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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Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

5star.jpg Teens

Love, Hate and Other Filters tells the story of Maya, a Muslim of Indian heritage. Like many other American teenagers, she is struggling to convince her parents to allow her to move away to attend university. However, in Maya's case, things are more complicated than usual, after instances of Islamophobia make her parents extra protective. Full review...

I Swapped My Brother On The Internet by Jo Simmons

4star.jpg Confident Readers

After a terrible argument over the Hanging Pants of Doom (don't ask), the sibling rivalry between Jonny and his older brother Ted comes to a head. Jonny fills out an application form at siblingswap.com and sits back to wait for a new brother who is bound, surely, to be infinitely better than patronising, mocking, bullying, Ted. Right? Any brother would be better than Ted. Right? Of course! What on earth could go wrong?

Well, plenty as it happens. Full review...

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

So, you arrive in all ignorance at Auschwitz, and see the horror there, and immediately swear to survive the ordeal to see retribution dealt on those behind it, but what do you do to see that oath out? Do you get to work diligently as the Nazis demand, to the extent you get the word collaborator muttered behind your back? Do you dare to stick your neck out and get a job that means you're actually a Jew working in the political wing of the SS, answerable to Berlin? Do you dare get contacts with civilian workers building the place, and trade the loot purloined from the incoming victims' belongings with food they smuggle in for you, under the eyes of all the camp guards? The man whose real life story inspired this novel did all that, and survived to tell the tale, but he also managed to do something even more daring, and unexpected – he dared to invest hope in a burgeoning love that he found in the camp. Full review...

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

As I began listening to Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House we were treated to the unedifying spectacle of the President of the United States taking to Twitter to establish that he was a stable genius, as opposed, we must conclude to being an unstable... Well, let's not go there. It's a little too frightening: this is the most powerful man in the world. So what made me listen to this book? Well, Donald Trump didn't want me to read it: US presidents don't often go down that road and rarely to a good destination (I'm thinking of Richard Nixon here) and that made me really want to know what was between the covers. But how did the book stack up? Full review...

Auntie Poldi and the Fruits of the Lord by Mario Giordano

4star.jpg Crime

How to describe this book - well for starters it's unlike anything I've ever read before. It's chaotic, mad, funny, fast-paced, confusing but once you get into it it's really good fun and totally enjoyable. Full review...

A Map of the Dark by Karen Ellis

4star.jpg Crime

FBI Agent Elsa Myers finds missing children. There's a link back to her childhood here, as she might not have been missing but she was certainly lost. Her mother was abusive and her father preferred not to do anything about it: there might have been a bit of pretense but there was no protection. All that should be in the past, although Elsa is still self-harming when under pressure, but her father is dying of lung cancer and although she would have hoped for some personal time with him, her boss has allocated her to a new case, that of 17-year-old Ruby Haverstock, and you can't waste any time when children go missing. Full review...

The Chalk Man by C J Tudor

5star.jpg Horror

The Chalk Man follows a group of friends haunted by an eerily terrifying spectre, conjured during one fateful summer. By the time the new term begins, friendships will be fractured, and a girl will be dead. But who is the killer; is it The Chalk Man, whose dusty white grip squeezes ever tighter, or someone much closer to home? Thirty years later, Ed has tried to forget about that summer, about all the poisoned, sinister memories of The Chalk Man. However, someone seems determined not to let him and when the letters start to arrive, the past follows, plaguing him and dredging up the fever dream nightmare of the summer of 1986, populated by fairs, ra-ra skirts and death. Driven deeper into the mysterious events surrounding Ed's sleepy suburban life, the reader cannot help but wonder; who is The Chalk Man, and will he ever let Ed go? Full review...

White Bodies by Jane Robins

4star.jpg Thrillers

Callie and Tilda are very different twins. Callie lives a quiet life, with a menial job, whereas Tilda craves the spotlight, and is a moderately successful actress. Callie is awkward, suffering from a lifetime of acne, weight issues and comparing herself to her sister and her beautiful white body. Callie has very strong feelings for her sister, envy, admiration, anger, love, and Tilda laps all of these feelings up. They are grown, and see each other with relative frequency. But now Tilda has met a new man, Felix. He's smart, charismatic, successful and very intense, very particular. At first Callie loves him, loves the way he includes her in their relationship, but after a boating trip, fun turns into something more sinister, Callie begins to worry about this dynamic, to obsess ... Full review...

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

5star.jpg General Fiction

Sophie had been married to James for twelve years and two children: to be honest she was more than a little bit in awe of him. James Whitehouse was an MP and junior minister: perhaps most importantly he was a friend of the prime minister, so when he had to admit that he'd been having an affair he was confident that some contrition, a public admission that he'd been wrong, that he was not perfect, would soon have his career back on track. And it seemed as though that was the way it was going, until a friend of the 'other woman', parliamentary researcher Olivia Lytton, persuaded her to go to the police. There was no dispute that the relationship had been consensual, but after James had finished the affair there was an incident in a lift in House of Commons and the police and the Crown Prosecution Service were both of the opinion that this amounted to rape. The prosecuting counsel is Kate Woodcroft and she's very determined that Whitehouse is going to be brought to book. Full review...

Everless by Sara Holland

4star.jpg Teens

Jules and her father live in the kingdom of Sempera. In Sempera, everything is reckoned in terms of time. Wages come in the form of blood-coins, currency taken from actual blood and denominated in weeks, months or even years of life. In Sempera, as you'd imagine, the rich live for a long time and the poor do not. In debt and struggling to afford the rent, Jules decides to ignore her father's warnings and take a job at Everless, an estate belonging to the Gerling family. But Jules's father objects for a reason: there is a royal wedding coming up, between Lord Roan Gerling and a ward of Sempera's queen, and secrets long concealed that, if revealed, would change everything... Full review...

The Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen

5star.jpg Teens

I came to this book expecting only a typical teenage coming of age story, yet somehow, within only a matter of pages, I was utterly engrossed by the wonderful character of Malin. I read this book faster than any other I've read this year! Malin is a fourteen year old girl, who is very naive and innocent, and she struggles with social interaction. It is never stated within the book (a fact that I liked) but I suspect that she's somewhere on the autistic spectrum. But that isn't really what the book is about. It's about Malin growing up, struggling at school, having a first date, and dealing with family difficulties, all at the same time. Full review...

Hero From Another Planet by Jnr Rademeyer

3star.jpg Confident Readers

Jason Bronkurts is the kid the teachers like: he's always on time and puts his school work first. He isn't a great socialiser and certainly not one of the cool kids, although he's had something of a crush on Rosie, but he's known her since kindergarten and done nothing about it. At the other end of the scale are Jack Radogerens and his friend Ryan, who bully Jason. It might be Wednesday, but Jason will be glad when the week's over. His home life is a bit strange too: when we meet thirteen-year-old Jason, his dad has just phoned to say that he's going to be away for three days. Jason's on his own. Well, apart from the UFO and its occupants, that is. Full review...

Mike by Andrew Norriss

5star.jpg Teens

Floyd is a rising teen tennis sensation. At only fifteen, he is set to become the youngest ever champion of the national under 18s, his tennis career is written in the stars. Until Mike shows up. At first, Floyd thinks Mike is just a weird kid following him around. Why else would he be at tennis practice in the school so early? But when he appears on the tennis court in the middle of the match, Floyd can't understand why everyone is acting so calm … until Floyd realises he is the only one who can see him. Floyd is referred to a specialist and together they unpick the mystery of Mike. Full review...

Dark Pines by Will Dean

5star.jpg General Fiction

A dark, compelling and character driven thriller set in the wilds of Sweden - Dark Pines goes above and beyond the standard crime book with brilliantly drawn characters and an intriguing mystery at the heart of events Full review...

Women in Sport: Fifty Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Women in Sport is coming to us just before the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February 2018. It celebrates a century and a half of the development of women's sport by looking at fifty of its highest achievers, covering sports as diverse as swimming, fencing, riding, skating, and much more. Think of a sport and a pioneering women succeeding at it is probably in this book somewhere. Each entry is a double page spread with a brief biography and a striking portrait. Full review...

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

The Ice Queen has cast a spell on Erkenwald, separating the Fur and Feather Tribes and making the third – the Tusk Tribe – the enemy of both. Eager to secure her position by gaining eternal life, the Ice Queen is consuming the voices of the Erkenwald people. There seems little anyone can do until three children – Eska, Flint and Blu – come together. With help from 'the wild', they set off on a quest to find the legendary 'Frost Horn' and the magical 'Sky Song' that will free Erkenwald from the Ice Queen's control. Full review...

Below Zero by Dan Smith

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Twelve year old Zak Reeve is supposed to be enjoying a relaxing holiday in the sunshine with his family before he goes into hospital for surgery. Instead, the whole family are on a plane to the Antarctic because the 'spider drones' his parents have designed to support the Exodus mission to Mars have started to malfunction. His parents assure Zak and his older sister, May, that this will be a flying visit but, as you'd expect with any action adventure story, things go wrong from the moment their plane crashes into the ice outside Outpost Zero. Zak and his family are about to find themselves in a chilling adventure that will leave them fighting for survival. Full review...

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

3.5star.jpg Teens

So long as there are heroes in this world, there's hope that tomorrow might be better Once the minority in a world of chaos and disorder, the Renegades fought for freedom and justice. Victorious in driving their opponents, the leaderless Anarchists underground, those specially gifted with an extraordinary range of abilities are now the lawmakers and leaders of the future, governing a new peaceful and prosperous society. They are the heroes of society; the role models young children look up to, the officers people look to for justice and strength. All except the fraction of Anarchists that hide in the darkness, plotting and planning until they are able to get back what was stolen from them. Full review...

Servants of the Underground by David Ssembajjo

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Having experienced a terrible famine in his own country, Kalamchi leaves to travel and learn. He returns with a burning desire to feed his people - but not only to feed their stomachs but to feed their minds, too. Kalamchi wants to raise his people's consciousness so that they can fight against the dictator Bamutu - chillingly known as president for life and after death. Full review...

Rotten to the Core by Rob Murphy

4star.jpg Thrillers

It's 2009, and Russia look like being awarded the football World Cup hosting rights for the oh-so-distant 2018 tournament - that is, until England stick their oar in. They have solved their hooligan problem, and improved their transport system, and so at last are valid final holders. Watching this is France, who have to reciprocate with the Russians who helped them get France '98, and they have a plan. At this stage the UEFA European championship of 2016 has not been awarded, and while France remain favourites to get the job, again some upstart idea has poked its head above the parapet - a joint offering from Wales and Scotland. Yes, these two tiny countries, separated by 200 miles and without a brilliant connection from one to the other, and without some vital posh hotels here and there, and with no serious claim to soccer fame when it comes to winning things, are unlikely hosts. But what if France could persuade the world it was a good idea - and let Russian espionage prove it not to be so, with all the while the French around to pick up the pieces? All of the UK would be damaged, meaning England '18 would be dead in the water, and Russia would win out. And who's to say the Brits, with their devolution habits, and their first coalition government in a long time, could not get through without damaging themselves? Full review...

Forests in the Sahara by Paul Stidolph

4star.jpg Thrillers

Everyone I speak to thinks you are going to come to some sort of sticky end. Those are not the most promising words a man can hear from his new partner, but she doesn't lie in this instance. He is Jeffrey Harvey, a young Cambridge professor, who has been dabbling with some extra-curricular work, creating GM trees that can keep vast quantities of water purified. Get an iceberg or three worth of H2O near Africa, where clean water is still a scarce resource, and the trees can do their bit and the water will advance the place and make Jeffrey a well-respected global entrepreneur. If, that is, he can get round all the problems in his life - fractions in the start-up involved in the project, a finance officer embezzling the funds for gambling - oh, and a man ready to accuse Jeffrey of murder and theft of research data on a case reaching back several years. It seems the lovely girlfriend was right to see no shortage of possible sticky ends... Full review...

The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana

4star.jpg Thrillers

In the unseasonably warm autumn of 1982, fifteen-year-old Gabriella Flores goes missing. Her younger sister Anna is torn up by her sister's disappearance and for the next thirty years, no one knows what happened to Gabriella. Decades later, Anna has built a life for herself in Athens and has tried to put the past behind her. But the sudden death of her mother forces Anna to return to her childhood home and the village where she and her sister grew up. Being the only Flores left in her family she is left to sort through her mother's possessions, and having to reconnect with her past makes Anna question something she hasn't dared think about in years – what happened to Gabriella? Full review...

The Adventures of Billy Bog Brush!: The Fire Brigade by Ian Campbell and Tim Constable

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Billy Bog Brush's family have gone out for the day, leaving him staring out of the window at the lovely weather outside and wondering what he could do to pass the time. Suddenly, he hears a desperate cry for help. Mrs Brown's house is on fire, the key is inside, and her little boy Tommy is locked in. Tommy is in terrible danger and what if the fire brigade doesn't arrive in time? Full review...

Trials and Tribulations of a Travelling Prostitute by Andrew Mackay

3.5star.jpg Lifestyle

Just chance you think that you're picking up a book about what can go wrong in life for an itinerant sex worker I'd better explain exactly what it was that author Andrew Mackay did for thirty three years. A travelling prostitute is a worker who is employed by one company but his services are sold out to other countries, usually at a substantial profit to the employing company and a lot of inconvenience to the employee. Mackay was an engineer who knew all that there was to be know about turbines and generators, or if he didn't could soon be up to speed to the extent of being able to teach other people. Occasionally his skills were used in the UK, but frequently he was abroad. Just every now and again he would be in those parts of the world which has the rest of us green with envy, but then there were those areas which feature heavily in the news and not in a good way. Full review...

W by John Banks

4star.jpg General Fiction

On the slopes of Mt Hood in Oregon, an 1000-year old Viking is discovered frozen - three thousand miles further west than any previously known Viking exploration. Josh Kinninger is inspired by the Viking discovery - three personal catastrophes having left him angry, unmoored and with his world in turmoil. Beginning a journey westward, he's filled with a desire to wreak vengeance on the individuals he finds morally corrupt. Full review...

The Extinction Trials by SM Wilson

4star.jpg Teens

Storm and Lincoln live on Earthasia, a continent ruined by overpopulation. Space is scarce and energy and food are rationed. Education is minimal and mostly focused around searching for new, efficient food sources. Storm's mother has died and she never knew her father, so she lives in one of Earthasia's overcrowded shelters, goes to school for one day per week and wrestles hay bales for a job. Lincoln's sister is dying from the blistering disease and he has no access to the healthcare that could save her. It's a mean, desperate existence for them both and so they are first to volunteer for the Stipulators' trials for a new mission to the neighbouring continent of Piloria. The aim is to retrieve dinosaur eggs so that a virus to kill them can be engineered and the citizens of Earthasia will have access to the space and abundant food sources Piloria offers... Full review...

Coming Home to Island House by Erica James

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Much to the disgust of the village and his estranged children Jack Devereux has a new wife, the 'scarlet woman' Romily Temple. But, can his death and final demand that his children spend seven days together at childhood home, Island House, bring about a reconciliation and forgiveness from his much loved family? With sadistic Arthur, grief-consumed Hope, remorseful Kit and fiery Allegra this seems like an impossibility but then war is declared and the family find themselves pulling together. Full review...

Night Zookeeper: The Giraffes of Whispering Wood by Joshua Davidson

5star.jpg Emerging Readers

A straight-laced student makes one defiant act of creativity and has a world of magic and imagination opened up for him. Will is the new Night Zookeeper and his tenure in the role of protector to a magical world starts with the repulsion of a dangerous invasion. Full review...

Pirates in Classroom 3 by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Not all of us were the child that paid attention in class. Some would look out of the window and let their minds wander. Why be stuck in a stuffy room when you could be in space or on the high seas? Sometimes you do not need to seek adventure as it may just find you. It makes perfect sense to me that if the teacher leaves the classroom there is ample time for a pirate to enter and ask all the children to help him find some lost treasure. Who could possibly give up this opportunity? Full review...