Paperbacks: Good Women<br/> Grace<br/> An Autobiography <br/> The Man Who Saved Britain <br/> Red Moon &amp; High Summer <br/> The March <br/> A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

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The Independent Culture

Good Women, By Jane Stevenson (VINTAGE £7.99 (232pp))

Jane Stevenson's Good Women demonstrates the more elastic properties of the novella in a series of well-sprung tales of middle-aged passion and greed. "Light My Fire", the book's first story, opens with a chance encounter on a train between David, a self-regarding architect, and Freda, the wife of an Aberdonian oilman. The two embark on an affair, leave their respective spouses, and move into a tower-house in the Scottish wilds. The pressures of renovation expose serious cracks in their relationship, and David starts to miss his plain but well-connected ex-wife. The story culminates in a climax every bit as electrifying as the couple's first kiss. Stevenson's second story, also set in the North, is narrated by Wenda, a part-time pharmacist living in Sheffield. Life is disrupted when she starts seeing angels hovering by the fridge. Her best friend Jean persuades her to set up a website selling angel-inspired "doodahs"; her husband Derek checks her in for a CAT scan. The final and best entry, "Garden Guerrillas", is the story of Alice, a widow about to be ousted from her London home by a property-hungry son. "I had had plenty of practice in being taken for granted," she says, "but I drew the line at being eradicated." Stevenson follows Alice's final act of revenge to its logical and appropriate end. EH

Grace, by Robert Drewe (PENGUIN £7.99 (415pp))

Drewe's mesmeric thriller turns out to be more than just the story of a pretty young woman plagued by a creepy stalker. Film critic Grace Molloy is forced to exchange the suburbs of Perth for remote Kimberley to escape the unwelcome attentions of a gingery youth known as "the Icelander". Taking a job at a wildlife park, she draws parallels between the primeval saltwater "crocs" and her yet more scary human predator. A sophisticated psychodrama, the novel taps into Australia's mythic past (a subplot involves ancient female remains) and leaves Grace, like the reader, feeling that she is "living a movie". EH

An Autobiography, by HE Bates (METHUEN £12.99 (514pp))

Between 1969 and 1972, HE Bates - the Northants cobbler's son who created the Pop Larkin novels that began with The Darling Buds of May - wrote a three-part account of his progress. The result, gathered in one volume, is a bewitching minor classic of personal and social history. In ripely evocative prose, Bates grows from working-class likely lad into fledgling author and, come the war, a much-travelled best-seller. As he changes, so does his England and its people, in a lush sweep from Midlands pubs and farms to Soho suppers and tropical clubs. Bates's deft drawings add to the appeal of a book blessed with an almost indecent dose of period charm. BT

The Man Who Saved Britain, by Simon Winder (PICADOR £9.99 (293pp))

Why do good publishers (and Simon Winder is an excellent one) write such unhinged tomes of their own? His memoir-cum-rant about the James Bond cult and 007's meaning for his youth, and for clapped-out, post-imperial Britain in its "comatose endgame", shakes violently but fails to stir. Winder loathes and loves Bond (odi et amo, as his boarding-school beaks might have quoted). Noisy ambivalence towards this icon of disguised decline fuels a sort of self-hating, British-bourgeois stand-up routine on the iniquities of class and country. It can be painfully funny, but satiric scorn demands martini-dry restraint; this often sounds as subtle as snakebite. BT

Red Moon & High Summer, by Herbert Kaufmann (ELAND £12.99 (233pp))

First published in 1960, this research-based German novel more than merits a stylish new edition. Inspired by Herbert Kaufmann's immersion in the nomad Tuareg culture of the Sahara, it veers between ethnographic detail and full-on desert romance, camels, campfires and sandstorms to the fore. Mid-e-Mid is a gifted Tuareg bard, a poor poet whose bid for the love of Tiu'elen ("high summer") is thwarted by her match with well-bred Red Moon. A flagrant "orientalist" style mixes with rapt admiration for untamed nomads. Stella Humphries's translation captures with panache each beating drum, thundering hoof and glinting eye. BT

The March, by EL Doctorow (ABACUS £7.99 (367pp))

In 1864, Gen Sherman marched the Union Army through Georgia, torched Atlanta, then led his 60,000 troops to the sea. He took Savannah in December, presenting the city as a Christmas gift to Lincoln, before heading to the Carolinas. EL Doctorow combines fact and fiction to flesh out the horrors of looting and pillaging in a novel with no heroes or villains. Sherman is a scruffy figure on an undersized pony. EH

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, by Yiyun Li (HARPER £7.99 (203pp))

This first book of stories by the Chinese-American novelist Yiyun Li relates the history of modern China through ordinary lives. Alongside stories set in Beijing and Mongolia, Li enters familiar terrain with tales of misunderstandings between parents and their US-raised offspring. In the title story, a woman attempts to tell her father about her divorce - a concept that makes sense in English, not Chinese. EH

To order these books call: 0870 079 8897

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