Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Review of

The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, is the prime minister of a coalition government but he's privately enraged at the seemingly unstoppable rise of Ferdinand Lopez. Lopex is exotic - some describe him as Jewish, others as Portuguese but the truth is that no one knows and Lopez is not going to explain. The ladies of society, even Palliser's own wife, Lady Glencora, are supporters but after Lopez makes an advantageous marriage Palliser is placed in the position of having to support his wife's actions when Lopez loses a by-election. The Duke's payment of Lopez' election expenses in an attempt to stem gossip about his wife will come back to haunt him. Full Review

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Review of

How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World by Henry Mance

5star.jpg Politics and Society

When we do think about animals, we break them down into species and groups: cows, dogs, foxes, elephants and so on. And we assign them places in society: cows go on plates, dogs on sofas, foxes in rubbish bins, elephants in zoos, and millions of wild animals stay out there, somewhere, hopefully on the next David Attenborough series.

I was going to argue. I mean, cows are for cheese (I couldn't consider eating red meat...) and I much prefer my elephants in the wild but then I realised that I was quibbling for the sake of it. Essentially that quote sums up my attitude to animals - and I consider myself an animal lover. If I had to choose between the company of humans and the company of animals, I would probably choose the animals. I insisted that I read this book: no one was trying to stop me but I was initially reluctant. I eat cheese, eggs, chicken and fish and I needed to either do so without guilt or change my choices. I suspected that making the decision would not be comfortable. Full Review

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Review of

The High House by Jessie Greengrass

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Charles Darwin taught that all living matter evolved to pass on its genetic material with the implied belief that your progeny will then pass on theirs. However, that train of thought is slowly seems to have fallen out of favour. Today's young generation are discovering that their parents and their parents' parents did not seem to think that far ahead. Or they did think that far ahead and thought "it's not my problem" or "there's nothing I can do". Raising a child and living in a world on the precipice of catastrophe is what drives The High House by Jessie Greengrass. This is not a science-fiction novel. This is our reality. This is the life our children and their children will have to live. Full Review

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Review of

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

This book lets us discover several people in different stages of life in the early 1970s, all vaguely connected. So we have a bullied half-cast boy (as he would have been called then), a girl in a humdrum job wanting to become a singer, and chiefly, Imelda, the third generation of Madame Burova, Tarot-Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant, to use her family's sea-front booth. The singer, the scryer and the sufferer's mother will all become staff at a revamped holiday camp, but just before then we see Imelda fly solo for the first time in the family stall. We also see her on her last day, fifty years later, in possession of a pair of letters that will change everything for a woman called Billie. Just who is she, and who delivered the secrets about her to Imelda, and why did it have to remain a secret all this time? Full Review

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Review of

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud

4star.jpg Teens

Scarlett McCain is an outlaw, rejecting the draconian conformity of the Surviving Towns and Faith Houses to wander the wildlands between the Seven Kingdoms of Britain, robbing banks and shooting other outlaws to keep herself alive. But then she meets Albert Browne, a dark boy with dark powers and a darker past. With mysterious militiamen hunting them down, they plan to flee to the mythical Free Isles of the London Lagoon. Together, they must brave man-eating wildlife, the cannibalistic Tainted and all the horrors of post-apocalyptic society to reach the Free Isles, but will they be any more accepted there than they are in the rest of Britain? Full Review

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Review of

Remy: A book about believing in yourself by Mayuri Naidoo and Caroline Siegal

4star.jpg For Sharing

Remy is feeling miserable. He's let himself down again. The school bully Jayden, together with his sidekicks Ryan and Brandon, have been laughing at Remy, calling him names because he is short and has small eyes. They are mean but they are not stupid. They are careful to wind up Remy when nobody can see and then push him just that little bit further when the other kids are around. So, when Remy reacts, it looks as though he was the instigator. And then he gets into trouble at school and the teachers don't believe him when he tries to explain what happened. Full Review

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Review of

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It's some time since we heard from Phineas Finn. Having succeeded in parliament and achieved a paying position he fell out with those who provided his income and returned to Ireland where he married Mary, his childhood sweetheart. He was fortunate to get a job in Cork (or Dublin - recollections may vary) and seemed settled into a life of domesticity. To bring Finn back, Trollope had to kill off poor Mary and Phineas emerges in London as a childless widower with a legacy from an aunt who died at just the right time to allow the move to be possible. Full Review

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Review of

The Other Emily by Dean Koontz

4star.jpg Thrillers

Our hero David Thorne is an author, who shares his life between the two US coasts. It's the western coast we're concerned with, a place he has to return to, and a place he has to be able to leave. David lost contact with his partner there ten years ago, when she vanished from a remote road late at night. He's paying for contact with the man he thinks the only suspect, a lifer now, who went a bit Hannibal Lecter, and has a dozen and more unfound Jane Does on his record. David is trying to pry the connection between the murderer and his girl from the man's mind, but to no avail. He's also having a recharge ready for his next hit novel when into the restaurant walks the sheer spitting image, the very embodiment, the virtual resurrection, of his love. What is a man to do? Full Review

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Review of

The Lip by Charlie Carroll

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Melody Janie Rowe even the name is evocative of…probably of whatever we want it to be, and maybe that's the point. To me the name sings of English folk music, but even in my use of that word English, I know I'm putting an emmet take on things. And Melody Janie Rowe is anti-emmet. Full Review

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Review of

The Day the Screens Went Blank by Danny Wallace and Gemma Correll

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Stella and her family. They're just innocently trying to have a Sunday evening in together, watching a film – using three different screens to watch three different things, mind – when poof everything goes blank. And it's not just their home, but the entire south-western village of Mousehole, and not just that, either, but the whole country, if not world. Suddenly people are constantly on their phones – hoping they're first to get a screen back, and not what they were constantly doing on them before. Toasters can toast, but TVs cannot do the V part of their job, and no computer can show its computations. You might think this is going to be a social comedy about people stuck in such a Luddite experience against their will, but no. For the family finally remember Stella's grandma, and see if they can get across country to her. Hence this has to go down as a road-trip book. But not just that, a slapstick road-trip comedy. And more than that, too – for it's a slapstick, high-drama, high-octane road-trip comedy with oodles of cuddly heart that kids of all ages will love. Full Review

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Review of

Bound (Detective Sam Shephard) by Vanda Symon

4.5star.jpg Crime

Dunedin was shocked when it heard of the murder of a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman out at Seacliff. His wife had been bound and gagged and placed so that she was forced to watch the murder, with the scene being discovered by their son, Declan, when he returned home from an evening out. The subsequent investigation would prove that John Henderson had been involved in some activities which might have been considered shady and certainly questionable if not illegal. His company, Eros Global, manufactured and marketed vitamin-type supplements and, well, sexual enhancers, that kind of thing, as Henderson's employee, Blair Harvey-Boyd explained. Full Review

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Review of

Call Me Red: A Shepherd's Journey by Hannah Jackson

4.5star.jpg Lifestyle

I want the image of a British farmer to simply be that of a person who is proudly employed in feeding the nation. I don't think that is too much to ask.

The stereotypical farmer was probably born on the land where his family have farmed for generations. He's probably grown up without giving much thought as to what he really wants to do: he knows that he'll be a farmer. It's not always the case though. Hannah Jackson was born and brought up on the Wirral: she'd never set foot on a commercial farm until she was twenty although she'd always had a deep love of animals. Her original intention was that she would become 'Dr Jackson, whale scientist' and she was well on her way to achieving this when her life changed on a family holiday to the Lake District. She saw a lamb being born and, although 'Hannah Jackson, farmer' lacked the kudos of her original intention, she knew that she wanted to be a shepherd. With the determination that you'll soon realise is an essential part of her, she set about achieving her ambition. Full Review

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Review of

Dog Days by Ericka Waller

5star.jpg General Fiction

George Dempsey is exceedingly angry. It's eight days since his wife, Ellen, died and it's the first time that she's let him down. He's lost, bereft without her ( he needs his wife, like a snail needs its shell). He misses their ordered life and rather than bringing him meals to leave on the doorstep, he'd much rather have a good row with someone. He's particularly angry about the dachshund puppy which Helen brought home just three weeks before she died. She even dared to contradict him when he told her that the dog wasn't staying. Now he's lumbered with a dog he doesn't want and a load of busybodies who are trying to interfere in his life. Worst of all is Betty, who won't take no for an answer. Betty knits jumpers for Lucky, her greyhound. Lucky spends a lot of time trying to escape from and destroy them. Full Review

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Review of

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It was generally thought that Sir Florian Eustace had come to regret his marriage but he didn't live long enough for this to become a problem. After his death, his wife, Lizzie - still only in her late teens - was in possession of a very valuable diamond necklace and was determined that she would not hand it over to her husband's executors. She was adamant that Sir Florian had given it to her absolutely, although the precise circumstances of the giving varied from telling to telling. Lady Eustace was not a woman to whom truth meant a great deal. All that was important to her now, she maintained, was her son. And, of course, her diamonds. Full Review

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Review of

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

5star.jpg Thrillers

A fisherman told him once about the sea having two faces. You have to take them both, he said, the good and the bad, and never turn your back on either one of them.

In 1972, fifteen miles off the coast of Cornwall, three men disappeared without trace from The Maiden Rock Lighthouse in the frigid pause between Christmas and New Year. Jory Martin had taken out a relief keeper, the weather such that the boat [was] rocking and bobbing like a bath toy over the wavelets but they were unable to get any response from the Maiden Rock. It was broken into the next day, but there was no sign of the men. The table was set for a meal for two - and the clocks were stopped at 8.45. Contact with the light had not been possible as the radio was broken. No explanation was ever found for what happened to the men. Full Review

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Review of

Yolk by Mary H K Choi

5star.jpg Teens

Jayne Baek is a fashion student that's barely getting by. She drinks. She smokes. She makes bad decisions about the men she sleeps with. She's an all-round messy character; and that's her charm. June, on the other hand, is a complete contrast to Jayne. She's a typical older sister: she's smart, thinks she knows it all, and has a successful job. She constantly criticises Jayne for her life choices, and the two have barely kept in contact despite living in the same city for the past two years. This is until June finds out she's sick, and Jayne is the only person she can turn to. The two sisters have to come together and decide how far they'll go to save each other's lives – even if it means swapping identities. Full Review

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Review of

The Khan by Saima Mir

5star.jpg Crime

Jia Khan has alway lived by the motto be twice as good as men and four times as good as white men. This has served her well in her rise through the criminal justice system and by the time she is called home for her sister's wedding after fifteen years in self-imposed exile, she is at the top of her game. Returning to the city of her birth, to old scars and fresh wounds, Jia must confront her past and reconcile her visions for the future with her sense of honour and duty. Full Review

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Review of

Two Wrongs by Mel McGrath

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Sondra was on her way home after work when she saw a young woman looking as though she was going to jump from the Clifton suspension bridge. She talks to her, and Sondra finally persuades Satnam to call her best friend and flatmate, Nevis Smith. Nevis is unworldly and rather reserved - and she can't understand why Satnam hasn't shared her problems with her. She thought they shared everything. Satnam is taken to hospital and Nevis calls her mother, Honor. They've not been on good terms since a discovery Nevis made the previous summer but right now, Nevis needs her mother. Full Review

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Review of

If You Kept a Record of Sins by Andrea Bajani and Elizabeth Harris (translator)

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

This was an incredibly readable novella, but one that left me a little conflicted. We start as our hero arrives at Bucharest airport, and before we even know his gender or the nature of the person he's addressing in his second person monologue of a narration, we see him picked up by his mother's chauffeur, and carted off to do all the necessary introductions before said mother is buried the following day. The mother was a businesswoman, who clearly left northern Italy and settled in Romania with her (night-time and business) partner, and feelings of abandonment are still strong. And so we flit from current (well, this came out in the original Italian in 2007, so moderately current) Bucharest, to the lad's childhood, and see just what he has to tell her as a private farewell address. Full Review

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Review of

My Cat Called Red by Jane Lightbourne

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

Robin has red hair. He hates it, and the freckles that go along with it. He's been bullied and mocked at school because of it. Ginger Minger! Carrots! Kids are mean. But red hair is not Robin's only misery in life. He's already lost his dad to a mountaineering accident when his mum gets ill and is taken into hospital. She doesn't come home again. Full Review

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Review of

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Phineas Finn is the son of Dr Malachi Finn, a successful doctor in Killaloe in County Clare, who sent his son to London to train as a lawyer. Phineas's interest is more in making influential friends than in becoming a lawyer and one of them, Barrington Erle, suggests that he runs for Parliament in the forthcoming election. His father is not entirely in favour of this as members are not remunerated and it would be up to him to provide financial support for his son as well as funding his election. One of the doctor's patients is Lord Tulla who controls the borough of Loughshane and by this stroke of luck Finn is, eventually, elected by a small margin. Full Review

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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