Books: Paperbacks

Lantern Slides by Violet Bonham Carter (Phoenix, pounds 10.99) A rich trove of diaries and letters from the Liberal grande dame when she was still a slip of a gel before the First World War. She suffers a fit of giggles while presented at Court and defends Papa (who happened to be PM) from suffragette attack: "I had the pleasure of giving one an ugly wrist-twist!" Though the death of her fiance in a motor accident casts a sad shadow, Asquith's daughter proves an intelligent and vivacious observer of the Edwardian heyday.

Domestic Manners of the Americans by Fanny Trollope (Penguin, pounds 8.99) After her Cincinnati store went belly up in 1830, Fanny Trollope (Anthony's mum) recouped the family fortunes with a hilarious, beady-eyed portrait of post-colonial life, salted with knocking copy. Though she genially chastised Americans for their love of pop culture, Mrs T reserved her deepest venom for slavery. Many of her views (eg, her loathing of evangelism) will strike a chord with modern visitors.

Dancing on the Grave by Nigel Barley (Abacus, pounds 8.99) Even in Africa, where death is less of a taboo than here, Barley's obsession with post- mortality was considered excessive ("You are like a vulture"). His anecdotal survey is replete with gallows humour. The Torajans of Indonesia keep bodies in the house (a body makes a handy cassette shelf). In Ecuador, the deceased is used as a gaming table. Yet such quirks aren't restricted to foreign climes. Barley cites our own Jeremy Bentham, on public view for 150 years. Skittering round the world, he reveals death as a mirror of life in its bizarre diversity.

Dangerous Pleasures by Patrick Gale (Flamingo, pounds 5.99) These delightful stories are just as entertaining as Gale's many well-received novels. Particularly fond of miserable women and petulant children, the collection includes a Barbara Pym-ish skit about the denizens of a cathedral close, a cautionary tale of a bad-tempered girl who gets locked in a wardrobe, and the story of a long-suffering wife who decides it's her turn to receive oral sex.

Helium by Tim Earnshaw (Gollancz, pounds 6.99) The actors of Spinal Tap managed to pull off flawless English accents. Brit Tim Earnshaw does the same in reverse with his wisecracking creation Gary Wilder - a beer- swilling Californian and ex-member of the Sixties surf band "The High". This funny, sharply written first novel catches up with Gary in pot-bellied middle age, and tells what happens when he discovers an unnerving power to float like a balloon. More grounded than it sounds.

Girls Will be Boys edited by Liz Evans (Pandora, pounds 7.99) According to Evans, the front line of rock journalism is a tough place for women to be. Sharing blueberry pancakes with Courtney Love, or hanging out with Liam Gallagher in Japanese love motels may be better than working in Woolworths, but the line between groupie and girl reporter is often blurred. This lively homage to girl power includes Lucy O'Brien on "Clitrock", Suzanne Moore on Sinead O'Connor's "attitude problem" and Liz Evans herself at home with Kurt, Courtney and baby Frances.

Strange and Well Bred by Sophia Watson (Sceptre, pounds 6.99) Dulcie admires her cousin Jody's long legs, shiny hair and Gwyneth Paltrow complexion. After a few days staying with posh relatives in Pimlico, this northern lass finds herself taxi-ing to and from the King's Road as well. A pleasant romance of Hooray Henries and interior designers, with just enough veiled references to the author's own family (the Waughs) to keep it interesting.

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