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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Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Bees of Stupidity by John Dougherty and David Tazzyman (illustrator)

5star.jpg Confident Readers

We've been here before. The lovely children whose name is in the title of all these books – handy when they make time to try and check if they're in this one or not – are woken up in a ridiculous way by a blackbird making his usual cameo. The Army of Great Kerfuffle is asleep – all single cat of it. The King is wearing a badge that allows him to pretend to not be the King – this time he's thinking of keeping bees, although he has four animals that go 'quack' in a hive instead. Oh yeah, and the evil badgers are in prison having been naughty. But they will never follow the pattern and be evil and naughty and break out in order to be eviller and more naughty, will they? Full review...

Ghosts of Shanghai by Julian Sedgwick

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Shanghai, 1926. The city is heavily divided between the natural, national areas, and the enclaves of the foreigners – Russian, French, American, British. Several of the younger international youths have formed the Ghost Society gang, after the principal character, Ruby, found another divide cleaving Shanghai in two – that between the living and the dead, the 'real world' and the Otherworld. Her brother dead, she seemed to become the conduit for a poltergeist in her apartment, and recently the gang have even managed to lock a spirit into a bottle and cast it down a well. But the gang is immediately falling apart – the lad she loves, Charlie, and his sister are diverting themselves from, or have been warned off, any further such activity. Rose knows she has to find the source of the problem – and cross any untold divides in her city to find the truth… Full review...

Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro, Daniel Kraus and Sean Murray

4.5star.jpg Teens

West Coast USA in the 1960s, and the city is wracked and wrecked by a slew of missing children reports. The parents with their new anguishes, and new rules against playing out after dark, have no idea of the horrors in their vicinity – literally under their feet lies a city of trolls, guilty of snatching the children. Last to go, Jack Sturgess. Cue the modern era and Jack's younger, now grown-up brother Jim, and Jim Jr live a sheltered life in the most barricaded and secure home imaginable, and Jim Jr's life is as exciting as you'd expect. Unfortunately, however, the trolls are about to make a return to their nastiest of ways – and their intentions are a lot more surprising than Jim Jr could ever predict… Full review...

Murder on the Minneapolis by Anita Davison

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Governess Flora Maguire is sailing from New York to England on the SS Minneapolis, entrusted with the task of returning her teenage charge, Eddie back home to boarding school. Unfortunately for Flora, the ship is first-class only, so she spends the first night aboard stowed away in her cabin, acutely aware of her lower social status. Her intention to stay out of the limelight is thwarted when, during a solitary stroll along the deck, she discovers a dead body at the bottom of the companionway. The ship staff hastily conclude that this is a tragic accident, but Flora has other ideas and decides to conduct her own investigation. Is there a murderer aboard ship? And if so, is Flora making herself a prime target by poking her nose into other people's affairs? Full review...

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

5star.jpg General Fiction

At Black Rabbit Hall, time goes syrupy slow. None of the clocks work properly, but an hour at Black Rabbit is said to last twice as long as a London one, and you don't get a quarter of the things done. Every holiday, the Alton family swap the hustle and bustle of London life for this secluded Cornish retreat, a place that is theirs and theirs alone. Full review...

The Just City by Jo Walton

3.5star.jpg Dystopian Fiction

Urged on by her brother Apollo, goddess Pallas Athene founds the Just City of Atlantis – a city based on Plato’s republic. Filling it with an assortments of adults collected from throughout time, as well as ten thousand ten year olds, (one of whom is a disguised Apollo). Whilst the city flourishes, the arrival of Socrates may prove to be a fly in the ointment… Full review...

The Case of the Bogus Detective by Caroline Lawrence

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Howdy folks! Welcome to Virginia City, bustling and busy home to prospectors, dancing girls, lawyers, gamblers and newspapermen. It's 1862, and our twelve-year-old pal Pinky is continuing the quest to become a successful detective and eventually join Uncle Allan in the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago. But for the moment there's so much crime right here in Nevada, thanks to the untold wealth being found daily in the nearby silver mines, that Pinky and financial partner Ping are soon busy day and night, chasing desperados, solving crimes and righting all manner of wrongs. Full review...

Fairest: The Lunar Chronicles: Levana's Story by Marissa Meyer

4.5star.jpg Teens

Meyer’s dedication in this prequel to The Lunar Chronicles is to her fans, The Lunartics. This book is especially for voracious readers who have devoured Cinder, Scarlet and Cress and are desperately awaiting Winter, though it works as a standalone too. According to the publisher’s note Queen Levana is a ruler who uses her glamour to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet and Cress, Levana lived a very different story- a story that has never been told… until now. Full review...

The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story by David Loades

4.5star.jpg History

In medieval times Wolf Hall or Wolfhall (or even Wulfhall), the long-since-demolished family seat in Wiltshire, was the home of the Seymour family. Their greatest triumph, followed by a speedy decline and fall, was part of Tudor history, and is thus the focus of this book. Full review...

Car-Jacked by Ali Sparkes

5star.jpg Confident Readers

A boy genius who speaks Mandarin and Latin and a criminal who’s just robbed a bank and stolen a car: it’s an unusual pairing but, it turns out, a perfect team. ‘‘Car-Jacked’’ leads us through the twists and turns of 12-year old Jack’s adventure when his parents’ car is hi-jacked with Jack still inside. Full review...

Best Friends by Kim Hyun

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Teaching your young child new words is one of the wonders of parenthood, but once you have grown tired of teaching them mildly rude words, what is next? Thankfully, like with most thing in modern living, there is a book to help you that is full of popular and useful phrases to use in everyday situations. I mean who else is going to teach you to say Pardon Me, if you have an accident? Full review...

The Snake Trap: Travis Delaney Investigates by Kevin Brooks

4star.jpg Teens

Teen private investigator Travis Delaney is still looking for the people who killed his parents. He needs more than anything to find out why they died. And, fresh from a narrow escape from death at the hands of a criminal mastermind, Travis now suspects that there's a traitor in the camp. This third installment in the Travis Delaney series has a barnstorming opening. Travis is abducted by terrorists and held captive alongside Winston, the security officer gone bad who Travis suspects is the person guilty of his father's death.

Travis has a lot of questions. But will he get any answers? And can he get himself out of this horribly dangerous situation? Full review...

Lady: My Life as a Bitch by Melvin Burgess

5star.jpg Teens

Sandra is a naughty kid. Fed up with the pressure of exams, a lovely but slightly boring boyfriend and an overbearing mother, she's gone a bit wild. She's thrown over the boring boyfriend and the worthy best friend, done pretty badly at her GSCEs, and is running with some exciting but unreliable new pals. She's done a bit of shoplifting and slept with a few boys, and caused her mother a good few hair-tearing moments.

On this particular day, she's getting off with Wayne and cheesing off Michelle, and just generally being rebellious, when she runs slap bang into a homeless alcoholic man, causing him to spill his can of Special Brew. The homeless guy is furious and chases her and Sandra is furious too, because he's ruining her day and HOW DARE HE? And then, everything changes for Sandra. The homeless guy has changed her into a dog. Yep. You heard. A dog. Full review...

Bear Counts by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman

5star.jpg For Sharing

If a bear approaches you in the woods and asks you for help counting, the only numbers you will need to be aware of are the steps you take pegging it in the opposite direction. Thankfully, the bear of this story is a friendly creature and he hangs out mostly with his woodland pals and not terrified humans. Can he help us count to five before the terror grips us? Full review...

The Underwriting by Michelle Miller

4star.jpg General Fiction

Todd Kent is young, rich, stupidly handsome, and well on his way to the top of Wall Street. When a new dating app called “Hook” decides to go public, Todd is handpicked by Hook’s eccentric founder to lead the project team. Taking brainy analyst Neha, spoilt party-boy Beau, and old flame Tara Taylor with him – the team find themselves thrust into the hectic circumstances of a $14 Billion deal. As Silicon Valley and Wall Street clash, the death of a young girl will find the team at odds with each other – and spinning wildly out of control. Full review...

Dark Run by Mike Brooks

4star.jpg Science Fiction

For any sane person Space is not a place you would want to go. Yes, there is the great unknown, planets to visit and the potential to meet alien life, but all that sits between you and the endless void is a few inches of metal – no thank you. To make things even worse, the future of space travel also appears to have pirates, terrorism and petty bureaucracy. I think I will stick to getting my astronaut-based thrills vicariously through the medium of the novel. Full review...

The Sty's the Limit: When Middle Age Gets Mucky by Simon Dawson

4.5star.jpg Lifestyle

Simon Dawson has met something he cannot beat. He can't come to terms with it either. It's called Getting Older: not the 'getting older' which we all do day by day, but that moment when you realise that you've moved on to an entirely different stage in your life - and no one actually asked you if you wanted to go on the journey. For Simon it's Middle Age that's taken him by surprise: bits of the body have stopped working as they ought to and he's realised that if he's going to look in the mirror, bare-chested, then he shouldn't do it when he's standing next to a fit teenage boy. Full review...

Keep the Home Fires Burning: War at Home, 1915 by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

As the calendar page turns to 1915 Jack Hunter is fighting the front. The same goes for Charles Wroughton, leaving his new fiancée Diana to face his aristocratic family (including dreadful Rupert) alone. The country's men are going off in greater numbers as enlistment fever begins to build and women are being brought in to do men's jobs. (Yes, really!) Diana's sister Sadie continues to train horses to be sent to the French front, making her feel as if she's doing something useful. There are also other benefits to the job, seeing more of local vet John Courcy for instance, although their relationship is purely professional… yes, really! Not everything is focused on France though; there's talk of opening up a new front further east on the Turkish coast at a place called Gallipoli. Full review...

Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

It’s been many, many years since I first met Arabel and her pet raven, Mortimer, whilst watching Jackanory on children’s television. Bernard Cribbins used to read the stories, and they became firm favourites of mine. Here I am returning to the first book in the series, well, just a handful of years later, and the story has lost none of its charm. Full review...

Unexpected Crocodile by Kim Kane and Sara Acton

4star.jpg For Sharing

It’s always a worry when a large animal comes to tea. Here we find our characters inviting in a crocodile, who just happens to have dropped by to join Peggy and her family as they entertain the Dawson’s for a barbecue. Why has the crocodile come? And more importantly, will he ever leave? Full review...

Horace and Hattiepillar (Hedgehugs) by Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Horace and Hattie are best friends. They like to do everything that they can together, from playing hide and seek, to looking for the first star of the night. One day when they’re out together, they find something small and round and smooth handing on the bottom of a leaf. Whatever could it be? Full review...

Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

London, 1936. Nina Land is a West End actress, and she is spending her afternoon in a hotel room with a married man. When she spots the face of the man the newspapers have named “The Tie-Pin Killer”, she faces a huge dilemma – will she report the man to the police, and risk her career and the reputation of her lover? Or will she stay quiet, and risk the lives of innocent girls? Full review...

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Welcome to the world of the Meme; the next-generation mobile device. Imagine technology so sophisticated that it could anticipate your needs as soon as they come into your mind. Need to get home? Your Meme will hail a cab. Feeling unwell? The Meme has an app for that. Negative thoughts? The Meme will intercede on your behalf to call family and friends or even 911, if needed. Yes, the Meme is a truly indispensable aid that has revolutionised the way that humans communicate. Critics say that it's destroying human language and verbal interaction, but don't worry: the Meme has an app for that too. If you are lost for words, the Word Exchange will supply you with the word you require. For a small fee of course... Full review...

William Shakespeare: Scenes from the life of the world’s greatest writer by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Sumptuously and appealingly illustrated, this imaginative and innovative approach to the life of William Shakespeare uses quirky comic strip style speech bubbles while also paying tribute to some of his most famous plays. Occasionally losing focus in the order of scenes from his life, which is why it’s not quite a 5 star review, it is still an entertaining and insightful introduction to the bard of Stratford upon Avon. This book includes maps, a bibliography, a glossary and quotations from the bard’s plays. Full review...

The Making of Mr Bolsover by Cornelius Medvei

4star.jpg General Fiction

Meet Andrew Lynch. He's a graduate civil servant, then he isn't. He's married, then he isn't. He's a librarian, then he isn’t. He starts, of all things, to live in a handmade camp in the Sussex countryside, and gets a job writing nature notes for a local magazine – until it's clear he's shooting, killing and eating too many of his subjects for his audience's tastes. He turns his efforts to writing politicised letters to the local newspaper, where his nephew is a jobbing hack, which inspires further, more campaigning activities. Yes, it seems that Andrew Lynch's path to the top is foretold – but his fate is most definitely anything but natural… Full review...

Neither Nowt Nor Summat: In search of the meaning of Yorkshire by Ian McMillan

4star.jpg Politics and Society

Ian McMillan, poet, radio presenter, poet in residence at Barnsley Football Club and professional Yorkshireman, is worried. It has crossed his mind that he might not be Yorkshire enough, given that his father was not from God's Own County, but was a Scot by birth. In a series of discursions on the subject of Yorkshire he attempts to distil the essence of the county and to understand what being a Yorkshireman means. To this end we accompany him through towns and cities, the Cudworth Probus Club, Ilkley Moor and elicit contributions from Mad Geoff the barber, a kazoo-playing train guard and four Saddleworth council workers in search of a mattress. Amongst others. All of Yorkshire life is here. Including Yorkshire puddings. Full review...

One For Sorrow by Philip Caveney

5star.jpg Confident Readers

You'd think, wouldn't you, that Tom Afflick would move heaven and earth to avoid leaving Manchester to go to Edinburgh: on his last two visits there he ended up tumbling into the past, where he met all manner of scary folk. But parents tend to be pretty determined to get their own way about such things, and no way are they going to swallow some mad tale about him being chased by plague doctors and other assorted murderers. So, off he has to go, and yes – he's barely set foot in Auld Reekie when he's time travelling again, in a wondrous mix of drama, real live people and deadly peril. Full review...

The Melody Lingers on by Mary Higgins Clark

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

Mary Higgins Clark’s latest thriller, ‘’The Melody Lingers on’’, follows the author’s usual successful formula. The main character, Lane, is a young woman with a prestigious job as the assistant of an exclusive interior designer. She is instantly likeable: thoroughly nice – as underlined several times by other characters - un-snobbish and of course beautiful. We witness her performing small everyday acts of kindness and she is just vulnerable enough to be relatable to, having tragically lost family members. Vulnerable, but not troubled; no reckless drugs, drinking or sleeping around for Mary Higgins Clark heroines. Lane is clean and decent, with a strong moral fibre. Full review...

Soon by Timothy Knapman and Patrick Benson

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Raju is a baby elephant who set out on a jungle adventure with his mother. He was excited and just a little bit frightened: you could see that by the way that he held on to her tail very tightly. On their way they met crocodiles, who snapped at the pair until mother stamped her feet to frighten them away, hissing snakes and ferocious, frightening tigers. Mother frightened them off too. At each encounter Raju asks:

When can we go home again? Full review...

Ultimate Storm by Richard Castle

4star.jpg Crime

As if it wasn’t complicated enough trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t when reading Raging Heat (Castle) (Nikki Heat 6) by Richard Castle now I find myself reading another story written by this fictional television character that made him a bestselling author. I do wonder, reading these, who the real writer (or writers) behind Richard Castle must be! Anyway, this time we’re with Castle’s fictional character (a fictional character’s fictional character!) Derrick Storm, a PI turned CIA agent, though in this book he’s being called back into service after disappearing into early retirement and officially being ‘dead’. This book is actually a collection of 3 Storm stories, but they are all related and part of the same overall arc. Full review...

Techbitch by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Imogen Tate (Editor in Chief, fashionista, all round legend) is back after an extended break for health reasons. Back at her desk at Glossy magazine, back in charge of the magazine and the team she’s spent years building and nurturing. Except she’s not. Things have changed a little while she’s been off. Her former assistant has sprung up the ranks and is now running the show. And it’s a show that’s now moved on, had its interval, and started its second act. Print and permanent are out, tech and temporary are in. The world has changed, the magazine’s going online and the old ways of working are just like Imogen – old. Forget trying to thrive, her new goal now is simply to survive in the arena she once loved and was happy to call home. Full review...