Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Review of

The Bone Road by N E Solomons

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Heather Bishop, the former Olympic cyclist, flew to Bosnia to surprise her boyfriend, cycling journalist Ryan Mackinnon. She even took their bikes so they could have a few days' break in the region. It was a little worrying that he didn't seem exactly pleased to see her: she even wondered if he had a woman in the hotel room. Heather had to give up competitive cycling after a traumatic brain injury four years before: she was still fit but her reactions and her memory were not up to the standard she would need to race again. Sometimes she couldn't be certain about what she had or hadn't done and she simply couldn't cope in difficult situations. She didn't entirely trust herself. Full Review

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Review of

The Accidental Stowaway by Judith Eagle

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Patch is a little girl who has been passed from one relation to another, until it seems that there is nobody left for her to go to. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother ran away. The family lawyer, after consultation with ‘someone’, arranges for her to go to a school in Liverpool, but on her arrival there, she gets caught up in an adventure with a little boy called Turo who works on a steamship. During a chase with him (when she is both trying to get her rollerskate back and running away from the police!) she winds up on the steamship hiding in a lifeboat, and before she knows it, the ship has left the docks and she is an accidental stowaway! Full Review

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Review of

Super Easy Knitting for Beginners by Carri Hammett

4.5star.jpg Crafts

I learned to knit in the nineteen-fifties: it wasn't a choice, it was a requirement. Girls learned to knit and to embroider and boys did wood and metal work. My knitting wa accompanied by a lot of criticism and quite a few tears: it was a long time before I realised that there was pleasure to be had in the skill. Nearly seventy years later it's the only thing that keeps my hands at all supple. The turning point was a booklet published by Patons which gave all the basics and some patterns. I've been looking for something simple to recommend to people who'd like to master the skill. So, how did Super Easy Knitting For Beginners work out? Full Review

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Review of

Alice Eclair, Spy Extraordinaire! A Recipe for Trouble by Sarah Todd Taylor

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Alice Eclair. A perfect eye and very careful hands have made her one of Paris's best young cake makers and decorators, making sure her mother's establishment is a classy affair. Not bad for a thirteen year old. Oh, and a perfect eye and a very careful handler and remote trainer have also made sure she is a very competent young spy. Her first real mission will be to chase a traitor across the country – working behind the scenes on a posh sleeper train to the south of France, and hoping against hope that she can prevent documents allowing foreign agents to creep into the country from getting into nefarious hands. But while nobody would have her down as a spy, can she possibly leave behind her rookie status and find the baddy? Full Review

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Review of

Super Easy Quilting for Beginners by Editors of Quarry Books

4star.jpg Crafts

I learned patchworking from necessity: old or outgrown clothes needed to be turned into something new and usable when I was in my twenties. It would be a while before it became a pleasure rather than a chore but I've never felt completely at home with quilting. I needed something a little more stylish than my usual buttons or knots. Super Easy Quilting for Beginners seemed like a good place to start. So, how did it stack up? Full Review

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Review of

Artivism: The Battle for Museums in the Era of Postmodernism by Alexander Adams

2star.jpg Politics and Society

Can art ever be apolitical? All art is political because art is not made in a vacuum. It is made by people. Antonio Gramsci stated that ‘’Every man… contributes to modifying the social environment in which he develops’’. Therefore, all art must be political, even implicitly. Alexander Adams in his new book ‘Artivism: The Battle for Museum in the Era of Postmodernism’ is adamant that art is freer when it is art for art’s sake. The recent trend of so-called artivism has caused artists to become more overtly political (read: left wing). Their seemingly grass roots movements have been astroturfed by large “left-wing” donors and media elites hoping to create a more globalist and progressive regime. Or at least that’s what Alexander Adams believes. Full Review

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Review of

The Cliff House by Chris Brookmyre

5star.jpg Thrillers

Many of them didn't know each other, one of them didn't know anybody, including Jen, one of them quite possibly hated her, and two of them definitely hated each other. What could possibly go wrong?

That's the round-up for Jen's hen party which is to take place on Clachan Geal an island just south of Barra. They're all staying in The Cliff House, hosted by Lauren, and it's the utmost in luxury living but then Jen can afford it. She's just sold her muffin business for millions but is staying on to run it. She's got her doubts about the long weekend: fiance Zaki Hussain has been acting a little strangely of late and wouldn't explain to her what the email he was hurriedly deleting was about. Added to that, he's just about forced her to bring his sister, Samira, whom Jen's never met, on the trip, on the grounds that she's been stuck at home with newborn twins for the last six months and desperately needs the break. Full Review

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Review of

Charles, The Alternative Prince: An Unauthorised Biography by Edzard Ernst

4star.jpg Biography

For over forty years, Prince Charles has been an ardent supporter of alternative medicine and complementary therapies. Charles, The Alternative Prince critically assesses the Prince's opinions, beliefs and aims against the background of the scientific evidence. There are few instances of his beliefs being vindicated and his relentless promotion of treatments which have no scientific support has done considerable damage to the reputation of a man who is proud of his refusal to apply evidence-based, logical reasoning to his ambitions. Full Review

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Review of

The Daves Next Door by Will Carver

4star.jpg General Fiction

Five strangers come together in one moment as a suicide bomber prepares to detonate his vest on a London tube line. As their fates overlap, the story is told in backwards order, leading up to the fateful moment. Full Review

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Review of

The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell

4star.jpg Thrillers

In July 2019, Jason Mott was mud larking on the banks of the River Thames when he came across a bag of what appeared to be human bones. Detective Inspector Samuel Owusu and Saffron Brown from forensics were there to investigate. The bones were indeed human: a young woman had been killed by a blow to the head many years ago - probably as long as twenty-five - but the bones had not been in the river longer than a year. There was no identification but the bag contained vegetation, some of which was quite unusual. Full Review

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Review of

Partitions of Unity by Jennifer Mason

4star.jpg General Fiction

Here at Bookbag Towers, we first met Elizabeth Cromwell, dominatrix and unintentional detective in Preposterous, when she investigated and unravelled a series of disappearances. In Partitions of Unity, she sets her mind to solving a murder.... Full Review

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Review of

A Beautiful Way to Coach by Fiona Parashar

5star.jpg Business and Finance

So what am I doing reading this book, using this book, and being audacious enough to review it? Truth is I bought it out of curiosity. I was at an on-line launch for the book and Fiona’s description of her Vision Days appealed to me. I wanted to see if there were things in there that I could use with someone I am currently helping / supporting / trying to mentor – without committing them to a full day, which I know would send them scurrying for their burrow. I also wanted to see if I could give myself a Vision Day, to bring me away from their vision and back to my own. Full Review

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Review of

Britannica's Word of the Day by Patrick Kelly, Renee Kelly and Sue Macy

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Britannica's Word of the Day has a sub-title: 366 Elevating Utterances to Stretch Your Cranium and Tickle Your Humerus which probably tells you all that you need to know about this brilliant book. It starts on January 1st with Razzmatazz, tells you how to pronounce it (raz-muh-TAZ), gives you a definition and then includes the word in a sentence so that you know how it should be used. You also get an engaging and frequently amusing illustration too. I don't think I've ever encountered a word which uses the letter Z four times before! Full Review

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Review of

Hooked by A C Wise

4star.jpg General Fiction

It’s been twenty-two years since Captain Hook, now going by just ‘James’, has been in Neverland. Living a new life in London, he has never completely escaped his past. But now he senses the edges of the beast circling around his life in London, and when suddenly he finds himself face to face in the street with Wendy, he knows that the line between this world and Neverland is growing thin. The beast is finally coming to get him, and in the process will pull Wendy and her daughter Jane back into their past once again. Full Review

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Review of

Confidence by Denise Mina

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

We're back in the world of podcasters Anna and Fin, whom we first met in Conviction. It was Anna who'd organised the 'family' holiday: her ex, Hamish, is now with her best friend, Estelle and her children are living with them. Fin (who was married to Estelle) is there too and it was Anna who invited his girlfriend, Sofia. It's not long before everyone realises that was a bad mistake. Sofia's difficult and with everyone trapped inside their holiday accommodation - a lighthouse, in a storm - she begins talking about Anna's past, including her real name and the rape. This was something which Anna had intended to tell the girls - twelve-tear-old Jess and ten-year-old Lizzie - when the time was right. And this wasn't the right time. Full Review

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Review of

Listen to Me by Tess Gerritsen

4.5star.jpg Crime

We're in Boston with Amy. When she set out for university this morning it was a spring day and she wore her new, buttery-leather pumps but as she comes out of the library she knows that they're going to be ruined - and unsafe - in the snow that's now falling. As she crosses the road, a car comes out of nowhere and hits her. It doesn't stop.

Two months later, we're with Angela Rizzoli, mother of Detective Jane Rizzoli, and a keen defender of the suburb of Revere, north of Boston, where she lives. Nothing gets past her and whilst her boyfriend, Vince Korsak, is in California, looking after his sister, she has the time to watch what's happening in the neighbourhood. The people who are moving in at no 2533 have aroused her suspicions. Full Review

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Review of

One Last Secret by Adele Parks

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Natalya is an escort. Well, her name's not actually Natalya: that's her professional name but it is a nod to her Serbian heritage. She's actually thirty-one-year-old Teodora Dziewulski, usually known as Dora Wulski. If you're thinking of 'escort' as being a polite description of a prostitute, run by a pimp, who's turning tricks to fund a drug habit, forget it. Dora is a professional in all senses of the word. She has an agent, Elspeth, who takes 30% of her income and deals with the payments but checks out the clients to see that Dora is going to be safe. Dora describes herself as a self-employed clairvoyant to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. Full Review

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Review of

A Beginner's Guide to Ruling the Galaxy by David Solomons

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Gavin is being followed, seemingly constantly, by the new (very annoying) girl at school. Only this is not your typical boy meets girl story. Because in this instance, the girl in question is Niki, and she is a galactic princess (no, really, she is!) So what will Gavin do when he becomes embroiled in a situation where, potentially, Earth and everyone on it will be blown to smithereens, all because of Niki? Full Review

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Review of

The Mermaid Call by Alex Cotter

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Vivien knows that mermaids don't exist. But she also knows they have to exist – at least in the public eye. For there would be nothing to Lake Splendour – a far northern English resort – without them. A hundred years and change ago, two teenaged girls allegedly spent months with mermaids, but were forced to return to help out with the Great War effort. They also showed female emancipation, which helped create the town's tourism industry, now faded and falling apart but once a feminist success story. Alice, a girl who stumbles into Vivien's gran's tourist shop one day, knows she certainly wants mermaids to exist – she thinks her family's black sheep died searching for them, or else was just too successful in her hunt. When the shy, doubting Thomasina that is Vivien collides with the exuberant, gung-ho Alice, what on earth – or perhaps in water – will they find? Full Review

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Review of

Loving the Enemy: Building bridges in a time of war by Andrew March

4.5star.jpg Biography

Loving the Enemy tells the quite extraordinary story of author Andrew March's grandparents, who first met when grandfather Fred Clayton went to Dresden to teach in the early days of the Nazi regime in the 1930s. Fred, a sensitive and thoughtful man, had some vague ideas of "building bridges" which may guard against the growing hostilities between nations unfolding in Europe at the time. Fred's attempts to separate individual people from ideology weren't universally successful but he did make friendships and connections that lasted for a lifetime. Full Review

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Review of

Beneath the Porticoes by Brooke Adams

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Elizabeth Miller was thirty-four and a teacher at a prestigious girl's school in York. It was comfortable but she longed for something more in life. She'd still not found the right vocation nor met the right man and now was the time to make a change. She needed challenges. There was a little trepidation when she applied for the professoressa job in Bologna. After a telephone interview, she was offered the position and it wasn't long before she was exploring the beautiful city. There were some natural doubts before her first class but it went surprisingly well. Full Review

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Review of

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

If it were not for the casual dereliction of the odd gentleman's duty, there would no women to teach well-bred daughters at all.

Anne Sharpe was thirty-one years old when she arrived at Godmersham Park to take up the position of governess to twelve-year-old Fanny Austen. She had no experience of teaching but this was a case of necessity. Until the death of her mother, Anne had a comfortable life and was loved by both parents although her father was frequently absent from the household. When her mother died, her father cast her off and would have nothing more to do with her. No explanation was offered but she would receive an annuity of £35 a year. Her maid, Agnes, would receive nothing but was fortunately taken in by some neighbours. Full Review

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Review of

Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

If you’re a writer yourself, or an aspiring writer, or someone who pretends to write, then you know that there are unnumbered types of books. Some you read for fun, some for distraction, some for vicarious emotion, some to learn from in a random way, some for focussed research, and some because they are, broadly speaking, the kind of thing you think you might like to write. Or, indeed, are actually trying to write. Full Review

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Review of

Lying Beside You by Michael Robotham

5star.jpg Thrillers

Elias Haven murdered his parents and his twin sisters two days after his nineteenth birthday. Voices told him to do it. Only two people survived the carnage - Elias, who was sent to Rampton, and his thirteen-year-old brother, Cyrus, who hid in a shed until the police found him. Twenty years later, Cyrus is a forensic psychologist and he's been told that his brother is being released. Can Cyrus forgive the sinner whilst having to live on a daily basis with the results of the crime? Can he bear to have Elias living in the same house? How will his lodger, twenty-one-year-old Evie Cormac, cope? Full Review

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Review of

A Stranger on Board by Cameron Ward

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Right from the beginning, we know this will not turn out well. Eight days into the trip to deliver the superyacht Escape to Antigua, all 300 tonnes and six decks will be floundering without power in the Atlantic. Those of the crew who are left will be cowering in fear a fellow crew member tries to pick them off, one by one. Some are already dead. They are three days from shore and there is no way of making contact. But let's go back to when all this started, in Southampton. Full Review

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Review of

The Wilderness Cure by Mo Wilde

5star.jpg Lifestyle

It had been on the cards for a while but it was the week-long consumer binge which pushed Mo Wilde into beginning her year of eating only wild food. The end of November, particularly in Central Scotland was perhaps not the best time to start, in a world where the normal sores had been exacerbated by climate change, Brexit and a pandemic. Wilde had a few advantages: the area around her was a known habitat with a variety of terrains. She had electricity which allowed her to run a fridge, freezer and dehydrator. She had a car - and fuel. Most importantly, she had shelter: this was not a plan to live wild just to live off its produce. Full Review

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Review of

Tomato Love: 44 Mouthwatering Recipes for Salads, Sauces, Stews, and More by Joy Howard

4star.jpg Cookery

Think of it as no-whining dining.

We know it's a fruit rather than a vegetable but the fact that so many people get confused just goes to show how versatile the tomato is. Then there are all the different types, not to mention the cultivars - and you begin to understand why Joy Howard says that she hasn't met one she didn't love. I'd argue with her there - I have no affection for the ones you find in the supermarket next to the ones labelled 'grown for flavour' to distinguish them from the ones that have obviously just been grown for profit. Personally, I'd prefer a tin of tomatoes to those - and Howard makes good use of these. She's not at all precious if you get the taste. Full Review

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Review of

We All Have Our Secrets by Jane Corry

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Harold Gentle advertised for live-in help as he was failing to cope at Willowmead House on his own. His advert was fairly specific: he was a retired lawyer needing help but he also spoke of the ability to cook a good steak, enjoy decent wine and be free from any food fads. The first person who came to the house was Francoise, a French woman in her early twenties, who fit the bill perfectly. She got the job but Francoise didn't know about the advert: she was there for a completely different reason. Emily Gentle is Harold's daughter and she came to Willowmead House because she was running away from a problem in London. Emily's a midwife and her last shift had seen her lacking concentration and a complaint had been made. Full Review

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Review of

Tasting Sunlight by Ewald Arenz and Rachel Ward (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Sally is a teenager who has run away from an anorexia treatment clinic. She just wants space, and for people to stop questioning her, tiptoeing around her, and trying to fix her without ever truly understanding her. She finds herself on some farmland with a woman called Liss who is in her forties and seems to live alone. Liss is unlike any other adult Sally has ever met. She just accepts Sally as she is, giving her a room to sleep in, and the space to just be. As they work together on the farm, a closeness develops between them, becoming a beautiful, powerful friendship. Full Review

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Review of

Preposterous: An Elizabeth Cromwell Mystery by Jennifer Mason

4star.jpg General Fiction

A struggling poetry zine, a mom-and-pop mobile diner in the Northern California redwoods, a 400-meter hurdler who just missed the 2004 Olympics, a women's track coach with a yen for bullwhips, a billionaire with a state-of-the-art S&M dungeon, a man serving a life sentence in Alabama, an enigmatic signature, K(s, x), on a cheap oil painting, an erotic art dealer in Georgia...

This is just a sample of the cast of characters and settings in Preposterous. As you can see, some keeping up will be required! The basic premise of this mystery story goes like this... Full Review

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Review of

The Truth About Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker

5star.jpg Biography

Meet Lisa Jewell, one of the most successful British authors I've never knowingly read. Now meet Will Brooker, one of the thousands of less successful authors I quite confidently never have read. This book starts with the two meeting each other, as well, and shows how 2021 drew the two closer and closer together. The meeting was some unspecified combination, it seems, of her anecdote about cup cakes, the words of her latest book she was reciting, and her being in a black lace mini-dress with gold brocade (certainly a get-up never commonly worn at the author events I get to attend), but pulled Brooker, a professor of cultural studies who has swallowed Roland Barthes, down the rabbit-hole that is Jewell's diverse output. Brooker decides he'd like nothing more than to follow her through a year in the published author's life, working to make a success of the latest title, and struggling with the next in line. Jewell, due diligence appropriately done, agrees. And this is the result. Full Review