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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The Elephant in the Room by James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Somebody has smashed Father Giant's elephant. Who on earth could it be? Can Father Giant unravel the mystery of what happened, and who will face being banished from the house forever once he discovers the truth? Told in a rhyme that gets more and more surreal as it goes along, this is a wild and brightly illustrated mystery story, with an interesting moral at the end. Full review...

It's Worth a Try by Nicola Goodland

4star.jpg Home and Family

This is how Nicola Goodland introduces her book, It's Worth a Try:

I wanted to write this kind of book because when I was a young woman, ladies and gents told me that they suffered from abuse of some kind as children and only found the courage to talk about it as adults. Maybe this book can deter children from becoming future abusers and stop abuse so it goes away for good.

The intention is for any adult who knows a child - whether family friend, godparent or relative - to create a relationship that is open, has trust, and creates a space for children to able to share both the good and bad things that are currently going on in their lives, with confidence. Full review...

The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles

4star.jpg General Fiction

This novel follows the plight of Eritrean Yonas Kelati as he tries to make a life for himself in England. He and a good friend, Gebre, escape from prison only to be thrown into captivity again: trafficked in a shellfish factory where they have to earn their ‘payment’ to the malicious Aziz for entering the UK illegally. When Yonas escapes, the story really starts. Full review...

Hurricane Justice by Patricia Watkins

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Finn Westlake was first amused and then horrified when he saw the attractive young woman jumping up and down in the road as his jeep turned the corner: the amusement came from the fact that she was wearing just soaking-wet bra and panties. It was when he saw the tears streaming down her face that he realised that there was a serious problem. Diana McGuire's father's plane had crashed into the river and she had tried and failed to get him out. Sending her to get more help Finn dived into the river and managed to extract Chester McGuire and his business associate, Sandy Moseley, but whilst checking that there was no one else in the plane he was seriously injured. Full review...

Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

One of the best things about modern online shopping is the knock on the door and the parcel arriving. What was it I ordered again? It could be something as exciting as a new toy, or something as boring as a new mixer for your shower. The anticipation of opening the box is as close to the feeling of Christmas that an adult is going to get (except perhaps for Christmas). Rooster has ordered something online and it arrived quickly. Will his farmyard pals appreciate his buy as much as he does? Full review...

Can You Keep a Secret? by Karen Perry

5star.jpg Thrillers

Thornbury Hall is the grand ancestral home of the Bagenal family headed by taciturn Peter with his wistful wife Heather and their two children, Patrick and Rachel. It is also the setting for many secrets and tragedies all of which resurface twenty years later as Patrick reunites childhood friends, Niall, Marcus, Hilary and main character Lindsey, for one final party before selling the house. Full review...

Discovering Dinosaurs by Anne Rooney and Suzanne Carpenter

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Lift the flap books have progressed somewhat since I was a child. This one comes with sounds! Taking us layer by layer, through various different ages of dinosaurs, we meet a variety of creatures, some of whom are very familiar but some I'd never heard of before! Each scene peels open, layer by layer, showing you what the various dinosaurs are getting up to, with background noises, roars and squawks to accompany them! The book creates a dinosaur experience, rather than just being facts about dinosaurs it's very visual, placing the dinosaurs in their habitats and giving us sounds too that spike your imagination. Full review...

The Poo That Animals Do by Paul Mason and Tony de Saulles

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I know, I know, sometimes you really don't want to encourage your children's poo jokes, but this book is brilliant! I sat and read it by myself when the kids had gone to school and found it fascinating! Who knew there was so much I didn't know about poo? The book manages to be both funny (and silly) as well as being very interesting and educational. Using a mixture of facts and figures, photographs and funny cartoons, you come away having sniggered a little at the vulture who poos on its own feet, but also knowing a lot about different types of poo, why poos smell, and why wombats do square poos. Full review...

Birth of a Dream Weaver: A writer's awakening by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

5star.jpg Autobiography

The true story of Kenya's foremost author in his own words. Ngugi wa Thiong'o is the most important writer that you've (or at the very least, I've) never heard of. In this colume of his autobiographical series we follow Ngugi as he ventures to University in Uganda and starts writing professionally. Ngugi tells the story of British colonialism at the end of the Empire as clearly as his own tale – making this one of the most important books on the market today. Full review...

Rising Stars: New Young Voices in Poetry by Pop Up Projects

4star.jpg Anthologies

This collection brings together five emerging voices in poetry. And despite what the publisher says, I wouldn't personally impose an age restriction on the writing here. Each poet uses words that will appeal to many readers. I found this particularly so with Jay Hulme's poetry. Full review...

The Little Village Christmas by Sue Moorcroft

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

For me, the best Christmas books are unapologetic. There is no such thing as too much mistletoe and magic as far as I'm concerned and sentiment should absolutely be the order of the day. Whilst Moorcroft offers a rather more tapered version of this Christmas ideal, I still thoroughly enjoyed The Little Village Christmas and was definitely left with a warm and fuzzy festive feeling! Full review...

The Mirror of Pharos by J S Landor

4star.jpg Confident Readers

12 year-old Jack Tideswell is not your typical adventurer. In fact, he spends most of his time trying to prevent his Nan worrying and trying to avoid the gang of school bullies. This, however, changes when a seagull delivers a strange package through the cat flap. Suddenly everything is different. Jack finds himself briefly catapulted into the future and then into the past. It takes him a long time to understand what's happening but luckily he has several friends to help him. There is his best friend from school, Charlie (occasionally known as Charlotte), the people he meets in the past and the future (several of whom claim to have met him before), the stranger Jago Flyn, and the magical wolf, Alpha. With their help, Jack learns that he's a fledging Magus (a true magician) and comes to realise that he alone can prevent a Titanic-like disaster in the future. Sadly one of his friends isn't everything they claim to be. Will Jack realise in time? Full review...

How the Sun Got to Coco's House by Bob Graham

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

A tale of small moments: sunlight on a sailor's cap as he sets out on an early-morning fishing expedition, a rainbow after a shower and a glint of light in a whale's eye. While Coco sleeps, curled up snugly in her bed, creatures and people across the world are waking up to the sun. It chases the night away across the globe, until at last a bright ray finds its way to Coco's window and wakes her to another day of fun and laughter as she plays outside in the snow. Full review...

North Facing by Tony Peake

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

At school in Pretoria in 1962, Paul Harvey struggles to fit in - desperate to join the popular group no matter what it may take. His focus on surviving the perils of school so intense, that he fails to see the turbulence in both South Africa and the larger world - with the arrest of Nelson Mandela and the Cuban Missile Crisis affecting the actions of the adults around him. A new and charismatic teacher decides to educate the boys in the unstable situation in the world outside - and a growing awareness of both that and his sexuality pushes Paul Harvey into decisions that he later comes to regret - and their weight pushes him to return to South Africa in the present day - a man in his sixties keen to make sense of a troubled and utterly fascinating past. Full review...

The Man Who Ate the Zoo: Frank Buckland, forgotten hero of natural history by Richard Girling

4.5star.jpg Biography

As a conservationist in Victorian England before the term existed, Frank Buckland was very much a man ahead of his time. Surgeon, naturalist, veterinarian and eccentric sums him up perfectly, and any biographer is immediately presented with a colourful tale to tell. Full review...

Hello Again by Brenda Novak

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Still scarred by the trauma inflicted on her by her boyfriend Jasper Moore more than twenty years previously, Evelyn Talbot works as a psychologist at Hanover House, a dumping ground for psychopathic criminals in a remote corner of Alaska. A murder in the nearby town seemed to indicate inmate involvement, but as the situation grew worse, Evelyn started to wonder whether Jasper might have returned to finally finish her off. After a book full of false clues and misleading hints, it was a genuine shock to find out who was responsible after all. Full review...

Beauty and the Beast by Katie Haworth and Dinara Mirtalipova

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

We all know the story of beauty and the beast. A prince, transformed in to a monster for his cruel and malicious nature, trapped in his grotesque form seemingly for the rest of his days. Then comes along a young woman, the beauty of the story, who mellows the beast's harsh character and grows to love him for who he is, and not because of his appearance. It's a fairy tale of old and a story of love crossing boundaries which has been adapted countless times both on screen and in literature. So is this new retelling worth the read? I think so, because I loved it. Full review...

Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Living in 2017 has me longing to live in some sort of futuristic Utopia, in a world of free thinking and no major crime. Perhaps in a Space Station high above the Earth were the greatest minds have travelled so that they can build a vessel that will send the next generations of humans to populate new planets. You know that as soon as you arrive it will be the same old problems. You can't really have a Utopia with people in it, can you? Full review...

Water & Glass by Abi Curtis

5star.jpg General Fiction

Something has happened, something very nasty and on a submarine a pregnant elephant is one of only a handful of animals living below the waves. We follow Nerissa Crane, a vet, as she remembers recent events, looks after the animals and falls into a world of intrigue. Full review...

Captain Ronald Campbell of Bombala Station, Cambalong: His Military Life and Times by Ivor George Williams

4star.jpg Biography

In March 1829 Ann Parker married Captain J A Edwards of the 17th Regiment of Foot. He was in command of the troops and convicts on board a ship sailing from Plymouth to Sydney, Australia: his wife and young son accompanied him. He was not destined to live a long life, dying suddenly at the age of 34 at Bangalore, leaving his widow to raise their two young sons. Edwards' death left his widow in a difficult position: not only did she have their farm to manage, she was also responsible for the convicts who worked the land. Two years later she would marry Captain Ronald Campbell. Full review...

Strange Weather by Joe Hill

5star.jpg Horror

Strange Weather is a collection of four short novels all linked by, unsurprisingly, strange and cataclysmic weather. Each novel is distinct and showcases Hill's restrained yet vivid style which takes everyday events and makes them bitingly, acerbically macabre or blindingly beautiful, often switching from one sentence to the next. As Hill himself says the beauty of the world and the horror of the world were twined together, never is this truer than in Strange Weather where moments of abject horror are coupled with raw beauty. Full review...

My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage by Ingrid Seward

4.5star.jpg Biography

I'm writing this review on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the wedding the the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh: it's an amazing achievement particularly when you add to the difficulties of maintaining any relationship for that period of time the burden of the Queen being our monarch for sixty-five years and the challenges of having to live their joint and separate lives in the public eye. Ingrid Seward gives us the story of the marriage and insights into both parties, particularly Prince Philip. Full review...

The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket and Matthew Forsythe

4star.jpg For Sharing

As the title suggests, this is a story about a bad mood and a stick. The bad mood (an emoji-like cloud character) moves from one character to another, travelling all around the world and causing unpredictable consequences. The stick is just a stick and does very little other than providing a home for a cocoon that gives birth to butterfly. The stick's final home in the window of the ice cream shop does, however, put the shop owner, Bert, in a good mood. Full review...

The Great Horizon: 50 Tales of Exploration by Jo Woolf

3.5star.jpg History

Jo Woolf has compiled a brilliant set of fifty short insights into the lives and achievements of some amazingly brave people. Their fearless journeys have helped us unlock many of the mysteries of the wildest parts of our world, and also given us an understanding of what it is like to be faced with the most terrible conditions and still have the determination and grit to carry on. This book could be viewed as a taster which encourages us to seek out and read more about some of the most iconic explorers. Their stories are pretty incredible and Woolf does them justice. Full review...

The Snowbear by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

There's a sense of wonder and stillness about fresh-fallen snow, whatever your age. Sounds are muffled, familiar objects and places are transformed, and the possibility of magic hangs in the frosty air. And for Iggy and Martina, playing outside on just such a winter's day, reality swiftly turns into enchantment. Full review...

Forever After: a dark comedy by David Jester

4star.jpg Paranormal

Michael Holland is a cocky and brash young man who dies and gets made the offer of his lifetime; immortality. We follow Michael, a grim reaper and his friends Chip (a stoner tooth fairy) and Naff (a stoner in the records department) as they grapple with their long lives and finding a clean surface to sit on in their flat. Full review...

Parenting through the Eyes of a Child: Memoirs of My Childhood by Tabitha Ochekpe Omeiza

4star.jpg Autobiography

Tabitha Ochekpe Omeiza was brought up in Nigeria and came to Britain to study for her A levels when she was 18. Her parents used their savings to give her this opportunity and called it an investment in her future. Now a qualified pharmacist, married and with a child of her own, Tabitha looks back at her childhood and reflects on the way her mother and father raised her. And she gives their parenting top marks. Full review...

The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell

5star.jpg General Fiction

In some apartments in Singapore you'll find a bomb shelter - airless and without a window. It will probably house the washing machine and the other domestic paraphernalia that's got nowhere else to go. There'll be a mattress on the floor of this stifling room, with the heat increased by the tumble dryer. This is the maid's room. It's possibly better than sleeping under the dining room table, but not by much. Back in 2009 there were 201,000 female domestic workers in Singapore, many not earning any money for a year until they've repaid 'training' and other fees to the agency, many living in 'the maid's room'. Full review...

Berlin in the Cold War: 1959 to 1966 by Allan Hailstone

4star.jpg History

Berlin in the Cold War: 1959-1966 contains almost 200 photographs taken by author / photographer Allan Hailstone in his visits to the city during this period. The images provide an insight into the changing nature of the divide between East and West Berlin and a glimpse into life in the city during the Cold War. Full review...

The Dying Game by Asa Avdic

4star.jpg Thrillers

In a futuristic dystopian Sweden, ministry worker Anna is presented with an offer from the formidable chairman. Except the offer, is more of an order than a choice. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Anna accepts. She is taken to an isolated Island with other candidates for a job in the super-secret organisation. Anna's objective is simple, she is to die and then observe her fellows through hidden chambers of the house. Once the experiment is finished, she will report her findings back to the chairman. However, while this starts off smoothly at first, other contestants start disappearing and Anna is faced with the terror of knowing this is not just a game anymore. Full review...

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...