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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Bears Don't Read! by Emma Chichester Clark

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I'm a sucker for bear stories. I find that I am very rarely disappointed by a book with a bear in it. Certainly, this particular bear book is charming, with lots of appeal for both bear-lovers and book-lovers too! George is no common bear, oh no. He's the sort of bear who sits on a bench, thinking about the meaning of life. No longer wanting to do the usual bear sort of things, he feels that he needs more...but what can he do? One day he happens to stumble upon a book and, with it, the new ambition for his life. George needs to learn how to read! Full review...

Line Up, Please! by Tomoko Ohmura

4star.jpg For Sharing

I was intrigued by the beginning of this book, which starts with a sign declaring that 'the line starts here' and below that is a frog, labelled as being a from, and he also has a number 50 beneath him. What is going on? Turning the page we see that there is a queue of animals, and that each animal is named and numbered, with the numbers decreasing from 50 downwards. From the start this is the perfect book for a child obsessed with all the different animal species you can name. There's everything in this queue from moles and guinea pigs to an armadillo, a sloth and a wombat! Full review...

This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

4.5star.jpg Crime

In 1984 I turned two years old, unconcerned by what the miners were up to and more impressed by being served two different drinks at once at my birthday party. I've seen the photos. For Clare Jackson, though, the summer of 1984 changes everything. A small town journalist, she gets the stuff dreams are made of: a murder on her patch, and the murder of a baby, no less. Set against the backdrop of the miners’ strike (the baby belongs to one of the scabs), it’s a tense time on the troubled Sweetmeadows estate and she's not the only one who needs a drink or two (like my 2 year old self) to get through it. Full review...

The Three Little Magicians by Georgie Adams and Emily Bolam

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

The Three Little Magicians are just that, a group of young friends who like magic and are pretty good at it, but they're nothing compared to the likes of their neighbour and magician extraordinaire, Mr Marzipan. When a mishap takes him out of the running for the important magic show at the Crystal Castle, the three friends offer their services. But will the evil Zigzag thwart their plans and steal the prize for himself? Full review...

The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

5star.jpg Teens

Olivia Mead is strong, independently-minded and unrepentant in her beliefs, but there is a certain natural vulnerability to her personality which makes her so appealing. She isn’t a ruthless, remorseless warrior. She is a human being who simply wants to be treated like one, rather than a pet. She isn’t an elusive and daunting beauty, because this isn’t the point of her character. Her beauty lies in in her firmly held values, which she sticks by even at an age when it would be so easy to go with the flow. Full review...

Gravity, Cracking the Cosmic Code by Nicholas Mee

4.5star.jpg Popular Science

Dr Mee’s quest begins with raw data used by Thales of Miletus to make an accurate prediction of a solar eclipse as early as 585 BC recorded in an the account of a battle by Herodotus. Thales analysed the highly accurate data provided by the skilled observations of the Babylonians. Early theories of the heavens are explored in detail with puzzles provided to encourage the reader, for example, to grasp the importance of Galileo’s experiments, Kepler’s revolutionary theories and the towering work of Newton. Midway through this engaging account Dante and the State of Denmark have all been touched upon. This book is a determined attempt to counter the ignorance of the public about basic science, famously propounded by C.P.Snow, and to introduce them to the latest theories about black holes, string theory and to convey the beautiful links between gravity and the theory of small particles, like leptons, with the grand structure of galaxies. Full review...

Doughnuts for a Dragon by Adam Guillain, Charlotte Guillain and Lee Wildish

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Doughnuts for a Dragon does pretty much what it says on the tin, with George heading off on a mission to find a dragon. In Marshmallows for Martians he built himself a spaceship in order to hunt for extraterrestrial life, but this time his plan requires a time machine - I mean, how else are you going to find a Dragon? Full review...

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

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Sam and Dave are digging a hole, and they’re sure they’re going to find something spectacular. But the more they dig, the more they keep missing all the spectacular stuff, not that they know it. This is an interesting book which requires a pretty good attention span to fully appreciate it. It has that thing that is so often missing in picture books; it is just that bit different, which I always appreciate. Full review...

Problems with People by David Guterson

4.5star.jpg Short Stories

Problems with People is a meandering exploration of the relationships, big and small, that we form across a lifetime. Ranging from that of parent and child to that between landlord and tenant, Guterson’s observation of the complexities and nuances involved in how we navigate these personal links is extremely sharp and true to life. Full review...

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

4.5star.jpg Lifestyle

I love a good bookshop. The smell, the feel of an old bookshop, and the wonderful feeling when you chance upon a book that appeals to you. They may be a dying breed in some places, but Jen Campbell has written a fantastic book that celebrates the bookshop and those who love them. Full review...

Faraday: 3 (Tesla Evolution) by Mark Lingane

4.5star.jpg Teens

Alert: if you haven't read the first two Tesla books, this contains spoilers. So if you'd like to come back once you've read them? Sebastian and his friends finally get out of the Hive but did he do it in the right way or has he caused a chain reaction that will destroy the world? Seb and Melanie don't have too much time to reason that out though as they travel across Australia to continue the war against the cyborgs and the mysterious Iris. Perhaps if Seb realised they were taking one of the most dangerous foes with him, they'd reconsider the passenger list? Full review...

Britain in a Perilous World: The Strategic Defence and Security Review we need by Jonathan Shaw

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review has stayed in the mind for the wrong reasons: rather than looking to develop a strategy, to examine the short and long term threats which the country faced, the emphasis was on cutting costs, with some cuts appearing ludicrous at first glance. In the intervening years there have been occasions when it was difficult not to wonder if the United Kingdom was poorly equipped - and without clear-cut aims - as a result of the 2010 review. The opportunity to put this right comes in 2015 and Major General Jonathan Shaw looks not at what the Review should say, but at how it should be tackled. Full review...

Pete the Cat and the New Guy by Kimberly Dean and James Dean

5star.jpg For Sharing

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons was an instant and complete hit in my household when I reviewed it for The Bookbag a few months ago, and it has continued to be so ever since. So I was very excited to receive Pete’s latest adventure, Pete the Cat and the New Guy. It is a lot longer than the last book, but this is not a bad thing and only serves to back up my opinion that these books are suitable for a wide range of reading ages. Full review...

The Paint Book by Miri Flower

5star.jpg Crafts

Craft blogger Miri Flower challenges bored children everywhere with her lovely new series of art books, which utilise basic materials that can be found in most homes. The Paint Book outlines seventy simple projects which encourage kids to get crafty and creative with paints. It's going to get messy, so house-proud parents turn away now... Full review...

A Scarf and a Half by Amanda Brandon and Catalina Echeverri

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A Scarf and a Half follows the story of Little Lionel, whose Granny just loves to knit. When she knits him a scarf for his birthday, he just can’t help but be disappointed, after all it isn’t a nice bouncy ball. But it isn’t just any old scarf, Granny loves knitting so much that it’s a scarf and a half, and luckily for Lionel his friends are on hand to show him just how many different uses it could have. Full review...

Willy The Wimp by Anthony Browne

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Willy is a mild mannered chimp. He apologises even when it is not his fault, which is most of the time. In the mean streets of town, his timid manner, Fair Isle tank top and Oxford brogues mark him out as an easy target for the gorilla gang. That is until the day he spots a mail order advertisement which guarantees a transformation from wimp to loud talking, sand kicking, muscle bulging man. Willy sends off the coupon, some cash and then waits… Full review...

The Pencil Book by Miri Flower

5star.jpg Crafts

Summer is almost over. Gone are the carefree days playing outdoors in the sunshine with friends. Here come the rainy days and dark evenings, heralding the inevitable cry of: I'm bored!. Author and craft-blogger Miri Flower (fantastic name!) comes to the rescue of harassed parents everywhere with her new series of art books which encourage children to utilise simple materials to create fun games and artwork. The Pencil Book sees the humble pencil takes centre stage, with seventy projects to keep kids engaged and amused. Full review...

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

4star.jpg Teens

I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no-one knew what to do with me.

Jam's grief for Reeve has left her paralysed. She does nothing but think of him and the forty-one days of their relationship. She's not interested in school. friends, food, family, even therapy. And so, in desperation, Jam's parents send her off to a boarding school for Kids With Problems. Full review...

Melissa's Octopus and other Unsuitable Pets by Charlotte Voake

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Melissa has a pet octopus. He’s splendid, but not exactly the most suitable of pets. But what other unsuitable pets do Melissa’s friends have, and which is the most unsuitable of all? Full review...

Belle and Boo and the Very Merry Christmas by Mandy Sutcliffe

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In the world of children’s literature you have to get your winter solstice books out early if you want to stand out in the crowd. Before you can release a Christmas book though, it would help if all the characters knew what Christmas was. Thankfully, Boo need not worry for too long as Belle is on hand to tell him exactly what to do. Full review...

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

4star.jpg General Fiction

Savvas has everything he needs here in Cyprus: money, a beautiful wife from a rich Greek Cypriot family and a hotel to develop into beacon accommodation for the well-heeled. It's not everything he wants though. There's always another hotel to buy and deals to be done while Aphroditi, his intelligent wife, becomes more aware of her position as an ornament rather than a partner. On the other hand, the Turkish Ozkans and Greek Georgious have less materially but are, on the whole, happy. Traditionally they should be enemies but Famagusta is a tolerant town and a good place to live. All this changes in 1974: Turkish soldiers land on the island and slowly move down through the north, an underground resistance emerges and life becomes dangerously cheap. The citizens of Famagusta flee to the south, but two families can’t get out in time: the Ozkans and the Georgious. Full review...

The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr

5star.jpg Teens

It’s the winter of 1941 and we are in the Ukraine. A fourteen year old girl is hiding in a wood on the vast and bitter-cold steppe. Her name is Katinka, a name from folk song and fairy tale, and she has been befriended by two of the wild Przelowski’s horses. Full review...

Jolly Snowmen by Ned Taylor

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Snowmen are universally adored. Everyone I know who picked up this book, young and old, went Oooh, snowmen! There’s something so cheerful about this precious, somewhat rare creature, and the likes of Frozen have cemented this in the minds of the latest generation. A book about two balls of icy snow doesn't sound much, but add a scarf, coal eyes and a carrot nose, and the transformation is astonishing. Full review...

Tin by Chris Judge

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When Tin agrees to look after Nickel for the afternoon, you can tell he really just wants her to play peacefully while he reads his comic. But little sisters have a habit of not doing what you want, and before he knows it, Tin is up off his sun lounger and racing after Nickel to keep her from danger. As he and Zinc the dog chase after her, they find themselves in an adventure of their own in the big city. Full review...

Wars of the Roses: Trinity (Wars of the Roses 2) by Conn Iggulden

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A bewildered Henry VI has awoken from the catatonic state that took him away from the business of ruling – and living – for over a year. His job is now to regain the reins of his kingdom that was a little too ably ruled by Richard Neville, Duke of York in his absence. Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, thinks Richard enjoyed the regency so much he's plotting a permanent takeover. The bigger problem is communicating it to Henry as she's increasingly side-lined. The approaching storm is gathering momentum threatening the House of Lancaster and a convalescing king whose recovery may only be temporary, even if he lives that long. Full review...

Aftershock (Shades 2.0) by Jill Atkins

4star.jpg Teens

She's MADDY, you know, not MADELEINE, but that's only one of the problems which she has with her parents. They might be on holiday in one of the most beautiful places on earth, but her mother simply will not lighten up. She's always complaining about what Maddy does, what she wears or doesn't wear (there's not nearly enough of that bikini...) and Maddy has had enough. She slams out of their bungalow and goes down to the beach - but it's not long before the sea is all sucked away and tragedy hits. Will Maddy have the chance to apologise for all the hurtful things which she said? Full review...

It's an Orange Aadvark! by Michael Hall

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A group of ants decide to drill through their tree stump in order to give themselves a window to the outside world. The more they drill, the more colours they find, and the more whacky and wild ideas they come up with for what they mind find outside the safety of their home. Full review...

Yuck! Said the Yak by Alex English and Emma Levey

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Yuck! Said the Yak is a great, fun book for young listeners. Alfie is trying desperately to find something which his hungry Yak friend will want to eat, but he doesn’t really think about what a Yak will want, and so all the Yak can say is Yuck! Full review...

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Britta Teckentrup

4.5star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

You know the song already, but this peep-through book recreates the magic of the Twelve Days of Christmas in a beautiful and special way. Full review...

Surprise by Jonathan Litton and Fhiona Galloway

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Pass the Parcel is a timeless classic for any occasion, be it a birthday or, as in this book, Christmas time. But have you ever played it in a book before? No? Keep reading. Full review...

Your Hand in My Hand by Mark Sperring and Britta Teckentrup

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When I was young my Mum always wanted me to come over for a lean or hold her hand if we were walking. I would be asked how much I loved her and I would reply, This Much whilst stretching out my arms as far as they would go. It seems that my Mum was quite a sentimental person, so this book would have been perfect for her to read to me before bed. Full review...