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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Enter Pale Death by Barbara Cleverly

3.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Death by Misadventure.' This is the official verdict as to the cause of death of Lady Lavinia Truelove, trampled to death by a notoriously ill-tempered horse, which she foolishly tried to approach in its stall. The horse panicked and reacted badly, resulting in a gruesome and bloody attack, witnessed by two boys from the village. Most people would dismiss the event as a tragic accident, but detective Joe Sandilands suspects that this could be cold-blooded murder. Could his judgement be clouded by the fact that he has a very personal axe to grind with the 'grieving' widower, who has been showing increasing attentiveness to Dorcas, the girl he plans to marry? Full review...

Whale in the Bath by Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett

5star.jpg For Sharing

It’s bath time, which is often not a favourite time of day. Really, it’s a sign that the fun is over and it’s time for bath, maybe a story, and then bed, at least for the little ones. The grown ups get to stay up later. Hmpf. But Bruno is not moaning too much about getting in the bath, though you get the impression that’s a battle he’s had, and lost, in the past. The problem is…there’s a whale in the bath. And whales are pretty big so there’s not much room for Bruno to hop in beside him. Full review...

Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry by Gareth Murphy

5star.jpg Entertainment

It’s not difficult to find a history of popular or recorded music, written around the musical names who made it happen. Cowboys and Indies takes a different approach. While there is plenty in these pages about several of the most important stars, there is just as much again if not sometimes more about the movers and shakers, the inventors, managers, impresarios, and record label founders without whom there would not have been a record industry. Full review...

A Reverie of Brothers by R D Shanks

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

The castle of Delzean's walls have always protected Emperor Eli, his sons, sister, niece and nephew from the ravages and poverty of the people in the city beyond. However the days may be numbered as a burgeoning revolution has infiltrated its walls thanks to the rebel movement known as The Eyes. Their plan necessitates the unwitting involvement of the spoilt, egotistical aforementioned niece, Princess Ava. Unfortunately there will be collateral damage with tragic effects. Full review...

15 Things Not to Do with a Baby by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There’s a new arrival at home. A foreigner. An imposter. An alien. A BABY. What on Earth should you do with it? Full review...

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Her father dead, her mother too, her only brother struggling with the after effects of a tour in Iraq. Riley’s life is not the easiest right now, but with the mammoth task of clearing out her late father’s estate, she’s back in her hometown for the summer while school’s out and she has time off her adolescent counselling job. Riley is expecting to have a long but simple task ahead of her, sorting through things to keep, things to donate, things to sell. But as she rifles through a lifetime’s collection, she finds far more than she bargained for including troubling news about her sister Lisa who committed suicide as a teenager. Except, it seems, she didn't. With the help of family friends, reams of paperwork and an email history he never expected her to find, Riley discovers her father had been keeping some big secrets. Lisa didn't drown, after all. She took off under an assumed name with a new identity, never to be heard of again. It’s a traumatic discovery for Riley, especially without anyone to share it with, but the more she digs into the past, the more she realises how little she knows about her family history. Full review...

Bloodstone: Legend of Ironheart by Allan Boroughs

5star.jpg Confident Readers

After a year travelling the globe as apprentice to Verity Brown, India Bentley falls into trouble when she's accused of trying to assassinate a priest. She's rescued by Professor Moon, who needs her and Verity to help him find the mysterious Bloodstone. As the trio, plus a few companions, journey to Atlantis, India is plunged into an adventure even more dangerous and exciting than her first one was. Full review...

Tell me a Picture - Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When did you last read a children's book that absolutely flummoxed you in the way it showed or told you something you didn't know? (And please be an adult when you answer that, or else it won't be quite so impressive.) Back in 2001, Quentin Blake wasn't a Knight yet – he hadn't even got his CBE – but he did get allowed to put on his own show at the National Gallery, with other people's pictures that contain oddities, stories, unexpected detail – sparks on canvas and paper that would inspire anyone looking, of whatever age, to piece things together, work things out, form a narrative. The pictures came with no major labelling, no context – just what they held, and some typically scratched Blake characters discussing the images as a lead-in. They were simply hung in alphabetical order, and probably could not have been more different. This then is a picture book of the most literal kind, with 26 stories. Full review...

My Village: Rhymes from Around the World by Danielle Wright (editor) and Mique Moriuchi (illustrator)

4star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

I'm thinking that of all the kinds of books that have ability to surprise, high up on the list are poetry books. You can generally see the style, idea or genre of a novel from the cover, and beyond a few shocks and twists nothing changes. But take poetry on board, and there are surprises on each page – the concentrated form of the literature surely gives the author more chance to bedazzle, to pull the rug over the readers' eyes and to generally give something the audience didn't expect. And so it is with this book, for while Michael Rosen's introduction spoke to us of nursery rhymes, I had already flicked through and still was not expecting a spread of them. Even when he itemised the various kinds I didn't foresee finding them all on the pages, although that is what I got. Who would have thought that such a small, succinct and varied little volume would have that much capacity to surprise? Full review...

The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making by David Esterly

4star.jpg Autobiography

Bouncing between his studio in upstate New York and the sites of various English sojourns, woodcarver David Esterly's seems to be an idyllic existence. Yet it's not all cosy cottages in the snow and watching geese and coyotes when he looks up from his workbench. There is an element of hard-won retreat from the trials of life in this memoir, but at the same time there is an argument for the essential difficulty of the artist's life. 'Carvers are starvers,' a wizened English carver once told him. Certainly there is no great fortune to be won from a profession as obscure as limewood carving, but the rewards outweigh the hard graft for Esterly. Full review...

What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading The Classics Of Science Fiction And Fantasy by Jo Walton

5star.jpg Anthologies

Jo Walton has published over ten books, several of which have been award winning. On top of that, she has a voracious appetite for books - both as a well respected writer of original fiction, but as a well respected reviewer too. Not only does she have time to do all that, but she also writes a regular column for Tor.com, on Science Fiction and Fantasy books, and it is these columns that a selection of which are collected here. Full review...

Kill Fee by Owen Laukkanen

4.5star.jpg Crime

The internet has had one of the most profound effects on humanity since the invention of the printing press. A world full of knowledge is at your fingertips and you can access anything from your home. Want to order food? Easy! How about learning how to make a fake ID? It’s all on the net if you know where to look! Want someone killed by a professional for a reasonable fee? This may be depressingly easier than you think. Full review...

A Scientist in Wonderland: A Memoir of Searching for Truth and Finding Trouble by Edzard Ernst

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

Professor Edzard Ernst was born in Germany not long after the end of World War II and grew up with guilt about what had happened in the years before he was born as well as an insatiable curiosity - with the two not being entirely entirely unconnected. He also developed an attitude of speaking his mind - as an early challenge to his step-father about the death of six million Jews in the course of the war proved. In his teens he wasn't determined to become a doctor - he had a hankering to be a musician - despite the fact that it was the family business, so to speak, but came round to the idea and practiced in various countries before settling in Exeter as Professor of Complementary Medicine at the university. Full review...

The Swimmer by Joakim Zander

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

'On a remote Swedish island, a little girl, Klara, grows up without a father. Now, twenty years later, she discovers a secret: a secret that powerful men will kill to keep hidden.'

The Swimmer begins in 1980, with a bombing in Damascus, and a tragedy that can be felt across decades. Full review...

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's not much fun having a Destiny, and a line of ancestors leading back into the mists of history to live up to. It's a lot less fun when you're a bit of a loser, and the Darkmouth villagers you're supposed to protect are so fed up with your mistakes they phone the local bobby to complain every time you go out hunting. Just because you squashed someone's car a teeny bit, and sliced a boat in two – I mean, you've got to learn, right? Full review...

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's not much fun having a Destiny, and a line of ancestors leading back into the mists of history to live up to. It's a lot less fun when you're a bit of a loser, and the Darkmouth villagers you're supposed to protect are so fed up with your mistakes they phone the local bobby to complain every time you go out hunting. Just because you squashed someone's car a teeny bit, and sliced a boat in two – I mean, you've got to learn, right? Full review...

Wallflowers by Eliza Robertson

4star.jpg Short Stories

Eliza Robertson won the Man Booker Scholarship and Curtis Brown Prize while completing her MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Wallflowers is already a bestseller in Robertson's native Canada. There is quite some variety across the seventeen stories. Broadly speaking, though, there are a few themes: moving on from loss, finding love in the midst of gentle madness, and interactions with the natural world, often on the edge of Canada's British Columbia wilderness. Full review...

The Really Abominable Snowman by Valentina Mendicino

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

The Really Abominable Snowman, it turns out, is just a little yeti called Milo. He’s not even abominable, never mind really abominable! But that isn't what everybody else thinks, they're all terrified of him, even though all he wants is a friend to share his favourite cupcakes with… Full review...

Did We Meet on Grub Street? by Emma Tennant, Hilary Bailey and David Elliott

3.5star.jpg Entertainment

Essentially, the three authors (all of whom have long careers in the book industry) revel in the idea of being whining old curmudgeons who miss the good old days of publishing. This unashamed nostalgia provides the focus of the book and allows the writers to recount numerous anecdotes from their days in the publishing business. Whilst the primary audience for this book may well be students of creative writing and media studies, it also serves as an interesting exploration of an aspect of modern history: how a once-burgeoning industry is now a shell of its former self, much like a lot of manufacturing. Because of this, I was disappointed that no space was given to a consideration of how the rise of the e-book and Kindle has directly damaged both the sale of books and the potential for new books to be written (fewer real books sold = fewer financial advances paid to writers = fewer books written). Also, given the clear love of books as treasured artifacts, the dismissal of the Harry Potter phenomenon seems truculent, given the impetus the series gave to reading amongst both the young and adults. Full review...

Juvie by Steve Watkins

4.5star.jpg Teens

With the title Juvie it’s clear what this book is going to be about, even before you've seen the orange jumpsuited figure on the cover. Sadie and Carla are sisters who are not much alike, but they look out for each other. So when Carla is at a party and finds herself at a situation, Sadie helps her out, against her better judgement. The two girls end up at the wrong place at the wrong time, and before they know it they're in court trying to clear their names. Carla has a history and so her sentence will be stiffer. It will put her away for some time, away from her young daughter in a way that no one wants. There is a way out, though. Sadie is, if not a good girl, then definitely the better sister. If she takes the blame, she'll likely get off with a caution for a first offence, no harm done. She'll be fine, and so will Carla and baby Lulu. It's not ideal, but she can take one for the team. Except things don't go to plan, and Sadie gets sent to, you've guessed it, juvenile detention for her supposed role in the crime. Full review...

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Evilness of Pizza by John Dougherty and David Tazzyman (illustrator)

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

There are a few important things to know about the Island Kingdom of Great Kerfuffle. One is that it is pestered by a criminal gang of badgers, who find it impossible to just sit around in prison, but always have to escape and cause danger and nastiness to other people, even if they are on the whole incredibly stupid. You also need to know, however, that brother and sister Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face are great at solving the problems the badgers cause, and getting through the adventures in a very self-knowing way, even discussing the lengths of the chapters and the style of story as they go about their business. Here the problem is revealed quite late on, so in an effort not to spoil the plot I'll just point out that in a book this stupidly, deliriously daft you hardly need bother about the plot in the first place, and can just relax and have the sheer joy of entertainment for an hour or so. Full review...

Oscar & Lucy by Alan Kennedy

4.5star.jpg Biography

With the film about Alan Turing, The Imitation Game getting rave reviews and award nominations right, left and centre, the sterling work done by the Bletchley Park cryptographers during WWII is quite high in our minds. But Enigma wasn't the only code broken and Turing wasn't the only one doing secret but heroic work. Full review...

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

4star.jpg Short Stories

American short story writer Edith Pearlman brings us a compilation of stories that have only been seen separately in magazines over the years. This follows on from the huge success of Binocular Vision (in 2013), the short story collection that led to Ms Pearlman being presented with the National Critics' Circle Award. Full review...

The New Enemy: Liam Scott Book 3 by Andy McNab

4star.jpg Teens

Liam Scott has joined Recce Platoon. The recruitment process was more gruelling than Liam had even imagined. But if you're going to be an in-theatre intelligence gatherer for the British Army, then you need to be ready for anything. And despite his training, Liam is new to this game. He still has a lot to learn and he's going to have to do it the hard way - in Kenya, where the border with Somalia is subject to incursions from the al-Shabaab militant group. Full review...

Quarry's Choice by Max Allan Collins

4.5star.jpg Crime

If you are fed up with reading books about a hit man with a heart, why not try one of the Quarry series? This is a man who is hired to kill and does not think too much about it; it's just a job. Usually Quarry arrives in a town, makes a hit and gets out immediately, but there is something about the world of the Dixie Mafia that is making him stay a little longer. Is it the blackmail, the attractive young women, or the sense of revenge? Full review...

The Boleyn Deceit (Anne Boleyn Trilogy Book 2) by Laura Andersen

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Even after her death, George Boleyn continues to fashion his sister Anne's son into a king in George's image. However, now 18, matters of state aren’t the only concerns of Henry IX. He has to decide between the French Princess Elizabeth and commoner, childhood friend Minuette although Minuette is secretly betrothed to Henry's advisor Dominic. Minuette also has another quest: to find out who killed her friend Alyce but sleuthing is becoming more dangerous. Meanwhile Henry's Catholic sister Mary and very intelligent sister Elizabeth are not going to be happy remaining merely decorative for long. Full review...

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

4star.jpg General Fiction

Battle-weary and suffering from PTSD, 40-year-old Sergeant Lester Ferris is posted to the island of Mancreu to mark time till his retirement. With no family of his own, Lester takes a local lad under his wing; an adolescent who lives his own life through comic books and superheroes in the hope that he can be adopted. Despite Mancreu beginning to churn with more than its customary black marketeering, Lester realises that he has a job on his hands, not only to take care of an island that sees him as a government puppet but also convince someone that he is the stuff of heroism and to convince himself while he's at it. Full review...