The kind of story you couldn't make up: two girls taken from foundling hospitals in the late 18th century to be trained by Thomas Day, Enlightenment man and follower of Rousseau, one for eventual marriage to him. An "experiment" supported by friends like Erasmus Darwin masks the horror of almost 15,000 children abandoned in one week. Superb history.
The Enlightenment Of Nina Findlay by Andrea Gillies (Short Books, £12.99)
Gillies's second novel is an intelligent, thoughtful, grown-up romance about second chances and the complications of relationships. Nina Findlay is a sympathetic heroine, middle-aged and separated, who has long loved her husband's brother. Gillies places her on a Greek island, far enough away for fairytales, but close enough for reality to impinge.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Granta, £9.99)
Catton's immense novel is often truly dazzling, but her intellectual prowess comes at the price of sympathetic characterisation. Gold rush fever in mid 19th-century New Zealand means a huge cast of characters from prospectors to prostitutes to newspaper editors and politicians, as the author gives her adopted country the literary heritage it's considered to be lacking.
Beheading The Virgin Mary And Other Stories by Donal McLaughlin (Dalkey Archive, £9.50)
McLaughlin's ear for dialogue is also visual, if that's possible: his Northern Irish characters adhere to exclamation points like a mark of identity, and accumulatively they give the world of the growing Liam O'Donnell a forceful, yet also humorous, masculinity as he negotiates his way over the twin peaks of politics and family.