The Riders by Tim Winton (Picador, pounds 5.99)

Like the book's hero, a big lumbering Aussie, Winton's novel is generous, earthy and raw. When his wife disappears en route to Ireland, Scully, with young daughter in tow, scours Europe to find her. Mysteries don't come more heartfelt than this. Shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize.

Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys (Corgi, pounds 6.99)

As a boy George wished he'd get knocked down by a car, so someone would have to hold him. Margaret Humphreys, the social worker who exposed Britain's export of ''orphaned'' children to Australia from 1922 to 1967, recalls the plight of those deprived of country and identity for over 50 years.

Katharine Hepburn by Barbara Leaming (Phoenix, pounds 6.99)

The Hepburns were a vulnerable lot, and Kate's childhood was dominated by a series of suicides (several uncles and a brother). No wonder she felt at home around such colossal self-destructs as Howard Hughes and Spencer Tracy.

Moonrise, Sunset by Gopal Bartham (Serpent's Tail, pounds 8.99)

The unfortunately named How Kum (as in ''How Come you're late'') was born rather hairless. But that doesn't stop him falling for the fabulously hirsute and voracious Vanita. Bizarre couplings and murders from the pen of Singapore's leading neurosurgeon.

Violetta by Pieke Biermann (Serpent's Tail, pounds 8.99)

In the pressure-cooker heat

of a Berlin summer, DI Karen Lietze curses, sweats and puffs cigarillos as she hurtles after a couple of serial killers in the red-light district. Ex-prostitute Biermann knows the turf. This is a dark, resonant policier.

Orson Welles by Simon Callow (Vintage, pounds 8.99)

"Silence, Genius at Work" was the headline when Welles began shooting Citizen Kane. Rich in professional insight, Callow's wonderful book traces the ascent from child prodigy to cinematic legend but stops short at the age of 26. Why not the full Monty?

The Oxford Book of Adventure Stories ed by Joseph Bristow (pounds 7.99)

Offering scant room for lily-livers, this pukka haul is an ideal cure for winter ennui. We roam the veldt with Rider Haggard, pursue pirates with Bram Stoker and maim man-eaters with Henty. Biggles, sadly, brings on the giggles.

War of the Worlds by Mark Slouka (Abacus, pounds 9.99)

A witty, disturbing assault on cyberspace and the nerds who inhabit it. It's not only adolescents endlessly discussing The X-Files. People lead surrogate lives (and sex lives) via the Web. "More relevant than the technology is our willingness to buy into it''.

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