Book Reviews From 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, the charity shop 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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Access Point by T R Gabbay

4star.jpg Thrillers

When we first meet Ula Mishkin she's having something of a professional success: using a device of her own invention she's helped a man who has been blind for decades to see an image of a hummingbird. She's thirty-six years old and her life is about to change radically as, cycling home, she's involved in an accident with a bus. It's two years before we meet her again and in the meantime, she's spent 392 days in a coma and now walks with a stick. A professional colleague persuades Ula that she should let out a spare bedroom to bring in some income. Full Review


The Loop by Ben Oliver

3.5star.jpg Teens

Set during the aftermath of a Third World War where methods of punishment for criminal activities have been amped up to a horrific level by machines, The Loop follows the precarious existence of adolescent Luka Kane. In a world of Have and Have Nots where Alts [cyborgs] have power over Regulars, he is trapped inside a living hell with no chance of escape. A detonator has been sewn inside his heart connecting him to a trigger held by the guards who can end his life with one squeeze. Luka is taunted by limited access to his memories and relentlessly drained of energy through a gruelling daily torture ritual. Doomed to Delay [a risky medical trial where he is a guinea pig for Alts in place of execution] after Delay he is in despair. His prison is based on the model of an infinity loop designed to make its inmates suffer. With the only glimmers of hope being the rumours of rebellion outside and the visits of sympathetic Alt guard Wren, can Luka ever be free? Why has he been imprisoned? What waits for him if he can break the loop? Full Review


Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Are you tired of your child's classmates constantly being horrible to them? Do you want your child to have some positive experiences with people? Introducing the new Jenson & Jenson Troofriend 560 Mark IV android! These state-of-the-art machines are capable of emulating the full range of human emotions without lying, stealing or bullying. They're the perfect companion for any child! Any mention that these androids are beginning to develop real human feelings are just unsubstantiated rumours and have absolutely no basis in reality…right? Full Review


The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

When we meet Professor Frank Hobbs and his wife, Maggie, Frank is playing chess against his computer, although not very successfully. Maggie, on the other hand, has just taken some pills - eight of them, in fact - and before long she will collapse. When Frank rings the emergency services in Oxford he has a bit of a problem. He has to admit that he and Maggie haven't actually spoken for a while. How long? Well, it's about six months since he spoke to Maggie and he can't really say if it's likely that Maggie has tried to take her own life. Full Review


Wink by Rob Harrell

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

When Ross is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, aged 12, his desperate attempts at school to just be 'normal' become impossible. Suddenly he is the cancer kid, and everything he does, how he looks, and how he behaves falls under the scrutiny of the other kids in school. Ross is, understandably, angry. He is facing potential blindness, whilst dealing with an eye sealed in a permanent wink. He has gloopy eye medicine to try to help with the pain, plus the need to wear a hat at all times to protect his face due to the ongoing treatment. With the sudden ghosting by one of his best friends, and a series of horrible memes that someone at school creates about Ross, nothing about his life is normal any more, and he has to find new ways to deal with his feelings, and survive. Full Review


Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

5star.jpg Crime

When we first meet Dee she's talking to Nick Law, the new college master. Law's lately of the BBC and he doesn't come with an entirely good reputation: he's a bit of a bully and Dee can sense something of that in their first conversation. She had been planning to return home to Scotland before taking on a new job as a nanny, but somehow she finds herself going to see Mariah, the Danish wife of the master. She's pregnant and looking for help, not with the new baby but with the master's daughter by his first wife, Ana. Felicity is selectively mute: she does talk to her father, but to no one else. The eight-year-old is grieving for her dead mother and struggling at school. Full Review


The Sealwoman's Gift by Sally Magnusson

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

There is a legend that God came to visit Adam & Eve in the Garden. Eve had not finished bathing her children and ashamed of those still not cleansed, she attempted to hide them from the eyes of God, denying that she had more children that those, already bathed, that she willing paraded for him. God was not to be deceived, however, and decreed that what was sought to be hidden from the eyes of God would henceforth be hidden from the eyes of man, and so the Elves were born: the hidden folk. They can see man, but man can only see them if they so choose. Full Review


From the Auld Rock to a Hard Place by Wendy Cheyne

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

After the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden, many Scottish estates were given to English lords. They were not kind to their crofting tenants. Many on the mainland were cleared and while this did not happen much on the islands such as Shetland, the new exploitative conditions led many Shetlanders to leave - to port cities on the mainland, to North America and even to Australia and New Zealand. Full Review


Lost by Ele Fountain

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Lola lives in an Indian city with her father, and her brother, Amit. She lives with them in a nice apartment, and although they are not rich like some of the girls at school, they have enough money to be comfortable. Lola spends her time thinking about her school friends, and trying to fit in with them, until one day, suddenly, everything in her life changes. After taking a work trip away, Lola's father doesn't come home. They have nobody else to help, and as they wait day after day, Lola wonders what will become of them until, finally, they are evicted from their flat, and she and her brother find themselves forced to live on the streets. Full Review


The City We Became by N K Jemisin

4star.jpg Science Fiction

New York is being born, the city has reached critical mass and has matured into a living almost-breathing entity and is ready to make its way out into the world. Before it can be established, an ancient evil appears to attempt to destroy it just as it destroyed Atlantis and other forgotten places. The city is not alone through the birthing process, people who embody the values are selected to become the living embodiment of the city, some cities have one, some have twelve and New York has six. Together these human-embodiments must defeat the woman in white and save New York from very real destruction. But these are five different boroughs which don't always see eye to eye, it's a personality clash on an epic scale and unity is both critical and not remotely guaranteed. Full Review


Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena Ernman, Greta Thunberg, Beata Thunberg and Svante Thunberg

5star.jpg Politics and Society

The Ernman / Thunberg family seemed perfectly normal. Malena Ernman was an opera singer and Svante Thunberg took on most of the parenting of their two daughters. Then eleven-year-old Greta stopped eating and talking and her sister, Beata, then nine years old, struggled with what was happening. In such circumstances, it's natural to seek a solution close to home, but eventually, it became clear to the family that they were burned-out people on a burned-out planet. If they were to find a way to live happily again their solution would need to be radical. Full Review


Keep Him Close by Emily Koch

3.5star.jpg Crime

Alice had two children: Benny (well, Benoît, actually) and Louis. Lou's seventeen and he's just got his A level results and he and his brother are going out to celebrate. Someone has to find something to celebrate in the letters, D, D and E. Alice has always had a good relationship with nineteen-year-old Benny but it's a touch problematic with Lou and being honest, he's not terribly likeable. The letters which kept coming to my mind were ADHD. Full Review


Keeper by Jessica Moor

4.5star.jpg Crime

Katie Straw worked in the women's refuge and the women who lived there liked and respected her. She treated them well and seemed to have an understanding of what they were going through. Why then did she jump from the local suicide spot into the river below? There had been no signs that she was unhappy and she and her boyfriend seemed to have been content together - and Noah has a decent alibi for the time when she died, but what other explanation could there be for her death? The police are convinced that it's suicide, but the women who knew her believed otherwise. Full Review


Murder at Enderley Hall (Miss Underhay) by Helena Dixon

4star.jpg Crime

It's the summer of 1933 and Kitty Underhay is on her way to visit the family which she never knew she had, at Enderley Hall. Her grandmother, Mrs Treadwell, and Great Aunt Livvy are back at the Dolphin Hotel in Dartmouth. Kitty gets easily bored working at the Dolphin - every day is much the same - but her real reason for going away is that she needs a break after her recent adventures, which involved three vicious murders, an arson attack and an attempt on her life. Full Review


Where the Innocent Die (D I Ridpath) by M J Lee

4star.jpg Crime

It was easy to assume that the death of the young Chinese girl at the Immigrant Removal Centre was suicide. Her throat was cut, there was a lot of blood and the knife was on the floor at the side of the bed, She was due to be deported that day. But... how did the knife get into the secure centre and why was the girl's room the only one which was unlocked? DI Thomas Ridpath, the coroner's officer, is sent to investigate and he quickly becomes suspicious, There's a snag though: the inquest is due to open in a couple of days' time, the girl's parents are coming over from China and they want to take their daughter's body home with them. Ridpath has just five days to solve the case. The coroner is disinclined to delay the inquest: for her, it's about giving closure to the parents. Full Review


Burnt Island (Ben Kitto) by Kate Rhodes

4.5star.jpg Crime

The 5th of November was D I Ben Kitto's thirty-fifth birthday and the occasion for the usual bonfire celebrations, but it would be marred this year by the discovery of Professor Alex Rogan's body on a bonfire. He'd obviously been alive when he was put on the fire and can only have died a terrible death. The body was first discovered by Jimmy Curwen, better known on St Agnes as the Bird Man because he speaks little or nothing and his only concern is the welfare of the birds he looks after. His instinct is to cover Rogan's body and he uses his sheepskin coat to do this, with the result that he's the prime suspect. Full Review


A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed

4star.jpg General Fiction

This is the story of a young boy, William Tyce, who is being raised by his uncle after the death of his mother and his father's abandonment. However, it isn't told in the usual narrative way. Instead, the book is made up of glossary entries, written by William, as a way of describing certain events, situations and emotions. It runs alphabetically, starting with ABSENCE, then moving to ALPHABETICAL ORDER. As I began to read I did find myself thinking 'what on earth?!' but I soon grew used to the style, and was instead caught up in William's story. Full Review


Black River by Will Dean

5star.jpg Crime

Tuva Moodyson returns - and this third book in the Tuva Moodyson mystery series delves deep into her personal life, returning her to the isolated town of Gavrik and into a desperate search for her missing best friend. With the Midsommar sun blocked out by the dark pines of the forest, Tuva fights to save her friend. But who’ll be there to save Tuva? Full Review


Bird Love: The Family Life of Birds by Wenfei Tong and Mike Webster

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

I was a little perturbed when I looked at the blurb for Bird Love on a couple of on-line booksellers: exploring the sex life of birds it said. I very nearly passed over the book, but a closer examination suggested that the book is about the family life of birds, which is rather different. If the book was confined to the sex life of birds, you would be missing an opportunity to understand how birds live day-to-day, bring up their families and cope in the wild. Not only that, you have missed the treat of so many beautiful illustrations about a wide variety of birds which run through this book from the first page to the last. Full Review


You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce

4star.jpg General Fiction

Eccentric, isolated romance novelist Cassandra Tipp has been missing for a year and has been pronounced legally dead by her lawyers. Her will instructs her niece and nephew to enter her home and find the key to their inheritance in an old manuscript left in her office: the last story she'll ever tell. Full Review


The Pear Affair by Judith Eagle

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Set in the 1960's, this is a mystery adventure story, all about a little girl called Nell and her quest to find her nanny, Perrine (Pear) who left her very suddenly and then, after keeping in touch regularly by post, disappeared completely from her life, leaving Nell bereft. There's everything in this story, with underground tunnels as the playground of gangs of children, to travel and detective work, a mystery mould infecting Parisian bakeries, mysterious figures following Nell around, and a set of truly dreadful parents! Full Review


Little Doubt (D I Kelly Porter) by Rachel Lynch

4star.jpg Crime

Ella Watson was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was out running in the park when she was randomly attacked and stabbed to death. Her husband, Thomas, and children, Jordan and Millie were devastated and Detective Superintendent Neil Ormond was outraged that a decent, middle-class woman should be the victim of knife crime. Despite being a golfing partner of Thomas Jordan he declined to distance himself from the case and told DI Kelly Porter that he would be taking a great deal of interest in how the case was handled. He wasn't anywhere near as interested when a second woman was stabbed to death a few hours later. Keira Bradley lived on the Beacon estate and Ormond's view seemed to be that anyone living there should expect this sort of thing to happen. He could hardly bring himself to mention Keira's name. Full Review


Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

4star.jpg Crime

Malcolm Kershaw was the co-owner and manager of the Old Devils Bookstore on Beacon Hill in Boston. The store specialises in crime novels, but Mal has given up reading crime. His life's been pretty chaotic of late: It's five years since his wife, Claire Mallory, died and he's never really got over it. She was driving whilst inebriated, having just been to see the man with whom Kershaw suspected she was having an affair. His interest in crime fiction comes back when he's approached by Special Agent Gwen Mulvey. She's interested in a blog post he wrote a few years ago: My Eight Perfect Murders. Full Review