Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Reviews by readers from all the many walks of literary life. With author interviews, features and top tens. You'll be sure to find something you'll want to read here. Dig in!

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Review of

The Chef, the Bird and the Blessing by Andrew Sharp

4star.jpg General Fiction

Chef Mlantushi - Mozzy to his employer - is, in his mind, the head chef of a safari business catering to VIP guests in an unnamed African country. Mozzy is earnest and dedicated to his task and he puts all of himself into creating fine cuisine dishes for the guests at BOD-W safaris but his dream is to become the head chef of a restaurant in London or a big American city. Even to win a Michelin star. He is thwarted in this ambition by his boss, Mr Bin (Ben to you and me) who incurs Mozzy's disapproval for his scruffy ways, his uninterest in his guests and - shock, horror - his allowing of bush animals into the house. Full Review

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Review of

Rules for Vampires by Alex Foulkes

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Eleonore Von Motteberg (or 'Leo' for short) is a Vampire. She drinks blood, she sleeps during the day, and she can Grimwalk (turning into a flock of bats to travel around, although not all of them remember to come back). Pretty cool stuff. Now, on the night of her hundredth birthnight, she has to go out and hunt her first human. However, instead she ends up killing two humans by accident and burning down an orphanage. Oops! And to make things worse, the ghosts of one of the orphans and the evil master of the orphanage come back to haunt her. So, not only does Leo have to team up with the friendly ghost Minna to stop the ghost of the Orphanmaster before he becomes unstoppably powerful, she has to do it all while hiding it from her family. Did I mention vampires and ghosts hate each other? Yeah, there's a reason why there are rules for vampires… Full Review

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Review of

The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

4.5star.jpg Teens

Working all summer in her boarding school's library is the last thing Tess Matheson wants to do — especially when she gets a request for over a hundred books that she has to deliver herself. What makes it worse is the man who requested the books: Mr Birch. The boarding school's headmaster, and a man Tess hates. As a petty act of revenge for making her find and deliver such a large request, Tess sticks post-it notes on each of the books, scribbled with the ugliest insults she can think of. They're never meant to reach him, of course. Her plan is to get her anger out like this, and then take them all off before delivering them. No harm done… Or it would be, if someone hadn't delivered them for her. Full Review

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Review of

Who Needs Nappies? Not Me! (Everybody Potties!) by Justine Avery and Seema Amjad

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Who Needs Nappies? Not Me! is the latest release in the Everybody Potties! series from Justine Avery. This series of fun picture books aims to take the pain out of potty training children and replace it with some fun. It's a worthy aim, as any frustrated parent will tell you. . Full Review

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Review of

Snowcub by Graham Fulbright

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Fourteen-year-old Rachel is her school's animal rights project leader and she and her friend are producing a competition entry to highlight the way in which human beings exploit the animal world. She gets a great deal of support from her family: father Pip Harrison, a lecturer at Imperial College, London, mother Kate and her twin, Nick. Kate runs the family business, a toy shop called Cornucopia in Putney, which is where we'll meet Rachel's main (if unsuspected) source of information: five soft toys. Full Review

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Review of

The Ash House by Angharad Walker

5star.jpg Confident Readers

A new boy arrives at The Ash House. He doesn't know his name, or why he is there but he is used to the system, used to different places and different faces. He meets Dom who names him Sol and sets out to teach him the rules of The Ash House. These rules centre on a variety of Nicenesses set out by the absent Headmaster. All children must remember their Niceness and complete their chores, working as a hive in the smouldering shadows of The Ash House. But soon their easy peace is shattered by the arrival of the Doctor. By the end of the story, lives will be changed forever and The Ash House will never be the same again. Full Review

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Review of

Crosshairs of the Devil by Yancey Williams

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Award-winning crime writer Eddie Jablonski is getting on in years and, despite his strenuous objections and thanks to his daughter, finds himself living - or imprisoned, from Eddie's point of view - in room 315 of the Garden of Eden nursing home, with only a trusty nursing aide, Jenkins, for palatable company. Nothing is going to keep Eddie from his stock-in-trade of writing though, so here, for his readers, are his wanderings through his life's work. Full Review

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Review of

Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve

5star.jpg Confident Readers

In a word, rich. There is certainly an abundance of riches in this story set on a peculiar island called Wildsea, British but way west, beyond the Scillies. There are troll people on it, and sea-witches, and legends of the Dark family that has to keep watch for magical islands and their monster approaching from even further west, where no ship dare sail. The current Darks are the Watcher, Andrewe, who has to keep notes of activity from the Hidden Lands, his brother Will who lives in London with too much science in his head to worry about such local yokel superstitions, and Andrewe's foundling daughter, who washed up out of the sea one day eleven years ago. But when Andrewe Dark drowns himself, both his sullen brother and his curious ward are thrust into the world of protecting their island, like it or not. Full Review

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Review of

Walking: One Step At A Time by Erling Kagge

5star.jpg Lifestyle

Those who have read my reviews before will know that how much I loved a book is evidenced by the number of pages with corners turned, so let me start this one with an apology to the Norfolk Library Service: sorry! I forgot it was your book not mine. In my defence, I will say that as a reader of this type of book there is something connective about noting where prior readers were inspired (provided it is subtle – I'll allow creased corners, but not scribbles – for the latter we must buy our own copy – which I am about to do as soon as I have finished telling you why).

Erligg Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has walked to the South Pole, the North Pole and the summit of Everest. He knows a thing or two about walking. However, this isn't a travelogue about any of those epic journeys, it is instead a thoughtful exploration of what it means to walk. It is a plenitude of unnumbered essays about walking. There is no 'contents' page and I haven't counted. In small format paperback, each essay is only a few pages long. Perhaps then, better thought of as a meditation rather than an essay. Full Review

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Review of

Monster Hunting For Beginners by Ian Mark and Louis Ghibault

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Jack. Now Jack knows very little about being fearless and nimble and quick, for he's a slight boy, and although he wants for danger and peril and interesting things his dad refuses to let him out of his sight. That's because Jack's mother knew all about monsters, and look what happened to her – she died. Luckily or unluckily then, depending on your point of view, a giant ogre will threaten his aunt when Jack's father also goes AWOL, Jack will fluke the ogre's death, a dwarfish wizard-type will make him an apprentice monster hunter, and he'll be given a book that tells him all he needs to know about the perils he always wanted closer contact with. The book's name? Monster Hunting for Beginners... Full Review

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Review of

The Climbers by Keith Gray

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Sully is the best tree climber in the village. He has what's known amongst the kids as 'reach'. But what happens when a new kid shows up in town? A new kid, called Nottingham, who clambers up some of the hardest trees with ease? Suddenly Sully is worried that his status is being threatened, and not only that, that his chance to name the final, unnamed big tree in the park by being the first to conquer it, might be snatched from his hands. How can Sully stop Nottingham? And will it cost him his best friend, or maybe even all of his friends, to do so? Full Review

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Review of

The Week at World's End by Emma Carroll

4star.jpg Confident Readers

First, the title. We're in World's End Close, a mediocre set of houses, where Stevie (Vie to her friends) finds fun only with the family dog and with the boy over the road. But we could also be at World's End, because something taking a great chunk of the fun away is the fact that the Cuban Missile Crisis is kicking off. The Soviet boats are getting blockaded as America tries to reduce the risk of nuclear missiles offshore, and not much else is able to make the news. That said, Vie has news of her own – Anna, a secretive young woman hiding in their coal shed. Anna has, in no short time, taken a strong interest in the American airforce base behind the Close, said she'd locate something she wanted and leave, failed to leave, and implied her life was at risk. But surely this bit of intrigue has got nothing to do with what the Cold War is doing miles away? Full Review

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Review of

Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Julia, our pre-teen heroine, has been packed off with her parents and their cat from the family home in SW England to be lighthousekeepers for a summer, in the far NE of the Scottish islands. Here be Vikings, that kind of Scottish island. Dad is going to be automating the lantern, which is his specialist thing, while mum will be leaving her career in algae behind to hunt the elusive Greenland shark. And Julia, well, she will be homesick and alone – until she suddenly finds company one night. Full Review

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Review of

The Last Library by Freya Sampson

4star.jpg General Fiction

I am always a little nervous to start a story about a library, since I am a librarian. I always grit my teeth slightly at the thought of the incoming cardigan-wearing, hair in a bun, cat-owning, glasses on a chain stereotypes! In this story, the main character, June, does put her hair in a bun, and she does own a cat (called Alan Bennett), and she has barely any friends and spends her evenings eating the same Chinese takeaway meal once a week whilst reading books alone! But I didn't immediately throw the book out of the window, because I found I was interested in June, and why she lived as she did. Her mum used to be a librarian at the village library, but when she got sick, June gave up on going to University and stayed at home to take care of her mum, as well as taking on a job as library assistant at the local library. And even though her mum sadly died some years ago, she is still working there, still eating her mum's favourite takeaway meal, and still reading her mum's old books. June is stuck, but little does she know, everything in her life is about the change. Full Review

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Review of

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Amelia Wright is forty-two and it was the staff raffle at Battersea Dogs Home that gave her a weekend away in a converted chapel in Scotland. Her husband, Adam, isn't so keen on the idea. Like Amelia, he knows that their marriage has been under strain: he's a screenwriter and he's never shy of making it clear to Amelia that he'd prefer to spend time with the novels he's hoping to adapt than with her. Amelia's annoyed that he never enquires about how her day has been - and working with the dogs, many of whom have been abused, is never easy. Still - she's won the weekend away, even if it does mean driving for eight hours in her 1978 Morris Minor Traveller with Adam beside her in the passenger seat - and then doing the same thing to come back a couple of days later. Full Review

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Review of

The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone

4star.jpg Crime

For those who, like me, haven't come across the Skelfs before, I'll risk a quick synopsis of who's who – although Johnstone does a good job of bringing the backstory in without being heavy handed about it. Skelf isn't some fantastic creature, though it sounds as though it ought to be, it is merely the surname of a family of undertakers. Undertakers and private investigators. Dorothy is the matriarch – Californian by birth and instinct, she married a scot and ended up helping to run the Edinburgh undertaking firm that had been in the family for generations. Recently widowed and now involved with a black Swedish police officer. Swedish by nationality. Scottish police. Daughter Jenny, 46, is haunted by her still-living husband – a violent escaped prisoner. And grand-daughter is about to graduate with a first-class physics degree and join the academic staff next term. Full Review

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Review of

There's a Problem With Dad by Carlos Alba

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Life is different for George Lovelace and he can't really understand why. He's always done everything he ought to: steady worker, husband and father - and a father who was always there for school plays and sports days. So why is he never quite in tune with those around him? Why does he upset people? Why is someone with such a good mind unable to progress at work or to relate to his colleagues? Why does he make so many breath-taking gaffes? It's almost become a cliche these days to suggest that someone who is a little different is 'on the spectrum', but George Lovelace has all the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome: high-functioning autism. Full Review

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Review of

The Heights by Louise Candlish

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Ellen doesn't expect to see Kieran that day. She's on site, visiting a client for a lighting consultation when she spies him in a building across the way. There are lots of things, lots of people, you might see when you look out across London, but this isn't one Ellen expected that day or in fact any other day. Why? Because Kieran has been dead for over two years, and Ellen knows this for a fact, because she had a hand in his murder. Full Review

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Review of

Mrs March by Virginia Feito

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

The problem began just after the publication of George March's most successful novel to date. Everyone but Mrs March (we know her first name only on the last page) seemed to either be reading it or had already done so. Every day Mrs March went to the local patisserie to buy olive bread but on that particular morning, Patricia asked, as she was wrapping the bread, but isn't this the first time he's based a character on you? She mentioned that Johanna, the principal character had 'her mannerisms. Perhaps this would not have mattered, except for the fact that Johanna is the whore of Nantes - a weak, plain, detestable, pathetic, unloved, unloveable wretch. Full Review

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Review of

The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

5star.jpg General Fiction

Meet George Cleverley. He is self-defined as "one of the few television personalities over the age of fifty without a criminal record". He starts this book a bit worried when his mistress tells him she's carrying his child, but then his author wife is getting her kicks with the Ukrainian partner "Strictly Come Dancing" paired her with. They have three children, who are a sad-sack with absolutely no social skills whatsoever, a girl who hangs around with a virtue-signalling, keyboard warrior "wokester" who wants to save the world's homeless with out-of-date food, and a fit young lad doing the gay hustle thing. Add in a few other characters – therapists, lawyers, random transgender types – that all have two very different connections to his life, and you have something that suggests an almost farcical approach to the modern world. What suggests the farcical approach even more, however, is the fact this is bloody funny. Full Review

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Review of

The Perfect Life by Nuala Ellwood

4star.jpg Thrillers

In August 2018 we meet a young woman called Imogen and she's viewing a house in Goring-on-Thames and telling the estate agent about her three children, Lavender, Freddie and Barclay. The boys are a bit of a handful which is why she's making this trip on her own. The house would be perfect for them.

It's the same month but now we're in Wimbledon and we encounter the same young woman, only this time she's job hunting and living in her sister, Georgie's, spare room, where she's been since she broke up with her boyfriend, Connor. Full Review

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Review of

Archibald Lox and the Slides of Bon Repell: Archibald Lox series, Volume 2, book 2 of 3 by Darren Shan

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

So. Having done the impossible and unpicked the lock to the Forgotten Crypt, from which the Departed communicate with the Merge, Archie now has grop to think about. But before that, soirees. Soirees! Archie, much to Inez's amusement, doesn't even know what one of those is. But he manages to come through the fancy party unscathed, even after an uncomfortable encounter with Kurtis, whose fledgling romance with Inez was crushed in the first volume of this series. Full Review

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Review of

When Fred the Snake Got Squished and Mended by Peter Cotton

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Meet Fred. Well, actually, you're going to be meeting Fred-Fred for reasons which will become all too obvious very quickly. But I'm getting ahead of myself: I'd better tell you a bit more about Fred. Fred is a snake and even those of us who have a phobia about snakes are going to warm to him. He arrived as a present in a box with holes so that he could breathe and immediately became part of the family, to the extent that they would take Fred out with them when they went out for a walk. And that was where the problem started. Fred didn't have any road sense. Or brakes. Full Review

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Review of

Everybody Pees! (Everybody Potties!) by Justine Avery and Naday Meldova

4star.jpg For Sharing

Can potty training ever be joyous? It often isn't, as any parent will tell you. But really, why shouldn't it be? We all have to learn about our bodily functions just as we have to learn about everything else when we are small. Why shouldn't potty training be as much fun as, say, learning about why the sun and the moon take turns in the sky? Full Review

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Review of

All Her Fault by Andrea Mara

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

It had seemed like one of those serendipitous events which sometimes happen. Marissa Irvine had been hoping that the opportunity would arise for her son, Milo, to go on a play date. She was concerned that he didn't have any friends at his new school. Milo would go home from Kerryglen National School in an affluent Dublin suburb with his classmate Jacob - and Marissa would pick him up from 14 Tudor Grove a little later. What could be better? Only, when Marissa arrived at the house, expecting to meet Jacob's mother, Jenny, the door was answered by Esther, who didn't know Jenny or Jacob. The phone number she'd been given for Jenny was not recognised. Milo had disappeared. And so had Jenny's nanny. Full Review

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Review of

Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North

4star.jpg Science Fiction

At its core Notes From the Burning Age by Claire North is a spy thriller, with as many double crosses, interrogations and night time escapes as Le Carre or Fleming. However, as with the best novels, it wears many masks and its most affecting one is that of a new and timely genre, cli-fi, or climate change fiction. North's novel tells of a world devastated by climate change where humans have been forced to start anew and live alongside nature without any of the modern and corrupting "luxuries" (read: fossil fuels, weapons of mass destruction, intensive farming). There is a growing unhappiness with this limiting world, and one group, the Brotherhood, aims to master these processes no matter the cost to the Earth. Full Review

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Review of

Girls Who Lie by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir and Victoria Cribb (translator)

3star.jpg Thrillers

You might be forgiven for thinking that all the dark corners of Iceland have featured in their noirish thrillers and crime books before now. You think, seeing on the map that we're set in Akranes, and finding it's only twenty kilometres from the capital city, that this author is clutching at the few final straws left. However just because the book aims for the usual small-town feel, it's not just in Akranes that our interests lie. Six months ago a woman failed to turn up for her date evening, and was never seen again. This left a teenaged girl not at all disappointed that she could now live permanently with the couple who had given her foster care before her mother had asked for the girl back, and a couple of delighted adopters. But it left our three detectives at a quandary – mobile phone use was at a high level until it stopped all of a sudden, in one place, the woman's car was found miles away in a second place, and now, after six months, the body has been discovered, in a third, even more remote place. Meanwhile, this narrative is interrupted by a confessional monologue from a mother who found herself with heavy post-natal depression, and very little maternal feeling in her body. Is the assumption that is so easy for the reader to make the right one? Full Review

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Review of

Dead Man's Grave (DS Max Craigie) by Neil Lancaster

4star.jpg Crime

Tam Hardie had been determined to find the grave - and it took some finding - in an overgrown old cemetery. It was a strange thing for Scotland's premier criminal to do, but Tam was getting old and there were things he wanted to do. Only, his family didn't hear from him again after he'd said that he'd found the grave - the one which said that it shouldn't be opened - and his three sons began to worry. Tam Junior, Frankie and Dave wouldn't normally go to the police but they weren't certain where their father had been and they were worried. Full Review

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Review of

The Tiny Gestures of Small Flowers by Emily Critchley

3star.jpg General Fiction

The Tiny Gestures of Small Flowers had all the hallmarks of something good. I was intrigued by the plot, liked the design of the book, and thought the author's work sounded interesting. From the outset it all looked incredibly promising. So what on earth went wrong here? Full Review

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Review of

Good Neighbours by Sarah Langan

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

If you're of a certain vintage, it's hard to read the words Good Neighbours without adding a sing-song that's when Good Neighbours…become…good friends. Maple Street is no Ramsay Street, though, Arlo and Gertie live a world apart from the Melbourne suburbs. They're one of 18 households on the crescent, quite new arrivals having moved in a year earlier. They're not quite like all the other families (he's an ex rocker, she's a former beauty queen) but they've made some friends and their kids have settled in, and it's all going ok. Until it isn't. One hot, clammy, sticky, sweaty summer, a sinkhole opens up in the park across the way. It's a revolting mess of dirt and chaos, but for the residents of Maple Street, the worst is yet to come. Full Review

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Review of

The Small Things by Lisa Thompson

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Although Anna has friends at school, she feels like she never really fits in. Her family don't have enough money to let her do after school activities, and so she feels like her life at home is boring in comparison to theirs. When a new girl joins her class, Anna is asked to partner her, but things are complicated because the new girl, Ellie, is unwell and so can't attend school in person. Instead, she joins in with the class by using a robot. Can Anna overcome the challenge of making friends with someone through a robot, and is she even interesting enough to be a good friend to Ellie? Full Review

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Review of

We Need to Talk About Money by Otegha Uwagba

5star.jpg Politics and Society

To be a dark-skinned Black woman is to be seen as less desirable, less hireable, less intelligent and ultimately less valuable than my light-skinned counterparts... We Need to Talk About Money by Otegha Uwagba

0.7% of English Literature GCSE students in England study a book by a writer of colour while only 7% study a book by a woman. The Bookseller 29 June 2021

Otegha Uwagba came to the UK from Kenya when she was five years old. Her sisters were seven and nine. It was her mother who came first, with her father joining them later. The family was hard-working, principled and determined that their children would have the best education possible. There was always a painful awareness of money although this did not translate into a shortage of anything: it was simply carefully harvested. When Otegha was ten the family acquired a car. For Otegha, education meant a scholarship to a private school in London and then a place at New College, Oxford. Full Review