The Bookbag

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The Bookbag

Hello from The Bookbag, a 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. We can even direct you to help for custom book reviews! Visit to get free writing tips and will help you get your paper written for free.

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The Waking Land by Callie Bates

4star.jpg Fantasy

They need something to believe in, something beyond crowns and kingdoms. They need to believe in the old stories. In the power of the land.

It was fourteen years ago that Elanna's life changed completely. Fourteen years ago that her father's plans of revolution fell through, and at the tender age of five, King Antoine held a pistol to her head and took her hostage. Raised by the King, Elanna grows into adulthood suppressing her magic and resenting the parents she once loved. Now twenty, Elanna prepares for either study or marriage, until King Antoine dies and she's condemned to death for treason. On the run, Elanna encounters her father's men, and finds herself moving from one imprisonment to another. Her father it seems, wants to carry out the revolution that failed fourteen years ago, he wants to unite the people in creating a fair kingdom and he wants Elanna to be the face of the rebellion. He wants her to be the Steward of the Land capable of powerful magic to make the very Earth move. Elanna must to decide which side she'll align with and how she will shape her destiny. Can she deny her people the help they desperately need to build a new world? Full review...

The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Ethan and his family are moving to a little town in Georgia from the big city of Boston in a last ditch attempt to help Ethan get over the loss of best friend Kacey. And the move does give Ethan a great deal else to think about. There's living in Grandpa Ike's dilapidated old house and the uncommunicative Grandpa Ike himself. There's a new school with a new pecking order to navigate. There's a new friend in Coralee, who has a great line in tall stories and who likes adventures almost as much as Kacey did. But it's hard to leave grief behind, especially when you feel as guilty as Ethan does... Full review...

The Bad Bunnies' Magic Show by Mini Grey

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

In a slight change to the scheduling, the Great Hypno is unavailable for tonight's magic show...but not to worry, ready to step into the breach are Mr Abra and Mr Cadabra, a pair of innocent looking bunnies. Their show promises to be fast and dangerous, and it certainly turns out to be both, though perhaps not quite in the way the bunnies imagined! Full review...

Septimania by Jonathan Levi

4star.jpg General Fiction

First and foremost a tale of love, Septimania delivers the frustrations and agony of two people who find each other and then lose each other, all on the same day. But what a momentous day! Life takes Malory and Louisa off in totally different directions but strangely their paths cross again and again. Malory, searching to uncover his past, moves to Rome and discovers great and incredible facts about his ancestry. Louisa, a brilliant mathematician, is head hunted for 'secret' work and is signed up by her father for a life time's contract with the American Government. She completely disappears from Malory's life and he has no way of knowing how to find her again. They are both trapped in their separate lives. Full review...

National Trust: Go Wild in the Woods by Goldie Hawk and Rachael Saunders

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I am a man who likes his creature comforts. Always have been, always will – and creature comforts don't involve snuggling down in a sleeping bag, however comfortable, to watch creatures, as far as I'm concerned. Luckily, however, many people are of another bent entirely – they find no problem in getting out and about, taking whatever weather and wildlife can throw at them, and spending time out of doors for the hell of it. This book is the first stage to that, and needs to be read in full before you step out your front door. And even if it's your only stage, it will still be pleasantly educational… Full review...

Free Lance and the Lake of Skulls by Paul Stewart and Chris Ridddell

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Our hero is a free lance – one of the traditional self-employed men, going round the country, jousting when he can, doing fantastical errands when they come up, all with no fixed employer. But the lack of fixed income hits home at times. And at those times, those fantastical errands, however nightmarish they can clearly be, get to be all the more appealing… Full review...

The Ghost in the Bath by Jeremy Strong and Scoular Anderson

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Luke has got problems – and just about every school subject qualifies as one at the moment. But none of those are a bigger problem than history – he's been tasked with a research-heavy project for homework, but has no idea. So when he is having a brainstorm in a bath and is interrupted by a ghost, of all things, it might just be the way for him to be connected with the past. But that's ignoring the fact that the girl left as a ghost might be wanting a connection of her own – and perhaps an end to an unusual problem she herself has… Full review...

Warlock Holmes - The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles by G S Denning

4.5star.jpg Paranormal

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories, but not that many novels. Holmes adventures were mostly kept to a short story length that allowed a quick build up and reveal that would fit into an episodic telling. The best known novel is The Hound of the Baskervilles and anyone who parodies the great detective would eventually need to cover the tale of the cursed Baskerville family. They don't come more parodic than Warlock Holmes and although he may have died at the end of the last book, this won't stop him investigating one of his greatest cases. Full review...

Cargoes & Capers: The life and times of a London Docklands man by Johnny Ringwood

4star.jpg Autobiography

Johnny Ringwood was born in 1936, just three years before the start of the second world war, as he says, slap bang next to the Royal Victoria dock. His education was somewhat limited, not least because it was regularly interrupted by the Luftwaffe. You might therefore be surprised at what he has managed to achieve in the intervening eighty years. I certainly was. Full review...

The Story of the Car by Giles Chapman and Us Now

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Dinosaurs… farm machinery… science fiction… trains… cars. I can't think of many other subjects that inspired the young me to have a full non-fiction book about them on my juvenile shelves. Most of course I lost interest in with maturity. But the young child these days won't be much different, for good or bad, and so they will like as not want a book about broom-brooms for the shelf. And this is pretty much the go-to volume for such an interest. Full review...

In Focus: Cities by Libby Walden

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The first book in this series promised 101 close-ups, cross sections and/or cutways, but here we're restricted to just ten. Why? Because the subject matters are so much bigger – one is home to 37 million people, of all things. Yes, we're talking cities, and while this book tries to follow the previous – different artist every page, an exclusive inside look within the volume, and a self-deceiving page count – we are definitely in new territory. We're seeking the trivial, the geographical and the cultural, all so that the inquisitive young student can find out the variety to be had in the world's metropolises. Full review...

The Portrait by Antoine Laurain, Jane Aitken (translator) and Emily Boyce (translator)

4star.jpg General Fiction

Meet Pierre-Francois. He should by rights be an antiques dealer, as he made a fortune selling on his first collection (of erasers) while at school, and funded both his university and carnal education, with prostitutes, by trading too. He is, however, a patent and intellectual property lawyer, and his wife is forever demanding a reduction in the space his collections take up in their flat. But he still dabbles – although this latest visit to the showrooms will cause a lot of unexpected incident. In amongst the grot at a low-key sale he finds an ancient pastel, showing himself – a bewigged, antique version of himself, even if, however, nobody else sees the connection between Pierre-Francois and the picture's subject. Still, as an effeminate uncle told him, real objects carry memory of their past owners – and Pierre-Francois is intent on finding the truths behind those memories. Little does he know just what he will discover… Full review...

Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes and Frank Wynne (translator)

5star.jpg General Fiction

Vernon Subutex is a wanted man. Following the death of Alex Bleach, Vernon's generous benefactor and publicly adored musician, Vernon now has the last recordings of Alex's drug induced ramblings. Kicked out of his apartment the story follows Vernon as he couch surfs his way across Paris, pursued by journalists and media moguls desperate to cash in on Bleach's death. Eventually finding himself out of luck, friends and money Vernon is left sleeping rough, half mad and forced to bear witness to a shocking act of violence. In a world of capricious friends and grasping avaricious journalists who can Vernon trust? Full review...

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

5star.jpg Teens

Anwell lives with his physically abusive father - vicious corporal punishment for a minor infraction is a constant threat - and his mentally abusive mother who loses no opportunity to belittle her young son and express her disappointment in him. Anwell is not popular at school and his life at home is severely proscribed. So, when Finnigan appears, Anwell is grateful for a friend. Finnigan is strange and wild and full of a dark freedom. He doesn't even go to school. Full review...

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

4star.jpg Confident Readers

My daughter first read Dragon Rider when she discovered it in her school library aged about 8. She loved it, so much so that she borrowed it over and over, reading and re-reading it, her head full of dragons. I finally sat down to give it a read myself, excited at the prospect of a good fantasy story. Firedrake is the one, brave dragon from a small dragon community who, when faced with the incoming humans who will destroy their home, decides to go out into the world to try to find the Rim of Heaven, a hidden home for the dragons. There's a far-ranging, adventurous journey, and there are fantasy creatures galore, such as Firedrake's brownie friend, Sorrel, a djinn, a basilisk, a sea serpent and the big baddie, Nettlebrand. Full review...

Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices 2) by Cassandra Clare

4.5star.jpg Teens

After the cataclysmic events of the devilishly macabre 'Lady Midnight', Cassandra Clare produces another melodramatic magical mêlée for its sequel, conjuring up new risks and agonisingly painful decisions for the Blackthorn family and their friends. Their troubles are by no means over as they face the aftermath of Malcolm Fade's reign of madness and the malicious machinations of the cohort [a sect of power-hungry Centurions who want to punish Downworlders and minority groups with draconian legislation]. Above all Julian wants to keep his siblings safe but his self-destructive love for Emma and the reappearance of Annabel threatens to tear them apart. Full review...

Man Up by Rebecca Asher

5star.jpg Politics and Society

When a couple of years ago my university introduced compulsory consent workshops along with an option of 'good lad' sessions for boys, all debate broke loose. Shouldn't consent be self-evident for everyone? Would the workshops reinforce the stereotype of 'laddish' boys? Would it all be about pointing fingers at boys and victimizing girls? What about non-binary people? In short, how could these workshops be anything else than a mission doomed to failure? Full review...

Buddha: An Enlightened Life (Campfire Graphic Novels) by Kieron Moore and Rajesh Nagulakonda

4star.jpg Graphic Novels

I don't do religion, but still there was something that drew me to this comic book. For one, the whole Buddhist faith is still a little unknown to me, and this was certainly going to be educational. Yes, I knew some of the terms it ends up using, but not others, such as bhikshu, and had never really come across the man's life story. Yes, I knew he found enlightenment and taught a very pacifist kind of faith, but where did he come from? What failings did he have on his path, and who were the ones that joined him along the way? Full review...

Titania and Oberon by Jo Manton, Phyllis Bray and David Buckman

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Equus, Waiting for Godot and A Mid-summer Night's Dream – three very distinctive plays, and my favourite three, out of which you won't often get me choosing just one. But were I to do so, it might actually be the last, for the simple reason I would delight in playing any and all characters from it. Yes, I know Hermia and Helena look a bit implausible now – but I put it to you stranger things happen on stage… Some of the strangest things involve a player himself, a lowly actor who gets given an ass's head and is forced to be the enamoured of a fairy queen. It's this section of the play that this book concentrates on, in quite stunning form. Full review...

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Tom is an albatross. That's not to say he has a freakish wingspan, or anything, but it means he's not a mayfly. In contrast to all us regular humans with our temperamental bodies living out short lifespans, he ages at a speed roughly one-fifteenth of that at which we do, and barely gets touched by any disease. It means he will live for several more centuries than the ones he has witnessed so far, but ever since his mother was drowned as a witch due to his teenaged self never ageing, he has known the best thing for him – and others – is to regularly move on. Solitude has been tempered since the late Victorian era, when other people even older than him press-ganged him into their society of albatrosses, but the fact of the matter is that falling in love really is a no-no. But that's not to say it never happened, and that's not to say that he can't feel things for the albatross daughter he's not seen for centuries. It might be the only thing he has to live for… Full review...

Lost Boy by Christina Henry

4star.jpg Fantasy

Everybody has their own story to tell, and more often than not people only see things from one perspective. In the original Peter Pan Captain Hook is an angry, perhaps slightly jealous, tyrant. But why is he this way? Christina Henry weaves a terrifying narrative together in response to such a question, a response that has the potential to alter the reader's perception of the original work forever. Full review...

The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Great by Joanna Arman

4.5star.jpg Biography

Aethelflaed, the 'Lady of the Mercians', was the daughter and eldest child of King Alfred. Considering the scanty details of her life which have been handed down to posterity, the author has done a very good job in presenting us with a portrait of her life and times. Full review...

Resurrection by Derek Landy

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Skulduggery Pleasant – the sharply dressed and wise-cracking skeleton – is back and he needs help. A small group of disgruntled sorcerers have banded together and have plans to use their unique set of skills to wage war on the mortal world. Others have tried this in the past but this particular group have a scheme that should guarantee their success: they're going to resurrect a terrifying evil. Despite his powers, Skulduggery can't defeat them alone. He successfully persuades his former partner – Valkyrie Cain – to join him for just twenty-four hours. But will she stay when the time runs out? Will they be able to save the world? Full review...

Spandex and the City by Jenny Colgan

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Touted as a super-hero romantic comedy, Spandex and the City features a girl-next-door Holly, a typically insecure 20-something rom-com heroine, enjoying her life in Centerton (Colgan's stand in for Gotham). When a handsome stranger she meets at a bar turns out to be the Ultimate Man, a vigilante superhero straight from the Marvel or DC universe (the superpowers are more of a Marvel kind, but the character - both of the UM and of his adversary - reference Batman, among others), she can't help falling for him. Full review...

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

4.5star.jpg Teens

Like Other Girls is a story about a girl called Lauren. She is not like other girls, though she does sometimes like other girls. For one, her mum is the headmistress of her school, for two, she doesn't fit in to a clique, and for three, her boyfriend thinks she's mad. Lauren's world has been turned upside down by a revelation of someone close to her and when something enormous happens to Lauren, she has no one she can turn to, or so she believes. Full review...

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

4star.jpg General Fiction

Barry Bleeker and Sophie Ducel are two very different people destined to take the same journey. As they are both aboard a flight to the Marquesas Islands, their tiny plane crashes leaving Barry and Sophie the only survivors. Until recently, Barry was an investment banker in New York before he decided to leave his life behind and pursue his dream of painting. Sophie meanwhile, was a French architect who along with her husband Etienne was planning a honeymoon of a lifetime. Now Barry and Sophie are alone on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific, where they must learn to put aside their differences and survive. Full review...

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards

5star.jpg Reference

It's easy to be confused by the various 'ages' of crime writing: if you've an interest in the genre you'll almost certainly have heard of the Golden Age of Crime, generally acknowledged as being the period between the first and second world wars. 'Classic Crime' on the other hand extends the time frame at either end and covers books published in the first half of the twentieth century. Throughout my adult life there's been just one genre of books which has fascinated me, and that's crime, so I could hardly resist the chance of reading The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books particularly as the author, Martin Edwards is an accomplished author within the crime genre and an acknowledged expert on the subject. Full review...

Our Dark Duet by V E Schwab

5star.jpg Fantasy

Monsters, mayhem, revenge

Six months after the final events of This Savage Song, Verity is in chaos. All-out war has broken out and the city is now divided into two – with monsters gaining more and more territory in the North and humans battling for survival in the South. At the centre of the action is August Flynn, a monster of incredible power who once longed to be human. He will now stop at nothing to fight and play the part he believes he must. No matter what the cost, no matter how much of himself he loses. Meanwhile, Kate Harker, V City escapee and kick-ass monster hunter, has been busy in Prosperity. But with the arrival of a new monster leaving devastation in its wake and heading straight for Verity, Kate knows she must to return. She must fight for humanity's survival and play her part just like August. Alliances will be tested; old enemies will rise from the dead and past mistakes will come to haunt both August and Kate at every turn. Will they be enough to save the city? And will they each be enough to save themselves from the darkest places within? Full review...

If We Were Villains by M L Rio

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Murder most horrid amongst a group of 4th Year university students of Shakespeare. We open as our protagonist is released from jail having served his time for a crime that he may or may not have committed. What did he do? What happened that year? Why did things turn out the way they did? We have to push our way through the undergrowth of flashbacks to find out. Full review...