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

Her Majesty the Queen Investigates: The Windsor Knot by S J Bennett

5star.jpg Crime

It's early 2016 and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is at Windsor for the Easter Court. She's having a dine and sleep at the request of Prince Charles, who's attempting to raise money from some rich Russians for one of his pet projects. There'd been a distinctly Russian flavour to the evening and one of the performers brought in to play the piano has been found dead in what can only be called embarrassing circumstances. The immediate reaction is that one of the guests is responsible. The Queen mentally rules out her racing manager, an ex-ambassador to Moscow, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir David Attenborough. One couldn't bear to go down any of those roads. Full Review


Review of

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

5star.jpg General Fiction

Between life and death there is a library. And so, 38 minutes after Nora decided to die, she finds herself in the Midnight Library. Everything that could've gone wrong in Nora's life has. Her cat died, she lost her job, her brother won't speak to her, her parents are dead, the boy she teaches piano to no longer cares about piano, she called off her wedding, and old Mr Banerjee next door no longer needs her help. She gave up on all the things that would've let her escape the wet, cold town of Bedford and given her life some purposeful direction. So at 23:22, she realises that she isn't made for life and decides to die. But instead of death, she finds the library. Each infinite shelf is filled with books, each book providing a chance to try another life she could have lived, in a parallel time. And so, just after midnight on Tuesday the 18th of April, Nora Seed begins to live every life she could've. Full Review


Review of

Death and the Brewery Queen (Kate Shackleton Mysteries) by Frances Brody

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Kate Shackleton runs her investigation agency from Batswing Cottage, ably assisted by Jim Sykes, who lives in Woodhouse and her housekeeper, Mrs Sugden. She's been approached by William Lofthouse of the Barleycorn Brewery in Masham. Something is going wrong with his business and he'd like Kate to look into it discreetly: he's hoping that his nephew and right-hand man, James Lofthouse, will be back from a trip to Germany before long. James went to see what the continental brewers were doing and what changes Barleycorn might need to make. William is worried that James is perhaps enjoying himself a little bit too much or is going to bring back a German bride but he'd like the business to be ship-shape before his nephew returns. Full Review


Review of

When I Come Home Again by Caroline Scott

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

1918 and a young man is arrested in Durham Cathedral. He refuses to give a name, no matter how hard they push he will not say who he is. Eventually, they determine this isn't willful obstinance, he doesn't answer because he doesn't know. He remembers being on the road for a long time and being frightened, and some of the faces from the road, but other than that – everything that came before has gone. They need a name for the forms and so they call him Adam and, because he was found in the Galilee Chapel, it becomes Adam Galilee. A fanciful name for a tired young man in a dishevelled uniform who doesn't know who he is, where he is or how he got there. Full Review


Review of

Death Awaits in Durham (Kitt Hartley Yorkshire Mysteries) by Helen Cox

4star.jpg Crime

Kitt Hartley's assistant, Grace Edwards, has left her library job and taken a place on the Venerable Bede Academy's vocational library studies course in Durham. It's an unusual place to study as students with government grants are not accepted, so most of the people attending are scions of the seriously rich, scholarship students - or they've managed, somehow, to scrape together the money. Grace, who's 22, comes into the last category. Her parents agreed to fund the course but told her that if that was what she chose to do then they were finished with her. Not long after she started the course, Kitt Hartley came for a visit - and immediately discovered an unsolved disappearance of a student from a year ago. Full Review


Review of

These Thy Gifts by Vincent Panettiere

4star.jpg General Fiction

2006 is a tumultuous year for the Catholic Church. Reports of horrific sexual abuse are becoming widespread. Monsignor Steven Trimboli is troubled. He worries for the future of the church—and rightly so. A new crime will soon reverberate throughout his church and hit closer to home than he ever imagined.

As ageing priest Steve Trimboli begins to try to make sense of the child sexual abuse scandal that is rocking his beloved Catholic church, he discovers that one child in his own parish has been abused by a priest sent by his bishop. And this isn't just any boy: this is Steve's grandson whose mother is the offspring of a long past relationship between Steve and a gangster's widow. Steve is determined to seek justice for this boy and all children victimised by priests who have been protected by his church. But he must also face up to his own failings, going right back to his breaking of the celibacy vows. Full Review


Review of

The Body on the Island by Nick Louth

4.5star.jpg Crime

A prison transport left HMP Wakefield, heading for HMP Spring Hill. Steve and Aaron were accompanying Neil Wright who was 67 years old and had served six years for the manslaughter of his wife. Only that wasn't who he was. Sixty-three-years-old Neville Rollaston had served thirty years for the murder of five boys between the ages of ten and seventeen. He was being ghosted out of Wakefield and into a new identity set up in a deal whereby he divulged the whereabouts of the body of one of his victims. The Bogeyman was going to be set free on 2 July 2019. He appeared to be a reformed character but he had a list of people upon whom he wished to exact revenge. Full Review


Review of

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

4star.jpg General Fiction

Dawn Edelstein is a death doula: that's someone who is there for the person who is dying, to make their passage to whatever they believe in as easy as possible and to support their carers. It's a rewarding, caring occupation and Dawn puts her heart and soul into it but this wasn't always her life. Some fifteen years ago she was a graduate student at Yale working towards her doctorate: as an Egyptologist, she was working with her supervisor, Professor Ian Dumphries, on the Djehutyakht tombs at Deir el-Bersha on the Nile in Middle Egypt. Then she was Dawn McDowell: that was her maiden name, the name she published under. Full Review


Review of

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

5star.jpg General Fiction

In 1952, Kya's mother disappeared up the dirt track to town, wearing her alligator heels, and never came home. Then one by one her siblings left, ran from the shack on the North Carolina marsh that served as home and the life that would lead to nothing but suffering, leaving 7-year-old Kya with her drunken father. Years pass and Kya - now nicknamed 'Marsh-Girl' – still yearns for a mother that would never return and grew up far too fast for a girl who can neither read nor write. Finally, one night her father never came home leaving Kya completely alone to survive on the marsh. Eventually, as the years drift painfully by, the time comes when Kya, now an emotional and vastly intelligent young woman, yearns for company besides the gulls and the land, yearning to be loved and to be held. So, when 2 boys from the town of Barkley Cove find their way to her, she finds a new way of life. But in 1969, the body of former star quarterback and new husband Chase Andrews is found lying in the mud of the marsh, and everyone in town immediately suspects the mysterious, run-down Marsh-Girl. Who is Kya now, after years of isolation and a broken, hardened heart? Is she really capable of murder? Full Review


Review of

Pandora's Gardener by David C Mason

3star.jpg Crime

John Cranston is a gardener, although what he did before he became a gardener, he claims, is classified. That is just as well because he is about to be caught up in a criminal / spy / terrorist plot, where only he can save the day. Full Review


Review of

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

5star.jpg Fantasy

There's no such thing as witches, but there used to be.

In 1893, after the purges and the burnings, witching has been reduced to little more than weak charms and simple spells. If women want to hold power in their hands, to have their voices heard, it is now through women's suffrage. Full Review


Review of

The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q Rauf

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Hector is a bully. Egged on by his two 'friends', he takes other children's sweets, harasses and threatens, plays pranks at school, and gets into trouble at every turn. Yet he finds himself frustrated when something actually isn't his fault, but then he isn't believed as everyone expects him to be telling lies. Nothing seems fair. His parents are barely home, and seem to only care about his perfect sister and his annoying little brother when they are, and his teachers have abandoned him as a lost cause. So what happens when, in trying to tell the truth & fight to be believed, Hector finds himself embroiled with the police; first trying to accuse, and then trying to save a homeless man from his local park? Full Review


Review of

Count on Me by Miguel Tanco

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The title and format of this book might lead you to think that it's either about responsibility - or it's a basic 1-2-3 book for those just starting out on the numbers journey. It isn't: it's a hymn of praise to maths. It's about why maths is so wonderful and how you meet it in everyday life. Full Review


Review of

Everything is MINE by Andrea D'Aquino

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Marcello Von Cauliflower Bonaparte Jackson is a schnauzer: what else could you be with a name like that? He knows that you'll realise that he's kind, clever and loyal. You'll also need to know that everything is MINE. And he means everything. It begins with the slipper: mum still has one. Why would she need more? You sense that Marcello feels that he's being generous in allowing that. Then it was the pork chop. Well, did you see anyone's name on it? And he left the carrots for Leo. That's another example of Marcello's generosity. There was the acorn which squirrel was gnawing at: there was no documentation to prove ownership. And talking of ownership the tree would provide all the sticks he could ever want to chew. There's nothing unreasonable in any of that, is there? Full Review


Review of

It Isn't Rude to be Nude by Rosie Haine

5star.jpg For Sharing

This could have been one of those books which 'preaches to the choir': the only people who'll buy it are the people who know that nudity is OK and the ones who know that it's shameful will avoid it like they avoid the hot-and-bothered person in the supermarket who is coughing fit to bust. But... Rosie Haines makes it into something so much more than a book about not wearing clothes. It's a celebration of bodies: bodies large and small and of every possible hue. Bodies with disabilities and markings. They're fine. In fact, they're wonderful. Full Review


Review of

Trio by William Boyd

5star.jpg General Fiction

It was 1968: the year when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. It's also the year when YSK Films are making a movie in Brighton. It's called Emily Bracegirdle's Extremely Useful Ladder to the Moon, or Ladder the Moon as it's known on set. Anny Viklund is the female star in a production which is proving to be just a little bit rackety. There are odd pressures on the producer, Talbot Kydd, to employ this old actor friend for a couple of days because he needs the money, allow a fading star to use his catchphrase, or include a song from the leading man, whose musical star is fading. Full Review


Review of

The Curious History of Writer's Cramp: Solving an age-old problem by Michael Pritchard

4star.jpg Popular Science

Society is based on speech but civilisation requires the written word.

I came to Michael Pritchard's The Curious History of Writer's Cramp by a rather strange route. I have problems with my hands which orthopaedic surgeons refer to as 'interesting': I prefer the word 'painful' but I have an interest in the way that hands work. An exploration of the history of a problem which has defeated some of the best medical minds for some three-hundred-years seemed liked excellent background reading and so it proved, with the book being as much about the doctors treating the sufferers and the changing medical attitudes as the problem itself. Full Review


Review of

Child of Galaxies by Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager

5star.jpg For Sharing

What does it mean to be alive? What are we made of, and where are we going? Child of Galaxies is a lovely children's picture book that deals with all the big questions. Written as a poem, the lyrical words don't shy away from darkness, nor talk down to the children you are reading to, but rather than work beautifully together with the illustrations to create a powerful, uplifting reading experience. Full Review


Review of

Betrayal by Lilja Sigurdardottir and Quentin Bates (translator)

3star.jpg Crime

Meet Ursula, the stand-in minister, drafted in from outside the leading party to cover the post for a year. You might get to meet her hunky husband she can't believe she deserves, and the children who are ignorant of just how she spent all her empathy for them on previous jobs in the foreign aid charity sector. You'll meet her ministry's cleaner, who bizarrely has fallen into the task of helping a famous newsreader with her Tinder profile. You'll certainly meet a homeless tramp, who has taken one look at a newspaper image of Ursula, and, knowing her of old, decided she needs saving from the devil posing beside her. You'll meet the ministerial bodyguard and driver the tramp almost immediately forces Ursula to accept. But as for the first ministerial case, of a woman demanding her daughter's rape get looked at and pronto, nobody can say, for all records of Ursula's meeting with the woman have been wiped… Full Review


Review of

The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Elsie is an ordinary sort of girl. The sort of small girl who often gets overlooked, and forgotten. She is quiet, and compliant, and makes the best of whatever happens to her. So when her parents forget that her school holidays have started before they are free to take care of her, they have to arrange for her to go and stay with her Great Uncle for a week. Poor Elsie, forgotten again, just decides to make the best of things. On investigating the house she finds that her Great Uncle had lived in India as a boy, and he has an enormous tiger rug on the floor of one of the rooms. When Elsie asks him about the rug he seems unhappy, and he says he has to keep it because he was the one who shot the tiger when he was 12 years old, and he says it was the worst thing he ever did. So when Elsie suddenly finds herself magically transported back many, many years, to the time in India when her Great Uncle was 12 years old, she believes that she must try to stop him from killing the tiger, in order to put something right that happened a long time ago. Full Review


Review of

Agatha Raisin: Hot to Trot by M C Beaton and R W Green

4.5star.jpg Crime

Raisin Investigations had quite a bit of work on hand. The chairman of Philpott Electronics was concerned about his managing director, Harold Cheeseman, who had apparently returned from Australia because his wife did not like it there. This was unusual, as his wife had died before Cheeseman went to Australia. Then there was the Chadwick divorce: Chadwick was convinced that his wife, Sheraton, was seeing another man. Mr Gutteridge wanted Raisin Investigations to instal listening devices in the staff canteen: he wanted to know what the staff were saying about him and his secretary, who was from Geneva. Apparently, the staff called her The Swiss Roll.

Then there was the murder. Full Review


Review of

Failosophy: A handbook for when things go wrong by Elizabeth Day

4star.jpg Lifestyle

What do Malcolm Gladwell, Alain de Botton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lemn Sissay, Nigel Slater, Emeli Sandé, Meera Syal, Dame Kelly Holmes and Andrew Scott have in common? They've all failed and - more importantly - they've been willing to appear on Elizabeth Day's podcast to discuss their failures and how life worked out for them afterwards. You'll find the results of these discussions in Failosophy Full Review


Review of

Snow by John Banville

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Well, at least you're a Wexford man.

So said Colonel Osborne when he welcomed DI St John (pronounced 'Sinjun') Strafford to Ballyglass House just before Christmas 1957. Osborne was master of the Keelmore Hounds and had done something memorable with the Inniskilling Dragoons at Dunkirk. The niceties had to be established even when there was a Catholic priest dead on the library floor with some precious bits of his anatomy missing. Strafford was from Roslea at Bunclody and this, along with his good-but-shabby suit, marked him out as of Osborne's class and obviously Protestant. The dead priest was Father Tom Lawless from Scallanstown, who - despite the different religions - was in the habit of spending time at Ballyglass House. His horse was stabled there. Full Review


Review of

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

4star.jpg Crime

When a 90-year-old-woman with a heart condition dies peacefully in her armchair, it really shouldn't be suspicious and that was the view taken by DS Harbinder Kaur until she spoke to Peggy Smith's carer. Natalka Kolisnyk was adamant that there was more to Peggy's death than met the eye - particularly as she knew that there was no heart condition and that Peggy had worried that she was being followed. Then there was the fact that Peggy was a 'murder consultant' who helped authors with knotty plot lines in their books: she knew more about murder than any elderly woman should need to know. Full Review


Review of

The Stolen Sisters by Louise Jensen

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

When we start The Stolen Sisters we know that twenty-years on from a dreadful event they are all healthy adults. Well, they're healthy in the physical sense, but Carly has trust issues, Leah has OCD and Marie drinks. They're the Sinclair sisters and one day they were all stolen. Carly was thirteen-years-old and she was in charge of her sisters, the eight-year-old twins. Much as she loved them Carly was desperate to get a text from Dean Malden and her mobile phone held her attention. Leah and Marie were nattering about a lost ball and a fleece which had been left outside. The gate wasn't shut properly and Bruno, their boxer dog, escaped. As the three girls went to chase after him they were snatched by two men. Full Review


Review of

Signs of Life by Stephen Fabes

5star.jpg Travel

I was brought up on maps and first-person narratives of tales of far away places. I was birth-righted wanderlust and curiosity. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit what Dr. Stephen Fabes clearly had which was the guts to simply go out and do it. I also didn't inherit the kind of steady nerve, ability to talk to strangers and basic practicality that would have meant that I would have survived if I had been gifted with the requisite 'bottle'. In order words I'm not the sort of person who will get on a bike outside a London hospital and not come home for six years. Fabes did precisely that. Full Review


Review of

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

4star.jpg Teens

18-year-old Amir is American Iranian, a Muslim, and gay. He struggles with his identity, unable to face telling his parents who he really is, so when another student at his school starts blackmailing him, threatening to show his parents photographs of Amir kissing his boyfriend Amir panics and runs Italy! So begins a journey for Amir, and his family, where they all discover more about him, and who he really is, and who he really wants to be. Full Review


Review of

The Readers Room by Antoine Laurain

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Violaine's publishing house has had a great success, and it was through the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts. The three people who work in the Readers' Room to sift through what is ninety-nine per cent dross – plus the fourth advisor in her rarefied mansion up the road – all agreed the book would be a huge smash, and so it has proven. But there are several 'howevers' to that. As in, however – Violaine herself is not having life all her own way, for she has been involved in a near-fatal accident, and starts this book coming round from a coma. And, however – despite all urging, the author of the book has never once made themselves known to the publishers in person, and in fact offered up a most peculiar statement-come-threat in their last email. What is going to befall Violaine, her memory, her staff – and how much is any of it due to the hit novel? And just where the heck did that come from? Full Review