The Bookbag


Arthur and the Kings of Britain: The Historical Truth Behind the Myths by Miles Russell

4.5star.jpg History

As the author of the Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written in 1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth is commonly recognized as one of the first British historians. His book told – or is supposed to have told - the story of the British monarchy during the Dark Ages, from the arrival of the Trojan Brutus, grandson of Aeneas, up to the seventh century AD when the Anglo-Saxons had taken control of Britain. Being virtually the only work of its kind at the time, it proved very influential, and became well-known throughout western Europe as one of the great works of medieval literature as the first retelling of the story of King Arthur, Lear and Cymbeline. Shakespeare was forever in his debt with regard to the two latter. Full review...


Well of the Winds (DCI Daley) by Denzil Meyrick

4star.jpg Crime

It's not a happy time for DCI Jim Daley. The woman he loved is dead - there are those who blame him for what happened - and his relationship with Liz, his ex wife, and his young son is deteriorating by the day. He's finding solace in the bottom of a glass, whilst the man who used to do that all too often, his friend DS Brian Scott is off alcohol completely and has found exercise. There's a new officer in charge at Kinloch - DS Carrie Simmington - and whilst she might look young, it's unlikely that she got to that position without having a core of steel. Full review...


Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

You have to assume the team behind the cover sleeve for Nicole Dennis-Benn's debut novel Here Come's the Sun have a keen sense of irony. Either that or none of them read beyond the first page. Full review...


Owen Pendragon by W S Markendale

3.5star.jpg Teens

Monsters are slipping through somehow from somewhere to kidnap children in Cornwall and the army seems powerless to do anything about it. 12-year-olds Owen and Mary assume they too are therefore powerless as they watch friends and neighbours disappear. Imagine their surprise when they realise that thanks to an ancient relative, they have more influence on what happens than they think and not just on what happens on Earth. And their distant relative? The former monarch and head of the round table, no less: King Arthur. Full review...


The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History by Jon Morris

5star.jpg Graphic Novels

As much as I like comics – and I do, whether superhero ones or not – I have to admit one thing, namely that the villains in them are a bit pants. What is The Penguin but the world's worst Mafioso, with a hobby of waddling along like his pet birds? Where else do you win an Oscar of all things by playing a two-bit killer who just fell in a vat of random chemicals and changed colour, and got mardier as a result (although recently he's become a nanotech genius – but let's not go there)? And what is it with the gimp in the see-through plant pot because he is the embodiment of cold? And that's just some of the better-known enemies of Batman, one of the better goodies. You can imagine how awful the baddies related to the bad goodies can be. And if you can't, this is the perfect primer. Full review...


Stanly's Ghost: Book 3 (The Bitter Sixteen Trilogy) by Stefan Mohamed

5star.jpg Science Fiction

Cynical, solitary Stanly Bird used to be a fairly typical teenager – unless you count the fact that his best friend was a talking beagle named Daryl. Then came the superpowers. And the super powered allies. And the mysterious enemies. And the terrifying monsters. And the stunning revelations. And the apocalypse. Now he's not sure what he is. Or where he is. Or how exactly one is supposed to proceed after saving the world. All he knows is that his story isn't finished. Not quite yet … Full review...


Monkey's Sandwich by Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Monkeys have been given the reputation of being cheeky, but do you also see them as petty thieves? How can these cheerful chimps be seen as anything other than cute, but mischievous little monkeys? Anyone who has driven through Knowsley Safari Park knows the truth. A perfectly good car drives in the monkey enclosure only to be bereft of wing mirrors, hubcaps and windscreen wipers at the end. Rumour has it that the monkeys sell these parts wholesale at a lockup in South Kirby. The monkey in this tale may not be stealing car parts, but he is a little light fingered when it comes to making the ultimate lunch. Full review...


The Legacy: Children's House Book 1 by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Victoria Cribb (translator)

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

What do you wish for in your murder mysteries? An inventive death? Well you couldn't go much further than the unusual murder by household device that Elisa suffers here. She's a mother to a young family, whose husband was abroad at a conference. Do you seek awkward, unusual and/or conflicted investigators? Well, here we have a detective from the lower ranks, but the only one clean enough after post-financial crash investigations tainted all his superiors; and a woman who runs a home that investigates and recuperates child victims of sex abuse. She's here because the only witness to the murder was Elisa's very young daughter. And lo and behold, the two adults have history. Do you require taunting clues as to why this crime will be repeated? You can't do much better than the messages in numerals received by other characters and their untold threat. So it's tick, tick, tick – but what of the question marks left by the prologue, where another young family of children was separated as a best case scenario by the adoption agencies after a different nasty event in the past? Full review...


The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

It's one thing for a non-fiction book for the young to show them something they themselves can explore – the pattern of the stars, perhaps, or the life in their back yard. But when it gets to things that are equally important to know about but are impossible to see in real life, why, then the game is changed. The artistic imagination has to be key, in portraying the invisible, and presenting what can only come from the pages of a book. And this example does it at its best, as it delves into the layers of the soil below said back yard, down and down, through all the different kinds of rock, until we reach the unattainable centre of the planet. And there's only one way to go from there – back out the other side, with yet more for us to be shown. It's a fantastic journey, then – and a quite fantastic volume. Full review...


Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

5star.jpg Thrillers

Christmas is barely over but Amber doesn't have much to celebrate. She's in a coma, trapped with an active mind but an inactive body, able to hear and understand but not respond to what is going on around her. And her mind's a little fuzzy on a few things too, like how she ended up there, who else was involved, and what it all means. Full review...


Larchfield by Polly Clark

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I It's early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she's excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether. Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected - rightly - of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears. Full review...


Choosing the Perfect Puppy by Pippa Mattinson

4.5star.jpg Pets

If you have ever, for even a fleeting moment, thought about getting a puppy, you really ought to read this book. Too many people are carried away in the heat of the moment and must have a particular breed and go ahead without any thought about the consequences. They then have to live with the problems which might have been avoided for a decade or more. The puppy and the adult dog also has to live with an owner who might not be able to accommodate his needs. Pippa Mattinson is my go-to author on matters dog related: she talks sense. She doesn't try to talk you out of getting a particular breed or any puppy: she simply presents the facts and allows you to make your own decisions. Full review...


The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Alberto is a carpenter, the very best in the town of Allora. But after the plague sweeps through the town, taking many of the citizens and Alberto's wife and children, he turns his skills away from furniture and toys to making coffins. Wrapped in sadness, and waiting only for the plague to come and claim his life too, Alberto lives alone, keeping company with the dead who are delivered to his house to await their coffin. One day, however, he realises that he must have a living visitor, as food starts to go missing. He begins to leave scraps of food, to try and discover who his mystery thief is… Full review...


Blades of Grass by Mark Aylwin Thomas

4.5star.jpg Biography

Any book that has me in tears at the end has been worth my time. Any book that has me hoping it will end differently to the way I know it must is worth the reading. Any book that convinces me that maybe there is still hope in the world – that for all the mistakes made thus far, still being made right now, there is a common humanity which ultimately, eventually, must do some good – that is worth the writing and the reading and the time. Blades of Grass is one such book. It's a forgotten story, an unknown story to most people. It is one that should be told – and reflected upon. Full review...


Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain by Lucy Jones

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

As one of the largest predators left in Britain, the fox is captivating: a comfortably familiar figure in our country landscapes; an intriguing flash of bright-eyed wildness in our towns. Yet no other animal attracts such controversy, has provoked more column inches or been so ambiguously woven into our culture over centuries, perceived variously as a beautiful animal, a cunning rogue, a vicious pest and a worthy foe. As well as being the most ubiquitous of wild animals, it is also the least understood. Here Lucy Jones investigates the truth about foxes – delving into fact, fiction, folklore and her own history with the creatures. Discussing the debate on foxes, Jones asks what our attitudes towards foxes says about us, and our relationship with the natural world. Full review...


Isaac Montgomery for the Love of Beth by Steven Anthony

3star.jpg General Fiction

There are words to describe the Isaac Montgomery we meet at the beginning of the story. Unfortunately they're not words you usually use in polite company. He'd worked for many years in stockbroking and had made a substantial fortune, but his life was devoid of much in the way of personal relationships. When he required a woman as an escort, he paid. He assumed that if he was having a good time, then she was too - if he even bothered to think about it. He had a friend whom he didn't see all that often and it was when he thought about Phil that a little jealousy crept into Isaac's heart. You see, Phil was engaged to Penelope and they were obviously happy. Isaac began to wonder what love was - and how you went about finding someone to share your life with. Full review...


Miraculous Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards (editor)

5star.jpg Crime

Consider the following scenario: a policeman hears someone screaming and runs to a house on a particular street, number 13, from where the noise is emanating. When he peeps through the letterbox he discovers a dead man in the hallway with a knife in his throat. He goes to fetch help, but upon returning, finds that the street does not have a number 13 and that the body and the room he saw have both mysteriously vanished... Full review...


Lost Magic: The Very Best of Brian Moses by Brian Moses

4star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

For a poet with the very memorable name of Moses, I have to admit never having come across it before, nor having knowingly read any of his works. This collection was the perfect place for me to come late to the party, as it takes the author's own favourites from several previous anthologies of his, and adds new verses. I read them with very little clue as to which was which – and certainly couldn't tell having finished the book. There is a lot here that will grab the young schoolchild, but the topics cover so much there really will be a universal appeal, meaning that a lot of people will have a definite favourite from these pages, even if the author himself cannot decide… Full review...


The Night I Followed the Dog by Nina Laden

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There's a Boy (who doesn't have a name) and a Dog (likewise) and in the beginning you get the feeling that the Boy would prefer to have next door's Dog who wins prizes in obedience classes and does clever things with the television remote control. That is until one morning when Boy opens the door a little earlier than usual and spots Dog getting out of a limousine. In a tuxedo. The he disappears into the back garden. Boy's shocked but a few minutes later he goes to the back door and whistles for Dog, who comes dashing in, anxious to eat. At first Boy can't quite believe what he thinks he saw, so he determines to follow Dog the next night. Full review...


SuperDad's Day Off by Phil Earle

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Stanley's dad is tired. It can be exhausting work being a Superhero. For six days of the week he saves the world from disasters and defeats the baddies as Dynamo Dan. Stanley decides his poor dad needs a day off and is determined to make sure that he gets a proper rest. So they head off to the park for some much needed Dad and Son bonding time. However people don't seem to understand that even Superheroes need time to recuperate. The requests for help keep on coming so what can poor Stanley do other than step in to save the day. Full review...


The Murder of the Romanovs by Andrew Cook

4.5star.jpg History

The fate of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, his wife Alexandra and children, fuelled no end of rumour, misinformation and conspiracy theories for many years, even though the truth was known not long after the event. In the last few years, the advance of forensic science, DNA testing and the precise location of the bodies have allowed for confirmation of the exact truth and a dismissal of claims by a noted so-called surviving Grand Duchess. Even so, as Andrew Cook notes, straight after the deaths of the imperial family 'there would begin a ninety-year battle between science and superstition which is not over yet'. Full review...


The Apartment by S L Grey

4star.jpg Horror

Steph and Mark are in trouble. Mark is running from a grief he can't escape and Steph is anxiously juggling her joy at being a mother with her guilt at being a 'kept woman'. Add a brutal home invasion to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. Desperate to save their once happy marriage the couple decide to take a romantic trip to Paris only to discover that some terror is inescapable and evil has a vice like grip. Full review...


The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune 1915-1964 by Zachary Leader

5star.jpg Biography

At over eight hundred pages, 'The Life of Saul Bellow' is not a light book, but it is the most complete account of the life and work of America's most honoured literary figure. During the course of his life, a number of notable attempts were made to capture the essence of the man in biographical form. Zachary Leader benefits from this groundwork; he also has the advantage that his work has been compiled since Bellow's death in 2005. As a result, he has had access to sources, manuscripts and letters denied to previous biographers. Leader's research is exemplary and incredibly detailed. He not only looks at the life of the man but at the creative process that made him the colossus that he became and it's all written with a genuine passion, love and respect for his subject. Full review...


Good Clean Food: Plant-Based Recipes That Will Help You Look and Feel Your Best by Lily Kunin

4star.jpg Cookery

Lily Kunin is a health coach and creator of clean food dirty city site and instagram account. She'd always been a food lover but her attitude to the food she was eating changed when she began to suffer from migraines. A long (and bad) time later she tried avoiding gluten and her symptoms were alleviated within 48 hours. From this she developed her food philosophy of seeing an intolerance to gluten as a creative opportunity. I liked that she has a constant dialogue with her body rather than sticking to a restrictive regime. That I can empathise with. Full review...


Something for Mummy (Bing) by Ted Dewan

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Having a child gives you a glimpse into a world that you never knew even existed. Unfortunately, this not a winter wonderland hidden in a wardrobe, but a world of children's TV characters. The mainstays of the genre have still survived; Sooty, Noddy and Postman Pat, but who is RaRa or Mr Tumble? One popular show that takes some getting used to is Bing, a series all about a rabbit that seems to have a stuffed animal as a carer. There are seemingly no parents in the show as if the town is one giant crèche, so how come Bing and his helper Flop are making a gift for Mummy? Full review...


A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston

5star.jpg True Crime

Jeremy Thorpe was the sort of person who was generally liked by others. He was flamboyant and gregarious but could give the impression that meeting someone had made his day. He never seemed to forget a name and he was witty, charismatic and very charming. He appeared to be a decent man, with views with which I would have agreed on race, capital punishment and membership of the Common Market, as the European Union was then known. For this was the nineteen sixties and Thorpe had entered Parliament at the age of thirty and by 1967 he would be party leader. On the surface he was a man who had everything going for him. Full review...


Jack and the Geniuses 1: At the Bottom of the World by Bill Nye and Gregory Mone

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's tough being a genius. There are few, if any, people you can talk about your interests to, and words like nerd, geek and boffin get bandied around by folk who somehow think it's your fault your cleverness makes them feel a bit dim. But how does it feel to be the one surrounded by such geniuses all day every day? Fortunately, Jack is a resilient sort, and his common sense approach to life is going to be essential if he, Ava and Matt are going to survive their trip to Antarctica. Full review...


Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith

4star.jpg Thrillers

Mia is done with the small town she grew up in, but it only takes one phone call to bring her back. Her twin brother Lucas is missing and, worse still, has been implicated in the death of one of his students. Without him there to speak for himself it becomes her job to defend his reputation while trying to get to the bottom of everything that has gone on. Full review...


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