Book Reviews From 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, the charity shop 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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Deep State by Chris Hauty

3star.jpg Thrillers

Hayley Chill is a fighter. She is every kind of fighter, and well-trained in most of them. She's army infantry and she boxes for fun – and she wins. Always. She wins because she is focussed. She works hard, mentally and physically, and she knows how to deal with the pain. She is not so much cold as controlled. This fight is against someone she is not expected to beat. And she is being watched. Full Review

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The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H G Parry

4star.jpg General Fiction

Brothers Rob and Charley have struggled to see eye to eye for years - Rob a sensible lawyer who exists in the "normal" world - and Charley a man who is blessed with an ability he can't fully control - one which allows him to bring literary characters into the real world. After years of protecting Charley, Rob wants to discharge his duties and leave Charley to his own devices - but circumstances soon take choices out of both their hands. As literary characters begin to appear everywhere, it soon becomes clear that someone out there shares Charley's powers and intends to use them for nefarious gains. Rob and Charley must team up to stop the madness - in a battle to win before they, the characters and the world reach The End… Full Review

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Haven't they Grown by Sophie Hannah

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

It was when Beth Leeson was ferrying her son, Ben, to a football match that she found herself on Wyddial Lane in Hemingford Abbots. Actually, It's a little disingenuous to say 'found herself' as Beth had made a deliberate detour on the grounds that she didn't find herself in this neck of the woods very often and she was curious to see where a family who'd come into money had lived before they'd all lost contact twelve years ago. And it might have gone no further than that had Beth not seen a car draw up and her friend Flora get out along with two children she called Thomas and Emily. Beth remembered the names well - but these children were about three and five and Flora's children - Thomas and Emily - would now be fifteen and seventeen. Full Review

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Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

It's long been known that Cassandra Austen burned most of the letters which she and other members of the extensive Austen family had exchanged with or about her sister Jane. What is not known is why she did this and at this stage - more than two hundred years after Jane's death - a definitive answer is unlikely to forthcoming. Gill Hornby has provided us with some possible answers in a book that proved to be far more emotionally complex than I was expecting. Full Review

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Hitler's Secret by Rory Clements

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

So, Hitler had a secret? Two, if you include the reproductive detail mentioned in a certain sing-song aspersion. But this is a secret that is counter to that, and in fact is a secret that Hitler himself doesn't even know about. His neice, Geli Raubal, the attractive young woman he seemed to be very close to in the early 1930s, had had his daughter behind his back. Protected under a false identity ever since, the girl is completely ignorant of her past, and the truth is a very rare thing. Martin Bormann, the 'gatekeeper' to Hitler and his right hand man, knows – and is desperately intent on wiping the slate clean and removing all connected with her existence from the Reich. So it's down to Tom Wilde, an American history professor at Oxbridge, to go in and extract her, in this most shadowy race against time. Full Review

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All the Rage (D I Fawley) by Cara Hunter

4.5star.jpg Crime

A very beautiful, but extremely distressed teenage girl was picked up by a minicab driver on the outskirts of Oxford. She didn't want to go to the police station or the hospital: she just wanted to be taken home. The driver wasn't so certain though - and after dropping the girl at home he went to the police, which is why DI Adam Fawley found himself talking to Faith Appleford and her mother. Both were adamant that this was nothing more than an April Fool's joke which had gone wrong. No crime had been committed and Faith didn't want to take the matter any further. Fawley and his team weren't prepared to leave it at that and they began investigating. What they found strange was that Faith Appleford didn't seem to have much of a history. Full Review

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Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain

4.5star.jpg Crime

It was early summer 2018 and Adam Latimer returned home to Spanish Cove after an absence of ten years. The family had thought him dead - in fact, that's what the private detective his mother had insisted upon had told them. He was cagey about exactly where he'd been but he seemed content, if not happy, to be home. What brought him? Well, nine years ago his mother died and he'd seen the in memoriam in the paper: this was the first he'd heard about what had happened. His three sisters and two brothers had mixed feelings about his return, but his father is delighted. In fact, he's determined to have a party. Only, with Frazer Latimer, what happens has to be about him. He has an announcement to make - it's nine years since Kathleen died and he's been lonely. He's met Ana, a Polish immigrant, and they're getting married. Full Review

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Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Fly never meant to end up in the cage with a man-eating tiger. She just saw her chance to skedaddle, and she took it. And even when the cloud of soot cleared and she saw the golden eyes of a killer staring into hers, she still didn't turn round and climb back up the chimney straightaway. 'Cos there was worse waiting for her back on the roof.What an opener! And there's plenty more to come! Full Review

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Jane Eyre: a Retelling by Tanya Landman

5star.jpg Teens

A young woman, fresh from living with horrid relatives who could care less about her, and years in a dreary school, moves into Thornfield Hall with only one intent – to have something like the life she wants – and with only one job, to tutor a young half-French girl, whose father is almost always absent. When he does turn up he seems to be dark, brooding and troubled – but that's nothing compared to the darker, more broody and even more troubled secret in the house. Yes, if you know Jane Eyre then you know the rest – but if you don't, for whatever reason, this is a wonderful book to turn to. Full Review

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What if They Knew by T R Hendrick

4star.jpg General Fiction

It's 2025. Underneath a lodge in the Blue Mountain resort in Pennsylvania, is a secret facility. Here, Dr Benton and his team are making some critical scientific advances on behalf of the Benefactor, their anonymous funder. Already, the team have succeeded in teleporting small primates from one place to another. But, unbeknownst to the Benefactor, Dr Benton has also coded for another type of teleportation altogether - travel through time. And he's ready to test. If successful, Benton has a very specific use for his technology in mind Full Review

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Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

4star.jpg Thrillers

Don't you just hate it when people are multi-talented? Author Catherine Steadman is both a successful actress and writer, with this her second novel. I think in a way her acting background shows in her writing as to my mind the 'fight scene' at the end was somewhat unrealistic – you know the kind where the hero has been hurt so many times that it's virtually impossible they'd still be alive let alone able to fight off an attacker. The story also unfolded at a steady pace throughout until the ending which felt overstuffed in a frenetic bid to wrap everything up in the last few chapters. It was almost as if the author wanted to keep the suspense until the last possible moment (which I liked) but then was somewhat left with too much to do in the closing stages. Full Review

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In Her Eyes by Sarah Alderson

5star.jpg Thrillers

Ava lives a charmed life, but those things sometimes rub other people up the wrong way. One evening she returns from a night out with a friend, and before she can finish her bedtime routine, her home, and her life, are under attack: masked men have broken in and are demanding money from her husband, while her young daughter cowers beside him. In the scuffle than ensues, Ava is hurt, badly. When she wakes up in hospital she can barely remember what happened, but she knows it was life-changing. With her daughter still fighting for her life in a room down the corridor, Ava has a lot to contend with as she tries to recover, wills her daughter to recover, and attempts to piece together what happened and why. Full Review

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Wonder Woman: Warbringer: The Graphic Novel by Leigh Bardugo, Louise Simonson and Kit Seaton

3star.jpg Teens

Diana, being unique on her island, is the victim of a lot of taunts, and claims of nepotism. It's only her unique status, and her mother being Queen, that has her with any standing at all, her naysayers declare – even though she has clearly fought to be a strong young woman. Perhaps too strong for the island, however – for every Wonder Woman origin story has her quickly leaving home for the World of Men, and this Diana is the heroine of yet another Wonder Woman origin story. A shipwreck disturbs her leading performance in a running race, but the survivor she drags from the waters is only going to disturb a lot more... Full Review

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When the Dead Come Calling (Burrowhead Mysteries 1) by Helen Sedgwick

5star.jpg Crime

It began with the discovery of a body under the swings in the children's playground. It was Dr Alexis Crosse and he was found by PC Simon Hunter, who loved him deeply, but who had reason to mistrust him. Crosse was a psychotherapist who grew up in Greece, but such professions are misunderstood in Burrowhead (along with foreigners), a community which regards anyone not born and brought up there as an outsider. DI Georgie Strachan is an outsider - you've only got to look at her skin to realise that, and her husband, Fergus, well, he's a little strange too, not entirely here. Full Review

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Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Thirteen-year-old Beth and her parents board the transport ship Orion ready for a new life on Eos Five. Their new home is still being terra-formed and life there isn't going to be easy, but it is going to be a fresh start. As Beth's mum puts it, There's a future waiting for us. A chance to make our own decisions, create our own lives. Full Review

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Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by B J Fogg

5star.jpg Lifestyle

Go on, admit it - you're not quite perfect. You still have those odd, quirky, even loveable (to you) habits that seem to annoy other people. Other people, of course, are sorely afflicted with some dreadful flaws which they could so easily correct, if only they would make just a little bit of effort. Or put another way, I get cross with myself because I forget to do things or do some actions more than I should and no matter how I try to make what seem to be quite monumental changes I never quite seem to get to grips with the concepts. I constantly fail and then I get cross with myself for failing. Lack of willpower is another burden to add to the list. Full Review

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Transference by B T Keaton

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Barrabus Madzimure is about to die, stranded on a mining planet millions of light-years from home, executed for high crimes against the Church, the ruling body of Earth. Except he's not Barrabus Madzimure, he's Thaniel Kilraven in Barrabus Madzimure's body. Such is the magic of Transference, the ability to transplant a person's soul or consciousness into a different body - and a power that the Church has exclusive control over. As if Thaniel doesn't have enough things to worry about, a Church employee named Corvus has arrived from Earth to interrogate him. All Thaniel wants is to see his family again, and he'll stop at nothing to accomplish this, but the Church isn't going to give in without a hell of a fight... Full Review

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Bucket Showers and Baby Goats: Volunteering in West Africa by Christine Brown

4.5star.jpg Travel

In the summer of 2008, this book's author was spending her days working in an office job in the USA while spending her nights dreaming about being somewhere else, doing something else. Long story short, she ended up volunteering in Ghana, West Africa. Now coincidentally, in the summer of 2010, this review's author was spending her days working in an office job (albeit in the UK) while spending her nights dreaming about being somewhere else, doing something else, and she ended up just 3 countries away, volunteering in Sierra Leone, West Africa. So you can see why, when this book came up, said reviewer was delighted to have the opportunity to read and critique it. Full Review

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Degrade (Tesla Expansion) by Mark Lingane

4star.jpg Teens

Degrade opens as it means to go on - with inyerface, banging action. Poor Arid, alone in the desert since his parents were killed, has a narrow escape as two mega-rigs fight it out and his is pretty much destroyed. He finds himself rescued by the mysterious-but-fascinating Ella and onboard the Moonlight under the suspicious eyes of its leader, Queen Bea. Bea's eyes flash with recognition when he tells her his name - Arid Geiger - but before he can find out why that is, there's an assassination attempt and Arid is under suspicion and imprisoned. An escape facilitated by Ella - Queen Bea's daughter - sees Arid and her other daughter, Frey, stranded in the desert... Full Review

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Murder at the Dolphin Hotel by Helena Dixon

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Elowed Underhay was just twenty-seven when she disappeared from Dartmouth in June 1916, leaving her daughter, Kitty, in the care of her grandmother. A great deal of money had been spent to find out what happened to her and the conclusion was that she was dead, mainly because there was no evidence to suggest otherwise. Kitty has come to terms with this and in 1933 she was running the Dolphin Hotel in Dartmouth with her grandmother when her grandmother had to leave to look after her sister who was ill. She was reluctant to leave Kitty in charge - and Kitty could not understand why. She's always coped with the mix of holidaymakers, boating people and the naval college on the edge of town before - and she's done every job in the hotel. And she particularly cannot understand why her grandmother's friends have been roped in to keep an eye on things and why Captain Matthew Bryant has been hired to take charge of security at the hotel. Full Review

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The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo and Louise Heal Kawai (translator)

4star.jpg Crime

To many readers, the phrase 'locked room murder mystery' is enough to make the book one to read; preferably quantified by the words 'clever' or 'good'. For those who need more, here is the extra background – we're in rural Japan in the 1930s. The oldest son of an esteemed family is belatedly getting married, although the whole affair is really not as ostentatious as it might be – hardly anybody has turned up, what with it being arranged at great haste. She only has an uncle representing her family, for one thing. Either way, the celebrations have gone ahead as planned, only for the wedded couple to be slashed to death in their private annexe before the sun rises on their marriage. What with a man missing parts of his fingers being in the neighbourhood, and some mysterious use of a traditional musical instrument at the time of the crime, this case has a lot of the peculiar about it. Full Review

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Death's End by Cixin Liu

5star.jpg Science Fiction

If I'd been paying more attention when I picked this book up, I would have put it back on the shelf. Not because I didn't want to read it, but because I'd have figured out that it was the final part of a trilogy. Coming in partway through a saga is never the easiest thing to do and it's particularly true in science fiction because without knowing the back-story there are not just people whose names mean nothing to you (when it's assumed they will) but there are whole concepts that you won't understand. This latter is particularly true of Cixin Liu's work – his range is phenomenal. George R R Martin, who knows a thing or two about world-creation, described it as a unique blend of scientific and philosophical speculation, conspiracy theory and cosmology. All of that and more. Full Review

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Die Alone by Simon Kernick

4star.jpg Thrillers

Ray Mason is in prison awaiting trial for murder and he's in the vulnerable prisoner unit: as a cop, he's something of a target, but the unit is not as secure as the inmates would have hoped and Mason is injured in a riot. On his way to hospital he's broken free by armed men and an offer is made to him. He's to assassinate the man who is likely to become the country's next prime minister and he'll then be given a new identity so that he can start afresh abroad. His captors say that they're MI6, but Mason has his doubts. His choices are limited though and he has personal reasons to believe that it would be better if Alastair Sheridan was dead. Full Review