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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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

5star.jpg Autobiography

We've all heard the phrase 'it's not brain surgery' but what is it really like to operate on someone's brain in the frightening knowledge that a small slip, a slight error can have the most devastating consequences for the patient, with death probably not being the worst? Henry Marsh is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and Consultant Neurosurgeon at Atkinson Morley/St George's. If anyone knows what it's like then Henry Marsh is the man to tell you. Full review...

Things We Couldn't Explain by Betsy Tobin

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Jericho, Ohio - 1979.

Annemarie is a clever, funny and spirited girl. Born with sight, she turned blind as a child, but more than compensates for her disability. Living amongst the small-town folk of Jericho, she has a relatively standard, suburban life, schooled at home but more than friendly with many in the town - especially her charming neighbour Ethan.

All is calm, until one day Annemarie finds herself pregnant. Full review...

The Naughtiest Reindeer by Nicki Greenberg

4star.jpg For Sharing

If you made all of Father Christmas’s reindeer line up, you would find it pretty tricky to find the naughtiest one among them as they are so well behaved. However, there is one reindeer who is so naughty that she does not get asked to pull the sleigh very often. On certain occasions needs must and when Rudolf is ill on Christmas Eve, the only help comes in the form of his little sister Ruby – dear oh deer. Full review...

The Fourth Secret (Inspector Montalbano) by Andrea Camilleri

3.5star.jpg Crime

Early one morning an Albanian construction worker - a legal resident with a work permit - fell from scaffolding and was dead when his co-workers found him. What struck Montalbano was that there had been rather a lot of what were described as tragedies in the workplace - six in the last month, in fact, although he was sure that there would be statistics to prove that this was not abnormal within the EU. Strictly it wasn't his case to deal with, but he received an anonymous letter telling him that Pashko Puka was going to be killed. Admittedly the letter arrived after the death due to a malfunction in the local postal system, but it did mean that it was difficult to think of the death as a 'tragic accident'. Full review...

The Kill by Jane Casey

4.5star.jpg Crime

I'm quite picky with crime fiction. This oversaturated market seems to teem with mediocre products. There are thrillers with excellent plots that are are badly written, some that contain masterful prose but are, well... boring, and others that are so far-fetched that I end up throwing the book away in disgust. I read Jane Casey′s highly enjoyable stand-alone The Missing several years ago. The Kill was my first foray into her Maeve Kerrigan series and I was keen to see how it would stand up. Full review...

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks: The Pirate's Curse by Kristina Stephenson

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks: the Pirate's Curse passed the grandchild test. The oldest granddaughter, aged 7, chose it for the teatime read as she'd already enjoyed another in this series. She took the lead in turning the pages, opening the giant flaps and pointing out details of the plot and jokes. The varied typefaces and sizes made it easy for her beginner reader brother to join in and the lively story line frequently attracted the attention of the third child who was sitting on the other side of the table absorbed in a project of her own. Full review...

The Squickerwonkers by Evangeline Lilly and Johnny Fraser-Allen

4star.jpg Children's Rhymes and Verse

Selma is a young girl who finds a strange attraction on the edge of a fair – a large gypsy caravan-styled contraption, which she enters, alone but for her shiny red balloon. She appears to be alone, until nine marionette puppets suddenly appear on the stage within, and a disembodied voice introduces them all to her. They are the Squickerwonkers, and as we are about to see, they can reveal someone's entire character with the simplest of actions… Full review...

Sanctuary by Robert Edric

3star.jpg Historical Fiction

Everyone knows Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Not many know that this famous trio of literary sisters also had a brother, Patrick Branwell Brontë, born the year after Charlotte and a year before Emily. Like his sisters, he had literary ambitions: he wrote juvenile stories, poems and translations from the Greek; he also trained as a painter (you have most likely seen his famous painting of his sisters). Again like his sisters, however, he was destined to die young. Full review...

The Temporary Bride: A Memoir of Love and Food in Iran by Jennifer Klinec

3.5star.jpg Autobiography

Jennifer Klinec is the daughter of Hungarian immigrant parents who ran an automotive factory in southwest Ontario. She learned early on to be self-sufficient, even enrolling herself in boarding schools in Switzerland and Dublin. After graduation she moved to London, made a pile as an investment banker, and opened her own cookery school. At age 31, though, she decided to travel to the Iranian city of Yazd to learn Persian dishes. She met Vahid, 25, a military veteran with an engineering background, in a park and he introduced her to his mother for cooking lessons. Full review...

An African Princess: From African Orphan to Queen Victoria’s Favourite by Walter Dean Myers

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

This elegant edition of An African Princess tells of the life of Sarah Bonetta who is suddenly swept from the threat of a savage execution in 1848 only to face a brave new world under the patronage of the imperious Queen Victoria. Meticulously researched by the twice elected US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Walter Dean Myers, it is a creatively imaginative account, with an historical backbone of genuine diary entries, letters, autobiographical work, contemporary newspapers, social and anthropological studies and period photographs. Full review...

The Royal Enigma by Krishna Bhatt

2star.jpg Historical Fiction

There is absolutely nothing wrong with books that cross genres. The best historical novels are as much history as fiction. However, it is a golden rule that a book must know who and what it is. One of the problems with The Royal Enigma is that it suffers from a serious identity crisis. Full review...

The Adventures of Mr Toad by Tom Moorhouse and David Roberts

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Poop poop! Here comes Mr. Toad! The irrepressible Mr. Toad returns, accompanied, of course, by Ratty, Mole and Badger in this cheerful picture book version of The Wind in the Willows. The well-known highlights of the classic tale; the yellow caravan, the beautiful car, the shame of Toad's prison stay and his daring escape plus The Weasels and The Stoats are all included and, accompanied by charming illustrations, this is a wonderful way to introduce young children to a classic. Full review...

Unmanned by Dan Fesperman

4.5star.jpg Thrillers

Unmanned, the title of Fesperman's latest thriller, refers to the drones, the Predators, that Captain Darwin Cole flew over Afghanistan, from a shed somewhere in Nevada.

It also refers to the state that those missions left Cole in, after one of them went badly wrong. A poor call-down led to a misidentified target, a house destroyed, civilians killed, including two kids lying out in the open running away, and a girl, not dead but wounded. Cole could see her from his thousands of miles away, moving, agonising, separated by a considerable distance from the arm she would never use again.

A one-armed girl would haunt his dreams for a long time to follow. Full review...

Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist

4.5star.jpg Popular Science

For years now the New Scientist magazine has had a column whereby people submit questions they want the answer to, and it's up to correspondents from all walks of life to submit the answer and explain the solution. It's nothing new – the Guardian had it for years, then the Daily Mail probably had Britain's most popular variant, what with it being daily, but none were purely science-based such as that under perusal. It's a simple format for a book – not only does it create a fun kick-back at the close of an at-times hard-going science read, it generates a book full of fun and intriguing Q&As almost every year. Chances are that, by relying on the interests of their audience, the editors have allowed themselves to publish books that will appeal to many people who have never looked at their weekly edition – certainly they have been incredibly popular, and massively boosted the magazine's public recognition. And this volume will not be any different. Full review...

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

5star.jpg Teens

I know that some publishers send packs of tissues with seriously emotional books. I believe I'm right in saying Bloomsbury did it with Sarah Crossan's heartbreaking Apple And Rain. As far as I'm aware, Scholastic didn't send them with this, unless they got lost in the post between the Bookbag and me. Really, Scholastic? You think that's fair? You send a book that had me crying by page 40 and utterly destroyed before the page numbers hit triple digits, and you can't at least throw in a pack of tissues? Good grief! Full review...

Rupert Brooke: Life, Death and Myth by Nigel Jones

4star.jpg Biography

Rupert Chawner Brooke’s reputation as one of the greatest or at least best-remembered war poets rests largely on his sonnet The Soldier. Perhaps it was English literature’s abiding loss that his output was so slender, as his career was cut short so suddenly. Had he lived longer he would surely have developed into a notable writer. Full review...

The Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America's Most Public Family by Amber Hunt and David Batcher

4star.jpg Biography

The Kennedy dynasty is mainly known for the men who have come to political prominence: Jack Kennedy, the president who was assassinated in November 1963, his brother, Bobby, Jack's Attorney General who would be assassinated in June 1968 and Senator Edward Kennedy the youngest of the nine children - the only one of the brothers who would, as they say, live to comb grey hair. Not quite so much is known about the women who were brave enough to marry into the family and Amber Hunt and David Batcher have set out to give us some background on five of these women: Rose Kennedy the matriarch of the family and wife of Joe Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of Jack, Ethel, wife of Bobby and Joan and Vicki, the first and second wives of Teddy Kennedy. Full review...

The Iceberg: A Memoir by Marion Coutts

5star.jpg Autobiography

'Something has happened. A piece of news. We have had a diagnosis that has the status of an event. The news makes a rupture with what went before.' With these plain, unsentimental words Coutts begins her devastating yet mysteriously gorgeous account of her husband Tom Lubbock's decline and death from a brain tumour. Shortlisted for the Costa Biography award and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, it was also a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Full review...

The Lion's Mouth by Anne Holt

4.5star.jpg Crime

This is the first Anne Holt novel that I have read and I am going back for more. Jo Nesbo is quoted describing Holt as 'the Godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction' and judging only from identikit cover design – grey mist, loneliness, treacherous ice, snow-encrusted gun, red typeface to hint at fresh blood – readers could be forgiven for expecting another volume of semi-standardised Scandinavian noir. Full review...

The Matchbox Mysteries (Wings and Co 4) by Sally Gardner and David Roberts

4star.jpg Confident Readers

This was my first introduction to the Wings & Co fairy detective agency. It's certainly the sort of book I really should have come across sooner since it's wonderfully odd! With Emily working alongside of Fidget, the talking cat, as well as a lot of keys and an overly talkative, egotistic magic lamp this isn't the sort of book you read as a bedtime story and drift off half way through! In this book there is trouble in Podgy Bottom. Someone is stealing cars, shrinking them down into a matchbox, and there is also a crazy purple bunny and a troublesome broomstick. Will the detective agency be able to figure out what on earth is going on? Full review...

The Queen Alone (Chronicles of the Tempus) by K A S Quinn

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Katie is back, and once more she's back in Victorian England. This time, however, she isn't quite sure who called her back in time or for what purpose and, unfortunately, something went wrong as she came and she brought someone else along with her! In the final episode of the Chronicles of the Tempus we see Katie trying to save Prince Albert's life, trying to prevent Britain messing up the outcome of the American Civil War, and rescuing Queen Victoria from an asylum! Full review...


Frog is a Hero by Max Velthuijs

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

Always a sucker for a story with a hero, I thoroughly enjoyed this book with Frog as the unlikely hero. It's a very rainy day. At first the rain, for Frog at least, is lovely and he goes outside dancing. But then it starts to get a little bit too heavy even for him. Worried about how his friends are coping with the adverse weather, Frog decides to go and see them and with everyone's houses leaking, a plan must be formed! Full review...

Shiver the Whole Night Through by Darragh McManus

4.5star.jpg Teens

Aidan Flood's life is miserable; he's not only bullied but he lost his girlfriend to someone who works at the local carnival and even heard that from someone else. Life is just rubbish and needs ending totally. This is something he almost manages to accomplish as well if it wasn't for a do-gooder passer-by. The next morning while coming to terms with the fact he's still alive, he hears that Slaine McAuley, a girl he knows vaguely, has killed herself. The only thing is that Aidan knows she hasn't – she told him herself after she'd died. What did happen to her and why does she choose to tell him, of all people? Aidan is on a mission: he will find out. Full review...

A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H Cook

3.5star.jpg Thrillers

A man that risk management consultant Ray Campbell knew a lifetime ago is found dead on the streets of New York. It's not just the fact that Ray knew him that's intriguing, it's where Ray knew him from: the African country of Lubanda where Ray once worked for an NGO. This death reminds him of another that happened out in Africa: that of a native Lubandan named Martine Aubert whom Ray loved and still loves. There must be a connection and Ray will investigate till he finds it, no matter what he finds or what he remembers along the way. Full review...


The Wonder by Faye Hanson

5star.jpg For Sharing

Don't judge a book by its cover, they say. It was the beautiful cover that made me want to try this gorgeous book and still I was not prepared for the stunning illustrations that make up the journey into the imagination of the little boy in this thoughtful story. Full review...

The Boy Who Lost His Bumble by Trudi Esberger

4.5star.jpg For Sharing

A little boy loves his garden and he particularly loves the bees that visit it each day. He is so fascinated by his buzzy friends that he gives them each names and records their habits and characteristics. Then the weather changes, it grows cold and his bees disappear. Where can they be? Will they come back? The boy is puzzled and saddened by their departure and tries hard to encourage his missing friends to return. Full review...

PathFinder (TodHunter Moon Book One) by Angie Sage

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Twelve year old Alice TodHunter Moon, who prefers to be known as Tod, is a Pathfinder, a member of a fishing tribe with a mythical history of travelling across the stars. She lives a nice life in her Pathfinder community until her father, her only surviving parent, doesn’t come back from a fishing trip and Tod is left alone with her horrid step-aunt Mitza. Full review...


That's Racist: How the regulation of speech and thought divides us all by Adrian Hart

4.5star.jpg Politics and Society

Adrian Hart has a long history of campaigning against racism, not least because he was subjected to racial abuse when he was at school. With jet-black hair and a complexion that was just slightly darker than was normal he was the closest that his school had to someone who might be of Pakistani origin. It was only name calling from a group of boys but the experience stuck and he's put much of his working life where his mouth is. So, you might expect that he would be a devotee of the zero tolerance approach to racist speech, but he's far from certain that this is the right way to go and believes that this might be causing more divisions in society than racism itself. Full review...


Rush Hour by Iain Gately

4star.jpg History

Rush Hour.

500 Million commuters go through it every day, and it's hard to avoid - whether like me you're a jaded Londoner stuck in someone's armpit whilst attempting to read on a cramped tube, or trying to navigate busy country lanes in order to do the school run and get to work on time, we've probably all experienced it. But have you ever thought about the history of it? Full review...