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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Lying Under the Apple Tree by Alice Munro

4.5star.jpg Short Stories

Munro packs an extraordinary amount into a short story. Some of them are quite long for short stories, and they are not the sorts of stories that might suit reading on your daily commute; they demand more attention than that. Her observations of human behaviour are acute, and the most innocuous of them will set you thinking a great deal. Most of the stories warrant a pause for thought and need a little time for absorption of detail. Full review...

Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Meredith loves her husband Alistair (the father of her teenage twins Jemima and Luke). This is a bit of a problem though as Alistair now has Charlotte, a new and younger model. With his new coupling in mind, Alistair decides to take the twins on holiday so they and Charlotte can bond. Surprisingly Meredith agrees wholeheartedly; she's sure that a week with the twins would break any fledgling relationship up. Meanwhile Meredith's own twin brother, Jack, is 'taking a break from work' which is fine but you'd think he could at least take a turn visiting his dementia-bound mother… or at least Meredith would think that and regularly does. Jack isn't as responsible as she is, in fact he isn't as a lot of things as she is but Meredith knows it will all turn out ok in the end, and, after the incident with the dead bird in the bleach, she may just be right. Full review...

The Wild Ways: An Enchantment Emporium Novel (Enchantment Emporium 2) by Tanya Huff

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

Charlie Gale, the lass who has magic in her music (literally!), leaves the rest of the family behind to play at a Celtic festival on the Canadian coast. You can never leave the Gale family behind though even when the problem is an oil company drilling offshore in a seal sanctuary area. This may not be a popular occupation but the oil company has the clout to use a little leverage. Charlie pits herself against them with the help of a Selkie family but in the process (family link incoming) also pits herself against the formidable Aunt Catherine. Back home Allie is having trouble with Jack, the young sorcerer dragon they rescued from the underworld last time. Indeed, in the Gale households there's no such thing as peace and quiet anymore! Full review...

Ant and Bee and Kind Dog by Angela Banner

4star.jpg Emerging Readers

When you learn to read it has to be fun. You have to master the skill but it mustn't be too daunting or you're not going to enjoy it and - worst of all - you might be put off reading for life. It's best if you can share the reading until you get to grips with decoding what's on the page, so if an adult could read most of the words but you read others to which you've already been introduced and which are in a different colour then that is going to be a help. If the words are introduced with a nice big picture and if they appear in alphabetical order, then that's going to be fun, isn't it? It's going to make reading easier too if the book is the right size for your hands and has a nice firm cover which is easy to hold - and wipes clean if there's an accident. Full review...

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

4star.jpg Teens

Flocks of suicidal birds are throwing themselves at planes right across North America. There are dozens of crashes. Thousands of people die and millions more are stranded or under curfew as the government moves to instil calm. Reese and David are driving, not flying, home along an empty highway in the desert when another crazed bird flies into their car. They crash. And don't wake up for a month. Rescued by a medical military unit, Reese is told that her life was saved by experimental treatments and procedures. Both she and David are made to sign non-disclosure agreements. Full review...

Outdoor Wonderland by Josie Jeffery

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

When I was growing up we had ‘Why Don’t You’ to inspire us what to do during the summer holidays, but I still don’t understand why a TV show would encourage me to switch off the telly – how am I meant to know what to do? A far more sensible guide for outdoor fun is a book like Josie Jeffery’s ‘Outdoor Wonderland’, an informative book full of interesting things to do outside no matter the weather or time of day. Full review...

Famous Five Colour Reads: A Lazy Afternoon by Enid Blyton

5star.jpg Emerging Readers

Perhaps the only thing better than a favourite author publishing a new book, is one of their old works that you missed first time around being re-released. The Famous Five, you see, didn’t just feature in their most well-known tales. They also had some short story adventures that were first seen in albums and magazines and whatnot, but are now being published as books in their own right. Hurrah! Full review...

The Conversations by Olivia Fane

5star.jpg Lifestyle

I need no encouragement to start talking. Leave me alone with someone and I will find something to talk to them about, in whatever language. I’ve dated people I’ve met by talking to them on aeroplanes, hablaring español with them in evening classes, chatting to them online. I’ve made friends at the gym, on the shop floor, during a day’s IT system training, people I still keep in touch with. So you might think the last thing I need is a book of conversation starters, and yet in a way that’s what this is. Full review...

Secrets of the Seashore by Carron Brown and Alyssa Nassner

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

This book starts in a rock pool. It’s not a boring, quiet, calm place, though, it’s bustling with life, and with every page that turns we learn more about the mysterious creatures that live within it. You might not see them at first, but with a hint of magic they appear. Full review...

Tilly's At Home Holiday by Gillian Hibbs

3.5star.jpg For Sharing

Tariq is going to India. Chanel is going to Spain. And Paris, of course, is going to Paris. Poor Tilly. She’s not going anywhere. Not even to Grandma’s. Mum thinks that they can still enjoy themselves at home. Tilly’s not so sure. Can a visit to the library, the swimming pool, the park and a market really be as much fun as a proper holiday? Full review...

The Edge of the Cloud by K M Peyton

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

First things first: this is a brilliant book and you could read it on its own but it's an extra-brilliant book if you've read the first book in the Flambards series. It's inevitable that there are going to be spoilers in this review so if you want to get the best out of this series, click away right now. I really won't be offended. Full review...

Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Maggie sits in an elderly persons' care home tgryig to exist through the ever tightening grip of dementia. Her son, Tom, visits trying to jog her memory but she doesn't even recognise him. To Maggie, Tom is 'Michael' a name that means nothing to a son getting more desperate to break through to his mother once again. However there was once a Michael, in a life that bubbles with secrets that even Tom doesn't know; for once, long ago, Maggie was young. Full review...

After the Bombing by Clare Morrall

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

On 28th March 1942, the city of Lubeck was attacked by RAF bombers. The medieval buildings were reduced to rubble and hundreds of innocent people lost their lives. In retaliation, Hitler decided to bomb the most beautiful and culturally rich cities of England, using Baedeker’s tourist guide as a reference. The cities he chose were Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury. 'After the Bombing' follows the story of an Exeter schoolgirl and her friends in the aftermath of the attack. Full review...

Flambards by K M Peyton

4.5star.jpg Confident Readers

Christina Parsons was orphaned as a child and since then had been shunted around between various relatives, but her Uncle Russell decided that she must come and live with him and his two sons. The twelve-year-old discovered accidentally (it sounds a little harsh to mention that she was reading someone else's correspondence, doesn't it?) that the the aunt with whom she was living suspected that the plan was that Christina would eventually marry Mark, the elder son and the money (quite a lot of it actually) which she would inherit on her twenty-first birthday would be used to prop up Flambards - the Russell's country estate - which was falling into disrepair. Full review...

Midnight in St Petersburg by Vanora Bennett

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Inna Feldman is in the Kiev theatre the night that Prime Minister Stolypin is assassinated in front of the Tsar. Fearing the retribution against the Jews in general and being picked out as a suspect in particular, Inna flees to St Petersburg and her landlord's cousin Yasha. Her arrival causes complications. Not only is she unexpected but Yasha is a revolutionary, a dangerous occupation in Russia during 1911. The family that Yasha is living with takes her in anyway, unaware that darker times are ahead for all of them. Full review...

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

4.5star.jpg Teens

Pearl couldn’t imagine life without her mother, but now she’s forced to face up to it. After her mum passes away giving birth to a new baby, Pearl is left devastated – and her new sister, who she calls the Rat, is a constant painful reminder. Can she come to terms with her grief? And has her mother really gone completely, or does she keep seeing her? Full review...

Earth in 30 Seconds by Anita Ganeri

4star.jpg children's Non-Fiction

As a former cataloguer of children’s books there are names that are synonymous with juvenile non-fiction, in my time the author Anita Ganeri has graced my work table 112 times. She is a prolific author and her legacy continues in the form of ‘Earth in 30 Seconds’, part of a series of books for 7-11 year olds that explore scientific principles in easy bite size pieces. Full review...

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis

4star.jpg Confident Readers

Scarlet and her half-brother Red have a dream - to watch flocks of Scarlet Ibises fly above Caroni swamp in Trinidad where her father comes from. They have a special bond. He is autistic and loves collecting birds’ feathers, feeling a sense of calm when he recites their names. She has caramel coloured skin while Red has white. They live with their mother in a flat but she has suffered from mood swings of late. Scarlet saves up to take Red on regular trips to the zoo where he feels safe. Red is fostering a baby Pigeon and waiting for it learn how to fly. Full review...

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

4star.jpg Women's Fiction

Devil Wix is a great Victorian illusionist. Admittedly Lady Luck hasn’t been too good to him lately and he may look a little ragged but he's talented and repeatedly tells himself so. One particular night as he's reassuring himself over a drink or three, he runs into Carlo Boldoni. (Or rather Carlo runs into him as he's picking Devil's pocket at the time.) Formerly Charlie Morris and a dwarf to the Victorians/person of restricted growth to us, Carlo was part of a performing troupe but now finds himself alone due to tragic circumstances. They join forces but little do they know the future nor the part that a certain young lady will play in it. Full review...

The Dark Horse by Rumer Godden

5star.jpg Teens

Dark Invader was a well-bred racehorse and had the looks to go with it but he was disappointing in his first season in England and his owner had better uses for the money his sale could bring. He was shipped out to India, which might sound rather extreme, but was not uncommon in the nineteen thirties and there were some benefits. The main one was that he was going to a good owner who cared for his welfare and a trainer who realised that he would get most out of his horses if they were contented. His new owner, Mr Leventine, even arranged for his lad to travel out to India with him and this was probably Dark Invader's greatest piece of luck. Ted Mullins not only loved the horse - he understood him. Full review...

The One I Was by Eliza Graham

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In 1939, before the outbreak of the Second World War, a boy arrived at Harwich docks. He was a Kindertransport refugee fleeing the anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. Benjamin Goldman would change his name to Benny Gault when his idea that the war wouldn't happen and he could go home to Germany came to nothing, but in the meantime he was adopted by Lord and Lady Dorner. Six boys were to live at their country home - Fairfleet - and be educated by a private tutor. On the face of it Benny's luck could not have worked out better, but he was hiding a secret. Full review...

Indecent Acts by Nick Brooks

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet Grace. She's in her forties, living with a hit-and-miss family in a Glasgow council flat, and in the middle of a whole host of issues. She has issues about her parents, and their moving on or death; she has issues about her sister who might or might not have had a much superior life pattern than Grace; she has issues about her children – Francis who has left Grace with her own daughter to spend time with drink or drugs instead, and son Vincent, who will like as not create an issue by joining the army and moving on himself. Grace also has issues with the fact that she is nearly as blind as a bat, and can neither read nor write. She's started the novel where she shouldn't be – at home in Glasgow, struggling, as she was due to fly to meet her sister at last, yet packed her glasses in the case that must be the other end, and completely missed her flight. Full review...

Love, Lies and Lemon Pies by Katy Cannon

4star.jpg Teens

Ever since her dad's death, Lottie has struggled at school, especially socially. Given the choice of joining an activity or her mum getting a home visit - something she's desperate to avoid - she signs up for Bake Club. Initially, she's a reluctant member, but as she gets to know school bad boy Mac and a few other people who might become good friends, things look up. But with the Bake-Off ahead and Lottie telling lie after lie to protect her mother's secret, will Lottie's new happiness crumble around her? Full review...

Blamehounds (Little Gems) by Ross Collins

5star.jpg Confident Readers

The idea began with Mr Lime’s bodily explosions (didn’t I put that nicely?) After three of them it was Norman the dog (who was entirely blameless in this matter so long as you’re willing to overlook the fact that he was having a lovely dream about dropping cats off bridges) who got the kick to speed him from the room. There were a couple more occasions when something similar happened but instead of getting a complex about what was happening, Norman saw an opportunity. A business opportunity. If dogs were going to get the blame then there should be something in it for them and he went into partnership with his best mate, Ringo (who does seem to be obsessed with sausages) and Blamehounds was born. Full review...

Flowerpot Farm: A First Gardening Activity Book by Lorraine Harrison

3.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

With the demand for us to eat seemingly more fruit and vegetables every day, the world of grow-your-own is back. Why buy from the supermarket when you can release the kids into the garden to graze like cattle? However, before you do this, perhaps you should pick up a book like ‘Flowerpot Farm’ by Lorraine Harrison and Faye Bradley which will show them how to create their own fruit, veg and flower garden no matter how small a space they have to work with. Full review...

Who is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace

4star.jpg General Fiction

Danny Wallace is the foremost exponent of ‘Bet Based Non-Fiction’ that I know. This is when a bloke says something daft in the pub and follows through; Wallace has started his own cult, his own nation and said Yes to absolutely everything. However, some things are fine as a quirky adventure in the real world, but following people around London and copying their every move? That sounds a little like stalking to me and should perhaps be best explored in the world of fiction. In a world like Danny Wallace’s new novel ‘Who Is Tom Ditto?’ Full review...