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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 Minnow by Diana Sweeney

4.5star.jpg Teens

Diana Sweeney's The Minnow is an Australian book aimed at Young Adults that features death, grief, abuse, fear and loneliness. Teenage pregnancy lies at its heart while bereavement, and trying to come to terms with loss, bubbles just under the surface, constantly. But don't be misled. This novel isn't some earnest pedagogical attempt to convey teenage angst and elicit grave pity or understanding from the reader. What rescues it from mawkishness is the beautiful voice of the narrator, Tom (or Holly, if you prefer her real name). Tom doesn't fall prey to self-pity. She simply describes her world as she sees it, matter-of-fact. And the fact that her view is rather unusual (she talks to fish, dead people and her unborn child - and they talk back) doesn't really matter. Nothing can detract from the sheer lyricism of her voice. As a reader, you just have to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride. Full review...

The Glory by Lauren St John

4.5star.jpg Teens

Alex is what you might call a disruptive teenager. She's always getting into trouble but the latest trouble is the worst yet and her mum and step-dad have had enough. Even her father, far away in Australia with his new family, thinks something must be done. So Alex is sent all the way out to the States to a teenage boot camp. But even naughty teenagers have their plus points, and Alex's is her love of horses. She'll do anything to save the mustang scout from the slaughterhouse. Full review...

Wild Adventures by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When I was growing up, TV only had four channels and games consoles came in the form of the rubber keyed ZX Spectrum. Despite these meagre offerings, we would still spend endless summer hours in the sitting room if our parents had not thrown us outside. In 2015, there are far more TV channels to watch and games come in high fidelity, what chance does nature have against ‘Call of Duty’? You would be surprised, as despite all the creature comforts of the front room, children still want to play outside, all they have to be - is inspired. Full review...

J.K. Rowling: A Bibliography 1997 - 2013 by Philip W Errington

5star.jpg Reference

Just occasionally it's necessary to begin by saying what a book isn't: J.K. Rowling: A Bibliography 1997 - 2013 isn't the latest book by J K Rowling - she had no part in the writing of the book and doesn't profit from it financially. It isn't, actually, about J K Rowling other than indirectly. It is a book about her writings, bibliographic details of each edition of ALL her books, pamphlets, and contributions to published works. It is not a book for the reader who loved the Harry Potter books and wishes that Rowling had written many more, but rather the definitive text about the books which will be consulted by scholars, book dealers and collectors, auction houses and researchers. The most obvious comparison for me is Stamps of the World by Stanley Gibbons. It is of that class. Full review...

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Mark has been battling cancer for more than half his life. For the last seven years he has missed school, been through treatments, and come close to death time and again. With the call that once again the cancer is back, he just can't face going through it again and so he takes his dog Beau and they run away to go and climb a mountain, with the intention that he will never return. Full review...

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

4.5star.jpg Teens

Fifteen year old Adam has a list. He needs to get better, grow taller and marry the love of his life, Robyn. But while Adam develops a metaphorical tunnel vision so that he can focus only on winning Robyn’s love, everything he is ignoring in the periphery is unravelling. How can Adam help his own overwhelming OCD when he’s so focussed on fixing everyone around him? When is it ok to hang up your own superhero cloak and admit that you might need saving? Full review...

Karate Chop, and Minna Needs Rehearsal Space by Dorthe Nors

3.5star.jpg Short Stories

The reviewer picks up the book.
The book is called Minna Needs Rehearsal Space.
The book is entirely made out of one-sentence paragraphs.
The one-sentence paragraphs are very seldom poetic, but normally are grammatically correct sentences.
The one-sentence paragraphs on the whole have just one verb, unless regarding that from reported or unreported speech.
The book concerns a middle-aged musician and composer who does indeed need rehearsal space.
The book concerns a woman who suddenly gets more space than she wants when her boyfriend leaves her.
The boyfriend's departure causes a lot of people crowding around Minna, which causes a problem.
The problem might be resolved by a trip away from her city flat.
The title of the book might be ironic. Full review...

The Hog, the Shrew and the Hullabaloo (A Harry and Lil Story) by Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Harry the hog is just trying to get to sleep, when he hears a terrifying noise outside. It frightens him so much that he has to call his best friend Lil the shrew over to try and help him find out what the noise was. As the night goes on, they hear many a wild thing, but none of the noises are what Harry heard. Will they ever find out what it was? Will they ever get any sleep? You’ll just have to read and see for yourself! Full review...

Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Creaturepedia welcomes young readers to the greatest show on earth, showcasing more than 600 different creatures within its pages. Rather than listing the animals in traditional alphabetical order, this book groups creatures according to a variety of criteria, including colour, habits and outstanding physical characteristics. Of course, there is a handy index at the end to keep the traditionalists happy too. There are a few unusual categories thrown in, such as mythical beats and extinct animals, as well as endangered species that sadly, may become extinct very soon Full review...

Game Changer by Tim Bowler

4.5star.jpg Teens

Mikey is afraid of open spaces. He would much rather hide in his room - in his wardrobe, actually - than face the world outside. But his family, in particular his sister Meggie, are very supportive. And with Meggie's help, Mikey is gradually beginning to face that world outside. But then something goes horribly, horribly wrong. Mikey sees something he shouldn't have seen. And the gang knows what he saw. The gang knows where he lives. And the gang wants to talk to him... Full review...

God's Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England by Jessie Childs

4.5star.jpg History

It goes almost without saying that sixteenth-century England, at the height of religious persecution, was a pretty perilous age. Queen Mary was notorious for the number of Protestants who were burnt at the stake for their beliefs during her five-year reign. A belief widely held by many (depending on your religion, as likely as not) was that during the forty-five years that ‘Good Queen Bess’ reigned, greater toleration held sway. This has recently been disproved beyond doubt by several historians, and this book likewise helps to underline the savagery towards Catholics that was endemic under her rule. Full review...

Everyday Maths for Grown-Ups: Getting to Grips with the Basics by Kjartan Poskitt

5star.jpg Reference

We all need maths - or so it says on the back of Everyday Maths for Grown Ups and whilst you could exist without a basic knowledge, life is going to be so much easier if you can check receipts, do the calculations for that spot of DIY or work out if the 'bargain' you've been offered really is one. Kjartan Poskitt reckons that very few people are really confident with figures, but hopes that he can offer some help. Full review...

Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

It's no mistake that the cover of my edition of this book is a photo where the Trans-Siberian Railway is horizontal in the frame. It's well known for going east-west, left to right across the map of the largest country by far in the world. 9,288 kilometres from Moscow to the eastern stretches of Russia, it could only be a long, thin line across the cover, as it is in our imagination of it as a form of transport and a travel destination in its own right. So when this book mentions it as the spine or backbone of Russia a couple of times, that's got to be of a prone Russia – one lying down, not upright or active. David Greene, a stalwart of northern American radio journalism, uses this book to see just how active or otherwise Russia and Russians are – and finds their lying down to be quite a definite verdict, as well as a slight indictment. It's no mistake either for this cover to have people in the frame alongside the train carriages, for the people met both riding and living alongside the tracks of the Railway are definitely the ribs of the piece. Full review...

Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Venetia Stanley lives in Seventeeth century London. A celebrated beauty, she has had poems written in honour of her, and portraits painted by one of the leading artists of the time. Married to a handsome, kind and adventurous man, Venetia is kept in a life of luxury, and, at first glance - has everything she could ever have dreamed of. Except Venetia is not happy. A woman who has made her name and fortune because of her beauty, she is convinced that her allure is quickly slipping through her fingers. Signing a pact with an apothecary for his famed restorative 'Viper Wine', Venetia is set on a dangerous path. Full review...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (150th Anniversary Edition) by Lewis Carroll and Anthony Browne

4star.jpg Confident Readers

We here at the Bookbag aren't always of a Reithian, canon-following bent; we don't necessarily feel the need to urge classic texts down our readers' throats. But in this instance it is worthwhile. Not since this book first appeared 150 years ago has something so surreal, so oddball and so peculiarly plotted captured the imagination anything quite as this did. It's a classic that, if you haven't before, you can polish off in definitely under two hours. It's something then that on this occasion I suggest you should do, if only to find out what complete rubbish it is. Full review...

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

5star.jpg Teens

Toby would appear to be lucky, having the run of an isolated country mansion on a small island off the coast of Britain. But no. His domain only exists at night, and only then because he sleeps in the day and refuses to take the 'vitamin' pills given him by the staff of an evening. He is a captive of a mansion that works as a place of exile for teenagers with the Defective gene. Whatever it would normally lead to, even having it risks becoming suddenly really quite ill, and being the cause of the night-time lift ride on the one way route to the top floor Sanatorium. But Toby has it good as these things go, the teenaged head boy almost out of the small collection of children in his Dorm, the only one not to have suffered a loss of life. But things are about to change – new inmates arrive to bulk up the numbers, and one of them, Clara, is the agent of that change. For when she stumbles on Toby's nocturnal habits she doesn't want to sleep either… Full review...

The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Anne Neville, as youngest daughter of 'Kingmaker' Richard Earl of Warwick, grows up with all the advantages of 15th century aristocracy. Unfortunately Anne is also female so her life is used to expedite her father's plans. The dreams and innocent affections of the delicate child are dashed as she faces exile and a loveless marriage to the son of domineering Margaret of Anjou. It doesn't get better straight after that either as virtual imprisonment and then slavery follow his death. While England is tossed and turned by the houses of York and Lancaster, all Anne wants is the peaceful solitude of holy orders. That may be what she wants, but her God still has other ideas… Full review...

Real Monsters by Liam Brown

5star.jpg General Fiction

Lorna was 12 when she was sent home from school, watched the unfurling events of 9/11 on her TV and recognised her father's office block aflame and falling. Her fight for mental survival started at that moment and the use of alcohol to quell the memories came soon after but then she meets Danny – her life saver. Shortly after this they marry and Danny joins the army. He's sent to fight the monsters, the fundamentalist organisations, which destroyed Lorna's childhood. However when what's left of his unit becomes lost in the desert without food, water or equipment, the focus changes from military victory to personal survival and those monsters are still out there… Full review...

Eat. Nourish. Glow.: 10 easy steps for losing weight, looking younger and feeling healthier by Amelia Freer

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Amelia Freer had struggled with her own health for a while and it reached a stage where she was waking up feeling tired and groggy, relying on ten cups a day of sugary tea to perk her up and her food was mainly processed convenience foods. At the time she was working as a PA to Prince Charles and loved the job but her busy life meant that she made automatic food choices without consideration of what they were doing to her health. It wasn't until she went to see a nutritionist that she realised what she had been doing and made the decision not only to change her diet, but to train to be a nutritionist. The result is a busy practice - and this book. Full review...

This is Not a Maths Book by Anna Weltman

5star.jpg Art

I have to admit, I wasn't a huge fan of maths at school. Maybe if I'd had this book when I was a child, I would have been. 'This is not a Maths Book' cleverly bridges the gap between maths and art and teaches kids how to make beautiful patterns and shapes by using mathematical principles. We learn about parabolic curves, Pascal's triangle, the stomachion, tesselation and 3D drawings. Because the pages are interactive and hands-on, kids are learning the rules of maths without realising it. After all, there is no reason why maths shouldn't be fun! Full review...

The Little Book of Garden Bird Song by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Take a well-put-together board book (don't worry about it being a board book - no one is going to suggest that they're a bit too old for that), add exquisite pictures of a dozen birds - one on each double-page spread - and then fill in the details. You'll need the name of the bird in English and Latin and a description of the bird in words which a child can understand but which won't patronise an adult. Then you'll need details of where the bird is found, what it eats, where it nests, how many eggs it lays, how the male and female adults differ and their size. Then you need a 'Did you know?' fact and this needs to be something which will interest children, but which adults might not know either. Does it sound simple? Well it isn't, but 'The Little Book of Garden Bird Song' does it perfectly. And there's a bonus, but I'll tell you about that in a moment. Full review...

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

4star.jpg Fantasy

Emily Marshwic has led a priveleged life - wealthy and from a good family, she has known little discomfort. Until the war comes - a vicious, far reaching struggle that destroys whole nations and tears families apart. First the men are conscripted, and then, after many defeats - the women. Having seen her country ravaged, and hearing news of her brother's death, Emily signs up for the army - and is plunged into situations more deadly than she can ever have imagined. As the tide of war turns - could Emily be the one to put an end to the bloodshed? Full review...

Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

Douglas Coupland suggested that all families are psychotic and he may just be right if that family consists of necromancers. The usual family dynamic is already a little messed up when you are one of four kids, but when you throw in the power to remove souls and reanimate the dead, things can get even more complicated. After 25 years, Finn returns home to find that some things have changed, but his family will always be a nightmare. Full review...

Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean

5star.jpg For Sharing

My love of Pete the Cat is well documented here at The Bookbag, as I’ve previously reviewed two of his adventures. This latest title, Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes hasn’t let me down, and I think it’s great. Pete is going to school, which can be a bit scary, especially when you’re having to do lots of new things, like go to the library or eat in the lunch room. Is Pete scared? Goodness no, he’s rocking, reading and eating in his school shoes. Full review...

The Leopards of Normandy: Devil: Leopards of Normandy 1 by David Churchill

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Robert, the youngest son of the 4th Duke of Normandy, follows his father's bequest to the letter rather than the spirit and claims the castle at Falaise which should have gone to Richard, his elder brother. This will be a decision that will shape the rest of his life but the legacy that he and his low-born lover Herleva will be remembered for is their son, William the Bastard. An unfamiliar name perhaps until we realise that history will call him William the Conqueror. Full review...

The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams

5star.jpg Fantasy

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith, the team of sell-swords now known as the Black Feather Three are employed by the people of Skaldshollow to steal back the heartstone from the Narhl. To the Shalds it's the means of making stone live; to the Narhls it's the very spirit of the mountain so where does that leave our adventurers? Not long to think about that as there seems to be an increase in mystic occurrences across the world and also a young assassin is polishing off entire families. Why? One thing that's clear is that Seb, Wydrin and Frith will get involved eventually… involved right up to their necks. The other thing they will see with clarity is that an old adversary is back and this time he's brought a friend! Full review...

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims (Kingmaker 1) by Toby Clements

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

February 1460: Canon Thomas and Sister Katherine have always equated their priory with values like piety and safety. However when soldiers on horseback arrive this is proven to be a misconception and the two flee for their lives. This is the first time they've been in the outside world since childhood but soon realise there's more to it than they bargained for. It's naturally a dangerous place at any time but this is 15th century England - the War of the Roses is about to begin. Survival depends on worldly wisdom, something they don’t actually teach nuns or monks. Full review...