Books: Paperbacks

The Vintage Book of War Stories edited by Sebastian Faulks and Jorg Hensgen Vintage, pounds 7.99, 396pp
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JUDGING FROM this extensive anthology of 20th-century wartime literature, a good war story is a love story. And that's not just because the book's editor, Sebastian Faulks, is a much-decorated veteran of battlefield romance.

As the young soldier in Tim O'Brien's Vietnam story remarks: "War is Hell, but that's not the half of it." War is also excitement, longing, despair and pain - the most beautiful and the ugliest moments of a person's life.

Many of the book's extracts are undiluted romance. An extract from Elizabeth Bowen's novel The Heat of the Day, recalls the autumn of 1940 and the capital's first bombing raids - a season of "unmarriedness" when "everybody in London was in love." Laurie Lee's Spanish Civil War memories are back- lit by winter sunsets and populated by girls with "long Spanish-Indian eyes"; and an extract from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms recalls that classic moment in a young soldier's life - leave-taking in a hotel bedroom.

Alongside writers who were actually there - Siegfried Sassoon, Kay Boyle, Alistair MacLean, Andre Malraux - Faulks and his German co-editor Jorg Hensgen have included contemporary figures like William Boyd, Pat Barker and Sebastien Japrisot, all of whom have re-fashioned war for their own dramatic ends.

Although the two World Wars dominate, stories from the Russian Revolution, Spanish Civil War, Vietnam and Korea, and the Gulf are also included (the conflict in Kosovo is still too young to find a place). While the book is admirably nonpartisan in scope, this reader could have happily substituted some of Faulks and Hensgen's more "international" choices, for extracts from the works of Eric Newby, Brian Moore and Evelyn Waugh... but that would be asking for trouble. EH

Speaking for Themselves

edited by Mary Soames

Black Swan, pounds 15, 702pp

SELECTED BY their daughter from 1,700 letters between Winston and Clemmie, this is a great Churchillian treat. In 1926, she's smitten by "the charming smile and beautiful eyes" of Mussolini. In 1927, he says Coco Chanel is "strong enough to rule a man or an Empire". In June 1940, she ticks him off for his "rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner". In 1953, aged 79, he pleads: "Please continue to love me or I shall be very unhappy." Dramatic, funny, moving; this is an epic portrait of an epic marriage.

Mr Darwin's Shooter

by Roger McDonald

Anchor, pounds 6.99, 415pp

ROGER MCDONALD's meaty new novel is a fictionalised biography of Syms Covington, Charles Darwin's assistant on the Beagle - a man who saw out his later years in New South Wales, anxiously awaiting a copy of Origin of Species. In a novel dominated by crusty characters and an even crustier landscape (with plenty of barnacled cliffs and pounding surf), McDonald portrays a man who, although he has not the words to explain himself, has unwittingly helped unlock the secrets of evolution.

The Best Friends' Guide to Toddlers

by Vicki Iovine

Bloomsbury, pounds 9.99, 236pp

CALIFORNIAN VICKI Iovine (with best-friends Shelley, Franny and Candy from the beach) has written before on the business of pregnancy and new motherhood. This follow-up takes you into the toddler years - an undogmatic guide to avoiding tantrums and Mommy meltdown. Remember, Californians have even more trouble saying "no" than we do, so there is much comfort to be had in reading about the author's many angst-ridden battles over bedtime and potty-training.

Over the Limit

by Bob Monkhouse

Arrow, pounds 6.99, 425pp

IT IS unlikely that any other game-show host could write such an entertaining and perceptive memoir. In this pin-sharp codicil, longer than his 1993 autobiography, Bob recalls that Jack Benny was as stingy as his stage image, how Bing Crosby magically sobered up at the microphone after downing a pint of bourbon and why Sinatra, woken from a sleep in the bath, threw a punch at him. Of course, his taste is dubious and his gag-telling can be wearing, but the man's a phenomenon.