The 50 Best: hot reads; 50 best holiday books

There can be no greater pleasure, surely, than a great book plus the time and a beautiful place to read it in? With that thought in mind, Diona Gregory and her panel of experts have browsed the booklists to bring you the best of holiday reading. These are words to chill with, in sun or shade, on sand or sward, but always at your leisure...

THE EXPERTS

This week's panel comprised Boyd Tonkin, The Independent's literary editor and 1999 Booker Prize judge; Emma Hagestadt and Christopher Hirst, The Independent's paperback reviewers; Lisa Jewell, whose first novel, Ralph's Party (Penguin, pounds 5.99, went straight to No 1 in The Independent's "Bookwatch" list; novelist and screenwriter Deborah Moggach (latest paperback Close Relations: Arrow, pounds 5.99); Alan Titchmarsh, TV gardener and erotic novelist (first title Mr McGregor: Pocket Books, pounds 5.99); wisecracking novelist Kathy Lette (latest paperback Altar Ego: Picador, pounds 5.99); novelist Jonathan Coe (latest paperback House of Sleep: Penguin, pounds 5.99); and novelist Wendy Perriam (latest novel Second Skin: Flamingo, pounds 6.99)

1

ELIZABETH BOWEN BY HERMIONE LEE

Reissued with a new introduction, this is a subtle and intelligent study of a matchless writer. Though it is more a literary exploration than a biography, Lee examines the blurred distinction between life and fiction with great insight - after all, where does one end and the other begin? The book is beautifully rejacketed, as sleek and chic as the subject herself, and is particularly atmospheric in its descriptions of crumbling Anglo-Irish houses and the equally crumbling London during the Blitz. DM

Details: Vintage, pounds 6.99, 256pp

2

THE HARLEQUIN TEA SET & OTHER STORIES BY AGATHA CHRISTIE

If you've exhausted the entire Christie back-list, and now know who dun everything, you will love this collection of previously unpublished short stories. Three of the nine are pure Christie mysteries, while the others vary from gothic thrillers to dark romances. Written for magazines in the 1930s, none is up to the standard of her later stories, but they still clearly demonstrate her genius. The only downside is that you'll have to visit the States - or the Net (try www.amazon.com) - to get a copy! LJ

Details: Berkley Publications, $5.99, 240pp

3

EATING THE FLOWERS OF PARADISE BY KEVIN RUSHBY

Qat is the Yemen's biggest cash crop, though this soporific herb receives no mention in the government handbook. Rushby's meandering pursuit of the drug (illegal in the UK) has resulted in a travel classic: an unlikely mix of Chatwin, Waugh and Leary, whose pages throng with quirky characters. With a welcome lack of prevarication, Rushby does not disguise his fondness for the leaves (they are chewed), which induce "quiet contemplation and calm... tinged with sadness". Helpfully, he concludes with a buyer's guide. One feels tempted to hop on the next plane to San'a. CH

Details: Flamingo, pounds 7.99, 322pp

4

DANCING LESSONS FOR THE ADVANCED IN AGE BY BOHUMIL HRABAL

Hrabal is one of the great undiscovered secrets of modern literature: a wise, funny, subversive, sweet-natured and endlessly readable Czech humorist whose work translates beautifully into English. This novella - the tragicomic memoirs of an ageing roue, written in one enormous, looping sentence - gives the perfect introduction to his world. Forget the idea that middle-European writers have to be stern and difficult. This book slips down like a warm marshmallow. JC

Details: Harvill, pounds 6.99, 116pp

5

THE REGINALD PERRIN OMNIBUS BY DAVID NOBBS

Put aside for a moment your highbrow prejudices about TV spin-offs, and ask how many of today's novelists have created a character whose name has entered our national vocabulary. The first of these three novels stands up wonderfully well as a fierce, melancholy satire on corporate mediocrity. All of them are laugh-out-loud funny, and evoke the weird, even surreal, hilarity of the 1970s for those who lived through them. Taken together, they're something like a modern classic. JC

Details: Arrow, pounds 10, 896pp

6

THE MAN WHO LOVED ONLY NUMBERS BY PAUL HOFFMAN

The story of a genius who (fuelled by espresso and amphetamines) thought and wrote mathematics 19 hours a day until he died. At the age of three, Paul Erdos could multiply three-figure numbers in his head, and at four, he began to look for patterns amongst the prime integers - the start of a life consumed by a search for the lasting beauty and ultimate truth of maths. The dedication of his work was matched only by his personal eccentricity; both astounding. WP

Details: Fourth Estate, pounds 7.99, 320pp

7

AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST BY IAIN PEARS

It's set amid the political and private feuds of Oxford in the 1660s, but this cunning historical whodunit adds up to much more than Morse in periwig and breeches. A New College don dies, seemingly at the hands of a servant girl, and four ill-assorted witnesses recount their version of events. Their perspectives join to compose a rich portrait of Restoration England in all its social, sexual and scientific ferment. A period thriller whose perception of character is in Umberto Eco's league. BT

Details: Vintage, pounds 7.99, 698pp

8

MIDNIGHT IN SICILY BY PETER ROBB

Where but Sicily could inspire a book so rich in culture, gastronomy and wholesale murder? Resulting from Aussie writer Peter Robb's 15-year stay in southern Italy, this impressionistic masterpiece is replete with chilling frissons, such as his brush with a top Mafioso in the village of Corleone. But, he points out, Sicily also produced the incomparable author Lampedusa, and an intensely flavoured cuisine - though he is incorrect to say that a sauce was made from the "golden eggs" of the sea urchin; these were the creature's ovaries. CH

Details: Harvill, pounds 6.99, 323pp

9

SHOPPING BY GAVIN KRAMER

This highly original first novel has deservedly won prizes, for it's a laconic, compelling and horribly funny look at Japan through the eyes of the English. Alistair Meadowlark is a shambling, hopeless sort of financial trader who falls catastrophically in love with a hard-nosed young Japanese girl who's out for what she can grab. Her ruthless materialism destroys him, and his descent into ruin is farcically touching. None of the characters has anything to recommend them, yet one somehow minds about them. DM

Details: 4th Estate, pounds 6.99, 224pp

10

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY BY CHRISTINA KONING

I've put this under "Airport Reads" because it's set in an exotic location (Venezuela), and it grips the reader to the end. In fact, it's a fine literary novel, centred around a group of ex-pats in the Fifties. The men work at the oil wells, and the women drink cocktails and fidget with boredom; in this claustrophobic atmosphere, both sluggish and highly charged, an 11-year-old girl watches the disintegrating relationship of her mother and step-father. It deservedly won the Encore Award for best second novel. DM

Details: Penguin, pounds 6.99, 310pp 11

ONCE IN A HOUSE ON FIRE BY ANDREA ASHWORTH

The last place you might want to be transported to from your golden- sand, palm-fringed idyll is the hellhole of Andrea Ashworth's abusive upbringing in 1970s Manchester, but a beach is probably as good a place as any to be reminded of one's fortune. Like Frank McCourt (author of Angela's Ashes), Ashworth manages to imbue the story of her depressing, violent and impoverished childhood with enough charm, spirit and sheer sparky resilience to leave you utterly engrossed and cheering her on from the sidelines. LJ

Details: Picador, pounds 6.99, 330pp

12

THE FOURTH INSPECTOR MORSE OMNIBUS BY COLIN DEXTER

Three books in one - The Way Through the Woods, The Daughters of Cain and Death is Now My Neighbour - all of which I'd be happy to read again for four reasons. One, Colin Dexter's chapters are short, and therefore perfect for holiday reading. Two, the quotes at the start of each chapter are a great tease, even if half of them are made up. Three, I like John Thaw. And four, Dexter is deliciously chauvinistic. AT

Details: Pan, pounds 8.99, 792pp

13

ALL POINTS NORTH BY SIMON ARMITAGE

Tackling similar themes, though a notch or two down the social scale, as Alan Bennett's Writing Home, this collection of the poet's prose off-cuts deserves equal success. Simon Armitage's downbeat humour is much in evidence, whether discovering that his insurance premium is higher as a poet than when he was working as a probation officer ("Nutters and all that," explains Direct Line), or noting a warning on whisky-flavoured condoms: "This product should not be used while driving." Although it's too long to outline here, the Margaret Drabble joke on page 61 is the funniest thing you will hear from a poet this year. CH

Details: Penguin, pounds 6.99, 246pp

14

DREAM CHILDREN BY AN WILSON

Incredible. AN Wilson succeeds in making a paedophile sympathetic. Oliver Gold, a distinguished philosopher, has retired to live in an all- female household in North London, where he is universally loved and admired, despite his secret sexual involvement with 10-year-old Bobs. The book treats weighty issues - free will, good and evil, the influence of childhood trauma - with impressive subtlety and unexpected wit, and the fast-paced narrative sweeps you along. If you'll forgive the cliche, I couldn't put it down. WP

Details: Abacus, pounds 6.99, 280pp

15

THE INTERPRETER BY SUZANNE GLASS

Suzanne Glass is herself an interpreter who speaks seven languages, and this, her first novel, brings an impressive authenticity to the world of those human translating machines who spend their lives in half-lit booths in the cause of communication. Throw in a passionate love affair with a high-flying Italian doctor and a nail-biting moral dilemma centering on professional integrity, and the resultant heady mix of romance and intrigue keeps you on tenterhooks to the final page. WP

Details: Century, pounds 10, 290pp

16

LIVES OF THE POETS BY MICHAEL SCHMIDT

Hardly anyone will steam through this vast roll-call of English-language bards from cover to cover. That's not the point. Rather, you pick a writer, a group or an era that intrigues you, check out Schmidt's astute and witty 20- or 30-page chapter on the life and verse, and come away feeling edified, entertained, and a good deal smarter. Then another name from your always- meant-to-read list occurs to you, and you start again... Schmidt's brio and piquancy never desert him, all the way from Richard Rolle (born c.1300) to Sujata Bhatt (born 1956). For under a tenner, this is the ultimate literary bluffer's guide - and a surprisingly good long-haul read as well. BT

Details: Phoenix, pounds 9.99, 1,098pp

17

LUCKY YOU BY CARL HIAASEN

Carl Hiaasen's delirious crime romps lift the lid on a crazily corrupt America that sounds a little OTT until you read (for instance) that the Mob's tame lawyer has just been elected mayor of Las Vegas. This seventh slice of Florida follies (Hiaasen's still a columnist on the Miami Herald) features a young black woman with a fondness for pet turtles who shares a $28m lottery jackpot with a pair of cerebrally challenged rednecks. In the interests of "the Aryan cause", the hilariously moronic racists decide to kidnap their rival... A helter-skelter plot unfurls, with viciously subversive laughs and balletically precise comic timing. As ever, the writing's as crisp as Elmore Leonard; the satire as savage as Tom Wolfe. BT

Details: Pan, pounds 5.99, 486pp

18

LONDON: THE LIVES OF THE CITY EDITED BY IAN JACK

Forget going abroad on holiday, and become a tourist in your own capital. Granta's anthology throws light on London from many angles. It's the usual mixed bag - the slightest of impressions from the trendiest of writers, and one ho-hum story (by Hanif Kureishi) that seems to have no connection with London at all. But it's worth it for Ruth Gorshon's childhood memories of the rag trade, for Ian Parker's engrossing exploration of traffic control, and for Philip Hensher's creepy story about house prices, an obsession with property values being a peculiarly London-based affliction. DM

Details: Granta, pounds 8.99, 352pp

19

ABOUT A BOY BY NICK HORNBY

It seems a shame to spend the best part of a grand jetting off to the other side of the world and then reading a book so good that you will forget where you are entirely, but this is one of those books. Hornby does it again with a simply plotted but unputdownable tale of a young boy's friendship with an emotionally vegetative thirtysomething man. The writing style is as warm and satisfying as hot buttered toast, and Hornby's storytelling is as compelling and addictive as ever. LJ

Details: Indigo, pounds 6.99, 286pp

20

MADDY GOES TO HOLLYWOOD BY MAUREEN MARTELLA

Maddy's sister lives in Beverly Hills and has a cook called Dong and a housekeeper called Mrs Danvers. Maddy has a bad perm, drooling twins and lives on a farm in rural Ireland. The two sisters couldn't be more different, until Maddy takes a short break to LA and ends up staying. Escapist nonsense at its most readable, this brightly lit romantic comedy relates what happens when Maddy comes face to butt with her favourite soap star, Carlos Garcia. EH

Details: Arrow, pounds 5.99, 391pp

21

FOR THE TIME BEING BY DIRK BOGARDE

Every interviewer has a wish list, and Dirk Bogarde was at the top of mine for 10 years. I was a fan of his films, his writing and his deft pen-and-ink sketches - just the sort of situation that guarantees an embarrassingly sycophantic encounter. I feared, also, the bitterness of age. I needn't have worried. When I fulfilled my wish in 1996, he was a sparkling interviewee, with enough edge to make the whole thing hugely watchable, and this last volume of autobiography is as honest and as engaging as its predecessors. AT

Details: Penguin, pounds 7.99, 332pp

22

TRUE CRIME BY ANDREW KLAVAN

Reissued to tie in with the Clint Eastwood film. The movie opened to somewhat mixed reviews, but Andrew Klavan's original novel is utterly gripping - so much so that I missed three Christmas parties because I couldn't leave the house until I'd finished it. It's a nail-biting story, cunningly sustained to the end. If you open it on holiday, you'll be guaranteed to miss a day's sightseeing. DM

Details: Warner, pounds 5.99, 440pp 23

SHACKLETON'S BOAT JOURNEY BY FA WORSLEY

As one who shivers even in June, I found this account of HMS Endurance trapped by ice alternately chastening and enthralling. Its captain, Frank Worsley, died in 1943, but his recently reissued account of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914-16 Antarctic expedition is the stuff of legend. After drifting on an ice floe for five months, the party sailed 800 miles in a terrifyingly small boat, yet finally, all hands were saved. Endurance is the word. And the photographs are riveting - ice floes, ice flowers, icebergs - brrr. WP

Details: Pimlico, pounds 10, 224pp

24

THE GRANTA BOOK OF THE AMERICAN LONG STORY EDITED BY RICHARD FORD

A glorious compendium that feels like a dozen novels in one not-too-bulky package. Richard Ford's selection of post-1945 storytellers stretches from fellow-Mississippian Eudora Welty (born 1909) to Haiti-raised, Brooklyn- based Edwidge Danticat (born 1969). Each tale creates such a compelling world of its own - from Ernest Gaines's black sharecroppers to Cynthia Ozick's Miami retirees - that the whole anthology adds up to grand tour of modern American lives. Ford tilts a little towards Southerners rather than Yankees, although he does include Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus and a merciless slice of suburban tragicomedy from Jane Smiley. BT

Details: Granta, pounds 9.99, 720pp

25

LEARNING TO SWIM BY CLARE CHAMBERS

If there were any justice in the world, this delicious novel would have been a bestseller. It wasn't, because it has a truly horrible cover, but behind the tacky packaging is the warm and intelligent story of Abigail, a girl from a repressed suburban family who finds magic, enchantment and love in the home of her new schoolfriend's bohemian family. It is a joy from beginning to end, lightly and cleverly written, and delivering so much more than it promises. A perfect novel. LJ

Details: Arrow, pounds 5.99, 320pp

THE HEART-SHAPED BULLET BY KATHRYN FLETT

When Kathryn Flett met her husband, it was love at first sight. But then she took a second look. It was as if she'd been wearing a sign on her heart that read "In Case of Emergency, Break". The emergency being that she'd mentioned the possibility of progeny. Her husband immediately developed severe symptoms of FOC (Fear Of Commitment). So why did he marry, then? One can only presume it was the novelty of being with a female he didn't have to inflate. But the book is not just a devastating portrait of modern marriage. With raw, occasionally squirm-inducing honesty, Flett rips the psychological Band Aids from unhealed childhood wounds. KL

Details: Picador, pounds 9.99, 304pp

27

THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER'S BOY BY BARBARA VINE

Not content with writing 35 novels and four volumes of short stories, Ruth Rendell re-invented herself as Barbara Vine, and this, her ninth book as Vine, centres on Gerald Candless, himself a novelist. His adoring daughter embarks on a memoir of her deceased father, but discovers that he'd been living a lie, having concealed his true origins even from his wife and children. Vine probes with deep psychological insight into the problems of identity, and the pain and mystery of family relationships. WP

Details: Penguin, pounds 5.99, 440pp

28

KICKING AROUND BY TERRY TAYLOR

You don't have to have any interest in manly team sports involving leather balls to thoroughly enjoy this wonderful novel. Set in 1960s Lancashire, it charts with insight, humour and affection the painful adolescence of Tim Armstrong as he comes to terms with the fact that no matter how good you are at kicking a ball around a field, women will still ignore you. After excelling in both football and "ruggah", Tim is hormonally lured to the cricket pitch by cheesecloth-clad siren Sharon Battersby. LJ

Details: Black Swan, pounds 6.99, 285pp

29

THE SOUND OF TRUMPETS BY JOHN MORTIMER

Thackeray and Trollope began as lawyers, and Dickens was a court reporter: in the same great tradition of the English social and political novel comes John Mortimer. Concerning Rapstone Valley machinations involving New Labour Terry Flitton and old Thatcherite Lord Titmuss, The Sound of Trumpets is perfect gift for those who love the Blair but not the Blairism, and like to laugh at males who angst over the size of their elections. KL

Details: Penguin, pounds 6.99, 274pp

30

A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR BY JOHN IRVING

On the surface, a more domestic theme than usual for the creator of Garp. A woman writer - with an absconding mother and deadbeat artist dad - and the boy who helps out her parents on Long Island in Summer '58 are both captured in vivid narrative snapshots, from their Eisenhower childhood to their Clinton middle-age. Yet, as fans would expect, something magical emerges from this familiar material: a feast of surprise and suspense, rich social comedy and gentle philosophising. "Dickensian" is an epithet too often and too loosely used, but, if any living novelist deserves it, then Irving's the one. BT

Details: Black Swan, pounds 7.99, 688pp

31

RAT PACK CONFIDENTIAL BY SHAWN LEVY

So that's where Tarantino got his iconic Reservoir Dogs image: Frank, Dino, Sammy, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop ("the mouse in the Rat Pack"), in ties and dark suits, stalking past the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. But behind the snappy image and hip repartee, now imitated by a new generation of wannabe swingers, Sinatra's toadying retinue was mired in sleaze and violence. Levy's lapel-grabbing entertainment is told in a style so staccato that at times it breaks down into a series of quotes. "Dino was a good sex man, but his big interest was golf," says a club owner. It could be a script for a Scorsese epic, were he not already engaged on a biopic of Dean Martin. CH

Details: Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99, 384pp

32

IN PRAISE OF LIES BY PATRICIA MELO

Jose Guber writes potboilers, pinching his more lurid plots from Dostoevsky, Chesterton and Poe. When he meets Melissa at the Serological Institute in Sao Paulo, he is charmed by her white coat and intimate knowledge of snakes and serums. One night, over an indifferent pepperoni pizza, the two hatch a plot to bump off Melissa's husband. A tongue-in-cheek thriller from Brazilian screenwriter Patricia Melo, as refreshing for its setting (the yuppier quarters of contemporary Sao Paulo) as for its cynical hero, the professionally depressed Guber. EH

Details: Bloomsbury, pounds 10.99, 187pp

33

DANUBE BY CLAUDIO MAGRIS

First published in 1986, this enchanting journey from the Danube's source in Germany to its delta on the Black Sea explains so much about what has happened in the region since. It's a happy book, written - with huge charm and panache - at a time of upheaval in the East. Magris, a laid-back Triestino in love with the multi-cultural idealism of the last Habsburgs, transmits his infectious delight in every historical twist along the river's course. Then, in Belgrade, he spots that "Yugoslavia's solidarity is necessary to the equilibrium of Europe, and its disintegration would be ruinous". It was; it has been. This genial masterpiece dreams of a lost, and future, harmony. BT

Details: Harvill Press Editions, pounds 12, 416pp

34

THE EXES BY PAGAN KENNEDY

The East Coast indie scene doesn't sound like the ideal setting for a rollicking good time, but in the hands of Village Voice pundit Pagan Kennedy, even the most miserable rock chicks end up interesting. When Hank and Lilly stop sleeping with each other, they form The Exes, a band of ex-couples. Joining them are Shaz, a bisexual bassist, and her ex, Walt, a geek with a van and a large amount of Prozac. A love story told from four viewpoints, which gets to grips with relationship fatigue and an all-consuming desire to make it on MTV. EH

Details: Scribner, pounds 6.99, 208pp 35

DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD BY REBECCA WELLS

Is blood thicker than tequilla? This is the premise of Rebecca Wells's quirky look at mother-daughter relationships. When Siddalee Walker performs a psychological striptease in a news-paper interview (describing her mother as a "tap-dancing child abuser"), the shit hits the familial fan. Only a rapprochement with her mother, head honcho of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, will exorcise Siddalee's demons. This is a story of thwarted ambition and indomitable spirit - and spirits of a more liquid kind: the only thing Mum can grasp in an argument is a martini glass. But the language of the Bayou is equally intoxicating. KL

Details: Macmillan, pounds 9.99, 368pp

36

NOW AND THEN BY JOSEPH HELLER

There must be something in the air at Coney Island. Like Woody Allen's Radio Days, these recollections of growing up in the resort have resulted in one of the author's most enjoyable works. Many incidents - such as kissing the wrong woman in hospital while his mother in a nearby bed was "practically levitating" to gain his attention - crop up in Catch-22. The past stays close to Heller. He says that a royalty windfall of $18,000 gave no more pleasure than the 10 cents he made as a newsboy, when a purchaser glanced at his paper before returning it. CH

Details: Scribner, pounds 7.99, 275pp

37

FREEDOMLAND BY RICHARD PRICE

Reading Richard Price - one of Hollywood's best-paid hacks - is like living through a particularly hyper episode of NYPD Blues. Author of Clockers and several screenplays (The Sea of Love, Ransom), Price's latest book is a meaty thriller set in New Jersey's scummier housing projects and run-down A&E departments. The book's hero, DI Lorenzo Council, faces a long summer tackling the disappearance of a young boy from his mother's car and an unsolved double homicide. EH

Details: Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99, 546pp

38

DRIVING OVER LEMONS: AN OPTIMIST IN ANDALUCIA BY CHRIS STEWART

Sort of Toujours... Andaluca. But I enjoyed Peter Mayle's relaxed romp, and this book is enjoyable, too. To observe Chris Stewart getting used to life in sunny Spain is all the more poignant when you know that he decided to chuck in life as a rock drummer with Genesis when he was 17. It's pretty young to retire, and you can't help wondering if you'd ever have heard of Phil Collins if Stewart had stayed on. But then I know whose life I'd have preferred. AT

Details: Sort of Books, pounds 6.99, 256pp

39

THE LAST RESORT BY ALISON LURIE

Jenny is that endangered species: a woman happy to be a wife. She has devoted her life to her husband, the famous naturalist Wilkie Walker, but, as another East Coast winter draws in, she finds her husband becoming withdrawn. After much persuasion, she gets him to abandon his LL Bean dressing gown for a winter break in Key West. Exploring the gaps between what people say and what they mean, Lurie lets the Walkers loose on the Key's more exotic sun decks, with unexpectedly liberating results. Lurie's first novel in 10 years - delayed gratification at its most exquisite. EH

Details: Vintage, pounds 6.99, 234pp

40

SUMMER THINGS BY JOSEPH CONNOLLY

Awash with saucy postcard humour, Joseph Connolly's comic novel of the English seaside may be a little bracing for some tastes. Elizabeth has booked into a five-star seafront hotel. Her neighbour Dotty had plans to do the same, until husband Brian decided to spend his summer hols in a caravan instead. Son Colin doesn't mind where he sleeps, as long as it's with something warm. A novel that doesn't allow the reader to get bored, the lobby doors (and everyone's appendages) are set to auto-revolve. Tom Sharpe and Carry On... devotees need look no further. EH

Details: Faber, pounds 6.99, 371pp

41

HOGARTH BY JENNY UGLOW

This most literary of artists is a wonderful subject for biography. It's hard to imagine how Jenny Uglow's treatment could be bettered as she pursues Hogarth through "the close, dense, argumentative London culture" of the 18th century, which he captured so incomparably. Not a word is wasted. Her analysis is spot on: "It is as if he wanted order, but resented authority." In particular, Uglow is disturbed by Hogarth's "aesthetic delight in portraying cruelty". Though his spleen often got the better of his judgement, Hogarth's eye was unerring. The grotesque gallery that he portrayed is still all about us. CH

Details: Faber, pounds 14.99, 805pp

42

THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS BY CALEB CARR

Reintroducing psychiatrist and sleuth Dr Laszlo Kreizler, Caleb Carr's follow-up to his best-selling novel The Alienist luxuriates in the enervating heat of a New York summer. It's 1897, and the young daughter of a Spanish diplomat goes missing in Central Park. She's later spotted on a train in the company of a sinister-looking woman. The author's wonderfully confident

re-creation of fin-de-siecle New York (al fresco lunches in University Place, carriage rides through Sheep Meadow) is what lifts this satisfying period thriller of child murders and gangsters out of the ordinary. EH

Details: Warner, pounds 6.99, 808pp

43

FULL CIRCLE BY MICHAEL PALIN

What a place-dropper! From Suez to the South Pole, from Jeddah to Gerringong, Michael Palin has been there, filmed that - the lucky bastard. The BBC's travel trilogy of the series is the most seductive trip-tease you'll ever experience. Especially if you're a mum, like me, and the highlight of your week is getting the lint out of the drier. Just as well Palin's such a great bloke, or you'd want to impale him on the end of his own pen. With wit and verve, chutzpah and nerve, the genial and jovial Palin is the perfect tour guide for armchair adventurers. KL

Details: BBC, pounds 7.99, 316pp

44

THE PAGE TURNER BY DAVID LEAVITT

David Leavitt's novel about a young musician's first romantic encounter is a reader's treat. Set against the stirring backdrops of New York and Rome, it employs shrewd dialogue and succinct emotional commentary to tell the story of Peter Poterfield, an 18-year-old pianist who lands a job as page-turner to one of America's best known concert-hall stars, and ends up surrendering his Brooks Bros shorts in an Italian hotel room. EH

Details: Abacus, pounds 6.99, 244pp

45

THE TEARDROP STORY WOMAN BY CATHERINE LIM

Pork dumplings and second grandmothers don't always guarantee Wild Swans- type sales figures, but the latest family saga from Catherine Lim - one of Singapore's most prolific novelists - lives up to its oriental promise. Set in a small town in occupied Malaya, the novel relates the story of its Chinese heroine, Mei Kwei, who meets bad luck at every turn. Almost abandoned at birth for being female, she ends up married to to a restaurateur (preparing roast beef dinners for the remaining white population) while secretly pining for the arms of the local French priest. EH

Details: Orion, pounds 6.99, 392pp

46

ON GIANTS' SHOULDERS EDITED BY MELVYN BRAGG

It's hard to see how this volume, based on a Radio 4 series, could be improved on as an introduction to science. A dozen scientific greats, from Archimedes to Einstein, are dazzlingly illuminated by contemporary experts in the same fields. We learn that it was Galileo who first insisted on the power of maths ("without it, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth"), and that the key thing about the "deeply unlikeable" Newton was his realisation that both the falling apple and the captive moon obey the same law. Sparks fly between contributors on Darwin. This is science told with passion. CH

Details: Sceptre, pounds 7.99, 366pp

47

HONEYDEW BY LOUISE DOUGHTY

Louise Doughty exchanges her urban-novel credentials for a murder mystery set in rural Rutland. The village of Nether Bowston is a not-so-closely- knit community of "balding" semis and tied cottages. When a middle-aged couple are found stabbed to death in their sun-lit kitchen, suspicion falls on their teenage daughter. Unravelling the clues are a local newshound, Alison Akenside, and the resident crime-writer, the redoubtable Miss Crabbe. An atmospheric and playful whodunnit, in which Doughty turns the genre's more treasured conventions inside out. EH

Details: Scribner, pounds 6.99, 178pp

48

THE TIME OUT BOOK OF PARIS SHORT STORIES EDITED BY NICHOLAS ROYLE

If Paris in springtime passed you by, novelist and critic Nicholas Royle's selection of Paris tales by contemporary writers is the next best thing. Most are by the collection's tourist contingency, including several transplanted Americans - Maureen Freely, Erica Wagner and Edward Fox - who, much like the character in Michele Roberts's story "Fluency", roam the city in search of moments of heightened awareness: afternoons smelling of "hot dust, lime blossom and vanilla"; and the perfect cafe in which to linger over a cafe au lait or glass of wine. EH

Details: Penguin, pounds 6.99, 208pp

49

THE TRAVELLING HORNPLAYER BY BARBARA TRAPIDO

A sequel to a sequel, but don't let that put you off. In a plot as enchanting (and outlandish) as any dreamt up by Iris Murdoch, Trapido's cast of Oxford dons, adulterous writers and profane monks all have one moment in common, the death of a young student in a road accident in London. In addition to laugh-out-loud jokes about the interior-design notions of British women, rude sex, and the joys of Allinson's wholemeal bread, this delightfully mature tragicomedy also delivers on life's more taxing emotions, in particular bereavement and loss. EH

Details: Penguin, pounds 6.99, 245pp

50

THREE MEN ON A PLANE BY MAVIS CHEEK

More literary than Deborah Moggach, and funnier than Joanna Trollope, Mavis Cheek writes social comedies of Chiswick fortysomethings and Chelsea- based bachelors. Pamela Pryor is a divorced interior designer whose only son has just left home. With time on her hands, her thoughts turn to hot baths, icy gins and ex-lovers: Peter (a minimalist architect), Douglas (a design guru) and Dean (a serious younger man). In her best novel to date, the well-named Ms Cheek draws an engagingly waspish portrait of contemporary London and its more menopausal miscreants. EH

Details: Faber, pounds 6.99, 263pp

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