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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Worst Ever School Trip: Beaky Malone by Barry Hutchison

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Dylan 'Beaky' Malone has a reputation as a prolific liar. He lies to his teachers, friends and family and has become so good at it, he rarely gets caught out. Everything changed, however, when he stepped into Madame Shirley's magical truth-telling machine. Now it's impossible for Beaky to tell a lie, but worse than that, he now has a habit of blurting the truth out without warning. So whether it's telling the headteacher that his breath smells, confessing undying love for the dinner lady, or embarrassing his friends by sharing their deepest secrets, the saying: the truth hurts has never been more appropriate. Full review...

Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands

5star.jpg Confident Readers

London during the plague – a terrifying place to be in any era. And in 1665, a time when relics and blessings are considered just as effective – if not more so – than medicines, it spreads at a horrific rate. Imagine it: if one person in a family starts to show the distinctive signs, everyone in the household is sealed in, meaning that they too will almost inevitably succumb and die a painful death. Quacks sell all manner of rubbish to desperate townsfolk, and prophets draw large crowds as they preach repentance for sin. Full review...

The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire) by Ian Ross

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Warning: spoilers ahead for previous books in the series. 305AD: Castus Aurelius, following the death of his predecessor, has been promoted to commander (or vir perfecctissiums) of the Roman forces at the Rhine. He's also been ordered to take Crispus, Constantine's son and heir, for the character-building experience. That complicates matters as when Castus isn't trying to keep Crispus alive, he's finding it difficult to increase his own chance of survival, especially considering how the last Rhine commander met his end. Full review...

Harry Potter: Magical Artefacts Colouring Book by Warner Brothers

4star.jpg Crafts

With a big production film you can be almost overwhelmed by all that's there to see, but what most of us forget is that in the film-maker's archive there's an awful lot which we never get to see. Harry Potter: Magical Artefacts Colouring Book is packed with stunning pieces of artwork from the Warner Brothers archive, giving you the chance to colour the magic of J K Rowling's wizarding world. There are the props from the Harry Potter films: an enchanted map, a piece of jewellery that can turn back time, vials full of liquid memories and newspapers with moving photos. What an inventive brain that woman has! Full review...

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

5star.jpg Thrillers

It's Ireland, it's the 1980s, and a young woman is dead. Whether or not she deserved to die is up for debate, but Lydia, our first narrator, certainly thinks she had it coming. By the end of the book, Annie will not be the only person in whom life is extinguished, and for all the characters life will be irrevocably changed. Full review...

Kingdom's End by Charles D Blanchard

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

The rats made their massive colony inside the ruins of an abandoned motion picture palace, where for thirty long dark years, an aged blind leader ruled over them. A beloved figure held in high regard, he rules with patience, understanding, justice and love. When a young upstart challenges all he has built, ruling with harsh punishments and rash decisions, the rats must decide how best to protect their colony in order to preserve all that they have built together. As the rats clash amongst themselves, some fail to notice the ever growing threats and dangers that the outside world provides - who will come out on top in this very literal rat race? Full review...

What are Aunties Made Of? by Carna Brooks

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

We all know what little boys and girls are made of, although I have to confess to having always been just a little bit jealous of the puppy dog tails and quite willing to pass on the sugar, spice, slugs and snails. But what are aunties made of? Could it be:

Smelly old cars and old milk jars?
Or fragrances of lavender and roses in our noses? Full review...

Rockadoon Shore by Rory Gleeson

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Cath is worried about her friends. DanDan is struggling with the death of his ex, Lucy is drinking way too much and Steph has become closed off. A weekend away is just what they need. They travel out to Rockadoon Lodge, to the wilds in the west of Ireland. But the weekend doesn't go to plan. JJ is more concerned with getting high than spending time with them, while Merc is humiliated and seeks revenge. And when their elderly neighbour Malachy arrives on their doorstep in the dead of night with a gun in his hands, nothing will be the same again for any of them... Full review...

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

4star.jpg Teens

Jared Stone has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. It's inoperable and he has only a few months left to live. Desperate to ensure financial security for his family after he's gone, Jared decides to auction himself - the rest of his life, his death, everything - on eBay for a reserve price of one million dollars. Unsurprisingly, eBay cancels the auction as against their terms and conditions but that's okay because Jared has come to the attention of a reality TV producer... Full review...

Queen Munch and Queen Nibble by Carol Ann Duffy and Lydia Monks

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Queen Munch and Queen Nibble are two very different queens, in two very different kingdoms. Queen Munch, as you might imagine from her name, really loves her food. Her Saturdays begin with 'The Munching of the Breakfast' which is a grand extravaganza that her people all come and watch involving a grand setting, the Royal Musicians playing the 'Queen Munch Tune', dancing and an important reader of the menu, a delicious breakfast all finished off with a nice belch from the Queen! Queen Nibble, then, is much the opposite of Queen Munch. She is tall and as pale as a stick of celery! She lives alone, barely eats, but she makes beautiful jewellry from raindrops. One day, Queen Munch invites Queen Nibble over for a visit, and what will happen when these two extremely different rulers come together? Full review...

The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor

4.5star.jpg Travel

Meet the Isles of Scilly. (I know they should be called that – the author provides a handy guide to the etiquette of their name, their nature and location, etc.) For our more distant readers, they're several chunks of granite rock out in the Atlantic, where Cornwall is pointing, with just 2,200 permanent residents. They're big on tourism, and big on growing flowers in the tropical climate the Gulf Stream bequeaths them – although the weather is bad enough to turn any car to a rust bucket within years. They're so wee, and so idyllic-seeming, especially at night, you can be mistaken for thinking there would be no need for a police presence. But there is – at least two working at any one time. And one of them in recent years has been Colin Taylor, who has done his official duty – alongside maintaining a well-known online existence, which has brought to life all the whimsical comedy of his work. Full review...

Living With Depression by Nick Weatherhogg

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Nick Weatherhogg has been diagnosed as suffering from severe depression. Many of you will be nodding wisely and thinking that you know how he feels: but there are two points he wants to make here. You don't know how he feels. This is his depression and only he knows what it feels like - if he's able to think or express how he's feeling. The other point is that there's a big difference between feeling depressed and being depressed - fepression and bepression as he terms them. He's right: I've been there. My feelings, my experience will have been different, but I do know that it was hellish. He describes the experience as a mental state in which your brain regularly and consistently lies to you. Full review...

View from the Cheap Seats by Barry Holland

4star.jpg Anthologies

A little bit about Barry Holland: he was born in Newport, South Wales, to working class parents. He loves rugby and his son - his son is his favourite rugby player, which is just as it should be. He is a qualified engineer but is unable to work because of mental ill health. All of these things feed into View from the Cheap Seats, which is a collection of poems and imaginings as vivid and immediate and striking as you could hope for. Barry sounds like a thoroughly nice bloke and his book was a pleasure to read. Full review...

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's the mid nineteenth century and Thomas McNulty has left his home in Sligo, his family dead from famine, to make a new life in a new nation. He teams up with prairie fairy - a dancer in drag - John Cole and together they sign up for the US Army. Their journey will take them through the American Indian wars and eventually to the Civil War. Along the way, the two soldiers form a lasting bond with a young Sioux girl called Winona and their travels take them from Missouri to Wyoming and Tennessee. It's the story of perhaps the most violent birth of a nation in history but it's also a convention-defying love story. Full review...

Rabbit and Bear: The Pest in the Nest by Julian Gough and Jim Field

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Rabbit was struggling. There he was having a nice, peaceful sleep in his friend Bear's cave when a terrible noise woke him. Was it thunder? No, it was Bear snoring. Very loudly. Rabbit tried putting his paws over his ears although that's not very successful when you have small paws and very big ears. But there was something good: when Rabbit went outside the cave he realised that spring had sprung. Suddenly he felt strong. After a winter spent in his friend Bear's cave it was time to go home to his burrow. Only there was a surprise lurking there - and it looked suspiciously like a snake. Full review...

Under A Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill

4.5star.jpg Horror

Seb Logan is being watched. He just doesn't know who by. When a dark figure appears and shatters Seb's idyllic life, he soon realizes that the murky past he thought he'd left behind has far from forgotten him. What's more unsettling is the strange atmosphere that engulfs him at every sighting, plunging his mind into a terrifying paranoia. To be a victim without knowing the tormentor. To be despised without knowing the offence caused. To be seen by what nobody else can see. These are the thoughts that plague his every waking moment. And once his investigation leads him to stray across the line and into mortal danger, he risks becoming another fatality in a long line of victims. Full review...

Another Day Gone by Eliza Graham

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

A single event from the past has the power to create a chain-reaction that has powerful consequences in the future. This is a theme explored and expanded upon in Another Day Gone, the story of sisters Sara and Polly who, despite being close during childhood, have grown emotionally distant from one another after Polly discovers a devastating family secret. We join their story at the point where the prodigal sister, Polly, returns home after years of no contact with her family. Sarah contacts their old nanny Bridie in the hope of piecing together the family mystery and unearthing the secrets before it is too late, but Bridie's memory is failing and some secrets may be lost forever. Full review...

The Prose Factory by D J Taylor

5star.jpg Reference

D J Taylor's exploration of writing, reading, publishing and critical reviews spans a century of literary history, discussing everything from Eliot-era modernists and Georgian traditionalists, to the impact of politics, creative writing degrees, reviewers and critics. It is a deep and thorough exploration of the multi-complex influences on English literary life over the past century and the way these have shaped readers' preferences and reading habits. But don't be put off by thinking that this is a dusty, encyclopaedic tome – it is a large book at around 500 pages – but it is accessible and thoroughly readable. Full review...

Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams (The Factory Girls) by Mary Gibson

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Where did it all go wrong? Only a short time ago, Matty Gilbie was a star of the silver screen with a glittering future predicted for her. As the 'Cockney Canary', her melodic singing voice and stunning good looks had ensured that her first foray into movies was a runaway success. Unfortunately that success came with a price: Matty's business partner Frank Rossi frittered away their money and turned violent and controlling. Bruised and battered from a particularly vicious beating from Frank, Matty secretly makes her escape back to her home in Bermondsey, and the comfort of family and friends. Frank is not one to be crossed, however, and vows to do whatever it takes to win Matty back. Can she ever be truly free? Full review...

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

5star.jpg Crime

Making a long running series evolve organically is a very tricky business; a character that has been around for 26 books, and nearly as many years, is not going to be the same person that started out. Age catches up with us all and many crime writer have come up against the problem of retirement; not their own, but that of their character. Why is a 70 year old still out chasing criminals and shooting things? Lucas Davenport is a character who has always been a maverick, doing what he wants, therefore quitting the police was never going to stop him. Full review...

The Ad Man by Timothy Dickinson

4star.jpg Crime

Tim Collinwood is single and so, working in Morocco as an advertising creative, he's free to enjoy all his host country has to offer: the expense accounts, the opulence and the women. Then it happens. He gets the contract of his life. He just needs to create a PR campaign that will reassure Morocco that French business has her best interests at heart. The truth may be otherwise but creating the façade is what advertising is about. Perhaps Tim should have noticed that there are clues from the beginning as to how shady this job is, including needing to work under an assumed identity. However, the secrecy becomes a side issue as something more important takes Tim's concentration: survival for him and those around him. Full review...

The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming

5star.jpg Art

Pitching up at an auction and picking up a lost masterpiece for a pittance is the dream for most art lovers. That seemingly happy circumstance happened to bookseller John Snare at a sale in 1845 and is the centrepiece to Laura Cumming's excellent The Vanishing Man – In Pursuit of Velazquez. Full review...

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

5star.jpg Teens

Omar is a twelve-year-old boy living in Bosra, Syria. He works two small jobs before and after school. He prefers the jobs to school. Omar dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur with a network of businesses to rule over. He's already developing a successful sales patter. Omar has a clever sister who wants to be a teacher, and a clever brother who few realise is clever because he has cerebral palsy and people can't see past his speech impediment. He has a father who works for the government, a mother who worries too much, a hypercritical granny and a couple of annoying younger siblings. Full review...

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

4.5star.jpg Teens

Steffi has just started a) sixth form and b) medication for her anxiety. It's all rather tricky, as you can imagine, particularly as Tem, Steffi's best - well, only - friend has enrolled at the local FE college to do an NVQ and so Steffi is all by herself. On the first day, a teacher introduces Steffi to Rhys, a new boy to the school and also just starting sixth form. Rhys is deaf and Steffi knows a little bit of sign language, hence the introduction. Both kids have communication barriers - Rhys can't hear and Steffi, who suffers from selective mutism and severe anxiety, often can't talk. And they fall into friendship, attraction, and love. But it's a rocky road... Full review...

Death's Mistress by Terry Goodkind

4star.jpg Fantasy

We start this novel as a Heroine and a hero travelling through the forest, in search of a witch. I immediately love it, when the focus is on the female lead and the male lead is painted as a bit of a pompous twonk, with more care for clothes and jewellery, than for saving mankind. However, it becomes harder to like her as the book winds its tale, when you realise that she is a heartless, murdering, uncaring, psychopath. It becomes relatively clear that she has been damaged from a young age (which was a while ago, seeing as she's almost 200 years old), that has had effects on how she has lived her life until this point. However, their goal of spreading the word of Emperor's Rahl victory over the evil Emperor Janang to the furthest reaches of his kingdom, becomes diverted, when prophecy leaves the world and an old witch imparts the knowledge of an old prophecy that foretells that Nicci will save the world. Full review...

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

4star.jpg General Fiction

Anthony Peardew lost the love of his life before they married. In the midst of his tragedy he found solace and purpose in collecting 'lost things' - things that were left behind on trains, in parks, or found in the gutter, and he records each and every one carefully, in the hope that perhaps some day they can be reunited with their rightful owner. He writes stories about the items he finds, becoming a published author. However, as he grows older and starts to realise that he is dying, he knows he must hand over the task to someone else choosing his housekeeper, Laura, to take on what is, to her, a completely unknown aspect of his life. Full review...

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

5star.jpg Autobiography

No you haven't stumbled into a music review from the 1970s, I'm talking about The Boss's autobiography. Lots of books have been written about Springsteen by folk who knew him, worked with him and by others who have only read the cuttings. Over the last seven years he has been going about – not putting the record straight, exactly – but telling it from his own perspective. As he puts it: Writing about yourself is a funny business. By his own admission, it isn't the whole truth, discretion holds him back but in a project like this, the writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind. In these pages, I've tried to do this. Full review...