Book Reviews From The Bookbag

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Review of

The Hiding Place by Amanda Mason

3.5star.jpg Horror

Needing an escape from their turbulent life, Nell Galilee takes her husband and stepdaughter to Whitby, where they rent a cliffside holiday cottage by the name of Elder House. She hopes that it will be the perfect place to sort things out. But there's something not quite right about Elder House. The atmosphere is unsettling and off – and before long Nell starts to suspect that she and her family aren't alone there… Full Review

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Review of

The Quiet People by Paul Cleave

5star.jpg Crime

I am not a fan of "the Prologue". Most books are the worse for them. In this case I might make an exception. We start with Luca Pittman who is in a hurry. He has to hurry because he has children that he should not have, and when he hurries, when he bundles things into the back of his car and tries to run and then hears sirens behind him, which he should not hear because this is New Zealand and that is not how they do things there, he takes a risk. It ends badly. Full Review

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Review of

Psychopaths Anonymous by Will Carver

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

Maeve is a high functioning alcoholic, drinking continuously and also, curiously, addicted to attending numerous AA groups. She is also a self-acknowledged psychopath. Whilst analysing and critiquing the AA steps she is mainly using the groups to find targets...targets for sexual encounters, targets to feed her desire to hear of people's misery, and targets for her violent behaviour. Yet she also seems to be searching for others who think as she does, and when she's unable to find like-minded people in any of the groups she decides to set up her own, hoping to encounter others who share similar obsessions, and thus Psychopaths Anonymous is born. Full Review

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Review of

Bruno's Challenge and Other Dordogne Tales by Martin Walker

4star.jpg Short Stories

I'm not usually a fan of short stories - I find it all too easy to put the book down between stories and forget to pick it up again - but I am a fan of Martin Walker's Bruno Courreges Mysteries so the temptation to read Bruno's Challenge was hard to resist and I'm rather glad that I didn't even try. For those new to the series, there's an excellent introduction that will tell you all you need to know about who's who and the background to why Bruno is in St Denis. Full Review

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Review of

Buried Lies (Gaby Darin Book 5) by Jenny O'Brien

4star.jpg Crime

Hannah Thomas was having her first night away from her son. Hunter had diabetes and this was controlled by a pump attached to his stomach, so her over-protectiveness was understandable, but her fiance, Ian, was pestering her to get married and she thought it would be a good idea for him to find out what parenting was really like. Her friend, Milly, had arranged to take her boyfriend, Liam, for a night in a posh hotel but then he dumped her and she couldn't get the money back, so Hannah was offered the opportunity to go in his place. She would return home to find Ian dead and five-year-old Hunter missing. Full Review

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Review of

Without a Trace by Jane Bettany

4star.jpg Crime

Life hadn't been easy for Ruth Prendergast: she'd just come through a divorce and right now it was raining hard. All she wanted was to get back to her new home and settle down for a quiet evening. It wasn't going to be though: when she went into her bedroom she found a dead man on her bed with a knife in his chest. She'd no idea who he was. Full Review

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Review of

Her Majesty the Queen Investigates: A Three Dog Problem by S J Bennett

5star.jpg Crime

It's 2016 and the Queen's Private Secretary, Sir Simon Holcroft has decided that too much good claret and too little exercise is putting a strain on his waistband. Swimming, he decides, is the way to go and he can use the Buckingham Palace pool which is how he came to be there early one morning and discovered the body of Cynthia Harris at the side of the pool. There was broken glass - a crystal tumbler, by the look at it - probably one of the young royals being careless - and it looked as though Mrs Harris had slipped and cut herself so badly that she had bled out. Still, it was a shock for Sir Simon. Full Review

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Review of

April in Spain by John Banville

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Terry Tice was a hitman, although he didn't think of himself in those terms. He saw what he did as a matter of making things tidy. I couldn't resist the thought that he was an extreme version of Marie Kondo. He enjoyed his job, something which occurred to him when he was in Burma with the army where he got the chance to kill a lot of the little yellow fellows and had a fine old time. He was spending a lot of time with Percy Antrobus - who couldn't understand why Terry didn't know the purpose of a swizzle stick - surely he wouldn't drink champagne with bubbles in the morning? It was after Percy's death that he saw the benefits of taking up a job in Spain. Full Review

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Review of

Speedy: Hurled Through Havoc by Dave Letterfly Knoderer

4star.jpg Autobiography

How to summarise the life of Dave Letterfly Knodererv in a pithy sentence to kick off a review of his memoir? Do you know, I really don't think I can.


Dave is an author and an artist. An inspirational speaker and a professional horseman. And a recovering alcoholic. The son of a Lutheran minister, he's struggled with a controlling father, run away to join the circus (not a metaphor), trained horses, painted caravans, designed and painted theatre sets, and hit rock bottom when the bottle took over. Full Review

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Review of

Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

4.5star.jpg Science Fiction

Michelle 'Shell' Campion is fulfilling her lifelong dream of going to space. As first officer aboard the sleeper ship Ragtime, bound for the world of Bloodroot, she will essentially be a babysitter for the ship's AI captain. However, when she wakes up at the end of her trip to find dozens of her passengers butchered and the Ragtime's AI almost non-responsive, she begins to realise that her first mission won't be going as smoothly as she hoped it would. Down on Bloodroot, disgraced investigator Rasheed Fin and his android partner Salvo are sent up to discover exactly what went wrong on the Ragtime. Meanwhile, former astronaut and friend of Shell's father Lawrence Biz takes a shuttle to Bloodroot, half-alien daughter in tow, to see why the Ragtime has gone quiet, leaving behind the politicking and bureaucracy of Space Station Lagos. What the five of them discover on the Ragtime has ramifications not just for Bloodroot, but potentially the entirety of human space… Full Review

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Review of

Carrots Don’t Grow On Trees! by Rob Keeley

4star.jpg For Sharing

Lily loves eating fruit and vegetables. She likes carrots, broccoli, cabbage and aubergines. When her friends at school turn up their noses, Lily is keen to explain how good they are for you and how nice to eat. One day, poor Lily gets tricked by Jordan, who tells her that carrots grow on trees. Infuriated, Lily checks with the teacher, who explains that fruits grow on trees and vegetables, like carrots, grow in the ground. Jordan says, "I did try to tell her, Miss!" and everyone laughs at poor Lily. Full Review

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Review of

Bad Apples by Will Dean

4.5star.jpg Crime

Tuva Moodyson was driving up a foggy hillside towards Visberg when she discovered an Audi 4x4 parked at the side of the road. Wondering if someone needed help she got out of the car - and heard the screams from deep inside the forest. Determining the direction of a sound isn't easy when you need hearing aids and dampness is causing interference but Tuva made her way to where a woman was holding her coat over the body of a man. He'd been decapitated. He was Arne Gustav Persson, a resident of Visberg. Full Review

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Review of

Cold As Hell by Lilja Sigurdadottir

4star.jpg Crime

In a red suitcase as the bottom of a fissure in a lava field, there is a body. And the man who has put her there has just discovered that he is capable of killing. Full Review

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Review of

Fledgling by Lucy Hope

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Bavaria, 1900. Our scene is a most peculiar hilltop house, built bit by bit over the decades, and now looking imperiously down on the village and woods below. It's an eccentric house, to host eccentrics, so the library shelving system is not as we'd know it, the roof is retractable, there is a steam-powered, hand-operated lift system cut through it, and so on. At the moment it houses an ex-soldier with PTSD and a passion for the long-standing family hobby of taxidermy, a woman who does nothing but quibble, kvetch and sing opera loudly, and the dying grandma to our heroine, Cassie, a young lass who has to do all the maintenance of this bizarre machine-like abode. Oh but it's also going to house someone or something else, when crashing through Cassie's bedroom window one stormy day is a cherub. And if you think such a heavenly arrival is going to be a completely great and wonderful thing, think again... Full Review

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Review of

The End of Bias: How We Change Our Minds by Jessica Nordell

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

Anyone who is not an able, white man understands bias in that they may no longer even recognise the extent to which they suffer from it: it's simply a part of everyday life. White men will always come first. The able will come before the disabled. Jobs, promotions, higher salaries are the preserve of the white man. Even when those who wouldn't pass the medical become a part of an organisation it's rare that their views are heard, that their concerns are acknowledged. It's personally appalling and degrading for the individuals on the receiving end of the bias but it's not just the individuals who are negatively impacted. Full Review

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Review of

Her Perfect Family by Teresa Driscoll

5star.jpg Thrillers

The novel begins by introducing you to Gemma, who at first instance appears to be your average student, faced with the familiar horrifying realisation, at the eleventh hour, that her graduation outfit is all wrong. Suddenly, Gemma receives an eerie message stating He is not who he says he is…, paving the way for the sinister tone that remains throughout the novel. In a twist of events, and after a change of outfit, Gemma is shot in the midst of her graduation ceremony. With Gemma then in a coma, what follows is a complex whodunit with a list of suspects that continues to grow the further you read. Full Review

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Review of

If Only by Matthew Tree

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Twenty-one-year-old Malcolm Lowry had been sent abroad by his father, cotton-broker AO Lowry: he asked his accountant, Mr Patrick, to ensure that the young man got on board the boat and thereafter Patrick was to send him a monthly allowance. Patrick sent the money regularly and a correspondence - of sorts - sprang up between the two although we hear more about what Lowry has to say than Patrick. It wasn't that Lowry senior didn't care for his son, it was that he didn't care to have him in this country where he might be a danger to his wife and other children. The alcohol problem was obvious even before Patrick managed to get the young man on his way. Full Review

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Review of

The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen and David Hackston (translator)

3.5star.jpg Crime

Meet Henri. With a mind so much more focused on maths and calculations than it is other human beings, he's perfect for his job in the insurance company – until they decide he's not a team-member, that they'd prefer everyone to be all open-plan, holistic and keen on stupid-as workshopping. This is when he finds his brother has died, having a heart attack while busy changing his Volvo's radio channel, and has left Henri everything. Unfortunately (or otherwise) that 'everything' is just an adventure park, and nothing else. YouMeFun is so not what Henri wants to occupy his mind, but he perks up a little when he sees huge holes in the finances – it runs at a steady money-moving pace, despite some desultory staff ideas, but loans have been made out and the amount vanished. Fortunately (or otherwise) some people are quickly on the scene to explain that missing money – it's been turned into a gambling debt that has also now been inherited by Henri, and the activities of these guys are not conducive to getting a cheap life insurance plan... Full Review

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Review of

The Unheard by Nicci French

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Tess, a teacher and Jason, a headmaster, have split up: she and Poppy have moved out of the family home and Jason is now married to Emily. The separation was amicable - they had just drifted apart. They co-parent three-year-old Poppy who has her bedroom in what was the family home and another in the flat she shares with her mother. It seemed to be working well until the day that Poppy came home with a menacing drawing of a woman falling from a tall building and she started swearing, using words she was unlikely to have heard in either home. Her behaviour deteriorated and there were problems at nursery school. Tess turns to a therapist for help, then her doctor and finally the police but no one will take what she has to say seriously. Full Review

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Review of

Iced by Felix Francis

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Miles Pussett used to be a Steeplechase jockey but those days are past and he now gets his thrills from hurling head-first down the three-quarter-mile Cresta Run, occasionally reaching eighty miles an hour. He was in St Moritz the same weekend as White Turf - that's high-class horseracing on the frozen lake and against his better judgement he gets talked into helping with the saddling of the horses. It's seven years since he put horseracing behind him and he swore that he'd never go back to it. But when he sees that something suspicious is going on, Miles can't help but look for answers, even when it puts him in danger. Full Review

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Review of

The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

We all know people like Gary Nelson, although we probably haven't taken much notice of them. They live quiet, uneventful lives and stay mostly under the radar. In a city like London, that's quite easy - and even Gary's three flatmates largely ignore him. The highlight of his day is watching a beautiful young woman apply her makeup as she goes to work on the train each morning: he'd love to ask her for a date but he doesn't have the courage. Then, on his homeward commute, Arina speaks to him and asks for his help. Before long he finds himself on the run from mobsters, Russian secret agents and the Metropolitan police. Full Review

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Review of

I Know You by Claire McGowan

4star.jpg Thrillers

Then: Casey returns from a walk with the baby, Carson, and comes across three bodies, almost a whole family taken down.

Now: Rachel is out for a walk with her dog, Brandy, when she comes across a body in the woods. Full Review

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Review of

Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel

5star.jpg Politics and Society

How am I able to be so transparent on paper about rape, malpractice and poverty, yet still compartmentalise? It's as though I were telling the truth whilst simultaneously running away from it.

Before you start reading Misfits you need to be in a certain frame of mind. You're not going to read a book of essays or a self-help book. You're going to read writing which was inspired by Michaela Coel's 2018 MacTaggart Lecture to professionals within the television industry at the Edinburgh TV Festival. You might be reading the book but you need to listen to the words as though you're in the lecture theatre. The disjointedness will fade away and you'll be carried on a cloud of exquisite writing. Full Review

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Review of

Next of Kin by Kia Abdullah

5star.jpg Thrillers

It was the sort of thing that happened every day, although not to Leila Syed. She'd never driven her nephew, Max, to school before but his father, Andrew Hanson, had rung her in a panic. He was supposed to be taking Max to school but he'd been called into work and the delay in getting there could lead to financial losses. As the school was only five minutes out of Leila's way, could she drop him off? Of course, she could and a sleeping Max was duly strapped into the back of her car. On the way Leila took a phone call - there was panic at her work too, with a problem which could put a multi-million-pound contract at risk. Full Review

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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