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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The Edge of the Sky by Roberto Trotta

4star.jpg Popular Science

Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do. Apparently that's advice to budding journalists and writers, and I do try to follow the English translation of it, if not completely successfully. Someone who seems to have no trouble whatsoever in agreeing with the dictum is Roberto Trotta. This book is his survey of current astrophysics and cosmological science, but one that has to convey everything it intends to by using only the most common thousand words of the English language. So there is no Big Bang as such, planets have to be called Crazy Stars – and it's soon evident you can't even describe the book with the word thousand either. Full review...

Doctor Who: 12 Doctors 12 Stories by Malorie Blackman, Holly Black and others

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

How long do you keep your birthday presents for? A week, a month, a year – or life? Is that time-scale different, perhaps, when you're nearly a thousand years old? I only ask because Doctor Who is, of course, both 51 (in our earthly, televisual representation) and 900 and more in human years as a character. In 2013 we were given a great book that gave us a story for every Doctor Who we've seen on TV, in honour of the 50th birthday proceedings. But now is a year on, and we're a further Doctor down the line. And so what was '11 Doctors, 11 Stories' is now '12 Doctors, 12 Stories'. So while many of us would have cherished and kept said birthday present, the only addition is the last, which like the rest was available as an e-book. So it's worth revisiting what I said about the book last time, then chucking in the (what might only be temporarily) concluding story at the end. Full review...

The Wall Between Us by Matthew Small

4star.jpg Politics and Society

In this personal account of his visit to Israel and the West Bank, Small journals his time spent with people he meets along the way and attempts to make sense of the conflict that has dominated this area for many years. Small openly admits the issue there is not a simple one and his visit reinforces the fact that there are many complexities preventing peace from happening. Full review...

Rugby Academy: Combat Zone by Tom Palmer

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Woody's dreams were about football: he wanted to play for his country one day, but there was a snag. His father was a fighter pilot - and his squadron was going to war - but as Dad was a single parent Woody had to go to a boarding school for armed forces kids. That's enough of a change for any boy, but there's an even bigger one which Woody has to contend with. At Borderlands they don't play football. They're mad about rugby. It's almost a religion. How will Woody cope with boarding schools and rugby? How will he manage the constant knowledge that his father is in a combat zone? Full review...

The Green Door by Christopher Bowden

4star.jpg General Fiction

Clare Mallory is a promising junior barrister working from a prestigious chambers. Life is pretty good. She's not the type to be taken in by psychics but when cards advertising the services of one Madame Pavonia start arriving in the post, her interest is piqued, first by the rainbow spectrum pattern and then by... well, something else. Tempted to visit the fortune-teller at a local fair, Clare is taken aback at Madame Pavonia's reaction to her and rushes out of the tent. Full review...

The Girl With The Sunshine Smile by Karen McCombie

5star.jpg Dyslexia Friendly

Everyone knew Meg as the girl with the sunshine smile. She always looked pretty and happy and her mother used her in her business to model bridesmaid's dresses. They had a lovely little flat which was always neat as a new pin and Meg thought that life was perfect. Then her mother met Danny - and everything changed. Danny was the single father to four boys and they all lived on a houseboat. A messy houseboat. With no lock on the bathroom door. And when there was a flood at Mum's flat they had to move in with Danny and the four boys. That was when Meg stopped smiling. Full review...

The Lost Sock by Gillian Johnson

3.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

A lost sock. We’ve all had them. In fact, I know people who only buy socks of one colour in order to always have matching socks. I, who prefer to buy brightly coloured socks (much like the man in this book), seem to spend my life with my feet constantly mismatched. It doesn’t bother me all that much, but it certainly affects the hero of this tale, who goes on an adventure in order to find the missing sock. Full review...

Glorious Gardens by Various Authors and Illustrators

3.5star.jpg Crafts

Colouring books are a great way to reduce stress, so how come they are mainly aimed at kids, what have they got to be stressed about? To be fair, some of the little blighters have their worries, but I can guess that more adults after a hard day at work could do with a relax. This could come in the form of a nice glass of wine or something creative. I tell you what, why not try both? Full review...

Meteor Men by Jeff Parker and Sandy Jarrell

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

Meet Alden. He's only at high school, but as his parents have died the farm is his – his and the couple of professors the smart kid hangs out with. One night a large gathering forms on an ad hoc basis to watch the Perseid meteor shower – and one of them unexpectedly lands. The rock is Alden's as it landed on private property, but the planetarium's main scientist is keen for science to learn from it – or that it should pay for Alden getting through university. But the rock has a lesson much bigger than even that premise could provide for – it wasn't a hundred per cent rock. And Alden also owns a much greater connection to what was inside it when it landed… Full review...

Pigsticks and Harold and the Tuptown Thief by Alex Milway

3.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Problems are afoot in Tuptown, leading up the annual Butterfly Ball – bit by bit the whole thing is being stolen. Harold has made a special statue for the occasion, but has awoken to find it missing, the berries for the catering have vanished – and someone's even run off with the butterflies. It's up to our heroes Harold (the hamster) and Pigsticks (the, er, pig) to don their stereotypical detective outfits and save the day. Full review...

The Tooth Fairy's Christmas by Peter Bently and Garry Parsons

5star.jpg For Sharing

If I had a choice of being a magical figure I would choose someone like Father Christmas over the Tooth Fairy. Yes, he may be morbidly obese, but at least he only has to work really hard on one day of the year. The Tooth Fairy has to work all year round, including Christmas Day. Thankfully, all these magical folk appear to be in some sort of union, so when the weather is too bad on 24th December you can always rely on St Nick to help you out Full review...

The Free by Brian Ruckley

4star.jpg Fantasy

The Free are a band of mercenaries - magical warriors who have travelled the world and are renowned for their skills in battle. Finally reaching a point where they can retire from war, their leader Yulan is offered one final contract - one he cannot refuse. Full review...

Twist by Tom Grass

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Twist doesn't know his family. Homeless and on the run from the police, he is swiftly caught up in the world of Dodge, Fagin, Sikes, and Red. As they involve Twist in the dangerous world of Art theft, his skills are pushed to the limits, and his morals are tested by both the murky underworld and the beauty of Red. Full review...

The Odd Squad: King Karl by Michael Fry

3.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Nick, Molly and Karl have come through a lot of things together since forming Safety Patrol - often with the help of Shakespeare-quoting janitor Mr Dupree. But when the mysterious MLEZ, who run the school, want Karl to join them, Nick and Molly have to start thinking about ways to stop him - because Karl in charge is a frankly terrifying prospect. Full review...

Over the Hills and Far Away by Elizabeth Hammill (Editor)

5star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

I’m a bit picky on behalf of my toddler. See the word ‘Treasury’ and I expect him to be treated to a volume he will want to pass on to his own children. Anything less and I am disappointed. I’m relieved to get one thing straight from the start. This one’s a gem - a gorgeous joy of a book that you will just want to keep opening again and again. It’s not a question of whether it is worthy of hypothetical grandchildren, it’s more a question of how well thumbed it will be when they get it. Full review...

Inventions in 30 Seconds by Dr Mike Goldsmith

5star.jpg Popular Science

My son is incredibly curious and is constantly bombarding me with questions about how things work or how things are made. It seems that the minute I have found the answer to one of his questions, another has formulated inside his head to replace it. I was delighted then, when Inventions in 30 Seconds arrived for me to review, as I saw it as a dose of much-needed respite from my endless research. Full review...

What A Wonderful World by Bob Thiele, George David Weiss and Tim Hopgood

4star.jpg For Sharing

What a Wonderful World is a book and accompanying CD set based on the Louis Armstrong song. In fact it is the book and CD of that song as it’s not a new story or a padded out version of the original, it’s simply an illustrated version of the lyrics. Full review...

Confidentially Yours by Charles Williams

4.5star.jpg Crime

Carthage was what you might call 'backwoods' and there wasn't really all that much to do there. For recreation, hunting probably came top of the list and John 'Duke' Warren went for an early morning duck shoot before going to work. Whilst in the shoot he heard two shots from an adjoining blind and on the way out saw the car of a fellow shoot member. It was only later that he found out that the shots had caused the death of Dan Roberts. At first it looked like suicide, but Warren and the police realised that it's not often that suicide victims shoot themselves twice. Full review...

The English Girl by Margaret Leroy

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Stella Whittaker moves from a quiet English town to Vienna in 1937 to improve her music skills. Staying with old family friends, the Krauses, she feels less comfortable than she expects as a sense of mysterious menace hangs over the household. Nevertheless, Stella enjoys her new life and the sophistication of the city. More than anything, she enjoys falling in love with Harri, a young Jewish doctor. And despite many warning signs, Stella’s love for him blinds her to the possibility of trouble when it seems inevitable to others. Full review...

Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen

4star.jpg Crime

It was just one of them quirky internet things to begin with. Empty videos appearing on the internet. Dark expanses of time: no images, no sound.

They'd been uploaded from hacked accounts: teenagers who didn't know anything about it or about each other. There were ten of them altogether. If it had stopped there it would have been one of those 9-days-wonders of the web. An oddity talked about for years, freaking a few people out, but sinking, ultimately without much trace. Full review...

The Witch Dog by Margaret Mahy and Sam Usher

4.5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Every witch needs a cat. Everyone knows that. But when we meet Mrs Rose, she’s not really a witch. She’s a mum whose children have left home, and now she’s finding herself with a bit of time on her hands. Her husband suggests she join him with his hobby of Bowls, but that’s a bit boring, thinks Mrs Rose, so instead she decides to do an evening class. In how to become a witch. Full review...

Diary of a Mad Diva by Joan Rivers

3.5star.jpg Humour

The late Joan Rivers was, without a doubt, a character. Actress, comedian, writer, director, presenter, she was well known in the USA and beyond for her sharp tongue and no holds barred persona. This was the last of the dozen books she published, her final title before her death in September 2014. Full review...

Our Amazing Planet by Jon Richards and Ed Simkins

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

As reference books go, this is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Covering topics such as space, planet earth, the animal kingdom and the human body, this colourful book is a powerful tool for homework help from juniors through to early senior school, beautifully presented and easy to draw information from. Full review...

It's Snow Day by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb

5star.jpg For Sharing

We all remember the best sort of school days, don’t we? Snow days. Waking up in the morning and seeing the glow of white through the curtains, and looking out of the window to see the whole world of our back gardens and rooftops turned white. This is a book all about that, and the only two people who turn up at school on this particular snow day. Full review...

Horrid Henry's Haunted House by Francesca Simon and Tony Ross

5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Horrid Henry is a character I remember vaguely in passing, a bit like Just William. I knew the books existed and regularly saw them in the children’s room of the library, but I didn’t bother to pick them up. The clue was in the name. And I was the sort of girl who didn’t want stories about nasty, horrible boys. Having read my first Horrid Henry story now, though, I can let you in on a little secret. He’s actually quite a funny boy and not the naughty thing his nickname would suggest. Full review...

The Crocodile Under the Bed by Judith Kerr

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Judith Kerr wrote the classic The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and now she is back with The Crocodile Under the Bed, which I’m fairly certain is going to join it in classic status before too long. This time, Matty is a little boy who wants desperately to go to the party but he gets sick so can’t go. He’s having no fun, but there’s somebody who is pretty sure he can help with that; the crocodile under the bed… Full review...

The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language by Rowan Williams

4star.jpg Spirituality and Religion

This, Rowan Williams' first book since standing down as Archbishop of Canterbury, is based on a series of lectures that he delivered as Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh in 2013. Gifford Lectures are famous for their examination of developments in natural theology; a branch of theology that argues the existence of God based on reason and nature. In these lectures Rowan sort to examine how we as human beings develop use and process language, particularly when it comes to the use of language around faith and our perception and understanding of God. Full review...

Ashes In The Wind by Christopher Bland

4star.jpg General Fiction

John Burke and Tomas Sullivan may go to the same primary school in Kerry but even in 1908 they're on two sides of a great divide. John is Anglo Irish protestant and comfortably off, being the heir to Derriquin Castle whereas Tomas is Irish Catholic, living in poverty and raised to feel the resentment of the oppressed. The fact that John has been brought up to believe in Home Rule tragically makes no difference as John, Tomas and their future generations live with the consequences of a centuries old struggle. Full review...

The Boleyn King (Anne Boleyn Trilogy 1) by Laura Andersen

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

In this alternative history, Anne Boleyn's son William has become the king known as Henry IX. As he nears the age of majority (18), he also approaches the age at which he will rule solo rather than through his regent and uncle, George Boleyn. However, he's inherited a troubled kingdom. Not only are England's enemies knocking at the door, there are enemies within Will's own household. It begins with the sudden death of one of the court's young ladies in waiting. Where will it end? Full review...

Return to Fourwinds by Elisabeth Gifford

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Two families gather at Fourwinds for the wedding of Nicky and Sarah. Alice and Ralph are as proud of their son as Patricia and Peter are of their daughter. However there are secrets festering behind the celebratory facades and there's nothing like pre-wedding jitters to bring such things bubbling to the surface. Full review...

Snug by Matthew Tree

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

The Boy - we never do know his name - fancied Lucy something rotten, despite the fact that she was two years older than him - and that's quite a gap when you're only twelve. He was absolutely delighted when Lucy's parents wanted to take Lucy and three other kids on holiday to the Isle of Wight with them, along with Lucy's brother Simon, a teenager who was in the army. They'd rented a house in Coldwater Bay, a tiny village on the southern coast of the island. All went well, if even a little boringly, for a few days until Mrs Whitebone set off to take the children to the Needles and found the road blocked by tree trunks which had obviously been sawn for the purpose. Then it seemed that the telephone lines had been cut. Full review...