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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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...

The Gingerbread House by Kate Beaufoy

4star.jpg General Fiction

The Gingerbread House is not a cottage from a fairytale where a wicked old witch lives but it is in a wonderful rural setting, perfect for getting away from it all. Or it would be, if it weren't for the lady who lives there who, while far from a witch, can be a bit of a b*tch. It's not entirely her fault. Eleanor has dementia and her fading mind makes her confused, angry and quite hard work to care for. With her current carer off to attend her daughter's wedding, Eleanor's daughter in law Tess steps up to assume this role in the interim, bringing her precocious daughter Katia with her. Full review...

Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Eliza has tragically punctuated childhood memories of India that have feed her desire to return. Therefore in 1930, following the death of her husband, when the British government commission her to photograph scenes of Indian life, she jumps at the chance. What she doesn't realise is that not everyone she comes across is delighted with the idea. Living within the Sultana's opulent palace complex is definitely an attraction for her, as is Jay, an Indian price who shows Eliza the real India. However, attractions are sometimes dangerous and even deadly. Full review...

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Herr Neuroff's circus has a secret: as well as a much needed wartime source of entertainment, it's also refuge to Jews escaping uncertain concentration camp fates. One such person, Astrid, a trapeze and high wire artist, lives a precarious life in which her possible discovery would be more dangerous than her nightly act. She's an expert who has perfected her art over time and therefore resents Neuroff demanding she teach Noa, a non-circus family new comer, quickly. There's a reason behind the circus owner's demand though. Noa arrives at the circus endangered by an act of kindness: a Jewish baby she stole from a Nazi train before leaving the Netherlands. It was a spur of the moment decision that will bind her to Astrid and their future, no matter how long… or short… a time that may be. Full review...

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

5star.jpg Fantasy

The fantasy genre is home to some of the best books that I have ever read, but also some of the worst. The very nature of epic stories that span generations means that few fantasy books rock up under 400 pages and many are part of long running series or trilogies. When done badly, fantasy books are bloated and boring affairs that rattle of every cliché the genre has had to offer since Bilbo exited Bag End, but done well they can be brilliant. They can be Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan. Full review...

The Big Book of Beasts (Big Books) by Yuval Zommer

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

One of the many issues people have with the TV nature programme, such as Planet Earth II, is the obvious one of all the blood and guts it features – yes, in amongst all the cutesy, comical animal life are creatures eating other creatures (normally the cutesy, comical ones, what's worse). You'll be pleased to know, however, that this book is very light on death and destruction. Yes, here are lions sharing some chunks of meat (while the females that caught and killed it sit and wait their turn), here are salmon seemingly willingly flying towards brown bears, and here is a red fox stashing a dead mouse while in a time of plenty, but there is so little to make this even a PG book – it will be perfect for the home shelf or that in a primary school. Full review...

A Case in Any Case by Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee

4star.jpg Confident Readers

The last time we saw the toad called Detective Gordon at work he had a mouse colleague in the forest police with him, and in fact the two were so close they often shared a bed in the old prison cells together. But now Gordon has practically retired, and the mouse, Police Chief Buffy, is doing all the work herself. It's quite scary work, too, when something horrid, nasty and slightly smelling of toad is rootling around the police station at night. But when the two are together there's no stopping them, and any crime can be solved – which is probably a very good thing when not one but two of the forest babies go missing… Full review...

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Steven can narrate this book to us, but he can hardly ever mention the name of his newborn baby brother. That's not down to a fault with Steven, although there are many of those – obsessive hand-washing, nightmares, anxiety attacks. It's because there's something wrong with the new addition to the family. His parents mutter behind closed bedroom doors of regretting trying for a new child so late in life, but whatever the reason there is something demanding a lot of medical care and attention, even if the child can more or less live in the family home. But hope seems to be shining a light into Steven from the most unlikely source – angels that come to visit him in his dreams, from within a pleasant, light-filled haven, with full knowledge of the family's troubles and an offer of a way out. Obviously, worried for the happiness of his family, and knowing this is just a dream, Steven will only say yes to the offer of help… Full review...

My First Animals by Aino-Maija Metsola

4star.jpg For Sharing

Get used to two simple words if you have a child, What's That? You will hear it over and over and over again. If you are lucky they are pointing at something that you actually know – chair, hat, my sense of regret. Sometimes they will point at something that is not too familiar. Here the parental practise of making something up comes into play – it's a bird type thing. Books that show images of items, colours or animals may seem a little dull to an adult, but to a toddler learning about the world they are a who's who of what's that. Full review...

The Story of the Dancing Frog by Quentin Blake

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

When Jo's Great Aunt Gertrude's sea captain husband is drowned at sea she is grief-stricken and, in despair, she goes for a walk alone. During this walk she notices a small frog on a lily-pad. But he is no ordinary frog - he's a dancing frog and the two quickly become good friends. Soon the duo are touring the world with their routine, spreading joy and fun - and carrying out the occasional rescue - wherever they go. Full review...

The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Emma has a philosophy – let the dead rest, and love the living. The problem with that, as a 96-year-old, is that there are too few living left, and so while the love remains she will go through her memories, taking a woozy, diaphanous path through all the major events of her life. Starting in wartime Berlin with one husband, who gets snatched from her at work, fleeing to another place to wait for peace, and wait for him in vain, moving to Holland and finding new love, and so on – this wispy journey will show all the impacts of war, from rationing right up to exile, death and survival. The memories are coming strongly here and now, as Emma is waiting for at least one of her two sons to visit, and then she will die… Full review...

Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

For a long time now, people have worried about females taking up STEM subjects – the sciences, engineering and suchlike. But I know of at least two sources of role models in that regard. One, most obviously, is Star Wars – let's face it, the latest main film had a girl who scavenged parts but could fly the Millennium Falcon with ease, and the likes of Ahsoka is adept at mending some sort of flying farming machines. If you don't wish to go too fantastical, or are seeking role models for the younger audience, there is the output of Andrea Beaty. Full review...

The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

5star.jpg Crime

So. In the interest of honest disclosure I should tell you that I love Irvine Welsh's work and I must confess to a particularly gruesome fancy for Begbie, the notoriously violent, terrifying protector/tormentor of the Trainspotting gang. Whilst this means you are unlikely to receive an unbiased review, it does mean you will get a passionate one. It is fair to say that I loved The Blade Artist and my only critique would be that it was over too quickly. For those of you who may not be familiar with Welsh's earlier manifestations have no fear, you can pick up The Blade Artist and be transfixed by Jim Francis, artist, father, husband and elegant thug. For those of you with previous knowledge of Francis Begbie you'll be instantly drawn back into the world of a man previously defined by petty vengeance, violence and blood. Full review...

Tiger Tiger by Jonny Lambert

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Until you spend a day hanging out with a child you will never know how exhausting it can be. As an adult you are used to peppering your day with little downtime treats; a cup of tea perhaps, a biscuits, or maybe even a cheeky nap? The kids I know have no end of energy and at best you will get a sip of cold coffee, have to give them most of the biscuit and a nap would consist of them jumping on your head. However, although their enthusiasm and zest may be tiring, it is also infectious, just ask any old tiger you meet. Full review...

UFOs and GOD: A Collection of Short Stories by Michael R Lane

4star.jpg Short Stories

From stories of young people caught up in a Robin Hood style operation gone wrong, to a believer in God having her faith shaken by the arrival of aliens, author Michael R Lane has compiled a collection of fascinating and clever short stories here. From farm to urban, from World War II to the Digital Age, the places and times, people and events in UFOs and God spotlight the tender underbelly of the human condition in all its glory and despair on these varied stages of fiction. Full review...

What's Where on Earth? Atlas: The World as You've Never Seen It Before by DK

4.5star.jpg Reference

I dread to think how old the atlas we used when I was a child was, but at least we had one, and I didn't need to go to school or a library to check up on whatever bit of trivia I was seeking. I'm so old a lot of things about it now would be most redundant, but if you choose to risk your arm and buy an atlas for the family shelves that all generations will benefit from, as opposed to relying on electronic and updateable sources of information, then this is the one to have. Full review...

At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell

4star.jpg Politics and Society

You know that old saying about judging books by their cover? Ignore it! I have found that by judging a book by its cover and getting it completely wrong is a great way to find yourself committed to reading a book that you'd never have picked in a million years and yet, somehow, being amazingly glad you did. Full review...