Paperbacks: Decca<br/> Dancing Into Battle<br/> The Book Of Origins <br/>The Rough Guide to Film<br/>Lionheart & Lackkand <br/>Mr Darcy's Diary <br>Martha, Jack and Shanco

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Decca, Ed. Peter Y Sussman (Phoenix £12.99)

After letters to "Dear Dinkydonk" (Constancia Romilly) and " Darling Muv" (Lady Redesdale), it is no surprise to find a communication to "Dear Comrade". But this moniker was no joke. In 1946, Jessica Mitford wrote to Willie Gallacher MP offering her one-sixth inheritance of the Scottish island of Inch Kenneth to the Communist Party. (The donation was not taken up.) Jessica was the communist Mitford, as opposed to the fascist Unity (Boud), the aristocratic Deborah (Hen), the novelist Nancy (Sue) and the other fascist Diana (Corduroy). If more communists had the generosity, and unfailing good humour of Comrade Decca, then the dictatorship of the proletariat might have stood more chance. Imbued with the breezy self-confidence that was a Mitford trademark, these letters are a hoot from nursery ("Thank you FRIGHTFULLY for the delicious cherries they weren't a bit too bad") to the announcement of marriage ("I'm afraid this may come as rather a shock") to the suggestion that a corporation of morticians might provide a free funeral for the author of The American Way of Death: "Look at all the fame I've brought them." Married to a radical California lawyer, Jessica spent much of her life in America. We should be grateful that this eloquent connoisseur of the absurd found herself amid a rich banquet of daftness. CH

Dancing Into Battle, by Nick Foulkes (Phoenix £8.99)

In this unusual war book, Foulkes explores the curious cocktail of socialising and brutality that characterised Waterloo. We learn that the Duchess of Richmond's ball on the eve of battle, immortalised by Thackeray and Byron, was "just another party on the giddy social merry-go-round of Brussels". Hearing of the French invasion, the officers made an early departure, much to the Duchess's chagrin. They included the Duke of Wellington, who fumed that Napoleon had "humbugged" him. Before leaving, the Duke called for a map and marked where he would stop the French: Waterloo. CH

The Book Of Origins, by Trevor Homer (Portrait £8.99)

Though the author overestimates the ignorance of his readership (we do know who Diana Fluck was), this book of "firsts", ironically not the first of its sort, is rich in surprises. Did you know that the first feature film was Australian (The Story of the Kelly Gang, 70 minutes, 1902), that a Malmesbury monk called Elmer was arguably the first person to fly when he glided 200 metres in 1010 (he broke both of his legs), or that radio was invented by Nikola Testa, not Marconi? Surprisingly, Mr Homer fails to remark that the first literary inclusions of the sausage and the hearing trumpet were by a namesake (in The Odyssey and The Iliad). CH

The Rough Guide to Film, by Richard Armstrong (Rough Guides £18.99)

The biggest of the Rough Guide spin-offs adopts an auteurist approach to cinema, though it is far from elitist. Among 400 directorial entries, we learn that Gore Verbinski was responsible for the Budweiser frogs advert as well as the infinitely tedious Pirates of the Caribbean series, and Tim Burton was discovered by Pee-wee Herman. Despite the impressive energy, some critical judgements are pointlessly flip ("Call it 'American Ugly'" doesn't tell us much about Fight Club) or off-beat. Tarantino's plodding Jackie Brown is bizarrely described as his "best film". CH

Lionheart & Lackkand, by Frank McLynn (Vintage £9.99)

This absorbing account of the sibling monarchs Richard and John reasserts traditional views. England was fortunate to be spared their elder brother Henry, "prodigal, improvident, insouciant and foolish"." Cold, hard and restless but adept in argument and battle, Richard was more like his hated father, Henry II. Unfortunately, a fondness for the fray did for this "military genius". At the age of 42, he was needlessly killed near Limoges. The Plantagenet recessive gene re-emerged in John. "Lethargic, dilatory and selfish", he died from overeating peaches and new cider, "an incredible diet for one suffering from dysentery". CH

Mr Darcy's Diary, by Maya Slater (Phoenix £6.99)

Another success for the Pride and Prejudice re-writing industry, this time from the perspective of Darcy. Seamlessly weaving in bits of the original, this entertaining novel gets the curmudgeonly hero spot on, positioning him in just the right section of the male/autism spectrum. It would be going too far to call him a sympathetic character, but he does explain the tight breeches. KG

Martha, Jack and Shanco, by Caryl Lewis (Parthian £8.99)

Harsh, lyrical, devastating, Caryl Lewis's Welsh-language novel of rural loneliness and loss sings with a bitter poetry in this translation by Gwen Davies. Subject and setting are canonical: the cycle of a tragic year, with ageing siblings marooned on the hill farm inherited from parents who fixed their fate. Did Martha and her brothers have "no choice"? Season by season, Lewis shows the pull of the place even as she tells how it ruins its people. BT

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