The Bookbag

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The Bookbag

Hello from The Bookbag, a 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 Phoenix of Florence by Philip Kazan

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Deep in the Tuscan countryside of fifteenth century Italy, Onoria survives a massacre that destroys her family and home. Alone in the forest, she meets a band of soldiers who, believing her to be a boy train and develop her – and the determined Onoria becomes a mercenary – desperate to avoid any situation in which she may feel vulnerable again. Along the way, she meets ex-soldier Celavini, whose journey to Florence sees him investigating two brutal murders. As he digs further and uncovers links to his own family history, Celavini must revisit the past he shares with Onoria, in the hope that they can lay the ghosts of their shared history to rest, before it's too late... Full Review


Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Teens

Jasmine and Chelsea go to a high school with an excellent reputation. It places strong emphasis on extra curricular activities and all pupils are encouraged to join clubs and associations. But Jasmine is fed up with her drama group because she's always typecast in the loud, "hysterical" roles (Jasmine is black and resents the angry black woman trope). And Chelsea is fed with poetry club because the only poetry it ever covers was written by men who lived and died years ago. So, along with friends Isaac and Nadine, they start a new group called Write Like a Girl. Full Review


Bitter Edge (D I Kelly Porter) by Rachel Lynch

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime

The girl had once been a promising athlete, but injury and then addiction to prescription painkillers changed her completely. Eventually she was driven to commit suicide in the most gruesome way - by throwing herself off a cliff in the Lake District. It worried DI Kelly Porter, but she had no reason to investigate, although several of her cases keep bringing her back to the girl's school and a darker story emerged. One of the pupils goes missing at the local fair: her best friend is the girl who has accused a teacher of luring her to his flat and then sexually assaulting her. It seems that the teacher also has paedophilia on his computer, but the downloading eerily coincides with the girl's visit to his flat. What is going on, but - most importantly - where is Faith? Full Review


Dead Memories (D I Kim Stone) by Angela Marsons

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime

Someone is recreating every traumatic event in Kim Stone's past, starting with the death of her twin when she was six years old. Some of the events, or at least the details of them, are not public knowledge, but whoever is behind this has a wealth of information and is using it to evil intent. That might seem bad enough, but the brutal truth of the matter is that people - innocent people - are dying so that these dramas can be recreated. Stone probably - well, certainly - shouldn't be on the case, but who has better knowledge of what happened to her than she does? If her boss can just turn a blind eye to the effect it's having on her for long enough, she can sort it out... Or can she? Full Review


Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Thrillers

1997. Evan Smoak is 19 years old trained up, mission ready. And yet untested. He's in a foreign city on an officially unofficial mission, which he executes with all the impeccable training that his youth belies. Evan Smoak is Orphan X. Full Review


Watching You by Lisa Jewell

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Thrillers

A teenage boy spies on a teenage girl from his bedroom window. Down the road, a woman is convinced she knows a man in the village and that he is following her. Meanwhile, a young woman has moved back home after some time abroad, and develops a fascination with her new neighbour. The man's wife, meanwhile, engages the services of the young woman's husband in some work around the house. Oh, and that teenage boy? He's her son. And the woman with the conspiracy theories? She's the mother of the girl he's spying on. Plus, the man she thinks is out to get her is the woman's husband (and is also the new headteacher at her daughter's school). Whichever way you look at it, there's a lot of watching going on in this book. Full Review


Fish Seeking Bicycle by Kate Cooch

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Fantasy

This novel is set about a hundred years into the future. The world has been decimated by nuclear conflict and what's left of the old United States is run from Center City. Women run this world and it is very proud of having defeated the old patriarchy. Men must behave appropriately and deferentially at all times and, if they don't, are medicalised to keep their baser instincts under control. And if that doesn't work, they're sent to work camps, away from open society, or even worse: expelled to the wilderness beyond the Central Authority's borders. Full Review


Home Workout for Beginners: 6 Week Fitness Program with Fat Burning Workouts for Long Term Weight Loss by James Atkinson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Lifestyle

James Atkinson has all the qualifications which you need in a workout instructor and he looks the part. He's been actively involved in the health and fitness arena for more than twenty years and he spent nine years as a member of 9 Parachute Regiment, Royal Engineers. He has another qualification which means a lot to me: he's been on the other side. There was a time when he was overweight and not particularly strong. As a child he was slow to develop. This means that he understands what it's like and he knows how his clients feel: it's much more helpful than the twenty-something who was born super-fit and with an attitude problem. Full Review


Live Forever Manual: Science, ethics and companies behind the new anti-aging treatments by Adrian Cull

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Lifestyle, Popular Science

For many years now I've (half) joked that I intended to live forever and that so far, it was working out OK. Time has passed though and although I'm a great deal fitter and healthier than most people of my age there were a few nagging health problems which were tipping my life out of balance. It was time to look for a new approach and as so often happens, the reviewing gods brought me the book I needed. Live Forever Manual: Science, ethics and companies behind the new anti-aging treatments seemed like the answer to my problems - only you get so much more than just 101 tips. Full Review


The City In The Middle Of The Night by Charlie Jane Anders

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Science Fiction

January is a dying planet. It wasn't exactly pleasant to begin with. One half is scorching sunlight, pure, blazing heat, and totally uninhabitable. The other half is pure darkness and ice, where a creature can freeze to death in seconds, and totally uninhabitable. In the middle is a brief twilight that is barely survivable. Life is a knife-edge, stray too close to one side you die, to close to the other, you die and yet the heat from the sun and the water from the ice are necessary for life. Life for the inhabitants of January is long, and hard, and arduous, will anything ever change? Full Review


Exit Day: Brexit; An Assassin Stalks the Prime Minister by David Laws

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Thrillers

At the time of my writing this, there is one thing uniting Britain, and this is hatred of 'Brexit'. Not just Brexit, but use of the word 'Brexit'. Yes, people hate the people that instigated it then disappeared, and/or the people who just can't seem to get their fingers out and complete it, but they also hate the use of the word. This biggest turn-off has made people who have never so much as tutted in their life slam down their tea-cups in high dudgeon and leave the room until it's safe to return, when all mention of it has subsided. I mention this in relation to this book because it is partly about Brexit, but because it too seems to get to the actual Brexiting in a very protracted manner. Just as we have to wade through dirges from Europe to get anywhere, it seems, so the reader of this book has to get through a lot from Europe before the title's theme really arises. Here, at least though, the author's delaying tactics are much more forgiveable. Full Review


The Hidden by Mary Chamberlain

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

When Barbara Hummel arrives, determined to identify the mysterious woman whose photograph she has found among her mother's possessions, Dora and Joe find their worlds upended – and are swiftly forced to confront their pasts. Revisiting their time on the Channel Islands during World War II, Dora remembers a time when she concealed her Jewish identity, and Joe, a Catholic Priest, remembers a time when he hid something very different. In this story of love, loss and betrayal, it remains to be seen whether a speck of light can diffuse the darkest shadows of war… Full Review


Painting Snails by Stephen John Hartley

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Autobiography, Lifestyle

It's very difficult to classify Painting Snails: originally I thought that as it's loosely based around a year on an allotment it would be a lifestyle book, but you're not going to get advice on what to plant when and where for the best results. The answer would be something along the lines of 'try it and see'. Then I considered popular science as Stephen Hartley failed his A levels, did an engineering apprenticeship, became a busker, finally got into medical school and is now an A&E consultant (part time). I found out that there's an awful lot more to what goes on in a Major Trauma Centre than you'll ever glean from Casualty, but that isn't really what the book's about. There's a lot about rock & roll, which seems to be the real passion of Hartley's life, but it didn't actually fit into the entertainment genre either. Did we have a category for 'doing the impossible the hard way'? Yep - that's the one. It's autobiography. Full Review


The Haven: Book 1 by Simon Lelic

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Confident Readers

When Ollie and Nancy, the police officer tasked with guarding our young hero, are abducted in the middle of the night, things take a dangerous turn. Rescued by Dodge, Ollie is taken to the Haven, a secret underground community based in a network of underground tunnels that the London above ground knows nothing about. Here, children work together to battle great evils. And there is an immediate enemy to fight. Ollie would have been the hundredth victim of Maddy Sikes had he not been rescued. And Maddy intends to destroy the city. Full Review


The Things That are Lost by Alan Kennedy

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction

The final novel in Alan Kennedy's WW2 trilogy sees Captain Alex Vere taken off active duty and banished to Scotland, providing trade craft spy training. It's stifling and suffocating and feels as much like a prison to Alex as anything the Germans would provide. And where is Justine? Alex hasn't seen her since he went to that disastrous meeting with John Cabot, instigator of the disinformation campaign, and returned to find her missing. A failed mission is one thing but no Justine is quite another. Alex can't get Justine out of his head. Has she left the service? Does she know too much? Is she even still alive? Full Review


Song of the Dead (DI Westphall) by Douglas Lindsay

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime

A man walked into a police station in Estonia. He told a tale of having been held prisoner, used as a donor for organ harvesting and sperm donation. X-rays and medical examination bear out this part of his story, but this man, or the man he says he is - John Baden - died twelve years ago. His body was identified by his partner, Emily King and by his parents - and then the body was buried. So, who is this man? DI Ben Westphall is sent to Estonia because of his background in MI6, but that brings some baggage with it too. Westphall cannot, will not, get on a plane. His last experience of flight was more than enough for one lifetime. Full Review


A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Teens

No Widdershins girl has ever been able to leave Crowstone. If we do, we'll die by the next sunset.

A Pinch of Magic follows three sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – who have lived on the isle of Crowstone, infamous for its surrounding marshes and the neighbouring inescapable prison, for their entire lives. The middle sister, Betty, has longed for adventure for as long as she can remember and she is determined that nothing and no-one will prevent her from seeing everything that the world has to offer. But in setting out to do just that, she and her sisters discover a deadly curse which has haunted their family for generations. From their ancestors, as well as a lifetime trapped on Crowstone, they have each inherited a magical object – an old carpet bag, a set of wooden nesting dolls and an antique handheld mirror – all of which are more than meets the eye and could possibly be the key to their problem. Full Review


Never Tell by Lisa Gardner

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime, Thrillers

Evie Carter's husband was shot dead in his own home and she was found with the gun in her hands. Was this a domestic dispute which had got out of hand? Was it pregnancy hormones running rampant? Detective D D Warren recognised Evie immediately. It might have been sixteen years ago, but there's no mistaking the teenager who had accidentally shot and killed her father: 'a tragic accident' everyone said, as there was no doubt about the love the two had for each other. D D had no worries at the time, but just how many gun accidents can one woman have - or is Evie about to get away with murder again? Full Review


The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Confident Readers

After a big blow-up fight with her mum, Emily is left alone with her dad. Her mum has gone away on some strange job (even though Emily didn't think her mum even had a job) and so she is not quite sure what is going on. Things turn even stranger still when her dad goes off to find her mum, and then doesn't come back. She heads out to investigate and discovers a strange, secret world called the Midnight Hour, which seems to be London during Victorian times, and is full of magical beings (and monsters!) What were her parents doing here? And will she be able to find them and rescue them, so her life can go back to normal? Full Review


Gallowstree Lane by Kate London

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime

Spencer was just fifteen years old when he stepped out into a London Street and asked a complete stranger for help, begging him not to let him die. The stranger was an off-duty paramedic but even his skills were insufficient to save Spence. Just one of those things you might, think. Tragic, but teenage boys seem to be getting stabbed on the streets of London all the time. His friend Ryan was with Spence when he was stabbed. It was Ryan who called the ambulance on the paramedic's instruction, sobbing as he held the phone. But Ryan wasn't prepared to accept that it was just one of those things. He wanted revenge. Full Review