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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Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War by Jerry White

5star.jpg History

It seems that only recently, with the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War upon us, that historians have really looked thoroughly at the social history aspect and the effect it had on the population at home. Jerry White, who has already made a study of London over the last three centuries or so in previous titles, now turns his attention to life in the capital during those momentous four years. Full review...

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

In Soho in 1937, Italian singer Antonio has found himself a wealthy patron. His patron’s wife, Olivia, is known to Antonio from a chance encounter at the Paradise Ballroom - and the spark they felt on that meeting starts to deepen as war begins to creep up on them. In an uncertain world, everything about their lives is under threat – the government perceives foreigners as threats and the war wreaks havoc with nerves and relationships. Full review...

One Shot at Glory by P J Davitt

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Dave Shaw wants nothing more than to be a footballer. He has the talent. He has the desire. He has a supportive family. And he has a place at the Wolston Rovers junior academy, where his instincts as a goalscorer are highly visible. A golden future beckons - and with it, the professional contract Dave dreams of. But a serious injury brings all Dave's dreams crashing down... Full review...

ZOM-B Bride (Zom B Book 10) by Darren Shan

4star.jpg Confident Readers

REPEATING STANDARD WARNING! If you haven't read the first book in this series, STOP READING NOW! NOW! Spoilers ahoy! Full review...

Mighty Small by Timothy Knapman and Rosie Reeve

4star.jpg For Sharing

Max the mouse has a secret. He is a superhero! He can't run super fast, or jump really high, or do anything particular 'super' but still, he has a cape and he likes to wear his underpants over his trousers, if his mum isn't looking! He is sure that if he just tries hard enough he will figure out what his super power must be. Full review...

A Word Glittering with Spikes by Nigel McClea

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

We're going to follow the fortunes of two couples (or are they 'would-be couples' or 'might-have-been couples'?) as they navigate the treacherous waters of love. David Castledine's first meeting with Jenny could hardly have been less auspicious: he hit her. He didn't actually mean to hit her but he threw a stick for his aunt's dog to chase and it caught her on the head. Head wounds bleed profusely and this one was no exception, so David had to take her back to his aunt's apartment to clean her up. I suppose there have been worse meetings, but it's difficult to think of one! Full review...

In The Wolf's Mouth by Adam Foulds

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

In Sicily, bandits steal the sheep of a young shepherd. Distraught, he seeks out his local Mafioso for help. Sixteen years later, two men are traveling to Sicily - one, a young English officer, and the other an American infantryman. They are all soon thrust into a war that is greater and more terrible than anything they could have dreamed, and they all must find different ways to survive its terrors. Full review...

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

4star.jpg Teens

I regret to inform you that I have had to take my own life.

Cody finds out that her best friend Meg has committed suicide by email. A flat, formal, email. We follow her over the ensuing months as she searches for answers. How could she not have realised that her friend was in such pain? What had caused that pain? When packing up Meg's belongings, Cody finds emails on her laptop to a boy that has broken her heart. Is Ben McAllister the cause of Meg's suicide? But there's an encrypted file, too. And when Cody finally opens it, she finds information that will take her on a journey, not only through Meg's life, but also her own... Full review...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

5star.jpg Teens

Arnold Spirit, or Junior as he is known on the Spokane Indian Reservation where he lives, is about to face the biggest challenge of his life, fourteen years that have already seen their fair share of challenges. He knows the decision to go to the rich all-white school, in the nearby town of Reardan, is a necessary one. It means travelling twenty-two miles every day to a town where he's going to be even more of a target, even more out of place, than he already is on the rez. It means risking the wrath of the other Indians, who will see him as a traitor, a turncoat. And worst of all, it means losing his best friend and partner in crime, Rowdy. However, it is the only way he can possibly break through the vicious cycle of impoverishment, depression and rampant alcoholism that has taken over the lives of so many of the inhabitants of the reservation, and it is a path that he must walk for the sake of not just his future, but that of his tribe. Full review...

The Boy Who Wept Blood (Erebus Sequence 2) by Den Patrick

5star.jpg Fantasy

Anea is now the ruler of Demesne but, rather than retain the current aristocratic system of ruling houses, she works towards a republic, empowering the plentiful but poor peasants. As no turkey votes for Christmas, not all ruling houses align with her ideas, making life treacherous – fatally so for some. Dino, her half-brother is doing all he can to protect her but, Anea's desire to spend most of her time with her scientific machines isn't doing her any favours in the popularity stakes. For Dino hiding away is not an option; he's got questions and he wants to live long enough to answer them. Full review...

The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne

5star.jpg Thrillers

Angus inherits a Scottish island from his grandmother that holds fond memories from his childhood. Although it's totally remote Angus, his wife Sarah and daughter Kirstie decide to move there from London. Yes, daughter singular but they haven't always only had the one child. Kirstie used to have a twin, Lydia, till 13 months ago. Lydia died in a tragic accident, the circumstances of which have never fully been revealed. At least everyone believes it was Lydia who died but what if…? Full review...

Secrets and Dreams by Jean Ure

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

When Mum and Dad won the lottery thirteen year old Zoe and eleven year old Natalie were given the chance to choose something big which they really wanted. Natalie chose to have a pony (and there was a puppy too, but no one was counting) and Zoe decided that she really wanted to go to boarding school. Dad - particularly - wasn't keen on the idea, in case Zoe would have to mix with posh people, but eventually he came round and Zoe started at St Withburga's - and just chance you're thinking of jokes about cheeseburgas, Nat got there before you. Full review...

Catherine Certitude by Patrick Modiano, Sempe (illustrator) and William Rodarmor (translator)

4star.jpg Confident Readers

What little I know of Patrick Modiano was gained from the number of 'no, we've never heard of him, either' articles and summaries that came our way when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature at the end of 2014. They suggested his oeuvre was mature, slightly thriller-based but not exclusively so, and asked lots of accumulative questions regarding identity with regard to the Vichy government during WWII. Identity is a lot more fixed in this musing little piece, for the adult voice-over looks back over a wide remove, and says there will always be a little bit of her living the events and situations of the book. Those situations are of a young dance-school attendee, and her loving and much-loved father, living a cosy life in Paris – even if the girl never once really works out what it is her father does for a living… Full review...

The Bus Is for Us by Michael Rosen and Gillian Tyler

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

As a child of the 80s I sometimes yearn for an era free from Aliens in Underpants or rough Gruffalos. An era of Alan and Janet Ahlberg telling gentle stories that had an old fashioned feel, but were still great for the modern kid. Thankfully, I am not the only person out there that craves this as some books are still being produced that describe the simple pleasures such as riding the bus. However, I think that these kids have obviously never tried to catch the Number 9 at rush hour. Full review...

Enter Pale Death by Barbara Cleverly

3.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Death by Misadventure.' This is the official verdict as to the cause of death of Lady Lavinia Truelove, trampled to death by a notoriously ill-tempered horse, which she foolishly tried to approach in its stall. The horse panicked and reacted badly, resulting in a gruesome and bloody attack, witnessed by two boys from the village. Most people would dismiss the event as a tragic accident, but detective Joe Sandilands suspects that this could be cold-blooded murder. Could his judgement be clouded by the fact that he has a very personal axe to grind with the 'grieving' widower, who has been showing increasing attentiveness to Dorcas, the girl he plans to marry? Full review...

Whale in the Bath by Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett

5star.jpg For Sharing

It’s bath time, which is often not a favourite time of day. Really, it’s a sign that the fun is over and it’s time for bath, maybe a story, and then bed, at least for the little ones. The grown ups get to stay up later. Hmpf. But Bruno is not moaning too much about getting in the bath, though you get the impression that’s a battle he’s had, and lost, in the past. The problem is…there’s a whale in the bath. And whales are pretty big so there’s not much room for Bruno to hop in beside him. Full review...

Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry by Gareth Murphy

5star.jpg Entertainment

It’s not difficult to find a history of popular or recorded music, written around the musical names who made it happen. Cowboys and Indies takes a different approach. While there is plenty in these pages about several of the most important stars, there is just as much again if not sometimes more about the movers and shakers, the inventors, managers, impresarios, and record label founders without whom there would not have been a record industry. Full review...

A Reverie of Brothers by R D Shanks

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

The castle of Delzean's walls have always protected Emperor Eli, his sons, sister, niece and nephew from the ravages and poverty of the people in the city beyond. However the days may be numbered as a burgeoning revolution has infiltrated its walls thanks to the rebel movement known as The Eyes. Their plan necessitates the unwitting involvement of the spoilt, egotistical aforementioned niece, Princess Ava. Unfortunately there will be collateral damage with tragic effects. Full review...

15 Things Not to Do with a Baby by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There’s a new arrival at home. A foreigner. An imposter. An alien. A BABY. What on Earth should you do with it? Full review...

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Her father dead, her mother too, her only brother struggling with the after effects of a tour in Iraq. Riley’s life is not the easiest right now, but with the mammoth task of clearing out her late father’s estate, she’s back in her hometown for the summer while school’s out and she has time off her adolescent counselling job. Riley is expecting to have a long but simple task ahead of her, sorting through things to keep, things to donate, things to sell. But as she rifles through a lifetime’s collection, she finds far more than she bargained for including troubling news about her sister Lisa who committed suicide as a teenager. Except, it seems, she didn't. With the help of family friends, reams of paperwork and an email history he never expected her to find, Riley discovers her father had been keeping some big secrets. Lisa didn't drown, after all. She took off under an assumed name with a new identity, never to be heard of again. It’s a traumatic discovery for Riley, especially without anyone to share it with, but the more she digs into the past, the more she realises how little she knows about her family history. Full review...

Bloodstone: Legend of Ironheart by Allan Boroughs

5star.jpg Confident Readers

After a year travelling the globe as apprentice to Verity Brown, India Bentley falls into trouble when she's accused of trying to assassinate a priest. She's rescued by Professor Moon, who needs her and Verity to help him find the mysterious Bloodstone. As the trio, plus a few companions, journey to Atlantis, India is plunged into an adventure even more dangerous and exciting than her first one was. Full review...

Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When did you last read a children's book that absolutely flummoxed you in the way it showed or told you something you didn't know? (And please be an adult when you answer that, or else it won't be quite so impressive.) Back in 2001, Quentin Blake wasn't a Knight yet – he hadn't even got his CBE – but he did get allowed to put on his own show at the National Gallery, with other people's pictures that contain oddities, stories, unexpected detail – sparks on canvas and paper that would inspire anyone looking, of whatever age, to piece things together, work things out, form a narrative. The pictures came with no major labelling, no context – just what they held, and some typically scratched Blake characters discussing the images as a lead-in. They were simply hung in alphabetical order, and probably could not have been more different. This then is a picture book of the most literal kind, with 26 stories. Full review...

My Village: Rhymes from Around the World by Danielle Wright (editor) and Mique Moriuchi (illustrator)

4star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

I'm thinking that of all the kinds of books that have ability to surprise, high up on the list are poetry books. You can generally see the style, idea or genre of a novel from the cover, and beyond a few shocks and twists nothing changes. But take poetry on board, and there are surprises on each page – the concentrated form of the literature surely gives the author more chance to bedazzle, to pull the rug over the readers' eyes and to generally give something the audience didn't expect. And so it is with this book, for while Michael Rosen's introduction spoke to us of nursery rhymes, I had already flicked through and still was not expecting a spread of them. Even when he itemised the various kinds I didn't foresee finding them all on the pages, although that is what I got. Who would have thought that such a small, succinct and varied little volume would have that much capacity to surprise? Full review...

The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making by David Esterly

4star.jpg Autobiography

Bouncing between his studio in upstate New York and the sites of various English sojourns, woodcarver David Esterly's seems to be an idyllic existence. Yet it's not all cosy cottages in the snow and watching geese and coyotes when he looks up from his workbench. There is an element of hard-won retreat from the trials of life in this memoir, but at the same time there is an argument for the essential difficulty of the artist's life. 'Carvers are starvers,' a wizened English carver once told him. Certainly there is no great fortune to be won from a profession as obscure as limewood carving, but the rewards outweigh the hard graft for Esterly. Full review...

What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading The Classics Of Science Fiction And Fantasy by Jo Walton

5star.jpg Anthologies

Jo Walton has published over ten books, several of which have been award winning. On top of that, she has a voracious appetite for books - both as a well respected writer of original fiction, but as a well respected reviewer too. Not only does she have time to do all that, but she also writes a regular column for Tor.com, on Science Fiction and Fantasy books, and it is these columns that a selection of which are collected here. Full review...

Kill Fee by Owen Laukkanen

4.5star.jpg Crime

The internet has had one of the most profound effects on humanity since the invention of the printing press. A world full of knowledge is at your fingertips and you can access anything from your home. Want to order food? Easy! How about learning how to make a fake ID? It’s all on the net if you know where to look! Want someone killed by a professional for a reasonable fee? This may be depressingly easier than you think. Full review...

A Scientist in Wonderland: A Memoir of Searching for Truth and Finding Trouble by Edzard Ernst

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

Professor Edzard Ernst was born in Germany not long after the end of World War II and grew up with guilt about what had happened in the years before he was born as well as an insatiable curiosity - with the two not being entirely entirely unconnected. He also developed an attitude of speaking his mind - as an early challenge to his step-father about the death of six million Jews in the course of the war proved. In his teens he wasn't determined to become a doctor - he had a hankering to be a musician - despite the fact that it was the family business, so to speak, but came round to the idea and practiced in various countries before settling in Exeter as Professor of Complementary Medicine at the university. Full review...

The Swimmer by Joakim Zander

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

'On a remote Swedish island, a little girl, Klara, grows up without a father. Now, twenty years later, she discovers a secret: a secret that powerful men will kill to keep hidden.'

The Swimmer begins in 1980, with a bombing in Damascus, and a tragedy that can be felt across decades. Full review...

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's not much fun having a Destiny, and a line of ancestors leading back into the mists of history to live up to. It's a lot less fun when you're a bit of a loser, and the Darkmouth villagers you're supposed to protect are so fed up with your mistakes they phone the local bobby to complain every time you go out hunting. Just because you squashed someone's car a teeny bit, and sliced a boat in two – I mean, you've got to learn, right? Full review...

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's not much fun having a Destiny, and a line of ancestors leading back into the mists of history to live up to. It's a lot less fun when you're a bit of a loser, and the Darkmouth villagers you're supposed to protect are so fed up with your mistakes they phone the local bobby to complain every time you go out hunting. Just because you squashed someone's car a teeny bit, and sliced a boat in two – I mean, you've got to learn, right? Full review...