The Bookbag

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Hello from The Bookbag, a book review 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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Me and My Sisters by Sinead Moriarty

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Louise, Sophie and Julie. Three women. Three sisters. One a successful business woman. One a successful trophy wife. One a successful mother of four. All of them seem to the others to have it all. All of them have more troubles than the others could ever imagine. Full review...

Paddington Races Ahead by Michael Bond

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Far be it from me to suggest that a bear we all know and love is cashing in on the London Olympics AND the Jubilee, but here he is on the front of a rather splendid book, racing along - and waving a Union Jack. He's a bear of good intentions, but somehow they seem to get him into difficult situations which are always of his own making. There was the matter of the shaving cream which it should have been possible to get back into the tube - and for something which cleans it shouldn't make such a mess. We won't even discuss why the London bus had to be evacuated or what happened when Paddington was mistaken for a Peruvian hurdler. Full review...

Nutmeg by Maria Goodin

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Meg was rather underdone when she was born. Her mother ate lots of eggs during pregnancy, in the hope of giving her a good glaze, but instead she came out clucking like a chicken, and was fortuitously caught in a frying pan by the gas man... Full review...

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Charlotte Rogan's debut novel The Lifeboat takes an unexpected look at life on a lifeboat of a sunken liner, midway between the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania. In many ways, a lifeboat presents an ideal situation for a novelist. You have a set number of characters and clear boundaries. But there's only so much interest in 'we were scared' and 'oh, look here comes another big wave'. Her solution is to take the story as one of moral and ethical choices rather than an out and out adventure. As her narrator, Grace Winter, concludes 'it was not the sea that was cruel, but the people'. Full review...

Things We Left Unsaid by Zoya Pirzad

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Life in Iran is good for Armenian Clarice Ayvazian. She lives comfortably in an oil company town, devoting her middle class life to her engineer husband, teenage son and young twin daughters. Her mother and sister, Alice, drop in from time to time during the course of the day, but are perfectly manageable for her (in small doses). However, when an elderly woman, her middle-aged son and his tween-age daughter move in across the road they bring turmoil in their wake and Clarice's perception of her happiness is torn apart. Full review...

The Harry Houdini Mysteries: The Dime Museum Murders by Daniel Stashower

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

There are two things you need to know about Stashower's Harry Houdini. Firstly, he is a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. Secondly, and much more importantly, he is utterly certain of his own ability to do whatever he sets his mind to. Therefore, when he finds himself involved, albeit in a minor way, in a murder, he immediately decides it is up to him to solve the case. It never occurs to him that he might fail, because that is simply not an option for the Great Houdini. Full review...

The Red House by Mark Haddon

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Richard and Angela - brother and sister - are reunited at their mother's funeral. Richard is well-to-do and recently remarried with a teenage stepdaughter. Angela is the main breadwinner in her family as her husband scrapes a wage by working in Waterstones and somehow they and their three children get by. Richard is aware that he hasn't much left in the way of family and tries to build some bridges with Angela by way of offering that the eight of them should have a week's holiday in a cottage on the Welsh borders. So, there's four adults, four children and a lot of emotional baggage. Oh, and there's Karen - Angela's stillborn daughter who would have been eighteen that week. Full review...

Fear by Michael Grant

4.5star.jpg Teens

Darkness is falling in the FAYZ. The dome that isolates the children from the outside world is turning black, and Sam, Astrid and the rest know that this could be the worst thing yet to happen to them. I'm leaving the plot summary there, because it deserves to be read with as few spoilers as possible. Full review...

Pot-San's Tabletop Tales by Satoshi Kitamura

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

We love all things Japanese in our house having visited the country a few times and come home laden with books and movies and general cute knick-knacks galore! So I was excited to read this story to my little girl all about Pot-san, a teapot, and his other tabletop friends who have lots of adventures together! Full review...

Big Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

In Stuart's previous adventure we saw him discovering his Uncle's magical secrets. Now that Tony Horten's tricks have been found, Stuart is able to investigate how they actually work. During these investigations he discovers that they are rather more magical than you might initially think, but the magic of each item lasts for only one adventure each...will Stuart and April be able to uncover all of the secrets of the tricks and discover who their rightful owner is? Full review...

Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World by Ian Bremmer

4star.jpg Politics and Society

We're all used to terms like 'G7' which then became the 'G8' - the group of countries which met periodically to thrash out global problems - frequently with America being expected to take the lead where military muscle or finance was concerned. We even nod knowingly at the mention of the G20 - formed with the good intention that a larger group would be able to tackle such issues as climate change. We know where good intentions generally lead but there wasn't even sufficient agreement amongst the nations to all head off in the same direction. So when a point was reached where America was no longer financially able or politically willing to play global policeman what was left? Full review...

Nothing But Fear by Knud Romer and John Mason (translator)

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

The Danish writer/actor Knud Romer has a gallery of fascinating relatives which collectively feature in Nothing But Fear. This biographical novel is a collection of memories from his grandparents' era, moving forward, to that of his parents, including World War II and his own childhood in 1960s and 70s small town Denmark. The vignettes aren't in chronological order but that's because memories normally aren't. The stories are narrated almost as if they're fresh from the mind, ensuring a natural flow. The interesting thing is that no matter how fascinating his other relatives are my mind's eye always seemed to return to one: his mother, Hildegard. Full review...

The Greatest Love Story of All Time by Lucy Robinson

2.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

It was the blurb on this one that had me interested, mentioning Fran’s 30th birthday (mine’s a few months away) and the fact she’s bluffed her way into a very posh job (something some might say I’ve just done too). I thought we might be kindred spirits and even if we weren’t, I thought I might be signing up for some fun, flirty chick lit which is never a bad thing.

Until now. Full review...

Secret Breakers: The Power of Three by H L Dennis

4star.jpg Confident Readers

The back cover of this book says it is the 'Da Vinci Code for kids' and that's not a bad description. Secret messages, codes, helter-skelter journeys to well-known places, and baddies lurking round every corner . . . plenty of action and adventure, mixed in with generous dollops of facts and information which will definitely appeal to readers who enjoy having their brains challenged as well as their imaginations. The legend of King Arthur, the house where the famous Enigma code was cracked and a fabulous sea-side building created for a prince are only a few of the clues the three teenagers will encounter on their journey towards the truth. Full review...

Opposed Positions by Gwendoline Riley

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

There is a reason why Gwendoline Riley has something of a cult following. She is technically innovative and very good at what she does, but the subject matter is invariably dark and downbeat which prevents mass market appeal. In that respect Opposed Positions is very much business as usual then. The subject matter most evident here is misogyny and the damaging impact it has both directly and indirectly on people. It's painful to read at times; it feels as if the narrator, an occasional novelist, Aislinn Kelly, is picking at the scab of her life and her family in a way that feels shocking and, for all the wry observations, remains uncomfortable to read. Full review...

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

5star.jpg Teens

Karl is seventeen and hopelessly caught in the throes of first love. The object of his affections is Fiorella, a girl who seems above him so many ways. Fiorella's family is both healthy and wealthy, while Karl's father is dead and his mother gets by but not much more. Fiorella is a bright girl on her way to university, while Karl is dyslexic and has left school to work as a blue collar apprentice plumber. Fiorella is articulate, while Karl is reserved. Full review...

A Sherlock Holmes Who's Who (With of Course Dr.Watson) by Molly Carr

2.5star.jpg Entertainment

Given the amount written about Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, even the most dedicated of Sherlockians must sometimes require a refresher on the characters. As I'm certainly not the most dedicated of anything, although I love Holmes and have read the entire canon, I was eagerly anticipating the chance to remind myself of those within. Sadly, this book has done little to quench my anticipation. Full review...

The Infernal Republic by Marshall Moore

2star.jpg Short Stories

The Infernal Republic is a collection of short stories containing a mixture of general fiction, horror and fantasy published by Signal8Press, an imprint of author Marshall Moore's own publishing company Typhoon Media Ltd. Now normally I wouldn't pay much attention to who publishes the books I read, but in this case I'm making an exception because I can't honestly believe that any traditional publisher would have put out this book in this form. The whole collection is so badly crying out for a good editor that it actually ended up making me angry in places. Full review...

Go Ask the River by Evelyn Eaton

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In ninth century China, Hung Tu was almost unique as a woman breaking into the restricted male preserve of education, particularly the fields of poetry and calligraphy, and becoming a highly respected and renowned writer. Eaton constructs a fascinating narrative around her poems, imagining Hung Tu’s idyllic childhood which turns to potential chaos as she is sold into prostitution, followed by her rise to Official Hostess for the Governor. Full review...

Slide by Jill Hathaway

4star.jpg Teens

Everyone thinks Vee suffers from narcolepsy. The truth, however, is much stranger than that. She 'slides' into people's bodies when she touches an object they were emotionally attached to, becoming a helpless observer and leaving her body at risk. It's bad enough normally when this happens, as she sees the mean things people do to each other - but it gets much worse when she slides, and finds herself holding a knife and standing over a young girl's body. While everyone else thinks it's suicide, Vee knows Sophie's death was murder - but can she work out whose body she was occupying before the killer strikes again? Full review...

Moon Chase by Cathy Farr

4star.jpg Fantasy

When Wil dreams, it's as if he is inhabiting someone - or something - else's body. And when he wakes one morning after dreaming of a terrible crime and a desperate Fellhound, he knows the dog that he can hear howling is that very Fellhound. Following Farrow to try to rescue her injured master, Wil is captured by the Saranians, who believe he is the one to have tried to murder young Seth Tanner. His sentence is harsh - track and kill the Wraithe wolves in the Moon Chase and return alive and unharmed and go free, die in the attempt, or return injured and be hanged. Full review...

Home by Toni Morrison

5star.jpg General Fiction

Toni Morrison's Home is simply a beautifully crafted novella. Set in post Korean war America, it features some familiar Morrison characteristics. Veteran Frank is suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder, but is released from service with no treatment as so many were, especially if they were black no doubt. But at least he has survived unlike his two friends whom he grew up with. Frank is troubled and has his flaws, but also has dignity. He finds himself returning to the Georgia home, Lotus, he longed to escape from as a child, another typical Morrison settlement with nothing going for it apart from the goodness and dignity of the people who live there. What draws him back is the news that his younger sister, Cee, is suffering from the aftermath of some medical experimentation. It sounds grim stuff, but while life is hard, it's not a traumatically difficult read. Full review...

The Legacy of Eden by Nelle Davy

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Much as I hate to appear to be on the fence about this book – I’m on the fence about this book!

All the seeds of a great saga appear to be present - strong characters, an engaging setting in the form of Aurelia, the family farm, and an inciting incident early on. All this is backed up with some superb description in the early part of the novel, with the period and the handful of characters we meet at the start all being carefully drawn. Full review...

Titanic: Death on the Water by Tom Bradman and Tony Bradman

4star.jpg Confident Readers

I'll let you in on the end of this story - she sinks. Of course it would be a travesty if she didn't, and insulting to the 1,517 who died in the disaster. But this is a story of some historical characters, and some invented ones, and of course there's high drama in seeing who is destined to survive. The main invented character is young Billy, who joins up as a bellboy to abandon an apprenticeship at the same shipyards where his own dad died. He's too conscientious, too polite and too brave for one of his more rough 'n' ready colleagues, but when push comes to shove, is it enough? Full review...

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

A year after the defeat of the Horned King, Taran the Assistant Pig-Boy has returned to Caer Dallben. The time has come, however, for a brave band of allies to try to stop the birth of the Cauldron-Born warriors by destroying the infamous Black Cauldron. Gwydion calls allies to a council held by Dallben, and forges a team of companions to go on this perilous quest. In addition to Taran's friends from the first book, he's joined by Adaon, son of the chief bard, and Ellidyr, a brave but arrogant prince. Can they overcome terrible danger to triumph against all odds? Full review...

Five on a Treasure Island - Famous Five by Enid Blyton

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Julian, Dick and Anne can't go on their usual holiday this summer and to make matters worse their mother tells them that their father wants her to go on holiday to Scotland with him and without the children. (No. Don't say it. Please.) She's no idea what she's going to do with the children until their father has the idea of sending them to their Aunt and Uncle at Kirrin Bay. Apparently the Aunt and Uncle need the money and they have a daughter, Georgina, who doesn't have many friends a refer to be known as George. In fact - she won't answer to anything else. Surprisingly the children are excited and the family sets off on the long journey from London. Full review...

How to be a BAD Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes

4.5star.jpg Home and Family

Look out of the window.
See a bird
Enjoy it.
Congratulations. You are now a birdwatcher. Full review...

Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S Choi

5star.jpg General Fiction

It all started with a missing hymen. If you think that’s an odd way to start a review, bear in mind that’s exactly how this book starts. Very first line in fact. Fiona Wu is a 28 year old lawyer living in San Francisco. Successful, self assured but still living at home thanks to her Chinese roots and her over protective parents. She’d rather hang out with her pet parakeet than nice Asian boys, but since her parents are desperate to get her married off to one of the latter, she doesn’t always get her own way. An appointment at a doctor’s office with a view to sorting out the aforementioned missing hymen leads to a chance reunion with a criminally-minded old school friend (last seen setting another pupil on fire), and then the fun really begins. Full review...

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows by Richard Parry

5star.jpg Politics and Society

Just over a decade ago, 21-year-old Lucie Blackman went to Japan in search of adventure, excitement, and a way to pay off her debts. A couple of months later, her disappearance set in motion a high profile investigation which would see her face plastered over the news for some time in this country. As so often happens with the media, though, there was a huge amount of interest in her plight, and her family's desperate search for her, and then, with the mystery looking less and less likely to be solved, the papers found something else to report on. Just over half a year later, there was a tragic end to the tale as her dismembered body was discovered. Full review...

Stuff Every Dad Should Know by Brett Cohen

4star.jpg Home and Family

For an object lesson in how important the little things are, consider this book's title. This is not one of those collections of trivia or whimsies for fathers to appear cool to their children (ten great variations on tag; 6,000 good records with which to ween your daughter off Justin Bieber), it's not that kind of knowledge on offer. Here instead is practical information on rearing your own little thing, and in a quiet way this pocket diary-sized volume has the cojones to expect to stick around being useful for a generation, as it starts at budgeting for children in the first place, and goes from the actual birth to marrying them off. Full review...

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer

5star.jpg Crime

The Beijing Olympics approach and Xin Zhu has every reason to be proud: a high ranking position in China's espionage system, a beautiful new young wife and the satisfaction of having wiped out 33 American agents and so closing down their department. But the spy business is not a place for resting on laurels, especially when American Alan Drummond wants to avenge the death of his entire department. Meanwhile survivor of the massacre, Milo Weaver, just wants time to recover and space to be with his family. The unlikelihood of that happening is pretty high; however, it becomes a lot more remote when Alan disappears. Full review...

The Girl in Berlin by Elizabeth Wilson

4star.jpg Crime

Set in 1950s 'Austerity Britain', with detour or two to Berlin, Elizabeth Wilson's The Girl in Berlin is a stylish tale of espionage with a backdrop of the disappearance of Maclean and Burgess in a world where no one knows who to trust. Jack McGovern works at Special Branch but when Colin Harris, a known member of the Communist Party returns to the UK, MI5's Miles Kingdom draws Jack into investigate his intentions. Add in the fact that the wife of one of Harris's friends, Dinah Wentworth, works part time at the Courtauld Institute of Art where Dr Anthony Blunt is the main man, neither Jack, nor the reader, knows who is working for whom. Full review...

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Harris Burdick - not that many people ever did. He was a fictional entity, produced by Chris Van Allsburg, and in the 1980s his output was a dozen odd but beautiful pictures with, for each, a single caption and the name of the story they were designed to illustrate. Burdick, allegedly, disappeared - but his pictures stuck around to inspire a Stephen King short story. Now we get a lavish, yummy hardback of all the pictures, and now, through the agency of a great editor, they all have their appropriate short story. Full review...

This Flawless Place Between by Bruno Portier

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

If you fancy reading something a bit different, writer and filmmaker Bruno Portier may have written just the book.

Americans Anne and her partner, Evan, leave Anne's small daughter with the grandparents so that the couple can go on a 3 week motorbike tour of Tibet. Whilst away, things go awry for the two holidaymakers and so The Flawless Place Between traces their respective onward journeys. Full review...

A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake

4star.jpg Crime

Wemyss was that boy - and all schools have them, even now - who is universally hated. Neither masters at Sudeley Hall, nor his fellow pupils could stand him and to make matters worse he was the nephew and ward of the headmaster, the Rev. Percival Vale. When the boy was found strangled on the school sports day there wasn't exactly universal rejoicing but it was more because of the knowledge of the problems which this would cause for the school than because of any sorrow. The prime suspects were Michael Evans, the English teacher and Hero Vale, the young wife of the middle-aged headmaster who had been kissing in the haystack where the boy's body was found. Evans has one hope and that's his friend, Nigel Strangeways, nephew of the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard and a renowned private investigator. Full review...

The Expo Files: Articles by the Crusading Journalist by Stieg Larsson

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

Stieg Larsson would not have known Anders Breivik, but if they'd coincided you can be damned sure he knew all there was to know about him. Larsson and his journalist colleagues were working to condemn the far-right activities throughout Europe, and open the truth about the right-wing Swedish parties to his audience, and here is constant proof he knew an awful lot about his awful subject. In just the first two, powerful, short essays here he brings terrorism in the UK, Italy and Oklahoma to his home audience, and discusses Swedish extremism in its light; showing the liberal laws in Sweden that allowed the extremists to be seen as too much on the straight and narrow, too mainstream, and even able to enter parliament. The idea of 'it couldn't happen here' gets blown out the water, and as we've seen that is relevant to us everywhere. Full review...