Book Reviews From 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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Vera Magpie by Laura Solomon

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

I have murdered three husbands.

As an opening line that must take some beating, but Vera's telling us the truth. The first two husbands, Gary and Harry were abusive, but Larry was a treasure, a keeper, and it's difficult to understand why Vera would have killed him, particularly when she was likely to get found out very quickly and now she's in prison with a mandatory life sentence. Her only friend is Shirley, a lesbian, but Vera's not one to let herself be a victim. She's not keen on having a sexual relationship with Shirley (she wouldn't risk the security of her life in prison for the sake of a fling), but she is keen on getting an education and she's studying for a degree in English Literature. Full Review


The Whisperer by Karin Fossum

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

When we first meet Ragna we can't understand what's going on. She's talking to Inspector Konrad Sejer and it's obvious that she's being held in custody because of a crime which she admits she's committed. Only, as we hear about Greta's life it seems that she's more sinned against than sinning. After a botched operation on her vocal chords she can't speak above a whisper and to add insult to injury she's been left with a horrible scar across her throat. She's done her best to make a go of her life though: she enjoys her work in a shop and has learned ways of coping with the difficulties of communicating with people. Full Review


And So It Begins by Rachel Abbott

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

We know there's something very strange going on as soon as we join the story: we begin by hearing how it's going to end and that someone must die. But that's just a hint: for the time being we're with two police persons. Stephanie's the sergeant and she has Jason, the probationer with her in the squad car, but Stephanie doesn't like where they're heading. The house is stunning, but the last time she was here it was because there was a dead body at the bottom of the stairs to the pool. This time there's been a 999 call with a woman screaming for help: the omens are not good and when they enter the house they find two tangled, blood-soaked bodies in the bed. They both look dead, but one of them moves - it's Evie Clark and she confesses to killing her partner. Full Review


The Drop: A Slough House Novella by Mick Herron

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

When you've done a job for any length of time, the memory, the instincts of it stay with you and they're impossible to forget. It was the same with Solomon Dortmund, a retired spy: when he watches a woman making a drop he knows exactly what he's seeing and he passes this on John Batchelor, the man charged with looking after the retired spooks. Bachelor has problems of his own: the closest he comes to a home is the back seat of his car and he's run out of people whose sofas he can commandeer for the night. The best he can do with Solomon's problem is to pass it on the someone else and hope that they'll deal with it/solve the problem/quietly forget about it. Full Review


Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Gamache) by Louise Penny

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

It came as something of a surprise when Armand Gamache was named as liquidator in the estate of a woman he'd never met. Another villager from Three Pines is also a liquidator, but the third is a stranger to them both. The mystery deepens when the will is read: given that the deceased was a cleaner it seems unlikely that she would have had the millions which she bequests at her disposal. Then a body is found. That's not Gamache's only problem though: one of his protégées, Amelia Choquet, has been expelled from the police academy for drug dealing, and the enquiry into the incident which led to his suspension as the head of the Sûreté in Quebec is dragging on and the outcome is looking increasingly ominous. Full Review


The Knitter's Dictionary: Knitting Know-How from A to Z by Kate Atherley

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crafts, Reference

I've been knitting for well over sixty years, following patterns of varying complexity with success. I've knit Aran sweaters, socks by the dozen and I'm currently knitting blankets for a charity to sell. There hasn't been an occasion when I've been stuck and people have often come to me for help when they've been stuck. Would a knitter's dictionary really be of any help to me? I was surprised by just how much I got out of it. Full Review


Be Your Higher Self by Samesh Ramjattan

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Spirituality and Religion

There are a lot of self-help books about: it's one of the most thriving sections of the average bookshop, but it's not always easy to find the book you need. Samesh Ramjattan has addressed this problem in Be Your Higher Self, a book which allows us all to make sense of our place in the world, as most of us only glimpse our true potential and few people ever achieve it. Even with hard work and dedication, obstacles present themselves and it's difficult to understand why or how they can be overcome. Ramjattan offers us a guide to the spirit world, the chakras, karma and reincarnation as well as information about the age of Aquarius and the ego. It's a slim book - just 128 pages - so can it provide us with the answers we seek? Full Review


Black Light by Laura Solomon

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

Jim is a university student and, as the saying goes, he hasn't got his troubles to seek. His father committed suicide when he was young and somehow he's never really managed to connect with his step-father. His younger brother would be kindly described as having learning difficulties: if you were being honest you'd just say that he was very difficult, but Jim does his best with and for him. Jim's in love with a woman, but she finds him repulsive and you can understand why: the looks, the attitude, the (lack of) conversational ability and the clothing all leave a lot to be desired. Despite all that's he's not about to sit back and allow his life to drift: he's actually writing two novels and he reads excerpts from these to his friends in the pub. Full Review


Redemptor Domus by Gamelyn Chase

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

A young boy arrives at an exclusive faith school on the scenic North Wales coast, sent far from his family in the Far East. As the boy travels to the school, a family tragedy causes the boy to arrive at the school a vulnerable orphan, with an uncertain future. Plunged into a school full of danger and betrayal, the boy is seen as a trophy by friends and enemies alike. With them locked into their scheming and plotting, it comes to the boy to attempt to clean up the pit of filth that the school has become. Full Review


The Long Path To Wisdom by Jan-Philipp Sendker

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

On my travels around the world, I have a tendency to end up in any bookshop that is selling English-language books, and while I buy as many second-hand escapist tales as the next person, what I'm really looking for is the 'local' – the cookbook maybe, the maps definitely, but above all: the folk tales. If I ever get to Burma, I won't need to hunt, I can read before I go. Full Review


Pebble (Strong Winds series) by Julia Jones

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

Liam isn't quite the youngest in a large family: he doesn't have the distinction of being the baby anymore and he doesn't have the heft of his older brothers and sisters. He's rather like one of the pebbles on a large shingle beach: part of the mass but easily overlooked as an individual. So when he starts having problems with his sight no one really takes any notice. He doesn't want to bother his mother as she's heavily involved in the Luminal Festival and when he asked his elder step-sister, Anna, if she'll take him for an eye test, she puts him off. In fairness she's got important exams and Liam's convinced that it's just a case of getting spectacles, but Liam's eyes are changing in a rather strange way. Full Review


So Many Doors by Oakley Hall

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime, Crime (Historical), Thrillers

Vassilia Caroline Baird, known to all as V, is dead. Jack sits in his cell refusing to talk to the lawyer tasked with his defence. Starting at the murderous finale, Hall skillfully weaves together the stories of his key players, in a tale of love spanning decades and states, marriages and tragedies. By the time the truth is revealed, V will be dead but who else will lose their life? Full Review


The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Reference, Biography

Originally passed in 1885, the law that had made homosexual relations a crime remained in place for 82 years. But during this time, restrictions on same-sex relationships did not go unchallenged. Between 1891 and 1908, three books on the nature of homosexuality appeared. They were written by two homosexual men: Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds, as well as the heterosexual Havelock Ellis. Exploring the margins of society and studying homosexuality was common on the European Continent, but barely talked about in the UK, so the publications of these men were hugely significant – contributing to the scientific understanding of homosexuality, and beginning the struggle for recognition and equality, leading to the milestone legalisation of same-sex relationships in 1967. Full Review


Cookin' The Books (Tish Tarragon Mystery) by Amy Patricia Meade

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

Tish Tarragon is working towards opening her literary cafe, Cookin' The Books, when the opportunity to cater for the Library fundraiser comes her way. It's a bit of a poisoned chalice, in more ways than one, as the head of the library committee, Binnie Broderick is difficult. In fact, when she's poisoned at the meal Tish has catered, there's no shortage of suspects. It's not just that she feels herself to be superior (she's a Darlington, you see), but that she actively goes out of her way to make life difficult for anyone she encounters. The town might be heaving a collective sigh of relief (except not in front of the sheriff, obviously) but Tish is worried that the fact that Binnie died face down in a meal she'd prepared might mean that people will not be all that keen to come to her cafe once it's opened. Full Review


A Step So Grave (Dandy Gilver) by Catriona McPherson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crime (Historical)

Dandy Gilver and family had made the arduous journey to Wester Ross, but Dandy had mixed feelings even when they arrived. They were there to meet the family of Mallory, her son Donald's fiancee. It wasn't that Dandy thought Donald to be rather young at twenty three to be contemplating matrimony, but that Mallory was rather old for him at thirty. There was also a niggling worry because Donald wasn't the sharpest pin in the cushion. All the doubts had faded into insignificance though when they arrived at Applecross: they might have come to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of Lady Lavinia, Mallory's mother, but it soon became obvious that Donald was smitten by the mother rather than the daughter. Dandy and Hugh were considering whether or not they should try to put an end to the engagement when the news arrived that Lady Lavinia had been found dead. Full Review


Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

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

Mehr is a girl trapped between two cultures. Her father comes from the ruling classes of the empire but her mother's people were outcasts, Amrithi nomads who worshipped the spirits of the sands. Caught one night performing these forbidden rites, Mehr is brought to the attention of the Emperor's most feared mystics, who force her into their service by way of an arranged marriage. Full Review


Alternative Medicine by Laura Solomon

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Short Stories

Laura Solomon's publisher describes the short stories in Alternative Medicine as black comedy with a twist of surrealism. I'm rather glad that I didn't see this until after I'd finished reading as I'm not normally a fan of either, but I've come to two conclusions about the book: what the publisher says is correct - and I really enjoyed it. The comedy is not too black and the surrealism is gentle and perhaps best described as a twist or flick of reality when you were least expecting it. Your comfort zones are going to be invaded in the nicest possible way. Full Review


The Count of 9 by Erle Stanley Gardner

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

The Count of 9 is a hardboiled detective story written in the 1950s. It revolves around the detective duo of Donald Lam and Bertha Cool as they attempt to solve the theft of priceless Bornean artefacts. However, their case quickly turns into something darker - an impossible murder. Full Review