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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Amazing Animal Babies by Chris Packham and Jason Cockcroft

3.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Many children love animals, but they love baby animals even more. Would you rather watch a dog or watch a puppy? A cat or a kitten? A meerkat or a smaller meerkat? The answer is a no brainer to most children who enjoy the wide-eyed stumbling of youth that is not dissimilar to their own. However, someone needs to give them the facts about baby animals and who better than wildlife presenter Chris Packham? Full review...

Who I Am by Charlotte Rampling, Christophe Bataille and William Hobson (translator)

3.5star.jpg Autobiography

I'll drop all pretence of plot summary, and set the stall out, just as this book does. Here's a quote from page one – Who I Am: not a biography. With the name of one of cinema's most esteemed actresses on the front, you might assume it to be an autobiography for a start, but before that quote we'll already have been disabused of that thought, for apart from a couple of quotes the first six and a half pages of the book is addressed to Charlotte Rampling, and not apparently by her. There are gnomic paragraphs and lyrics here, in italics that suggest they are direct quotes, leaving the rest of the text here to be both a collaborative look at the star's background, and a musing perusal of the nature of creating the book in the first place. And that stall I was setting out certainly doesn't have the right number of legs if I don't mention this book can be read in well under an hour. Full review...

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

5star.jpg Teens

Meet Alex. He's just eleven, but is sure he has the responsibility age of a thirteen year old. He'll prove this by taking his rocket Voyager 3 and his dog Carl Sagan on an Amtrak train to the desert to a launch festival for hobbyist rocket-makers – and all without the help of the adult brother he only knows now from phone calls, his seemingly comatose couch potato mother, and the father he was told died when Alex was three years old. This book is a transcript of verbal essays and conversations he has made to put in his rocket to send to the stars, so aliens can learn about life on earth in 2017. The fact that we're able to find out what's on it does seem to suggest a failure with Voyager 3, but as for finding out about life – we can only suppose the lad is a bit more successful… Full review...

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Maben is on the run. For a long while it's not clear whether she's running from something or towards something, or simply back to where it all started. She's got her small daughter with her, and they've been walking for a very long time. It's hard on the child, but it's also clear that if it wasn't for the child Maben would stop running, and it's clear that that would not be a good thing. Full review...

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

4star.jpg Fantasy

How did the Queen of Hearts become the monster we know from Alice's story? Welcome to Meyer's Wonderland and the peaceful kingdom of Hearts, where a young Lady called Catherine's heart's desire is to be … the best baker in all of Hearts. But while her mother tolerates her hobby, Catherine knows she will never consider it as a serious path for her daughter, unless Catherine can convince her. However, Catherine's dreams start to get that much more complicated once a mysterious stranger appears, a royal suitor materialises and deadly beast starts stalking the once safe Kingdom. What is Cath's destiny? To be the dreadful queen we all know or to be a dedicated bakery owner? Full review...

The British Phonebox by Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton

4.5star.jpg History

The mobile phone must be one of the most used, must-have accessories of the modern age, the one device you cannot escape from in public. Some of us with (relatively) long memories must look back on the age when the bright red phonebox reigned supreme as a long time ago. Full review...

My Tail's Not Tired! by Jana Novotny Hunter and Paula Bowles

4star.jpg For Sharing

Little Monster is supposed to be going to bed, but how can he, when his knees are still bouncy and his arms still need to fly and his bottom has lots of jiggling and wiggling left to do?! As Big Monster groans and sighs, Little Monster's energy seems to have no end. But will Little Monster finally wear himself out and end up in bed? Full review...

The Moonlight Statue (The Hounds of Penhallow Hall) by Holly Webb and Jason Cockcroft

4star.jpg Confident Readers

When Polly and her mum move to Penhallow Hall Polly hopes that it will be an escape from the continual reminders that her dad, who died, is no longer with them. With her mum's new job at the hall comes a fresh start for both of them. Polly, however, is left to her own devices a lot of the time, feeling lonely as she's wandering around the hall and grounds during the summer holidays. She had previously been sleepwalking in her old house, so she's worried when she finds herself wandering the grounds during the night, and when she sees one of the stone statues of a dog come to life, she is unsure if she is awake or dreaming! How does this mysterious dog come to life? And why are there canine guardians for the children of Penhallow Hall? Full review...

The Sins of Soldiers by S J Hardman Lea

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Anson Scott wants to join the British army and World War I for a different reason than most of his fellow Americans. He's a journalist wanting the uncensored inside story to send back home; a deadly enterprise as, if the Germans don't get him, the Brits may deem him a spy. Unperturbed he carries his plan through and finds himself on the French front in 1916. He has an ally in British officer David Alexander, which is just as well since not all his enemies are across no man's land. The two men have a lot in common, more than they know and perhaps more than is good for them as the Somme approaches. Full review...

Freeks by Amanda Hocking

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

In the spring of 1987, the carnival comes to small-town Caudry, Louisiana. Then events take a dangerous turn. For Mara Beznik, the carnival is home. It's also a place of secrets, hidden powers and a buried past - making it hard to connect with outsiders. However, sparks fly when she meets local boy Gabe Alvarado. As they become inseparable, Mara realizes Gabe is hiding his own secrets. And his family legacy could destroy Mara's world. They find the word 'freeks' sprayed on trailers, as carnival employees start disappearing. Then workers wind up dead, killed in disturbing ways by someone or something. Mara is determined to unlock the mystery, with Gabe's help. But can they really halt this campaign of fear? Full review...

Warriors and Kings: The 1500-Year Battle for Celtic Britain by Martin Wall

4.5star.jpg History

For several centuries, much of the ancient and medieval history of Britain was one forged in war as the Celtic peoples took a stand against invasion and oppression. First it was the Romans, then the Saxons, Vikings and Normans, who threatened the unyielding and insular people. This book examines how several tenacious and heroic figures led the Britons and the Welsh against often overwhelming odds. Full review...

Parallel Lines by Steven Savile

3.5star.jpg Crime

Books are full of coincidences, because if they were not, they would be pretty dull. The action takes place during an extraordinary timescale of the characters – the time they were involved in a bank robbery, or their loved one was murdered. People are more likely to read this type of book than one about the time they picked out their new curtains. For the intrigue to happen, links between characters have to be made, but balancing coincidence is tricky. Too little and the characters don't gel, too much and you start to think the book is supernatural. Did Steven Savile get the balance right in Parallel Lines? Full review...

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Megan McDowell (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet Carla. She's a glamorous older woman, with poise and beauty, and someone who still looks a treat in a golden bikini. But inside, she's different. The biggest issue she seems to bear relates to an event a few years ago, when her horse breeder husband had the drama of both a hired, valuable stallion, and their son, being poisoned. Away from the right medical treatment, Carla took David to a woman who said the only hope was a 'migration' – basically, to farm out part of David's spirit and swap it with someone else's, to dilute the toxin. This was a success, as David seems to have survived, although Carla is sure it was the wrong decision – she now sees David as at least part monster. But another odd thing about this tale is that it isn't being narrated by Carla, but by her neighbour, another mother called Amanda, who is renting a holiday home nearby. And the further odd thing is to whom she is narrating this story – it's to David… Full review...

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

Forget the moon being made of cheese, here the Earth looks like it's a huge dollop of the finest Swiss stuff. Horrid, giant insectoid alien things have taken over, and they have zapped anything technological they can find – pumping a blob of something over it, and turning whatever turns up in the resulting spheres into sand, or carting it off to larger ships. Our heroes belong to a travelling caravan of a village, keeping intact as much human knowledge as they can (think a digital version of those readers in Fahrenheit 451), but they've left their compatriots behind to go exploring. They'll never expect to find a magical, wondrous, robotic horse, though – which is where their problems begin… Full review...

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

5star.jpg General Fiction

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Pierrot is a piano prodigy, and Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary show the world has ever seen. Seperated as teenagers and sent off to work during the Great Depression, both descend into the city's underworld - dabbling in sex, drugs, and theft. Will Rose and Pierrot ever reunite? And if they do - what lengths will they go to to make their dream come true? One thing's for sure - neither they nor the theatre nor the underworld will ever look the same... Full review...

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

4star.jpg General Fiction

I have often said that much of what I know of the world, its geography, history and politics, I have learned from reading story books. Because I learn this way, I do wonder about people who profess not to read fiction. I wonder how much of the truth of how the world really is passes them by as a result. In the light of 2016 in the UK and the USA, I wonder if this is a concern to be added to all of the others about cuts to arts funding and arts learning and the absolute necessity of having public libraries where children can start to choose for themselves at the earliest age, which stories to read, uncensored by the views of those who might think they know better. I say all this because Pachinko is yet one more of those books that did not just make me think differently about what I thought I knew, but actually opened up to me a world that I knew nothing about: the world of the ethnic Korean in Japan. Full review...

The Hamster Book by Silvia Borando

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Look! You finally have your very own pet, a sweet little hamster. You can give her a name, smooth down her fur, watch her do tricks and give her some food. It’s not all fun and games with your new hamster however! Of course, every responsible pet owner knows that they need to clean up after their pet, if there are any little accidents... Full review...

Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn

4star.jpg Autobiography

'My intuition from the day I first picked up a hammer was that making things with a commitment to quality would lead to a good life,' Peter Korn writes. As an aimless, free-spirited University of Pennsylvania student, he moved to Nantucket Island to earn the rest of his college credits through independent study and happened to be offered a carpentry job. That arbitrary job choice at the age of twenty would come to define the rest of his career. Manual labour was all new to him, but 'from the start there was a mind/body wholeness to carpentry that put it way ahead of what I imagined office work to be.' Full review...

Joseph, 1917 by David Hewitt

3.5star.jpg History

During the autumn of 1915 Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby and Director General of military recruitment inaugurated the Derby Scheme. Men of fighting age would be encouraged by door-to-door canvassers to 'attest' that they would sign up for military service at a recruitment office within 48 hours. They would then be categories according to marital status and be called up, with 14 days' notice, in an order in line with their household responsibilities. The idea was a sound one: married men with children only being called on if absolutely necessary. Lancastrian Joseph Blackburn chose to attest but then for him and many others, unforeseen results ensued. Full review...

Viper's Blood (Master of War) by David Gilman

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Bowman and commander Thomas Blackstone is one of Edward III's greatest weapons, bringing him potentially head to head against the Dauphin once again. However, faced with an elongated stale mate, Thomas' role becomes that of scavenger leader as the chances of victory make way for a greater chance of starvation amongst the armies. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. Blackstone is to go on a trip: an escort mission to Italy, delivering the French King's daughter Isabelle to Milan and her wedding. Having said that, the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming lance. Isabelle's prospective groom is one of the brothers who killed Thomas' wife and daughter. Death is definitely on the cards… but whose? Full review...

Quieter than Killing (D I Marnie Rome 4) by Sarah Hilary

4.5star.jpg Crime

The attacks all seemed to be quite random, but the nights were dark, the weather freezing and D I Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake were spending quite a lot of time on the streets of London. Then Marnie's family home was ransacked and every indication was that it had been done by someone (or on the order of someone) who knew her. Normally Commander Welland would have been able to give Marnie a degree of protection - he knew her history all too well - but his cancer had returned and he was going to be away for four months. His stand-in was nowhere near as understanding in this or other matters. Then it was established that a child was missing - had been missing for ten weeks - but no one had reported it. Full review...

Condition: Book Two - The Curing Begins... by Alec Birri

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Discovering an infamous Nazi doctor conducted abortions in Argentina after the Second World War may not come as a surprise, but why was the twisted eugenicist not only allowed to continue his evil experiments but encouraged to do so? And what has that got to do with a respected neurologist in 2027? Surely the invention of a cure for nearly all the world's ailments can't possibly have its roots buried in the horrors of Auschwitz? The unacceptable is about to become the disturbingly bizarre. What has the treatment's 'correction' of paedophiles got to do with the President of the United States, the Pope and even the UK's Green Party? Full review...

Little Bones by Sam Blake

4star.jpg Crime

It was a fairly ordinary break in. A young artist's home had been given a going over, but it was hard to see that much had been taken. There were suspicions that it might have been one of the usual suspects, only the shoes weren't as they'd have expected to find them if that was to be the case. Something else was not as you might expect to find it: a wedding dress, an old heirloom piece by the look of it, and in the hem, stitched in there, tiny bones. Human bones. Full review...

Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins and Stephen Biesty

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I take it as read that you know some of the history of space exploration, even if the young person you buy books for doesn't know it all. So I won't go into the extremes reached by the Voyager space craft, and the processes we needed to be expert in before we could launch anything. You probably have some inkling of how we learnt that we're not the centre of everything – the gradual discovery of how curved the planet was, and how other things orbited other things in turn proving we are not that around which everything revolves. What you might not be so genned up on is the history of books conveying all this to a young audience. When I was a nipper they were stately texts, with a few accurate diagrams – if you were lucky. For a long time now, however, they've been anything but stately, and often aren't worried about accuracy as such in their visual design. They certainly long ago shod the boring, plain white page. Until now… Full review...

Knife Edge by Robert Swindells

4star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

I'm just not interested. I'm not interested in there ever being a knife in junior fiction, unless it comes with a lesson. And I'm just not interested unless that lesson tells you one thing – that they're quick. Knives can be quick to find, are quick to whip out, and quick to get the bearer into trouble, whether they actually meet flesh or not. Sam is the student of that lesson here – his school has a Citizenship campaign whereby the pupils do odd jobs for local elderly, and he finds a perfect knife he thinks will defend him from the local gang – a gang whose leader he constantly rattled in primary school. As for the rest – I'll leave his personable first-person narrative to teach you… Full review...

The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Colgan has a diverse portfolio of chick lit (and she also writes Dr Who novels) under her belt but starting with Meet me at the Cupcake Café in 2011, she has established herself as one of the queens of the chick-lit subgenre of comedy romance with food, the Queen of Hearts and the queen of fruit tarts, to an obvious benefit of her popularity and presumably her bank balance and to the sound of satisfied ahhhhs and mmmms from her growing fanbase. As you can see I do miss the Old Jenny a little bit, the brasher and swearier characters and the much more cutting humour. But. There is something to be said for a well written feelgood novel and I did enjoy the sweetshop, the café, the bakery and now the Summer Seaside Kitchen which has all the tried, tested and well loved ingredients of a perfectly escapist, mostly but not totally predictable chick-lit romance with a foodie angle that Jenny Colgan has made something of her house special. Full review...

Pairs Underwater by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Following on from Pairs in the Garden by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie, comes the aquatic themed Pairs Underwater. It's a lift-the-flap book with the added twist of a game of Memory thrown in, as you try to match the pairs across each double page spread. Full review...