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Paperbacks

Dreams Of Exile:

Robert Louis Stevenson, A Biography by Ian Bell (Mainstream, £12.99)

This welcome republication of Bell's 1992 biography introduces Stevenson to us more radically as a "popular artist", though more conventionally it also situates him within a pantheon of great Scottish male writers (Scott, Hogg, Gunn, Gray etc). Bell's approach is an effective mixture of poetry, journalism and biography, bringing Stevenson close in body and in mind.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Abacus, £8.99)

Felling all who come before it, Tartt's 864-pager isn't free of cliché or manufactured delays, which can be frustrating, but there's no denying the readability and the appeal of her story of 27-year-old New Yorker Theo Decker, presently holed up in an Amsterdam hotel after committing a crime, and his relationship with his long-dead mother.

Bosworth: The Birth Of The Tudors by Chris Skidmore (Phoenix, £9.99)

Nicely timed with renewed interest in Richard III after the discovery of his skeleton, Skidmore's history is all action, but he doesn't skimp on the details of the battle itself, nor on the lead-up to it. Having physically traced Henry VII's route through Wales to the fight, he shows an understanding of the heavy demands of medieval warfare.

Bertie's Guide To Life And Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith (Abacus, £7.99)

Men and women struggle to get along with one another in the series of relationships that constructs this comedy: Bertie and his Melanie Klein-loving mother, Angus and his wife Domenica, Pat and her father Dr MacGregor. But McCall Smith plays with their human expectations and disappointments in his characteristically cheery and sympathetic tone.

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