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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The Beta Mum: Adventures in Alpha Land by Isabella Davidson

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

To say that Sophie Bennett didn't want to move to London is something of an understatement. She's a shy person who doesn't make friends easily and the thought of losing all her support systems and having to start again fills her with dread. But, husband Michael has been offered a big job on London's RailLink project and it's not a chance he can turn down - even if he wanted to, and he doesn't. So before long their three-year old daughter, Kaya, has been left with Sophie's parents and Michael and Sophie have found a flat in west London and they've even, against all the odds, managed to secure a place for Kaya at London's most exclusive nursery school. Well, when I say that they managed to secure the place, I actually mean that they required the services of a nursery consultant, who has a double-barrelled name and a friendship with the headmistress. Full review...

Super Creepy Camp (Beaky Malone) by Barry Hutchison

5star.jpg Confident Readers

First of all, I'd like to start off by making a complaint to Barry Hutchison. His latest book, Super Creepy Camp has been giving me sleepless nights. I've been kept awake by the raucous laughter emanating from my son's bedroom as he reads it before bed. I'd just be settling down and then it would start again, bouncing off the walls in the dead of night and probably keeping the neighbours awake too. I'd stomp angrily across the landing, open his door, to find him helplessly rolling around on the bed in fits of giggles. So thanks, Barry. Thanks a lot. Full review...

Let's Make Lots of Money: My Life as the Biggest Man in Pop by Tom Watkins

4star.jpg Entertainment

Who on earth would be a manager in the larger than life, here today gone tomorrow world of pop? Anybody with an ego, a ruthless streak, an opportunity to embrace the chances and accept that it's not going to last, evidently. Tom Watkins is just one of several to have walked the fine line, and for part of the time, quite successfully. As his memoirs suggest, part of the time was achievement enough. Full review...

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

5star.jpg Thrillers

Helena Pelletier was having a normal afternoon: making deliveries of jams and jellies to her sales outlets and taking her younger daughter Marigold to play at the side of the lake. It was on the journey back to meet her older daughter from the school bus that she heard the news: the notorious child abductor and rapist Jacob Holbrook, known as the Marsh King, had escaped from prison, killing two guards in the process. Helena knew that she was in danger: Jacob Holbrook was her father and she was the daughter of the woman he had abducted when she was fifteen years old. She'd been brought up until the age of twelve as a captive. There was another problem too: she'd never actually got around to telling her husband about her background. Full review...

Here's To Us by Elin Hilderbrand

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Obituaries follow a pretty standard format, talking about how much someone meant to the loved ones in their lives – partner, children, wider friends and family. In Deacon's case, though, he's leaving behind not one wife but three, if you count the exes. And he has children across several decades. It's a true smorgasbord, as a chef might say. But yes, Deacon is dead and his family are gathering together, possibly for the first time ever in one place, to say good night to their sweet prince. That place is Nantucket where the chef kept a house, and where all the children (and all their mothers) have spent many happy summers over the years, albeit not in each others company. Full review...

This Modern Love by Will Darbyshire

4star.jpg Lifestyle

Love is love, but at the same time love is changing, the way we find it, the way we express it, the way we walk away from things. You can change a Facebook status and tell the entire world the ins and outs of your relationship, you can meet people online, you can conduct long distance relationships in much more real time than in the past when you had to rely on the postman to deliver your heartfelt, handwritten note. This book, a compilation of letters and other contributions, explores what love is in the 21st century. It's certainly international – there were 15,000 submissions from over 100 countries – and it's also touching, funny, frustrating and all those other things. Full review...

The Obsession by Nora Roberts

5star.jpg Crime

Naomi Carson lives in New York but she hasn't always lived there. Actually her name hasn't always been Naomi Carson. Naomi's life had to start again when, aged 11, she sneakily followed her father into the woods to see if he was hiding her birthday present. That night she saw something no child… no person... should see. As an adult she's now putting her life back together and even coping with the advances of Xander Keaton but danger still lurks. The past will one day repeat itself and this time Naomi will find she's the target. Full review...

Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession: Six Tudor Queens 2 by Alison Weir

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Thomas Boleyn sends his daughters abroad to be trained at the courts of European royalty. Not only does this give them an education in the ways of the elite, it could also ensure a good marriage. Unfortunately he hasn't reckoned on the ideas that one of them, Anne, picks up and as for marriage… Anne is determined to marry for love not through some paternal arrangement. Yet the reality turns out to be different, driving a wedge through her family on a road leading to dark tragedy. Full review...

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

4star.jpg Thrillers

Ava and Zelda are twins, their naming triggering a family joke about being opposite ends of the alphabet. That's all past tense now though as Zelda is dead. Ava is told the news via her mother's terse, dispassionate email before Ava can come home to the US from Paris. Zelda burnt to death in the family's barn where she sometimes slept… at least that's the story and human remains were indeed found in the barn. But then why is Ava still receiving emails from Zelda? Emails that taunt, emails that remind and emails that suggest Zelda is very much alive. To discover the truth all Ava needs to do is follow the clues and relive some painful memories. Full review...

Friends and Liars by Kaela Coble

5star.jpg Thrillers

Kaela Coble's debut novel Friends and Liars is a gripping read that tells the tale of 'the crew', a group of friends who once made a pact to always be honest with eachother. So what happens when none of them keep this pact? After not being together for over ten years the crew are reunited at the wake of one of their own, Danny Deuso, who has left a haunting suicide note along with an envelope for each crew member containing their darkest secret. They are now faced with two options: reveal their secrets or face the risk that Danny will reveal them from beyond the grave. Full review...

The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu

5star.jpg Science Fiction

If anyone thought that the short story as a form had been relegated to the pages of women's magazines (no disrespect) – think again. One genre that has always been a stalwart supporter and encourager of the short form is Sci-fi. So when you pick up a collection of Sci-fi shorts, you know that it will have just as much depth and thought-provoking philosophy as any similar novel. Add to that the intrigue of seeing how the concepts are approached by someone from China which – to be polite – has a somewhat different world-view in many ways to much of the rest of the planet…and add to that an author who is not only a best-seller in his home country but has the distinction of having produced the first translated work of SF ever to win the Hugo Award…this has got to be good! Full review...

Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm

4star.jpg For Sharing

Bear is waiting for Goliath. That's Bear on the cover and it was what first drew me to this book. He looks so forlorn that I wanted to know what the problem was. He's not exactly forlorn, but he has been waiting at the bus stop since dawn and he might be getting just a little bit bored. He lies down (legs dangling down and tummy flat on the seat) and explains to everyone that Goliath is his best friend. Robin wanted to know if Goliath is as strong as Bear and Bear says that he is. He's smart too. He can count to eighteen. Bear's obviously been at the stop for quite a while as the spring flowers have fallen from the trees. He's there through the dark too - he just curls up and sleeps on the seat. Full review...

The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

When young seamstress May Bedloe is left alone and penniless on the shore of the Ohio, she finds work on the famous floating theatre that plies its trade along the river. Her creativity and needlework skills quickly become invaluable and she settles into life among the colourful troupe of actors. She finds friends, and possibly the promise of more. But cruising the border between the Confederate South and the 'free' North is fraught with danger. For the sake of a debt that must be repaid, May is compelled to transport secret passengers, under cover of darkness, across the river and on, along the underground railroad. But as May's secrets become harder to keep, she learns she must endanger those now dear to her.

And to save the lives of others, she must risk her own... Full review...

I Am The Brother Of XX by Fleur Jaeggy and Gini Alhadeff (translator)

4star.jpg Short Stories

I Am The Brother of XX is a collection of twenty one short stories from Fleur Jaeggy, who expertly wields malevolence and spite throughout, from the evil done between husband and wife in The Aviary, a nasty tale of Oedipal menace and vicious, although admittedly, artful cruelty, to senseless annihilation and immolation in The Heir. Jaeggy also appears to have a particular fascination with religion, from the nun receiving a rather special sort of communion in The Visitor to general references to the Church and religious devotion throughout many of her stories. Family is also a recurrent theme; whether focused on the distance between siblings in the titular story, told from the point of view of a brother filled with longing and loneliness trying to create a bond with his distant older sister, or the primal need to protect the bond between mother and son, regardless of the cost in Adelaide. Full review...

Outskirts by John Grindrod

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Outskirts is an interesting take on a phenomenon of the modern age: the introduction of the green belt of countryside surrounding inner city housing estates. John Grindrod grew up on the edge of one such estate in the 1960's and '70's, as he puts it, I grew up on the last road in London. Grindrod explores the introduction of the green belt, and the various fights and developments it has gone through over the subsequent decades, as environmental and political arguments have affected planning decisions. Within this topic, he has somehow managed to wind around his personal memories of childhood, producing a memoir with a lot of heart. Full review...

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Our narrator is a screenwriter, tasked with coming up with a sequel to his hit movie Besties – a film which helped pay for a house, but which his actress wife keeps letting him know, isn't art. To concentrate, the family – he, the wife, and their four year old daughter – have rented a large, modern house at the end of a horrid, hairpin bend-filled road, in a charming alpine landscape. But things aren't right. The couple are at loggerheads too much, things keep unsettling our narrator, and the sole shopkeeper for miles around is ready with the Hammer Horror styled warnings of strange events. Quickly we see the book's title in all its galling clarity – but it isn't too late to get out… is it? And out of what, exactly? Full review...

Rook by Anthony McGowan

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

When Nicky and his learning-disabled brother Kenny come across a rook being attacked by a sparrowhawk, they chase off the raptor and rescue the rook.Kenny is convinced that a good dollop of love and affection is all that's needed to keep the bird alive but Nicky is sceptical. And in any case, Nicky has other things to worry about, like avoiding the bully at school and finding a way to talk to the girl he likes. In the previous two books in this sequence, troubles were dogging Kenny and the boys' father but in Rook it's Nicky who could do with a helping hand. Things are about to go wrong. Will Nicky find a way through? Full review...

The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig

5star.jpg General Fiction

The Bredins can't afford to divorce. The house in London would sell, but not for a priced that would allow Quentin and Lottie ( she with her son and their two girls) to each get somewhere to live. Unemployment has barrelled into the equation too: Lottie's lost her job as an architect and Quentin's prowess as a journalist is in reducing demand. There's not much in the way of family help available: Lottie's mother's house might be worth six million, but she barely scrapes by on her income. There's one solution that just might work: the house in London can be let and they'll move to somewhere cheap in the country and live as best they can on the rent they receive. Full review...

The Management Style of the Supreme Beings by Tom Holt

5star.jpg Fantasy

Imagine, if you will, that the local deity and his well-beloved son Jay decide to retire from the god business and go fishing instead. After all, they've been working on, and for, the planet for millennia, and it is really is time they took a break. And the Venturi brothers, who already manage several other planets, have made them a very generous bid for the franchise. Full review...

All The Things That Could Go Wrong by Stewart Foster

5star.jpg Teens

Alex has OCD, and as if that wasn't awful enough, he's getting badly bullied at school. Dan's the guy who's bullying him, but he's not really sure why he is apart from the fact Sophie says he should. The only thing Dan does know is that he really misses his brother, Ben. All the Things that Could Go Wrong follows both Alex and Dan's stories as they just try to make it through the days. While Alex fights his OCD and his bullies, Dan fights his loneliness and all the anger that he seems to have inside him now. You might think this is going to be a cut and dried story of the nice boy who's being bullied and the bad boy who's doing the bullying, but it isn't. Full review...

Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner

5star.jpg Biography

Edward II has come down to us as one of the worst English kings of all. With a reign filled by reliance on male favourites, constant threats of civil wars, endless quarrels with his barons, unsuccessful military campaigns (including what was perhaps the worst English military defeat ever to take place on British soil), abdication and – so we are led to believe – a brutal death in captivity - the balance sheet is a pretty poor one. But is it the full story? Full review...

Rooms of One's Own: 50 Places That Made Literary History by Adrian Mourby

4.5star.jpg Entertainment

The debate is never-ending about how much of the author's life we can find in their pages, and what bearing every circumstance of their lot had on their output. Things perhaps are heightened when they do a Hemingway or a Greene and travel the world, but so often they have had a cause to stay in one place and write. Does that creative spirit survive in the walls and air of the room they worked in, and do those four walls, or the view, feature in the books? And does any of this really matter in admiring the great works of literature? Well, this volume itself kind of relies on that as being the case, but either way it's a real pleasure. Full review...

Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

4.5star.jpg Teens

Ever since Alena can remember, it's been her step-brother Danny and his boyfriend Nick who have looked after her. Her mother died when she was just three years old. It might be small and unorthodox, but Alena's family is a loving one. However, simmering political tensions in London, triggered by a series of bombings, threaten to spill over and shatter the stability of the only family Alena has ever known. Faced with complicated questions about family and politics, Alena finds herself looking back into the past, at the life of activism that her mother led, a life that her brother has always been suspiciously secretive about, in the hope of finding some answers. Full review...

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

4.5star.jpg Teens

It's camp. It's supposed to be fun.
Well excuse me for not having the time of my life.

That simple piece of dialogue is the key to this autobiographical graphic novel. Why is Maggie not happy at camp? Forget the way she's isolated by being a sleep-walker, and ignore the fact she's from a different state to every other girl around, and practically only there to obey her mother's family tradition – she's all of a sudden become an ace shot on the rifle range, and can boss the Backstreet Boys-themed talent performance. But those aren't enough for Maggie to feel settled and like she's enjoying her summer, and anyway they do come with their own problems. No, the bigger problem is something else – the fact that she seems to be falling in love with one of the counsellor campers, there to look after the welfare of the younger inmates – being potentially a lesbian is a shock to our narrator. Full review...

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

This is the perfect book for those that want a taste of Homer's Iliad before attempting the full work. Although aimed at a younger reading audience, Sutcliff's writing is concise and gripping; thus, this will be as equally beneficial to adults. This, when brought together with the excellent artistic skills of Allan lee, makes for a lavish retelling of the Iliad. Full review...

Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Young bride Olivia Sheldon finds returning to her childhood home in Egypt a bitter-sweet experience. On the one hand, she has been reunited with her estranged sister Clara, and the pair have formed a deep and loving bond. On the other, she has an unhappy marriage to her domineering husband Alistair, who only married her to spite Clara, who had refused him previously. Life with the sadistic Alistair is unbearable, with Olivia subjected to horrific abuse at his hands, daily. As a lady with no means of supporting herself, Olivia seems trapped without any means of escape, only finding solace in the company of her sister and friends. But when her dear sister goes mysteriously missing in the bustling streets of Alexandria, it is up to Olivia to try and solve the mystery of her disappearance before it is too late. Full review...

The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis

4star.jpg Thrillers

For as long as she can remember, Jemma has been planning the perfect honeymoon. A fortnight's retreat to a five-star resort in the Maldives, complete with luxury villas, personal butlers and absolute privacy.It should be paradise. But it's turned into a nightmare. Because the man Jemma married a week ago has just disappeared from the island without a trace. And now her perfect new life is vanishing just as quickly before her eyes. After everything they've been through together, how can this be happening? Is there anyone on the island who Jemma can trust? And above all - where has her husband gone? Full review...

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

5star.jpg Confident Readers

It's Germany, 1933 and nine year old Anna has a dream – she wants to be famous when she grows up. Unfortunately nearly all the famous people she's heard of have suffered from a difficult childhood and Anna knows that's not her. She has a loving family with enough money. Her life is, however, turned upside down by Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Anna's told that she's Jewish (her parents aren't particularly religious so she was only dimly aware of this) and her dad is likely to be a target under a Nazi government. Anna and her family are forced to flee Germany and build a new life as refugees in Switzerland, then France and ultimately England. It's a hard life, especially when money worries settle in, but for Anna and her brother it's also an adventure. It's, therefore, a long time before Anna realises that her experiences might actually count as a difficult childhood. Full review...