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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Mr Peacock's Possessions by Lydia Syson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Historical Fiction, General Fiction

On a remote volcanic island off the coast of New Zealand, a family of settlers struggle to make such an unforgiving place a home. When a ship appears, they feel that their wishes have been granted and their community reinvigorated – but high hopes are swiftly dashed when a vulnerable boy disappears. As both settlers and newcomers come together in the search for the child, they uncover far, far more than they were looking for – discovering dark secrets about both the island and those who inhabit it. Full Review

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Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Thrillers

I have heard it said that the best way to begin to tell a story is to create a multi-dimensional character, imbued with compelling layers of detail - be it backstory, character quirks or behaviours. The point seems to be that in creating a character in such a way you begin to reflect the truth of life wherein people are by definition multi-dimensional and thus, you bring your story to life. In Major Tom Fox, Grimwood has successfully created just such a character. In one man he gifts us an exciting and honourable figure who somehow simultaneously manages to present as damaged and flawed. Grimwood provides some character history for Fox which clearly informs the actions of the character but I would suggest that rather than any written history provided for Major Fox, it is in the way he interacts with the other characters and drives the action of the story that we come to know him. Full Review


Beginning to End by Paul Hughes

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime

Sir Mark Wright, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, based at New Scotland Yard was aware that the Met was riddled with corruption, but in 1967 times were changing and Wright was determined that he was going to upgrade the service by ridding it of corrupt officers and bringing in new technology. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of people against him: some were making very good money on the side and quite a few of the old-timers weren't too keen on all this technology nonsense. They didn't think walkie-talkies would really work and computers would never really catch on. One of Wright's first actions was to bring in some new blood: what came to be known as 'the trained brains' - people with qualifications in specific areas who could introduce new ideas, whilst being mentored by the older, more experienced officers. Full Review


Kat Wolfe Investigates (Kat Wolfe 1) by Lauren St John

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Confident Readers

Kat Wolfe lives with her mum, a vet, in London and following a break-in they decide that the time has come to move out of the city. Kat, a confirmed animal lover, is delighted when her mum accepts the offer of a job on the idyllic Dorset coast as the job comes with one special condition. They must agree to adopt the previous owner's cat. However this presents a problem that Kat had not foreseen for the cat is a wild Savannah who resists all Kat's attempts to sooth and tame him. Furthermore when she starts a pet-sitting agency to make pocket money Kat's problems mount up. The owner of her first charge disappears leaving a series of mysterious clues behind him. What started out as a promising escape from city life quickly escalates into a mystery that deepens and becomes steadily more dangerous. Luckily Kat has her new friend Harper to support and help her. Although Harper is laid up with two broken legs thanks to a horse riding accident she is not about to let that stop her getting involved. Harper is a language and coding whizz and she and Kat are determined solve the clues and make people listen to them. Even if they can't do that by themselves they know that they have their animal friends to help. Can the team work together to save the day? Full Review


Underwater Breathing by Cassandra Parkin

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction

A tumble-down Edwardian house that will sooner rather than later tumble down the mud cliffs and away into the sea is where we meet Jacob and Ella. They share a bathroom in the turret, old and cold and not really supposed to be used…but this is where they hide away from the shouts of their parents' arguments. Here they play the Underwater Breathing game, submerging themselves in the water holding their breath for as long as they can. For sixteen year old Jacob it's just a way of drowning out the arguments…but for Ella it is more than that. She is terrified of the sea, of the fact that it will come and swallow their house. She needs to know that she can survive under water. She has to practice. Full Review


The Butcher's Daughter by Victoria Glendinning

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Historical Fiction

The Tudor era is often chosen for historical fiction because it has such a wealth of intrigue, plots and machinations. The regular cast of courtly characters are usually rich and powerful, with so many to choose from that the well never seems to run dry and the characters are often those high up in the circles of power, or those prepared to do anything to get there. This book, however, is totally different. Set in the mid–to–late 1500s we see the world through the eyes of Agnes Peppin, a young, poor woman. As a woman she can either marry, or join a convent. Since Agnes has disgraced herself then she has no choice at all, and she is sent to join the nuns of Shaftesbury Abbey. Full Review


The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction

In 1993, two teenagers stumble across a horrific scene on the beach as they're sneaking home after an un-authorised night out: a body of a young woman, partially stripped, totally deceased. The find hits the girls in different ways. Nell becomes obsessed with finding the identity of the girl – who she calls the Brighton Mermaid because of a distinguishing tattoo – whereas Jude just wants to forget it ever happened. Fast forward 25 years and Nell is still haunted by what happened that night. With few leads to go on, the Police closed the case without cracking it, and so it remains one of those unsolved mysteries that become part of local folklore, but Nell struggles to let sleeping dogs, or even sleeping mermaids, lie. As for Jude, well no one knows if the discovery still haunts her because no one knows where she is. Shortly after that fateful night, she too disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. There's more to Brighton than Stag Dos and Gay Pride, it seems. Full Review


A Taste for Vengeance (A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel) by Martin Walker

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime

Bruno Courreges is now the police chief for the whole of the Vezere valley, but the promotion is not without its drawbacks, as the chain of command is not quite as clear as it was when he knew that he worked for the mayor. Still, on a cool, damp Sunday afternoon in spring he had other things on his mind: he was watching the St Denis women's rugby team playing in the regional final. One player stood out: Paulette was the daughter of the local florists and she was the best player that Bruno had ever trained, male or female. He had hopes of her making the national squad, but there might be a cloud on the horizon - Paulette had been sick and had fainted in the showers. Full Review


The Silver Hand by Terry Deary

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Confident Readers

Aimee like languages. She's particularly keen on Latin and enjoys a sparring session or two with her teacher. Aimee would like nothing better than to have her head stuck in a book all day every day. But that's not possible when it's 1918 and you live in the town of Bray - captured and recaptured by the Germans and the British during WWI. The Germans are advancing and Aimee's mother decides it's finally time to tell her daughter that she is part of a secret spy ring, helping the British. Aimee is desperate to help. And help she does, soon uncovering a traitor in the British camp. Full Review


The Sand Dog by Sarah Lean

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Confident Readers

Grandfather had been gone for two years but I never thought it would be an ordinary day he'd come back, like a Monday or a Tuesday... I always knew he'd return across the water, triumphing over a few monsters on the way, I just didn't known when.

Azi lives on a Mediterranean island. Since his grandfather left, he has been living with his irascible uncle who owns a busy tourist restaurant. Azi helps out as much as he can and he goes to school and works hard at his lessons. But he isn't really interested in Uncle's restaurant or playing with his classmates. Azi is interested in two things: the sea, and the return of Grandfather. Full Review


All of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Teens Undertow is the latest YA novel to hit the best seller lists. It's a study in grief and Miri is its biggest fan. So, when author Fatima Ro comes to Long Island for a book signing, Miri is determined to meet her and takes her friends along. Soleil has writing ambitions of her own and so she is overjoyed when Fatima takes the group of friends under her wing. Penny wants to be noticed and will do anything for Fatima, who notices. And Jonah? Well, Jonah has secrets and Fatima loves secrets... Full Review


Silence in the Desert by David Longridge

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Historical Fiction, Thrillers

As the shadow of the Second World War descends upon the planet, four people are explored in a tale of love and friendship. Henri, fulfilling a family tradition in joining the Foreign Legion, Bill, arriving at Cambridge on an RAF scholarship, Leo, struggling to align his beliefs with those of his upbringing, and Elisabeth, crossing continents and changing names are all brought together by strife and turmoil. As the war rages, these men are tested like never before, with trust, loyalty and love leading to decisions that affect both their lives and those all around them. Full Review


Skylarks by Karen Gregory

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Teens

Joni is halfway through her A levels. But she has a lot more than A levels to think about. Life is pretty tough at the moment. There isn't much money about, the family is behind on bills, Dad's back is getting worse and worse, and little brother Jack has a school trip coming up that needs to be paid for. Older brother Jamie got the sack from his dream job and, although he found somewhere else to work, is a big ball of resentment. To make matters worse, the charity that runs the housing on their estate is running out of money and thinking of selling up. But Joni has a great group of friends and a lovely mum and dad and a teacher who thinks she could get into university. Full Review


The Colour of the Sun by David Almond

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Teens, Confident Readers

This book... explores what excites and mystifies me about the nature of being young, and dramatises the joys and excitements of growing up. And I guess it embodies my constant astonishment at being alive in this beautiful, weird, extraordinary world.

This is what David Almond says about his latest novel for young people, The Colour of the Sun. And, having now read it, I see what he is saying so clearly. This is a story of being young - both older than you used to enjoy being and younger than you aspire to be. And it's a story of finding strangeness in ordinary things. Full Review


The Particular Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction

Masha's son Gabriel died some years ago. She'd been a single parent with help from her friend, Edward, who had grieved as much as Masha and whilst Edward has moved on (his boyfriend moved out in the immediate aftermath of the drowning, but there's now a new love interest) Masha is still stricken, feeling that it would somehow be disloyal to Gabriel if she was to be happy. An independent, rebellious woman has somehow been diminished. Full Review


Six Tudor Queens: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Historical Fiction

When it comes to Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, popular opinion is divided. Some see her as a scheming marriage-wrecker from an ambitious family who would stop at nothing to gain favour in the king's eyes. Others view her as a pious and God-fearing woman who brought calm and stability into Henry's life following his turbulent marriage to Anne Boleyn. Perhaps both sides are true, to an extent. In The Haunted Queen, the third book in the Six Tudor Queens series, author and historian Alison Weir puts flesh on the bones of a Queen haunted by the shadow of a formidable predecessor. Full Review


Don't Make a Sound by David Jackson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Thrillers

Malcolm and Harriet are a little odd. That much is clear from the start, from the way he is around her, the way he prepares things in such a way as to make her happy. It's a nice sentiment, but something is off. We meet their daughter Daisy and again, it all seems nice enough but there's a vibe, a hint of a feeling that all is not what it seems. Just how bad things are, though, is yet to be revealed. Full Review


The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin and Lisa Hayden (Translator)

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Literary Fiction

Innokenty Petrovich Platonov wakes up in a hospital bed with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. He is tended by a single doctor, Doctor Geiger, who gives him a pencil and notebook and encourages him to write down his observations and memories. The notebook is thick, like a novel. How can Innokenty fill it if he cannot remember anything? But slowly the memories start to return, memories of childhood holidays at the beach, of life in the dacha, of the airfield and the aviators...and the seems like some memories may be better left buried. He remembers that he is the same age as the century, born in 1900. But if that is the case, how is he still a young man when the pills by his bedside are dated 1999? Full Review


Manfried the Man: A Graphic Novel by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Graphic Novels

In a world where cats stand on two feet, go to work at call centres and have diminutive human beings for pets, is Manfried. He's a typical frisky but shy pet – forever getting into scrapes, demanding more food than he can suitably eat, but at the same time being the perfect companion for his owner, Steve Catson. To such an extent that Steve, who is getting known for his man-oriented thinking, is actually having nightmares about becoming the neighbourhood crazy man cat. But when a window gets left open by mistake, and Manfried goes missing, the only thing for it is a massive and energised man-hunt… Full Review


In Gold's Name by Marcus Dalrymple

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Historical Fiction

It was about 1509 when a series of mystical events foreshadowed the end of the Aztec Empire and the inhabitants were to some extent conditioned to accept the pale faces who arrived many years later with their deer-without-antlers. Some thought the Spaniards were gods. Antonio Vega was no god, but he was essentially a decent man, particularly by the standards of the time. He was the finest marksman with his harquebus on the force, but at the age of twenty three he believed that the expedition in October 1520 was to establish trade links and to convert the local inhabitants to Christianity from the local religions which required human sacrifices. He'd joined the army from a seminary and whilst you wouldn't call him naive, he'd failed to appreciate that 'establishing trade links' meant finding and removing the Aztec gold and that any conversion would not be by winning hearts and minds but by threats and torture. Full Review


Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime

A well-dressed man bled to death just yards from a Cambridgeshire police headquarters. DI Manon Bradshaw would normally be involved but she's side-lined on cold cases - and then she finds that there's a solid reason why she can't be involved: Jon-Oliver Ross was the father of her sister's son and he was probably in town to see young Solly. And if that wasn't close enough, her adopted son, Fly, was caught on CCTV passing the man just as he was about to collapse. Detective Superintendent Stanton is certain that Fly's good for the murder and won't tolerate any other avenues of investigation. Full Review