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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Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

As Alice Adams's debut novel opens in the summer of 1995, four university friends are lounging on Bristol's Brandon Hill, drinking and contemplating what the future holds. There's Eva Andrews, raised in Sussex by a single father; siblings Sylvie and Lucien Marchant, neglected by their alcoholic mother; and Benedict Waverley, a rich kid whose parents have a holiday home on Corfu. Eva has a crush on Lucien, while Benedict is besotted with Eva. Full review...

Red Platoon by Clinton Romesha

5star.jpg History

When the soldiers of Red Platoon arrived at Combat Outpost Keating, in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, the vulnerabilities of the outpost were frighteningly obvious. It was surrounded on all sides by steep and wooded hills, giving the Taliban excellent vantage points to observe the outpost and fire into it; the helicopter landing zone, essential for bringing in supplies and evacuating the wounded, was situated outside the base across a river; and the perimeter was too large to be sufficiently defended. These weaknesses were also obvious to the Taliban, and on the 3rd October 2009, just after dawn, they launched a full-out assault to capture the base. Red Platoon is a first-hand account of the frantic battle that followed, written by Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha who received the Medal of Honor for his actions. Full review...

The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

5star.jpg General Fiction

The House at the Edge of Night is an epic family saga, spanning some 95 years and several generations. The story begins when Amedeo Esposito arrives at the isolated Sicilian island of Castellamare to serve as the first doctor in the island's history. He is immediately captivated by this strange little community; a heady mix of tradition, superstition and ritual. An island so small is naturally a hotbed of gossip, with 'overheard' confessions being dutifully relayed across the five-mile island within minutes of being heard. The benevolent Saint Agata watches over her people and bestows the odd miracle upon the fortunate. This is the place that Amedeo chooses to make his home and together with his resourceful wife Pina, they slowly restore the 'cursed' House at the Edge of Night to its former glory as a bar and meeting place for the locals. Full review...

Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

5star.jpg Teens

Rupert Pierpont has put his head above the parapet and taken his juggling act onto a Britain's Got Talent-styled TV show, as you do. Bizarrely there were three other Ruperts contesting, and all four got lumped into the same boy band – The Ruperts, as you do. Several massive albums and hugely successful tours later, the four lads are globally known, and have entered the world of true fandom – the realms where girls know to wear incontinence pads and live with it rather than forsake their front-row concert position, and where girl fans (with their own inclusive, tribal nickname, of course) send online death threats to anyone sexually linked to the stars. The band has got a showcase Thanksgiving TV special to perform in New York, and is in town at a hipsterish swanky hotel. And here is Rupert P waking up surrounded by four huge Ruperts fans, and hardly seeing anything other than girls' tights – as you do. But this is through no intent of his own – for he has been kidnapped by four of the very same fans he soon attests to hate… Full review...

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

The Isle of Joya is a land engulfed by myth and legend – the inhabitants are forbidden to leave the island or even cross the borders of their village into the Forbidden Territories beyond their homes. Isabella Riosse is the map maker's daughter who dreams of exploring the forgotten and unmapped areas of her homeland. When her best friend Lupe, the Governor's daughter, goes missing Isabella is the only one left equipped with the right tools and knowledge to lead the search, as she ventures in to Joya's magical and mysterious regions. Full review...

Life is Magic by Meg McLaren

5star.jpg For Sharing

It is not often that you pick up a book and feel the warmth and magic come of it. It is extremely rare in adult fiction, but in children's books you find it more often if you only look. Great illustrations and wonderful stories can combine to make a book that will entrance both a youngster and adult as they read together. When you find one of these books you should treasure it as it is something that may be read to your grandchildren in the future. Full review...

Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk

5star.jpg Short Stories

What are we to make of that subtitle-seeming writing on the front cover – stories you can't unread? Does that not apply to all good fiction? Clearly it is here due to the reputation of the author, and the baggage his name brings to the page. We'd expect a dramatic approach from anything Palahniuk writes, and an added frisson, an extra layer, from which we might be forced to shrink back. But a lot of the contents don't quite go that far. Yes, things are dramatic, when society starts attaching defibrillators to itself, to create the perfect, simple, care- (The Price is Right-, and Kardashian-) free happiness. A man buys a horse for his daughter – but boy is it the wrong horse to buy. A man falls in love – yes, sometimes the plot summaries of these stories really are better off for being short (speaking of which, don't turn to the three-page entrant here as a taster, it'll put you off by dint of being, almost uniquely here, a nothing story). A call centre worker can't convince people he's on the level and even in their country – until someone starts riffing back to him. A housing estate report conveys bad regulation violations, but not as bad as the happenings at a 'Burning Man'-styled festival, in a very clever couple of tales. But many too are the instances where that extra step has been taken. Full review...

Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

The tag line on the cover of Dave Pigeon probably sums this story up. It's about How to Deal with Bad Cats and Keep (most of) Your Feathers. Or, if you want a bit more, it's about two Pigeons – Dave and his trusty friend Skipper – who are unceremoniously attacked by a cat while on a routine croissant heist. Dave's wing is injured so he and Skipper set out to get their own back at the vicious cat. They plan to evict Mean Cat from his home and install themselves in his place with the kind Human Lady and her enviable supply of biscuits. You won't be surprised that things don't go exactly to plan. Full review...

The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as unchanging as the seasons. The scarred veteran Mr Tiller, left disfigured by an impossible accident on the battlefields of France, brings with him a message: part prophecy, part warning. As Shirley's village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future reborn, she must choose between change and renewal – will the missives Mr Tiller brings prevent her mastering her identity? Full review...

1,411 QI Facts To Knock You Sideways by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin

4.5star.jpg Trivia

Handsome is as handsome does. And you know what else benefits from being curt and succinct, alongside old housewives' saws like that one? Trivia. I always thought the QI books such as this one to be handsome things – perfectly presenting trivia, four (on rare occasion, three) statements to the page, in a very nice little cubical hardback. Now they're being represented in paperback, but you know what? They're still handsome things. Full review...

The World of Norm: 10: Includes Delivery by Jonathan Meres

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It is a truth universally acknowledged that while kids' series generally start by covering a whole term time or even a school year, by the time it's worked out that more books are called for all the following volumes will concern less and less ground. This is a case in point – it being book TEN in this series means it's just regarding two flipping days. That way Norm can carry on having adventures without aging, with little in the way of consequence that people reading future books before seeing this one will have missed out on. In lesser hands, it generally means the author can churn out a whole book without much forethought or providing much content. Luckily this series isn't the usual, and the author here generally is better than the routine. Full review...

Griffin and Sabine 25th Anniversary Edition: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock

4star.jpg General Fiction

Oh Griffin and Sabine, where have you been all my life? I've loved epistolary novels and ones that take the narrative two-and-fro of letters and bring us closer to the sender than any omniscient narrator can hope to do. I've still got the childlike love of picking at an envelope stuck in a book to pull out a sheet of something else – not only is there the wonder at the handmade construction of something so bluntly and undeservedly called 'a book', but there is the frisson of being the first person to see this artefact ever. So how have I never seen this book before, and its cycle of sequels, concerning the correspondence between two completely different people? Full review...

Steven Seagull Action Hero by Elys Dolan

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Steven Seagull is a retired cop. He used to patrol Beach City but those days are over. He was fired, you see, so that retirement wasn't entirely voluntary. Fired for being a renegade (quite a fancy word). But a crime wave is underway and no one has been able to find the culprit. Can Steven be coaxed out of retirement to see if he can help? Full review...

Gorilla Loves Vanilla by Chae Strathie and Nicola O'Byrne

5star.jpg For Sharing

One day, I imagine it's probably a sunny Saturday, all the animals are heading to Sam's Sundaes for special treats. A bit like the wonder that is Marble Slab (google it), Sam can create any flavour you desire. Blue cheese flavour for Mouse? Easy. Worm flavour for Chicken? Ick…but not problem. Mud flavour for Hippo, fish finger flavour for Cat, time and again Sam gets it right. But then Gorilla arrives and all the animals strain to hear what this big beast will request… Full review...

Armadillos by P K Lynch

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Aggie is one of Texas' downtrodden. Dirt poor and abused. a 'sub' from a 'sub' familyHer father and brother enact that 'sub'-ness on her, week in, week out. She has only the vaguest notion that there is something wrong with the abuse she endures.. Full review...

Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards (editor)

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

I'm not big on short stories, but two factors nudged me towards this book. Firstly, it's broadly golden age crime, one of my weaknesses and secondly, the editor is Martin Edwards, a man whose knowledge of golden age crime is probably unsurpassed and he's done us proud, not only with his selection, but with the half-page biographies of the writers, which precede each story. There's just enough there to allow you to place the author and to direct you to other works if you're tempted. It's an elegant selection, from the well known and the less well known, all set in and around the country house. Full review...

Super Stan by Matt Robertson

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Stan is no ordinary little brother, oh no, because Stan can run faster and throw further and jump higher than his big brother Jack. Stan can also fly, of course! Poor Jack finds that even when he is helpful and kind, his little superhero brother can go one better, so when Jack finds someone's wallet on the floor and returns it, Stan captures a burglar in his car & carries the car to the police! So when it is Jack's birthday he is hopeful that perhaps for just one day, he will be the special one in the family, and Stan won't do anything to spoil his fun. Full review...

Miracle: The extraordinary dog that refused to die by Amanda Leask

4star.jpg Autobiography

Amanda Leask has been obsessed with dogs all her life and it's been an obsession which needs the world and a lot of it's attitudes to dogs to change for the better. She's not daunted by the obstacles: she's simply determined to do all that she possibly can to make the world a better place for dogs. Amanda lives with her husband Tobias, son Kyle and more than twenty rescue and sled dogs near Inverness. Very nice, you're probably thinking. Wouldn't we all like to have that sort of lifestyle? But hold on a minute. Full review...

The Girls by Lisa Jewell

4star.jpg General Fiction

When Clare takes her two tween daughters Pip and Grace to live in leafy Virginia Terrace, she is hoping for anonymity, a blank slate and a fresh start. Not so long ago, her story was in all of the newspapers when her paranoid-schizophrenic husband burned down the family home. Her new house seems a world away from her previous life. The crescent has a communal garden at its heart, where friendly neighbours socialise and children can run free. But does this new freedom come with a price? Full review...

1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin

4.5star.jpg Trivia

A spermologer is a collector of trivia. Just that sentence tells you a lot – we're once more in the realm of the curt, succinct approach to the world's information and oddities. It says more, however – beyond the weirdness of the word is the obvious necessity for the word to exist – without people that could be called collectors of trivia you would not need the term. And rest assured, there are currently few people that stand as better spermologers than the chief QI elves. Full review...

Cold Calling by Russell Mardell

4star.jpg General Fiction

Five years on, Ray still can't get over the loss of his girlfriend. Five years is a long, long time to pine and mourn but Ray just doesn't seem to be able to get off the treadmill of it all. The only meaningful relationships he has are with his therapist and best friend Danny. And it's not as though his job provides much in the way of escape - Ray works for an insurance company as a cold caller. This is how, one day, he comes to speak to Anya. Full review...

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

5star.jpg Confident Readers

It is the summer of 1975 and ten year old Ramie's dad has left home with another woman. Raymie is utterly heartbroken and believes that everything, absolutely everything, now depends on her, because Raymie has a plan. If she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition her name and her photo will be in the paper and then, Raymie believes, her father may just possibly come back home. At least she hopes that he will. To win the competition she must carry out some good deeds and learn to twirl a baton so she enrols in a baton twirling class where she meets Louisiana, timid and prone to fainting, and Beverly, cynical and determined to sabotage the competition. As the competition draws nearer and Raymie starts to despair that her plan will work circumstances conspire to draw the three girls together in an unlikely friendship that will challenge and change all three of them. Full review...

Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake by David Melling

4star.jpg For Sharing

One day, Douglas wakes up to find honey footprints all over his bed. He follows the footprints only to discover that not only is his house all sticky, but his honey is missing! Continuing to follow the trail, he discovers the honey-stealing culprits...the sheep! And what, do you think, are the sheep doing with all of Douglas' honey? Why, they're baking, of course! Full review...

Leviathan's Blood (Children) by Ben Peek

5star.jpg Fantasy

BEWARE, spoilers for Book 1 ahead: The immortal Zaifyr is now in prison on Wila where he's facing trial for the murder of Keepers Fo and Bau. Ayae, the former apprentice is no longer the small child who walked unscathed from a burnt out shop. All she wants to do now is save lives but she's frustrated at every turn. Captain Aned Heast is on a mission he won't let drop; he wants a name for his band of mercenaries but not just any name. Meanwhile be afraid; somewhere out there is the Child. The Child is coming. Full review...

The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Rachel is a journalist covering a local conflict between a land developer and the small village community of Charlton Ambrose. The developer wants to level Ashgrove, a group of nine trees planted to commemorate those in the village who died serving in World War I. As she investigates, Rachel realises that only eight of the trees have corresponding names of the fallen. The ninth is for a mysterious unknown soldier. Why unknown? Rachel is determined to discover his story and, in so doing, she also discovers part of her own. Full review...

Rose Campion and the Stolen Secret by Lyn Gardner

4star.jpg Confident Readers

The Victorian era in London – a time of expansion and exploration, but also of poverty, dark alleyways, youthful pickpockets and moustache-twirling villains. Well, so writers like Charles Dickens would have us believe, and readers can be pretty sure that a detective mystery set in the glittering world of the nineteenth century music hall will have colour, excitement and danger in profusion. Full review...

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Dylan walks away from this family's small London indie cinema in 2020 to live on a Scottish caravan site. His new neighbours Constance and her transgender 12 year old Stella have troubles of their own, but the odd British winter isn't helping. As the country faces true Arctic temperatures life goes on… or at least it tries to. Full review...

The Leopards of Normandy: Duke: Leopards of Normandy 2 by David Churchill

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Normandy 1037: Duke William at 9 years old is surrounded by guardians and advisors but not all of them have his interests at heart. In fact whether he lives or dies will have more to do with William's resilience than the custodial duty of those around him. Meanwhile the fight for the English throne across the channel seems remote and none of his business as the sons of Queen Emma jostle for Canute's old crown. It's getting closer though; one day William Duke of Normandy will be William the Conqueror. Full review...

Fault/lines (Hadron Damnation Book 0) by Mark Lingane

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

What starts off as a day that should be remembered for a medical appointment soon becomes anything but for DCI Tracey Hanson. When planes start falling from the sky she and DI Reggie Chambers are thrown together in the thick of it. In the midst of the carnage, a teenager is orphaned. Definitely a tragic event but is there more to it than that? Full review...