Books: Paperbacks

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Ludwig II of Bavaria: the Swan King by Christopher McIntosh (Tauris, pounds 12.95)

An intriguing portrait of the bizarre ruler who achieved fame for his patronage of the even more regal Wagner, and the creation of "fantasies in stone" which McIntosh describes as "having a mad beauty that goes beyond taste, good or bad". Ruined by his building mania, racked by homosexual guilt, Ludwig's eccentricity skewed into madness (possibly syphilitic in origin) in his 40th year. His unexplained drowning, along with his doctor, is probed in a fascinating denouement.

The Story of the World Cup by Brian Glanville (Faber, pounds 9.99)

Terse, fact-filled, literate, this is an indispensible primer for any footer nut. We learn the ball-holding secret of the 1958 Welsh goalie, Jack Kelsey: "Chewing gum. Put some on my hands. Rub it well in." We are reminded that Maradona followed his 1986 "Hand of God" cheat with "a goal so unusual, almost romantic, that it might have been scored by some schoolboy hero". In 1994, the legend's urine was found to contain "five different variants of the stimulant ephedrine". When Scotland's Willie Johnson failed a drug test in 1978, a fan mused "Pep pills? I thought they were tranquilisers." English Weather by Neil Ferguson (Indigo, pounds 6.99)

Greg Harris is born in prison, and dies in prison. But during the 40 years he spends in the outside world, his charismatic presence seems to shape the destinies of all who have dealings with him. Told through a series of first-person accounts (including those of an Eritrean refugee, West-Country hippies and a war-time slapper), It tells us as much about postwar Britain as Greg's past. A wonderful puzzle of a book. The Famine Ships by Edward Laxton (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99)

During the Great Irish Famine of 1846-51, perhaps a million died of starvation and the same number fled this "land of stunning beauty" for America. Laxton's account of this exodus is crammed with detail. We learn, for example, that women could be trapped by their skirts "for hours on end" when deck planking tightened as a result of a change in course. But the Mail on Sunday's opinion that Laxton "has managed to stay objective" is inexplicable. The book is an angry prosecution case against Britain culminating in a demand for an apology over the events of 150 years ago. M is For Malice by Sue Grafton (Pan, pounds 5.99)

In this latest Santa Teresa mystery, Private Detective Kinsey is called upon by the richest - and most dysfunctional - family in town to investigate the whereabouts of a missing younger brother. And, as she soon discovers, it's a family with more than one skeleton in its fitted closets. Owing much to fellow Californian, Ross MacDonald, Sue Grafton writes for readers who are excited more by people than by plots. Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger (Indigo, pounds 6.99)

One of the less likely topics for a humorous book is a year-long martial arts course with the Tokyo Riot Police. Twigger, an Oxford poet, almost pulls it off. There is much droll stuff about flat-sharing in Tokyo; but an awful lot of the book is devoted to inflicting and receiving pain. It becomes "Almost a pleasure. Not a brandy and cigars sort of pleasure - but a pleasure all the same." The Debbie Thrower Christmas Handbook (BBC, pounds 5.99)

Keith from Ross-on-Wye wants to know how to keep the pastry tops of his mince pies flaky, Marjory Graham from Cambridgeshire wonders if you can revive a two-year-old Christmas pudding. Just a couple of the questions raised by Radio 2 listeners, and answered by Debbie Thrower's all new Christmas Handbook - which also includes a timely warning that, though Christmas cards may be sent through the post, live creatures and small explosives may not.

Regeneration by Pat Barker (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

Reissued to coincide with the film which is released this week, the first volume in Barker's acclaimed WWI trilogy explores the only type of regeneration these battle-weary soldiers could hope for - the kind that takes place in the head. Recreating the conversations that took place at Craiglockhart in 1917 between W H R Rivers, an army psychoanalyst, and Siegfried Sassoon, Regeneration (like The Ghost Road) describes what happens when science tries to make sense of the nonsensical.

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