Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Hello from The Bookbag, a site featuring books reviews and recommendations 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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Review of

Lies to Tell (DI Clare Mackay) by Marion Todd

4star.jpg Crime

When we meet up with DI Clare Mackay again she's at Daisy Cottage on the outskirts of St Andrews with her English Bull Terrier, Benjy. She's just had a postcard from Geoffrey Dark and he's in Provincetown, Cape Cod. He wishes that she was there, but Clare's struggling to think of what he actually is to her now. Is he her boyfriend? Her ex-boyfriend? She can't work it out and thinks that Geoffrey probably can't either. Work's about to get very busy and she can't work out why DCI Alastair Gibson has cancelled a meeting she'd arranged without discussing it with her first. They're off somewhere top secret. Full Review

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Review of

To Tell You the Truth by Gilly Macmillan

4.5star.jpg Crime

When Lucy Bewley was nine-years-old she crept out of the house on the night of the summer solstice to watch the pagan celebrations in Stoke Woods. Her four-year-old brother, Teddy, would have woken the house if she hadn't taken him with her. But in the early hours of the morning, Lucy returned home without Teddy, hoping that he would have got home before her. He hadn't and no one has seen him since. Lucy's story was crucial to the police investigation, but it keeps subtly changing. Lucy is being advised by her imaginary friend, Eliza Grey and Eliza says that there are certain things which Lucy must not tell the police. Full Review

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Review of

Cut to the Bone (DI Meg Dalton) by Roz Watkins

4star.jpg Crime

DI Meg Dalton and Ds Jai Sanghera are dealing with the case of a missing teenager. Violet Armstrong is well-known as a vlogger - championing the cause of meat-eating. She barbeques meat wearing only a bikini and has attracted the attention of animal rights activists. The meat-eaters (they wear meat suits) are determined that Meg Dalton is corrupt and not running a decent investigation (obviously she only got the job because she's a woman) because she's a vegetarian. As if the case wasn't enough, Meg's father is coming to stay with her despite having had little to do with her for fifteen years and Jai's convinced that his girlfriend, Suki, doesn't like his children and that she wants more, but he doesn't. Full Review

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Review of

The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany by Roger Moorhouse

5star.jpg History

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of the Third Reich? Hitler? A swastika? The Nazi salute? The gate to a concentration camp? None of these are comfortable images but they are emblematic of the Third Reich's fascist regime in all its iniquity. But some objects and images from that time may be less familiar to you. In this short volume, Roger Moorhouse has attempted to illustrate the period of the Third Reich through one hundred of its material artefacts.  Full Review