The Bookbag

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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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Kitchen Disco by Clare Foges and Al Murphy

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

If the ‘‘Toy Story’’ films taught is nothing else, they taught us that when we are not paying attention, toys come to life. Call me old fashioned, I am not impressed as this is common knowledge, but did you know that fruit also awakens? If you listen closely as you go to sleep you may just hear the soft pulse of some Happy House or Dubstep as down in the kitchen the fruit are having a disco. Full review...

My Pen by Christopher Myers

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

How long does it take you to read a picture book? Don't worry counting the number of words, forget totalling the pages, and ignore how many times you may return to bring it off the shelf. What matters so much more than how long it takes to scan a page can be how long it lies in the memory, and what it can lead to. This example, for instance, can be perused in seconds, but creates a vivid and long-standing mental image, and will if it hits the right buttons lead to untold future activities. You can't judge something like this on the value of time. Full review...

Field Guide: Creatures Great and Small (Field Guides) by Lucy Engelman

4.5star.jpg Crafts

Call me fuddy-duddy, but I have never seen the need to review a book via video – with Youtube and other sources becoming full of people giving their thoughts about the latest hot release the idea has never appealed to me, when there are also countless ways for one to share opinions by old-fashioned written word. That is, of course, until now, and the phenomenon that is building rapidly – that of mature colouring-in books. Here at the Bookbag we can easily prove we've read every word of the books by being eloquent, informative and opinionated about what we examine, but even I admit four paragraphs regarding a picture book we ourselves have to finish off may leave some members of our audience wanting to see the results. Full review...

Ancient Egypt in 30 Seconds: 30 Awesome Topics for Pharaoh Fanatics Explained in Half a Minute (Children's 30 Second) by Cath Senker and Melvyn Evans

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Egypt. It's up there with dinosaurs, space travel and not much else that can hold a young child throughout the length of their school career. Considering a lot of them will grow up declaring they have no interest in, or even a hatred for, history, it all was relevant a long, long time ago – and with Carter's finding of King Tut's tomb closing in on its centenary it won't go away yet. There are indeed books that solely concern themselves with the history of our love affair with Egypt. But I guess it does boil down to it being introduced by a fine teacher. Whether this latest book will supplant the human in giving us all the lessons we need remains to be seen. Full review...

The World of Norm: 8: May Contain Buts by Jonathan Meres

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Why is it the only person in Norm's world able to think straight is Norm? His best mate Mikey is clamming up on certain subjects, and blaming mood swings on his hormones (well, he is all of thirteen, after all). His dad seems to be mourning the loss of an antique bottle of aftershave, his mother thinks sorting the recycling is a cure for boredom, and his grandfather is all full of weird expressions and euphemism thingies. That's not to mention his younger brothers, who have it in mind to use mum's hair straightener on the dog. And that's certainly not to mention the girl next door, who evidently has been incapable of thinking straight since birth, but at least is doing the good thing by moving house. It's a flipping miracle that Norm can get through a weekend like this without anything disastrous happening. Or can he? Full review...

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

5star.jpg General Fiction

In a future in which the sea has flooded the world, Callanish is a gracekeeper – administering shoreside burials and sending the dead to rest in the depths of the ocean. The solitary life of tending watery graves serving as penance for a long-ago mistake. Meanwhile, North is a circus performer – living with a flouting troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers and trainers, and with only a bear for a friend. An offshore storm leads to a chance meeting between North and Callanish – and a chance to change both of their lives. Full review...

The Wild Beyond by Piers Torday

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Stories for younger readers about the effects of climate change, known as cli-fi, are growing massively in popularity right now, as environmental disasters and the disappearance of many of the planet's animals and plants hit the news on a depressingly regular basis. Shrinking glaciers mean rising water levels and the slow extinction of polar bears, and in many cities pollution and smog are so dire at times that governments are forced to ban cars and urge their citizens to stay indoors. But far from frightening children with tales of ever-increasing destruction and death, Piers Torday offers them a way to hope. No matter how bad things are, this trilogy tells us, all it takes is determination, and together we'll save our beautiful world. Full review...

The Independent Director: The Non-Executive Director's Guide to Effective Board Presence by Gerry Brown

4.5star.jpg Business and Finance

In the United Kingdom independent directors are usually known as non-executive directors to distinguish them from the executive – those people charged with actually running the company on a day-to-day basis - but Gerry Brown usually refers to them as independent directors, a phrase which is common in other parts of the world. Initially, I found the phrase somewhat unusual but as I read The Independent Director I came to prefer that usage as it stresses what the director must be above all else – independent and able to stand back from the management of a business and view what is happening and what is planned with a dispassionate and critical eye. There's little in the way of training and it can be argued that no one is actually qualified to do the job, but Brown's book is as good as you're going to get in terms of spelling out the responsibilities and pitfalls. Full review...

A Lover's Pinch by Jean Ravencourt

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Hettie (Henriette to be formal) has grown up in straitened times. Her mother was a former mistress of Charles IX but now Henri IV is on the throne. A different king means different favourites and Hettie’s family have to live on the memory and favours of others. However Hettie has attracted the attention of Henri which is enough to give her mother ideas. She’s not the only one though: King’s mistress Gabrielle d’Estrees also has plans for the teenage girl. Hettie is definitely embarking on an adventure but the twists it takes are unforeseen by anyone and dangerous to all. Full review...

Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp and John Kelly

5star.jpg Confident Readers

12-year-old maid Ivy Pocket is at a loose end after her employer the Countess Carbunkle leaves her for South America "for no other reason than it is far enough away from Paris to ensure that I never see you again." Charitably deciding that the old woman is 'bonkers' on the basis that anyone who doesn't see how wonderful she is couldn't possibly be in their right mind, Ivy thinks she'll stroll into another job but finds it more difficult than she'd expect - until the Duchess of Trinity gives her an important mission; to deliver a priceless diamond necklace to the granddaughter of an estranged friend. But what should be a simple task becomes fraught with danger as Ivy faces obnoxious aristocrats, strange creatures, and betrayal. Full review...

The Pleasure of Reading: 43 Writers on the Discovery of Reading and the Books That Inspired Them by Antonia Fraser (editor)

4star.jpg Entertainment

There has been a trend for lists in recent years, with numerous websites and books cashing in on this craze for cataloguing must-see films, favourite foods, and things to do before you die. ‘’The Pleasure of Reading’’, edited by Antonia Fraser, may be, then, the most sophisticated and erudite result of this fascination for listography, since its premise is straightforwardly based around the top ten books chosen by famous authors. Behind this book is the curiosity readers feel for each other or the question, as Fraser puts it, ‘What ‘’do’’ other people read?’ But these people are some of the greatest writers working in recent years, with contributions from Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, and Tom Stoppard and others. The book, however, returns us to those early moments in their lives – before fame and prizes – when reading was a hobby like it is for so many people. Full review...

Boo by Neil Smith

5star.jpg General Fiction

Oliver Dalrymple is dead. He realised this the moment he woke up in the rebirthing bed. His friends and tormentors had always called him Boo because of his ghostly pale complexion and now he's finally earned the nickname fully. What he hasn't realised is the way in which he died; he thinks he died of holey heart problems in front of his locker while reciting the periodic table. The location is correct but, meeting Johnny (an equally dead former classmate) reveals, he was actually murdered. What's worse, their murderer has been spotted there in 13 year olds' heaven. Full review...

The Infidel Stain by M J Carter

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1841. Newly returned from India, Jeremiah Blake and William Avery find life back in Victorian England difficult to settle into, having left a disconnected country travelled by pony and trap, and returned to one in the grip of railway mania. When a series of murders occur, all connected to the press, Avery and Blake find themselves back in action. But with connections between the murdered and those seeking revolution, it is a race against time to find the killer before he strikes again. Full review...

National Geographic Kids Infopedia 2016

4.5star.jpg

Annuals. They are not what they used to be. As a child, I remember snuggling into a chair with my 1983 “Crackerjack” annual and being completely immersed by the facts, stories, jokes and activities inside. Maybe I'm getting old, but many of today's annuals seem to be little more than a few flimsy sheets of colouring paper and posters sandwiched inside a hard cover. If, as a parent, you are aching to buy your children something with a little more substance and quality, then the National Geographic Infopedia 2016 may be just what you are looking for. Full review...

Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders (Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates) by Gareth P Jones

4star.jpg Confident Readers

It's a three-way battle in the Slurring Mariner pub. On the one hand, four Steampunk Pirates – a fine mix of vicious, nefarious and metallic mariners who would make any passing human gulp (which is more than you could ever say of the beer). On another, the Dread Captain Inkybeard, who is married to a squid who lives on his head and keeps his facial hair dark. On the third, a ridiculously rich, ridiculously French and ridiculously successful recruiter – but to just what is he taking so many seamen? Whatever it is, it's enough to get the Pirates and Inkybeard working together (ish) to solve the problem – but someone else might just be controlling the whole farrago… Full review...

Yes! No (Maybe...) (Tom Gates) by Liz Pichon

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Work. It's not something Tom Gates has been guilty of much before now – unless it's to work out how and where to hide his favourite caramel wafers, or how to deflect the evil grin of his slightly goth older sister. But it's on the cards this time round – not only does his mother have the inspired idea of clearing the house out for a car boot sale (which causes disasters) the school is having an enterprise competition, where groups of students have to create something to sell on to their peers at a profit. But it's not like Tom wants much – of course, he's a simple lad, with no real desires as such – he's never going to want to go hell for leather to get anything, is he? Full review...

Cellar by Minette Walters

4star.jpg General Fiction

To my mind, The Dark Room is the most perfect psychological thriller ever written (and I've read lots in this genre). In her later works, Minette Walters seemed to veer away from this particular path to glory as her novels became steadily darker and with increasingly dislikeable characters. So it was quite refreshing to discover that The Cellar was written from the point of view of a rather likeable protagonist. Muna is an African child living in, shall we say, somewhat unusual and very cruel conditions: she was stolen and now lives in captivity. Her voice is compelling and from the first page I found myself wanting her to make good her escape from the dreadful - and sadly all too believable - circumstances in which she finds herself. So, naturally, I admired her cunning and resourcefulness, knowing that these attributes would serve her well. But, of course, this is Minette Walters and nothing is as simple as it first appears. As the story unfolded I found myself questioning who exactly were the victims and who, if anyone, was innocent. Full review...

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

5star.jpg Fantasy

Many years ago, in a village deep in Eastern Europe, the locals live a life of relative peace and happiness - knowing to always avoid the wood that borders their land, and safe in the knowledge that they are guarded by a powerful wizard - the Dragon. Aware that he is the one thing keeping them safe from the dangers of the wood, the villagers take part in a ritual called 'The Choosing' every ten years - when a young girl is sent to serve the wizard for a decade. Agnieszka is of age for the choosing, but nobody fears that she will be picked - her best friend Kasia is pretty and graceful, and sure to catch the eye of the immortal Dragon. However, Agnieszka is not aware of the talents she holds that may attract the wizard - talents that the safety of the entire kingdom may come to depend on for their survival... Full review...

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Natty and Sean seem to have a good marriage - to have everything, in fact. They didn't have a particularly propitious start: Natty's pregnancy precipitated the marriage and meant that Sean couldn't do the law degree he'd set his heart on, but they now own an upmarket hotel in the lake district, have a lovely home and drive the sort of cars more commonly associated with premier league footballers. Their daughters are in their teens now and it's when the younger, Felicity, is on a school trip to France that the problems start. Full review...

The Slaughter Man by Tony Parsons

4star.jpg Crime

This is the second novel by Tony Parsons, which features DC Max Wolfe, single parent to daughter Scout, who first appeared in, The Murder Bag. This book is, without a doubt, a huge step up from the first in the series – an extremely fast paced, exciting crime novel, with a gripping plot and twisted characters. There is no guessing which turn the story will take as every page throws in another plot twist; it’s impossible to figure out who the killer is. On New Year’s Eve, a rich, well established family living in Highgate, London are brutally murdered and the four-year-old son has been abducted. Now it is up to Max to track down the child and figure out who was behind the murders. Full review...

Flight by Isabel Ashdown

4star.jpg General Fiction

Mothers are supposed to adore their children - to be willing to give up everything for them and to devote their lives to being mothers. But, for some people it doesn't work that way. Wren Irving, mother of six-month-old Phoebe had bought a ticket for the first-ever National Lottery draw in 1994, without telling her husband and she said nothing when her numbers came up. Instead she simply packed her bags as soon as she was alone and left - also alone. Later a letter would arrive from a solicitor saying that she had no intention of returning. Her husband Robert and best friend Laura were left to cope, to pick up the pieces and endure the vacuum. Full review...

The Trains Now Departed: Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain's Railways by Michael Williams

3.5star.jpg History

Beaching wasn't the only buffer to the fate of various train lines of our land – it could have been sheer managerial incompetence, the birth of the package air holiday, or even road-builders' bloody-minded spite that served to bring down the end of the line. Yes, the fact you can easily pepper your words with idiom from the world of trains shows how important they have been over the last two hundred years, and this book is geared around that as well, if happily cliché-free. Our author takes us on a journey around various sites where train lines and elements of what once rode proudly upon them have been and gone. So grab a platform ticket (RIP) and see what class of journey we're travelling in. Full review...

Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs! by Paula Metcalf and Cally Johnson-Isaacs

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Life’s boring in the burrow so Rupert rabbit decides to tunnel over to the neighbouring farm. There he meets a very bossy duck, Dora, who tells him that only animals who can do a job can live on this farm. What can a rabbit do? Full review...

Cakes, Custard and Category Theory: Easy recipes for understanding complex maths by Eugenia Cheng

5star.jpg Popular Science

Eugenia Cheng is a professor of maths and a lover of cake. If you’re wondering how those two things could ever intersect, it’s quite easy. And the result, the middle of the Venn diagram, if you will, is this book which makes maths fun, meaningful and relatively easy to digest. Much like her recipes. Full review...

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

4.5star.jpg Teens

Finch and Violet are both counting the days. Violet is on countdown to graduation, to getting away from the school and town that hold so many torturous memories. Finch, meanwhile has started from zero and is logging the number of days in a row he is awake. And he doesn’t mean that in terms of physically awake, but more so in terms of his emotions. Neither of them are particularly happy. At least one of them has a plan to make the pain stop in the most final way possible. It’s pretty horrific. Full review...

Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary by David and Ben Crystal

4.5star.jpg Reference

David Crystal, renowned linguist, writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster has collaborated with his son Ben, Shakespearean actor, author, director and producer to create an eye catching, exquisitely detailed, carefully colour coded and incisive reference guide. It is extensive and meticulously researched- a fusion of the Crystals’ Shakespearean knowledge, linguistic skill and theatrical enthusiasm. Lavishly illustrated by Kate Bellamy, who favours a bright, attractive primary colour palette, this dictionary is a treasure trove for any student of Shakespeare. This would be a five star review but for a minor quibble- it is missing an index of characters which would have been useful for pupils assigned character studies as they could have cross referenced the explanatory entries with quotes or themes. It also only concentrates on Shakespeare’s twelve most performed plays so it is not an exhaustive treatment of his work. Full review...