The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Oh, will fictional parents never learn? Leaving your children behind in the charge of a new governess while you journey abroad almost never ends well. In the case of Willoughby (‘isn’t he the richest man in five counties?’ someone asks, not so innocently) it could cost him his life and his estate. You’d have thought a bit…

Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Should you be heading home for Christmas on a train, then this is the perfect little novel with which to fritter away some pre-Yule time before you are forced to make polite conversation and pass the mistletoe. Another in the great British Library Crime Classics imprint, Mystery In White has everything you could want for the season of goodwill: a…

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

‘Call me Ishmael…’ Perhaps the most famous opening line in literature. Well, most famous short one, anyway. And by the by, who put the hyphen into Moby-Dick? Herman Melville’s brother, apparently – and the title is, as far as I can see, the only time the hyphen appears. The rest of the time the great white whale is just…

Slade House by David Mitchell

A copper-cauldroned winter read, this one: put the black cat out, settle in front of the fire with a goblet of something, convince yourself there’s nothing behind the curtains, and enjoy…Slade House is tucked away down a narrow, dingy alley and weird and terrible things happen there. Well, that’s Reading for you. At least, I think it’s…

How To Be Both by Ali Smith

Hmmm…for all the hype, I’m not sure this is quite as good as everyone says it is. Paintings can lead to all sorts of extraordinary places in fiction: Russell Hoban took one look at the medieval painting depicting the legend of St Eustace in Canterbury Cathedral and conjoured Riddley Walker. How you get from church wall to…

Fair Stood The Wind For France by H.E. Bates

War story. Love story. Great story. It is 1942 and John Franklin is piloting his Wellington bomber over France, home to England after a successful mission. He is forced to crash land in the black. In the movie* this will happen after a hail of flak, or perhaps a German night fighter attack, complete with explosions, blood, swearing and…