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 Company of Eight by Harriet Whitehorn

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

Fourteen-year-old orphan Cass lives in the Magical District, but as she hasn't the slightest ability in that direction she doesn't exactly fit in. She takes after her dad, and she hopes desperately that she'll pass the upcoming auditions for acrobats and join the Circus Boat as it tours to give performances on all the islands of the Longest World. Her guardian Mrs Potts, however, does not approve: her hope that Cass will demonstrate magical abilities like her mother's (and make Mrs Potts very rich) has been disappointed so she is determined her ward will take on a sedate, genteel job instead: governess, maybe, or draper's model. So poor Cass is reduced to practising her routines in secret, using an old book her father left her. Full Review

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Us vs Them: The Failure of Globalism by Ian Bremmer

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Politics and Society

It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it? Every day seems to bring yet more news of doom and gloom. The spectre of terrorism hangs over most of the world, fuelling refugee crises and worries about national security. People keep saying that robots are coming to take all our jobs. Anti-establishment political parties are making huge gains in countries all around the world. And inequality is as much of a problem as it ever was – if not more so. Full Review

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Humanatomy: How the Body Works by Nicola Edwards and Jem Maybank

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

Get under your own skin, pick your brains, and go inside your insides!

That's what Humanatomy invites you to do and honestly, I don't see how you could resist. This informative book provides a wonderful primer about the human body to curious children- from the skeletal system to the muscular system via circulation, respiration and digestion, right up to the DNA that makes who we are. Full Review

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My Favourite People by Rob Keeley

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews For Sharing

In My Favourite People the central character takes us to meet all the important people in his life. There's Auntie Meg, who does brilliant haircuts and loves cats. She has four of them! There's Uncle Steve, who's a gentle giant and an inveterate joker. There's best friend Alice, who can do that clever whistle when you put your fingers in your mouth. There's Carmel the library lady, who always suggests brilliant books to read. And loads more. The book ends with a fabulous party to which everyone is invited. Full Review

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The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa and Simon Grove (translator)

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

Japan, the early 1960s. The prologue of this book sets us up in a lovely way with a world of both innocence and seedy nightclubs. When a young girl enters one alone for a drink she ends up singing along with the musical duet doing the rounds of the venues for tips – as does a man with a distinctive bass voice. They leave together. Six months later, she clings to a balcony at work, thinks about it – and drops to her death in suicide. She was pregnant. But the man involved, a rampant womaniser with an intricate diary of all his comings and goings, is not having a perfect time, either. He returns to an old flame, to find her murdered – and then the lady who would be his alibi for that death also gets killed, and so on. From our point of view, he cannot be a killer of ladies, as the title might imply – but what else could it mean? Full Review

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The Industry of Human Happiness by James Hall

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

The Industry of Human Happiness first and foremost is a novel about music. It is about human beings being able to find music and magic in the simplest of places. Max and his younger cousin have realised their dream of opening a gramophone company. However, their ambition and hubris soon puts them on a course towards London's underworld. They will ascend broken and their lives changed forever. Full Review

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Greeks Bearing Gifts: Bernie Gunther Thriller 13 by Philip Kerr

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

Set in Germany in 1957, Greeks Bearing Gifts is a historical crime thriller with everything from dodgy Nazi past histories to insurance fraud. Bernie Gunther is a Berliner, who was a sarjeant during the second world war and now, in this novel, is working in the morgue of a hospital. He finds himself embroiled in a mystery, taking on a new role as an insurance claims investigator. The investigation takes him to Greece, and back into the dark times of the war. With layered plots and double-crossing left, right and centre, there's lots to keep you guessing throughout this story. Full Review

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All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew

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

Ia Pendilly lives in a caravan on the coast of Cornwall – a woman as raw as the landscape that surrounds her. Living with Bran, her abusive cousin and common law husband, she's never yet had her own baby. Discovering a waif washed up on shore, Ia rescues the girl but is also rescued by the girl – given a new found strength to escape and to embark on a new journey. The journey takes her deep into a troubled society and through a damaged, hurting world – finding family and memories long hidden will break Ia, remake her and perhaps give her the elusive sense of freedom she's been seeking. Full Review

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Tale of a Tooth by Allie Rogers

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

Danny lives in a small Sussex town with his mother, Natalie. Life is poor, but they manage - until they're threatened by a benefits sanction. A Job Centre employee looks to be their salvation - but her impact on the family goes far beyond what they first expect, and the resulting changes are described to the reader through the naive yet perceptive and wholly original eyes of four-year-old Danny. Full Review

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Claudia by Anthony Trevelyan

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

When Claudia is called to the reception of her Manchester Office block to meet a visitor, she doesn't expect it to be her father figure – a man she hasn't seen for fifteen years. Samson Glaze – otherwise known as Wild Samson, The Aztec and The Sun King, walked out of Claudia's life and into a world of success as a solar panel salesman – but now he's returned and he needs Claudia's help. Reggie, Samson's son, has joined a mysterious cult called Tarantula, a group who prepare for the end of the world and encourage humanity to embrace their impending doom. Claudia's journey takes her far from her home in Manchester to the end of the world – where encounters with hammer-wielding assassins make things very difficult indeed… Full Review

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The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle

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

James DeWitt and Danny Allen are both men in their early thirties whose lives haven't taken them where they were supposed to go. At an all time low time for both of them, the two men reconnect and slowly find they're exactly what the other needs. Together, they help each other put their lives back together. This is a beautiful story about friendship and what it really means to help another person. Full Review

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Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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

How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.

Danny was playing with a toy gun his friend Carlos had lent to him when he was shot by Officer Moore, who claims he was in fear for his life, that Danny, a five foot tall, twelve-year-old boy, was a threatening thug whose menace was such that Officer Moore had no choice but to reach for his gun and eliminate the threat. Full Review

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The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction, Women's Fiction

Ailsa Rae has been sick her whole life, and just as she was edging closer to death she finally, finally got the call that she needed, that a heart was available for her to have a transplant. Previously she had felt so helpless that she had used her blog to make decisions for her, running polls amongst her readers to decide on her actions. But with her new heart, she has been given a new life. Can Ailsa manage to start to live on her own, and will her mother let her do that? Full Review

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Spirit by Sally Christie

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

Matt Barker has seen something strange. Something extraordinary that no one would normally see. That wouldn't usually matter but Matt accidently tells the rest of his class when they're playing the 'truth game' on the school bus. Now most of the class think he's either mad or a liar. To make matters worse, his classmate and new next-door neighbour, Jazzy O'Hanlon, believes him and she's determined to find a way to share his experience, even if that means losing her best friend. Full Review

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The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

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

Tension exists among the kingdoms surrounding the Pitorian Sea, and peace is definitely not on everyone's agenda. Instead power is sought by force, and political manoeuvring of the worst kind sees families torn apart and innocent victims swept up in the fallout. This story of warring nations is fast moving from page one, and the main characters, who move between kingdoms, face challenge after challenge. There are five separate story lines, each led by a colourful and interesting character, and Sally Green weaves them together beautifully like a tapestry as their paths cross and their lives intertwine. Full Review

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Precept: A Novel by Matthew de Lacey Davidson

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

Nathan Whyte is tremendously excited about the arrival of Frederick Douglass in Ireland. And even more excited that his Quaker father, who is publishing the British edition of Narrative, Douglass's memoir of his life as a slave, will be accompanying the famous black American abolitionist on his speaking tour. Nathan is deeply impressed by Douglass, who is a charismatic figure and a gifted orator. But Ireland will have as big an impact on Frederick Douglass as Frederick Douglass will have on it. We watch him through Nathan's eyes as he sees for himself the beginnings of the horrors of the potato famine and meets and befriends the famous Irish nationalist, Daniel O'Connell. Full Review

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The Indomitable Chiesa di Santa Maria by Daniel Peltz

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

When we first visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria we're in the company of Molly Cavendish who is a part-time guide at the Museo di Santa Maria, which is what the ruins of the Chiesa - a chapel - have now become. Crowds flock to see its centrepiece, a renaissance fresco with a history which grabs the attention of young and old. Molly uses the history to entertain the tourists, but there's more too it than she knows, particularly as the history of the building is also the history of the Vannini family, who helped in building the chapel some six hundred years ago and one of whose descendants is the director of the museum. Full Review

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Falling Leaves by Stefan Mohamed

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

When your best friend vanishes, how can you begin to move on? How can you live your life not knowing whether they're okay? And what would you do if they reappeared in your life? – all questions that Vanessa faces every day, even seven years after her best friend Mark vanished. When he reappears, she's shocked not only by his presence back in her life, but also by the fact that he hasn't aged a day – for him, no time has passed since his disappearance. Shocked, confused and emotionally reeling, Vanessa must return to her home town in order to help Mark find the answers he so desperately craves. But what's waiting for them is far more surprising than either of them could ever have dreamt… Full Review

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Nickerbacher by Terry John Barto

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

Nickerbacher is doing his dragonly duty as all dragons do. That dragonly duty is, of course, princess-guarding. That's what dragons are for, after all. But Gwendolyn isn't any princess. She finds the whole princessing thing quite boring really and she is much less interested in fairy tales than she is in watching comedy on The Late Knight Show. Nickerbacher likes The Late Knight Show too - in fact, it's his favourite TV show because he wants to be a stand-up comedian himself. He tries out his jokes on Princess Gwendolyn but they don't always come off quite as Nickerbacher intended. Full Review

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How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

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

Imagine a world without bees. Not just how nice it would be to eat jam sandwiches in the garden without having the little yellow and black torpedoes attacking you - really imagine it. No bees, no pollination. No pollination, no new plants. No new plants, no food. Simple. So, if those pesky chemicals we use kill off practically every bee in the world, humans will have to take over their work. Children, in fact, because you need small, nimble fingers to work those tiny feathers full of pollen into the flowers and turn them into delicious fruits. Full Review