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 Cossack by K J Lawrence

5star.jpg Thrillers

Daniel Brooking is not what you'd think of as hero material: he's a photographer of some merit and in his fifties he has a settled life. It was the disappearance of his assistant, Ivan Shevchenko, which disrupted everything. It wasn't unknown for him to disappear occasionally, but missing an exhibition was a first for him. He'd been distracted for a few days - and then there were the strange papers which arrived, to be kept safe. The authorities, in the form of a shadowy senior member of the security services, confirmed the view that Ivan was probably dead, because of some supposed connections with organised crime and drug dealing. Full review...

Doctor Who: Now We Are Six Hundred: A Collection of Time Lord Verse (Dr Who) by James Goss and Russell T Davies

4.5star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

Consider the Doctor. Just how many birthday and Christmas gifts must he have to hand out each year, were he to keep in touch with even half of his companions? He would certainly need a few novelty gifts for some of them, say, for example, whimsical books of verse that pithily encapsulate the life of a Time Lord and that of some of his friends and enemies. As luck would have it, he has the space in his TARDIS to stock up in advance, so my advice to him – sorry, her – would be to pop along to his local Earth-based book emporium and get himself ready. And if you're working on a shorter timescale, with a shorter lifespan, and thinking perhaps just one gift season ahead, well my advice is pretty much the same. Full review...

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Auden has a condition called achromatopsia, which means that he can't see colours. He likes to pretend that it doesn't matter but it does. And the older Auden gets, the more it seems to matter. Mind you, so does everything else... ... because Auden lives in a near-future Britain in a world where climate change has taken root. It never rains any more. Britain, an island with plenty of coastline, is doing better than many countries thanks to its desalination plants. But water is still rationed and the Water Authority Board is now a quasi-government as the most important and powerful body in the land. Water wars have broken out worldwide and Auden's father is away fighting. Full review...

Basic Witches by J Saxena and J Zimmerman

4star.jpg Spirituality and Religion

Before I started this book I was expecting to be thrown into the world of magic and would know how to levitate by the end of the first chapter. Unsurprisingly, I was wrong. However, what I was met by was a book that explores the origins of witchcraft, teaches you how to dress and act like a witch and contains spells ranging from accepting compliments to conjuring up a relaxing Netflix binge. Full review...

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde and Diane Oatley (translator)

4star.jpg General Fiction

Bees are a handy symbol of the planet's environmental degradation, as you'll know if you've read anything by Dave Goulson – whose endorsement is featured proudly on the cover of this U.K. release of Norwegian children's writer Maja Lunde's first novel for adults. The creatures also provide subtle links between the book's three story lines. Full review...

Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A F Harrold

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

No one knew that only three things stood in the way of the complete and utter destruction of the Earth: one elderly parrot, one eleven-year-old spelling mistake and one intrepid young newspaper-reporter-cum-schoolgirl in search of a Big Scoop.

Oh my word! What a prospect! Let me break it down for you. The parrot has only ever learned to speak one sentence. The spelling mistake is between great and Greta. Both these things point the alien danger to Earth, a silvery robot, in the direction of Greta Zargo, who is the wannabe reporter. Full review...

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasure. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Her people. Fourteen years on she's a member of Mama Rose's unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them. A bamboo flute. A golden bangle. A ripening mango which must not fall... if Sante is to tell their story and her own. Full review...

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha and Eric M B Becker (translator)

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

On the surface, young housewife Euridice Gusmao has it all. A nice-enough, parent-pleasing husband with a steady banking job, two young children upon whom to dote, an immaculate home complete with maid. That's all anyone could ever want, isn't it? Not Euridice. She has an inexplicable ache inside her for something more, like many of us. Yet each of her pet projects, from a desire to publish a recipe book to starting a cottage sewing industry in her living room, are met with scorn from her stern husband Antenor. He wants a wife who doesn't draw attention to herself, whose only domains are her house and her family. Full review...

The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Peter Graves (translator)

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Sally Jones is in clover as a mechanic on a cargo ship – when, that is, there is cargo to actually ship. Having needed emergency repairs, the two-strong crew of her and the Chief are idling in Lisbon, and are given a mysterious and mysteriously overpaid job – a job that shouldn't go wrong, but does. Unfortunately for the Chief, taking even the first step at writing the wrong sees him arrested for murder. Sally Jones is forced into hiding, which she manages to do with a lovely, kind woman with a hidden talent for singing, and her landlord, who makes and repairs accordions and other musical instruments. Life with them seems to be a new form of clover, then, but hints of that past nastiness keep coming back to haunt Sally Jones, especially when there's a suggestion that the alleged murder victim might still be alive…

Oh, and did I say that Sally Jones is actually a gorilla? Full review...

Stranger by David Bergen

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Stranger tells the story of Íso, a young Guatemalan woman, and her affair with an American doctor. When an accident forces him to return to the States, she is left pregnant and lonely. Her anguish becomes even more profound when her daughter is abducted, and taken to live with the doctor and his wife. What followed - tales of the journey Íso embarked upon in the hope of finding her baby - was an amazing story of the lengths a mother will go to in order to save her child. Full review...

Owls: A Guide to Every Species by Marianne Taylor

5star.jpg Reference

I feel like I am being watched. A huge pair of piercing orange eyes are staring right at me, locking me into their gaze. In contrast with the hardness of the deep-amber eyes, soft grey feathers fan out into the surrounding area, intricate, detailed and beautiful. An enigma; harsh and gentle at the same time, the owl is beckoning the reader to turn the pages and take a closer look inside... Full review...

The Gritterman by Orlando Weeks

5star.jpg Graphic Novels

There's a man who has an ice cream van. In summer, what there is of summer, he uses it to sell ice creams, That's not his vocation though, but it does keep him going whilst he waits for winter, when the van becomes a Gritting Van and our narrator becomes a Gritterman. The fibreglass 99s on the roof light up and rotate, playing a tune, whether the van's gritting or selling ice creams. Tonight - Christmas Eve - will be the van's last trip. The council has sent the letter about his services no longer being required. Global warming. Dying profession, they say. There's even a tarmac now that can de-ice itself, but the Gritterman isn't sure that he wants to live in a world where the B2116 doesn't need gritting. Full review...

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

4star.jpg Teens

No matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end

The year is 2017, the place is America, but this is not a place we recognise. A company called Death-Cast know the exact date of everyone's death and make it their mission to inform Deckers that they will be dead within the next twenty-four hours. Many have tried to cheat death, all have failed. Full review...

False Lights by K J Whittaker

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Cornwall, 1817.

What if your worst mistake changed the course of history? Napoleon has crushed the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and his ex-wife Josephine presides over French-occupied England. Cornwall erupts into open rebellion, and young heiress Hester escapes with Crow, Wellington's former intelligence officer, a half-French aristocrat haunted by his part in the catastrophic defeat. Together, they become embroiled in a web of treachery and espionage as plans are laid to free Wellington from secret captivity in the Scilly Isles and lead an uprising against the French occupation. In a country rife with traitors, Hester and Crow know it is impossible to play such a game as this for long... Full review...

Walt Disney's Cinderella: Illustrated by Mary Blair (Walt Disney Classics) by Cynthia Ryland and Mary Blair

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

I'm sure almost all my readers are au fait with the story of Cinderella, and of how she went from the gutter to the stars in one romantic swoop. It's only a good thing the relevant people didn't have foot fetishes or phobias, for then the tale would have been utterly different. Disney made it slightly different, of course, when they made the animated classic based on the legend, and this book, complete with art from the time the film was being made, is evidence of just how the look and the emotion of the piece were intended to be. Full review...

Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland: Illustrated by Mary Blair (Walt Disney Classics) by Jon Scieszka and Mary Blair

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

I'll take is as read you have some knowledge of the story of Alice in Wonderland – certainly when she got to be 150 years old a couple of years back there were no end of editions of her story. And as you know, 150 years is a heck of a lot of unbirthdays. But her story got to be slightly different, and if anything only more loved, courtesy of the Disney cartoon, and the fact that this book features artwork that was generated during the production of that film is the unique selling point. Full review...

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

5star.jpg Teens

Joe is seventeen and he hasn't seen his brother for ten years. And the reason for that is brutal - Ed is on Death Row in Texas, convicted of the murder of a police officer. Ed says he's innocent. Aunt Karen doesn't believe him. And Mum is long gone, no-one knows where. When the execution date comes through, Joe passes up on his job and a spot on a summer athletics scholarship and treks from New York across the country so that Ed is not alone. He is determined to spend these last weeks with his brother no matter what anybody else thinks. Full review...

I am Traitor by Sif Sigmarsdottir

4.5star.jpg Teens

Alien ships have arrived in the skies above London. The Prime Minister appeared on TV to announce this ominous visitation and order a curfew. After that, he went AWOL and took all reliable information with him, leaving the army to patrol the streets. Not that the army has any answer to the long pipes that snake down from the ships and gobble up teenagers. To where, nobody knows. Full review...

Charlotte Says by Alex Bell

4.5star.jpg Teens

Charlotte says... don't open the door.

Jemima's mother died in an awful fire not long ago and that is why Jemima decides to leave London and take up a job as a teacher on the Isle of Skye. But leaving the place doesn't mean escaping the memories and Jemima is tormented by second-guessing what actually happened on that terrible night. It doesn't help that Miss Grayson, the mistress at the school, is a strange, forbidding sort, while the school itself is a thoroughly creepy old building. Full review...

Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Ted Lyte was petty criminal, but not usually the housebreaking type. He lacked the courage. However, needs must, and whilst feeling down on his luck he decided to try his chances at an isolated house with a shuttered window. ...he might find a bit of alright behind those shutters! Wot abart it? Ted does indeed find something interesting behind the shutters, but it definitely isn't what he'd hoped. In a locked room he finds seven dead bodies; six men and a woman. Fleeing the house in horror, he is pursued and caught by a passing yachtsman, Thomas Hazeldean, who also happens to be a journalist. Fascinated by Ted's story (and a possible scoop), Hazeldean decides to investigate this curious case and its assortment of odd clues, including a portrait shot through the heart, an old cricket ball and a mysterious note written by one of the victims. Full review...

The Land of Stories: Worlds Collide by Chris Colfer

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Finally, after much anticipation, the grand finale to the best-selling Land of Stories is here. The previous book The Land of Stories: An Author's Odyssey left us dangling on an almighty cliffhanger, as well as leaving many plot threads unresolved. We have been with the Bailey twins from the very beginning; seen them grow and mature from awkward pre-teens to confident young adults. Orson Welles famously said: If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. Is the fact that the book begins with this quote an ominous warning that the Bailey twins may not get their 'happily ever after' after all? Full review...

Killing for Company by Brian Masters

5star.jpg True Crime

Killing for Company is a detailed criminal study of Dennis Nilsen, unique in that it was produced with Nilsen's full cooperation and includes material from Nilsen's prison diaries. Covering Nilsen's early life, his career and subsequent murders, this is a detailed analysis of the man behind the murder and an attempt, on Masters' part, to understand what shaped Nilsen and what could have caused such apparently senseless violence. Full review...

The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene by E V Harte

5star.jpg Crime

I love reading full stop so I was excited to have the chance to read the first crime novel from established, well-regarded author Daisy Waugh, writing under a pseudonym. But, as a self-confessed chicklit fan, who's never read a crime novel before, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it....turns out I absolutely loved it! Full review...

Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward

4star.jpg Cookery

In 1745 a Spanish friary cook, Juan Altamiras, published the first edition of his New Art of Cookery, Drawn From the School of Economic Experience. It contained more than two hundred recipes for meat, poultry, game, salted and fresh fish, vegetables and desserts. The style was informal, chatty and humorous on occasions and it was aimed, not at those who could afford to cook on a grand scale, but at those with more modest budgets, who sometimes needed to cook for large numbers. Whilst the ingredients were - for the most part - modestly priced there is a stress on the careful combination of flavours and aromas. Spices are used conservatively and the bluntness of some Moorish cooking is eschewed in favour of something much more subtle and we see influences from Altamiras' own region, Aragon, the Iberian court and the New World. Full review...

Rain Falls On Everyone by Clar Ni Chonghaile

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's a cliché that the Irish have a picturesque turn of phrase, but clichés only exist because they're true. Roddy Doyle put it differently in a recent interview with Writing magazine, when he said that With Irish, there's another language bubbling under the English. However you express it, that art of expression is woven into every other line of Clár's prose. Pick a page at random and you'll find something like the sickness that had come to roost in her home like a cursed owl or like he was God, Jesus and Justin Timberlake rolled into one or a low sobbing, slow and inevitable as rain on a Sunday: expressions that catch your smile unawares, or tear at your heart in their mundane sadness. Or sometimes both. Full review...

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

The first chapter of Salt Creek opens in Chichester, England, in 1874. Hester Finch is a respected and reasonably wealthy member of her community. But she can't stop her thoughts wandering back to her adolescence, spent on Salt Creek Station in the remote South Australian Coorong region. Hester feels has never felt so alive as then, when we had so little. Full review...

Tales from India by Bali Rai

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Fairy stories, folk tales and fables are a rite of passage for an inquiring mind. They open the door to enchantment, magic and moral lessons. Many European collections exist, some of the most notable being that of Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang and Perrault. Tales can also originate from exotic climes. An endless source of delight for me as a child was my great grandmother's much cherished copy of The Arabian Nights. Full of mystery, imagination and charm, it communicated to me the power of storytelling and transported me to different worlds. This is what Bali Rai aims to do for young readers with his latest offering. Inspired by the collected tales of the C19th Sydney-born English folklorist Joseph Jacob, Rai has lovingly created a tribute to the traditional stories of India. Full review...

The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Ella is rushing to her audition for a job in fashion, as are several other young women. Thrown in at the deep end in the high-pressure workplace, she is tasked with creating a dress from scratch for an important client before four pm that day. But she manages it, even working through the non-existent lunch break, to design a silk wonder worthy of any environment. But this is no typical make-or-break-'em fashion design house, and this is no normal environment for the recipient to be wearing the frock. This is Birchwood – or Auschwitz-Birkenau to you and I. Full review...