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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One Hundred Days of Happiness by Fausto Brizzi

5star.jpg General Fiction

Sometimes Serendipity coerces Fate into making sure you read a particular book. I picked One Hundred Days… off the shelf on the back of the blurb from an author of a book I haven't actually read. I confused the title of their book with one I adored. Make of that what you will, I'm going to call it a happy accident, because this is a book many of us really need to read. Full review...

Bear and Hare: Where's Bear? by Emily Gravett

5star.jpg For Sharing

Bear and Hare are playing hide and seek. Hare covers his eyes, turns to face the wall, counts slowly to ten and then goes looking for Bear. Unfortunately he's tried to hide behind and under the standard lamp and he's not exactly invisible. Well, let's be honest - he looks as though he's wearing a very strange hat. Still, we can always have another go, can't we? This time, after the ritual counting, Bear is behind a (very small) pile of books. OK, one more time? This time it's the fish tank. I'd like to be able to say that he was behind the tank, but he's visible over, under and through the tank. Even the fish look rather surprised. Full review...

How You See Me by S E Craythorne

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Daniel's father is ill after a stroke and so Daniel needs to go home to Norfolk to nurse him. While there he continues to write letters to his beloved girlfriend Alice, his sister Mab and his boss to keep them up to date. The problems in Daniel's life are a lot closer to home than those he's left behind in his normal life though. Gradually the reasons why Daniel left Norfolk return to him, increasing in intensity until it's much, much too late. Full review...

Field Service by Robert Edric

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Morlancourt, France 1920: World War I may be over but a grisly job remains. The soldiers killed and buried in battle are to be exhumed, identified and brought to War Commission designed cemeteries for reburial. Captain James Reid and his corps are responsible for receiving and burying in the embryonic burial grounds while Alexander Lucas' detachment go out to collect the corpses or check the veracity of claims that British and Commonwealth troops have been uncovered in various settings including farmers' fields. It's a job that may take its toll on any man and it does. Full review...

More! by Tracey Corderoy and Tim Warnes

4star.jpg For Sharing

Archie the rhino has a new favourite word - more! Whatever it is that Archie likes, he likes it a lot! He just wants more of everything; more stories, more bubbles in the bath, more glitter...but what happens when one day, Archie's idea of 'more' becomes a little too much to handle? Full review...

Black Cairn Point by Claire McFall

5star.jpg Teens

Heather agrees to a camping holiday with Dougie and his friends because she's desperate to get closer to him. But when they disturb a pagan burial site above the beach, Heather becomes certain that they have woken a malevolent spirit. Something is alive out there in the pitch-black dark, and it is planning deadly revenge. Full review...

Where's Gilbert? The Not So Little Princess by Tony Ross and Wendy Finney

3.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

This title is part of a new series which develops Tony Ross's unforgettable Little Princess for older children reading on their own. The Not So Little Princess hasn't really grown out of her teddy bear, Gilbert, but she's old enough to have become self-conscious when her friend Ollie finds her telling stories to the teddy in the garden. She denies and abandons Gilbert. Full review...

Captain Pugwash by John Ryan

5star.jpg For Sharing

Captain Pugwash was first published in 1957. It was a comic strip, a TV animation and the story series developed into a further twenty four titles. Pugwash is conceited, stupid, podgy, unshaven and lovable. His crew are the laziest afloat, his enemy, Cut-Throat Jake, is satisfyingly villainous and cabin-boy Tom can always be relied on to save the day. Many families will remember these as childhood favourites whether in print or on the screen. Full review...

Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's 1656 and England is in the middle of the Civil War. Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, has sent Witch Hunters out across the land, so for her own safety twelve-year-old Hazel's mother Hecate confines her to a magic and invisible glade. But there's stronger magic than Hecate's around, and when a demon seizes and carries off her mother, Hazel is left entirely on her own with no knowledge or experience of the outside world. Well, not entirely on her own - if you count a rather tetchy and opinionated dormouse as a companion... Full review...

Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's 1656 and England is in the middle of the Civil War. Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, has sent Witch Hunters out across the land, so for her own safety twelve-year-old Hazel's mother Hecate confines her to a magic and invisible glade. But there's stronger magic than Hecate's around, and when a demon seizes and carries off her mother, Hazel is left entirely on her own with no knowledge or experience of the outside world. Well, not entirely on her own - if you count a rather tetchy and opinionated dormouse as a companion... Full review...

The Crossing by Andrew Miller

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tim and Maud seem, to everyone around them, mismatched. She, quite literally, falls into his life, and they build a life – jobs, a house, a boat, then a child. Tim needs Maud, needs her to complete him, wants desperately to completer her, to help her. But what if Maud is already complete? What if she doesn’t need help? When tragedy strikes, Maud will find herself miles away from anyone, on a journey that will change everything, and test her to the utmost. Full review...

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's always a privilege when you're given an advance reading copy of something – and a real 'block' when you read the small print that says 'not for resale or quotation'. Fair comment on the resale bit, but when you get something as brilliant as The Loney being required not to quote is just plain unfair. Full review...

One by Sarah Crossan

5star.jpg Teens

It's always been Tippi-and-Grace. Never Tippi and Grace. These twins can't be separated - and we don't mean just socially or emotionally; we mean physically, too. Because Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins. They have two heads, two hearts, two sets of lungs, two pairs of arms. But at the waist, they come together. Life hasn't been easy - their father has lost his job as a college professor and so their mother works ridiculously long hours at the bank to keep up the health insurance payments. Medical bills are crippling and money is tight, so tight that the twins are going to have stop being homeschooled and enroll in a "normal" school for the first time. Full review...

Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth: From Steubenville to Ched Evans by Luke Gittos

3.5star.jpg Politics and Society

It is said that we live in a rape culture. Tabloid headlines scream that the number of rapes is on the increase and that the police and the courts are failing to deal with the problem. There's a belief that the rate of conviction is consistently low. It's also said that sexism and misogyny have created a society in which rape is a regular occurrence, frequently not reported to the police and that society at large doesn't really care. Luke Gittos, a solicitor practicing criminal law, argues that these claims are based on myths and misunderstandings of the statistics and that far from improving the way that rape and sexual assaults are dealt with it's actually working against the interests of victims. Full review...

The Last Four Days Of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey

4star.jpg General Fiction

Paddy Buckley is a grieving widower who has worked for years for Gallagher's, a long-established—some say the best—funeral home in Dublin. One night driving home after an unexpected encounter with a client, Paddy hits a pedestrian crossing the street. He pulls over and gets out of his car, intending to do the right thing. As he bends over to help the man, he recognizes him. It's Donal Cullen, brother of one of the most notorious mobsters in Dublin. And he's dead. Shocked and scared, Paddy jumps back in his car and drives away before anyone notices what's happened. Full review...

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

5star.jpg For Sharing

One day a small bear cub finds something strange in the middle of the woods. Not knowing what it is he tentatively touches it with his paw. It makes an awful sound! However the little bear continues to visit the object over months and years and gradually the sounds become beautiful and the bear feels happy. The other bears love listening to the wonderful music that he makes and then one day a father and daughter visit the forest and tell the bear he should take his musical talent to the big city. So the bear embarks on a journey to seek his fame and fortune. Although the city is all the bear could possibly have hoped for, something deep inside him is tugging him back home. Full review...

Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

4star.jpg For Sharing

The Lord of the Rings has an impressive legacy, both as a trilogy of books and films. Its impact on the fantasy genre as a whole is almost immeasurable – in many ways the genre exists because of these books. Frodo and co. also lives on within the people who love and cherish the books and the fantasy genre as a whole, but how do you spark this enthusiasm in your kids? Matty Long may just have come up with a cunning plan. Full review...

Out of Bounds by Bruce Hugman

4star.jpg Autobiography

Author Bruce Hugman has been a school teacher, probation officer, smallholder, university lecturer, PR Professional, is an international communications consultant and teacher in healthcare and patient safety. Having nursed two partners through the final stages of AIDS, and survived the 2004 Asian Tsunami. A varied and interesting life then – and it is the first thirty years of it that Hugman chooses to concentrate on here. Full review...

Thunderbirds are Go Official Guide


It's time to admit that I am old. I remember the first series of Thunderbirds from Saturday morning kids' cinema – an episode of that, then a second-run film, both for a quid. They were only ten years old or so then, but at least that proved the franchise was durable. Nothing did that quite as much, however, as the news a couple of years ago that the Anderson estate was to allow a CG updating, bringing a new generation of people to the massed audience. Amid the usual worries about it losing everything that made it special, it actually did pretty well when it aired in 2015 – even with a breakfast time transmission slot. This small(ish) format hardback is, bar the annual, the very first chance to look at an official book concerning the series, and inasmuch as it inspired me to research the return, and certainly accept it as looking a worthy addition to the canon, it succeeds on all fronts. Full review...

Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody by Roland Chambers and Ella Okstad

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Ella's father, Captain Peabody, sailed away when she was a baby. He remembered her birthday once or twice sending her a gift of painted snails and an egg which hatched into a visionary turtle. This turtle, Columbus, has grown to become Ella's closest friend and companion as her mother sits silently knitting and nothing more has been heard from her father. There may be a lesson about parental inadequacy and unreliability here but if so it's understated. I have rarely met a less angst-ridden heroine than Ella though she can give a firm lecture about keeping one's promises. Full review...

I Wish I had a Pirate Hat by Roger Stevens

4star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

I was worried, initially, that all these poems were going to be about pirates. How would Roger Stevens keep the interest going if he was confined to the staple diet of treasure maps and skull and cross bones? In fact there are only three pirate poems but they are the first three and the book cover gives little indication of the variety within. I Wish I had a Pirate Hat contains forty five poems grouped into Fun Time, School Time, Home Time. No poem is longer than a page and there’s sufficient range of form and tone to keep one reading. There’s also sufficient consistency to allow one to drop in at random and with confidence. Full review...

The Great White Man-Eating Shark by Margaret Mahy and Jonathan Allen

5star.jpg Emerging Readers

This is the story of Norvin who was a good actor but rather plain. In fact he looked like a shark… There were not many parts in the world of theatre for boys who looked like sharks so Norvin took up swimming. Soon he was able to shoot through the water like a silver arrow but he found it tedious having to share the delightful space of Caramel Cove with all the other swimmers. Almost every young reader will be able to guess what Norvin did next – but they might not anticipate the way in which his plan goes wrong. Full review...

Last Resort (A Bob Skinner Mystery) by Quintin Jardine

4star.jpg Crime

In the space of a year life has changed dramatically for Bob Skinner. He's not going to be head of Police Service Scotland - he withdrew his application - and his third marriage went to the wall quite dramatically. On the other hand he's back with his second wife, Sarah, who's getting rather annoyed at the way he's moping around now that he's on gardening leave. She's the one who persuades him to go to his house in Spain to sort himself out. It's a cathartic trip: an old friend asks him to investigate the disappearance of a trusted employee and Skinner discovers that he himself is the target of a 'true crime' author. If nothing else he realises that what he's been missing in the job of late is the hands-on investigation. At least he's not moping any more... Full review...

Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter about People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman

5star.jpg Reference

Neurotribes is is an ambitious book. It aims to challenge the widely-held perception that autism is a disability, or a developmental delay. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this:

One way to understand neurodiversity is to think in terms of 'human operating systems' instead of diagnostic labels... Just because a computer is not running Windows doesn't mean that it's broken.

This refreshing approach underpins the whole of this ground-breaking work, which is essentially a potted-history of autism from the distant past to the present day. It will fascinate and enlighten anyone with an interest in the subject, or who is affected, directly or indirectly, by the condition. For autistic people, this book represents their roots; their cultural history, and illustrates how far the autistic community have come over the past few decades. Full review...

Stars: A Family Guide to the Night Sky by Adam Ford

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

If an innovative book and a beautiful piece of art got together and had offspring, the result would probably look a lot like an Ivy Press publication. This publisher never ceases to impress and their books are the kind of ones that you keep to pass onto subsequent generations. With this in mind, I was excited to receive a lovely children's book called Stars: A Family Guide to the Night Sky for review, which invites families to explore the cosmos from your own backyard. Would it live up to the standard of its predecessors? I was getting starry-eyed in anticipation... Full review...

Smile by Michelle Magorian and Sam Usher

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Josh is tired, fed up and feeling put out and ignored. No, he isn't having a tantrum – something big has happened (well, two things actually) and his world has turned upside down. You see The Howler has arrived and everything has changed and not, so far, for the better. Baby brother Charlie is just seventeen days old and is not only taking up all of his parents' time, but also stopping everyone in the house from getting enough sleep with his constant howling. Will the crying 'ever' stop? And there's worse because the really terrible thing is the baby's arrival meant a very special event had to be cancelled. Full review...