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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Reviews of the Best New Books

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Say Yes to New Opportunities! by Ruth Pearson

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Ruth Pearson was deputy head of her school and was studying for a Masters degree when she suffered an emotional breakdown as a result of the stresses of the job. The breakdown was so severe that she was afraid to return to the classroom, but rather than sitting back and letting the circumstances overwhelm her she allowed what had happened to become a catalyst which would help her to change her life. In Say Yes to New Opportunities she shares what she learned from the experience. To come back from this situation requires strength, honesty and a sense of purpose, all of which Pearson demonstrates quite clearly throughout this book. Full review...

The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Prudence Pinsent flings her novel across the room. Unutterable bilge is her description of the typical country house murder mystery of romantic novels. The deliberate irony of this is that The Incredible Crime is precisely one such novel. Full review...

Sweetpea by C J Skuse

3.5star.jpg Crime

In many ways, Rhiannon Lewis lives an ordinary life. She works at a local paper, lives with her long term boyfriend, dotes on her dog and is part of a large group of friends. There are just a few unusual things about Rhiannon, like that she is obsessed with Slyvanian families... and she's in fact a serial killer. She's harmless though... as long as you stay off her list. Full review...

Travels With My Sketchbook by Michael Foreman

4star.jpg Art

I guess the best children's literature can do away with complete veracity, as long as it has something about it that is recognisable – a little of the spirit, heart and character of the real thing, whatever it may be. And if that's the case then it definitely applies to children's literature illustrations, such as those provided close on two hundred times by Michael Foreman. This prolific artist leapt at a scholarship in the US when he'd completed his official, formal studies, and it would appear – huge credits list regardless – that he's never stopped moving since, as this book takes us to all corners of the world, and back home again. Full review...

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

"Love is like killing," she said. "You do it with every part of you, or not at all.” Pyrre is a skullsworn; one who is devoted to the God of Death. Trained as an assassin and having studied under the deadliest killers in the world since she was eight, Pyrre is about to embark upon her final trial. A trial in which success will mean elevation to the rank of priestess, while failure will mean death. Full review...

Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Like all twenty-year-olds, Ryan Cusack is trying to get his head around who he is. This is not a good time for his boss to exploit his dual heritage by opening a new black market route from Italy to Ireland. It is certainly not a good time for his adored girlfriend to decide he's irreparably corrupted. And he really wishes he hadn't accidentally caught the eye of an ornery grandmother who fancies herself his saviour. Full review...

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

4star.jpg Science Fiction

No one likes to see a loved one die, but when they do we can reflect on how they lived and eventually move on with a piece of them inside us. However, what would happen if we could take all the memories we have saved on the internet and combine them into an Artificial Intelligence that represented them? Would this work to keep them close, or just give you a false facsimile that prevents you from moving on? Full review...

Girlhood by Cat Clarke

4star.jpg General Fiction

Girlhood focuses on a group of friends; Harper, Rowan, Lily and Ama, who are fast approaching the end of term at an elite boarding school in the middle of nowhere. The arrival of Kirsty causes a seismic shift in this previously supportive friendship group and Harper soon finds herself caught between her old friends and the mysterious new girl who seems to have so much in common with her. But is Kirsty who she claims to be? Full review...

The Loxleys and Confederation by Mark Zuehlke and Claude St Aubin

3.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

There is a huge hole in my history knowledge where North America is concerned. Slowly, from an opening of sheer ignorance, having never studied it whatsoever at school, I've got a small grip on things like the Civil War, the foundations of the USA and a few other things. But that means nothing as far as this book is concerned, for that huge hole is Canada. No, I didn't have an inkling about how it was trying to unify, just as the American Civil War was in full pelt just across the border. I didn't know what was there before Canada, if you see what I mean. The story does have some things in common with that of their southern neighbours – European occupancy being slowly turned into a list of states as we know them now, slowly spreading into the heart of the continent with the help of the railways etc; native 'Indians' being 'in the way'; past trading agreements to either maintain or try to improve on; and so on – but of course it also had the British vs French issue. But did you know how an American President getting shot at the theatre had a bearing on the story? Or the Irish? Like I said, a huge hole… Full review...

The Earth Book: A World of Exploration and Wonder by Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The Earth. I kind of quite like it, you know – it seems to serve my purpose. I don't think I've taken too much out of it, all told, and if it's divided up into 200 countries I'm getting close to having visited a quarter of them. But way back when I just didn't get on with studying it. I didn't like geography – what with having to draw maps, oxbow lakes and whatnot I think it was one of those subjects I was put off through the pictorial element – and dropped it as soon as I could. But then, I didn't have the likes of this book to inspire me… Full review...

Time is Money by T K Williams-Nelson

4star.jpg Business and Finance

Whatever your age it's frustrating to have to work for someone else. If you're under twenty five there's a strong chance that you'll be under-valued and probably not paid very well. There is though, a certain security in employment, usually because there's a reasonable certainty of income and a possibility of paid holidays: when you're self-employed neither of those are guaranteed. It is, though, a big step to leap into the world of self-employment. Time is Money is a self-development tool aimed at young people, creatives and people in business. Full review...

The Story of Space by Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I have no actual idea how I first got an interest in space. Perhaps it's there because I'm so old to almost coincide with the last Apollo astronauts being on the moon (and that's pretty old, it's been so long) and it kind of rubbed off on me. Perhaps in fact all young children are interested in space anyway, and don't need any impetus or reason to look up in wonder. But if they do, this is the newest way of nudging the newer child towards a keenness for all things celestial. And it's a pretty good way indeed. Full review...

A Fanfare of Tales by Patrick C Reidy

4star.jpg Short Stories

I love short stories, so I'm always happy when a new collection arrives for review. A Fanfare of Tales by Patrick C Reidy promises me a compilation of short stories that highlight the adventures of diverse characters as each encounters unforeseen challenges. I like this premise. So how does the book shape up? Full review...

For My Sins by Alex Nye

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

1586: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, has time to look back over her past life as she sits, incarcerated by her second cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Mary's life hasn't been one of totally pampered royalty. Growing up in France, away from her mother, widowed and then returning to Scotland to claim the throne before she was even 19, her struggle with fate started early. The tensions between Mary the woman, Mary the Catholic and Mary the political force continue through three marriages, an unsolved murder and the thwarted desire to serve her people. Now it's come to this prison cell but while there's life, there's still hope… Full review...

Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

4star.jpg Popular Science

Most of us have had the experience of watching a game at Wimbledon, or hearing a concert pianist, or reading about a new world record for the youngest chess Grandmaster, and daydreamed about ourselves in that position. Except, we invariably tell ourselves, that isn't possible because we were always beaten in school tennis matches, we didn't start piano lessons until we were twelve, and we were never pushed by our parents to play chess. Peak is a supremely optimistic – which is not to say unscientific – ode to practise, and the idea that with the right amount and right sort of practise, almost anyone can achieve almost anything. Full review...

Lots – The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

How many different kinds of living things are there on Earth? Lots…that's how many. Children will learn lots and lots from this wonderful book. I learned lots from it too. There are 100,000 different kinds of mushrooms. Who knew? Well I certainly didn't. This is one of those special books with cross-over appeal. Tiny children will adore the illustrations, slightly older ones will learn fascinating facts and readers of any age will be moved by the message that we need to take better care of our beautiful environment. Full review...

The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey

3.5star.jpg Science Fiction

It's ten years since mankind was almost wiped out by a virus that turned the great majority of it into the hungries – zombies by any other name. A lone, heavily armoured vehicle is travelling from the British redoubt on the south coast the length of the Kingdom, tracing a previous expedition that failed to return, and hoping to find evidence somewhere, somehow, of something that can either counter the virus or rid the survivors of their enemy. As a result the vehicle is divided in personnel between scientists and the military, and as neither side is completely cohesive it's no surprise to see the crew split along partisan lines. That's not helped by one of the scientists, Samrina Khan, being heavily pregnant. But she's also rubbed people up by insisting on an intriguing character being on board – a teenaged savant, no less, called Stephen Greaves. But that source of the unusual is nothing perhaps to the bizarre the team will find on their explorations… Full review...

This Mum Runs by Jo Pavey

4star.jpg Autobiography

I am something of a self-confessed running addict: I think nothing of hitting the roads for 50 miles a week, and spend much of my time searching for races to run all over the country. That is, until I wound up with a persistent sports injury, hung up my running shoes for nearly a year, and switched the road to the pool. At the time I thought nothing could alleviate the misery of not being able to run; but now I wish I had had Jo Pavey's autobiography, This Mum Runs, to keep me company because the elite athlete’s account of the Olympics, injury, family, and life in general falls nothing short of inspirational. Full review...

The Button Box by Lynn Knight

4star.jpg History

Buttons are the underdogs of the clothing world: dismissed as functional elements of clothing, falling into the same dustbin category with zips and shoe laces, they tend to be seen as necessary for keeping clothes on, rather than contributors to style. But Lynn Knight is set to prove that the opposite is true. We think nothing of lacing discussions about clothing and feminism with headscarves, bikinis, and underweight models – and buttons deserve a place on the pedestal of gender discussion, too. Full review...

The Story of Be by David Crystal

4star.jpg Popular Science

David Crystal is something of a torchbearer when it comes to popularizing linguistics in the UK. He churns out material about language for a general audience at steady pace: he has covered everything from the history of English to how Shakespearean drama was actually pronounced to how language is used in an internet context. Given his previous grand themes, it is perhaps surprising that Crystal has now picked something rather more inconspicuous to present: the verb be. Full review...

Hekla's Children by James Brogden

4star.jpg Horror

Nathan has a steady job as an outdoor pursuits instructor but that's not his first career. Ten years earlier he'd been a teacher when it all went dreadfully wrong during an orienteering event for his secondary school students. Four young people disappeared suddenly but only one was found. Malnourished and in shock, Olivia was never able to tell anyone what happened. A decade later a body is found, Nathan starts having hallucinations and Olivia crosses his path again. Whatever began that day isn't finished. Evil will find a way through. Full review...

The Judge and His Hangman (Inspector Barlach 1) by Friedrich Durrenmatt and Joel Agee (translator)

4.5star.jpg Crime

We're in rural, rainy, wintery Switzerland soon after the Second World War. A man has been found on a remote mountain road. It would appear he opened his car door to someone who proceeded to shoot him dead. Leading the investigation is Inspector Barlach, an elderly and it seems chronically ill policeman, who has no fondness for new-fangled ideas of criminology, but he has employed Tschanz to do his leg-work for him – Tschanz who seems much more keen to find evidence and to share it, and not rely on gut instincts. Neither particularly want to be out in all weathers sorting the crime, but the victim was certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time, for he was a fellow policeman and nobody knows why he was there – or if they do they aren't saying. What had he been up to, and which way of policing the case will get to the answers first? Full review...

The Stone Cradle by Patrice Chaplin

5star.jpg Autobiography

'The Stone Cradle' is a remarkable book from the author Patrice Chaplin. It is a biography, the third in a series set in the Catalonian city of Girona. It is also an enduring love story and a journey into mystery and spirituality. The city has drawn artists, writers and philosophers for centuries. Rich in Kabbalistic thought through Azriel, the most famous student of Isaac the Blind, it has always been a home for mysticism and secrets. The magnetism and resonance of the city has had a hold on Patrice Chaplin since she first visited it in the fifties. The series of books detail her journey and her encounters with the esoteric society that have protected its mysteries since ancient times. 'The Stone Cradle' also gives a new life and direction to the mysteries of Rennes le Chateau, the small French village, made famous by the Da Vinci Code and the Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. Linking the two places through sacred geometry to the mountain of Canigou. Full review...

The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write by Sabrina Mahfouz

5star.jpg Anthologies

What does it mean to be British and Muslim? This is a question these writers tackle with stunning clarity. Modern day British society has a varied sense of cultural heritage; it is a society that is changing and moving forward as it adds more and more voices to the population, but is also one that has an undercurrent of anxiety and fear towards those that are minorities. So this collection displays how all that fear is received; it comes in the form of stereotypical labels and racial prejudice, which are themes eloquently reproduced here. Full review...

Good Dog McTavish by Meg Rosoff

5star.jpg Confident Readers

McTavish did wonder whether he was making a mistake in adopting the Peachey family: it was a decision which came from the heart rather than the head. You see the Peacheys were dysfunctional: Ma Peachey, an accountant by profession, decided that she was fed up with chasing around after an ungrateful family, so she resigned and dedicated herself to her yoga with half a hint that she might also dedicate herself to her yoga teacher. She gave up cooking, cleaning, baking, washing and all the other things which kept the family going, such as finding lost keys and getting people out of bed so that they got to wherever they were going on time. And the family? Well, they had no idea of how to cope, with one exception. Full review...

The Housekeeper by Suellen Dainty

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Annie has broken the cardinal rule of never mixing business with pleasure, and so when the latter ends, she's left without the former, and in need of a new job. She never thought about being a housekeeper, but her OCD tendencies mixed with years of working in hospitality mean she's quite capable, especially when an opportunity arises with her girl crush, Emma Helmsley, one half of a well-known celeb couple on the London circuit. Nothing is ever as it seems, though, and Annie soon finds that behind those tall walls there is a family no less dysfunctional than anyone else's, despite their fame, fortune, and front page headlines. Full review...

Marvel Rocket and Groot: Keep on Truckin' by Tom Angleberger

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Last time our favourite space-gun toting small, furry woodland creature and his humanoid yet woody friend Groot, escaped a planet-sized shopping mall of death, complete with their new companion in the form of a tape dispenser, and an old friend (for I'm sure Rocket would think of any old space ship of his as a friend, much as I'm sure that if the reverse were technically possible, the ship would never do the same back). But when they run out of fuel, as we were led to expect, there is only one option, and that is to land on the nightmarish world – nightmarish to Rocket, at least – of HappyHappyFunFun. But what's this? The whole world's inhabitants are now stuck hiding in caves for fear of the dangers of the road, as every vehicle is seemingly on a collision course with them, in a planet-wide instance of road rage. Surely even Rocket, who laughs in the face of danger, and Groot, who says I am Groot in the face of danger, cannot hope to help? Full review...

Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek

4.5star.jpg Entertainment

Chris Wood was a member of Traffic, the group formed by Steve Winwood in 1967 after he left The Spencer Davis Group. A gifted musician best known for his flute and saxophone work, he also played keyboards, bass guitar and contributed backing vocals as well as having a hand in writing several of the songs and one or two instrumentals. This biography takes its title from the name of one of his compositions for their fifth album. Full review...

Marvel Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Shopping Mall by Tom Angleberger

4star.jpg Confident Readers

I am Groot. I know what you're saying there, it is good to see the japery of our favourite small woodland creature and tree-man-thing in book form, even if here it is a particularly unusual form. Everything here is unusual, on Planet Shopping Mall, where our heroes have arrived – and not by choice. Take the first place they go to, a dry-cleaners, so that Rocket can clean his clothes of space piranha blood – the toilet in back just tries to eat him. The sickly-sweet sweet shop is manned by angry robot tooth fairies, with a battle mode, and they too have the consumption of peculiar life-forms in mind. Can the stranded duo battle every evil thing around, and survive to find a way off-world? And can they cope with being forced to enter partnership with a purple tape dispenser? Full review...