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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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 Mill River Redemption by Darcie Chan

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Rose and Emily are sisters who co-exist rather than interact. In the past, a devastating event drove them apart, and now they both have their own lives, far away from sleepy Mill River, Vermont, where they grew up. When their mother Josie dies, they are brought back together first in their mourning and then in their frustration at a message from beyond the grave: their mother is determined to achieve in death what she couldn't while still alive, a sisterly reconciliation. She has left her estate to the girls, but in order to access the funds they will need to cooperate and coordinate efforts to unearth the clues she has left them. With neither in a position to walk away from the potential gold mine, they have to put aside their differences, if only for the summer. 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...

Beautiful Dogs Postcard Book: 30 Postcards of Champion Breeds to Keep or Send by Andrew Perris

4star.jpg Pets

If you're looking for a present for a dog lover, Beautiful Dogs might fit the bill. It's a book of thirty postcards, which you can either send or keep in the book. You might expect to find the more usual breeds - Labradors, Retrievers and the like - but instead you'll find more exotic breeds such as the Bedlington Terrier and the Bolognese. There's just the one dog or bitch on each card and Andrew Perris has managed to give us an excellent view of the animal whilst allowing it to look completely natural. Full review...

Death on Toast (Shades 2.0) by John Townsend

4star.jpg Teens

Freddy has the ultimate disadvantage of having rich parents. Well, actually, I guess it's not so much that they're rich as that they're far too busy doing what they want, have to do to take much if any notice of Freddy and what he's doing. He's left on his own - often overnight - to do exactly as he wants to do. And what Freddy wants to do is to watch horror DVDs. Who's to say whether it was the DVDs or his parents lack of interest which drove him to do what he did, but whichever it was, Freddy does something from which there is no return. Full review...

The Quick by Lauren Owen

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

The Quick is the debut of author Lauren Owen, and set in the gothic world of Victorian London. Owen guides us through the lives of several characters, but specifically James and Charlotte, siblings living in a Yorkshire mansion. Left to fend for themselves due to a dead mother and an absent father, the two grow up close, playing dark games to pass the time. It is only when James, the younger child, moves to London, that the games become very real indeed, and both brother and sister must fight to save not just themselves, but their humanity. Full review...

Where Bear? by Sophy Henn

5star.jpg For Sharing

Where Bear? is a delightful picture book that is sure to charm. A bear and a boy live happily together but both baby bears and baby boys grow up, and over time the bear grows too big for the human-sized house. Sad to lose his friend, but determined to find a nice new home for him, the boy offers up suggestion after suggestion. Some bears live in zoos, or forests or perform in a circus. What about one of those places? With each No from the bear comes a defeated response from our boy Then where bear? Full review...

Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durrant

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

People should be sad when their husband or wife dies. It’s just the way things work. Whether it’s a sudden accident or a long time coming deterioration, there should be sorrow and maybe a few tears. But Lizzie is a little bit relieved when Zach dies in a horrible car crash. He was her husband and she loved him but there was more to it than that. Now it’s a year later and, for the first time, Lizzie feels strong enough to visit the scene of the accident. But all is not right when she gets there, and as she pulls at a loose thread, the whole jumper starts to unravel. As she starts to question everything she believed to be true, she can’t help but wonder if the whole story of that night hasn’t quite come out yet. Full review...

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant

4star.jpg For Sharing

Meet little purple critter. He is small. Big orange critter tells him so. And indeed, he is smaller than big orange critter, just a fraction of his size. But wait. What if he’s not small, but big orange critter is the weirdo? What is he’s big? Did you ever think of that, Mr big orange critter? Full review...

Golden Parasol by Wendy Law-Yone

5star.jpg History

If you look her up Wendy Law-Yone is described as a Burmese-born American author. That Burmese-born American might be an accurate description of her current citizenship, but it barely hints at the ethnic mix of her heritage, nor of her personal closeness (through her father) to her original homeland's struggle for freedom and democracy. Full review...

The Odyssey (The Classics) by Rosemary Sutcliff and Alan Lee (illustrator)

4star.jpg Confident Readers

It took ten years but the drama contained within The Iliad finally concluded, and the few people to survive were able to go back home. Many packed up their black ships and sailed from whence they arrived, although one was not to find the journey so direct. Odysseus, and his command of twelve ships, were to be battered and torn, tried and tested in all manner of ways, before they had any hope of finishing their circuitous loops of the classical world. But for all the threat they endured, something equally base and nasty was happening at the home they so actively sought… Full review...

The Great War: The People's Story by Isobel Charman

5star.jpg History

During this centenary year, we have seen many ways of telling the history of the conflict which broke out among the Great Powers of Europe and soon involved all four corners of the world. This volume, based on a recent ITV series of the same title, approaches it from an angle which I have not seen before. It follows the course of events over the four years through the letters, memoirs and diaries of about a dozen individuals as it presents their story against the background of fighting on the continental mainland, and of bereavement, shortages and more at home. Full review...

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Quest for the Magic Porcupine by John Dougherty and David Tazzyman (illustrator)

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Here's an abject lesson for you – when you've got a large collection of evil badgers in your prison, don't let them play with a Monopoly set. For one thing one of them will eat all the fake banknotes, and for another it will come with a 'get out of jail free' card. Then the rain will be mucky and smell of bananas, and the King will come knocking on the door and asking for help and suggesting the butcher in the post office is the best person to tell you about stories and might give a clue as to how best to go about living through this one. And it'll still only be chapter four. Full review...

A Brotherly Bother (Pip Street) by Jo Simmons

4star.jpg Confident Readers

This is a tale of two elderly men, neither of whom can get around very well without help. One is Richard Keiths, who has lived on Pip Street, and taught electric guitar lessons, for as long as anyone can remember. He needs his mobility scooter, but it's gone and broken down. The other is a mysterious rich man, who swoops into town on the back of a crazy sleigh towed by five huge malamute dogs. For some reason he seems to have an eye on the Keiths house, number 8, and is talking of demolishing it – and possibly even the whole street – so he can go fracking for oil underneath everyone's happiness. Oh, and he's also Richard Keiths' brother. Can our heroic children friends raise enough money to keep the scooter on the road and the road intact from the baddy's evil intentions? Full review...

The Something by Rebecca Cobb

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

The Something is one of those great books which instantly captures your imagination with a very simple idea. The premise is that a boy loses his ball when it falls down a small hole underneath the cherry tree in his back garden. What could be inside the hole? He asks his friends and family and they all come up with lots of different suggestions, but will he ever find out what it actually is? Full review...

Remember, Remember by Lisa Cutts

4star.jpg Crime

Detective Constable Nina Foster has just returned to work after after a stabbing which nearly killed her. Everyone - even Nina - thinks that she's going to be taking it gently and easing herself back into the job. She's working on cold cases - this time it's a train crash which happened in 1964 - but what she's given is just a little tame compared to the cases which her colleagues are struggling to cope with. Drugs deaths and robberies are a lot more immediate, but then - with one of those peculiar quirks of fate - evidence emerges which links the crash which happened half a century ago to the current spate of drug deaths. The woman who is supposed to be taking it easy is back in the thick of it. Full review...

Digby Dog Delivers: A Search and Find Book by Tor Freeman

4star.jpg For Sharing

Digby Dog is off on his rounds, delivering the post. But he might need some help finding the people his parcels are for, can you help him? Full review...

Paddington Marches On by Michael Bond

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

We all remember Paddington, I’m sure. The Brown family and their housekeeper, the formidable Mrs Bird, and the nice/nasty/nosy next door neighbour Mr Curry and the rest of the gang. This book of seven classic Paddington stories has everything I knew and loved about the bear, reissued for the next generation. Full review...

Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

5star.jpg Women's Fiction

Death and kindergarten are not two things you would normally think went together, but this time they have. Someone is dead. A murder investigation has been launched. But why are the police finding it so hard to get answers? What actually went on that night? And can an incident in the playground on the first day really have come to this? Full review...

While Wandering - A Walking Companion by Duncan Minshull

5star.jpg Anthologies

While Wandering - A Walking Companion, was first published ten years ago as The Vintage Book of Walking. Reprinted and retitled with a stunning new cover by James Jones and Finn Dean, and a foreword by Robert Macfarlane, the best writer on walking in recent years (in my humble opinion). Full review...

I Really, Really Want It by Richard Hennerley

3.5star.jpg General Fiction

Andrew Manning is what I would call 'a fixer'. He's got decades of experience in sorting out those little problems which so plague celebrities and, frankly, if he's got to bend the law just a tiny bit - or even more - to earn his crust then that's OK by him. He's wealthy, with a list of clients to die for (and some will...) and happily unfaithful to his long-term partner, Johnny on a regular basis. And Johnny does exactly the same. When we meet Andrew his main problem is Shelley Bright. She's 'England's Sweetheart', chart-topping singer and television star. Andrew prefers to think of her as 'a vicious, avaricious snake, a nasty, nasty piece of work' - and he's probably got the right of it. Full review...

The Creative Therapy Colouring Book by Hannah Davies, Richard Merrit and Jo Taylor

5star.jpg Crafts

Apparently, colouring books for adults have become de rigeur in France, with the book Art Therapie-100 Coloriages Anti-Stress flying off the shelves as increasing numbers of stressed-out individuals discover the therapeutic value of 'colouring in'. Full review...

Animal Lives: Lions by Sally Morgan

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

Lions is part of the wonderful Animal Lives series, each focusing on a particular animal from the African savannah. This time, the king of the beasts takes centre stage, in a book that mixes stunning photography with plenty of fascinating facts and figures. Full review...

Alex and Ada Volume 1 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

4.5star.jpg Graphic Novels

Meet Alex. You'd probably be in a minority if you did, for he's a bit of a loner since he broke up with his last girlfriend. He meets few people in the workplace, has a quite antiseptic flat with his virtual cinema and his flying robotic kitchen aide, and that's about it. But others aren't too keen for Alex to carry on like that – people such as his gran, who has given herself the gift of an android in the form of a handsome young man to, er, keep her company. And yes, that too. Unfortunately, as Alex sees it, she buys him one for his birthday as well – a Tanaka X5, which you wake up by tugging on an earlobe. This being a world where the first real Artificial Intelligence went nasty and killed people a year ago, Alex is certainly torn about having the thing in his flat – especially as it just kowtows to his wishes and opinions without having anything like its own, as it is not allowed to get that close to sentience. But Alex changes his mind right upon the point of returning the thing, and begins to explore just what kind of life the gift could end up presenting to him. Full review...