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

Everybody Toots! (Everybody Potties!) by Justine Avery and Naday Meldova

4star.jpg For Sharing

Toots, trumps, farts. Whatever your word for them, find us a child that doesn't find them irresistibly funny. Funny to talk about and joke about, that is. But horribly embarrassing if you let one go at the wrong time. In class, say, when everyone will hear it and everyone will laugh. At you. Justine Avery's latest entry in her Everybody Potties! series takes aim at any shame associated with tooting and gently and calmly, with the familiar humour attached, explains that tooting is perfectly normal. Everybody does it: Everybody Toots! Full Review


Review of

Invite Me In by Emma Curtis

4.5star.jpg Crime

Martin Curran's wife, Eliza knew that she had to be home to make his lunch for one o'clock on the dot, despite the fact that she was actually painting one of their properties prior to it being let. If she didn't get home, there would be trouble. There was some excuse: Martin was a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair, but don't be too quick to be understanding. He was also a very unpleasant person: he once told Eliza you're good at being a disappointment. All this was in Eliza's mind when she first met Dan Jones who arrived, unannounced, at the flat just as Eliza was about to leave: he wanted the lease of flat 2, 42 Linden Road and he was desperate to get in before it was advertised as being available. Full Review


Review of

A Change of Circumstance (Simon Serrailler) by Susan Hill

5star.jpg Crime

Drugs hadn't really been that much of a problem in Lafferton and Detective Superintendent Simon Serrailler had thought of drugs ops as a bit of a waste of time. They still were, to a great extent, but Serrailler knew that something had to be done. Children as young as nine were being recruited to transport the drugs and the operation running the county lines was tight. A mule might know the name (although it probably wouldn't be the correct one) of the person who was running him but he certainly wouldn't know anything about those higher up in the organisation. The police might catch a few of the runners but they'd never get anywhere near those higher up. Full Review


Review of

Fall On Me by Penelope Potts

3.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Life should have been good for Hollie: She was just going into the final year of her veterinary degree and - three years later - was still working at BB's diner. Bob - the owner - regarded her fondly: he was a good boss. Hollie had moved in with her boyfriend, Marcus: her mother thought he was great and he was doing well in his career. Hollie wasn't quite so certain though: Marcus wanted to control her and most of all he wanted her to leave her job at the diner. Then there was the fact that he would be violent, both to her and to other people. Full Review


Review of

The Shadow Of The Gods by John Gwynne

5star.jpg Fantasy

The Shadow Of The Gods is the first installment of the Bloodsworn Saga, set in the era of the Vikings in the shadow of Ragnarok, when the Gods have battled and their bones lie scattered for all to see. This story is the ultimate in High Fantasy, and John Gwynne certainly does justice to the genre, with mythical creatures, archaic language and battles galore. This is a thick book, with an intricate plot and fascinating characters that are woven together to create a wonderfully realistic and gritty world in which our heroes must do battle. Full Review


Review of

Endless Obsession by Dai Henley

4star.jpg Crime

It's some years since we last caught up with Andy Flood, formerly a DCI in the Met but now a well-respected private investigator. He's married to Laura, formerly his DS in the Murder Squad but now working in a forensics laboratory. Flood's daughters, Gemma and Pippa, have flown the nest, Pippa to Australia, from where she has very little contact with the family, and Gemma to married life. She's had mental problems since she was abducted many years ago but Andy and Laura hope that married life will provide the support she needs. Flood's business is going well and that was why he felt able to turn down the case of Lisa Black. Full Review


Review of

The Stoning by Peter Papathanasiou

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

In a town sleazy enough to make sh*tholes elsewhere look glamorous in comparison, a teacher has been transported across town at night in a shopping trolley, and she's been taped to a tree and she's had rocks bowled at her as if she were the world's tallest cricket stumps. When she's discovered by the town gossip everyone, including the local cops, are quite confident the culprit has come from the immigrant detention centre the place is reluctantly home to. An arson attack on that shows the feeling – and it's only fair, is the general opinion, for the occupants are often setting their own fires in protest at their conditions. Cue the arrival of George Manolis, a higher rank from the city, to sort everything out. Because such an aggrieved, insular community is really going to welcome a Greek-heritaged city boy laying down the law... Full Review


Review of

The Mystery of Healing by A P McGrath

4star.jpg Crime (Historical)

We meet Solon in Pergamon in the second century of the common era and he's the physician on duty at the munus - the games put on for the amusement of the populace. The remuneration isn't high but the work gives the doctor a feeling of virtue and hones his skills: Solon wants the warriors to live. It's quite a spectacle: the magistri are the charge hands and when we first see them, they're sprinkling gold dust onto the lions' manes to make them look more impressive. The sagitarii are the archers and the beastiarii are the condemned criminals who are going to fight for their lives with the wild animals. Today, it's the crocodiles. Full Review


Review of

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Stories have joy and surprises in them, we are told here. And none more so than in this wondrous story, which feels an instant classic with the freshness and the agelessness it has in equal proportion. We start with a group of monks, the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing, and the demonic goat that loves nothing more than upending, trampling on and biting the poor Brothers. Things change drastically when the beast takes a totally maternal approach to a homeless girl, one who has survived some trauma that has blocked her past from her memory. Elsewhere sits a King in his castle, desperate to find the girl, for it is prophesied that a young child can unseat the throne and cause great change. Who foretold that revolution but the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing? But how can a simple, amnesiac lass ever prove a threat to anyone? Full Review


Review of

You Can't Wear Panties! (No More Nappies!) by Justine Avery and Kate Zhoidik

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

For the big, grownup girls out there, the potty masters in training, "You Can't Wear Panties!" is a cry (the big-girl kind!) of toilet triumph and persevering panty pride.

And so it is! This latest book from Justine Avery celebrates a little girl's final goodbye to nappies and pull-ups and graduation to "proper" pants by following her around as she proudly explains to her dog, her cat, her stuffed rabbit and her baby sibling that she can wear super-duper proper pants, while they cannot. Neither can the flowers, nor the fish, nor the birds. Boy's certainly can't. She's a big girl now and she wants everyone to know it! Full Review


Review of

Locked Out Lily by Nick Lake and Emily Gravett

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Lily is, or was, or has been, very ill, and to give her parents relief she's been told to stay with her grandma for a few days. The parents need the relief as Lily's baby sibling is just about to be born – a child Lily swears she hates already and wants nothing to do with. But on tracking back home for word of her parents (and her plush toy so she can sleep) she finds stony-eyed simulacra of her parents, and the babe-in-arms, already installed. These devilish interlopers need to be ousted to get the family back intact, even if it's not the family Lily wants – and all she has to help her in the task are some talking animals – Crow, Mole, Mouse and Snake. Full Review


Review of

The Great Dream Robbery by Greg James and Chris Smith

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Maya's father is a professor who invented an amazing dream machine. But something went wrong, and now he can't wake up. Or at least, that's what Maya has been told. In a rather strange dream one night Maya makes a new friend, and discovers that the only way to save her dad may be by being asleep. Cue one madcap action adventure story where dreams and reality collide...really...and there's everything from llamas and bananas, dream machines made from hairdresser cast-offs, to a talking cat called Bin Bag! Full Review


Review of

100 Ways in 100 Days to Teach Your Baby Maths: Support All Areas of Your Baby’s Development by Nurturing a Love of Maths by Emma Smith

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Babies seem to be born with an amazing number sense: understanding shapes in the womb, being aware of quantities at seven hours old, assessing probability at six months old, and comprehending addition and subtraction at nine months old.

Did you know this? I didn't! How about:

Maths ability on entry to school is a strong predictor of later achievement, double that of literacy skills.

I didn't know this either! I think most parents are aware that giving your children a good start in literacy - reading stories, teaching pen grips, singing rhymes - gives children a solid foundation when they start school. But do we think the same way about maths, beyond counting? I don't think we do, in part because so many of us are afraid of maths. But why are we? Most of us use maths in daily life without realising and it follows that giving our children a similar pre-school grounding will be just as beneficial. Full Review


Review of

The Whistleblower by Robert Peston

3star.jpg Thrillers

I'm not the first to point out how fitting it is for Robert Peston to write a political thriller, so I'll move on quickly – but this won't be winning any awards for originality. It's an interesting plot with a good pace, but it does very little to differentiate itself and I suspect before much time has passed I'll have forgotten a lot of it. Full Review


Review of

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Gamache) by Louise Penny

4.5star.jpg Crime

In the Canadian village of Three Pines, we're post-pandemic: the scars are still there but life is starting to get back to normal. The villagers are beginning to return to the Bistro and the Auberge. They're visiting each other's homes and having friends and relatives to stay. A young Sudanese woman who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is one such visitor and she soon proves that not all saints are necessarily pleasant people to be around - a bit like Vincent Gilbert, known in the village as the Asshole Saint. Full Review


Review of

Flights for Freedom by Steven Burgauer

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

It's the later stages of World War I and the United States has just entered the conflict. Petrol Petronus is a young American who has signed up and joined the 17 Aero Squadron. This company was the first US Aero Squadron to be trained in Canada, the first to be attached to the RAF and the first to be sent into the skies to fight the Germans in active combat. But before that can happen, Petrol has to master flying the notoriously difficult but majestic Sopwith Camel. Full Review


Review of

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin

3.5star.jpg Crime

Bobby Carter was a lawyer and consigliere to one of the major crime families in nineteen seventies Glasgow. DC Jack Laidlaw is on the CID team charged with the investigation. I say on the team but Laidlaw never really seems to be a part of it. He does his own thing, goes his own way and The Dark Remains uncovers the truth of why Bobby Carter's body was found behind one of Glasgow's seedier pubs. Full Review


Review of

Tokyo Zangyo (Detective Hiroshi) by Michael Pronko

4.5star.jpg Crime

Zangyo: overtime work, often unpaid

It's the culture, isn't it? The hours for which you're paid are really just a statement of the minimum you'll be required to do: you'll work more hours to get the job done and done to the satisfaction of bullies like Shigeru Onizuka. When he was found dead in front of Senden Central's headquarters in Tokyo there was nothing in the way of regret or grief, even from his family, but there was a mild curiosity as to whether he'd jumped from the roof of the building or been assisted in his descent. Gossip revolves around the fact that he left the roof at the exact same spot that an employee, Mayu Yamase, had committed suicide some three years earlier. She'd accused Onizuka of bullying her and forcing her to work an unreasonable amount of overtime. Full Review


Review of

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

4.5star.jpg Crime

Elizabeth Best was a little surprised when she received the letter. It came from a man whose body she had helped to pull from the Thames and who had never existed but then this is the sort of conundrum which retired spies have to deal with on a regular basis. When she visits the sender of the letter (he's moved into the Cooper's Chase Retirement Village) it comes as no surprise that it's someone with whom she has a long professional history - and who used to be her husband. He's made a bad mistake - something to do with a mask being removed within the range of a CCTV camera on a raid, a missing twenty-million pounds in diamonds and a few death threats. He's now in hiding with a young woman called Polly, who's his MI5 handler as well as being an incompetent waitress. Full Review


Review of

The Chef, the Bird and the Blessing by Andrew Sharp

4star.jpg General Fiction

Chef Mlantushi - Mozzy to his employer - is, in his mind, the head chef of a safari business catering to VIP guests in an unnamed African country. Mozzy is earnest and dedicated to his task and he puts all of himself into creating fine cuisine dishes for the guests at BOD-W safaris but his dream is to become the head chef of a restaurant in London or a big American city. Even to win a Michelin star. He is thwarted in this ambition by his boss, Mr Bin (Ben to you and me) who incurs Mozzy's disapproval for his scruffy ways, his uninterest in his guests and - shock, horror - his allowing of bush animals into the house. Full Review


Review of

Rules for Vampires by Alex Foulkes

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Eleonore Von Motteberg (or 'Leo' for short) is a Vampire. She drinks blood, she sleeps during the day, and she can Grimwalk (turning into a flock of bats to travel around, although not all of them remember to come back). Pretty cool stuff. Now, on the night of her hundredth birthnight, she has to go out and hunt her first human. However, instead she ends up killing two humans by accident and burning down an orphanage. Oops! And to make things worse, the ghosts of one of the orphans and the evil master of the orphanage come back to haunt her. So, not only does Leo have to team up with the friendly ghost Minna to stop the ghost of the Orphanmaster before he becomes unstoppably powerful, she has to do it all while hiding it from her family. Did I mention vampires and ghosts hate each other? Yeah, there's a reason why there are rules for vampires… Full Review


Review of

The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

4.5star.jpg Teens

Working all summer in her boarding school's library is the last thing Tess Matheson wants to do — especially when she gets a request for over a hundred books that she has to deliver herself. What makes it worse is the man who requested the books: Mr Birch. The boarding school's headmaster, and a man Tess hates. As a petty act of revenge for making her find and deliver such a large request, Tess sticks post-it notes on each of the books, scribbled with the ugliest insults she can think of. They're never meant to reach him, of course. Her plan is to get her anger out like this, and then take them all off before delivering them. No harm done… Or it would be, if someone hadn't delivered them for her. Full Review


Review of

Who Needs Nappies? Not Me! (Everybody Potties!) by Justine Avery and Seema Amjad

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Who Needs Nappies? Not Me! is the latest release in the Everybody Potties! series from Justine Avery. This series of fun picture books aims to take the pain out of potty training children and replace it with some fun. It's a worthy aim, as any frustrated parent will tell you. . Full Review


Review of

Snowcub by Graham Fulbright

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Fourteen-year-old Rachel is her school's animal rights project leader and she and her friend are producing a competition entry to highlight the way in which human beings exploit the animal world. She gets a great deal of support from her family: father Pip Harrison, a lecturer at Imperial College, London, mother Kate and her twin, Nick. Kate runs the family business, a toy shop called Cornucopia in Putney, which is where we'll meet Rachel's main (if unsuspected) source of information: five soft toys. Full Review


Review of

The Ash House by Angharad Walker

5star.jpg Confident Readers

A new boy arrives at The Ash House. He doesn't know his name, or why he is there but he is used to the system, used to different places and different faces. He meets Dom who names him Sol and sets out to teach him the rules of The Ash House. These rules centre on a variety of Nicenesses set out by the absent Headmaster. All children must remember their Niceness and complete their chores, working as a hive in the smouldering shadows of The Ash House. But soon their easy peace is shattered by the arrival of the Doctor. By the end of the story, lives will be changed forever and The Ash House will never be the same again. Full Review


Review of

Crosshairs of the Devil by Yancey Williams

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Award-winning crime writer Eddie Jablonski is getting on in years and, despite his strenuous objections and thanks to his daughter, finds himself living - or imprisoned, from Eddie's point of view - in room 315 of the Garden of Eden nursing home, with only a trusty nursing aide, Jenkins, for palatable company. Nothing is going to keep Eddie from his stock-in-trade of writing though, so here, for his readers, are his wanderings through his life's work. Full Review


Review of

Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve

5star.jpg Confident Readers

In a word, rich. There is certainly an abundance of riches in this story set on a peculiar island called Wildsea, British but way west, beyond the Scillies. There are troll people on it, and sea-witches, and legends of the Dark family that has to keep watch for magical islands and their monster approaching from even further west, where no ship dare sail. The current Darks are the Watcher, Andrewe, who has to keep notes of activity from the Hidden Lands, his brother Will who lives in London with too much science in his head to worry about such local yokel superstitions, and Andrewe's foundling daughter, who washed up out of the sea one day eleven years ago. But when Andrewe Dark drowns himself, both his sullen brother and his curious ward are thrust into the world of protecting their island, like it or not. Full Review


Review of

Walking: One Step At A Time by Erling Kagge

5star.jpg Lifestyle

Those who have read my reviews before will know that how much I loved a book is evidenced by the number of pages with corners turned, so let me start this one with an apology to the Norfolk Library Service: sorry! I forgot it was your book not mine. In my defence, I will say that as a reader of this type of book there is something connective about noting where prior readers were inspired (provided it is subtle – I'll allow creased corners, but not scribbles – for the latter we must buy our own copy – which I am about to do as soon as I have finished telling you why).

Erligg Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has walked to the South Pole, the North Pole and the summit of Everest. He knows a thing or two about walking. However, this isn't a travelogue about any of those epic journeys, it is instead a thoughtful exploration of what it means to walk. It is a plenitude of unnumbered essays about walking. There is no 'contents' page and I haven't counted. In small format paperback, each essay is only a few pages long. Perhaps then, better thought of as a meditation rather than an essay. Full Review


Review of

Monster Hunting For Beginners by Ian Mark and Louis Ghibault

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Jack. Now Jack knows very little about being fearless and nimble and quick, for he's a slight boy, and although he wants for danger and peril and interesting things his dad refuses to let him out of his sight. That's because Jack's mother knew all about monsters, and look what happened to her – she died. Luckily or unluckily then, depending on your point of view, a giant ogre will threaten his aunt when Jack's father also goes AWOL, Jack will fluke the ogre's death, a dwarfish wizard-type will make him an apprentice monster hunter, and he'll be given a book that tells him all he needs to know about the perils he always wanted closer contact with. The book's name? Monster Hunting for Beginners... Full Review


Review of

The Climbers by Keith Gray

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Sully is the best tree climber in the village. He has what's known amongst the kids as 'reach'. But what happens when a new kid shows up in town? A new kid, called Nottingham, who clambers up some of the hardest trees with ease? Suddenly Sully is worried that his status is being threatened, and not only that, that his chance to name the final, unnamed big tree in the park by being the first to conquer it, might be snatched from his hands. How can Sully stop Nottingham? And will it cost him his best friend, or maybe even all of his friends, to do so? Full Review


Review of

The Week at World's End by Emma Carroll

4star.jpg Confident Readers

First, the title. We're in World's End Close, a mediocre set of houses, where Stevie (Vie to her friends) finds fun only with the family dog and with the boy over the road. But we could also be at World's End, because something taking a great chunk of the fun away is the fact that the Cuban Missile Crisis is kicking off. The Soviet boats are getting blockaded as America tries to reduce the risk of nuclear missiles offshore, and not much else is able to make the news. That said, Vie has news of her own – Anna, a secretive young woman hiding in their coal shed. Anna has, in no short time, taken a strong interest in the American airforce base behind the Close, said she'd locate something she wanted and leave, failed to leave, and implied her life was at risk. But surely this bit of intrigue has got nothing to do with what the Cold War is doing miles away? Full Review


Review of

Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Julia, our pre-teen heroine, has been packed off with her parents and their cat from the family home in SW England to be lighthousekeepers for a summer, in the far NE of the Scottish islands. Here be Vikings, that kind of Scottish island. Dad is going to be automating the lantern, which is his specialist thing, while mum will be leaving her career in algae behind to hunt the elusive Greenland shark. And Julia, well, she will be homesick and alone – until she suddenly finds company one night. Full Review