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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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 annex 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 part way 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

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Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

4.5star.jpg Teens

The people of the town Lucille believe that all the monsters are gone. Their children are raised to understand that they were saved by the angels, those who rid the town of evil, and there are no monsters anymore. But one day, Jam accidentally cuts herself, and bleeds a little onto one of her mother's paintings. The blood awakens a bizarre, terrifying-looking creature named Pet, who somehow comes to life and declares that it is here to hunt the monster. Though Jam tries to convince it that all the monsters are gone, Pet is certain that there is one, still, and that the monster is hiding in the home of her best friend, Redemption. Full Review

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My Mummy does weird things / Maman fait des choses bizarres by Amelie Julien and Gustyawan

4star.jpg For Sharing

Which child doesn't think that there mother is, well, weird? It might be that in the morning their mother doesn't like speaking much, when every self-respecting child knows that that is when you're at your brightest with lots to say? Why then does Mummy stick her fingers in her ears? Then there's doing yoga in front of the television, which could be worrying if it wasn't so funny. We won't go into too much detail about what goes on in the bathroom and the colour changes which have occured when Mummy emerges and frankly, the less said the better about her reactions to your artistic efforts on the wall. I mean, what else would you use paint for? Full Review

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What Wonders Do You See... When You Dream? by Justine Avery and Liuba Syrotiuk

4star.jpg For Sharing

The day has ended
Hasn't it been splendid?
But now, it's time, to be sure
For an entirely different adventure

I hope you haven't forgotten how it feels to be much too excited for bed. If you're a parent at least, you'll know how it is to persuade an excited small person that yes, it is in fact time for bed. What Wonders DoYou See... sets out to cater to these children. Instead of trying to persuade them that night time is calm time, it takes a slightly different tack. It tells them that sleep is actually an exciting time: a time of dreams in which imagination takes over and has no limit. But the trick in accessing this wonderful and exciting world, is to get calm and relaxed first so that you can easily fall asleep and open the door to it. Full Review

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Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

5star.jpg Lifestyle

This is not the book I was expecting it to be. For some reason I expected it to be another self-help manual on how to find calm, how to step outside the mainstream, but it is not that at all. Instead of telling us how, it is more about the why. Harries examines how we're eroding solitude, which used to be a natural part of our human life, and why that matters. Of course he talks about how some people have found solitude and what has come of that, and eventually in the final chapter he talks about his own experience of having deliberately sought it out, but mostly he wanders down the alleys and by-ways that his thinking about this lost art led him. Full Review

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Ctrl+S by Andy Briggs

5star.jpg Science Fiction

Life in the near future's not all bad. We've reversed global warming and fixed the collapsing bee population. We even created SPACE, a virtual-sensory universe where average guys like Theo Wilson can do almost anything they desire. But almost anything isn't enough for some. Every day, normal people are being taken, their emotions harvested - and lives traded - to create death-defying thrills for the rich and twisted. Now Theo’s mother has disappeared. And as he follows her breadcrumb trail of clues, he'll come up against the most dangerous SPACE has to offer: vPolice, AI Bots and anarchists - as well as a criminal empire that will kill to stop him finding her . . . Full Review

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The Rabbits' Rebellion by Ariel Dorfman and Chris Riddell

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

We're in the realm of the rabbits, only the foxes and wolves have taken over. King Wolf, His Wolfiness, has declared the rabbits don't exist, but the pesky birds have spread rumours from awing that the bunnies are in fact still around. Demanding a propaganda spree, King Wolf orders a humble monkey to be his official portrait photographer, but whatever the poor innocent monkey prints out in his darkroom there is a distinct leporine hint. Can King Wolf succeed in proving himself victorious, can the rabbits show their continued existence to all who need to know of it – and what can the poor monkey caught in between do? Full Review

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M is for Movement by Innosanto Nagara

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Set in Indonesia, in the not too distant past, this is a story about social change. Dealing with some difficult issues, such as political corruption and nepotism, the book is neither boring nor preachy. It educates gently, with vibrant, challenging illustrations, and it portrays how social movements need people who will try, even when it seems that they will fail. The message is a positive one; that in an increasingly uncertain world, we do still have the power to instigate change. Full Review

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A Dictionary of Interesting and Important Dogs by Peter J Conradi

4star.jpg Pets

I struggle to resist a book about dogs, but I did wonder why this one was so thin: given that I've never encountered a dog who wasn't interesting or important - and probably both, I was expecting a massive tome. But A Dictionary of Interesting and Important Dogs is actually a rich compendium of the world's most significant and beloved dogs and it's certainly a rich treasure trove. We begin with Peter J Conradi's four collies: Cloudy, Sky. Bradley and Max. They're consecutive rather than simultaneous dogs, but what comes over is Conradi's love for each and every one of them. I knew that I was in safe hands. Full Review

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Man at the Window (Detective Cardilini) by Robert Jeffreys

4.5star.jpg Crime

It's when we read that a young boy is creeping reluctantly to a teacher's bedroom one October night that we realise something is badly wrong. Nowadays you might hope that something would be done about it fairly quickly but this was 1965 and child abuse was generally regarded as malicious mischief on the part of the child. The boy would be safe that night though - albeit in the most horrific fashion. When he reached Captain Edmund's bedroom he found the man dead on the floor, the top of his skull missing. The school's initial reaction was that this was a dreadful accident: there had been a cull of kangaroos in some nearby fields and it was obviously a stray bullet which had killed the Captain. Full Review

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Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

The beginning of this excellent story will leave the reader more than a little confused: who is the man in the green suit, what is the Reckoning, and why are rows of people in a cave? But stick with it – Ms Gardner is very cleverly letting us experience the same disorientation as our heroine. We watch in dismay as the strange man, who seems to have no eyes, does his best to persuade her to answer his questions. But for some reason Celeste, despite her bewilderment, remains wary and gives nothing away. Full Review

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Violet by S J I Holliday

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

I've never been but understand that travelling is all about meeting new people and forming instantaneous bonds with people in often chance situations. Well that's exactly what happens when the two main/only characters meet in a travel agency in Beijing - Carrie is unsuccessfully trying to get a refund on an extra ticket for the Trans-Siberian train and Violet is trying to unsuccessfully buy a ticket for the same sold-out journey. As the two team up, travelling through Mongolia, Serbia and into Russia, it could've been the start of a beautiful friendship but this a thriller after all so it quickly becomes a tale of obsession, manipulation and toxic friendships. Full Review

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Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

4star.jpg General Fiction

Nothing Important Happened Today is a dark, twisted, difficult read. Stories about cults often are, but this is different; it's written with a sense of style that is quite unlike anything I've read before. I can't remember ever having read a novel with such an odd, distinctive narrative voice. While a slim and relatively small book, the slow-moving nature of the plot makes it feel far larger than its 276 pages. Full Review

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The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

3.5star.jpg Paranormal

When William Abbey fails to prevent the lynching of a young boy in 1880's South Africa, he finds himself cursed by the grieving mother. A naïve English Doctor, he slowly learns the weight of the curse upon him, as the shadow of the dead boy begins to follow him across the world. Never stopping, always growing – it crosses oceans and mountains in pursuit of William. As he finds himself unable to resist speaking the truths that he hears in others, he also learns that the dark shadow is deadly – and seeks to kill the one he loves the most… Full Review

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The Wondrous Apothecary by Mary E Martin

4star.jpg General Fiction

Those who have known Alexander Wainwright, the landscape artist famous for his Turner prize winning The Hay Wagon, and Rinaldo, renowned conceptual artist would say that they're chalk and cheese, if not sworn enemies. If you've watched the relationship, as has our narrator, art dealer Jamie Helmsworth, you'd have said that they were magnets, drawing and repulsing each other in equal measure. Wainwright was at the socially acceptable end of the artistic continuum, but with Rinaldo it was all too obvious that there was but a fine dividing line between conceptual art and public nuisance. As time has worn on, he's frequently been brought to the attention of the police. On this latest occasion we see him charged with arson and theft of The Hay Wagon. Full Review

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Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

4star.jpg Teens

Pablo, a college drop-out, is working at a New York bodega. He's massively in debt, he's avoiding his mother, and he finds his joy in creating unusual snacks with random ingredients! Whilst working one evening, he's surprised to discover that the girl he is chatting with as he serves is a super-famous pop star and, as unlikely as it may seem, they start a relationship. With one character who is trying very hard not to be seen or noticed by anyone, and the other who is seen and followed and hounded by everyone all over the world, it's an interesting clash as they come together. This isn't just a love story though, and actually it's really just Pab's story, about the journey he takes in his life via his meet-up with Leanna Smart. Full Review

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Long-Haired Cat-Boy Cub by Etgar Keret, Aviel Basil and Sondra Silverston (translator)

5star.jpg Confident Readers

One day a boy is in the zoo with his father, when the man gets called away on urgent business. The boy isn't hustled into a cab and taken home first, though, no – he's given hot dog money, and taxi money, and told to just stick around on his own and enjoy himself. Well, it's no surprise that the orphan-for-an-afternoon sensation the lad feels doesn't make him happy, and so he thinks of a species name for himself, and curls himself up into an empty cage, as if he were a new exhibit. And it's then the drama begins… Full Review

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Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Manners maketh man, they say. It certainly makes life easier if everybody abides by a set of conventions, some of which are ages old and other which have evolved over time. Manners are not about how much to tip or how you should behave if you get an invitation to Buckingham Palace, they have nothing to do with class or financial status: they're about getting the basics right before we try to deal with more difficult matters. Of course we all have more relaxed manners when we're with family and friends, but it's best if we learn to distinguish between our public and private lives and to act appropriately. Fucking Good Manners aims to help us on the way. Full Review

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Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Relax, everyone – our old friend Artemis may be off planet, but the baddies aren't getting away with skulduggery any time soon because they now have not one but two members of the Fowl family to contend with. Those cute little twins are now eleven (and, frankly, cute no longer) and in this, their first independent adventure, they meet a troll and without even trying manage to make two deadly enemies: a nobleman obsessed with immortality whatever the cost (to other people), and an unusual interrogator-nun. The boys are chased, kidnapped, arrested and even killed (though not for long), all with the help of one trainee fairy. Full Review