Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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The Bookbag

Hello from The Bookbag, a site featuring books from all the many walks of literary life - fiction, biography, crime, cookery and anything else that takes our fancy. At Bookbag Towers the bookbag sits at the side of the desk. It's the bag we take to the library, the charity shop 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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Review of

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

4star.jpg Biography

On the coast of Santa Cruz, Patti Smith enters the lunar year of the monkey - one packed with mischief, sorrow, and unexpected moments. In a stranger's words, Anything is possible: after all, it's the year of the monkey. As Smith wanders the coast of Santa Cruz in solitude, she reflects on a year that brings huge shifts in her life - loss and aging are faced head on, as it the shifting political waters in America. Full Review


Review of

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

4.5star.jpg Dystopian Fiction

Finally! Almost forty years on, we have a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. I don't want to tell you too much about the plot because it's a novel that is entirely plot driven. Suffice it to say that The Testaments takes place fifteen years later, fifteen years after Offred gets into a van, not knowing what will happen next. It's told by three narrators: Aunt Lydia, who is secretly writing her memoirs in Ardua Hall; Agnes, a girl brought up in Gilead with the expectation she will marry a commander; Daisy, a rebellious teenage girl in Canada who knows of Gilead only from school lessons and its Pearl Girl missionaries who occasionally call into the store owned by her parents... Full Review


Review of

The Money Revolution by Anne Boden

4star.jpg Business and Finance

Money is changing. It might not be in the ways you think. We’re not suddenly getting a 3p or £3 coin (and have you ever even found a country that offers anything different to the 1, 2, 5 model?) We’re getting a lot more digital with payments, which seems to suit most people apart from charity collectors and the homeless on the street, but although this book has the subtitle that includes the word ‘’digital’’, it’s not really about this either. Instead it’s about the ‘’management’’ of your finances, and how to take control. Full Review


Review of

Guilty Not Guilty by Felix Francis

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

The Honourable William Herbert Millgate Gordon-Russell (Bill Russell to those who knew him well) was acting as a volunteer steward at Warwick Racecourse when he was told of the violent death of his much-loved wife. It would get worse though: the successful insurance actuary would be accused of killing her and hounded by the media. Then he would lose his job and his home. His best friends would turn against him, as they came to believe him guilty of the murder. Yet there was no really compelling evidence that he was guilty. Full Review


Review of

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

5star.jpg History

Sometimes when people suggest that you read a certain book, they tell you this one has your name on it. Mostly we take them at their word, or not, but rarely do we ask them why they thought so, unless it turns out that we didn't like the book. That's a rare experience. People who are sensitive to hearing a book calling your name, rarely get it wrong. In this case I was told why. The blurb speaks of the author considering an older, less tethered sense of herself. Older. Less tethered. That's not a bad description of where I am. Add to that my love of the natural world, of those aspects of the poetic and lyrical that are about style not form, and substance most of all, about connection. Of course this book had my name on it. It was written for me. It would have found its way to me eventually. I am pleased to have it fall onto my path so quickly. Full Review


Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks

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

Simon Barnes had his first taste of beer in 1976 when he was just six years old. Over the years it would become a habit and then a need. By 2016 and with a wife and child of his own he was a functioning alcoholic - a fact known by everybody except Simon. He's concentrating on wanting another child to complete his family. His wife, Daisy, isn't worried. They took a long time to conceive Millie, who's perfect in every way, so why tempt fate? Simon's not inclined to let matters rest though and it's at a fertility clinic that he receives the news that will change all their lives: he's sterile. Full Review


Can You Draw the Dragosaur? by Peter Lynas and Charlie Roberts

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Crafts, Emerging Readers

You're going to get a hint of what this book's about very quickly. When you see the title page, you'll find out what the book's called and that it's been written by Peter Lynas. Then we move on to who has done the illustration - and there's a gap. You are going to put your name there. It's your responsibility to provide the pictures for this book about one of the largest creatures ever to roam the earth. There's some help available, but your name is on the title page - and you have work to do! Full Review


A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

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

The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever. On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal's son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specialises in disappointments. Savine dan Glokta - socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union - plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control. The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die. With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another . . .Full Review


Bunny by Peter Lynas and Clare Lindley

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews For Sharing

You might have seen Bunny on the beach where he lived. Like many beaches it was full of sand and Bunny didn't like sand, not least because it got between his toes and scratched. What he really liked was juicy green grass. All the other rabbits lived on the top of the cliff, where Bunny could see a lot of tasty-looking grass. But the cliff was very high. Full Review


Why We Quilt by Thomas Knauer

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

I've often wondered about the story that patchwork quilting began as a way for women (and myth would have it that it was always women) to make an extra blanket out of material which would otherwise go to waste. This undoubtedly did happen but when you think about it, you need an awful lot of material to make a quilt and the time could have been better spent if all that was required was bedding. Like Thomas Knauer I've come to the conclusion that it began as an art and has largely continued down that same road with fluctuations in popularity over the years. Full Review


The Lying Room by Nicci French

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

When we meet Neve Connolly it's pretty obvious that she has something to hide. She crept into the house after midnight, carefully putting her clothes into the washing machine and she can't wait to get husband Fletcher and children Mabel, Connor and Rory off on their various ways the next morning when she gets a text telling her to come to the flat. He has a few hours to spare and can't wait to see her. Only, when she gets to the flat she finds Saul Stevenson, her boss and lover, dead on the floor. The hammer that's been used on his brain is at his side. Full Review


Madeleine Goes to the Moon by Peter Lynas and Charlie Roberts

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews For Sharing

Madeleine is a very lucky girl: in her room she has all a girl could ask for in the way of toys, books, games and dollies. She's a very lucky girl in another way too: she has imagination and everything in her room can be used to take her on adventures. She spends all day there: Dad thinks that she likes to be alone, but Madeleine's not alone on all the trips she takes. We'll find out that yesterday she was told to tidy her room, but instead of doing that she went to the moon. Full Review


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

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

When we first meet Danny and his elder sister, Maeve Conroy, they're both living at The Dutch House with their parents and under the gaze of the portraits of the former owners whose oil paintings still hang on the walls. It's a strange family dynamic: Cyril Conroy is distant and the closest Danny seems to come to him is when he goes out with him on a Saturday collecting rents from properties the family owns. Elna Conroy is loving, but absent increasingly often until the point comes when the children are told that she will not be returning. In other circumstances this might have affected Maeve and Danny deeply, but their primary relationship is with each other. It's a bond which only death will break. Full Review


The Very Rude Toytoise by Peter Lynas and Andy S Gray

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews For Sharing

It was one of those blissful days in the forest. Mrs Rabbit was collecting carrots because she wanted to make a cake. Mrs Blue Bird was gathering twigs to build a nest. Mrs Spider was busily spinning a web to catch juicy flies. Mrs Squirrel was piling up acorns. And Mr Bear sat comfortably in a chair, fishing for lunch. What could be better? And then... Full Review


Recipe for Making a Snowman by Peter Lynas and Rosie Alabaster

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews For Sharing

Who knew it? You can even get a recipe book which tells you how to make a snowman - and there's no cooking involved! Mum, Dad and the two children are absolutely meticulous though: they're going to get everything right, even down to doing some mining to get the coal for the eyes, searching through the bits 'n bobs jar for buttons for the snowman's coat and picking out the perfect piece of headgear. There's quite a choice available, but the family decide on the bobble hat, presumably to keep the snowman warm. The moth-eaten pair of mittens simply won't do and a pair with purple and pink stripes are chosen. Full Review


War and Love: A family's testament of anguish, endurance and devotion in occupied Amsterdam by Melanie Martin

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Biography

Melanie Martin read about what happened to Dutch Jews in occupied Amsterdam during World War II and was entranced by what she discovered, particularly in The Diary of Ann Frank but then realised that her own family's stories were equally fascinating. A hundred and seven thousand Jews were deported from the city during the war years, but only five thousand survived and Martin could not understand how this could be allowed to happen in a country with liberal values who were resistant to German occupation. Most people believed that the occupation could never happen: even those who thought that the Germans might reach the city were convinced that they would soon be pushed back, that the Amsterdammers would never allow what happened to escalate in the way that it did, but initial protests melted away as the organisers became more circumspect. It's an atrocity on a vast scale, but made up of tens of thousands of individual tragedies. Full Review


Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick

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

This is a deep, interesting read unlike any book I've read in quite some time. The novel's story follows a young man named Ash in the process of joining a community of sick people in the curiously named town of Snowflake, Arizona. These people are sick, but it's not a sickness you've heard of. Instead, they're environmentally ill – affected by household chemicals and fabrics, pesticides, static electricity, and radiation – and their only cure is to stay in the town away from the real world. Though it's about a real place, the people in it are fictional. It really is a place apart, quite literally cut off from the outside world – people are even required to decontaminate themselves thoroughly before becoming fully integrated. Full Review


Brightfall by Jaime Lee Moyer

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

Robin Hood is gone – denouncing both his former life and his love Marian, and retreating to a monastery – although no-one knows quite what led him to abandon all that he had built. Marion's life since has been relatively quiet - but when her friends start dying, Marion is tasked by Father Tuck to break the curse surrounding them and to save their lives. Setting off with a soldier, a Fey Lord and a sullen Robin Hood, she becomes tangled in a maze of betrayals, complicated relationships, and a vicious struggle for the throne…Full Review


The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

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

The Nightjar is an unusual and exciting story. Alice Wyndham lives a normal life in London until she finds a box on her doorstep one morning and her life begins to unravel, fast. From that very moment, her life is flooded with magic, loss, expectation and particularly, betrayal. As everything around her shifts, all that she knows, all that she thinks she knows, must change. Who can she trust? Who must she trust? Who will she trust? More importantly, can she even trust herself? Full Review


American Royals by Katharine McGee

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

Two and a half centuries ago, America won the Revolutionary War and General George Washington was offered the crown. Today, the House of Washington still sit on the thrown with Princess Beatrice next in line. Beatrice's whole life has been building up to her ruling the United States and the time for her reign is imminent. Full Review


Dead Flowers (Dr Sian Love) by Nicola Monaghan

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

It was more than a little bit of a surprise to Dr Sian Love (and the rest of the relatives) when her uncle Bobby left her his home - a former pub called The Loggerheads in the Narrow Marsh area of Nottingham. Then it was a shock when she found two bodies in the cellar before she'd even got settled in - and managed to break a bone in her foot in the course of making the discovery. They'd been there for some time, but who - exactly - were the man and the woman, wrapped in each other's arms? Having spent ten years on the Murder Squad, ending up as a DCI she knows what's going to happen next, but she's not prepared for quite how personal it's all going to get. Full Review