Life as a young, professional woman hasn’t changed so much in 50 years

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING
BY RONA JAFFE
Penguin, £8.99
by Lucie Greene

This gem of a book – first published in 1958 – has witnessed a new wave of affection after being featured in top TV series Mad Men (being read by Don Draper) transforming it into an instant cult hit. Penguin saw a surge of sales after the appearance and have reissued the novel, the debut of Rona Jaffe, in both the US and UK to wide affection in the literary press in the past month. And, with good reason it turns out. The book is a fantastically entertaining and witty read, following the lives of three young women, Caroline, Gregg, and April working on the New York publishing scene as they search for love while trying to succeed in the metropolis. (It’s not surprising the novel has been widely heralded as the “original” Sex and the City.)

The Best of Everything was considered highly controversial when it came out but became an instant bestseller and later a movie starring Joan Crawford. Today, though the issues Jaffe touches on (abortion, affairs, homosexuality) are less shocking, the book’s portrait of young women at a vibrant stage in their life, their excitement, fun, struggles and friendships in the city, is accurate and timeless. A fabulous summer novel best consumed poolside with a cigarette and martini.

NOTES FROM MY 
KITCHEN TABLE
BY GWYNETH PALTROW
Macmillan, £20.00
by Lucie Greene

So, it wasn’t enough for Gyneth Paltrow to be a Hollwood actress turned lifestyle guru/blogger/singer. Now she’s got her sights set on Jamie Oliver’s apron strings. Notes from my Kitchen Table is offered as a modern take on the family cookbook, as penned by Paltrow, an avid foodie (difficult to imagine with that whippet-thin figure, but anyway). I wanted to dislike this book. I mean, really, I did. But it’s actually very well thought out. There are recipes for one pot meals, fancy dinner party recipes and a quick meals, including hot Nicoise salad, tuna and ginger burgers, courgette flowers with anchovies and mozzarella, and bluberry pavlova all with easy-to-recreate instructions. For vegans there are tips for exchanging ingredients. Some of the stereotypically “health food” shop ingredients Paltrow mentions seem a bit unnecessary, but then she also goes through each of these explaining why she uses them. Notes from my Kitchen is a tribute to Paltrow’s father Bruce Paltrow, the inspiration, she says, behind all her cooking. To that end, there’s a series of intimate snapshots of her growing up with him, along with a dedication at the beginning. It gives an authenticity to the book which previously – reading all the hype – you might have doubted. The recipes are pretty good, too.

CARTE BLANCHE
BY JEFFREY DEAVER
Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99
by Marc Sidwell

The latest James Bond novel offers more white flag than carte blanche. Experienced thriller writer Jeffrey Deaver has updated Bond to the twenty-first century, a veteran of the Royal Naval Reserve in Afghanistan, only three years into his double-0 status. That sounds promising, and the book drops us straight into the action, with a speeding train, incompetent Serbian sidekicks, a rucksack of explosives and a load of toxic chemicals. As the book unfurls though, it never lives up to this promise. Instead we get heavy-handed topical jokes: “‘I’m beginning to feel a bit like Lehman Brothers,’ he thought. ‘My debts vastly outweigh my assets.’”

While Carte Blanche is less dull than Sebastian Faulks’s ill-advised piece of literary slumming from 2008, it is too long and lacks edge. The villain is weird rather than scary, the henchman more Smithers from The Simpsons than Jaws or Oddjob. Deaver’s Bond knows his wine and has a nifty smartphone, but there’s not enough ice shaken with the martini. He pines for a meaningful relationship and at one point actually turns down a woman who wants to sleep with him. He drinks Old Fashioneds, but anyone hoping for an old-fashioned and unrepentant Bond needs to look elsewhere. Happily, the 007 novels written by John Gardner are being reissued this summer, starting with Licence Renewed. Here you will find Commander Bond making the most of the 1980s, an altogether more enjoyable bout of escapism.

CLEOPATRA
BY STACY SCHIFF
Ebury, £7.99
by Lucie Greene

As paperback releases go, this is certainly a timely one. Cleopatra – A Life, the well-received biopic by Pulitzer prize-winning Stacy Schiff is coming out in paperback next month at a time when a new film version of the book, set to star Angelina Jolie, has hit the headlines for its controversial casting (there has been outcry that caucasian Jolie is playing an Egyptian Queen.)

Then there’s the fact that Elizabeth Taylor, the starlet who originally immortalised Cleopatra on the silver screen, is reportedly set to become the subject of a new movie directed by Martin Scorsese, drawing on her love affair with Richard Burton (whom she met on the set of the film.) It would be worth whipping through Schiff’s book to establish yourself as an authority for dinner party chat alone. But it’s also a very engaging read. Cleopatra – a Life, tracks the icon’s story from becoming queen aged 18 to the lavish pageantry of her reign in Egypt (all told with cinematic flair: it’s already exciting to imagine how this will translate to the screen.) Schiff’s portrait of the queen is evocative, entertaining and well-researched, drawing its own conclusions about the fabled queen by taking a critical look at classical sources and how her life has been documented by others.