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 Sunshine Cruise Company by John Niven

4.5star.jpg Humour

Susan Frobisher and Julie Wickham live in a small Dorset town. Friends since school, they live fairly uneventful lives – Susan has a lovely house and a lengthy marriage to accountant Barry, whereas Julie is doing slightly less well – living in a council flat and working in an old people's home. When Barry is found dead trussed up in a sex dungeon, it transpires that he has been leading a hidden life for years, and his expensive fetishes lead to the bank moving to take Susan's home. Struck by both desperation and a sense of injustice, Sue and Julie conspire to rob a bank, taking along their friend Jill – a devout Christian conflicted due to lack of money and a terminally ill grandson, and Ethel – a foul mouthed resident of the nursing home longing for adventure. Full review...

Danger is Still Everywhere: Beware of the Dog! by David O'Doherty and Chris Judge

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Gordon. He's a very safe bet, now you have met him, as he's a source of highly intelligent and descriptive warnings about danger. He and he alone can voice warnings about the Puddle Shark you might get eaten by, the Parp Donkey that might evict you by farting through your letter box, and the Headphones Crab that – well, the illustration here says it all. Now, I know what you're thinking. Advice this intelligent and salient could only really come from Docter Noel Zone, the world's only Level Five Dangerologist. And you'd be right. Gordon is the name Noel gives to his wardrobe. And Noel is currently living in Gordon the wardrobe, as his house has been taken over by a messy, noisy, and incredibly dangerous puppy. Add into the mix a pet contest hosted by the world's most dangerous man and you have a recipe for disaster (when all you wanted was a completely safe recipe for cabbage soup, as well…) Full review...

Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1842: Magistrate Aaron Graham is missing his wife. She's left him, taking their daughter to live with her cousin in a very uncousinly way. Yet her distance doesn't prevent her discussing the goings on at her new home with Graham; as these goings on resemble witchcraft and seem to be taking a toll on his daughter's health Aaron is rightly worried. He calls upon Constable Horton to investigate… this is the Horton whose wife Graham encouraged to enter one of the more exclusive madhouses. Under the circumstances it seemed the right thing to do but Horton still hasn't forgiven his superior for it. However, as the investigation goes on and Graham is distracted by a murder case with a rising body count, these bubbling undercurrents of enmity reduce in importance. The important thing for each of them has become survival. Full review...

Dreams That Veil by Dominic Luke

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

12-year-old Eliza Brannan is looking forward to a wonderful summer. She and her older cousin Dorothea will be joined at home by Eliza's university student brother Roderick and the sun-drenched days will stretch out before them. Unfortunately the reality isn't the same as the dream; this is the summer when life changes. Dorothea and Roderick will pursue futures that no one had predicted and a foreign house guest will open Eliza's eyes to the world outside her outgrown nursery. There again, this is 1914; a year heralding a change in life for more than just the Brannan household. Full review...

The Table Of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Sir Humphrey has been demoted from King Arthur's Round Table to the Table of Lesser Valued Knights. The only way to get his comfier seat back is to redeem himself via a quest. Therefore when damsel Elaine seeks help to find her kidnapped fiancé, Humphrey and his ward, the teenage giant Conrad, eagerly set forth. Meanwhile in the kingdom of Tuft, new Queen Martha has run away after a disastrous wedding to… a… well… disastrous Prince Edwin. She may not realise it yet, but she too will have a job for Humphrey! Full review...

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

4star.jpg Teens

In the walled city of Hak Nam, there are three rules; run fast, trust no one, and always carry your knife. In streets controlled by vicious and sadistic drug lords, three individuals all seek something. Dai seeks information on the criminal brotherhood which employs him, lest he be imprisoned. Jin Ling seeks her sister in the Walled City's brothels, evading the roaming street-gangs as she goes. Mei Yee, trapped in a brothel in the city and forced into sexual relations with the two-faced Ambassador Osamu, desperately seeks freedom. The three have just eighteen days to accomplish this, as the officials of Seng Ngoi plan to evict all residents of Hak Nam in preparation for its demolition… Full review...

Mythology: An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell

4.5star.jpg Spirituality and Religion

What does a rainbow mean to you? How would you explain the creation of the world if you had no science as such, or the changing of the seasons? What other kinds of natures – chaotic trickery, evil personae or even the characteristics of goats – people your world? And why is it that the answers man and woman have collectively formed to such questions have been so similar across the oceans and across the centuries? This highly pictorial volume looks at the mythologies that formed those answers, and locks on to a multitude of subjects – blood, music, godly activity – to show us what has followed. Full review...

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

This is a beautifully written book, located both in England and Australia, about adulthood, changing responsibilities, and the universal desire for identity and belonging. This theme is also reflected in the search for union and fulfilment in the marriage of Henry and Charlotte, struggling with the changes imposed on them by parenthood and family life across two continents. Full review...

Generation by Paula McGrath

4star.jpg General Fiction

How can we know the effect that our choices may have on the next generation? Even a seemingly minor decision has the potential to create ripples and waves of unforeseen repercussions in the future. This fascinating theme is explored in “Generation”, an intelligently-written début novel that approaches the subject from multiple perspectives over an eighty-year period. Full review...

Colour Me Mindful: Birds by Anastasia Catris

4star.jpg Crafts

About half a century ago I mentioned to someone that colouring was relaxing and enjoyable and received a lecture on my lack of creativity and willingness to use what other people had drawn for my own ends. I still did colouring - at a time when there were considerable pressures in my life over which I had no control - but it was just that it became my guilty secret. Now colouring is mainstream and there's a considerable range of design books to choose from. Orion have published three by Anastasia Catris: this book, Colour Me Mindful: Underwater and Colour Me Mindful: Tropical. So, how do they stand out from the crowd? Full review...

Shadow Cat by Gillian Cross

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

When Nolan's effervescent mother suddenly takes him on a surprise journey he is in as much fear and doubt as the reader about what will happen next. Meanwhile music sensation Midir's daughter Feather is tired of being controlled and dreading the next photo opportunity for the press. Then, one night, as her father prepares for a shocking, spectacular event, everything changes. Cross keeps us guessing as Nolan's world is turned upside down and he has to make difficult choices. Why is his mother in the clouds on an exultant high one minute and grey, stressed and in the doldrums of despair the next? Does Feather really want to be his friend or do they just have the serval they have sworn to protect in common? Full review...

Kipper's Beach Ball by Mick Inkpen

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

It's play time at the beach for Kipper and Tiger in this magical book about living in the moment because it might be over before you know it. Full review...

Katie McGinty Wants a Pet by Jenna Harrington and Finn Simpson

5star.jpg For Sharing

Katie McGinty wants a pet. Really, really, REALLY wants a pet. Daddy says no, not yet, not until she's bigger. So she waits. And she waits. And then the time comes. Full review...

Thirst by Kerry Hudson

4star.jpg General Fiction

London – Summer. Alena, a young siberian immigrant is caught stealing shoes. Dave, the man who catches her, is a security guard – surviving on a minimal income and with little drive to better his quiet, repetitive life. As Alena and Dave grow closer, Dave finds his life turned upside down. But will Alena ever let down her guard, and reveal the truth about her past? Full review...

Beneath London by James P Blaylock

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

The collapse of the Victoria Embankment uncovers a passage to an unknown realm beneath the city. Langdon St. Ives sets out to explore it, not knowing that a brilliant and wealthy psychopathic murderer is working to keep the underworld's secrets hidden for reasons of his own. St. Ives and his stalwart friends investigate a string of ghastly crimes: the gruesome death of a witch, the kidnapping of a blind, psychic girl, and the grim horrors of a secret hospital serve the strange, murderous ends of perhaps St. Ives' most dangerous nemesis yet. Full review...

Dead in the Water (Campbell and Carter) by Ann Granger

4star.jpg Crime

It was the wettest winter on record and coming up to Christmas it wasn't the floods that the residents of Weston Saint Ambrose were worried about - or even the forthcoming festivities. On his way to a call the local vet had spotted something in the river and closer inspection showed that it was a body of what he thought was a young woman. When he managed to get back to the scene and meet the police the body had disappeared, but it drifted under the landing stage of a large house down river and was spotted by a man delivering logs. The owner of the house, a reclusive writer, was shocked to realise that he recognised the girl. Inspector Jess Campbell and Superintendent Ian Campbell had to investigate the brutal killing. Full review...

The Bolds by Julian Clary and David Roberts

5star.jpg Confident Readers

The Bolds, Mr and Mrs and their two small children, live in an ordinary semi-detached house in suburban Teddington. They have jobs; Mrs Bold designs and sells flamboyant hats and Mr Bold writes jokes for Christmas crackers. But they are most definitely not an ordinary family. Oh no! They are in fact hyenas. So far they have managed to successfully pretend to be human beings. Although very hairy and prone to laughing a lot they have kept the truth (and their tails!) a secret from everyone. But their grumpy next door neighbour, Mr McNumpty, is growing suspicious and then a trip to the local safari park has repercussions. Will the Bolds' carefully long kept secret be revealed? Full review...

Without a Trace by Lesley Pearse

4star.jpg General Fiction

Cassie's arrival was bound to cause a stir in the sleepy Somerset village of Sawbridge. She had flaming red hair, a voluptuous figure accentuated by very tight clothing, towering heels, heavy make-up and no wedding ring. But the thing that really shocked the locals was the fact that she had a little mixed-race girl in tow. Petal, as she was called, soon melted the hearts of the residents, but no such courtesy was extended to Cassie, who was dubbed 'that red-headed whore' by some. Her only friend was the kind shopkeeper Molly Heywood, who would often visit Cassie and Petal at their isolated stone cottage on the outskirts of the village. Full review...

The Self-Esteem Team's Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs?!! by The Self-Esteem Team

4star.jpg Teens

Did you know that there are (on average) three children in every British classroom who are self-harming? Or that 48% of teenage girls avoid everyday school activities because of a lack of body confidence?

Shocking, isn't it? Full review...

Nina Goes Barking Mad! by Anita Pouroulis

4star.jpg For Sharing

Nina and George are Jules' dogs. George is badly behaved. He once dug up the entire front lawn. Mum said she wanted to give him away. It's Nina who is in the dog house though in this edition of the Jules, Nina and George series. She just won't stop barking. Mum, Jules and even George are being driven crazy. Inspired by a TV show, Jules sets out to think like a dog and pin down what on earth the matter can be. Full review...

Wish You Were Here by Catherine Alliott

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

The Murray-Browns are off for their usual summer holiday - a month with the in-laws in the highlands - when a surprise encounter lands them a holiday in an amazing French chateau - all for free. Flora is teeming with excitement until she realises her idea of a blissful break as a family of four isn't going to be what she gets. For a start, her teenage daughters are determined they're not going without their boyfriends. And since the family are no longer going to Scotland to see her husband's father and sisters, they must be invited as well. Oh and if they're coming, so is Flora's slightly eccentric mother and if that's the case then no-one is stopping Flora's mad best friend joining the party. Soon the Murray-Brown holiday is looking less like a peaceful getaway and more like a circus. Flora remains determined to enjoy herself but between policing her daughters' bedrooms (and her mother's), a beautiful, French host who is just too friendly with her husband and a blast from the past rolling into their lives, this holiday becomes more like purgatory than paradise. Full review...

Born to Rumble by Jeff Scott

4star.jpg Sport

Rumble. It's an odd word, isn't it, with that sense of a noise like thunder (or even of a motorcycle engine) and of a street fight between rival gangs. Author Jeff Scott has picked the perfect title for his journey around various speedway venues looking at those occasions when the combination of brakeless bikes, adrenalin, ridiculous speeds and not a lot of space explode into confrontation on or off the track. It's hardly surprising that it happens - in fact it's surprising that it doesn't happen more often given the competitive nature of the sport and the diva-like qualities of some of the top riders. Full review...

The New Woman by Charity Norman

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Charity Norman has written yet another thought provoking book that will hook the reader in from the very first page. This is the story of Luke Livingstone who becomes Lucia Livingstone as the story progresses. It is also the story of a family that is ripped apart by Luke's revelation and how each one deals with having a husband, father or son who is really a woman. Full review...

Pirates Don't Drive Diggers by Alex English and Duncan Beedie

4star.jpg For Sharing

Ah, that age old dilemma or whether to go into the family business or whether to set out alone and follow your dreams! In this story we meet Brad, who has been born into a family of pirates but who dreams of life on a building site. His dad (friendly looking pirate though he is) has no time for Brad's nonsense, and packs him off to sea to learn what pirates do. Is this to be a tale of tragedy and woe? Don't worry, Brad may get to drive a digger after all… Full review...

Poo in the Zoo by Steve Smallman and Ada Grey

5star.jpg For Sharing

If you’re one of those parents who really can’t stand farting jokes, or avoids nappy changing discussions with your peers at all costs then step away from this review now! This is a story that is made for families who enjoy a funny poo story, and who can bear a few armpit fart noises now and then! For this is a book that is entirely about poo, from start to finish, so make sure everyone who needs to be is in a nice clean nappy, then get ready for a treat of a read! Full review...

The Bear Whispers To Me: The Story of a Bear and a Boy by Chang Ying-Tai and Darryl Sterk (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Award winning Taiwanese writer Chang Ying-Tai's emotive, elegiac fable is a meditation on the art of storytelling. Its immersive detail and enchanting musical cadences give it a magical, dream like quality. It is a special work as it is one of the few examples of Taiwanese fiction available in English. The blind Paiwan poet Monaneng said of aboriginal Taiwanese culture:

"With tender care let us set in motion our blood that is once again warm.
Let us recall our songs, our dances, our sacred rituals.
And the tradition of unselfish mutual coexistence between us and the earth.

This is exactly what "The Bear Whispers to Me" effortlessly does. Full review...

The Dying Season: A Bruno Courreges Investigation by Martin Walker

4.5star.jpg Crime

It's said that you should never meet your heroes but Bruno Courrèges, chief of police of the sleepy Dordogne town of St Denis, has no such thoughts when he's invited to the 90th birthday celebrations of the man who has been his hero since he was a child. Marco Desaix is a war hero, flying ace and a man with high level political connections in France, Russia and Israel - and he's known as The Patriarch. The party - if you can use such a mundane word for an occasion which includes a fly past by the air force - went well, with only one minor disruption when an old family friend accosted one of the daughters of the Desaix family and was disinclined to let go. Still, it was well known that he was an alcoholic and no one seemed surprised when Gilbert was removed without ceremony by the gamekeeper. Full review...

Black Cat, White Cat by Silvia Borando

4star.jpg For Sharing

'Black Cat, White Cat' made me laugh out loud. In a lifetime of consuming literature greedily, I can count on one hand the number of books that have had this effect on me. I couldn't wait to read it with someone else to share the joke. Given that the humour relies on an element of surprise, I'm torn about how much to reveal here so, for the moment, I'll tell you a bit more about the book. Full review...