Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Review of

Season of the Mammoth (BigShorts) by Antony Wootten

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Tannash and her brother Geb are waiting in great excitement for the hunting party led by their uncle to return. They're hoping for a feast of mammoth meat. Geb longs for the day he can join his uncle Gagba and the other warriors on a hunting party and take part in their deeds of derring-do. But their father, the leader of the village, thinks that they also need an education; that knowledge is power. Full Review


Review of

Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

4star.jpg Science Fiction

Eris is one of the foremost operatives of the Novantae, a resistance movement fighting against the ruthlessly expansionist Tholosian Empire – an Empire she was destined to inherit in her past life as Princess Discordia, whom everyone believed has been dead for years. Clo, an ace pilot for the Novantae, has a mission: hijack a Tholosian spacecraft to gather information vital to the war effort. Although she's less than pleased to discover that her former friend Eris is her partner on this mission. Things get more interesting as the mission commences; aboard the ship are three defectors with a secret that could potentially cripple the Empire. Eris's brother Damocles, the runner-up heir to the Empire, is plotting to disrupt peace talks between Tholos and the last of the free alien species. It's a race against time as the rebels move to put a stop Damocles' plans, with millions of lives hanging in the balance… Full Review


Review of

Every Little Piece of My Heart by Non Pratt

4star.jpg Teens

Freya was a beautiful, popular and complex girl, loved by many and seemingly stable in her existence as a queen bee 16-year-old student, complete with best friend and the promise of the end of GCSEs just months away. But one day, on January 1st, she just... left. No explanation. No warning. No goodbye. No one heard from her since. A once active social profile left deserted. So, when her best friend Sophie receives a mysterious parcel from her 5 months after, she expects it to contain answers of some kind, but is surprised to find the parcel contains another layer addressed to a complete stranger, and then another layer to another person and another, each containing an item unique to them and Freya, connecting 4 strangers through her mystery and the promise of 'treasure' at the end of it all. With each parcel, a new layer of the story and of Freya is unwrapped - and painful truths come to light that threaten to break bonds, both new and old. Can what's been broken be fixed? And why did Freya leave? Full Review


Review of

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

5star.jpg Thrillers

When you wear a hood, you're invisible.

Saffyre Maddox is seventeen-years-old and beautiful. By her own admission, she's a bit of a boffin, doing and enjoying maths, physics and biology at A level. Life hasn't been easy for her: most people who have been close to her have died and she's now living with her Uncle Aaron in an eighth-floor flat. Something really, really bad happened to her when she was ten and she self-harmed for a long time. Aaron organised psychological help and for three years Roan Fours was her therapist. He gently unpeeled the layers of her psyche, but somehow managed to miss that 'something really, really bad'. When the therapy ended Saffyre felt cast adrift, but she retained an interest in Roan. Full Review


Review of

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

5star.jpg Thrillers

When we first meet Jim Doyle, he's about to get a shock. He's security at a supermarket and he's watching a woman who is acting suspiciously. She has a book tucked under her arm and he wonders if she's planning to pay for it. Suddenly it drops to the floor with the spine splayed upwards. Nothing Man by Eve Black, is the title. Why is Jim shocked? Well, Jim was - is - the Nothing Man who, until eighteen years ago raped and killed. The author of the book was twelve years old when Jim raped her mother, and then killed her, her father and her seven-year-old sister, Anna. Full Review


Review of

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

4.5star.jpg Teens

Christina Hammonds Reed's debut novel is set against the backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a reaction to the absolution of four police officers for beating a black man, Rodney King, nearly to death. Told from the perspective of Ashley Bennett, the novel follows her evolution from a silent bystander when confronted with matters of race, to a woman finding her voice and embracing her heritage. Full Review


Review of

The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

When we first meet Rachel Cunningham she's an inpatient at the Newberry Regional Mental Health Center in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She's twenty-six and has been there for fifteen years, convinced that she accidentally killed her mother when she was eleven-years-old and that her father then took the gun and killed himself. Her sister, Diana, just twenty-years-old, was left at the family home, a lodge in the Upper Peninsula wilderness. Rachel's very bright and although she's a voluntary patient at the Mental Health Center she remains there, feeling that this is what she deserves. Perhaps, though, the circumstances are not as she remembers. Full Review


Review of

The Worst Dogs: A Progressive Murder-Mystery by Matthew de Lacey Davidson

4star.jpg Crime

The greatest hatred, like the greatest virtue and the worst dogs, is silent.

The title of this enjoyable crime procedural, is from German romantic writer Jean Paul. But who are the worst dogs in de Lacey Davidson's latest novel and for whom is the hatred? This mystery will last all the way to the very last and carefully plotted pages but you will be thinking about unwarranted hatred all the way through. It sounds uncomfortable - but it isn't: it's honest. Full Review


Review of

Toubab Tales: The Joys and Trials of Expat Life in Africa by Rob Baker

4star.jpg Travel

"Go to Mali," they said. "The music is amazing," they said. "And you get ten hours of sunshine every day." So I did.

Rob Baker is an ethnomusicologist. A what? I hear you cry. Well, an ethnomusicologist studies music in relation to culture, so rather like a folklorist studies the oral and written story traditions relating to a culture. Full Review


Review of

Hawk: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson

4star.jpg Teens

Hawk has been waiting on the same street corner, every day, for years. She is waiting for her parents to come and get her. They left her there when she was just tiny, and although she's almost certain that they are never coming back for her, she continues to head back there each day, just in case. Hawk isn't your ordinary street urchin though...she has wings, and can fly! Since she was abandoned she's been living with a group of other children, all with interesting characteristics of their own and together they've made their own family. But now the city is seemingly even more troubled than usual, there's a mysterious child-killer who has been brought to the prison next door to where the children live, and then one day Hawk comes home to find her family has been taken away. Where have they been taken, and can Hawk rescue them before it's too late? Full Review


Review of

Shed No Tears by Caz Frear

4.5star.jpg Crime

In November 2012 Christopher Masters, the man who would become known as 'the roommate killer', strangled three women in a fortnight. When he was arrested he admitted the killings. A fourth death was attributed to him - that of Holly Kemp - and on occasions, Masters admitted to the killing, then he denied it - then admitted it, then denied it. He played with the police, but there was sufficient evidence on the first three killings to put him away for a long time and the CPS were not convinced about the Holly Kemp case. There was no body and once Masters was murdered in prison, no hope of progressing the case further. Full Review


Review of

The Turning Tide (Dandy Gilver) by Catriona McPherson

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Those who were with us at the end of A Step So Grave will remember that Donald was engaged to Mallory Dunnoch. They're now married and Mallory is having twins. When they arrive no one can doubt the charms of Lavinia Dahlia Cherry and her brother, Edward Hugh Lachlan Gilver. There are two drawbacks: they're noisy and they're staying with Dandy and Hugh. Dandy and her detective partner, Alec Osborne, had not taken up the chance to look into a problem at the Cramond ferry when it was offered to them twice before, but suddenly the possibility of being out of the house at Gilverton seems irresistible. Full Review


Review of

The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

5star.jpg Thrillers

Year six student Robin Spence isn't happy about having to start a new school. She's left the school she loved in New York and now she's going to Ashams in North London. It's very upmarket; places are rare as hens' teeth and as the pupils have all been there forever, they have their established groups. Robin's going to be an outsider. And why is this happening? Well, over a matter of a few days her parents' marriage fell apart. Andrew Spence is staying in New York - he works for a securities firm - and her mother, Sadie Roper, has come back to London to pick up her practice as a criminal barrister. That's easier said than done when you've been out of the market place - and the country - for more than ten years. Full Review


Review of

Cry Baby by Mark Billingham

4.5star.jpg Crime

It's June 1996 and football's European Championships are about to start in London. DS Tom Thorne is having a nightmare and it's one he has regularly. It relates to a case from ten years earlier when he knew that a man was guilty, but didn't take any action until the man's wife and three children had been murdered and the man had killed himself.

Cat Coyne and Maria Ashton are with their sons Kieron and Josh. It's a happy combination in that the boys are devoted to each other and - despite differences in the where and how they live - the women are best friends. The boys are seven-year-old and they play on the swings in the park and then dash off to play hide and seek in Highgate Wood. Josh was the one doing the hiding - but he returned tearfully to the women: Kieron never came to find him and now he can't find Kieron. Full Review


Review of

Capturing Emilia by Brooke Adams

3star.jpg Women's Fiction

He's Charles Devereaux, thirty-eight and a partner at Wickham Jones, the Mayfair letting agents. She's Emilia, twenty-nine, librarian and archivist in the heritage library next door. Emilia has read The Secret but she's moved on from new age books like that, which leave you dependent on someone else's philosophies, to something a little deeper. Charles is more of a Jack Reacher man himself, but, above all, he's shocked that Emilia reads The Guardian. They're obviously not at all compatible, so why can Charles not get this woman out of his mind? She's not his usual type at all: it's obvious to his friends. And given that Emilia regularly feels repulsed by Charles's superficiality, why does she feel drawn to him? The relationship's obviously a non-starter, isn't it? Full Review


Review of

Single, Again, and Again, and Again by Louisa Pateman

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

You can't be happy and fulfilled on your own. You are not complete until you find a man.

This was what Louisa Pateman was brought up to believe. It wasn't unkind: it was simply the adults in her life advising her as to what they thought would be best for her. It was reinforced by all those fairy tales where the girl (she's usually fairly young) is rescued by the handsome prince who then marries her so that they can live happily ever after. Few girls are lucky enough to be brought up without the expectation that they will marry and have children. It was a belief and it would be many years before Louisa would conclude that a belief is a choice. Full Review


Review of

Dark Waters by G R Halliday

4star.jpg Crime

Twenty-two-year-old Annabelle Whittaker made her second mistake when she opted to drive down the private road in Glen Turrit. It was a long road through some breath-taking scenery and she could push the car to its limits without fear of being caught speeding. When the blond child stepped out in front of her she instinctively jerked the steering wheel and hit a tree. When she came round after the accident she couldn't work out where she was, but it obviously wasn't a conventional hospital. She'd made her first mistake some time ago, although the realisation wouldn't be obvious to her for a long time. She'd made it when she chose to have her father buy her a pale blue BMW M4. Full Review


Review of

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

4.5star.jpg Teens

Coriolanus Snow is refined, charming, and one of the only surviving members of the affluent Snow family. But their world was destroyed by the war. Their riches gone, his parents dead - and yet the facade must be maintained. As the 10th Hunger Games begins, Coriolanus and other students of the Academy become the first Mentors of the tributes in the games. This is his chance to prove himself to the world and secure his place in the Capitol for good. But when he is assigned a tribute with no hope - a girl from District 12 - he thinks all chances of winning (both for her and for him) are gone. But Lucy Gray Baird proves herself to be a spark in his world, in a way he could never have imagined. As the Games commence, Lucy Gray fights for her life in the arena - but behind the scenes, in the sly, complex and strangely dangerous world of the Capitol, Coriolanus is fighting for his life too. Will she survive the Games? Will he? And what happens then? Full Review


Review of

Hunter School by Sakinu Ahronglong

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

The flyleaf to this little collection tells us that it is a work of fiction. That's possibly misleading. I am not sure whether it is "fiction" in the sense that Ahronglong made it all up, or whether it is as the blurb goes on to say recollections, folklore and autobiographical stories. It feels like the latter. It feels like the stories he tells about his experiences as a child, as an adolescent, as an adult are real and true. But memory is a fickle thing, and maybe poetic licence has taken over here and there and maybe calling it fiction means that its safer and therefore more people will read it. More people should. Full Review


Review of

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

4.5star.jpg Teens

When we first meet 17-year-old Lola, daughter to legendary horror movie director Nolan Nox, she is saying goodbye to New York City - by sneaking out and stealing from its residents. But when she is found by her father's assistant and forced to come home, she arrives to find an unlocked door, a trail of blood, and her father dying in his study. And so, while he recovers, she is sent off to live with her grandmother in Harrow Lake, the small 1920s town in Indiana that served as the location for the film that made her parents famous. But something about this place isn't right. There's a darkness inside the people here. Secrets about her mother and dark tales of the town's cannibal monster 'Mister Jitters' fill every corner, and disturbing happenings plague Lola. But with every passing hour, secrets long buried come painfully to light and she begins to think that these stories may not be stories at all, and something very real and sinister lurks in Harrow Lake. Full Review


Review of

The Shelf by Helly Acton

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

When we meet Amy, she's in a relationship with Jamie. You can't really call it a partnership, because things tend to get done on his terms, but she's sticking around because she hopes she can change him. Ah, yes. Haven't we all been there? Things are looking up when he tells her to pack for a surprise trip. Could this be it? Is he finally going to get down on one knee? Was the work (and the wait) worth it? Full Review


Review of

This Book Wants to Make You Laugh (Living Book) by Justine Avery and Daria Yudina

4star.jpg For Sharing

This Living Book is on a mission. What's the mission? To make you laugh! I can't think of many better missions than that, can you? Let's see how it does...

.... well, it opens up with a terrible joke. A groany joke, an eye-roll joke. The joke isn't very funny but it is funny to see how enthusiastic and how generously this book wants to make you laugh - Oh, I'm terrible at jokes. Some books are so good at them. I always wanted to help someone laugh. Full Review


Review of

Murder on the Moorland (Kitt Hartley Yorkshire Mysteries) by Helen Cox

3.5star.jpg Crime

DI Malcolm Halloran and Kitt Hartley's relationship is developing nicely: they're even into a spot of bandage now, although the details are (mercifully) scant. After a night of passion Halloran is called away in the early hours of the morning. There's been a murder in Irendale, where Halloran used to live and where his wife, Kamala, was strangled five years ago. There are sufficient details of the current murder to make Halloran suspect that the man who murdered his wife - and others - is in some way involved, despite being in prison. The DI heads off to speak to Jeremy Kerr. Full Review


Review of

The Cleaner by Mark Dawson

4star.jpg Thrillers

Ruthless and coldly competent, John Milton is one of the British government's best assets – a contract killer with lethal instincts. Now, after ten years, he wants out. But his job isn't one you can just walk away from… Full Review


Review of

I Am Unworthy by Angela Mack

4star.jpg Teens

Isabel is determined to start fresh. Start again. Sixth form will be different. Her tormentor doesn't go to Gilleford Secondary School anymore. She can escape the hurt, the fear, and the person she became. Josh is determined to keep going, even through the rage, the pain, and using his fists to solve any problem or situation. But he has secrets that threaten to tear him and his brothers apart. When Josh and Isabel's worlds collide, can they make their relationship work? Can they both finally be happy? Or will Josh's time run out? Full Review


Review of

The Phone Box at the End of the World by Laura Imai Messina

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In the northeast of Japan, in Inwate Prefecture a man installed a telephone box in his garden. Inside there is an old black, telephone, disconnected, that carries voices into the wind. It is a real place, a necessary place, and I am pleased to see the IMPORTANT NOTE that the author attaches to her story, that the place is not a tourist destination, it is a sacred place, a place that must be left to those who really need it. Full Review