The Bookbag

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The Bookbag

Hello from The Bookbag, a book review site, featuring books from all the many walks of literary life - fiction, biography, crime, cookery and anything else that takes our fancy. At Bookbag Towers the bookbag sits at the side of the desk. It's the bag we take to the library and the bookshop. Sometimes it holds the latest releases, but at other times there'll be old favourites, books for the children, books for the home. They're sometimes our own books or books from the local library. They're often books sent to us by publishers and we promise to tell you exactly what we think about them. You might not want to read through a full review, so we'll give you a quick review which summarises what we felt about the book and tells you whether or not we think you should buy or borrow it. There are also lots of author interviews, and all sorts of top tens - all of which you can find on our features page. If you're stuck for something to read, check out the recommendations page.

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Something Nasty in the Slushpile by Sammy Looker

4star.jpg Humour

I couldn't resist the title - a neat play on Cold Comfort Farm and I'm sure that you'll understand that I was expecting some examples of the horrors to be found amongst the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts which every publisher accumulates. I'll confess I was expecting to giggle, even to groan - unkind, I know - and I'd mentally shelved the book with the trivia, or (hopefully) the humour. There is that element to the book, but there's also something far more useful. If you're thinking about publishing a book this should be required reading before you even go near a publisher. Full review...

Baker Cat by Posy Simmonds

4star.jpg For Sharing

Poor cat! All day long he works for the mean baker and his equally unpleasant wife in the bakery, mixing, baking, chopping, slicing and sweeping while the baker grumbles. Then at night the exhausted cat, without any supper, is expected to catch the mice that run riot in the storeroom. Unfortunately he is not a particularly successful mouse catcher. Eventually the poor cat, denied even a name by his miserable owners, becomes thin, sad and weepy and slumps in despair. It is then that the mice take pity on him and concoct a clever plan to help him. Full review...

Printer's Devil Court by Susan Hill

5star.jpg Horror

Susan Hill is by far the master of the old fashioned ghost story. If you've ever read or seen The Woman in Black, then you’ll already know that, but her other ghost stories are a little less famous. That doesn’t make them any less good, and I for one am a big fan. I think there’s a lot to be said for a good old fashioned scare, with apparitions, goosebumps and cold chills up the spine. I always feel like I should be reading these books around a campfire, wrapped in a blanket and eating marshmallows because it very much reminds me of sharing ghost stories with my friends when I was a child. What I like to call a ‘proper scare’. Full review...

Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates

4.5star.jpg Crime

I think I have finally understood why it is that over the last few years, authors have increasingly insisted on non-linear structures for their novels. It is a deliberate and possibly conscious ploy to try to make them un-filmable. The Hollywood rights are certainly lucrative, but if my theory doesn't leak like the Jumblies' boat then our complex-structure-loving writers are not just being too clever for their own good, they are trying to be true to the great works of literature that they aspire to emulate. Full review...

Bitterwash Road by Gary Disher

4.5star.jpg Crime

Shots fired on Bitter Wash Road, is the call that comes in, three weeks after he arrived. Hirsch is the only cop in town, so obviously it's up to him to try to figure out exactly where 'the tin hut' might be and discover whether this is just a local looking for rabbit stew or something more sinister. Full review...

A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre

4star.jpg Thrillers

Melik is a Turkish heavy-weight boxing champion. He lives with his widowed mother in Hamburg and they are both doing their very best to keep below the radar. Since his father died they don’t even go to the mosque on a regular basis. But this particular weekend Leyla wants to go. Her daughter, still in Turkey, is getting married, and a special prayer seems to be in order. It is a visit that might well end up costing them the eight years good behaviour needed to finally get beyond their tolerated status to enable full German citizenship. Full review...

The Idea of Him by Holly Peterson

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Allie Crawford seemed to have it made. She was married to Wade - the sort of man who made other women drool, had a job in a high-profile Manhattan PR firm and two kids whom she adored. What could be better? What could go wrong? Well, it looked as though something was going wrong when Allie found Wade locked in their laundry room with a decidedly glamorous blonde. There had been a bit of a blip in their marriage whilst Allie was breastfeeding their younger child, but Allie thought that Wade had learned his lesson and would be careful about hurting her in future. Full review...

Hooray for Hat by Brian Won

4star.jpg For Sharing

Helping someone is a great way to make them feel good and what better way to do this than providing a novelty hat? I can think of a few things myself, but for Elephant, Zebra, Turtle and the rest of their pals; hat-giving is the joy de jour. Full review...

Us by David Nicholls

4star.jpg General Fiction

Douglas Petersen is a mild-mannered, middle-aged biochemist. He and Connie have been married for about two decades. Their son, Albie, is your average sullen teenager with a messy room and bohemian affectations. He and Douglas argue about everything, but especially about Albie's chosen career path: he hopes to be a photographer, taking after his artist mother, but Douglas wants him to study something more practical and rigorous at uni. Still, Douglas thinks things are going pretty well for his family – until one night Connie sits up in bed and tells him she thinks she wants to leave him. Full review...

Eren by Simon P Clark

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

People - Mum, mostly - are keeping secrets from Oli. Why have they had to leave London and come to live in the country with Uncle Rob? Why hasn't Dad come too? Why does everyone keep turning off the TV news every time it comes on? Why does Em's dad dislike Oli when he doesn't even know him? When will Dad come? When will life go back to normal? Full review...

I Used to Know That: English by Patrick Scrivenor

5star.jpg Reference

I doubt that there can be anything more unnerving than reviewing a book written by someone who is an expert in written English. I've even worried about that first sentence. But at school I loved English Grammar and a good deal of it has stuck. I'm conscious of being pedantic about mistakes other people make - but increasingly aware that there are gaps in my own knowledge which should be plugged. This book seemed like the ideal opportunity, but I'll confess that the subtitle 'Stuff You Forgot From School' made me nervous I was going to be back to reading a school textbook. Full review...

The Price of Fish A New Approach to Wicked Economics and Better Decisions by Michael Mainelli and Ian Harris

3.5star.jpg Business and Finance

Don't be put off by the title. The Price of Fish isn't just a treatise on how the local fishmonger chooses to mark up his prize catch. Full review...

The Relic Guild by Edward Cox

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

The Genii War was so devastating that now, 40 years later, the world is a dismally different place. The Labyrinth, once a hub permitting access to unlimited locations is now a prison. The police, under the control of the Resident and his especially enabled Relic Guild, maintain order. The war may have left lasting reverberations but at least the Genii have been destroyed. If they hadn't been, combine their malevolent presence with the fact that the Relic Guild is not as strong in numbers as they once were and things could worsen considerably. Errrr… Labrys, we have a problem! Full review...

I Used to Know That: Maths by Chris Waring

4.5star.jpg Reference

Maths teacher Chris Waring starts this book with the basics and gradually works his (and our) way through to about the level of GCSE. It's only 192 pages, so you can't expect it to be exhaustive but the great thing is that it isn't exhausting. Waring explains concepts clearly and with humour but most importantly he shows why the subject is important and how it can be applied to life, covering such subjects as winning - or failing to win - the lottery and the chances of being dealt a royal flush at poker. It's not just the examples which are new - it's a major improvement on the 'you will learn this because I'm telling you that you have to' approach which blighted the subject for so many of us. Full review...

Young Sherlock: Stone Cold by Andrew Lane

4.5star.jpg Teens

Every human being is a mystery, even to themselves, so there's a particular pleasure to be found in tracing the roots of someone's interests and life's work. Just how did our hero develop his ability, for example, to tell a person's character, profession and history within minutes of meeting him or her? In this, the seventh volume in the series of books about the early years of the famous Sherlock Holmes, we see how events and a most intriguing couple of mentors combine to lead him down a path to his eventual role as a consulting detective. Well, if he survives till adulthood, that is. Of all his talents the most pronounced one does seem to be the knack of finding people who are determined to kill him. Full review...

The Oxford Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Sarah Williams and Karen King

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

When it comes to nursery rhymes, what you learn at your Mother’s knee as a baby is gospel. Recently I have expanded my repertoire courtesy of Cheshire libraries excellent rhyme time activities, but at heart I still can't quite come to terms with the librarian saying 'washed the spider out as opposed to my mum’s washed poor Incey out'. Sadly, Williams’ and King’s compendium The Oxford Treasury of Nursery Rhymes doesn’t take my Mum’s side in this. Full review...

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

4star.jpg General Fiction

Billie is interning at a foodie magazine with a long history. It’s been based in the same building for many decades, so you can imagine the secrets hidden within the walls. Every recipe they've ever published, for example, is archived, so if you want the special brioche bread and butter pudding you first tasted in winter 1991, you can contact them and ask for the details. That’s part of Billie’s job, and she quite enjoys it, but then something even better comes out of the archives. A series of letters written during the war that send Billie on a mad mystery tour throughout the building and beyond. With a dash of ingenuity, a pinch of spunk and a big ol’ dollop of enthusiasm, will she be able to get to the bottom of the story? Full review...

Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok

5star.jpg General Fiction

The daughter of an immigrant noodle maker, who lives with her father and younger sister in a one room apartment in Chinatown, is not the sort of person you might imagine as a skilled and elegant dancer. And, indeed, Charlie isn’t any of those things as we meet her. By day she washes pots in her father’s restaurant, by night she encourages her sister Lisa to succeed in school and succeed in a way that Charlie herself wasn’t able to. But she dreams of more, and when an entry level job at a dance school is advertised, she suddenly wants it more than anything she’s ever wanted, ever. Full review...

Snow by Walter de la Mare

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

This is a classic poem which has been brought to life in a lovely picture book which is perfect for the run up to Christmas and close after. It captures perfectly the sense of joy around Christmas for young children. Full review...

Dinosaur Poo! by Christyan Fox and Diane Fox

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

There are two things that I find are always popular topics when it comes to young children; dinosaurs, and poo. This book takes that very much to the next level in this rhyming book all about dinosaur poo. It does what it says on the tin. Full review...

Winnie's Big Bad Robot by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Winnie the Witch is something of an institution in children’s literature these days, and with good reason. From the very first book in the series Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul managed to capture a wonderful sense of fun, mischief and adventure. This addition to the series is no exception. Full review...

Tom Gates Totally Brilliant Annual by Liz Pichon

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Fans of Tom Gates are in for an extra treat with the publication of this Totally Brilliant Annual, which announces its presence with a rather 'loud' front cover, replete with starts, arrows, doodles swirls, aliens and stick men in bold, bright primary colours. Full review...

The Shop Girls by Elee Seymour

4star.jpg History

Heyworth's Department Store.

The chances are, you have never heard of it before. I know that I hadn't, before I picked up this book. And yet, there was a time, not so long ago, when everyone in Cambridge would have been familiar with Heyworth's, even if they couldn't afford to shop there themselves. Smaller than most department stores, it offered high-end fashion, childrenswear and millinery, with a staff of smiling, smartly-dressed sales assistants ready to cater to the customer's every whim. It seems sad that with the passing of generations, the very existence of the store seems to have slipped away from the collective consciousness; ask most people in Cambridge if they remember Heyworth's and the majority response would be negative. Full review...

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann

4star.jpg General Fiction

New York City - 1926.

A world not quite as we know it. America is locked into a cold war with the British Empire, cars are coal powered and prohibition is still in place across New York. A series of horrific murders are committed throughout the city, and the overworked police force are already overworked dealing with the gangsters and criminals that fill the city.

What is needed, is a hero. And that hero is...The Ghost Full review...

The Rising by Tom Moorhouse

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Strife and Kale are two young water voles who can sniff out trouble better than their careful sister Ivy and to the fury of their protective mother, Aven. They just can't help it. But Kale isn't telling Strife everything - he has a secret. When long-lost Uncle Sylvan arrives warning of danger and the siblings eavesdrop on the adults' conversation, Kale's secret is exposed. Even though she doesn't fully understand it, Strife follows her brother into danger to avert a bigger danger. The quest on which these two young water voles embark will test them to their limits and they'll need all the help Uncle Sylvan and Fodur the rat can provide... Full review...

Wolf Brother: Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Living six thousand years ago, after the Ice Age but before the spread of agriculture, Torak and his people understand the natural world. They revere the animals they hunt and never waste an ounce of prey. A deer provides them not only with food, but also with clothes, water carriers, shoes, rope, even needles. Torak and his people also understand spirituality. They see the sacred in the seasons and the cycle of the moon. And they believe in demons. Full review...

On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies (Illustrator)

5star.jpg For Sharing

Birt and Etho are best friends. They spend hours together playing on Sudden Hill. Usually they play with large cardboard boxes imagining that they are pirates, or soldiers or maybe kings but always they are the best of friends. Then one day another little boy, Shu, brings his box to Sudden Hill and asks if he can play too. The three boys sit in their boxes together and imagine that they are dragon slayers or skyscraper dancers but Birt feels strange. He misses the two-by-two rhythm he had shared with Etho. Can the boys make a friendship of two become three? Full review...

Wreaking by James Scudamore

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

A derelict mental hospital, gloomy railway arches, the bleak countryside of the English coast. It all comes at us in grey flashes. If Wreaking was a film, it would saturated with cool tones. It’s an easy novel to visualise: Scudamore’s spare, elegant style creates an almost palpable atmosphere. Full review...

Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson

4.5star.jpg Biography

Every few years, it seems, we are presented with another generously-sized biography of Queen Victoria. How many times can another author follow Elizabeth Longford, Stanley Weintraub, or Christopher Hibbert to name but three, produce 500 pages or more and still say something new about her? Can the blurb’s claim that this shows us the sovereign ‘as she’s never been seen before’ really be justified? Fortunately it can, for even more than a century after her death, there is still new material from previously unseen sources to add to what we already know about her. Full review...