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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Nod by Adrian Barnes

4.5star.jpg Dystopian Fiction

For anyone who has suffered from insomnia, the idea of a world with no sleep is an unsettling place as it feels so real. The thought of having to drag yourself to work after a night with no sleep is bad enough, but what about two nights, or three, or four? Society will crumble if everyone missed five meals in a row, but what would happen if we all missed five nights of sleep? If you end up in the land of Nod, we are all in trouble. Full review...

The Gessami Residence by Jane L Gibson

3star.jpg Women's Fiction

Jenny Walker has been a widow for three years. She's had support from her parents (Dad's still a bit protective), her two sons, who are at university, and her three girl friends. The four women have had a meal together every week but now they've decided to go on holiday for a fortnight. One of the women - Rose - is in the business so she's in charge of making the arrangements and she insists that they have to turn up at the airport before they find out their destination. Ibiza wasn't quite what they were expecting, but then three of the four women are unattached (Amanda is married - in an unenthusiastic sort of way) and they all like to drink and flirt. What couldn't go right? Full review...

Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Holly Sparkes is an ordinary 11-year-old schoolgirl, until she is struck by a mysterious bolt of lightning and then everything changes and she becomes extraordinary! Just like one of the characters in her brother's much loved comics Holly has developed superpowers. Holly can generate a massive amount of electricity in seconds, a skill that can, as Holly discovers, cause mayhem unless she can learn to control it. Her brother Joe, an expert in these things, decides to become her mentor and together they resolve to use Holly's new powers to good effect. They get the opportunity sooner than they expect with the arrival in their town of the company CyberSky and the sinister Professor Macavity. Full review...

All The Stars In The Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

4star.jpg General Fiction

It was 1935 and Loretta Young wanted fame and success in Hollywood. Part of it was being young (just twenty one) and beautiful but she was also conscious that the money she brought in mattered to her family. She was hungry for love too: her father had left when she was young. Her step-father had done little better and there was a need for a man she could love and look up to. She developed a reputation for falling in love with her leading men: first it was Spencer Tracy but on the set of The Call of the Wild she fell for Clark Gable - and he for her. Full review...

I Am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz

5star.jpg For Sharing

The first time we meet Bear he is bare! Imagine – a naked animal, in the forest with his bottom on display. Squirrel is so shocked he's dropped his nuts. Ooh matron. Full review...

The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Sarah's son has just died in an avalanche and as such this is a book very much about bereavement and grieving and what next. It's odd to think that a basis of personal tragedy made this an intriguing read, but that was the case. Full review...

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

1805: Napoleon Bonaparte is on the way to conquering Europe while what's left of Europe (including the Russian army led by Tsar Alexander) stands in his way. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky quickly gets a reputation as military hero although few know this is allied to his death wish. Meanwhile back in Russia the remaining aristocracy have no doubt that their motherland will win and so they continue with daily life. Pierre, the illegitimate son of Count Bezukhoff buries his life in wine, women, song and more wine but the death of his father takes him on a journey to find happiness, the long way round. 12-year-old Natasha Rostov dreams of love and happiness, searching with age-related exuberance and inexperience. The older generation are there to help and hinder as they take their places as pawns and puppeteers in the manipulation and social climbing that's become second nature… that is until the tide of war changes. Full review...

Little One by Jo Weaver

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

There is a subtle balance needed when finding a book to read to a toddler; one that takes into account the needs of the child, but perhaps also the needs of the adult. Do you really want to be stuck reading an ugly book about a pair of underpants for several months? (Oops we seem to have lost that book!) However, a book with striking visuals that strikes a chord with a parent may not always chime with a child. Is a children's book always meant to be just for kids? Full review...

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

3.5star.jpg Crime

Detective Casey Duncan has a dark past, and it's about to catch up with her. When her best friend Diana is attacked by an abusive ex, the two women realise they have to disappear, fast. And they need sanctuary. Diana's heard of a hidden town that's so remote it's almost impossible to reach. A town that desperately needs a new detective. Full review...

3, 2, 1... Draw! by Serge Bloch

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I can't draw. I've never been able to draw. A blank sheet of paper and a pencil frightens me. I thought I was probably a little bit old to change my ways but then I discovered 3, 2, 1... Draw! and there might have been a movement within the tectonic plates of my brain. It's a drawing book which isn't about blank pages: it's about imagination and inspiration, with the first encouraged and the second delivered by the barrow load. I've just had more fun than I thought possible with pencil and paper! Full review...

Dreaming the Bear by Mimi Thebo

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Darcy's a typical teenager whose natural habitat is the shopping mall and the multiplex. It's, therefore, not surprising that she's finding it almost impossible to adjust to living in a snowy wilderness without television, a phone signal or wifi. It doesn't help that she's also recovering from pneumonia and tires quickly. But it is this very weakness that changes her life when, exhausted, she stumbles into the shelter of a cave and finds herself embraced by a hibernating grizzly bear. Full review...

Atticus Claw Hears a Roar by Jennifer Gray

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

If you haven't already, meet Atticus Claw. This is the seventh chance you've had, may I mention. He was an outstanding burglar, but now, as he is 'owned' by the children of a policeman, he has come over to the light side, and is solving crimes and not causing them – which is especially important as no end of criminality has been going on. Chancing on a lost explorer's lost treasure chest, mysterious clues are dropped to lead both goodies and baddies on the trail of jaguar gods, once worshipped by the Maya – did they really take all their treasure to a hidden valley in a last-ditch attempt to appease their sacred spirits and save their civilisation? How many of the diverse characters, including a gang of idiotic magpies, are going to contrive to come along on the adventure? And is one of them a witch – and if so, what does that make Atticus? Full review...

Sammy the Shy Kitten by Holly Webb

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

An adorably, warm and cute story about what happens when Emma falls in love with a tiny sweet feral kitten whom she names Sammy. To persuade Mum and Dad to let her keep him she must learn all she can about taming wild kittens – and, of course, win little Sammy's confidence and trust. Full review...

History's People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan

4.5star.jpg History

According to the 19th century historian Thomas Carlyle, 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men'. Historian Margaret McMillan acknowledges in her introduction to this volume, based on a series of recent lectures, that there is a long-standing debate in history over whether events are moved either by individuals or by economic and social changes or technological and scientific advances, and suggests that there is no right or wrong answer. Full review...

I Love You More and More by Nicky Benson and Jonny Lambert

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

I'm something of a connoisseur when it comes to books about bears. I suppose it probably started with Winnie the Pooh, and my dad doing all the funny voices, but even these days I find I am irresistibly drawn to stories with bears in, and this one did not disappoint. If you're looking for a good old pull-at-the-heartstrings read for cozy afternoons with your momentarily quiet little one, then this is a good place to start. Full review...

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

It may be that you are on the lookout for a useful picture book that deals with sibling rivalry in a helpful way. It may be that you have a wolf or rabbit obsessed toddler. Or it may just be that you like a good story that's fun to read. Fortunately for you, this book will cover all of those requirements! Wolfie the bunny arrives in the Bunny family's lives in a rather suspicious way, when he is left on their doorstep in a basket. Mama and Papa Bunny are immediately charmed by their new baby, but big sister Dot remains alarmed, shouting out 'He's going to eat us all up!' but receiving no response from her smitten parents! Full review...

Seeing the War: The Stories Behind the Famous Photographs from World War II by David P Colley

4star.jpg History

As anybody could tell, a still photograph is only part of the truth, if that. There is a beforehand we don't see, and an after we can only fantasise about unless we know otherwise. Take the famous image of wartime grunts pushing the flag pole upright – an icon of the War in the Pacific for the US soldiers, and the films made about Iwo Jima since. But other images of the war have been just as long-lasting, and the people in the photos don't always have movies made of their full story arc. This book is a collection of the images, and a corrective to that narrative lack, giving much more of a full biography with which to pay tribute. Full review...

Ralf by Jean Jullien

4star.jpg For Sharing

I'm rather partial to sausage dogs. I met one in Japan once who I would quite happily have tucked into my suitcase to sneak back home. Ralf the sausage dog is just as endearing as these pups usually are, although he is also just as troublesome. For a little dog, he manages to take up quite a lot of space, make a lot of noise, and generally make a nuisance of himself (as most dogs do really). Yet when suddenly the family find themselves in great danger, it is Ralf who saves the day! Full review...

The House of Eyes (Wesley Peterson) by Kate Ellis

4star.jpg Crime

D I Wesley Peterson wasn't too worried when Darren Hatman reported his daughter missing. She'd been working at Eyecliffe Castle and it wasn't difficult to sense that she'd been annoying the other staff with the stories of what she'd be doing when she got her modelling contract. There was just one point which left Peterson uneasy: Hatman claimed that Leanne had been stalked by a photographer and the case was obviously worth an enquiry or two. Eyecliffe Castle had been home to the wealthy D'Arles family, but was now a luxury hotel and spa, with the last remaining member of the family living in the Dower House in the grounds. Then Darren was found brutally murdered in the grounds of the castle: was it possible that Leanne had met a similar fate, and if so, why? Full review...

Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Al Chaudhury. He lives, unknowingly, among a family of time travellers. His grandfather has such a brilliant memory he can use a mind palace to store anything and everything, and could tell you what happened on every day of his life, and take himself back with his thoughts. His father knows the starlight at night is years old, and is a snapshot of a sun that is remote both in time and space. But even harder to fathom is that Al's father is a real time traveller, and is going to speak from beyond the grave, and send Al on a true mission through time, one that will either save his life, or completely ruin all Al's forevers, for, er, for ever. Full review...

Odd Socks by Michelle Robinson and Rebecca Ashdown

4star.jpg For Sharing

Socks, eh? They never used to trouble me, and would return from the washing machine in pairs, just as they had entered. I never fully understood the whole Land-of-missing-socks thing. Suki and Sosh are Mr and Mrs Sock, a matching pair who live happily together in the sock drawer. They too have never visited the Land-of-missing-socks. See? It's not just me. But something even worse is about to happen to tear this couple apart. Something quite horrible: Suki has a hole. Full review...

Unicorn in New York: Louie Lets Loose! by Rachel Hamilton

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Louie's parents are worried when Louie announces he wants to leave home to enrol at the New York School of Performing Arts. He's a unicorn and they can't believe he'll be happy without the sunlit meadows, enchanted waterfalls and beautiful maidens of Story Land. But, like all good parents, they accept that Louie must make his own way in the world. Luckily Louie always looks for the positive in life – a skill that's going to prove essential when he arrives in New York. Full review...

Alpha: Directions by Jens Harder

5star.jpg Graphic Novels

So, people might still ask me, why do I turn to graphic novels – aren't visual books with limited writing more suited to young people? Yeah, right – try pawning this off on juvenile audiences and the semi-literate. If you can't kill that cliché off with pages such as these I don't know what will work. I know the book isn't designed to be a message to people in the debate about the literary worth of graphic novels, but one side-effect of it is surely an engagement with that argument. What it is designed to be is a complete history of everything else – and in covering every prehistoric moment, it does just that, and absolutely brilliantly. Full review...

The Postmistress of Nong Khai by Frank Hurst

4star.jpg General Fiction

Mike Rawlins' rise through the ranks in the investigation department of Customs and Excise has been steady, culminating in his dream posting: attachment to the British Embassy, Thailand. It gets even better when he realises a name from his past is also operating out of the country on the other side of the law. Mike's attempts to nail him over the years have become personal and now, thanks to local informant or 'Postmistress' Lek, prosecution is a possibility. What Mike doesn't realise is the cost the chase will exact… not yet anyway. Full review...

Hieronymus by Marcel Ruijters and Laura Watkinson (translator)

4star.jpg Graphic Novels

This is a book for those who find it amusing that a biography of someone who has been dead 500 years is called 'unauthorised'. This is a book where the detail is in the devil – people pissing in the street; the locals baiting blind people armed with cudgels in a pit with a pig, often failing to whack the beast and hitting their colleagues by mistake; farting demons visiting the sleeper. This is a book for those who don't mind a spot of ribaldry, an affront to religious piety or suchlike in their graphic novels. Whether or not this is a book for those seeking a biography of Hieronymus Bosch remains to be seen. Full review...

Hitler's First Victims: And One Man's Race for Justice by Timothy W Ryback

4star.jpg History

Four people, taken to a sheltered corner of the place they're trapped, and shot in the back of the head by fresh-faced guards and soldiers with far too little experience of anything, let alone treating other men on the wrong end of a gun. Three people unceremoniously dumped, like slain game, on the floor of a nearby ammunition shed – the fourth had two hellish days with at least one bullet wound to the brain before he passed away. All four over-worked from being in a Nazi establishment, all four probably killed merely for being Jewish. Not a remarkable story, it's horrid to think, due to there being about six million cases of this happening. What is remarkable about this instance is that it was the first, at the incredible time of April 1933. And if it seems the first in a long chain of such murders, you would think people might have noticed that at the time, and tried to do something about it. Well, they did. Full review...

The Cinematic Legacy of Frank Sinatra by David Wills

4star.jpg Entertainment

Oh, the modern celebrity – they don't make them like they used to. Anodyne, uniform in (lack of) thought and body shape, and far, far too prominent in the lives of too many for too little. If they're ever expected to multi-task it will entail them being much acclaimed for doing one day job to a mediocre standard, as well as reading out someone's voice-over for a BBC3/Channel 4/Channel 5 clip show – oh, and if someone deems them really talented they get to mime to someone else's record, in a lip dub smash or whatever the heck they're calling it. Followed by panto. It is a shameful reflection on us, and on the real celebrities we used to have, such as Frank Sinatra. By the time he was starting in film he was well-known for a character and singing talent that was making him a star already, even if, as this book proves, he had more or less the looks of a young Lee Evans. By the time he was finished he'd acted straight, comic, romantic, criminal, sung his heart out, danced – even learnt the drums for one role. He had Golden Globes, an Oscar – and he directed one film as well as produced several others. In an age when the world is up in arms at the passing of anyone remotely famous, what tribute can we give to a great such as he was? Full review...