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

Crooked: Honest Criminality by Bronwen John

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

The con had seemed like a good one: tricking people into buying artwork supposedly by the new Banksy - and they should have made a decent profit from it. The problem was they were too successful: one of the marks had bought a few and then discovered that they were valueless. Henry Martin Holmes had fallen for a simple con and his father, celebrity criminal Harry Holmes, was determined that he and his family could not lose face like that. The grifters were going to pay. Ashia 'Ash' Cox and Max 'Colorado' Ying needed to be got out of the country. In the course of bringing this about, Luke Gaines, Ash's foster father, lost his life. Full Review

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Review of

Luna Rae is Not Alone by Hayley Webster

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Luna Rae has just moved house. Moving house is always tricky, but especially when you're ten years old, and you miss your old home, and you and your little sister have to start a new school but your mum seems to be out working all the time. Then there's your dad, who doesn't seem like he's coping so well, and so there's no one to take care of things but you. Everything feels different and strange, and mysterious, and so Luna finds a way of coping is by watching. She turns detective and starts keeping an eye on her new neighbourhood, but it turns out she's not the only one keeping watch! Full Review

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Review of

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

On the surface Can You Forgive Her? looks deceptively simple: it's the story of one woman and two men who are vying with each other for her love. Alice Vavasor was originally engaged to her cousin, George Vavasor but she broke off that engagement and later became engaged to John Grey. When we first meet Alice she's on an extended tour of the continent with George Vavasor and his sister Kate. It's obvious that there's still a great deal of chemistry between John and Alice - and Kate is all for encouraging the relationship as it would tie Alice to her. George wants Alice but it's a matter of amour propre rather than love: he has little consideration for anyone other than himself and the original engagement had fallen through because of his infidelity and deceitfulness. This thread is the story of a very complicated love affair and a woman who lacks confidence in her own judgement. You might not like Alice to start with but you will warm to her. Full Review

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Review of

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

April's father, a scientist, has been given a job on a remote island called Bear Island, and he accepts the job deciding to take his daughter April with him. They live alone anyway, since April's mother died some time before, and he feels it will be educational for her to experience the island and all its natural beauty. April already has an affinity with nature, and she's excited to travel with her father, thinking of all the fun things they will be able to experience together on the island. But when they get there, her father finds that his work monitoring and recording the temperatures just takes up too much of his time, and so April is left to explore by herself. Her father had reassured her that there were no longer any bears living on Bear Island, but one day April thinks she catches a glimpse of one, and so she sets out to find the Bear, and then when she sees he is injured, to befriend and help him. Full Review

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Review of

What Will Burn (Inspector McLean) by James Oswald

5star.jpg Crime

When Cecily Slater's body was found, she'd already been dead for a week - in a house fire in deserted woodland near Edinburgh. Heavy rain had washed away most of the evidence, but DI Tony McLean, demoted and just returned from suspension, is reluctant to accept that this is nothing more than a careless accident. There were indications that Slater had been savagely, almost ritualistically beaten before the fire. But who would hate a ninety-year-old woman to the extent of doing something like that? She was a virtual recluse: who could she have upset to that extent? Full Review

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Review of

Where Ravens Roost by Karin Nordin

4star.jpg Crime

Inspector Kjeld Nygaard had been estranged from his father, Stenar, for more than a decade but when he got the rather muddled phone call from him saying that he'd seen a murder in the barn on his land he didn't hesitate to drop everything and go to Varsund. Actually, 'drop everything' rather overstates the situation. Nygaard was on suspension following the shooting of a suspect in the Aubuchon murder enquiry. There had been a complication: the Kattegat Killer turned out to be Nils Hedin, Nygaard's best friend. Still, the ten-hour drive from Gothenburg in the south of Sweden to Varsund in the far north shouldn't be underestimated. Full Review

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Review of

A Beautiful Spy by Rachel Hore

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Minnie is an 'ordinary' girl living an unexciting life in a leafy provincial suburb. The book is set in the 1930s and Minnie is expected to live up to her mother's expectations and find a nice young man to marry, produce children and spend the rest of her days looking after her husband and their home. Unfortunately, this isn't what she wants to do at all and neither does she want to continue working as a secretary. As a result of a chance meeting, she finds herself drawn into espionage, working for the secret service and effectively living a double life - attempting to infiltrate the Communist Party of Great Britain. Minnie finds herself torn between what she perceives as her duty and the friends she has made - and likes - whilst working for the Communist Party. Full Review

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Review of

The Library of the Dead by T L Huchu

4.5star.jpg Teens

Ropa Moyo is a ghostalker, using Zimbabwean magic (and a bit of Scottish pragmatism) to take messages from the dead of Edinburgh for their living relatives. Ever since she dropped out of school, she's been using it to support not only herself, but her younger sister and her aging grandmother. However, there's an evil stalking the ruined streets of Edinburgh, targeting the city's children. Soon, Ropa is pulled into the search for a missing boy at the request of his dead mother. She will end up discovering an occult library and realise that the world of magic is far bigger and more dangerous than she ever could've imagined. Will she find the missing children and bring an end to this evil, or will it claim her too? Full Review

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Review of

Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell

5star.jpg Science Fiction

Prince Kiem is a famous political disappointment. He's outgoing, carefree, and has gotten into many drunken scandals over the past few years. So when an important political alliance is to be arranged – one that is supposed to prevent an interplanetary war – no one expects him to be chosen for the role. Least of all him. Full Review

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Review of

The Favour by Laura Vaughan

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

The rejection by Oxford came as a bit of a shock to Ada Howell: she was, after all, the daughter of the renowned author, Anthony Howell, who'd been to this college. Well, she wasn't actually Howell's daughter: he'd married her mother after her birth and had then adopted her, so she was 'chosen' rather than just 'made', which was better really. And whilst we're being honest, we might as well admit that 'renowned author' might be stretching the truth a little: his books degenerated into self-published poetry which Ada couldn't understand. Still, Ada had felt entitled and this was why her godmother's offer had come at such a brilliant time. Full Review

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Review of

Legacy: A Political Thriller by C A Sacha

4star.jpg Thrillers

Corporate boss Gene Finnegan has a plan to increase his already startling wealth and ensure his legacy: to bring the world's first emission-free car to market and dominate production. The secret development project to enable this, Bucephalus, is already underway and Finnegan bankrolls US president Joseph Montgomery into a second term to help him carry it out. Montgomery is also looking for a legacy and one that does not involve his controlling mother and her foundation, so grabs onto Finnegan's Feed Africa programme with both hands... Full Review

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Review of

The Primary Objective by Martin Venning

2star.jpg General Fiction

Sometimes a book starts off slowly, but eventually draws you in to caring about the characters or simply wanting to know what happens next. Sometimes it doesn't. The basic premise is a good one – a clandestine organisation, operating as a charity, but funded by various governments around the world and partially (maybe, I'm not sure) under the auspices of the UN, with the primary objective of keeping the peace, by any means possible. Diplomacy is always the first option and sometimes one that needs to be carried out by third parties, but for situations when that looks unlikely to yield results Peace International maintains a call-on list of field operatives, ex-military, medics, scientists or anyone else with a taste for adventure and willing to risk their life for the sake of it. Full Review

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Review of

Two Terrible Vikings by Francesca Simon and Steve May

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

In a small Viking village there live two twins, Hack and Whack, who are eager to be the very worst Vikings ever! Nothing can stop their mad marauding, as they cause havoc at a birthday party, chaos whilst tracking a troll, and undertake a grand journey to raid Bad Island with their friends! They get up to all kinds of mischief and naughty behaviour, along with their wolf-cub Bitey-Bitey, and their crazy cast of friends. Full Review

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Review of

Space Hopper by Helen Fisher

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Faye lost her mum when she was very young. She was raised by some elderly neighbours after her mum died from a cold that got worse, and although they were kind and very good to her she of course missed her mum enormously. So when, unexpectedly, she discovers a time travel conduit (via an old space hopper box in her attic) that takes her back to the 70's and her mum, she revels in the chance to create some memories and get to know the woman who meant so much to her. The time travelling, however, is neither easy nor safe, and Faye fears that her husband won't believe what's happening and so lies to him instead. The lies grow more tangled, and Faye begins to wonder if it's safe for her to return one last time to the past. Should she try to see her mum one last time before her mum's death, or will it change her own future forever to attempt it? Full Review

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Review of

The Night Hawks (Dr Ruth Galloway) by Elly Griffiths

4.5star.jpg Crime

The night hawks are metal detectorists and they're out on Blakeney Point where they suspect that there's treasure to be found. Unfortunately, the youngest of the group, twenty-one-year-old Troy Evans, finds the body of a man floating on the incoming tide. After pulling it ashore, they call the police. DCI Nelson thinks that it's probably the body of an asylum seeker but there's no evidence of any activity to be had from the coastguard. The dead man turns out to be Jem Taylor, a North Norfolk man recently released from prison. Full Review

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Review of

Slough House (Jackson Lamb 7) by Mick Herron

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Someone is killing secret service agents, past and present, from the Slough House team. Jackson Lamb can't understand it. Well, what he actually can't understand is why, having seen them, anyone would bother. But the deaths are mounting up and something needs to be done. After all when things went awry on Spook Street, they generally went the full Chris Grayling. Over at Regent's Park, Diana Taverner is quietly jubilant about an operation which saw the perpetrator of a Novichok poisoning in the UK (three people seriously injured and one dead) dispatched. It isn't just the message that was sent: she's also delighted that she managed to fund the operation off the books. Some private money was brought in. She won't always be so jubilant about this. Full Review

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Review of

The Art of Death by David Fennell

4.5star.jpg Crime

It was an art installation of the type which does appear in Trafalgar Square: a depiction of three homeless men in glass cabinets surrounded by liquid. Only this time it's not a depiction: these are the bodies of Billy Perrin, Stan Buxton and 34-year-old Noel Tipping. The installation is the work of @nonymous, underground artist and extreme version of Banksy. He's made a macabre promise: more will follow. In fact, we've already met the artist although not by name: he's been in the Lumberyard Cafe with his Moleskine notebook, Maki-e fountain pen, MacBook Air and iPhone. Elaine Kelly is there with her son, Jordan, and she's explaining to her best friend, Jackie Morris about the state of her marriage. Actually, it doesn't take a lot of explaining: Frank's attentions are obvious on her face despite the foundation she's applied. Chau Ho is behind the counter. There's someone online, CassandraH, that the artist has his eye on, too. Full Review

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Review of

The Invisible by Tom Percival

5star.jpg For Sharing

This is the story of Isobel, a little girl who made a big difference. Isobel lived with her parents in a house - a very cold house, because her parents couldn't afford to put the heating on:

Ice curled across the inside of the window and crept up the corner of the bedpost.

The family didn't go to the cinema or on holidays but they had each other and they were happy. Then the day came when they couldn't afford the rent for the house and they had to move to the far side of the city. This part of the city was cold, sad and lonely and Isobel felt invisible. Full Review

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Review of

Serpentine by Jonathan Kellerman

5star.jpg Crime

It wasn't exactly the case Lt Milo Sturgis had been dreaming about: a death from thirty-six years ago and the daughter of the woman who died wanted some answers. She had money and money translated into clout and so the problem was dropped onto Milo's toes. Dorothy Swoboda was twenty-four years old when she died in a car which went off a cliff on Mulholland Drive and burst into flames. It turned out that she wasn't actually married to the man with whom she'd left her daughter but Dr Stanley R Barker, optometrist, was a good man and he took out adoption papers for Ellie - and she took his name. Ellie was three when her mother left her with Dr Barker and she has nothing of her but one photograph of her mother and father and a necklace made of serpentine. Full Review

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Review of

The Shadow Man by Helen Fields

4star.jpg Thrillers

Fergus Ariss is in his late thirties and he knows that he's dying. His body is giving up on him, his internal organs beginning to putrify but before he dies he wants a wife, a child and a brother. He's been on the lookout for the perfect people and he's made certain preparations. The flat where the family will live is prepared and even windows with curtains, and pictures in frames have been painted onto the walls. Angela Fernycroft was to be his wife. Her husband, Cal, had taken the children - a boy of seven and a girl of five, away for the weekend. Unfortunately, it doesn't go according to plan and Angela dies. Full Review

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Review of

Dark Memories (DS Nikki Parekh 3) by Liz Mistry

4star.jpg Crime

Peggy Dyson was in her sixties and hadn't worn well. She was a drug addict and was living under the arches in Forster Square Station in Bradford. Her killer thought that he was probably doing her a favour by putting her out of her misery. DS Nikki Parekh and DC Sajid Malik are on the case. Nikki can't quite understand why she's been sent an anonymous letter with a press report of the death. It had been impossible to make any progress in the case and the note seemed to taunt the police. Then another note arrived with a report of a seemingly unconnected death in Cambridge. The third death - in the street where Nikki lived as a child - brought another communication, with a further clue under the victim - and Nikki was sure that there was something personal in the case. Full Review

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Review of

This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey

4star.jpg Teens

Jess is a normal 90's teenage girl, just trying to navigate the usual stresses of school, and boys, and parent troubles. But strange things seem to be happening in her small town, with a mystery flu keeping lots of people indoors, and a strange metal device, with an apple on it, that slips out of her friend's bag, but that her friends just won't talk to her about. Jess feels like she might be hearing voices, and her sister (who is very ill) seems to be responding to her in strange ways sometimes. Is there something going on beneath the surface of Jess' life? Full Review

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Review of

Murder in the Belltower (A Miss Underhay Mystery) by Helena Dixon

3.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

In December 1933 the remains of Elowed Underhay were discovered in the cellar of the Glass Bottle Public House. Ezekiel Hamett was sought in connection with the murder of Elowed and his half-brother, Denzil Hammett, whose body was also discovered. Kitty Underhay's long search for her mother, who disappeared in June 1916 was over. Now she's determined that the man responsible for her murder will be brought to justice. Full Review

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Review of

Little Gold Ted by Vanessa Wiercioch, Poppy Satha and Sasha Satha

4star.jpg For Sharing

One day, Gold Ted falls into a puddle. It's quite a deep puddle and the water is swirling. Poor Ted starts to spin around and around and is sucked down a drain on the side of the street. Finding himself down in the sewer, Ted starts to panic. OH HELP ME PLEASE he cries and alerts the attention of Reg the sewer rat, who plucks him out of the dirty water using his cane, which might look just a bit like an old cricket bat. Reg is a kind soul and he dries Ted off and warms him up with a nice bowl of broth. Full Review

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Review of

The Treasure in the Tower by Rob Keeley

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Rob Keeley is back! Hooray! We here at Bookbag Towers are always happy to read a new adventure from Rob - his stories combine fast pace and lots of action, an easy to read style, an unerring eye for children's friendships and rivalries, and always a good dollop of naughty humour. They're all present here, in The Treasure in the Tower. The chance purchase of a book during a school trip sparks the whole adventure. Who can follow the clues best and find the treasure? Jess, her brother Mason and their friend Kessie through sheer persistence? Or spoiled brat Perdita with her money and tech gadgets and willingness to cheat? Full Review

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Review of

Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Frankie Elkin found Lani Whitehorse's body in her car at the bottom of the lake. She knew that the twenty-two-year-old waitress wouldn't have left her three-year-old daughter and run away. Lani was the fourteenth missing person to be located by Frankie and now she's moving on again, this time to Boston where there's a strong Haitian community which was home to Angelique Lovelie Badeau until her disappearance eleven months ago. Frankie, middle-aged and white, gets a job and accommodation at Stoney's bar and sets out to investigate the community which is just about exclusively black. Full Review