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 Snow Beast by Chris Judge

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

The Beast always loves it when he wakes up and finds that there's snow on the ground. Every year - on the first day when there's snow - the Beast helps the mountain villagers to put on a festival to celebrate. Unfortunately, there's a problem. When the Beast goes to collect his tools they're all gone. He races down the mountain to the village, but every tool has been stolen from there too. Some of the villagers are very angry and they decide that it must be the work of the abominable Snow Beast and the Beast promises to find the monster and get everyone's tools back. Full review...

The Stolen Queen by Lisa Hilton

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Nine-year-old Isabelle of Angouleme is betrothed to Hal, son of Hugh de Lusignan. She doesn't like him much but she's learning to gently manipulate those around her so she feels life will be interesting and rewarding. Howeverwith England's King Richard the Lionheart all changes. Isabelle will marry King John instead – a totally different prospect for all concerned. This is a match that will not only be a challenge for the young girl but will show her the true heart of her mother and the true art of political manoeuvring. Isabelle may be the pawn in all this but it's not a role she takes to willingly, despite the nightmares of the horned man and the occurrences of a certain May night that will haunt the rest of her life. Full review...

Pom Pom the Champion by Sophy Henn

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Pom Pom is on a winning streak. He first discovered it when mum suggested that they should play a game - and he won! He liked winning. After that he won at all sorts of things, including not being the tallest or the shortest, finishing elevenses first, getting ready to go out, and packing his bag at the supermarket. Fortunately there was no prize for packing everything safely because he certainly wouldn't have won that one. He didn't go down too well with the librarian when he announced that he was the winner of the 'first to finish reading your book' competition. Full review...

Elmer and the Flood by David McKee

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It's been raining heavily and the elephants are sheltering in a cave. It's a very large cave but Elmer had heard enough bad jokes and complaints about the weather to last him a very long time. So - rain or no rain - he's going for a walk. Other caves were full of animals too - and they all wanted Elmer to come inside and shelter, but Elmor just kept on walking. Predictably the ducks were loving it, but they were the only ones. Then Elmer came across two more elephants who were looking very serious. Young Elephant hadn't been seen since the rain began and they were worried about him. Full review...

Give and Take by Lucie Felix

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Some of the best children's books are the simplest. Do away with pages too full of imagery; begone novelty characters and repeat references to underpants. Some books don't need this; they are so clean, crisp and simple that they border on being art. A book that can be fun for a child, educate them and look amazing is a rare thing, but does happen once in a while. Full review...

The Genius and the Goddess by Aldous Huxley

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

So, three books in, I've now got to grips with the idea that Huxley doesn't so much want to tell a story as expound his ideas. Once you know that, it makes it easier to choose whether to read him or not. On balance, I have come down on the side of not – I won't be dashing out to work my way through the rest of his output the way I want to with, say, Nevil Shute, or George Orwell. Full review...

The Tapper Twins Tear up New York by Geoff Rodkey

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

If you didn't last time, meet the Tapper Twins, Claudia and Reese. They're in sixth grade at a posh New York City school, and are just trying to get on with things – while making no attempt whatsoever at getting on with each other. This time round, Claudia was instantly sniffy at her brother's idea declared to her on a school bus, just because it was his, but soon realised how great it could be – to host a school charity treasure hunt for gangs of four fellow pupils. With a great prize on offer she bows down from organising it and takes part, against her brother and everyone else – and that's when the problems start. It's not as frightening as the tabloids make out, she assures us – but let's face it, there's high drama, celebrity, greed, urgency – and those pesky adults, all making the smooth running of things most unlikely… Full review...

The Glass Girl by Sandy Hogarth

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Sandy Hogarth's debut novel opens in 1975 with fifteen-year-old Ruth Bishop attending a party with her older sister, Alexis. 'They called me VL, Virgin Lips, because I'd never kissed a boy. Sex wasn't mentioned at home.' That all changes when Alexis tells Ruth to go outside – someone is waiting for her. It's one of Alexis's friends, a notorious bad boy, and he assaults Ruth right there, up against the house. Could Alexis really have intended for this to happen? Ruth soon learns she is pregnant and arranges to move to Australia and live with her friend Lucy's aunt in Melbourne until the birth. She gives her beloved daughter Clare up for adoption, but never stops thinking about her. No one but Lucy knows there ever was a baby. Full review...

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

According to an interview I read with Tom McCarthy, more than half of anthropology graduates now find work with big corporations. Eh? You might say. Don't they all go on to academia and make documentaries for BBC4? Or rush about solving crimes with the FBI? (Bones reference, dears.) What are they doing in commerce? Full review...

Dog on a Train: The Special Delivery by Kate Prendergast

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It's one of those mornings for Boy: late out of bed he grabs at his hat and hurtles out of the house to catch his train - only he drops his hat as he goes through the door and Dog chases after him with the hat in his mouth. They head to the tube station (Dog doesn't forget to wait at the zebra crossing) with boy just twenty or so yards in front, but Dog is losing ground as he has to find someone to carry him on the escalator. He misses Boy's train and has to wait for the next one, but remembers his manners well enough to stand up so that an old lady can have his seat. Will he catch up with boy when he reaches London Kings Cross? Full review...

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

4.5star.jpg Teens

Meet Pierrot. As a very young child in 1930s Paris he is going to have a very awkward journey through his young life. His father is a violent drunk, reacting badly to what he saw in WWI, and although married to a French woman, is still staunchly German. That woman, Emilie, is going to die, and leave Pierrot an orphan, which will leave him in a home where he is bullied. But from the reaches of Europe and from the black corners of his family comes an aunt, Beatrix, who will give him a home, of a kind, at a most unusual mountaintop building. It's not her home – she just works there and had to ask special permission from someone special. The place? The Berghof. Full review...

The Burp that Saved the World by Mark Griffiths and Maxine Lee-Mackie

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Have you heard of the world-famous burping twins? They could stun a rhino, fell a tree and even shatter glass with their burps! They took their fearsome burps with them everywhere they went, burping in libraries and scaring waiters with their outbursts. As you can imagine, they were not very popular in their town and found that, eventually, the townsfolk asked them to leave. Poor Ben and Matt! But then, the world is faced with something much worse than a couple of burping boys! However will everyone escape from the invasion of the toy-stealing aliens?! Full review...

Walter's Wonderful Web by Tim Hopgood

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A staple of any early sharing library is a book about shapes. Love them or hate them, you are going to be reading a lot of books that talk about circles, triangles and squares. Making shapes appealing to a young toddler or baby is one thing, but what about the poor adult? Are there not any books out there that have a bit of a story as well as talk about shapes? Usually I would not condone spiders, but in the case of a spider called Walter, I may just be able to stomach them as he combines shapes with a fun story. Full review...

A Dublin Fairytale by Nicola Colton

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I like a good fairytale, especially when a writer approaches it in a different way. This one is all about a little girl called Fiona who lives in Dublin with her mum. She has a nice red hooded raincoat, if you’re looking for a clue as to which fairytale this might be! Rather than wandering through a deep dark wood to get to Grandma’s house, she walks the streets of Dublin, past various landmarks, to get to the magical witches’ market and buy all the things she needs to take to Grandma’s house. On her way she does, as you might imagine, meet some interesting challenges! Full review...

Claxton: Notes From a Small Planet by Mark Cocker

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

In 2001, author Mark Cocker moved to Claxton, a small village in Norfolk that manages to be wonderfully remote, and yet only a few miles from Norwich. In a series of writings spanning the course of a year, Cocker quietly explores nature in the village, and his relationship to the living things around him, as well as the surrounding landscape. All written with a deep knowledge and a wonderful eye for detail, Cocker truly gets to the heart of the local wildlife and the local community. Full review...

Blood Brothers... Thai Style by Matt Carrell

4star.jpg Crime

Chatri Aromanadee and Daeng Khasajamsarun are friends, but in a rather unequal way. Daeng very much has the upper hand despite the fact that Chatri is a policeman: Daeng is manipulative and it's difficult to be polite enough to say that he 'sails close to the wind'. The man is a criminal, but he turned a problem of his own (and of his own making) into a hold over Chatri, which still holds firm even when Chatri becomes the chief of police in Baan Chailai, with its lively bar scene, on the Gulf of Thailand. Their sons have a similar relationship: Daeng's son Tong is brutal in his relationships with women and Chatri's son Sunan has the misfortune to work in the hotel complex owned by Daeng. Full review...

Holy Island: A DCI Ryan Mystery by L J Ross

4.5star.jpg Crime

DCI Ryan has decided the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland is the ideal place for him to wait out his three months' sabbatical from the police. Sea air, peace and quiet... The sort of peace and quiet that evaporates when Lucy, a young islander, is found murdered, her body curiously arranged at the Priory ruins. Ryan volunteers to lead the investigation, enlisting the assistance of Dr Anna Taylor, expert on ancient religious practices. She'll be helpful but something gradually dawns on Ryan that isn't going to help at all: the murderer must be an island resident. Not something that will endear Ryan to the locals! Full review...

The Red Prince (The Long War) by AJ Smith

5star.jpg Fantasy

Spoilers ahead unless you've treated yourself to the first two books…….The surviving sinister, deadly Sisters (formerly the Seven Sisters) are slowly gaining global power and tortuous control. It's not over for our heroes yet though. Utha the albino cleric and his squire Randall are off to bag themselves another sister. They take with them the multi-talented Ruth, someone prone to funny turns but in a good way. Meanwhile the rest of our leaders are busy massing armies, leading to some unusual alliances. Assassin Rham Jas, travelling with the oddly behaving Kale, also has a witch in his sights, but his quest is partly personal. Saara Mistress of Pain still has his daughter. Full review...

Blind Arrows by Anthony Quinn

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

1919: A cohort of British spies meet in the depths of Dublin Castle, the prison and British intelligence hub. Their main focus is the infiltration of the IRA in a bid to neutralise their leader, Michael Collins. However there is a distraction from their usual agenda: an increasing number of IRA women are escaping, only to be found murdered shortly afterwards. Martin Kant, an English journalist in Ireland is charged with investigation and reporting back to the government powers as well as his newspaper editor. Meanwhile Lilly Merrin, a Dublin Castle employee has also gone missing. Her loyalty to the Crown seems beyond question in the eyes of her boss, but others would argue with that... Full review...

A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy

5star.jpg Short Stories

I was excited about reviewing a brand new collection of Maeve Binchy short stories and I wasn't disappointed. As her widower states in the introduction, Binchy had an extraordinary talent for telling powerful and compassionate stories, and was a true storyteller with an amazing output. Full review...

Tremarnock: The Lives, Loves and Secrets of a Cornish Village by Emma Burstall

4star.jpg General Fiction

Welcome to Tremarnock; an idyllic Cornish fishing village with pastel-painted cottages and colourful fishing boats bobbing in the harbour. This picture-postcard setting is home to single-mum Liz and her disabled daughter, Rosie. Liz works hard to make ends meet and relies on the kindness of neighbours for childcare. Thankfully, the community are happy to rally round and provide friendship, support, a listening ear and a cup of tea for hard-working Liz. Soon she will need to rely on them more than ever, as her life takes an unexpected turn that threatens to destroy her happiness. Full review...

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

5star.jpg Fantasy

In The Barrel, anything is possible for the right price, and no one knows this better than criminal mastermind, Kaz Brekker. When Kaz is offered a chance at a perilous mission that could turn his poverty-stricken life upside down, he is determined to see the task fulfilled - but he won't be able to do it alone. Full review...

Life After You by Lucie Brownlee

4star.jpg Autobiography

It was February 2012 when Brownlee's husband Mark, age 37, dropped dead in the middle of sex. They were staying at her mother's house in advance of her grandmother's funeral and trying to conceive their second child. Four years earlier Mark had suffered an aortic dissection, but his health had been stable since. Although there was little doubt in her mind that Mark died instantly, she performed CPR while her three-year-old watched from the doorway, then called the police. Almost before she knew it, they were all in the midst of planning a second family funeral: discussing flower arrangements, cremation and charity donations. How did it come to this? Full review...

The Spirit of London by Rob Keeley

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Ellie, Charlie and Mum have left Inchwood Manor and are headed home to London, where Mum's latest Journeyback project is renovating an old 18th century house, 47 Foster Square. But it's not quite home to London. They're not returning to their old house but to another tiny, cramped flat. When asked why, all Mum will say is, "Ask your father." Full review...