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 Perfect Stranger by P J Kavanagh

5star.jpg Autobiography

The Perfect Stranger was originally published in 1966, this edition 50 years on hasn't lost any of its charm or appeal. Intended as a memorial, '...made out of bits and pieces lying around me, bits of myself, all I had to bring her. Or rather it's part of it', in the foreward added to the 1991 edition Kavanagh is appalled that his book should have been so widely categorised as an autobiography and states that if he had known that would happen he would have stopped writing at once. To me this attitude is an early indication to the personality and character of Kavanagh. His journey highlights how disaffected, withdrawn, and isolated he is from the world around him, with an arrogance and cynicism that goes beyond the petulance of his teenage years. Full review...

Alice Through the Looking-glass by Lewis Carroll and Tony Ross

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

I don't know, you wait for one classic and exceedingly odd book to come along regarding a nice, intelligent and welcomingly polite young girl in a fantasia land having the weirdest of adventures only to find it was a dream, and then lo and behold along comes another. This one, of course, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, as it used to be called, is the sequel, and while I've given away the ending, more or less, I haven't begun to define the wackiness on the pages, that make up the meat and bones of the book. If anything the skeleton is a journey across a surreal chess board, meeting real-sized counterparts for the pieces, and encountering people and animals with heads full of poetry. But that meat, madam, that meat… Full review...

Chains of Sand by Jemma Wayne

4star.jpg General Fiction

Chains of Sand is a great read about family, faith, survival, and love. It follows the story of two young men: Udi a veteran of the Israeli army who longs for a new future in London, and Daniel, a London banker unsatisfied with his life and yearning for something more. The story focuses on their desires to change their lives by moving to different worlds and how this impacts their relationships with friends and family. As the story unfolds, the two protagonists' histories are slowly uncovered and they both have to overcome the difficulties in their new lives in order to achieve their dreams. Meanwhile, the fate of star-crossed love between a Jewish girl and an Arabic man in Jerusalem a decade earlier intertwines with Daniel's life, complicating all that he thinks has become clear. Full review...

Sweet Pizza by G R Gemin

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Sweet Pizza is a beautifully rich story based in Bryn Mawr, a town in South Wales. This slow paced story is not action packed and electrifying but with its subtle approach provides much more than that. There is depth, layers and meaning interwoven throughout. The story is based around a failing high street where the recession has had a devastating impact upon the community. As the tale unfolds, the reader is enveloped and embraced into a Welsh-Italian family who are struggling to keep their café open. Joe Davis learns of his Italian heritage by hearing his family history through Nonno, his grandfather, and appreciates how the café is pivotal to their lives in more ways than he could ever have imagined. In a series of flashbacks from events of WW2 Joe knows that he must fight for his family and his community. Full review...

Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe

5star.jpg Teens

In a speculative near-future London, there's a new wonder drug to treat ADHD. Concentr8 is cheap and effective. So effective that the mayor has instituted a programme to identify children for early, preventative treatment. Almost every troublesome teen in London is taking it, often before they've actually become troublesome. But then an austerity drive sees the program cut abruptly. Riots break out, led by the unmedicated teens. Full review...

Soft in the Head by Marie-Sabine Roger

4star.jpg General Fiction

This novel will make you smile. It's a feel-good story, unusual in its premise and original. Germaine is a 45 year old man who is illiterate. He has a group of drinking friends who frequently make him the butt of their jokes, a mother who calls him a 'half-wit', amongst other things, and a girlfriend whom he appears afraid of committing to. Germain spends many afternoons in the park, counting pigeons and writing his name among the dead of the war memorial. It is here that he meets Margueritte, a tiny 85 year old woman who tells him she also counts the pigeons. Full review...

The Best Medicine by Christine Hamill

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Aspiring 12-year-old comedian Philip has plenty of complicated stuff going on in his life. There's the unrequited love of his life, The Goddess (also known as Lucy), who only seems to be aware of his existence during his most embarrassing moments. He's also somehow managed to end up as the unwilling poetry protégé of his English teacher. And worst of all, there's The Yeti, the dim-witted school bully determined to torment him to the ends of the earth (or the corridor, at least). Despite the troubles, Philip has always been able to rely on his best friend Ang, comedian Harry Hill, and good old mum, for company, inspiration and unconditional support, respectively. However, when his mum is diagnosed with cancer, Philip finds his life taking a turn into the uncharted. She has always been his rock, the ever-reliable presence in his life, the one who never fails to laugh at his jokes. Then, Ang starts acting weird, and on top of that, Harry Hill refuses to reply to Philip's fan mail. Keeping a sense of humour is tough when life seems to be intent on throwing an endless supply of lemons at you. Full review...

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

4star.jpg Fantasy

When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she found Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rule and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But how did Victorian Oxford react to Alice's departure? When Alice's friend Ada, mentioned briefly in Alice in Wonderland sets out to visit Alice, she arrives a minute too late. Tumbling down the rabbit hole herself, she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world. Full review...

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

The unnamed Girlfriend is driving with her boyfriend Jake to his parent's farmhouse out in the country. True to the title, she's thinking about ending their relationship. But something seems a little off. When she meets his parents, the Girlfriend begins to think there's something not quite right about them. On their way back they stop outside an abandoned school, and that's when things get really frightening... Full review...

The King's Justice by Stephen Donaldson

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Through the forests and the driving rain rides Black, a man never more aptly named. He's approaching Settle's Crossways, although that is of no concern to him, for he is merely following the scent of evil. All purpose and little pause or scruple, he is on the trail of a killer, and Settle's Crossways, as luck would have it, is in need of the King's Justice. Black seems able to control people's thoughts and deeds (and go without paying his way) just by rubbing an arm under his permanently-worn black cape, but when he sounds out the parity in the town between the churches of light and dark, he knows what exists there may take him to a darker place than even the last wars regarding the balance between those elemental forces – and to a place where he really cannot take the control he's used to… Full review...

Do Not Wash This Bear by Sam Hay and Nick East

4star.jpg For Sharing

Dad is not very good at washing. There are those of us who would shrug this off and feel happy that at least he gives it a go, but then I guess after a while shrunken T-shirts and dyed vests become a little tiresome! Anyway, one day dad decides that Bear has become a little bit stinky and needs to go in the wash, and although the child in the story shows dad the very clear label stating Do not wash this bear he decides to ignore the advice and throws him into the machine. Washing Bear turns out to be a very big mistake, since some combination of the bubbles and the spin setting drastically alter poor Bear's personality, and when he comes out he is a very decidedly naughty and troublesome Bear! Full review...

Escape From Rome: The Roman Quests by Caroline Lawrence

5star.jpg Confident Readers

It is 94AD, and the Emperor Domitian is busy killing those he suspects of being disloyal to him. The accused are allowed no trial, no chance to prove their innocence: the soldiers simply come in the night and slaughter the whole family. Anyone who is civic-minded enough to denounce a 'traitor' gets half their property as a reward, so as you can imagine it is the richest people in Rome whose names are most often mentioned. Then comes the turn of Juba's family... Full review...

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

4star.jpg General Fiction

The Japanese Lover is an unassuming novel. The beginning leads the reader to anticipate an enjoyable light read, a good holiday book perhaps – a very well plotted story with an interesting cast of characters and settings. Irena, a Moldovan girl with elfin looks and a passion for fantasy novels, starts working in bohemian care home Lark House in San Francisco. She meets the stately and somewhat aloof Alma Belasco, whose story starts to unravel, beginning with her being brought over from Poland (just as Jews became increasingly vulnerable to the Nazis) to her wealthy aunt and uncle in Cliff House, San Francisco, as a little girl. Allende almost makes us think that this opening tone, entertaining but fairly shallow, will continue for the rest of the novel. Full review...

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall

4.5star.jpg History

As one of the generation who was introduced to English history through the 'Kings and Queens' principle, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I have long since regarded the period between the Roman invasion and the Norman conquest as a bit of a blur. For me it is a rather murky area, punctuated by the likes of Hengist and Horsa, Alfred the Great and Ethelred the Unready, not to mention the Athelstans, Edgars, Egberts and others who are so often little more than names. In order words, what exactly did they do? This admirable title brings it all into focus. Full review...

The Mood Hoover by Paul Brown and Rowena Blyth

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

No one could ever have confused Stan with a sunbeam. He was mischievous (well, personally, I'd have said 'unpleasant') and he had a secret: an invention, in fact. He'd created a machine which could suck up anything which was happy or fun and it was called 'the mood hoover'. His sister's bedroom was the first place he put the machine through its paces and within a matter of moments all the girly niceness had been replaced by dull, grey ordinariness. It didn't just work in confined spaces either: the couple admiring a rainbow were surprised to find the vivid colours turned to dullness. You don't want to know what he got up to in the zoo... Full review...

New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Classicist Nick Houghton is employed by Novus Particles to assist them with a reconstruction of Pompeii – a reconstruction that includes the original, living first century inhabitants. NovusPart have discovered a way to pull historical artefacts (and indeed people) through time; an amazing innovation. The conspiracy theorists mumble about there being sinister reasons and the disappearance of key personnel helps to feed these rumours, but Nick needs a job and this is too good an opportunity to turn down. Anyway, that's what he tells himself to combat the repercussions of saying no. Full review...

Gallows Wedding: A dark novel of witchcraft and forbidden love set against the backdrop of religious upheaval in Henry VIII's times by Rhona Martin

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Hazel, an orphaned peasant during the 16th century has had a tough time to say the least. Therefore when she comes across Black John, an outlaw about to be hanged she sees her chance. By proposing to him she'll save his life and, marrying him, her own. At least that's Hazel's theory but the fates will make it a bit more of a struggle. Full review...

100 Facts Butterflies & Moths by Steve Parker

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Damn those bees. They're not the only flying creatures vanishing from our world at alarming rates, and the others, like butterflies and moths, are actually runners-up to Mr Bumble and his mysteriously dying ilk in pollinating plants. Plus they're more visually attractive. But even though this book has two nudges and a thanks given to the Butterfly Conservation body, that's certainly not the more notable feature of these pages. What stands out is the superlative content. Full review...

Ripped Apart by Geoffrey Arnold

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

Qwelby and Tulia are teenage aliens, growing up in a world and environment far removed from our own. When the twins interfere with a forbidden experiment, they find themselves transported to opposite ends of our Earth – Qwelby in Finland and Tulia in Africa. To survive, they must re-establish their telepathic connection, find each other, avoid capture, and return home. They say that their people arrived on Earth 75,000 years ago, were the cause of the development of the human race, and now need the help of those humans if their race is to survive. Full review...

Indigo's Dragon by Sofi Croft

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Indigo is a free spirit who loves exploring the mountains near his home in the Lake District. For all of his life, his family have entertained him with stories of dragons, but at thirteen, he's too old to believe in them now. However, when he receives a mysterious parcel in the post, Indigo is forced to rethink everything he thought he knew about mythical beasts, especially when he comes face to face with one that urgently needs his help... Full review...

I Love My Daddy by Jonathan Litton and Fhiona Galloway

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Father's Day is a great time to really pump up your Dad's ego. If he is anything like me he already thinks he is a bit of an Adonis; seeing that paunch in the mirror more as relaxed muscle than the beer gut that it is. To be honest, as a Pop, I am pretty much content with a pint, a book or a football game, but if a child does insist on getting their elder a gift, a nice book about the parent/child relationship may just warm the coldest of cockles. Full review...

Max and Bird by Ed Vere

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Ed Vere has a unique style of artwork for his picture books. The colours are vibrant, the characters are distinctive, the style is a little bit scrappy, in a very charming way. We are big fans in our house so we sat down eagerly to read the latest offering. Here we have Max, a sweet black cat with enormous eyes who meets and befriends a bird. Well, initially his plan is that they play chase and then Max will eat up Bird for a tasty snack but Bird has another idea… Full review...

Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Sometimes people don’t quite fit in. Perhaps they are much taller than you, or perhaps they aren’t round enough to roll. Does this mean, then, that if someone is so different you can’t be their friend? When it comes to Colin and Lee, they are about as different as you can get, since one is small and round and green and a pea and the other is, well, a carrot! But does that get in the way of their friendship? Full review...

Ghosts of Karnak by George Mann

4star.jpg Science Fiction

The superhero market is crowded and sometimes a little boring. Who cares about what a God-like person can do when the rest of us are scrambling around trying to avoid papercuts, never mind trying to repel a rogue asteroid. The best heroes are those that are just normal blokes or ladies dressed up in some fancy outfit. When it comes down to it Batman or The Shadow are just men, but it is their vulnerability that makes them ace to read about. Add to this list George Mann's 'The Ghost', a World War One veteran who returns to New York no longer willing to watch the criminals taking over his home town. Full review...

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Only at the end of the world, among the glaciers and icebergs of Antarctica, do Deb and Keller feel at home. For a few blissful weeks each year they study the habits of penguins, finding solace in their work and in each other. Yet Antarctica, like their romance, is imperilled by the world to the north. A new season has begun, and the two play tour guide to the passengers on the expedition ship that ferries them to their research destination. But when Keller fails to appear, Deb has to consider new feelings of love, loss, and a voyage deep into both the Antarctic, and the human heart. Full review...

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Arianwyn is about to take her all-important witch's assessment. Ignoring the taunts of her classmates, led by the beautiful and mean Gimma, Arianwyn looks set to pass until the test begins and her vision is blurred by a mysterious unknown glyph (the symbols used to control magic.) To her great humiliation, Arianwyn fails the evaluation. She is labelled an 'Apprentice Witch' and sent to the remote town of Lull in disgrace. Things don't get off to the best of starts there and the situation is made worse when Gimma arrives on holiday. Arianwyn is not happy but soon she has bigger problems. The townspeople have spotted a strange dark creature and, when a child is attacked, Arianwyn finds everyone is looking to her to prevent others getting hurt. Full review...

King of the Wood by Valerie Anand

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A young William Rufus is brought back to England from clergy training in France by his father William the Conqueror. England has changed and needs a soldier more than a priest or monk, especially as Rufus' brother Richard has died, leaving William to fill the void. Eventually King William I decides to split his inheritance between Rufus and eldest son Robert, something that doesn't go down well with an heir who expected to get it all. The brothers were never friends but this brings a new dimension to their hatred and, when royal brothers fight, nations become involved. Full review...

In the Month of the Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ekback

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

1856, Blackasen Village, Sweden: A Lapp sits surrounded by three dead bodies – the vicar, a constable and one other. The murders coincide with the arrival of Magnus Lille, a geologist sent by the Swedish government to map the mountain that gives the village its name. Magnus doesn't realise what he's walking into as up till now he thought his main problem was his sister-in-law, brought with him at his wife's father's, (the Minister for State's), insistence. The events that will take place will cause them both sleepless nights and a real chance that neither will live to go home. Full review...