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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The Girl Who Walked on Air by Emma Carroll

5star.jpg Confident Readers

I have been looking forward to reading this book for some time. Emma Carroll’s debut novel, Frost Hollow Hall, was one of my favourite children’s books of last year and I was delighted to discover that this is just as good. This is the exciting story of Louie and her hopes to become a circus star. Ever since she was abandoned as a baby at Chipchase's Travelling Circus, Louie has dreamed of becoming a 'Showstopper’ but Mr Chipchase only ever lets her sell tickets. However Louie has a talent as a tightrope walker and every morning she practises her act in secret watched by her little dog Pip. Can Louie find the courage to overcome the challenges that face her, defy Mr Chipchase and achieve her dream? Full review...

Following the Tractor by Susan Steggall

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There's only one thing that you need to know about this book and that's that it is about a tractor. Not sold? Well, your under five will be but in case you require further persuasion, try this out for size. The tractor is red and appears on every page and on one page (could there be more joy?), there is also a blue tractor and a green combine harvester. I've yet to meet a child who doesn't like a tractor. My local rhyme time librarian introduced a toy for each verse of Old McDonald then had to invest in additional vehicles for the tractor round as it was less 'brrmm brrmm here' more 'toddler fisticuffs there'. Full review...

I Don't Want To Go To School by Stephanie Blake

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Simon is a rabbit. A cheeky rabbit. So when his mum tells him he’s starting school in the morning, he doesn’t accept this. He answers back. I’m not going he says. And while at first it seems he’s just being stubborn, over night the truth comes out: he’s actually a little bit scared. Full review...

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

5star.jpg General Fiction

A young teacher is kidnapped leaving her family distraught. Wealthy and influential, they call in the big guns to find their daughter, but is there more to the story, and indeed to the family, than meets the eye? Full review...

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Jenna is getting married and no one would be more excited than her mother Beth. But Beth passed away before she could see the baby of the Carmichael family happily hitched. Knowing she wouldn't live to see the day, she drafted The Notebook, a guide to help Jenna plan her nuptials with wise, motherly advice on every aspect. Full review...

Letter 44 Volume 1: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

I guess we don't always think of the President of the USA as someone who is thrown into the deep end on day one, given his retinue of advisors and aides. But this one is – when being inaugurated as the 44th POTUS, Stephen Blades gets a letter from the outgoing premier. He – and we – learn that the prior two terms, when America was busy fighting in the eastern hemisphere and not getting her economy into gear, were pretty much just a cover-up. The military presence and lack of economic benefit at home was purely due to something a long way away – the discovery of something being manufactured by aliens within our own asteroid belt. Due to some cloaking technology little is known about what is up there – and that applies to our own response, too – the ultra top secret mission we've sent up, both scientific and military, to have a closer look. Welcome to the job, Mr President. Full review...

The Dark Blood (The Long War) by AJ Smith

5star.jpg Fantasy

The lands of Ro are slowly being subjugated by the evil sorceresses known as The Seven Sisters. Their only hope is to kill them and only one man is up to the task: the Dark Blood assassin, Rham Jas. He chooses master forger and fixer Kale as his assistant but, as this will reduce Kale's life expectancy markedly, Kale's not keen. Meanwhile Utha, albino Black Order cleric, his squire Randall, axe maiden Halla Summer Wolf, Timon the Butcher et al are dragged into a bloody conflict during which they have to fight for more than just their own survival. Full review...

The Rain-Soaked Bride by Guy Adams

5star.jpg Fantasy

The last thing that the afflicted people see before their death is a wet woman in white. The last thing they feel is their own personal rain cloud soaking them while everywhere else remains dry. All also happen to be in top government jobs. What's happening? British Intelligence Department 37 (in the form of August Shining and Toby Greene) is there to find out. This may not be the full extent of the problems facing them though; not with a South Korean delegation coming to the UK for talks and August's sister April wanting to get in on the act. Full review...

Paper Swans by Jessica Thompson

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Ben Lawrence has a charmed life it would seem. There’s the highly successful and lucrative career in PR, the fast car, and more girlfriends than he can possibly remember. However, despite all this, Ben is sad and lonely. He is scared to commit to any woman because of a tragic incident from his past. Even visiting his therapist does not seem to make a difference. Therefore, he is completely taken by surprise when, after meeting Effy Jones, the founder of the charity that Ben’s firm is sponsoring, he finds that he cannot stop thinking about her. Full review...

Jedi Academy 2: Return of the Padawan by Jeffrey Brown

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

There lived a boy called Roan Novachez who always dreamed of being a pilot like his big brother. Fate works in mysterious ways and poor Roan ended up at Jedi academy instead. His first year was full of drama and tween angst; trying to make friends, fit in, impress girls and avoid lightsaber-wielding bullies. Roan thinks this year is going to be different: This school year will definitely be the BEST YEAR EVER! Of course, nobody told Roan that when you make statements like that, you are just asking for trouble... Full review...

Night Runner by Tim Bowler

4.5star.jpg Teens

Strange men are watching Vinny's house but he doesn't know why. His mum is being disloyal to his dad but he doesn't know why. Something is up with his dad and his job but Vinny doesn't know what. But Vinny does know that he's had enough of school, where he's being bullied. Everything is going wrong. And now, the men who are watching the house are after Zinny too. Mum ends up in the hospital. Dad disappears.

What's going on? Full review...

Hattie B, Magical Vet: The Dragon's Song (Book 1) by Claire Taylor-Smith

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Hattie's birthday is not going as well as she planned. Mum and Dad are busy at work, her teenage brother is ignoring her and her best friend has decided to go away for the weekend. Hattie is resigned to a morning of watching DVD's in her bedroom until a surprise knock at the door heralds the delivery of a very special gift that will change her life forever. Full review...

Doing It by Melvin Burgess

5star.jpg Teens

First published in 2003, Doing It is the story of a group of teenagers discovering sex for the first time. It's explicit. It's unflinching. And it caused a stir at the time. With high teen pregnancy rates, is there such a thing as too much accuracy? Or are honest portrayals the best form of education? Reissued a decade later, we can have that conversation all over again through the prism of the three teenage boys this novel follows. Full review...

After Before by Jemma Wayne

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Emily easier for English people to pronounce than Emilienne, lives in a council tower block, barely furnished, but still - for her - a place of safety, a place of anonymity, which is the best way for her to exist. She cleans commercial premises and relishes the work. She makes her small earnings go as far as possible, shopping locally, living frugally. Full review...

Runaway by Marie-Louise Jensen

4.5star.jpg Teens

After her father is brutally murdered, Charlotte escapes the city to try to find a new life, and to avoid the vicious killer who is surely tracking her down. Disguising herself as a boy, she puts her skill with horses to good use by finding employment at a grand country estate, drawing the notice of a kind man far above her station in life. But while Charlie tries to grasp happiness where she can find it, the shadow of the past looms over her. Will she ever be truly free of the terror of her father's death? Full review...

The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing by Bob Hartman

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

From the Montagues and the Capulets to the Sharks and the Jets, there are some groups who just can't mix without fireworks resulting. A sheep making friends with a Wolf was never going to end well. The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing tells the tale of one little lamb who decides to go to Wolf school. She's bored of the day to day routine of being a sheep. The daily dips, the badminton playing, the endless knitting. Mum's knitting comes in handy though as a wolf suit flies off her needles. This enables Little Sheep, suitably disguised, to trot off to Wolf School and learn that it's ok to be friends with someone who is outwardly quite different to yourself... Full review...

What Milo Saw by Virginia Macgregor

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Milo is 9 years old and slowly going blind. He lives with his Mum, his Gran and Hamlet the pet pig but not Dad. Milo's Dad lives in Abu Dhabi because Dad made The Tart pregnant. One day, once the emergency services go away, Mum breaks it to Milo that Gran can't live with them anymore and has to go into a home. It doesn't end there though. Milo is on a mission; he and Hamlet will bring Gran back. It's a bit of a difficult mission for a 9-year-old and pig to accomplish alone though so first he needs to convince at least one adult. Good luck Milo! Full review...

My Gentle Barn: where animals heal and children learn to hope by Ellie Laks

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

As a child Ellie Laks was abused, but not only did she suffer at the hands of her abuser, she also had to endure parental indifference to what was happening to her. Her only relief came through animals - and even then she had to cope when the animals were taken from her. As an adult she discovered that she had a real talent for healing animals - and that they helped her to heal too. In a brilliant leap of intuition she realised that if the animals could help her to heal they could do the same for others and so the Gentle Barn was born - a place where animals were brought as a place of safety and where disadvantaged children and special needs groups could use as therapy. Full review...

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Ajastashatru Oghash Rathod is an Indian fakir or an Indian conman, depending on your viewpoint. The day he decides to buy a new bed of nails he does what any of us would do: jumps on a plane from the Indian sub-continent to Paris with some misappropriated money in order to shop at Ikea. His nefarious means will only go so far, therefore he decides to sleep in the store overnight. What’s the problem? Ikea has bedrooms and everything. However, Ikea also has security which is how Ajatashatru gets to travel around Europe in a less than conventional way chased by a homicidal taxi driver. That's the sort of thing that could happen to anyone though, isn't it? Full review...

Explore and Draw Patterns: An Art Activity Book by Owen Davey and Georgia Amson-Bradshaw

4.5star.jpg Crafts

Explore and Draw Patterns is a beautifully presented interactive workbook designed to spark creativity and imagination. The appeal of the subject matter is universal; everyone loves to doodle, so the book would be equally enjoyable for adults or children. Full review...

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor and Sheri L Williamson

4.5star.jpg Reference

I've always been fascinated by hummingbirds - delicate, colourful, beautifully and brilliantly adapted to extract nectar from flowers. Perhaps most of all for me it's their acrobatic flight - the ability to hover and manoeuvre which has me hooked: I could watch them for hours, amazed that birds whose weight can only meaningfully be given in ounces can do so much. I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw it, for a number of reasons. Full review...

The Dinosaurs are Having a Party! by Gareth P Jones and Garry Parsons

4star.jpg For Sharing

You've hired the clown, there appears to be enough food and goodie bags for everyone, but have you made one fatal mistake? Is the venue big enough, this is after all a party for dinosaurs. 'The Dinosaurs are Having a Party!’ tells of one such party fully populated by our extinct friends; apart from one small boy and his dog. Everything at the party appears to be fine, but where is the food? Full review...

Mungo Monkey Goes to School by Lydia Monks

4star.jpg For Sharing

Going to school is a huge milestone for any child, and it can be scary. This book works hard to stop it seeming so daunting, pitching itself really well to make school feel fun, exciting and like a very appealing adventure. Full review...

Mine! by Jerome Keane and Susana de Dios

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Horse and Fox are really bored. Nothing had happened for ages, until the egg arrived. In this lovely book, they are forced to try and share, but they aren't particularly good at it. I really love the style of this book, it uses bold, different colour schemes to make it instantly eye catching and engaging. The text has an immediately obvious sense of humour whilst still managing to be simple enough for early readers to grasp. Full review...

Without You by Saskia Sarginson

4star.jpg General Fiction

Eva is 17 years old and missing following a sailing disaster. Most people presume she died at sea, but her sister Faith has, well, faith. And in fact, Eva is not dead, but she’s not safe either. Held captive on an island just off the coast, she is so near and yet so far from home, and with every day, week, month that passes, her desperation grows. Full review...

Firefly by Janette Jenkins

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

I read Firefly wanting to be charmed. Sat at home, wishing I was in Jamaica, idly humming 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'. Full review...

The Deaths by Mark Lawson

4star.jpg General Fiction

In an idyllic enclave in Buckinghamshire, within spitting distance of Milton Keynes, there are four houses. You might even call them mansions, as they are not the sort of homes to which most people can aspire. But the residents are not most people - they are rich and the lives they lead are different. They're not the old aristocracy for whom the houses were built, but the new elite - barristers, business tycoons, bankers, magistrates, doctors. One of their number runs a security business, so they're all protected by expensive security systems and when they leave their little haven it's usually to travel first class to London or on their way to catch a flight. The Eight seem to lead charmed lives - but the financial world is changing and there isn't the money around that there used to be. Full review...

The Shadow of War by Stewart Binns

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

'The Shadow of War' is the first book in a sprawling series with a new book being released once a year for each year of the First World War. Binns writes about five British communities, all very different – an aristocratic Scottish family, a family of working class Welshfolk, a group of friends in a Lancashire factory town, a pair of Cockney soldiers, and Winston Churchill, alongside his wife Clemmie and various government figures. The groups interact at various points in the book, which leads to some very genuine and touching relationships forming, in particular the one between Margaret, a nurse, and Bronwyn, youngest daughter of the Welsh community. Full review...

Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth by Andrez Bergen

4star.jpg Fantasy

16 year old Mina lives in Nede (that's 'Needy' out loud), a suburb of the Australian state of Victoria where she's in the final throes of school. However she feels very much an outsider, especially after the recent death of her mother. Mina's alienated further by her bullying elder brother and her father's attempts to move on with his life before Mina is ready. She has friends that she spends time with in a disinterested Goth way, the friend who understands her most being Animeid. Animeid is even more different than Mina, being half-girl, half-bird, but neither of them seems to mind. It doesn't affect anyone else after all – Mina's the only person who can see her. Full review...

Strictly Shale: Circling British Speedway by Jeff Scott and Rachael Adams

4.5star.jpg Sport

When I was young I remember Speedway being a regular item on Saturday sport programmes on television. My father was an aficionado and loved the noise, the risk and the sheer energy of the sport - my mother less so and she quoted the noise and the strong possibility of there being 'a nasty accident' when the riders slid their motorcycles sideways. It is still on television but I'll confess to not having watched for many years and it was for this reason that Jeff Scott's Strictly Shale achieved the unusual feat of both being an eye opener and bringing back long-forgotten memories. Full review...