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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A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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

The problem with Martine's fiction debut is that she makes the two commonest errors in SF writing: she tries to be too clever and she wants her fictional languages to be complex and rich and errs on the side of making them unpronounceable by most readers. I can see why she does both, but it's a disappointment because they're the blocks against which the brilliance of the book stumbles. Full Review


When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee

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

There is a place on this earth that, at the time of writing, is resplendent with life. In the spring seals gambol in the river – not venturing too far, for fear of being slashed open on the razor wire the humans have put in place. In the autumn, salmon come upstream, looking doleful as well they might, for they will spawn and die, if they reach their birthing grounds. Mountain goats gambol prettily among the hills – if the landmines men left behind do not prevent them from doing so. This is a snapshot of life in the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between the two countries with Korea in their name, and it's the world's least welcome wildlife sanctuary. Full Review


M for Mammy by Eleanor O'Reilly

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

The Augustts are, like all families, a bit complicated. A loving irish family, their love binds them together – but all express that in very different ways. However, when misfortune strikes the family they are forced to work together in order to understand each other again, as with a family as complicated as the Augustts it's not always what is spoken that makes the most sense. Things are shaken up further when Granny Mae-Anne moves in and takes charge. Full of stern words and common sense, she's a force of nature who must try her hardest to hold the family together. Full Review


Time and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier Days by James Wallman

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

Most things you can replace, but one of the things which you simply can't replace is time. Even though we know this, we fail to use what we have wisely. We have more leisure time, but that's not how it feels: a high value is put on how we spend our working hours, but there's a low value on leisure. Unfortunately we now know how to work and not how to live: we need to learn how to spend our leisure time wisely and James Wallman has taken on the onerous task of teaching us how to do this. Full Review


Eiffel's Tower for Young People by Jill Jonnes

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Children's Non-Fiction

Brash and elegant, sophisticated, controversial and vibrant, the 1889 World's Fair in Paris encompassed the best, the worst and the beautiful from many countries and cultures. The French Republic laid out model villages from all their colonies, put on art shows, dance performances, food festivals and concerts to stun the senses. And towering above it all, the most popular and the most hated monument to French accomplishment and daring – the Eiffel Tower. Full Review


The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew by Milly Johnson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Women's Fiction

I liked this book. Whilst not necessarily a page-turner, this was a thoroughly enjoyable heart-warming read from the Queen of chick lit, Milly Johnson. Full Review


Keep Walking Rhona Beech by Kate Tough

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews General Fiction, Women's Fiction

Life has just hidden behind a corner and stuck a foot out as Rhona Beech came past. She and Mark had been together for nine years and it was beginning to feel settled. Then Mark announced that he'd got a job in Canada and he was going whether Rhona wanted to come with him or not. The not bit of the sentence was the way it worked out and Rhona was left on her own. Well, she wasn't completely on her own: she had friends and family, but it's not the same as having that special someone in your life, that someone who makes you part of a couple. So Rhona had to start again, rejoining a world that bore little resemblance to the one she'd left nine years ago - and there's a lot of difference between being in the middle of your twenties and the middle of your thirties. Full Review


Heartlands (D I Jessie Blake) by Kerry Watts

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

The story had begun some twenty years earlier when two boys raped and killed Sophie Nicholl. Jack Mackay was - on the face of it - from a decent family, but he was the ringleader. Daniel Simpson was a follower, but he still raped Sophie and he could have stopped what happened but didn't. Sophie's body was found in a shallow grave by an enthusiastic cocker spaniel a few days later and the boys were arrested, tried and sentenced to five years in a young offenders institution. There were those who thought that the sentence was too lenient, even for fifteen-year-old boys and Sophie's elder brother, Tom, was one of these. He wasn't going to let the matter rest. Full Review


The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock

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

Athan Wilde earns some money to supplement his family's meagre income by working for Mr Chen who is both mentor and friend. Mr Chen's wonderful imagination and sense of the future has led him to create some fantastic inventions for making life easier and work less back breaking. His latest endeavour is something on an entirely different level, however - it's a.... flying machine! Imagine that! Full Review


The Savage Shore by David Hewson

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

Reggio, in Calabria. It's a strange place, closer to Africa than Rome as Emmanuel kept reminding himself. He was an illegal immigrant and like most of his kind he was simply looking for a way to earn a decent living with a little dignity. Back in Nigeria he was an independent man and now he is no better than the monkey who sits in a cage on the bar he tends. The area is ruled by the Mafia. Further afield there are the Camorra and the Cosa Nostra, but here it's the 'Ndrangheta and the local boss is known as Lo Spettro - the ghost - as he's rarely seen, but he's one of the Bergamotti clan, but even that's not their real name. Full Review


No Way Out by Cara Hunter

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

It was the end of the Christmas holidays and Felix House in an elite area of Oxford was on fire. Two children were dragged from the inferno: one, a toddler, was pronounced dead at the scene and the other, a boy on the cusp of his teens, died in hospital some days later. But where were the parents? Were their bodies in what remained of the house and which was being steadily cleared, or had they left the children at home alone? For DI Adam Fawley it's one of his most disturbing cases. He's still not got over the death of his son and there's every sign that his marriage is on the rocks. For his team it's just a heartbreaking, exhausting case. Full Review


Women of Westminster: The MPs Who Changed Politics by Rachel Reeves

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Politics and Society

Women in Westminster have changed the culture of politics and the perception of what women can do

Women of Westminster: The MPs Who Changed Politics chronicles the battles the 491 women who have been elected over the course of the past century have fought and highlights their victories. It is remarkable that the history of female Members of Parliament began in 1918, the same year in which women were first given the right to vote but a decade before all women were given suffrage on equal terms with men. Although Constance de Markievicz was the first female elected to Parliament, it was only in 1919 that Nancy Astor became the first women to take her seat in the House of Commons and pave the way for women of the future. It was not long after in 1924 that the first female MP, Margaret Bondfield, was appointed into a cabinet position and since then women MPs have endeavoured to fight gender inequality and campaign for female rights. Within 100 years there has been a gradual revolution of change in politics and to date Britain has been led by two female Prime Ministers. However, such great landmarks have overshadowed the other female MPs whose early achievements, which have paved the way for subsequent women politicians, are consistently overlooked. In Women of Westminster: The MPs Who Changed Politics Rachel Reeves brings the forgotten stories into the spotlight to document the history of British female political history from 1919 to 2019. Full Review


The Chemical Detectiveby Fiona Erskine

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

Dr Jaq Silver is a brilliant scientist with a healthy social life who loves her work and life. Whilst she is haunted by her past she won't let it define her. When she becomes entangled in a mystery, a mystery that could tie to some of the most horrific weapons on Earth, she doesn't hesitate and jumps straight in. We follow Jaq as she travels the world digging deeper and deeper into a rabbit-hole of intrigue and betrayal, never compromising and always seeking the truth. From the ski slopes of Eastern Europe, to the sunny climes of Portugal and even making a visit to that most glamourous of locations… rainy Teeside… this is a true thriller. Full Review


Equator by Antonin Varenne and Sam Taylor (translator)

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

It strikes me that nobody can speak well of the Wild West outside the walls of a theme park. Our agent to see how bad it was here is Pete Ferguson, who bristles at the indignity of white man against Native 'Indian', who spends days being physically sick while indulging in a buffalo hunt, and who hates the way man – and woman, of course – can turn against fellow man at the bat of an eyelid. But this book is about so much more than the 1870s USA, and the attendant problems with gold rushes, pioneer spirits and racial genocide. He finds himself trying to find this book's version of Utopia, namely the Equator, where everything is upside down, people walk on their heads with rocks in their pockets to keep them on the ground to counter the anti-gravity, and where, who knows, things might actually be better. But that equator is a long way away – and there's a whole adventure full of Mexico and Latin America between him and it… Full Review


All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins

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

Vetty, her dad, and her little sister are about to move back to London and Vetty can't wait. The family has been staying with Aunt Wendy since the death of Vetty's mother several years ago. With the girls older and Aunt Wendy getting married, it's time to get back to their lives. Vetty, mostly, is looking forward to reconnecting with Pez. She and he were inseparable - spending all their time together and knowing each other inside out, without the need for words. Vetty could do with a friend like that right now, as her inner feelings of difference get ever stronger... Full Review


The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl and Don Bartlett (translator)

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

Nazi-occupied Oslo, 1942. There, I've given the game away. For in a book that centres around a murder, I've told you who did it – the Nazis, surely? Well, that certainly has to remain to be seen in this volume, which splits its time between one of war, when a young woman sees her father arrested, and their store condemned as Jewish, and rushes to her best friend to help – not knowing she will never see her alive again, and the late 1960s, when great consternation is being felt. In this timeline, a maverick agent is back in town, one who might have been fingered for murdering that female victim, even though she and he lived together with their baby as a young family, except he was thought by all to have died in the War… Full Review


The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

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

Long-time followers of The Bookbag will know I'm a die-hard fan of AMS. So you can imagine my excitement at reading a brand new book in a brand new series, described by the author himself as Scandi Blanc (as opposed to Scandi Noir)! Here we meet a new detective named Ulf Varg, who works in the Department for Sensitive Crimes, solving those crimes that perhaps fall outside the usual police parameters. This particular book deals with crimes including someone who is stabbed in the knee, the disappearance of an imaginary boyfriend, and a case of potential werewolves. They're the crimes that perhaps nobody else would bother to deal with, and I rather enjoyed them, especially the stabbing where you find that actually, you identify with the person who committed the crime, rather than the victim. Full Review


The Rose, the Night, and the Mirror by Mark Lingane

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

Julian's family are getting pretty fed up with his perma-student status. They feel that the maths PHD candidate should start earning some money. To that end, they have managed to find him a job tutoring the children of a highly regarded politician. Julian bowls up at their strange, austere mansion with little in the way of expectation. Victor, the politician is not at home. But Esis, his wife, is. A beautiful but isolated woman, Esis shows little interest in her children and not much more in Julian. She directs him towards his room, the library in which he will teach the children, and the kitchen, whose chefbot will provide him with food. Full Review