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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Digby Dog Delivers: A Search and Find Book by Tor Freeman

4star.jpg For Sharing

Digby Dog is off on his rounds, delivering the post. But he might need some help finding the people his parcels are for, can you help him? Full review...

Paddington Marches On by Michael Bond

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

We all remember Paddington, I’m sure. The Brown family and their housekeeper, the formidable Mrs Bird, and the nice/nasty/nosy next door neighbour Mr Curry and the rest of the gang. This book of seven classic Paddington stories has everything I knew and loved about the bear, reissued for the next generation. Full review...

Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Death and kindergarten are not two things you would normally think went together, but this time they have. Someone is dead. A murder investigation has been launched. But why are the police finding it so hard to get answers? What actually went on that night? And can an incident in the playground on the first day really have come to this? Full review...

While Wandering - A Walking Companion by Duncan Minshull

5star.jpg Anthologies

While Wandering - A Walking Companion, was first published ten years ago as The Vintage Book of Walking. Reprinted and retitled with a stunning new cover by James Jones and Finn Dean, and a foreword by Robert Macfarlane, the best writer on walking in recent years (in my humble opinion). Full review...

I Really, Really Want It by Richard Hennerley

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Andrew Manning is what I would call 'a fixer'. He's got decades of experience in sorting out those little problems which so plague celebrities and, frankly, if he's got to bend the law just a tiny bit - or even more - to earn his crust then that's OK by him. He's wealthy, with a list of clients to die for (and some will...) and happily unfaithful to his long-term partner, Johnny on a regular basis. And Johnny does exactly the same. When we meet Andrew his main problem is Shelley Bright. She's 'England's Sweetheart', chart-topping singer and television star. Andrew prefers to think of her as 'a vicious, avaricious snake, a nasty, nasty piece of work' - and he's probably got the right of it. Full review...

The Creative Therapy Colouring Book by Hannah Davies, Richard Merrit and Jo Taylor

5star.jpg Crafts

Apparently, colouring books for adults have become de rigeur in France, with the book Art Therapie-100 Coloriages Anti-Stress flying off the shelves as increasing numbers of stressed-out individuals discover the therapeutic value of 'colouring in'. Full review...

Animal Lives: Lions by Sally Morgan

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Lions is part of the wonderful Animal Lives series, each focusing on a particular animal from the African savannah. This time, the king of the beasts takes centre stage, in a book that mixes stunning photography with plenty of fascinating facts and figures. Full review...

Alex and Ada Volume 1 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

Meet Alex. You'd probably be in a minority if you did, for he's a bit of a loner since he broke up with his last girlfriend. He meets few people in the workplace, has a quite antiseptic flat with his virtual cinema and his flying robotic kitchen aide, and that's about it. But others aren't too keen for Alex to carry on like that – people such as his gran, who has given herself the gift of an android in the form of a handsome young man to, er, keep her company. And yes, that too. Unfortunately, as Alex sees it, she buys him one for his birthday as well – a Tanaka X5, which you wake up by tugging on an earlobe. This being a world where the first real Artificial Intelligence went nasty and killed people a year ago, Alex is certainly torn about having the thing in his flat – especially as it just kowtows to his wishes and opinions without having anything like its own, as it is not allowed to get that close to sentience. But Alex changes his mind right upon the point of returning the thing, and begins to explore just what kind of life the gift could end up presenting to him. Full review...

The Eye of the Falcon (Gods and Warriors Book 3) by Michelle Paver

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's been seven long months since Hylas and Pirra were separated in the wake of the devastating eruption of Thalakrea. The eruption was followed by tsunami and the coldest winter anyone can remember. There is no spring. No sun. Full review...

Trillium by Jeff Lemire

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

It's the future of at least a thousand years hence, and humanity is in trouble. The species has spread itself thinly out in the galaxy, but is under threat from a sentient virus, which is beating all efforts – military, scientific – to best it. The nearest thing to hope is in the unlikely form of a jungle flower, found only in realms sacred to the natives of one of humankind's planets. Elsewhere and elsewhen a shell-shocked WWI veteran is taken with his brother to South America, to gain the secrets and glories of the remotest Incan temples. It therefore sounds entirely unlikely that the main alien life scientist in the future and the earlier explorer will meet, but meet they do – and then things start to get weirder and weirder… Full review...

Visions by Kelley Armstrong

5star.jpg Paranormal

Olivia Jones, daughter of serial killers, has successfully proved her parents innocent of one murder. With that seed of doubt planted, she's out to prove them innocent of the rest. She knows the people of mysterious little town Cainsville know more than they are saying, but trying to get them to talk about anything - from her parents to Olivia's strange ability to read omens - is like trying to get get blood from a stone. Full review...

He Wants by Alison Moore

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Lewis Sullivan is close to retirement, but elderly beyond his years and widowed. Edie's death seems to have had practical implications - he's not getting the food he used to enjoy - but beyond that it's difficult to see quite what they had in common other than the library. He used it and she worked there - but they didn't even enjoy the same books. Lewis is an RE teacher at the same school where his father, Lawrence, used to teach - when they were both there at the same time it often confused the paperwork. Lewis is beginning to wonder if he chose the wrong career, if he lives in the wrong place. He used to be able to see the house he grew up in from the bedroom window before it was demolished and replaced by a supermarket carpark, but he's always dreamed of living by the sea. His adult daughter, Ruth visits him every day and brings him soup.

He doesn't want soup. Full review...

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and James Dean

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Pete the Cat has put his favourite shirt on, you know the one, with four groovy buttons? And he loves it. But what happens when those buttons start to fall off one by one? Full review...

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is the title of both Flanagan's Booker Prize-longlisted sixth novel and a book by seventeenth-century Japanese poet Basho. Poetry irradiates this often bleak story of Australian POWs building the Burma Death Railway during the Second World War, presenting beauty and love as counterpoints to gory descriptions of suffering and inhumanity. Full review...

Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome by Harry Bucknall

4star.jpg Travel

What links London and Rome? Their capital city status for one, of course. One has a St Paul's cathedral, the other a St Peter's (although pedants will say not). They both have a football team who wear red and white. Oh, and the ancient pilgrim route called the Via Francigena – although the pedant will again say that that strictly starts at that other pilgrimage site, Canterbury. As for Harry Bucknall, the Via starts at St Paul's and should end at St Peter's. Whether or not Harry himself will connect the two cities – and entirely on foot – is the subject of this travel book. Full review...

Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner

5star.jpg For Sharing

Louie is a smelly dog, until his owner gives him a bath. Suddenly everything is wrong and Louie doesn't smell like himself any more. Will he be able to find his own smell again? Let's hope so! Full review...

Quarter Past Two On A Wednesday Afternoon by Linda Newbery

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

At a quarter past two on a Wednesday afternoon in August Rose disappeared - completely. It didn't look as though there had been a crime - there were no signs of violence and some of her clothes and a rucksack were missing. It was possible that she had simply gone of her own accord: she was beautiful, headstrong and just slightly wilful. Twenty years later her younger sister, Anna has still not come to terms with what happened and it's affecting her whole life. Her relationship with Martin is foundering and she can't make up her mind whether it's what she wants - or doesn't want, with probably a slight bias to the latter. Finally she decides that she must try and find Rose for herself. Full review...

Stand and Deliver: A Design for Successful Government by Ed Straw

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

Confidence in politicians is at an all-time low. In fact, an alarming number of Britons express outright contempt, not just for their leaders, but for the entire political class - for the politicans themselves, for the civil servants standing behind them, even for the Westminster bubble of commentators and policy wonks. We vote for them in ever-decreasing numbers and even those who continue to vote often do not feel represented. Worse still, the younger you are, the more likely you are to be politically disengaged. We're in danger of losing an entire generation from the political process. How can this be good for a democracy? Full review...

Paddington Takes the Test by Michael Bond and Peggy Fortnum (illustrator)

4star.jpg Confident Readers

In the eyes of those who write proverbs, giving is as good as receiving. Similarly in the eyes of Paddington Bear, taking a test is as good as giving a test, for he is without equal in giving tests – to the patience of the Brown family who adopted him many years ago, principally. Other people he meets on a temporary basis in the course of his adventures – pantomime magicians, art school bosses, country house owners – have varying degrees of luck and ability in dealing with him, but it's the family he returns to each night that is put through a worrying mill so often, and still comes out loving him. But when he himself takes a test – well, the kind it actually is is best for you to discover yourself… Full review...

Paddington at Work by Michael Bond and Peggy Fortnum (illustrator)

4star.jpg Confident Readers

You remember the stories of a bear called Paddington coming to London from darkest Peru – leaving his aunt Lucy behind in a retirement home in Lima? Once on these shores he met up with the Brown family, and then all hell broke loose. He blundered into one misfortune, made mistake after error after miscomprehension, and only barely got away with his marmalade sandwiches intact. Well, these are these same stories – but with a slight twist. This is the second coming of Paddington, as he is once again on a trans-Atlantic liner, returning this time from a holiday back home. Only, this time he will not quite reach London when the disturbing adventures of the bear and the Brown family are resumed… Full review...

The Diary of Dennis the Menace: Rollercoaster Riot by Steven Butler

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Beanoland, Beanotown, is going to be the home of the world's most extreme rollercoaster, the Vomit Comet, and as he's a fan of all things extreme, scary and menacing, Dennis the Menace is determined to brighten up his current school term with an early ride on it. By an act of subterfuge during his latest detention he finds out the school is holding a competition to win the prize of being first in line at its grand opening. Surely this has Dennis's name all over it? Well, he thinks so – but then he doesn't yet know what he has to do to win the contest… Full review...

The Girl Who Wasn't There by Karen McCombie

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Maisie doesn’t believe in ghosts. At least she didn’t until she started at her new school. Her dad has a new job working as the school caretaker and as Maisie stands at her new bedroom window one night she thinks she sees something or someone at one of the windows of the closed and empty school. On her first day the other girls tell her of rumours of a ghost of a long-gone girl who wanders the school corridors. Could this be the answer to the mysterious shape at the window? With the help of her new friend Kat, Maisie decides to find out more about the school ghost and solve the mystery. However her investigations unearth surprises that she could never have expected. Full review...

Replica by Jack Heath

4.5star.jpg Teens

There is a tendency for adults to feel embarrassed about reading young adult fiction, but this book demonstrates that a focus on a younger character shouldn’t prevent a wider audience from enjoying a good story. Replica is a strange and compelling combination of action, mystery, thriller and science-fiction. Heath has even included a hint of a romance. There is something for everyone and although the book raises some challenging and thought-provoking problems, the text is easy-to-read, immersive and unpretentious. Full review...

The Burglar Who Counted The Spoons by Lawrence Block

5star.jpg Crime

The return of Lawrence Block's wonderful burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr, 9 years after the tenth novel in the series, was my most-anticipated book release for an awfully long time. It is an absolute pleasure to report that the character has lost none of his charm, Block's writing is as superb as ever, and the plot is as ingenious as in any of the previous 10. I say that having reread them all in the twelve months before reading this one. This is up there along with The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart as my favourite in the series. For newcomers to the series, I'd definitely recommend starting at the beginning, but if you do want to dive into this one, you definitely can without feeling too lost. Full review...

The Ascendant by Alethea Crowe

3star.jpg General Fiction

The Greek Gods never died - in fact, they are still very much on this planet, causing chaos and interfering with the lives of mortals, albeit on a much smaller scale than in their heyday. Whilst the front cover suggests a thriller much in the vein of The Da Vinci Code or something of its ilk, Alathea Crowe has created something with excellent characters and interesting prose. It's just a shame she didn't stick to the thriller aspect more, as I felt the book lost its hold on me fairly early on. Full review...

The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery by George Johnson

4star.jpg Popular Science

George Johnson, a popular science writer more comfortable in the fields of physics and cosmology, started his journey into cancer when his wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with a rare uterine variety. He took it as an opportunity not just for personal soul-searching (why her? why now?), but also for a wide-ranging odyssey into current research about what causes cancer and how long it has been with us. Full review...

Codex Born by Jim C Hines

4star.jpg Fantasy

Bands are famed for having that tricky second album syndrome, but the same can be said for authors when writing the second book in a series. Libriomancer was the first in a series that blasted onto the scene with an infectious enthusiasm that allowed you to forgive its one or two minor flaws. Could the follow up continue the momentum, or will it stagnate? Full review...

The Scarecrows' Wedding by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Betty O'Barley and Harry O'Hay are going to get married, in fact they're going to have the best wedding yet, the wedding that no one will ever forget. So they make a wedding list and set off around the farm to find the things they need. Harry goes off on his own to find pink flowers, but the question is will he be back in time for the wedding? Full review...

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Mara and Scott are both on a countdown. Each has five days left. But when the weekend comes, who will be happy, who will be mourning, and who will be out of the picture forever? Full review...

Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party by Alexander McCall Smith

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

So, Fatty is from Fayetteville in Arkansas and he and his wife Betty do, it has to be said, err on the rather large side. At home in Fayetteville their size causes them no problems but when Betty books her Irish-American husband a trip to Ireland for his birthday the problems begin. Poor Fatty. It seems the calamities start from the beginning of their trip and they are both funny and painful to read at times. Just when you think things can't possibly get any worse for Fatty they do indeed get worse. And then worse again. And again! The escapades are so gently, lovingly written then I felt nothing but sympathy for poor Fatty. Full review...