Paperbacks: Second Honeymoon <br/>In the Company of the Courtesan <br/> Pages from the Goncourt Journals <br/> Julianna Kiss <br/> Arthur Ransome &amp; Captain Flint's Trunk <br/> Cimmamon Kiss <br/> City of Oranges

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The Independent Culture

Second Honeymoon, By Joanna Trollope (BLACK SWAN £6.99 (383pp))

Like all good popular novelists, Joanna Trollope has a knack for writing about what's on her readers' minds. Most of her books explore some aspect of romance or marital misery, from the memorable Other People's Children, a clear-sighted portrayal of familial regroupings after divorce, to Marrying the Mistress, a book whose title speaks for itself. Her 13th novel examines a subject close to many parents' hearts - the empty nest syndrome. Actress Edie Boyd is in a state of shock because her youngest son, 22-year-old Ben, has left home. While she mopes around his bedroom and clears out ancient crockery, husband Russell gets busy organising a series of mid-life treats: European mini-breaks, galleries, dinners. His solicitous efforts to enjoy a new child-free existence, however, soon go to waste. Within a few months Edie lands herself a plum part in Ibsen's Ghosts and, one by one, all three grown-up children, following relationship hiccups, return to the four-bedroom semi in Highbury. Yet, largely because of the low-key material, Trollope's first London novel lacks the blood and guts of her earlier fiction. With its middle-class cast and measured metropolitan manners, Second Honeymoon is probably the closest thing to a cosy Aga saga that she has ever written. EH

In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant (VIRAGO £6.99 (403pp))

No best-selling historical novel is complete without a courtesan, and in Renaissance lovely Fiametta Bianchini, Dunant has created a high-class specimen. As gorgeous as Titian's Venus of Urbino, Fiametta is the toast of the Eternal City, hostess to priapic priests and princes. Forced to flee following the Sack of Rome, she escapes to Venice with her pimp, a pint-sized changeling called Bucino. Fascinated by the urban landscape of Italy, Dunant gives us a dwarf's-eye view of Venice's seamy "crevices". Bawdy while free of cliché, Dunant's novel is another bravura performance. EH

Pages from the Goncourt Journals, by Edmond & Jules de Goncourt (NYRB £11.99 (434pp))

Translated by Robert Baldick, this is the finest collection of literary gossip ever penned. Starting on the day in 1851 when Napoleon III staged his coup, the Brothers Goncourt (writers, party-goers, and super-bitches) kept a diary of the scandals and sensations that shook Paris in the age of their pals Flaubert and Zola. In 1870 Jules died of syphilis, and Edmond's moving but steely record of his end vindicates the Goncourt gaze. There's comedy too, mostly from the sexual foibles of the great and not-so-good. It's almost as if Proust (who well knew how much he owed the pair) had written for Heat. BT

Julianna Kiss, by Hannah Macdonald (ABACUS £7.99 (375pp))

Newly arrived in Kent for a summer of fruit-picking, Hungarian student Julianna Kiss is hungry for adventure. It's not long before she attracts the attention of Matthew, a hay-fever prone youth with "an appreciation for the unfamiliar". Their hesitant liaison is delicately rendered, but it's the second half of the novel - which sees Julianna exchange the countryside for London - that reveals MacDonald's talent for sophisticated storytelling. Julianna's romantic history says much about the web of needs and desires that keeps migrant hopefuls from throwing in the towel long, after they want to go home. EH

Arthur Ransome & Captain Flint's Trunk, by Christina Hardyment (FRANCES LINCOLN £12.99 (252pp))

Anyone who knows that Ransome married Leon Trotsky's PA will grasp that the Swallows and Amazons author brought a view of distant horizons to his Lakeland classics. This biographical quest by another intrepid sailor-writer pinpoints the spots there, and on other shores, that inspired the series, and ferrets out both boats and notes to explain the overlap of fact and fiction. Hardyment casts an eye over people and places in Ransome's far-flung life - from China to the Baltic - in a book that winningly dovetails a personal journey and watertight research. BT

Cinnamon Kiss By Walter Mosley (PHOENIX £6.99 (312pp))

Easy Rawlins, private eye, has come a long way since Mosley's first Californian mystery, Devil in a Blue Dress. Easy has played by the rules but it's now 1967, the summer of love, and he faces a moral dilemma. He needs $35,000 to send an adopted daughter to a Swiss clinic, but doesn't want to risk jail. The plot line is less important than Mosley's insouciant dialogue and classy prose. In San Francisco, Easy's brush with counter-culture nuttiness is a treat. EH

City of Oranges, by Adam LeBor (BLOOMSBURY £8.99 (357pp))

Not only does this admirable book uncover shoots of hope in the desert of Israel-Palestine; it offers a gripping, humane read. LeBor tells the story of the port of Jaffa, and its neighbour Tel Aviv, via six interlinked families - three Arab, three Jewish - in a city often seen (so the baker Abulafia says) as "a special model for co-existence". Young people now seek to revive the old civility, such as the (Arab) judo champion of Israel: "I am a mix, and I decided to enjoy it." BT

To order these books call: 0870 079 8897