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

A Stranger in the Family (Maeve Kerrigan 11) by Jane Casey

5star.jpg Crime

It's sixteen years since nine-year-old Rosalie Marshall disappeared from her bed one summer night. She was never found and the investigation ground to a halt. Now, her mother, Helena, and her father are dead in their bed. Initially, it looks like a straightforward murder/suicide but there's something about the positioning of the bodies that makes DS Maeve Kerrigan and her boss DI Josh Derwent suspicious. What looked as though it was going to be an open-and-shut case is now a complex double murder. Kerrigan is convinced that the explanation lies in Rosalie's disappearance: others (such as Derwent's boss, Una Burt) are less convinced. Full Review

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Review of

The Kellerby Code by Jonny Sweet

3.5star.jpg Crime

Edward Jevons is a working-class young man, obsessed with his upper-class friends, Robert and Stanza. Robert's a theatre director. He's also self-obsessed, demanding, handsome and entitled and uses Edward to run errands for him. Edward has been in love with Stanza since their university days - and he's drunkenly confided how he feels to Robert. Most men in Robert's position would stay away from Stanza or tell Edward that a relationship had begun between them but he's not like most men: Edward is left to stumble upon the two of them kissing in a dark passageway. Full Review

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Review of

Leave No Trace by Jo Callaghan

4star.jpg Crime

When a man is found crucified on the top of a hill in Nuneaton, DCS Kat Frank finds herself assigned to the case alongside her sidekick, the AI detective Lock. It's their first live case together, having previously been very successful with several cold cases. But when there is a second body found crucified a few days later, Kat is suddenly struggling with a potential serial killer and a very high profile case that draws a lot of unwanted attention to their AI Future Policing project. Will they be able to solve the case in time, or will Kat find herself taken off the case and, potentially, out of a career? Full Review

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Review of

Moral Injuries by Christie Watson

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Olivia, Laura and Anjali met on the first day of medical school and their friendship would keep them inseparable for a quarter of a century. Olivia is ruthlessly ambitious, which is a bonus when you aim to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. Laura is a perfectionist and a trauma doctor. Anjali is the free spirit of the group and she becomes a GP. When we first meet them they're at a drug and alcohol-fuelled party and it's going to end in tragedy. We don't know who suffered the tragedy or the consequences. Twenty-five years later there will be an eerily similar event that will impact the three friends. This time, it's their teenage children who are involved. Full Review

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Review of

The Trading Game: A Confession by Gary Stevenson

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

If you were to bring up an image of a city banker in your mind, you're unlikely to think of someone like Gary Stevenson. A hoodie and jeans replaces the pin-stripe suit and his background is the East End, where he was familiar with violence, poverty and injustice. There was no posh public school on his CV - but he had been to the London School of Economics. Stevenson is bright - extremely bright - and he has a facility with numbers which most of us can only envy. He also realised that most rich people expect poor people to be stupid. It was his ability at what was, essentially, a card game which got him an internship with Citibank. Eventually, this turned into permanent employment as a trader. Full Review

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Review of

The Antique Hunter's Guide to Murder by C L Miller

3.5star.jpg Crime

It's twenty years since Freya Lockwood has been back to the English country village where she grew up. She's back now because of a request for help from her beloved aunt, Carole. Freya's former mentor and Carole's close friend, Arthur Crockleford, is dead and the circumstances seem suspicious, to say the least. Arthur was the reason why Freya had not been back to the village: Arthur, she feels, let her down badly. Even though they were in business together as antique hunters, she has not felt able to be near the man or pursue the profession she loved. After the split, she worked in a cafe, met and married James (on the rebound from the love of her life, who was murdered) and Freya and James have now divorced. Full Review

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Review of

All Tomorrow's Futures: Fictions that Disrupt by Benjamin Greenaway and Stephen Oram (Editors)

5star.jpg Science Fiction

Opening up new ways of thinking about the shape of things to come.

I've heard it said that 'technology' is what happens after you're eighteen. Well, I must confess that there have been more than a few decades of technology in my lifetime. I've kept up reasonably well with what's advantageous to me but I'm left with the feeling that it's all getting away from me. Some of it is - frankly - quite frightening. Of course, I could research the possibilities and the probabilities and end up down rabbit holes without really understanding whether I'm reading someone who knows what they're talking about or the latest conspiracy theorist. I needed people I knew I could trust and who could deliver information in a way I could understand. Full Review

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Review of

Hotel Arcadia by Sunny Singh

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

The Hotel Arcadia is a luxury hotel in an unnamed city that has suddenly been violently taken over by a terrorist group. Hiding from the terrorists who are rampaging through, killing everyone on site, there is Sam, a wartime photographer and Abhi, the hotel manager. As Abhi continues to try to care remotely for the residents who are still alive in the hotel, he forms a bond with Sam who refuses to be cowed by events, and keeps on venturing out of her room to try to capture what's happened through her photography. Although they only ever talk over the phone, their friendship grows as Abhi tries to help her keep safe and they both wait to see if they will be rescued before they are discovered by the terrorists. Full Review

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Review of

The List of Suspicious Things by Jennie Godfrey

5star.jpg General Fiction

It's 1979 and Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister. (A woman? I mean, honestly...) She's not what's worrying Miv's family, though. Women have been disappearing. Well, they've been murdered, but to have 'disappeared' doesn't sound quite so frightening. Miv's upset because she's overheard that her father wants to move the family 'Down South'. When you're from Yorkshire, Down South is a frightening, foreign place, best avoided. For Miv, the move would mean leaving her best friend, Sharon, and she'll do anything to prevent that. She's not worried about the dangers or that her Mum's stopped talking - to anyone. Full Review

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Review of

Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? by Nicci French

5star.jpg Crime

Charlotte Salter was expected at her husband's fiftieth birthday party but never turned up. Her children, sons Niall, Paul and Ollie and her daughter, Etty. are all worried but - strangely - her husband, Alec, is not. Shortly afterwards, Etty and Greg, find the body of Greg's father, Duncan Ackerley, in the river. It was an easy assumption for the police to make that Duncan had murdered Charlie and then committed suicide when he couldn't stand the guilt. The Salter children are not convinced but there's little else they can do but get on with their lives and wonder about what really happened. Full Review

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Review of

Diva by Daisy Goodwin

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

We tend to think of Maria Callas as Greek, but she was born to Greek parents in Manhattan, New York, in December 1923 and only moved to Athens when she was thirteen. Her original surname was Kalogeropoulos but her father changed it to 'Callas' to make it more manageable in the States. When she was back in Athens - supposedly so that she could get appropriate training for her voice - she was raised under the Nazi occupation by a mother who mercilessly exploited her and made no secret of her preference for her elder sister, Jackie. Full Review

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Review of

Black Hole Cinema Club by Christopher Edge

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Lucas and his friends are all booked in for a movie marathon at their local cinema, a place that has the nickname of 'The Black Hole'. All big movie fans, they're looking forward to lots of exciting films, and many, many snacks! However, as the movie starts, they very quickly realise that something about this new film format is very different, and they are swept up into an adventure they couldn't even imagine. But as they lurch from one film genre to the next, can they figure out what on earth is going on? Will they ever get back to the cinema, and to their real lives? Full Review

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Review of

Compass and Blade by Rachel Greenlaw

3.5star.jpg Teens

I can hear the song of the sea. The call of the deep, the answering beat in my heart.

Rosevear, a remote and partially forgotten island, survives on luring ships into the rocks and plundering the wrecks. Mira, like her mother before her, is one of the seven who swim out to survey the ruins – rescuing any survivors and any treasure that lies within. But when the Council Watch lays a trap to end the wrecking, they capture the island's leader and Mira's father. Desperate to save him from death, Mira makes a bargain with a wreck survivor who is as charming as he is secretive and with only coordinates to guide her, she sets off in search of a family secret that lies buried deep in the sea. With only nine days to unearth what might save her father, as her journey takes her from the watched streets of foreign islands to the heart of the smuggler's territory, Mira must be determined to stop at nothing to save the future of her home and the ones she holds most dear. Full Review

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Review of

Planet Storyland by James Sherwood Metts

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Things have been a bit sticky for the Earthlings. AI and automation have been proceeding apace, often replacing jobs they're paid to do and other tasks that took time to accomplish. Just as they were beginning to get used to all this technological change and starting to think of other, new ways to spend time, along came an awful pandemic. Life was pretty much shut down and, along with it, all the many daily social interactions on which they depend so heavily. Full Review

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Review of

We'll Never Know by Matthew Tree

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Timothy Wyndham wants nothing more than to be different from his father, a drunk and chronic underachiever whose dreams of being exceptional at any of his artistic passions all failed miserably and who had endless crises of self confidence. So Tim applied himself to his studies, cultivated his abilities rather than his daydreams and set himself high but achievable ambitions. Full Review

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Review of

The Briar Book of the Dead by A G Slatter

5star.jpg Fantasy

There's a part of me that wants to keep this just to myself for however long I can. This secret magic of my own, all mine, at last. I just want to enjoy it for a while.

Within a remote mountain pass, far away from the world, lies Silverton; a town under the protection of the Briar's, a family of witches who protect the town and the wider world from the Darklands. Though she has always wished for magic, Ellie Briar is the first non-witch to be born into her family for generations and as such since she was young, her training as a steward revolved around letters and administration rather than spells and potions. When her grandmother suddenly dies, Ellie's cousin Audra becomes the Briar Witch, the town's leader, and Ellie takes her place beside her. As challenges come her way left, right and centre, Ellie uncovers the rare ability to communicate with the dead, putting her at the heart of a maelstrom of chaos. Reeling from one family secret to another, Ellie must decide who to trust and determine what to do as the Briar witches' legacy, everything they have sacrificed to survive, is under threat. Full Review

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Review of

The Ghost Orchid by Jonathan Kellerman

4star.jpg Crime

It hadn't been Lt Milo Sturgis's fault that Alex Delaware had been badly injured but he felt responsible and even after Alex recovered, Sturgis was reluctant to ask for his help on difficult cases. His assertions that there were only open-and-shut cases which didn't need the help of a psychologist only worked for a while. Finally, it was Robin, Delaware's partner, who nudged Milo into asking for help again. She knew that the involvement was something that the man she loved needed. The next case did look simple, though. Two lovers were murdered in the swimming pool of a remote property in Bel Air. He was the heir to an Italian shoe empire and she is married to an extremely rich man and it's not the Italian. But which of them was the primary target? Full Review

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Review of

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: The Secret Life of a Vet by Sion Rowlands

3.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Siôn Rowlands fell into veterinary science accidentally. His father was a GP and Rowlands didn't want to follow in his footsteps, particularly when he considered the strain that being on-call put on his father's life. When he was seventeen he took the opportunity of doing work experience with a family friend who was a vet and was convinced this was the job for him. Before long, he was at Liverpool University. It hadn't - as with so many students - been his dream since he was a child. If anything, he'd wanted to be a professional footballer. Full Review

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Review of

A Nye of Pheasants by Steve Burrows

4star.jpg Crime

DCI Domenic Jejeune's close friend and former colleague, Danny Maik, has taken a short holiday in Singapore to meet up with an old ally, Guy Trueman. Maik was involved in a street brawl - he would later maintain that he was facing a man armed with a knife - and he killed a Ghurka. Initially, he faced a charge of manslaughter but evidence came to light that suggested that he might have planned to murder the man. Now he could be facing the death penalty. Domenic Jejeune can do nothing to help as any interference from another police force could provoke a diplomatic incident and wouldn't help Danny at all. Full Review

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Review of

The Perfect Passion Company by Alexander McCall Smith

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

The Perfect Passion Company is a dating agency in Edinburgh, run by Ness and operating as an alternative to all the online apps in providing a more personal, tailored service. Ness has asked her younger cousin Katie if she could come and look after the business, as Ness is planning to take a trip to Canada to get away for a while. Katie is coming out of a break up with a bad boyfriend, and so jumps at the chance to come home to Edinburgh. And so begins this new story from Alexander McCall Smith, bringing us to an Edinburgh we already love, thanks to 44 Scotland Street and the Isabel Dalhousie novels, but with some new characters who quickly begin to charm. Katie has no experience in running a business, or in match-making, but Ness has full confidence in her abilities, and there's always her very helpful (and rather handsome) neighbour, William, to lend a hand… Full Review

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Review of

InstaKnits for Baby by Melissa Leapman

4star.jpg Crafts

Melissa Leapman's InstaKnits for Baby gives us a collection of knits from toys to blankets. Some will be quick knits - others are of the 'long, cosy afternoons in front of the fire' variety. The projects are divided by the time they'll take to complete - less than five hours, five to ten hours, ten to twenty hours and more than twenty hours. All the projects are attractive, modern and useable. I perhaps show my age when I wonder about 'social-media-worthy projects' but that's me being picky. Full Review

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Review of

The Bad Weather Friend by Dean Koontz

4.5star.jpg Paranormal

Benny is having a terrifically bad day. He loses his job, he loses his fiancee, and his house gets trashed. Oh, and someone has delivered a really weird, disturbing coffin-sized object to his home, and it's possible that whoever or whatever was inside is the thing that has trashed his house! The thing is, Benny is the very last person to deserve all this bad luck. He is a nice person. A really nice person. So fortunately for Benny it turns out that the delivery to his house is a new friend, a bad weather friend called Spike, who has been sent to help him since Benny is clearly under attack from nefarious forces for being a good person. Spike is going to take care of Benny, and will certainly take care of Benny's enemies, if he, Benny, and Harper (a waitress slash Private Investigator who finds herself roped into Benny's wild adventure) can figure out who exactly they are. Full Review

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Review of

Murray and Bun by Adam Stower

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Murray is supposed to be a humble, tidy and friendly cat, one who is able to sleep and eat and eat and sleep and, well, whatever takes his fancy next of the two. But he's a bad magician's cat, so his favourite bun has been turned into a hyperactive sticky rabbit called Bun, and the catflap they both use can chuck them out, not into the regular back garden, but into a world of frightening adventure and whiffs. This time round it drops them into a Viking land, where a troll hunter is expected – well, one much bigger than Murray was, to be honest, but he's turned up and he'll have to do… Full Review

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Review of

Fragility by Mosby Woods

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Can you make a Yo birthing person joke? And if you could, is the question should you make it? Or is the question if you did, would it land? The catch is that the answer for both could well be.... no.

Fragility is set as the city of Portland, Oregon, cautiously begins to emerge from the restrictions imposed during the covid pandemic Full Review

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Review of

The Winter Visitor by James Henry

4star.jpg Crime

It's February 1991 and Essex is bitingly cold, which made Bruce Hopkins' return all the more surprising. He'd been exiled on the Costa del Sol as a wanted drug smuggler for a decade. The return has come about because he's had a letter from his ex-wife, saying that she's ill and hasn't long to live. It's hard to feel any sympathy when Hopkins is abducted, stripped to his underwear and sent to a watery grave in the boot of a stolen Ford Sierra. Is it a warning from a Spanish gang or a problem closer to home? Full Review

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Review of

The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts by Alex Bell and Tim McDonagh

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Eli is a busy lad – by day an apprentice in the wondrous library we start by visiting with him, and in the evening a helper at the dessert cafe his gran owns and runs. Eli lives with his lovely gran, too – for there is a generation missing in the family. A few short years ago, Eli's parents were both lost to the titular race, a globe-trotting adventure where all entrants have to navigate the world in the company of a magical beast. This has made the race anathema to the pair – but when a bad incident at the eatery leads to a confession from gran, Eli knows his only hope is to dare to enter what he most hates, with the sole aim the prize of magic at the end – the only thing to possibly save his gran. Full Review

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Review of

Knife Skills for Beginners by Orlando Murrin

4star.jpg Crime

Chef Paul Delamare took a teaching job at a residential cookery school in Belgravia. He didn't really want to but celebrity chef Christian Wagner had a way of getting both men and women to do what he wanted. Paul somehow got the impression that he'd be at the school to assist Paul, who had a broken arm, but it didn't turn out that way. The teaching - and the problems - are all his own. The one thing he hadn't expected was for someone to turn up dead. Unfortunately, he was the person who discovered the body and everyone knows that the police consider that person to be the prime suspect. Full Review

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Review of

A Sign of Her Own by Sarah Marsh

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

After a bout of scarlet fever as a child, Ellen Lark loses her hearing. Suddenly plunged into a world of silence, everything about her life changes. Living in a time when the use of sign language was seen as something only savages do, Ellen is sent to a school where she is taught to lip read, but physically restrained from signing. From here, she ends up in another school studying under Alexander Graham Bell who has been teaching the deaf and using a system called Visible Speech. At the same time, Bell is working on other inventions and ideas, and Ellen finds herself unwittingly caught up in a complicated tangle of espionage. Full Review

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Review of

The Unravelling by Will Gibson

4star.jpg Science Fiction

It's 2038 and Joe is a bored cop policing the wealthy and peaceful New York City. Joe longs for a bit of adventure and to get stuck into some really gritty crime detection. But then something goes horribly wrong with the AI system that now runs everything, making life easier for many, and riots start to spread. Finally, Joe gets to do some real policing. In the aftermath of the rioting global pop star Suki is kidnapped and Joe is assigned to bring her home. Joe isn't the only one trying to save Suki - Dylan, a British superfan and tech nerd, is also on the case. What went wrong? Did the system fail or was it hacked? And how is Suki's kidnapping connected? Full Review