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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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Rosemary's childhood is blighted by the disappearance of her sister, Fern. Rosemary went to stay with her grandparents and, on her return Fern was no longer there. Curiously enough, her mother and father don't speak of it. The knock on effect was the angry departure of Rosemary's older brother Lowell whom she also misses. As she grows to adulthood, Rosemary remembers trying to come to terms with this, the damage that being a daughter of a psychologist has wrought and the revealed secrets that will finally make sense of it all. Full review...

Your Beautiful Lies by Louise Douglas

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

South Yorkshire 1984: Annie Howarth comes from a mining family and is married to William, a police superintendent. Although she and their daughter have all the societal and financial status they could need, Annie's life is becoming very uncomfortable as the miners begin a strike that will become violent on both sides of the divide. It's either an illegal strike or assertion of rights depending on the side you're on but unfortunately Annie isn't permitted to choose. However this is only the start of her problems. Tom Greenwood, a former boyfriend, is back on the streets after serving a prison sentence for manslaughter and he has unfinished business. The problem for Annie is that the unfinished business is with her, eventually threatening her world and possibly even her life. Full review...

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

5star.jpg Fantasy

Historian witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont are back home in the 21st century but now face the tragic news of Aunt Sarah's partner, Em's death. Hard-to-get-along-with Baldwin has taken over as head of the de Clairmont clan and is making life dangerously difficult for Diana, Matthew and their unborn twins. If this isn't enough, they still need to find and remove the secret manuscript, Ashmole 782 – the Book of Life. However, they have very dangerous competition. Full review...

Sherlock Holmes - The Spirit Box by George Mann

3.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

In the London of World War One there is a man amongst the masses cowering from the nightly Zeppelin raids who knows death a lot more than many. He is grieving for his nephew, lost to the killing fields of France; he is pining for his wife, evacuated to the country; and he is both grieving and pining for a past where he was more active, more demonstrably brave and verifiably useful – a past whose main constituent part has also gone to the countryside, to be a beekeeper near Brighton. That man is Dr Watson, and the other, of course, is Sherlock Holmes. Here they're reunited at the behest of Mycroft, for three individual deaths provide a thorn in the side of his secret operations, and only Holmes can pluck it out with his singular talents. But when the evidence in the case so often revolves around mysterious photographs claiming to be of people's souls, there is a hint that this new modern age is a step too far for the once-retired sleuthing friends. Full review...

You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Konnecke

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

It's very rare that I get my hands on a Gecko Press picture book and find I don't like it. They seem to publish lots of unusual, entertaining books that become firm favourites on our bookshelves. This one is no exception. Bert is a plump little birdie, standing on a branch, facing his big day. Can he? Will he? Should he jump? Full review...

The Life of a Banana by P P Wong

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

It has all the makings of a Victorian melodrama. A young girl’s mother dies on her 13th birthday. She and her brother are packed off to live with evil grandmother, strange uncle and flighty aunt. But this is very much a 21st century tale for the protagonist, Xing Li, is a British born Chinese girl. Full review...

Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony

4star.jpg For Sharing

This is a simple, repetitive book with a circular tale: Betty wants something, she doesn’t get it and so she cries and kicks and screams until someone helps her. If that makes you think that tantrums are being rewarded, in a way you’d be right, but Mr Toucan, her repeated saviour, is keen to show her how to do things rather than just do them for her. Teach a man to fish and he’ll never go hungry, teach a chimp to peel a banana and she’ll be happy, for a while at least. Full review...

Under a Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein

4star.jpg Autobiography

Rick Stein was born if not to wealth then certainly to privilege. He was raised on an Oxfordshire farm and spent holidays at the family's home in Cornwall. His parents were gregarious and intelligent and he was one of five children who led the sort of open-air life that country children did in those days before we worried about stranger danger. He enjoyed school and loved Cornwall, where he gained a reputation as he got older for giving riotous parties in a barn on the Cornish property. It was idyllic - until the day that his father (who was bi-polar) committed suicide. Stein's reaction to this was to head to the Australian outback where he worked in a variety of jobs (some more palatable than others) and finally came back to England, via America and Mexico. Full review...

The New Small Person by Lauren Child

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Elmore Green is an only child, and very happy about it he is too, thank you very much. And then a small person arrives in his house and everything is just wrong. What is he supposed to do?! The small person gets bigger, and Elmore just isn’t sure how he is supposed to deal with it. Full review...

Washington Journal: reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's downfall by Elizabeth Drew

5star.jpg History

In early August 1974 I was in what was then Yugoslavia. There was a group of us, all interested in the political news, but essentially cut off from the outside world apart from the previous day's English newspapers which arrived mid morning. It was on the 11th of August that one of our number dashed onto the beach yelling He's resigned. He's RESIGNED!!! No one had any need to ask who he was talking about. We'd all been following the news about Richard Nixon's doings and wrongdoings for a year, with no one certain that he would be forced out of office. The investigative journalism (oh, for the days when journalists uncovered rather than merely covered) was done by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, but some of the most insightful reportage came from Elizabeth Drew writing for The New Yorker. Full review...

Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet

3.5star.jpg Teens

Ravaged by the effects of global warming, disease and an increasingly unsustainable population, the future in which Nat and her brother Sam live is a far cry from the world of their parents' youth. Corporations run the remains of their society, forbidding the birth of new children, using a ubiquitous supply of pharma drugs to keep the population in check, and perhaps most sinister of all, taking control of death itself. Riddled by depression Nat's parents have decided to buy a death contract to take their Final Week in a slickly engineered resort in what remains of Hawaii. As the days tick down, Nat finds herself following the lead of her more cynical and rebellious brother, and begins to genuinely question the system that she has previously accepted all her life; however, what chance do two teens possibly have against the all-seeing, all-powerful corps? Full review...

Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

I don’t know anybody that didn’t grow up with some Shirley Hughes books in their lives, and for me it was always 'My Naughty Little Sister'. I was very excited to receive this copy of her latest book, 'Daisy Saves the Day'. It’s about a young girl, Daisy Dobbs, who is sent off to be scullery maid for a couple of sisters, the Misses Simms, far away from her home. It is difficult being away from her brothers and her Mum, and Daisy is not terribly good at housework. One day though, Daisy is put in a position where she has to save the day or else everything might be lost forever. Will she manage it? Full review...

This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne

5star.jpg For Sharing

Bella decides to take her dog for a walk across the page of this very naughty book, when what does the book do? It eats her dog! The cheek! Various people and vehicles go in after it, but none of them come back out again! There's nothing for it, Bella will just have to sort it out herself... Full review...

The City Son by Samrat Upadhyay

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Didi lives in a remote Nepali village. Her husband, always referred to by what is presumably a title rather than a name the Masterji teaches in the city. He rarely comes home to see his wife and sons. Full review...

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

5star.jpg Teens

Alina Starkov, the Sun Summoner, has fallen. In her confrontation with the Darkling, she called on forbidden powers. Not only did she nearly die, but she didn't succeed in stopping him. Now he sits on Ravka's throne, ruling the country through fear, while she wastes away underground, weakened, and far from the light that would strengthen her. Full review...

The 49th Day by Helen Noble

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

After escaping a disastrous marriage, Katherine Walsh travels to an island retreat in Wales in order to pick up the pieces of her life, relax and decide future direction. However, rest and recreation isn't all she discovers. During therapy sessions her ancient past is unlocked and odd happenings that have haunted her for years start to make sense. Katherine also realises that it may be to her benefit to learn how to trust a man again but the chance of love isn't her biggest surprise. She appears to be pregnant so any decisions she makes about her future must include the new life within her. Full review...

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

5star.jpg Confident Readers

Everyone has a favourite book, I think. A defining book that sometimes they read as a child, or sometimes as an adult, but it moved them, or spoke to them in a particular way and perhaps it changed their lives forever. For me, that book is Anne of Green Gables. It has shaped so much of my life that I can't imagine ever not having read it. Indeed, I have read it so many times that I lost count just how many years ago. Anne became a true heroine for me as a young girl, and she remains one still now that I have a little girl of my own. Full review...

Book by John Agard and Neil Packer (illustrator)

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Meet Book. I'm sure you have many times over, for otherwise you wouldn't be here. We've met well over 10,000 of them on this website over the past few years of our young life. I myself have personally reviewed over 1,000 of them in that time (gulp). Some have been completely enjoyable and spending time with them is like being entertained by a best friend; others have been the equivalent of meeting someone you wouldn't spit on if they were on fire. But even though Book has talked to me in many different ways in that time, he was yet to tell me exclusively of himself. This then is Book as historian, as entertainer and again as friend, as Book gives a summary of his own birth, history and current state of play. And I'm sure you agree he has a lot to be proud of. Full review...

A Tiger Tale by Holly Webb

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Kate is missing Granddad. Things just haven't been the same since he died. No more walks to school together, no more long chats in the potting shed, no more stories. The worst thing is that nobody else seems bothered. Mum keeps laughing and joking as if nothing ever happened and big sister Molly is holed away in her bedroom. Full review...

Daughter by Jane Shemilt

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Jenny has a busy life – GP, wife of Ted, a successful surgeon, mother to twin teenage lads Ed and Theo and a teenage daughter (Naomi) to name but some of the roles. Now she tells herself that she should have realised Naomi's mood swings and higher heels signified more than a phase. If she had, Jenny may have prevented her beloved child's disappearance; at least looking back on it that's what she tells herself. As the police investigate, Jenny and her remaining family have to come to terms with not only what has happened, but what it reveals about each of them. Full review...

Violet and the Pearl of the Orient by Harriet Whitehorn

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

This is a story about Violet Remy-Robinson. Violet is about ten years old, her favourite activity is climbing, she is an only child and has learned useful skills from her parents such as how to read a menu in French and mix a perfect cocktail. She lives in a stylish and incredibly tidy flat and when we first meet our heroine she is hanging upside down in a tree. One could safely say that Violet is not a typical ten year old. When her eccentric neighbour, Dee Dee Derota, has her precious jewel, The Pearl of the Orient, stolen the clues lead Violet to think that her strange new neighbours are responsible. However no one will listen to her so the intrepid Violet decides to discover the truth herself. Full review...

Ghost Child by Caroline Overington

5star.jpg General Fiction

1980s Melbourne. A triple zero (=999) call has been received from a house on a notorious estate. A child is unresponsive. The story of how it happened is sketchy to say the least. And pretty soon, as it turns into a murder enquiry, people want answers. Need answers. Full review...

Still Reigning by The Queen

4star.jpg Humour

Anyone who frequents Twitter will know that it's a mixed blessing. It's a mine of wonderful information and supportive camaraderie. It's also - unfortunately - home to a lot of people who take great pleasure in causing pain to others. But in amongst all this are a few gems and one of them is @Queen_UK, a delightful satire on members of the royal family, celebrities, the political classes and the state of Her Majesty's nation. Or, one's nation as Ma'am would say. Still Reigning is her second book, after Gin O'Clock and it's the sort of parody which leaves you wondering if the writer might not be someone very close to the original. Full review...

I Can't Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

War came to Denmark in 1940 and people found that they had to take sides. British-born Kay Eberstern wasn't completely involved to begin with. She had obvious sympathies with the British but her husband had German ancestry and she could see Bror's point of view. But Bror went a little further than she thought necessary and openly sided with the occupying force because he felt the need to protect the family estate and the people who worked there. Gradually Kay came to realise that she could not - would not - accept this and she became increasingly involved with the Resistance movement. Full review...

The First Horseman by DK Wilson

4.5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

British author Derek Wilson is one with a tremendously long bibliography as a Historian, and as an author of fiction. He brings all of that to The First Horseman, a resounding success that blends fact and fiction to create a gripping, fast moving Tudor crime story that educates as well as fascinates, moving from the merchants of Cheapside to the whores of Southwark, and mixing with figures such as Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. Full review...

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Set in the grimy streets of Bristol, we follow the journey of Ruth – born to a Madame in a brothel, and constantly outshone by her prettier sister Dora, Ruth learns to stand on two feet and to defend herself – something which is picked up on by a regular client of Dora’s, Mr Dryer. Plunged headfirst into the world of fighting, Ruth soon meets Grenville Dryer’s wife, Charlotte, a woman scarred by smallpox and trapped in a loveless relationship with her husband, and a toxic one with her brother. Full review...

It Had to Be You by Ellie Adams

4.5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Lizzy thinks everything is going well in her life until it all goes startlingly wrong. Her boyfriend dumps her very publicly whilst she is dressed as Henry VIII at a thirtieth birthday party and unfortunately the whole debacle is filmed and ends up on YouTube. She becomes known as 'head butt girl' as she is filmed demonstrating her fury. Her PR job is also going nowhere as she finds herself having to try and promote some very strange concepts. At least she has her two best friends for solace and they can all be found, many evenings, drinking away their sorrows and putting the world to rights. Full review...

Pocket World in Figures 2015 by The Economist

4.5star.jpg Reference

There are people who don't understand the joy of raw data: no accompanying analysis (or spin) - just a collection of figures relevant to a particular circumstance. If you're one of those people then this book will mean little to you, but if you want a pocket (well, certainly handbag or briefcase) work of reference then this book will be a treasure. I once gave a copy to a diplomat and he kept his wife awake until the early hours as he came across another gem which she had to know without delay. The 2015 edition is the twenty fourth in the series - and diplomatic (and similar) spouses everywhere should prepare themselves for the onslaught. Full review...

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Paul Kingsnorth refers to his Booker-longlisted fiction debut, The Wake, as 'a post-apocalyptic novel set 1000 years in the past'. This ambitious story traces the three-year Ely resistance movement that followed the Norman Conquest. The guerrilla fighters were led by a figure named Hereward the Wake – thus the title. The first thing any review must note is the language: set in 1066-8, this historical novel is written in what Kingsnorth calls a 'shadow tongue' or 'pseudo-language', not quite the Old English you encountered reading Chaucer or Beowulf at school, but similar. I would strongly recommend that any diligent reader start by perusing the partial glossary and 'A Note on Language', both appended at the end of the text. Full review...

The Leopard of Dramoor by P De V Hencher

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Stephen, Earl of Northumbria, known to popular legend as the Leopard of Dramoor, is past his best fighting days. But warfare is never far away in medieval England, particularly in the border country. And it's not far away now. A combined force of Scottish and French troops are massing and intend to attack one of Stephen's castles. Stephen's son David is captain of the castle but he's spoiled and lazy and his father knows he won't defend it successfully without help. Full review...