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 Storms of War by Kate Williams

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

England - 1914. The de Witt family live in Stoneythorpe Hall, an English manor that allows them to lead lives of relative luxury. Behind the ornate doors and heavy drapes of the house though, things are less than ideal - the approaching shadow of war makes things increasingly difficult for German born Rudolf, and Verena struggles to find her role in both the home and society. With their sons studying, one daughter marrying and one fast growing up, war will change all that these people know, and force them to either adapt, or suffer untold consequences. Full review...

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

A Place called Winter is the story of Harry Cane, a young man in Edwardian England. Left with a sizeable inheritance, Harry follows tradition, marrying and raising a young child. A passionate affair, however, forces Harry into exile, separated from all that he knows, and forced to try his hand as a farmer in the plains of Canada.

In Canada he finds love and acceptance, although the fragile happiness is soon threatened by the return of an old enemy, war, and madness. Full review...

Meet Me In Malmo by Torquil MacLeod

3.5star.jpg Crime

British journalist Ewan Strachan was invited to Malmo in Sweden to interview film director Mick Roslyn. They'd been friends at University but had drifted apart. Strachan was holding on to his job in journalism by the skin of his teeth, but Roslyn had made it big time in Sweden and was married to Malin Lovgren, the glamorous star of his latest film. It hadn't been easy to persuade his editor to fund the trip, but when Strachan found himself at the door of Roslyn's home at the appointed time there seemed to be no one there. When he tried the door he walked in only to find Lovgren dead on the floor. Full review...

The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Rory Rooney is a boy who likes to be prepared. His mum owns a book titled Don't Be Scared, Be Prepared and he knows every page of it. Rory is the type of boy who knows how to survive a hippo attack. Then one day on a school trip Rory turns green. Not pale, feeling a bit queasy green but bright broccoli green all over. Even Rory isn't prepared for this. Full review...

Windhaven by George R R Martin and Lisa Tuttle

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

As a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I love George RR Martin’s writing style and the vivid world and characters he created, and was interested to see what his other work might be like. Conversely, not being at all familiar with Lisa Tuttle, I was even more intrigued to read this book. Full review...

Bears Don't Read by Emma Chichester Clark

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

You might think a picture of a bear reading a book, on the cover of a book itself called Bears Don’t Read is confusing, but it quickly becomes clear. George is a bear doing bear things with his friends and family but he’s getting a bit bored of the same old, same old. So when he finds a book some poor human type person has dropped he’s a bit excited. The only thing is, he doesn’t know how to read it, so he can’t release the exciting adventure that’s cooped up inside. With his fellow bears showing little interest in his find, he sets off for the town to try to locate someone who can help. Full review...

The Empire of Time by David Wingrove

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Otto Behr is a German agent, fighting his Russian counterparts across three millennia of history. With only remnants of the two nations remaining, Otto is forced to travel through time - changing brief moments in order to alter history forever. As the stakes grow ever higher - what will Otto be forced to do in order to end this war? Full review...

Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown

3.5star.jpg History

With Franco’s Crypt Jeremy Treglown has taken a highly charged subject – life in Spain under Franco – and placed it under what to some might appear a somewhat revisionist microscope. His aim appears to be twofold: to consider the nature of collective memory, particularly in the light of the exhumations of mass graves that commenced earlier this century, and, secondly, to examine – and celebrate - Spain’s cultural output during Franco’s years as dictator. Full review...

How to Get Inside Someone's Mind and Stay There: The business owner's guide to content marketing and confident copywriting by Jacky Fitt

4star.jpg Business and Finance

As a small business owner I know it's difficult - sometimes it feels impossible - to get your message out to your potential customers in a manner which is going to reward the effort which you put into it. Besides, how do you know who your potential customers are? How do you know how they would like to be approached? In fact, how are you going to get inside their head - and stay there? Jacky Fitt has written a comprehensive guide which takes you through what's needed and allows you to develop your own action plan for your business. Full review...

Tom Jones - The Life by Sean Smith

4.5star.jpg Biography

Few singers have sustained a career over half a century and appealed to succeeding generations in the way that the former Thomas John Woodward of Treforest has managed to do. Almost written off during a lean period or two, he proved himself the master of re-invention, and now in his mid-70s he is loved and revered as something of a national treasure. Full review...

The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith

5star.jpg For Sharing

Dolce and Gabbana would not like this book, that much I’m sure of. I think it’s ace, though.

Families are no longer 2.4 children with a mummy and a daddy. To be fair, that wasn’t even the case 30 years ago when I was a toddler, but most books at the time hadn’t clocked the change yet so in literature at least that’s what a family was. Not any more. This book, not the first of its kind, I’m sure, but a very welcome addition to the market, highlights and celebrates the diversity of family life in Britain today. Full review...

The Grindle Witch by Benjamin J Myers

4.5star.jpg Teens

Deep in the woods something evil is stirring...

You can say that again. Jack Jolly's father is a pathologist and neither he nor the armed police with him have ever seen anything like Tom Moore's body. Whoever or whatever killed the old man has carried out the most savage attack anyone has ever seen. And Jack, who has just moved to the remote village of Grindle from the city, had thought it a boring and dull place with unfriendly people, where nothing ever happens. How wrong could he have been? Full review...

Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Back in 1999, when The Hours won the Pulitzer Prize, Michael Cunningham set a precedent for depicting Woolf's later life and suicide. Nicole Kidman won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Woolf in the film version of the novel; she is best remembered for wearing a prosthetic nose. Fast forward 15 years. In 2014–2015 alone, three major novels about Virginia Woolf have been published. That confluence, especially in a year that does not mark a significant anniversary, speaks to a continuing interest in Woolf's life and writings. Full review...

Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

The rebellious cult leader is executed so that's that. Then someone steals the body. The police appoint Cassius Gallio to investigate but it all goes terribly wrong. He not only fails to find the body, the police informant from the initial conviction is killed in a way that mimics suicide. Gallio's career and life both stall until the case is secretly re-opened and he's deemed the man for the investigation as he's already comparatively invisible. It seems straightforward in that Gallio must uncover the truth but the people he needs to speak to are being culled one by one by the most innovative and bloodthirsty means. Full review...

Rose Water and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood

4.5star.jpg Cookery

Rose Water and Orange Blossoms began life as a blog. Maureen Abood grew up with flavours of the Lebanon around her - the scent of floral waters and cinnamon, lentils, bulgur wheat and yoghurt, but most of all, the succulence of lamb. She revisits the recipes which nourished her childhood, sometimes remaining faithful to the original, but occasionally giving them her personal twist. The whole family has contributed (even if not directly) to the food which she produces and sometimes the recipes have been handed down for generations, but it's not just the food which comes alive in her hands, but the people who come alive as you read. Full review...

Ghosts of War by George Mann

3.5star.jpg Fantasy

In 1920's Manhattan, a lone hero patrols the streets and the skies, using his immense wealth and futuristic technology to keep evil at bay. However, at the start of Ghosts of War, the Ghost is in mourning, following the tragic events that concluded Ghosts of Manhattan, the first book in the series. Thankfully for the Ghost (and for the reader) - Manhattan is under seige, and he has little time to lick his wounds. Mechanical winged beasts roam the skies, an alcoholic ex-lover is back on the scene, and a British spy may have to be dealt with in order to prevent a cold war turning hot... Full review...

Geek Girl: All That Glitters by Holly Smale

4star.jpg Teens

If you're a bright, enthusiastic teen but not top of the popularity polls at school then this series of books by Holly Smale is absolutely made for you. Harriet Manners is, according to your point of view, either beautiful enough to travel the world modelling fabulous clothes, or a girl with a very ordinary face who got very, very lucky. She's clumsy and accident-prone, her dress sense leaves a lot to be desired, and she's far more inclined to research the fine art of making friends in a book (or ten) than go out there and have a go. Full review...

Asterix Omnibus 9 by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

If I had to pinpoint when my obsession with reading started, I would say it was when I discovered the adventures of Asterix and his rotund pal Obelix. I would walk down to my local village Library after school and pick up 8 adventures, only to read them overnight and set off the next day for more. The fun visuals, bright colours and daft characters really appealed to me then, but what about the children of today? Is there enough in the, up to, 60 year old adventures to appeal? Full review...

The Raven's Head by Karen Maitland

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

In 13th century England, Gisa, niece and ward of an apothecary attracts the attention of one of his more sinister clients. Elsewhere Wilky, a small child, is taken from his parents in lieu of a debt and then taken to a monastery which is a cover for something less than Christian. Meanwhile in France, Vincent, a scribe's apprentice, is framed for a theft and has to run for his life. The three will meet but under circumstances that turn out to be the stuff of dark, bloody nightmares. Full review...

Fallout (Tito Ihaka) by Paul Thomas

4star.jpg Crime

Maori Tito Ihaka may be disrespectful, brash and the sort of police sergeant who ploughs his own furrow but he gets results. He therefore seems the ideal investigating officer when the cold case of a murder at the party of a political high flier is reopened. However he's also given time to investigate something more personal: his father, union activist Jimmy Ihaka, may not have died through natural causes after all. Full review...

Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Vladimir is not happy. Someone has been at his nuts. Yes, out of his stores of several thousand nuts, Vladimir the squirrel has been robbed of a couple hundred, and if the truth be known he's not the first in the forest. But at least he's gone for the help of Detective Gordon, the police authority throughout the woodland. Tasked with making sure it was a crime of note, and of solving it if necessary, Gordon has got serious, and staked out Vladimir's pantry until he's frozen solid. Which is not good when you're a toad. But even with his many years of experience behind him, Gordon could never predict what happens after he sees someone steal a further nut from the stash… Full review...

Fuzz McFlops by Eve Furnari and Alison Entrekin (translator)

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Fuzz McFlops. He's the most famous, reclusive rabbit author there is – reclusive due to one ear being much shorter than the other. He's been miserable for that reason so long, it takes one of his fans to point out how much brighter his poems and stories could be with an injection of warmth and fun. But just as some people are 'happy being sad', so Fuzz's life and temperament will be forced to change with the arrival of heart, humour and love. But first he would have to welcome that arrival… Full review...

Paddington at the Zoo by Michael Bond and R W Alley

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Cast your mind back to the weeks before the Paddington movie enchanted the world. There was a lot of press at the time about how the film had such mild peril and sexual innuendo that it was a PG-rated movie, and not a U. It became headlines due to the unassailable fact that Paddington just never seems to carry any threat to the audience, and to not have a single daunting bone in his body. But those larger books can easily be daunting to the very young people in which you wish to instil love of the character, which is where the picture book range of stories comes in. They're a lot smaller than the chapters in the main novels, and while those main books were still being produced as well they were quite uncommon occurrences, but with the 'proper' books out the way, these were pretty much all Michael Bond was producing as regards our favourite bear. Which can only mean one thing – they're equally brilliant. Full review...

Far From Home by Berlie Doherty

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Lizzie and Emily Jarvis can no longer be in the care of their mother as she has become severely ill. She leaves them in the care of her best friend, a cook, but when things go wrong, the girls are sent to the Victorian mills where they are worked each day till they are beyond exhausted and the only thing that keeps them going is counting down the days till they are able to leave. Full review...

The Turn of the Tide by Margaret Henderson Smith

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Harriet Glover is well and truly over Mark after he left her standing at the altar. She's pregnant with Sir Joris Sanderson's child and he's keen to make the relationship permanent, but ghosts from his past return to haunt him, unfortunately at a rather important dinner party. The mystery of 'Amber' really has to be solved and the web of lies which surround her dismantled. Harriet is still being led astray by Tricia Harrington (or so Harriet's mother would have you believe...) and she can't really make up her mind about 'Mr Sanderson', particularly when the man from MI6 is around. She's got a lot to cope with and that's before we even get on to the subject of the Prime Minister's daughter's wedding, which must remain secret. Full review...

An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Holly. She lives, with her older brother and, er, shall we say demanding younger brother, in a flat above a London chippy. That's right – no parents around, as all three are orphans. Older brother Jonathan sacrificed uni to be their legal guardian, so is ostensibly their carer as well as sibling, which means that welfare and what he earns being a grease monkey in a corner café is all they live on. Times, therefore, are hard. But twelve year old Holly does have a straw to clutch on to – their eccentric aunt may have bequeathed them her antique jewellery collection. But what is going to make that a search for one exact straw in a haystack is that nobody knows where it may be… Full review...

Big Nate: Laugh-O-Rama (Big Nate Activity Book 4) by Lincoln Peirce

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

This seems to be a firmly established publishing practise now – the enhanced readership experience offered to fans of a franchise by a tie-in activity book. This is yet another example – looking like a genuine entry in an on-going series, it instead offers the fan of the characters the chance to interact with them in new ways, as well as looking back through the shelves of their collection, and inwardly as well, at their own thoughts and tastes. Note I say it's for a fan – this example will alienate anyone else from the first page – but for the right audience it’s generally a good thing. And in this instance it's a very, very good thing indeed. Full review...

A Nazi in the Family: The Hidden Story of an SS Family in Wartime Germany by Derek Niemann

5star.jpg Biography

I'm sure someone somewhere has rewritten The Devil's Dictionary to include the following – family: noun; place where the greatest secrets are kept. The Niemann family is no exception. It was long known that grandfather Karl was in Germany during the Second World War, people could easily work that out from the family biography. Yet little was spoken of, apart from him being an office-bound worker, either in logistics or finance. Since the War two of three surviving siblings had relocated to the Glasgow environs, and there was even a family quip concerning Goebbels and Gorbals (family: noun; place where the worst things are spoken in the best way). What was a surprise to our author, and many of his relatives, was that things were a lot closer to the former than had been expected, for Karl was such an office worker – for the SS. With a lot of family history finally out of the closet of silent mouths, and with incriminating photographic evidence revealed in unlikely ways, the whole truth can be known. But this is certainly not just of interest to that one small family. Full review...