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 Wilderness Cure by Mo Wilde

5star.jpg Lifestyle

It had been on the cards for a while but it was the week-long consumer binge which pushed Mo Wilde into beginning her year of eating only wild food. The end of November, particularly in Central Scotland was perhaps not the best time to start, in a world where the normal sores had been exacerbated by climate change, Brexit and a pandemic. Wilde had a few advantages: the area around her was a known habitat with a variety of terrains. She had electricity which allowed her to run a fridge, freezer and dehydrator. She had a car - and fuel. Most importantly, she had shelter: this was not a plan to live wild just to live off its produce. Full Review

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Review of

Tomato Love: 44 Mouthwatering Recipes for Salads, Sauces, Stews, and More by Joy Howard

4star.jpg Cookery

Think of it as no-whining dining.

We know it's a fruit rather than a vegetable but the fact that so many people get confused just goes to show how versatile the tomato is. Then there are all the different types, not to mention the cultivars - and you begin to understand why Joy Howard says that she hasn't met one she didn't love. I'd argue with her there - I have no affection for the ones you find in the supermarket next to the ones labelled 'grown for flavour' to distinguish them from the ones that have obviously just been grown for profit. Personally, I'd prefer a tin of tomatoes to those - and Howard makes good use of these. She's not at all precious if you get the taste. Full Review

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Review of

We All Have Our Secrets by Jane Corry

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Harold Gentle advertised for live-in help as he was failing to cope at Willowmead House on his own. His advert was fairly specific: he was a retired lawyer needing help but he also spoke of the ability to cook a good steak, enjoy decent wine and be free from any food fads. The first person who came to the house was Francoise, a French woman in her early twenties, who fit the bill perfectly. She got the job but Francoise didn't know about the advert: she was there for a completely different reason. Emily Gentle is Harold's daughter and she came to Willowmead House because she was running away from a problem in London. Emily's a midwife and her last shift had seen her lacking concentration and a complaint had been made. Full Review

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Review of

Tasting Sunlight by Ewald Arenz and Rachel Ward (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Sally is a teenager who has run away from an anorexia treatment clinic. She just wants space, and for people to stop questioning her, tiptoeing around her, and trying to fix her without ever truly understanding her. She finds herself on some farmland with a woman called Liss who is in her forties and seems to live alone. Liss is unlike any other adult Sally has ever met. She just accepts Sally as she is, giving her a room to sleep in, and the space to just be. As they work together on the farm, a closeness develops between them, becoming a beautiful, powerful friendship. Full Review

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Review of

Preposterous: An Elizabeth Cromwell Mystery by Jennifer Mason

4star.jpg General Fiction

A struggling poetry zine, a mom-and-pop mobile diner in the Northern California redwoods, a 400-meter hurdler who just missed the 2004 Olympics, a women's track coach with a yen for bullwhips, a billionaire with a state-of-the-art S&M dungeon, a man serving a life sentence in Alabama, an enigmatic signature, K(s, x), on a cheap oil painting, an erotic art dealer in Georgia...

This is just a sample of the cast of characters and settings in Preposterous. As you can see, some keeping up will be required! The basic premise of this mystery story goes like this... Full Review

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Review of

The Truth About Lisa Jewell by Will Brooker

5star.jpg Biography

Meet Lisa Jewell, one of the most successful British authors I've never knowingly read. Now meet Will Brooker, one of the thousands of less successful authors I quite confidently never have read. This book starts with the two meeting each other, as well, and shows how 2021 drew the two closer and closer together. The meeting was some unspecified combination, it seems, of her anecdote about cup cakes, the words of her latest book she was reciting, and her being in a black lace mini-dress with gold brocade (certainly a get-up never commonly worn at the author events I get to attend), but pulled Brooker, a professor of cultural studies who has swallowed Roland Barthes, down the rabbit-hole that is Jewell's diverse output. Brooker decides he'd like nothing more than to follow her through a year in the published author's life, working to make a success of the latest title, and struggling with the next in line. Jewell, due diligence appropriately done, agrees. And this is the result. Full Review

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Review of

The Companion by Lesley Thomson

5star.jpg Crime

James Ritchie thought of himself as a punctual man who was inexplicably never on time and he was - as usual - late to pick up his son, Wilbur, for their 'boys' day out'. These were always days which appealed more to James than to Wilbur and, competing for the boy's attention, his mother, Anna, promised him a roast dinner when he returned. The dinner would never be served, as James and Wilbur are the victims of a double stabbing on the beach. The case falls to DI Toni Kemp of Sussex police. She's feeling the pressure. You can always tell - she shoplifts Snickers Bars when the going gets tough. Full Review

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Review of

To Kill a Troubadour (A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel) by Martin Walker

4.5star.jpg Crime

Nobody knows what the truth is any more.

Bruno Courrèges is the police chief for St Denis and much of the Vézère valley and works closely with Commissaire Jean-Jaques Jalipeau (known as 'JJ'), the head of detectives for the départment of the Dordogne. They're not just policemen - they're both deeply committed to the well-being and prosperity of this most beautiful part of France. The discovery of an old, stolen Peugeot, crashed and abandoned in a ditch wouldn't normally have worried them so much had it not been for the strange bullet, with Russian letters stamped on the base, which they found in the car. Oh, and there was a golf ball too, which didn't belong to the owner of the car. A golf bag would be a good place to hide a sniper's weapon. Was there going to be an attempt to kill someone, or were the detectives being pushed in a certain direction? Full Review

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Review of

Meredith Alone by Claire Alexander

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

When we first meet Meredith Maggs it's Wednesday 14 November 2018 and she's not left her home for 1,214 days. She'd like to: in fact, she so nearly does. Her outdoor clothes are on and she's even considered which shoes to wear if she's going to catch her train. Then, she can't. She simply can't force herself to leave the safety of her home. She's fortunate that she has a good friend, Sadie, who visits regularly with her two children, James and Matilda. Sadie's a cardiac nurse and full of sound common sense. In fact it was Sadie who gave Meredith her cat, Fred. Groceries are online deliveries and there's also an internet-based support group where you'll find Meredith as JIGSAWGIRL, so you can guess what she does in her spare time. Then Tom McDermott arrives. He's from Holding Hands, a charity which supports people with problems such as Meredith's. Full Review

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Review of

Greetings, aliens!: (do pop in for tea) by Richard F Walker

4star.jpg General Fiction

Anything can happen at a birthday party, particularly when the birthday boy is the young Lord of the Manor. But when an eerie signal is picked up in the early hours, George and his new girlfriend, the vivacious Lady Antonia, embark on a quest to uncover its incredible message. Things get complicated when some total spoilsport lets the cat out of the bag and the world goes into a state of panic.

Could it be? Could it? Have aliens reached out and contacted Earth? George and Antonia find themselves lifted out of their privileged lives of parties and drunken shenanigans and catapulted into the world of advanced science, secret agents.and politicians hungry for power. Full Review

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Review of

Archibald Lox and the Sinkhole to Hell: Archibald Lox series, book 7 by Darren Shan

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

So. We're back to the Merge with the first chapter in the third volume of Darren Shan's saga of Archibald Lox, a young man who can pick the locks of portals from our world to another, called the Merge. Since his last adventure, Archie has persuaded his foster parents into a slightly uneasy truce on the topic of his regular disappearances. They don't ask too many questions and Archie has settled into a fairly peaceful routine of visiting Winston, his lock-picking mentor in the Merge and showing Kojo, the young guardian, around our world of the Born. Full Review

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Review of

The Search by John Henry Phillips

5star.jpg History

Archaeology cannot be child's play, when you're scraping in the dirt looking to find what you can find, often knowing there should be something there but not always confident what. Archaeology must be a fair bit harder when you set out to find some specific thing. This book is a case of the latter, as our author promises to locate the topic of the titular search. And he really hasn't made it easy for himself – the search area is a wide one, the target might not exist any more – oh, and it's underwater, when he cannot dive. Latching on to a particular D-Day veteran through helping the heroic old man's visit back to France, our author has promised to find the landing craft that delivered him to Normandy, and that he was lucky to survive when it sank from beneath him. The secondary aim is to erect a memorial to everyone else aboard, the vast majority of whom perished. Who else would make such promises to someone in their nineties? Full Review

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Review of

Looking for Emily by Fiona Longmuir

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Meet Lily. She and her mother have just moved from a city to a tiny seaside town called Edge, and everyone from said mother to her teacher are making demands of Lily that she make new friends. It turns out that she doesn't have any say in the matter, for while pretending when phoning home that she was with someone called Emily, she is unaware her neighbour, Sam, is just about to make herself known, and in a big way. But where does Emily come from? Well, Lily used that name because of what she'd just stumbled into – a mysterious collection of the most mundane objects, in some converted houses behind a most unassuming door, in a place calling itself 'The Museum of Emily'. Sam is completely unaware of this 'museum', too, leaving the two girls to make sure they leave no stone unturned in finding what's behind the intrigue... Full Review

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Review of

Stories: 13 tantalising tales by Richard F Walker

4star.jpg Short Stories

A news vendor is crying out the headlines in the middle of the night; a wheelchair user loses touch with reality when he tries walking around in his imagination; a stickler for correct grammar goes back in time to correct an iconic quote; a volunteer teacher proves the ideal person to have around in a lawless village; the new boy on the pub football team is very useful with his feet, and awfully familiar…

This collection of thirteen short stories by Richard F Walker has a lot to offer the eclectic reader. Tying them together is the idea that remarkable and strange, even miraculous, things can happen to ordinary people. And that ordinary doesn't mean boring or uninteresting. Form and tone varies so this little treasury of short fiction is never boring and you're never quite sure what's coming next. Full Review

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Review of

Stitched Up by Steve Cole

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Twelve-year-old Hanh wanted to be a fashion designer. Life in the rural village where she lived with her family was happy, if not prosperous, so when the smartly-dressed man and woman came to the village to offer Hahn a job in Hanoi it was an opportunity not to be missed. Some money changed hands and Hanh was on the mini-bus to Hanoi. Only, Hanh and the other girls were not going to work in a shop, they were to work in virtual slavery in an illegal garment factory. You know those jeans you really wanted: the ones with intricate embroidery and beading on the legs? The ones with the artfully-placed rips and distressed seams that felt so soft when you touched them? It's quite possible that Hanh and her co-workers made them. Full Review

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Review of

Emergency by Daisy Hildyard

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

The summary of this book doesn't come close to explaining what is done with the premise. Full Review

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Review of

The Weight of Loss by Sally Oliver

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Marianne is grieving. Traumatised after the death of her sister, she awakes to find strange, thick black hairs sprouting from the bones of her spine which steadily increase in size and volume. Her GP, diagnosing the odd phenomenon as a physical reaction to her grief, recommends she go to stay at Nede, an experimental new treatment centre in Wales. Yet something strange is happening to Marianne and the other patients at Nede: a metamorphosis of a kind. As Marianne's memories threaten to overwhelm her, Nede offers her release from this cycle of memory and pain—but only at a terrible price: that of identity itself. Full Review

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Review of

Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl and Don Bartlett (translator)

3star.jpg Crime

Part of the Oslo Detectives series, this crime story is a mixture of police procedural and thriller. Beginning with the death of a young woman in a carpark, that looks very much like an overdose, it unravels into a far-reaching investigation of murder, fraud, and international pharmaceutical dealings. Our two detectives are Gunnarstranda and Frolich, who end up working separately on the case as Gunnarstranda remains in Norway whilst Frolich is led to Africa as they follow the twists and turns of the investigation. Gunnarstranda and Frolich are tenacious, chasing down the truth in increasingly difficult, frustrating circumstances, trying hard to uncover the truth as they are sure that something much bigger, and much more dangerous, is going on. Full Review

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Review of

Clarice Bean: Scram! by Lauren Child

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

It was a hot summer day right at the beginning of the summer holidays and Clarice Bean was bored:

Nothing ever happens except for sometimes... And only on rare-sh occasions, which is hardly ever.

There are seven members of the Bean family living in the house: Grandad (who lives on the ground floor because he's wobbly), Mum and Dad, Clarice's older brother, Kurt and younger brother, Minal Cricket. There's also Marcie, who's main claim to fame seems to be that she steals the batteries from Clarice's torch, which means that she can't read in the airing cupboard. Clarice would love to have someone who listened to her, rather than wanting to talk, but the only one who does that is Granny and she lives in New York. The Bean family is different. Full Review

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Review of

The Secret Life of Birds by Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker (illustrator)

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I have recently discovered a great pleasure: I sit and watch the vast numbers of birds which visit our garden on a daily basis. An hour can pass without my noticing. I've established which species feed from the ground, which pop to the feeders for a quick snatch of some food and who settles in for a good munch but I wish I was more knowledgeable. It would have been wonderful if, as a child, I'd had access to a book such as The Secret Life of Birds. So – what is it? Full Review

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Review of

Bag O'Goodies by Jolly Walker Bittick

4star.jpg Anthologies

Sometimes, you deserve a treat and mine was Jolly Walker Bittick's Bag O'Goodies. I first encountered his writing about a year ago, when I read his Cape Henry House, a rollicking tale of what happens when five young men find a base for their partying. Right now, I didn't want a full-length novel, so I turned to this anthology of verse and short stories. Bittick's writing has matured - and so have his characters. Well... most of them! Full Review

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Review of

Seed by Caryl Lewis and George Ermos

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Marty has two parental figures in his life, and they both might be thought of as complete embarrassments. His grandfather runs an allotment, and manages to stink the entire town out from it when he douses it in fish guts each spring to fertilise his vegetables. His mother somehow combines the dual roles of housebound failure and hoarder – while she seems to do nothing and hasn't left the building in years she has still managed to fill it to the brim with junk. What Marty's classmates don't know about this they can draw lines to from how poor Marty always looks, with his one school uniform built from lost property. We see him as once again the council threaten her and him with eviction, and as he celebrates his birthday with the gift from his grandfather of a solitary plant seed. Full Review

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Review of

Our Sister, Again by Sophie Cameron

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

After Isla's older sister Flora dies, her family struggle to find a way forward. In particular, Isla's mum who can’t seem to be able to let her daughter go. When Isla passes her mum's details onto a support group she finds online, she thinks they might be able to help. But actually, it turns out they are part of an experimental company who offer the family the chance to have Flora back again, in robot form. But this won't just be a look-a-like. They use all of Flora's online history, and interviews with family and friends, and through this data they will recreate Flora as closely as possible. But what will it really mean for the family, to have Flora back? And is it really Flora at all? Full Review

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Review of

Cold Reckoning by Russ Thomas

4.5star.jpg Crime

DS Adam Tyler never believed that his father committed suicide and for the last sixteen years he's been searching for evidence to prove that he's right. When a frozen body was found in Damflask Reservoir, there was a link back to a cold case from 2002. There didn't immediately seem to be any connection with DI Richard Tyler's death but Adam Tyler senses a link to the case his father was investigating before he died. Above all there's a growing sense that the criminality of Det Supt Stevens is going to be brought out into the open. Perhaps Tyler is going to get the answers he needs? Full Review

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Review of

Blind Justice (DS McAvoy 10) by David Mark

4star.jpg Crime

Acting DI Aector McAvoy hadn't even had time for breakfast when the call came through. A body had been found in the roots of a fallen tree at Brantingham, near Hull. When he gets to the scene, he will find what greets him is even worse than he could have imagined. A young man's corpse is entangled with the roots of a newly-fallen tree – the roots have grown through him – and two silver Roman coins have been nailed through his eyes. It would seem that this was done whilst the man was still alive. McAvoy makes a promise to the victim: I will find answers. You will know justice. But justice always comes at a cost and this time the cost might be to McAvoy's own family. Full Review

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Review of

This World Does Not Belong To Us by Natalia Garcia Freire

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Early comments on this debut novel from Ecuadorian writer Natalia García Freire include Tremendous, a delight. I will agree with the first – tremendous is no understatement – but 'a delight' is perhaps using the expression in a way I'm not familiar with. I have to confess my ignorance of the Spanish-language literary tradition so forgive my generalisation here. From the little I have read (in translation, I don't read Spanish) there does seem to be a tendency towards the fantastical – the mystical realism. Full Review

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Review of

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin

5star.jpg Teens

Kurara has spent her entire life as a servant on the Midori, a massive dining hall floating in the sky where soldiers of the Empire come to drink and make merry between their conquests. However, when a man named Himura arrives to tell her that she is a Crafter like him, someone with the power to form paper into whatever she desires – a power sought after all across the Empire. He asks her to come with him, to leave the life of dreary servitude that is all she has known. Well, soon Kurara won't have any say in the matter, because the Midori is destroyed by a monstrous paper spirit known as a shikigami, and she is forced to flee out into the world. She joins Himura aboard the Orihime, a sky-ship whose express purpose is to hunt down shikigami, and a whole world of adventure awaits her… Full Review

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Review of

Needle by Patrice Lawrence

3star.jpg Teens

Brave. Charlene, the 'heroine' of this piece is extremely hard for some people to like, characters and readers both. Kicked out of multiple homes and schools, she's fostering with a pleasant yoga tutor, Annie, and has taken up residence in her son Blake's old room while he's at uni. Such a tempestuous personality may be in need of a comfort blanket, you might perhaps think, and the creation of one such item is part of the plot here, as Charlene is a wonder knitter, and is making something full of love for her younger sister – a younger sister she's allowed contact with no more. We see Charlene prove her belligerence with a store detective, and then force people to give her two days off school, when she shouts someone down as expletively ignorant. And then... well, what exactly happens is not for me to say, only to remark how sharp and pointy those knitting needles can be... Full Review

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Review of

The Birdcage by Eve Chase

4star.jpg Thrillers

It's the 7th of January 2019 and we know that a body has been pulled out of the sea at Zennor in Cornwall. We don't know whose body it is. Four days earlier, Flora, Kat and Lauren had gathered at Rock point at the request of their father, Charlie Finch, a famous artist. The girls are actually half-sisters and their dates of birth are embarrassingly close. Finch was known for his fecundity, if not for his fidelity. It's been a long time since the girls have been at Rock Point together: just over twenty years ago, at the time of the total eclipse, something happened. Kat and Flora were obviously involved but Lauren was a victim and it's left her very wary of her sisters. Full Review

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Review of

No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride

4.5star.jpg Crime

We're in Oldcastle and Malcolm is in trouble. He's in an abandoned house and he's being threatened by two young people. One is Allegra (we'll soon learn that she's Allegra Dean-Edwards) and Hugo. It seems that Allegra bought Malcolm a new coat to keep him warm (she often does this for homeless people, apparently) but she'd put a tracking device in it so that she and Hugo could find out where he was sleeping. It won't be long before the police realise that Malcolm was one of their own: not many other people are going to have the Oldcastle police crest tattooed on their backs. Full Review