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

The Gold Lion and the Tournament of Sentinels by Kia Ahankoob

4star.jpg Graphic Novels

When Myriad created Duniva he endowed his children with different powers, each with its own strength and weakeness, in the hope they would complement each other and collaborate, creating a dynamic and prosperous society. Each power is contained within a magical ring belonging to one of eight countries led by Myriad's children and their descendants. But it didn't quite work out like that. Rivalries developed. Enmities grew out of them and the eight countries went to war. Having fought themselves into an endless and ruinous stalemate and finding the cost of war too high, a solution is proposed. Each of the eight countries will send their greatest warriors, known as sentinels, to a single combat tournament. The winner will take possession of all the rings and become the supreme ruler of Duniva. Full Review


Review of

Dragon Storm: Tomas and Ironskin by Alastair Chisholm and Eric Deschamps

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Tomas. Happy to work with his father in the blacksmith's forge, he's almost of the age to become a full apprentice, and help with the new batch of dragonswords is certainly needed. Not that there are any dragons, of course – they vanished centuries ago. Except... Strange signals from within the forge furnace, and a peculiar invite to become an apprentice clerk instead, are things for Tom to puzzle over – until it all comes out in the wash, that yes dragons do still exist in this world, and that Tom is rare in the ability to summon them, share magical attributes, and ride with them... Full Review


Review of

Something to Hide: An Inspector Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George

5star.jpg Crime

It's late July and Deborah St James is at a meeting with Dominique Shaw, Undersecretary for the school system, a representative from the NHS, Mr Oh from Barnardos, someone from Orchid House whose name she didn't catch but would later turn out to be Zawadi and Narissa Cameron, a filmmaker. It follows on from the success of Deborah's book London Voices: the meeting is an exploration of the possibility of the idea behind the book being used to highlight an area which is causing concern in some communities. Deborah's uncertain about quite how successful she could be as the problem seems to occur in Nigerian and Somali communities as she relies on getting the trust of the people she speaks to and photographs. Full Review


Review of

Shadebringer by Grayson W Hooper

4star.jpg Fantasy

Clyde Robbins signs up for the US Army during the Vietnam War. He's not really that invested in the fight against Communism, nor is he particularly interested in a career in the military. If he's honest - which Clyde usually is, with himself at least - he hasn't got many choices and this one, at least, gets him out of the rut he's in. He's good in training and is quickly put onto a non commissioned officer training course. He's chuffed with himself. Full Review


Review of

The Mermaid in the Millpond by Lucy Strange and Pam Smy

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

There is no mermaid in the millpond. That at least is what Bess is telling herself. Neither will there be a friend for her in amongst all the other kids, who have had their entire childhoods sold to the mill-owners by the London workhouse they used to call home. Bess knows there is no time for friendship in a hand-to-mouth, every man for himself kind of existence. But despite herself Bess does find a bit of a kindred spirit in the slight little Dot, and despite everything that life has taught her about betrayal and how befriending people only leads to harm, there might be a glimmer of companionship in the tired-out mill workers. But surely that doesn't mean there is any truth in the existence of the mermaid? Full Review


Review of

Staggering Hubris by Josh Berry

4.5star.jpg Humour

Members of Parliament like us to believe that the country is run by politicians, headed by the Prime minister - the primus inter pares (that's for those of you who are Eton and Oxbridge educated) but the reality is that the prime movers are the special advisers - the SPADS - who are the driving force behind the government. We are in the privileged position of having access to the memoirs of Rafe Hubris, the man who was behind the skilful control of the Covid crisis which was completely contained by the end of 2020. You might not know the name now but he will certainly be the man to watch. Full Review


Review of

Otter's Coat: The Real Reason Turtle Raced Rabbit: A Cherolachian Tortoise and Hare by Cordellya Smith

4star.jpg For Sharing

When the world was made, the animals were given gifts. Bear was given strength so that he could become a protector. Water Spider received a strong web that even fire could not burn. Owl had excellent sight so that he could see the present and the future. Rabbit developed intelligence - but, unfortunately, not the ability to use it well. He liked to trick other animals. He was also jealous which was how he came to be in a race with Turtle. You might think that's not a fair contest but wait and see. Things are not always as they seem. I'll tell you how it came about. Full Review


Review of

Walking on Sunshine by Giovanna Fletcher

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Mike's wife, Pia, who he was with for seventeen years, has died. And whilst he is dealing with his grief, so are their best friends, Vicky and Zaza. But Pia left them all some 'rules' to follow, knowing that she was dying and that they would need help to carry on living. Whilst some of the rules are around practicalities such as clearing out her wardrobe, another one that Mike discovers one day encourages him to take one of their trips away, and Vicky and Zaza, struggling with their grief and their own life troubles, decide to drop everything in their own lives, and go along with him. Full Review


Review of

Making a Living: How to Craft Your Business by Sophie Rochester

5star.jpg Crafts

Starting a creative business has never been easier.

If not now, when?

I know that I'm not alone in having wondered whether or not I could turn my hobby into a business. There's a lot of motivation to do so: I make more items than we can sensibly use and there are a lot of people who have been delighted to accept what I make as gifts. Selling would offset the costs, which can be quite considerable and it could be fun to do, couldn't it? But where to start? What do I need to think about? Well, the first thing anyone who is considering turning a crafting hobby into a business should do is to read Making a Living. Full Review


Review of

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Robin Blyth is nudged into a job in the Civil Service, much to his chagrin. There he meets Edwin Courcey and learns that the streets of London are threaded with magic. Desperate to remove a curse that threatens to swallow him, Robin follows Edwin to the countryside, where the hedgegrows bristle with incantations and the people shimmer with power. There they uncover a sinister plot that threatens the lives of all magicians in the British Isles. Full Review


Review of

Healthy Vegan The Cookbook: Vegan Cooking Meets Nutrition Science by Niko Rittenau and Sebastian Copien

4.5star.jpg Cookery

Emotionally, I am a vegan. Mentally, I am a vegan. I read How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World by Henry Mance and was appalled by the way in which we treat animals in our search for (preferably cheap) food. Practically, I am not a vegan. It worked for a while apart from the odd blip with regard to cheese but then a perfect storm of those events which you hope don't occur too often in your lifetime tempted me back to animal-based protein. It wasn't the taste - I know that I can get plant-based food that tastes just as good as anything plundered from the animal kingdom - it was the ease of being able to get sufficient protein when meals were often snatched in a few spare moments. Full Review

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Review of

Supply Chain 20/20: A Clear View on the Local Multiplier Effect for Book Lovers by Kim Staflund

4.5star.jpg Reference

So, you've finished writing your book and you think the hard work is all done? You're convinced that all you need to do now is get it published and the money will start rolling in?

Wrong and wrong again. You presumably wrote the book because you wanted to - and you had a talent for delivering the written word. You knew your subject back to front. Now you're going to have to get to grips with the book supply chain, which even parts of the publishing industry believe to be wrong but it's too difficult to change and no one wants to be the first to try. Then, when you finally have a copy of the book in your hands, you're going to have to work out how to sell it - because it is going to be down to you. Full Review


Review of

The Lost by Simon Beckett

4star.jpg Crime

The disappearance of Metropolitan police firearms officer, Jonah Colley's young son, Theo, just about finished him, particularly as he blamed himself for what had happened. He'd fallen asleep in the park whilst Theo was playing and when he woke, Theo had gone. It cost him his marriage and his home. Ten years later he's largely come through it and he's out with his team when he gets a phone call from DS Gavin McKinney. Gavin used to be his best friend but it's a long time since they've spoken. He's obviously in some difficulty now - Jonah can hear it in his voice - and he asks Jonah to meet him at Slaughter Quay. There's no one else I can trust, he says. Full Review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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