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.

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Reviews of the Best New Books

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Scoop of the Year by Tom Claver

4star.jpg Thrillers

Martin is an ambitious journalist working on the Financial Review. Martin is good at his job - accurate, dedicated, hardworking and with a good nose for a scoop. But Martin is also uninterested in the culture that comes with reporting. He has a wife and two daughters at home and he doesn't want to waste time and money in the pub, talking macho nonsense with the other hacks. He is a far cry from his colleague Tom de Lacy, a charismatic, silver-spooned charmer with piercing blue eyes. Tom doesn't just grab the limelight though - he also grabs the promotion to industrial correspondent. And that is the job Martin not only wanted, but needed. Full review...

Vulgar Favours: The Assassination of Gianni Versace by Maureen Orth

5star.jpg True Crime

What is it about true crime which makes it so fascinating to such a wide audience? I guess it's wanting to try to figure out what happened to make these people partake in the awful crimes they committed, or else the same inexplicable impulse people have to slow down when they overtake a car crash on the motorway. Whatever it is, Maureen Orth's book, Vulgar Favours, taps right on into it. Full review...

Into The Mountain, A Life of Nan Shepherd by Charlotte Peacock

4.5star.jpg Biography

Mostly we choose what books to read, because there is so little time and so many books… I can understand the approach, but I also think we sell ourselves short by it, and we sell the myriad lesser known authors short as well. So while, like most other people I have my favourite genres, and favoured authors, and while, like most other people I read the reviews and follow up on what appeals, I also have a third string to my reading bow: randomness. It was in such a 'left-field' move that Into the Mountain was offered to me. Full review...

The Russian Revolution by Alan Moorehead

4star.jpg History

First published in 1958, Moorhead's account is regarded as one of the most succinct accounts of its subject, and now reprinted to mark the centenary of the revolution. Full review...

Renoir's Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon by Catherine Hewitt

4.5star.jpg Biography

Deep in the rural parts of France in the 1860s, you would never really expect to find someone who would come to embody a full artistic period – and not just a movement at that, but a full generation of both creative and societal change. And if you were to expect that someone, they would like as not be male. But almost stumbling into the hedonistic culture of Montmartre came Marie-Clementine Valadon. She started in the circus that first caught her teenaged eye, although her gymnastic career was short-lived. But what she did have from that was the poise to be an appealing model for some seriously important painters, and a natural beauty and figure to appeal to both them and their audiences. And what she also had, much to the surprise of many and the distaste of some, was artistic talent of her own… Full review...

Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas by David Melling

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Hugless Douglas is a large, comfy sort of bear who burst onto the picture book scene a few years ago as he searched for just the right sort of hug. His endearing, hopeful face and that chubby (to put it politely) body instantly melted young hearts, and to universal delight we have since been treated to several more of his adventures. Douglas is hugless no longer, you'll be glad to know, but the name stuck, mostly because it's such fun to say (go on, try it!) and because he still bumbles through life embracing everything in sight as if cuddles are about to go out of fashion. Full review...

A Treasury of Songs by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

4star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

Some people have all the skills, not only is Julia Donaldson one of the most successful children's authors, she can also carry a tune. For the past few years she has adapted many of her most popular stories into songs and plays them during open readings, or releases them as part of a song book. For the first time A Treasury of Songs brings together several of her books in one omnibus and it also has a CD too of Donaldson singing the songs. Full review...

The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith

5star.jpg General Fiction

If you've never read an Alexander McCall Smith novel, but have always thought you might like to try, one day then this might be the book to start with. Rather than face the daunting task of leaping into one of his now very long-running series, this is a standalone novel, and it gives a good flavour of AMS's style, the way he can write to evoke a feeling of time and place, and the warm optimism underlying his words that is so very reassuring and comforting to read. It calls itself 'a wartime romance', which it is, and yet it is much more than that besides. Focussing mainly on Val, a young woman working as a Land Girl, we see her falling in love with an American pilot, Mike Rogers. Thanks to a sheepdog on Val's farm (the Peter Woodhouse from the title) their lives become entwined with that of a German soldier, and the book shows us a variety of friendships as they grow and develop over the years. Full review...

Sherlock: The Puzzle Book by Christopher Maslanka and Steve Tribe

4star.jpg Entertainment

Who doesn't love a good puzzle, especially those really fiendish ones that get the brain working extra hard? There really is nothing to compare to that buzz we get from the Aha! moment, when everything falls into place and the solution reveals itself. If puzzles are your thing then you may wish to put your grey cells to the test with The Sherlock Puzzle Book, based on the popular TV series. Full review...

Conkers and Grenades by Hilary Lee-Corbin

4star.jpg Confident Readers

It's Bristol in 1916. Britain is halfway through the Great War and everyone is expected to put their shoulder to the wheel of the war effort. Mar and Appy might be boys, but they're no different. Both their fathers are away fighting and the two young boys are expected to help with household chores, look after younger siblings, earn a few extra pennies through casual jobs and concentrate on getting an education... Full review...

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens' biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends--just before Kaycee disappeared for good.Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as she tries desperately to find out what really happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret--a ritual called The Game, it will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her. Full review...

Supertato: Evil Pea Rules by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

4star.jpg For Sharing

For all their heroics and lantern jaws, everyone knows that the good guy is never the best thing about a book or film. That accolade goes to the bad guy. They are able to chew the scenery and give the type of larger than life performance a hero could only dream of. One of the best bad guys in children's fiction is not a guy at all, but a pea. An evil pea. At last this pea is given his opportunity to shine, but where there is an Evil Pea, a Supertato cannot be far behind. Full review...

Mageborn (Age of Dread) by Stephen Aryan

4star.jpg Fantasy

Magic will destroy us all

Ten years after the devastating battlemage war when mages used their immense power to tear each other apart and sundered the world itself, suspicion of those who wield magic is at an all-time high. With the recent resurrection of the Red Tower, an institution for students to learn to control and expand their magic, Seekers visit villages each month to test children for magical abilities. But for those children and their families it is not a gift, it is a cursed For Habreel, who will never forget the destruction during the war, the elimination of all magic will save countless lives and is the only solution to long lasting stability. He will stop at nothing to achieve his aim; he will deal with the devil, crush villages and kill anyone in his way. Full review...

The Other Woman by Laura Wilson

4star.jpg Thrillers

Based on the blurb on the back, Sophie might not be the most likable heroine. She's a quote-unquote perfect woman, with the house, the husband, the children and the dog. Careers may be a little unnecessary in this scenario (the husband is successful, but her own achievements seem linked to having bagged herself a catch), though there's a sort of part time hobby running her own shop, because, well, yes. So Sophie is the sort of woman, one imagines, who might rub other people up the wrong way, especially those who find their own lives lacking. Full review...

Rooms with a View: The Secret Life of Great Hotels by Adrian Mourby

4star.jpg Travel

Adrian Mourby has given us a flying visit to each of fifty grand hotels, from fourteen regions of the world, with the hotels in each section being arranged chronologically rather than by region, which helps to give something of an overall picture. So what makes a hotel 'grand'? The first hotel to call itself 'grand' was in covent Garden in 1774 and it ushered in the beginning of a period when a hotel would be a lifestyle choice rather than a refuge for those without friends and family conveniently nearby. The hotels we visit all began life in different circumstances and each faced a different set of challenges. We begin in the Americas, move to the United Kingdom, circumnavigate Europe, briefly visit Russia and Turkey then northern Africa, India and Asia. Australia, it seems, does not go for the grand. Full review...

Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers

4star.jpg For Sharing

Luna is always excited when library day comes around, not just because she gets to take her books back and borrow some new ones, but also because it's the day she spends with her dad. Once inside the library, magical things occur as the books Luna and her dad discover seemingly come to life. They spend their time together sharing stories, some that are more significant than others, until it's time for Luna to go home. Yet even once she's home, she still has her newly borrowed books to escape into, and the memories of her day with her dad. Full review...

Under The Light of a Full Moon by Donna McGrath

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

When the bad dreams and the whispers at night first start, Clara has no idea what's going on. All she knows is that the lack of sleep is making her feel ill. But a visit from her Great Aunt Selina supplies some answers. Clara's family has a gift. One member of each generation has the ability to shape-shift into the form of any species of animal. But the gift comes with an ancient curse - bearers of it can only transform during the three days of the full moon each month. Full review...

Trading Down by Stephen Norman

4star.jpg Thrillers

Chris Peters was happy in his work for a multinational bank in Hong Kong and excited when he was promoted and sent back to London. The job had it all: a hectic trading floor, targets which were impossible and some of the fastest computers in the world under his supervision. He's happy at home too: he and Olivia met in Hong Kong: now they're married and thinking about starting a family. But ... has he been promoted beyond his capabilities? There are those in the bank who think so, particularly when things start to go badly wrong. He was never there for Olivia either. Life for Chris Peters was turning sour. Full review...

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Polly, Huckle and Neil are back but in what, sadly for fans of the Little Beach series, seems to be the last of this trilogy. Never say never but by the end of this book, the author has certainly secured the destiny of these three much-loved characters. Don't be put off if you haven't read the previous ones, it really won't matter particularly as the author provides a helpful little synopsis at the start to help those, like me, that are new to these stories. Full review...

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

5star.jpg General Fiction

I've read several of Alice Hoffman's novels, although strangely, not the one she's most famous for Practical Magic, which went on to be made into a film. The Rules of Magic is the long-awaited prequel to that book, and tells the story of three siblings of the Owens family; Franny, Jet and Vincent. The two sisters, Franny and Jet, go on to become the two aunts in the Practical Magic story. Full review...

24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak

4.5star.jpg History

I've never been that interested in Ancient Rome. Blame my teachers, or our oh-so-dry visits to Roman villas with their earnest interpretation panels, or perhaps I just daydreamed through all the interesting bits… Somehow I entered adulthood with the impression that all Romans were bloodthirsty and hedonistic heathens with little to recommend them. Mea culpa, you might say. So when my eye fell upon Philip Matyszak's 24 Hours in Ancient Rome, and its claim to introduce readers to the real Ancient Rome by examining the lives of ordinary people, I decided it was high time to update my education. And the lovely artwork on the front cover made this book all the more appealing. Full review...

Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell

5star.jpg Popular Science

So… you want to leave the planet? Before you do you'd better study the whole history of human space flight to get up to speed. That could take a while… if only there was a handy guide that could condense it all down for you. Enter Dallas Campbell with this book: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet. Full review...

Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly

5star.jpg History

Many women in medieval times left their mark on history, but as a rule they have been neglected by biographers and historians as there is too little surviving information for them to have even brief biographies to themselves. Ms Connolly has adopted an enterprising solution to the problem by writing a general account on a broadly thematic basis. Full review...

Grave Matter by Juno Dawson and Alex T Smith

4.5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Since Eliza died, since the night of the car crash that took her life, Sam is a broken soul. He is lost without the girl he loves, feeling as though a part of him died that night too. But he is desperate and he cannot live without Eliza. He remembers his estranged Aunt Marie and her peculiar healing powers and wonders if she might be able to help him. However, finding his Aunt Marie leads him to discover the Milk Man, which causes Sam in his grieving state to make a pact with forces he doesn't understand. Things soon turn complicated as supernatural powers start to change Sam's life in more ways than he bargained for. Full review...

Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen

4star.jpg History

Fantasyland covers the history of America from 1517 to 2017 in awesome detail. Covering five centuries of tempestuous history, Andersen paints the conjuring of America in vivid relief. Discussing everything from pilgrims to politicians, the exhilarating gold rush to alternative facts, seminal episodes are explored in forensic detail with razor sharp wit. Full review...

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

4star.jpg Teens

A life threatening virus is spreading through the United States, an already broken country with a Government that many do not trust. The top scientists are frantically trying to produce a vaccine to save humanity, but it seems a hopeless race against time as the virus mutates into new and stronger strains at a frightening pace. Catarina has lived alone and in hiding for the past two years, since her brilliant father was rounded up by the State and taken by force to work in the national laboratories. His last message to her was to hide from the State and not to trust them an inch. Set in America, but not an America we would recognise, most of the citizens are incarcerated in underground bunkers, protected by air lock doors and bug free conditions. Others, less trusting of the State, remain in hiding on the surface, hoping the virus will not reach them and avoiding anyone who is infected. Full review...

Potter's Boy by Tony Mitton

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Life is unpredictable; it never goes exactly where we want it to despite how much effort we put in to shape a direction for ourselves. It's a hard lesson to learn, and one Tony Mitton captures with vivid simplicity for the potter's boy. Full review...

The House by Simon Lelic

5star.jpg Thrillers

Syd loved the house, despite the fact that it was crammed full of the seller's stuff and they had to take the whole lot as a job lot. The seller had run off to Australia apparently and was up for a quick sale, lock, stock and barrel. Jack wasn't so sure. He found the place creepy, and it wasn't just the stuffed birds, there was an air about the place that he just didn't like. Full review...

Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling

4.5star.jpg Teens

There are yet more unholy discoveries within, too foul for your eyes to look upon

Enter the Elizabethan world of 1577. A world of intrigue, terror and suspicion. A world of witchcraft and witch-hunting.

Alyce is a young girl forced to flee from her home after the devastating death of her Mother, the only person she had ever loved. Tried and deemed a witch, her Mother was sentenced to being burnt at the stake by the notorious witchfinder John Hopkins who seems hell-bent on finding Alyce. Haunted by the past she can't leave behind, Alyce escapes to London but she's not alone. Endangered and being followed, Alyce is determined to keep her freedom, but as Alyce discovers her own dark magic she will find that she is more dangerous than she ever thought possible.

And Alyce, although she doesn't yet realise it, is caught between two strong and powerful Queens, one desperate to steal the throne and the other determined to keep it… Full review...

The Recent Past by James Ravilious

5star.jpg Art

James, son of the war artist Eric Ravilious, inherited his father's artistic talents. Although he was a gifted painter, his main career was to be as a photographer. Full review...