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 Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Unicorns and Rainbows by Rebecca Jones

5star.jpg Crafts

I've a problem with many colouring books for children: some initial effort goes into the colouring, but the chances are that little will be kept on a long-term basis and it's not particularly satisfying. How much better would it be if the colouring produced something which could be sent to someone else, who would appreciate that it's unique and that effort and care has gone into the card? How much better to give a child something like The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes: Unicorns and Rainbows than an ordinary colouring book which will soon be discarded? Full review...

Refuge by Dina Nayeri

5star.jpg General Fiction

Sinking boats in stormy seas, national borders boosted with barbed wire, and overcrowded shelters – the media's portrayal of seeking asylum focuses on the process in its darkest, most dangerous form. What happens after tumultuous journeys and temporary shelter is not news; and life after decades in the new country is rarely headline material either. But in Dina Nayeri's Refuge, it is the life after that takes centre stage. Full review...

I am Actually a Penguin by Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Do you know a child who loves to dress up? Well this is the perfect picture book for that child. Quite probably the perfect picture book for the parent of that child too. Full review...

Conversations with Kammie by Annie Ingram

4star.jpg Pets

It was something of a relief when I encountered Annie Ingram and her cocker spaniel Kammie. You see, Annie knows something which has been self-evident to me for a long time: dogs are perfectly capable of communicating with humans and not just on a level of food!, walk! or play!. You do require extensive training to become fluent, but most dogs will be perfectly willing to give their time to teach you and all you have to do is listen. Annie has studied hard: Kammie has trained her well and the pair have allowed us to share some of their conversations. Full review...

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

4.5star.jpg Teens

After an accident leaves his brother, Kam, with severe neurodisability, it's obvious that the lives of Sef and his family will never be the same again. Plagued by feelings of guilt and struggling to cope, Sef turns all his attention to the only way that he might be able to help - money. In an attempt to raise funds for his brother's care, he enlists the help of Claire. As a volunteer at the facility looking after Kam, she's the only person from school that really appreciates just how dire Kam's situation is, and how important it is to get the funding that he needs. Aided by Claire's equipment and YouTube know-how, the two create a channel where their alter-egos, Truth Girl and Dare Boy, play an escalating game of Truth or Dare to persuade viewers to donate to their cause. However, £60,000 is no small amount, and fundraising through YouTube is no easy feat. Just how far are they willing to go for their cause? Full review...

High Spirits (Spirits 4) by Rob Keeley

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Millions of people will die in the war, Ellie. And it's our job to make sure it happens. That's why our work isn't easy.

And if that's not ominous, I don't know what is.

It's been two years since Ellie's last adventure in the spirit world or talked to her friend, the ghost of Edward Fitzberranger. She has tried to do what Viewpoint asked her to do and live a normal, boring, human life. Mum is still working for the Journeyback historical re-enactment company but it looks as though her job won't last much longer. Money is tight and Mum, as ever, is stressed. Dad got compensation for his accident, so he is living the life of Riley. He's eager to help out but Mum won't hear of it. And Ellie has a romantic interest in Luke. All in all, things could be better but they could also be worse. No more spirits. No more corrupting of timelines. Full review...

Across the Ocean by Hawa L Crickmore

4star.jpg General Fiction

A young cage fighter, Martin Grandson, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder which required a bone-marrow transplant, preferably from a sibling. Only recently he'd been a fit young man, in the prime of life, but now he was suffering from a rare type of bone cancer: without the transplant he would be paralysed for life and might be dead within the next twelve weeks if he didn't receive the transplant within the next fourteen days. Unfortunately Martin's parents had died in a car crash and there were no siblings or other close relatives. His girlfriend, Celia, was not a match. Full review...

Insidious Intent: (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, Book 10) by Val McDermid

5star.jpg Crime

When we meet Kathryn McCormick we know that she's got less than three weeks to live. Had Kathryn known that she might have made different choices. I've a suspicion that she might not have wasted time being at the wedding, but it was there that she met her killer. He said his name was David and he was charming, respectful, unwilling to rush anything as he was still getting over the death of his wife. Kathryn was left with the feeling that he was still more than a little bit in love with Tricia. They went on a couple of dates and then David took her to a cottage in the Dales for the weekend. By the end of the weekend Kathryn would be dead in her burned-out car. Full review...

Hush Little Baby by Joanna Barnard

5star.jpg General Fiction

Babies don't break bones for no reason. Something has to happen and, normally, someone else will be involved. So when the hospital says Oliver has a broken arm, suspicion lands on his family. Could it be his mother? But she was out all evening, drinking with her old colleagues (hence why she smells of booze when they arrive in A&E). Could it be his father? Sally left him in charge of their son, but he may have popped out for a while (something she doesn't know…yet) and if he was out then he too was away from his son at the time of the crime. Or could it be his half-sister Martha? She's a responsible teenager most of the time, and she would have no reason to harm her baby brother, but there's a nagging feeling about that night that she just can't shake. Full review...

Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Clara is mother to pre-schooler Maisie and newborn Felix, but now she has a new label: widow. Her husband Nick is dead, killed in an awful car crash that thankfully spared his daughter's life when Felix is just a few days old. For Clara, that's not the end of the nightmare. As she works her way through grief and struggles to carry on for the children, she is faced with some new worries. Maisie isn't talking much about the accident, but she's having nightmares that make Clara question the police story of events. There are things in Nick's personal possessions that are odd, things she has never seen before. What's more, it turns out a lot was going on at Nick's work that he hadn't shared with his wife. And, the more she starts to look, the more she wishes she could un-see and go back to how things were. Full review...

Libby in the Middle by Gwyneth Rees

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Twelve-year-old Libby has an older sister, Bella. Bella used to be a real confidante to Libby but things have changed since she got a boyfriend. Now, Bella makes Libby feel childish, foolish and unwanted. The close friendship they had shared has gone and Libby worries that it will never come back. Libby also has a younger sister, Grace. Grace is lovely but it seems to Libby that Grace, as the baby of the family, commands all the parental love and attention. Libby is well and truly stuck in the middle, without a role of her own. Full review...

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

4star.jpg General Fiction

Set in Istanbul in 2016, Three Daughters of Eve centres on Peri, a Turkish woman who finds herself thinking back to her years at Oxford University to distract herself from a boring dinner party. Her reminiscing is triggered when she finds an old polaroid of herself, her friends Mona and Shirin, and the rebellious Professor Azur. Much of her thoughts revolve around the scandal that prevented her from graduating from her dream university. More of a commentary on religion than a story, the novel asks many questions about faith - in particular, Islam - and whether its customs and traditions can be adapted to suit modern life. Full review...

Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase by Stephan Lomp

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Meet Wilfred and Osbert. They're not only the kind to completely flout the rules of the natural history explorer's club they belong to, but when they both spot an undiscovered butterfly together, they are the kind to fight tooth and claw to be the first to lay claim to it alone, and devil take the other one. What they don't know is that the drama that ensues when they're tailing this particular specimen will involve no end of peril – nearly drowning, almost being eaten by a lion, crashing a hot air balloon one of them just so happened to have in his pocket… This, then, is a fun and silly biology lesson – but that's only the best kind, surely? Full review...

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg

4star.jpg For Sharing

The list of entertaining things about toddlers does not include any of the following; throwing food against your recently painted walls, nappy deposits, or deciding to stay up way past their bedtime. There are few things more unsettling to a parent than a toddler used to their routine suddenly deciding to stay up way past their bedtime; they scream, they procrastinate, they blub and then finally collapse (and that is just Mum and Dad). The reason that so many children's books are about settling down and going to bed is to avoid the staying up eventuality, so will a book about an insomniac panda work? Full review...

Neuropolis: A Brain Science Survival Guide by Robert Newman

4star.jpg Popular Science

In Neuropolis, the book and the Radio 4 series, Newman targets a sub-species of pop-neuroscience that he dubs bro-science – a pessimistic, denigrating take on the brain that is based more on macho posing than on research. He sets out to destroy it using proper science. Full review...

Hidden World: Forest by Libby Walden and Stephanie Fizer Coleman

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Sometimes, less is more. But a wood doesn't understand that, does it – it just stretches on and on, expanding outwards and outwards, and upwards and upwards – it's quite a galling thing for a young person to understand. This book reverts to the very basic detail that will let the very young student get a grip on the life in the forest, whether they can actually see it for the trees in real life or not… Full review...

Trickery by Roald Dahl

5star.jpg Short Stories

How underhand could you be to get what you want? In these ten tales of dark and twisted trickery Roald Dahl reveals that we are at our smartest and most cunning when we set out to deceive others - and, sometimes, even ourselves. Here, among others, you'll read of the married couple and the parting gift which rocks their marriage, the light fingered hitch-hiker and the grateful motorist, and discover why the serious poacher keeps a few sleeping pills in his arsenal. Full review...

Innocence by Roald Dahl

5star.jpg Short Stories

What makes us innocent and how do we come to lose it? Featuring the autobiographical stories telling of Roald Dahl's boyhood and youth as well as four further tales of innocence betrayed, Dahl touches on the joys and horrors of growing up. Among other stories, you'll read about the wager that destroys a girl's faith in her father, the landlady who has plans for her unsuspecting young guest and the commuter who is horrified to discover that a fellow passenger once bullied him at school. Full review...

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII: The visitor's companion to the palaces, castles & houses associated with Henry VIII's iconic queens by S Morris and N Grueninger

5star.jpg History

It was inevitable that each of the six wives of Henry VIII would have left their mark in some way on the places they lived and visited. This book straddles several categories; history, gazetteer or guide book, and collection of potted biographies. Full review...

Owen Tudor: Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty by Terry Breverton

4.5star.jpg Biography

Owen Tudor was one of those shadowy yet very important characters in medieval history. While we may know little about him, or at least did not until this biography appeared, his historical importance can hardly be overestimated. Without him, there would have been no Tudor dynasty. Full review...

Nee Nah! Nee Nah! To the Rescue: Press the tabs, hear the sounds (Sound of the City) by Carles Ballasteros

4star.jpg For Sharing

The cover of this book might tell you all that you need to know if you're buying a book for a boy who loves noisy vehicles, but if you dismiss it on those grounds you might be making a mistake. Let me tell you a bit about it. It's a substantially-built board book with suitably rounded corners for when it's used as a missile and it has tabs which take you to the pages for the vehicles we're going to be looking at. There's a helicopter, a police car, a fire engine and an ambulance. For a lot of books for the youngest children that would be it - and a lot of children would enjoy looking at the pictures. But - there's more... Full review...

Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage by Heidi Swain

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

I absolutely loved this book. It was utterly enchanting with its charming feel-good storyline, delightful characters and innocent romance. It was also an easy read with short chapters making it easy to pick up and put down (not that I wanted to) throughout the day. Full review...

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

It's 1947. The Second World War has ended and American socialite Charlie St. Clair is unmarried and pregnant. After she's shipped off to Europe by her family to have her 'little problem' taken care of, Charlie decides to take matters in to her own hands and head to London. She is clinging on to a small hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi occupied France, may still be alive and she thinks she's found the person who will have the answers. Meanwhile, former British spy Evelyn Gardiner spends her days drunk and alone, still haunted by what she endured during her espionage in the First War. That is until a young American shows up at her door uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in years. This meeting forces two unlikely women together as they go in search of the truth, no matter what the cost. Full review...

Thornhill by Pam Smy

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, this story is haunting, mysterious and touching. Mary is a unique child; she's introverted and very talented, spending most of her time by herself creating her fantasies through making puppets. She is being severely bullied, but her bully has gone further than most. She torments her, haunts her steps and takes every opportunity to make Mary's life a living hell. Too scared to sleep, too uncomfortable to eat with others, Mary has become an isolated mute stuck in her room at Thornhill. Full review...

All The Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker

4star.jpg Crime

In the small town of Grace, fifteen-year-old Summer Ryan suddenly goes missing. A model student with exceptional musical talent and beloved by all that know her, the incident rocks the entire town. It is even more terrifying set against the backdrop of recent crimes; for over the course of the year, five young church-attending girls have gone missing from all corners of Briar County. The kidnapper and murderer responsible for the disappearance of these girls is nicknamed Bird by law enforcement, and has so far evaded capture. Whilst he roams the streets, no one is safe. Full review...

The Hidden Keys by Andre Alexis

5star.jpg General Fiction

Tancred Palmieri is a talented thief thrown into the path of Willow Azarian an eccentric, unpredictable heroin addict. She is also part of the Azarian dynasty, bequeathed almost a million dollars upon her father's death. Each of the Azarian children were also gifted a deeply personal memento mori, which Willow is convinced make up an intricate treasure hunt. She enlists the help of Tancred to steal each item, solve the mystery and prove she is not blindly following a baseless fantasy. Tancred must use all his skills to infiltrate the homes of each of Willow's siblings, uncover the clues hidden in each item and fight off the rival interests of competing criminals and the police. Full review...

The Ghost of Helen Addison by Charles E McGarry

5star.jpg Paranormal

Leo Moran is a gourmand, sleuth and seer of visions. Beset by ghoulish dreams and apparitions of a terrible crime he leaves the safety of his extravagantly furnished Glasgow apartment and sets out to Lock Dhonn to aid the police in their investigation of the murder of the eponymous Helen Addison. Along the way he is visited by the phantom form of Helen and is besieged by evil forces before tumbling into a rabbit hole of deceit, mystery and the dark forces of the occult. In a race to solve the case and stop the wrong man being accused of such a ghastly crime, Leo must draw on all his skills and convince the police that the killer is still at large and waiting to strike again. Full review...

I Am Missing: David Raker Missing Persons by Tim Weaver

5star.jpg Crime

David Raker is an investigator, specialising in missing persons cases. Over the course of his work, he's seen plenty of unusual things, but he’s never encountered a case quite like this one. A man, Richard Kite, has approached him for help, but explains that his request is quite unusual. You see, Richard Kite isn't trying to locate a missing person. He IS the missing person. Found unconscious at the mouth of Southampton Water 10 months previously, Richard is now suffering from dissociative amnesia, which means that he can't remember anything about his life. He's not even sure that his real name is Richard Kite. Richard is frustrated because he cannot move on with his life. Nobody seems to know who he is, despite news and press coverage of his case, and without a National Insurance number, he is basically 'off the grid,' unable to get a job, pay tax or own a home. This desperate and confused man needs Raker's help to discover the truth. But the truth can be a dangerous thing. Full review...

My Year in Small Drawings: Notice, Draw, Appreciate by Matilda Tristram

4.5star.jpg Crafts

In recent years there has been an upsurge in the publication of 'interactive' books, designed to spark our creativity. Colouring books for adults, as well as my teenage daughter's current favourite: Wreck This Journal, seek to tap into our creative side, whilst promoting mindfulness and relaxation. By actively encouraging us to slow down and look at the world around us, books like these enable us to take time out of our busy lives and just enjoy the present moment. And this method must be working, because they are proving incredibly popular. I was intrigued, therefore, at the idea behind My Year in Small Drawings, which invites readers to create a visual diary of the world around us by creating a series of small pictures on a given subject. Full review...