly processed convenience foods. At the time she was working as a PA to Prince Charles and loved the job but her busy life meant that she made automatic food choices without consideration of what they were doing to her health. It wasn't until she went to see a nutritionist that she realised what she had been doing and made the decision not only to change her diet, but to train to be a nutritionist. The result is a busy practice - and this book. Full review...

This is Not a Maths Book by Anna Weltman

5star.jpg Art

I have to admit, I wasn't a huge fan of maths at school. Maybe if I'd had this book when I was a child, I would have been. 'This is not a Maths Book' cleverly bridges the gap between maths and art and teaches kids how to make beautiful patterns and shapes by using mathematical principles. We learn about parabolic curves, Pascal's triangle, the stomachion, tesselation and 3D drawings. Because the pages are interactive and hands-on, kids are learning the rules of maths without realising it. After all, there is no reason why maths shouldn't be fun! Full review...

The Little Book of Garden Bird Song by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Take a well-put-together board book (don't worry about it being a board book - no one is going to suggest that they're a bit too old for that), add exquisite pictures of a dozen birds - one on each double-page spread - and then fill in the details. You'll need the name of the bird in English and Latin and a description of the bird in words which a child can understand but which won't patronise an adult. Then you'll need details of where the bird is found, what it eats, where it nests, how many eggs it lays, how the male and female adults differ and their size. Then you need a 'Did you know?' fact and this needs to be something which will interest children, but which adults might not know either. Does it sound simple? Well it isn't, but 'The Little Book of Garden Bird Song' does it perfectly. And there's a bonus, but I'll tell you about that in a moment. Full review...

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

4star.jpg Fantasy

Emily Marshwic has led a priveleged life - wealthy and from a good family, she has known little discomfort. Until the war comes - a vicious, far reaching struggle that destroys whole nations and tears families apart. First the men are conscripted, and then, after many defeats - the women. Having seen her country ravaged, and hearing news of her brother's death, Emily signs up for the army - and is plunged into situations more deadly than she can ever have imagined. As the tide of war turns - could Emily be the one to put an end to the bloodshed? Full review...

Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

Douglas Coupland suggested that all families are psychotic and he may just be right if that family consists of necromancers. The usual family dynamic is already a little messed up when you are one of four kids, but when you throw in the power to remove souls and reanimate the dead, things can get even more complicated. After 25 years, Finn returns home to find that some things have changed, but his family will always be a nightmare. Full review...

Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean

5star.jpg For Sharing

My love of Pete the Cat is well documented here at The Bookbag, as I’ve previously reviewed two of his adventures. This latest title, Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes hasn’t let me down, and I think it’s great. Pete is going to school, which can be a bit scary, especially when you’re having to do lots of new things, like go to the library or eat in the lunch room. Is Pete scared? Goodness no, he’s rocking, reading and eating in his school shoes. Full review...

The Leopards of Normandy: Devil: Leopards of Normandy 1 by David Churchill

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Robert, the youngest son of the 4th Duke of Normandy, follows his father's bequest to the letter rather than the spirit and claims the castle at Falaise which should have gone to Richard, his elder brother. This will be a decision that will shape the rest of his life but the legacy that he and his low-born lover Herleva will be remembered for is their son, William the Bastard. An unfamiliar name perhaps until we realise that history will call him William the Conqueror. Full review...

The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams

5star.jpg Fantasy

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith, the team of sell-swords now known as the Black Feather Three are employed by the people of Skaldshollow to steal back the heartstone from the Narhl. To the Shalds it's the means of making stone live; to the Narhls it's the very spirit of the mountain so where does that leave our adventurers? Not long to think about that as there seems to be an increase in mystic occurrences across the world and also a young assassin is polishing off entire families. Why? One thing that's clear is that Seb, Wydrin and Frith will get involved eventually… involved right up to their necks. The other thing they will see with clarity is that an old adversary is back and this time he's brought a friend! Full review...

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims (Kingmaker 1) by Toby Clements

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

February 1460: Canon Thomas and Sister Katherine have always equated their priory with values like piety and safety. However when soldiers on horseback arrive this is proven to be a misconception and the two flee for their lives. This is the first time they've been in the outside world since childhood but soon realise there's more to it than they bargained for. It's naturally a dangerous place at any time but this is 15th century England - the War of the Roses is about to begin. Survival depends on worldly wisdom, something they don’t actually teach nuns or monks. Full review...

Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin by Andrew Wilson

4star.jpg Biography

On the face of it Lee McQueen might not have seemed like the ideal candidate for greatness in the world of haute couture. He was the youngest son of an East London taxi driver, but there was history in the rag trade within the family, although his father told him that if he wanted to sell clothes he should get a market stall. Determined to do it his way, Lee borrowed the money from a relative to enable him to attend Central St Martins after doing a tailoring apprenticeship. The name 'Lee' might confuse you, but at the time McQueen began his own business he was claiming benefits and decided to use his middle name to avoid detection. Full review...

The Dog Dectectives in an American Adventure by Zoa

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Whatever you might think of the USA, you cannot deny that it is a country with fantastic natural surroundings from the mountains to the beaches to the vast cactus strewn deserts. This children’s book embraces this and takes the Dog Detectives and their new friends on a whistle-stop tour of the country which is a great way to introduce some facts to young readers. Full review...

The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Twelve year old Moll wakes in the night to find herself deep in the dark forest. The nightmare that haunts her sleep has brought her to a place of danger, summoned there by the evil Skull and his wicked sorcery. Moll and her fiercely protective wildcat, Gryff, must fight back against the dark magic before it is too late. At first she does not understand why she has been chosen for the task but as her chilling adventure continues Moll learns more about her past and the part it will play in saving those she loves from Skull and the horror he threatens. Full review...

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

4star.jpg General Fiction

This book is essentially a cautionary family tale of four brothers and the way they react to a prophecy about them by the local madman. It is also, in a sense, a coming-of-age story where Ben, the young narrator, is plunged into premature adulthood under the most brutal of circumstances. And it is about brotherly love. None of these descriptions, however, convey the fact that this book is written by an exciting new voice in African literary fiction. Full review...

After The Crash by Michel Bussi

5star.jpg Thrillers

It’s December 1980, almost Christmas time. But, for many families this won’t be a special festive time. A plane, carrying 169 passengers en route from Istanbul to Paris crashes in the mountains during a terrible storm. There’s no hope of survivors and yet, miraculously, there is one passenger who lives. A 3 month old baby girl is found close by the wreckage, apparently unharmed. Her parents have perished in the crash but she is a miracle, a ray of hope for her family… whoever they may be. For there were 2 young babies on board the flight, and although a mother would surely know her own child, it’s harder when it’s grandparents who need to identify and lay claim to a child they have never met before. Both families believe the little one is theirs and in the days before DNA testing and when it’s harder to access medical records across borders, it’s left to a judge to decide who should raise her, the wealthy and powerful de Carvilles or the less fortunate but loving Vitrals. In each case, the baby will have a young sibling with whom to grow up, but will she ever feel like she truly belongs? Full review...

Dragon Shield: 02: The London Pride by Charlie Fletcher

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Your city is lost. Your city is not yours. Your city is mine.

That's what Bast says. The Ancient Egyptian goddess, freed from thousands of years imprisonment, has unleashed her magic. Time has stopped. All the humans are frozen in suspended animation. All the humans except, that is, brother and sister Will and Jo, who are protected by the scarab bracelets they wear. And now, Bast has even succeeded in freezing some of the Spits (good statues) and has sent the bad statues (Taints) to find the two children who are threatening her plans. Full review...

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Ladydi Garcia Martínez lives in rural Chilpancingo, Mexico, with her mother, Rita, who works as a cleaning lady for a rich family. Like many of the men in their town who left to find work, Ladydi's father crossed the river into America, where he is rumoured to have another family. As a result, this is very much a matriarchal community. Rita describes the situation for Ladydi's teacher: 'You men don't get it, yet, do you? This is a land of women. Mexico belongs to women.' Full review...

Falling Out of Time by David Grossman

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Like the central characters in Falling Out of Time, Israeli author David Grossman lost his son, a soldier named Uri, during the Middle East conflict. In this multifaceted examination of bereavement, it seems that everyone has lost a child. The genre-bending mixture of poetry, absurdist dialogue, and an inverted fairy tale reflects the difficulty of ever capturing grief in language. Each story and each strategy is like a new way of approaching the unspeakable. Full review...

Daniel O'Dowd Was Ever So Loud by Julie Fulton and Elina Ellis

4star.jpg For Sharing

Daniel O’Dowd is ever so loud, which shouldn’t come as a shock to any of you given that the book is called Daniel O’Dowd was Ever So Loud. Much to his teacher’s dismay, Daniel never listens to a word she says because he’s too busy being loud! Full review...