Paperbacks: How I Live Now

Night Windows

Blackbird House

I'll Go to Bed at Noon



Like a Fiery Elephant

Meg Rosoff's apocalyptical debut was originally marketed as a children's book but, like all the best novels for early teens, it contains some decidedly adult material. The novel's narrator, Daisy, is an anorexic New Yorker shipped off to England for a summer holiday with her four cousins in rural England. She finds herself falling in love with her new life in the country. Country cousins Edmond, Osbert, Piper and Isaac smoke cigarettes, drive cars and regularly commune with nature. Daisy's aunt Penn, a kindly distant figure, shows her niece a care and attention she hasn't received since her own mother's death. Within days of Daisy's arrival, however, aunt Penn, disappears on a business trip. It's during her absence that a series of terrorist attacks take place in London. The eccentric band of cousins are left to fend for themselves. Rosoff's story of survival and living off the land stumbles into taboo territory only when Daisy and Edmond find themselves kissing in the lambing barn. Wartime offers "the perfect limbo in which two people who were too young and too related could start kissing without anyone or anything to make us stop". Both children and parents will enjoy Daisy's smart, ironic style. Sex and death are to the fore, but hidden in a near mythical landscape of bucolic woods and meadows. EH

Night Windows by Jonathan Smith (ABACUS £7.99 (327pp))

Trailblazing headmaster, novelist and media star, Patrick Balfour is the envy of his London teaching peers. Then one morning, fresh from school assembly, he is arrested. The police seem to have incontrovertible proof that he is a thief, fraudster and a paedophile. This superior psychological thriller captures the power-trip of headship, and the gradual disintegration of a man for whom calm authority is central to his sense of self. Smith's novel has you guessing about the identity of the thief, but it's the identity of the victim that proves more interesting. This whodunnit has a satifyingly logical payoff. EH

Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman (VINTAGE £6.99 (225pp))

In her latest collection of short fiction, Alice Hoffman turns decidedly agricultural, bringing together the stories of the inhabitants of a Cape Cod farmhouse over the course of 200 years. Central to most of them is the humble turnip - apparently Nathaniel Hawthorne's preferred root veg. In the opening story, "The Edge of the World", 18th-century fisherman John Hadley plants a turnip crop, only to be drowned at sea before the first harvest. In the last story , "Wish You Were Here", set in the present day, a cancer survivor moves into the house and teaches a young boy the art of turnip chutney. These are New England fairy tales with a feminist edge. EH

I'll Go to Bed at Noon by Gerard Woodward (VINTAGE £6.99 (437pp))

The poet Gerard Woodward's first novel, August, described a series of camping holidays taken by a London family in the 1960s. His second catches up with the Jones family ten years on, and finds them more interested in alcohol than tents. Mother Colette's addiction to glue has moved on to barley wine. Her brother, Janus Brian, brews up home-made cordials made from garden produce. London's answer to Jonathan Franzen, Woodward writes with black humour about a family for whom drunkenness and dysfunction are the norm. EH

Blockbuster by Tom Shone (SIMON & SCHUSTER £8.99 (339pp))

In this passionate, witty and hugely entertaining book, Tom Shone counters the new orthodoxy, voiced by Susan Sontag among others, that the birth of the blockbuster signalled the onset of "an ignominious, irreversible decline". Starting with Jaws ("fast and funny and tender and oblique") and moving on through Star Wars and Alien to Lord of the Rings, he offers a brilliant, incisive account of the craftsmanship, vision and sheer marketing weight that created these thrill-a-minute, box-office-record-breaking hits. "Sex was everywhere in Alien," he says, "except... between the characters". CP

Ghosting by Jennie Erdal (CANONGATE £7.99 (270pp))

Coverage of this delicious memoir has focused on Erdal's 15 years as the literary alter ego of "Tiger", the "exotic" tycoon and publisher whose books - research-rich interviews, then ludicrous erotica - she brought to birth. Yet Ghosting has many other virtues. Slyly funny in a pawky Scots style, it has plenty of acute things to say about the various forms of masquerade that fill both books and life. When the gossip has died down, a modest classic will surely remain. BT

Like a Fiery Elephant by Jonathan Coe (PICADOR £9.99 (486pp))

Coe's bold life of the "heretic" novelist B S Johnson deserves all the readers that his sad, gifted subject struggled to find. Section by section, Coe gives the tired wardrobe of British literary biography a magnificent makeover, from his blend of anthology and narration to the closing collage of interviews. So why has Picador sold him short with tiny type and bog-standard paper? Shame on them - but do read it.BT

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