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What the critics liked

Falling (Simon & Schuster £14.99) has a hell of a premise, says Alison Flood in The Observer. Pilot Bill Hoffman’s family are kidnapped while he is flying from LA to New York. He is given an ultimatum by the kidnappers: “You will crash the plane or I will kill your family.” Former flight attendant TJ Newman’s first novel is a relentless, “race-to-the-finish-line sort of read”, set “in a pressurised metal tube, thirty-eight thousand feet in the air going six hundred miles an hour”. Or, as crime writer Don Winslow put it: “This is Jaws at 35,000 feet.”

This compelling debut was composed while Newman’s passengers were asleep on red-eye flights across the US, says Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Daily Mail. It has “characters you’ll root for” and a plot “that dips and bounces like a plane hitting turbulence”. Determined to save not only his family, but also the 143 passengers on board, Hoffman has to outwit the hostage-taker. He’s helped by his cabin crew of three, but “there are snags along the way” – not least the fact that the kidnapper has an unidentified accomplice on the plane.

Falling was rejected by 41 agents, Newman’s afterword reveals. What were they thinking, asks John Dugdale in The Sunday Times: “Have they all resigned?” The 42nd agent sold it for a seven-figure sum as part of a two-book deal. Foreign rights have now been sold in 24 territories and Universal will turn it into a film after a seven-figure bidding war. It will be produced by Working Title. Newman has left her job and started work on her second book.

Available as an audiobook on Kobo.

Every First Lady arguably shapes history, says Emily Tamkin in the New Statesman. But while some political spouses – Abigail Adams, say, or Eleanor Roosevelt – “are remarkable for their independence”, what distinguishes Nancy Reagan “is how tied she was to her husband”. Karen Tumulty’s biography The Triumph of Nancy Reagan (Simon & Schuster £25) shows that while Nancy rarely set foot in the West Wing, “her presence was felt by everyone who worked there”. “Ronnie” and Nancy met in 1949, during her brief foray into acting, which she “very gladly” gave up, believing, as she put it, that “a woman’s real happiness and fulfilment is found in her home”.

But Nancy had no appetite for cosy calm in the White House, says Liza Mundy in The Atlantic. Unlike her “conflict-averse” husband, “she played the ruthless enforcer, conducting feuds and engineering firings”. Her motivation was “not to expand her own portfolio”; it was to protect and promote her husband, “ferociously tending him and his image”. Nancy emerges as a “disruptive force”, clashing with staff, Barbara Bush and even her own children. Designer clothes were borrowed and never returned. Astrology was “a compulsion” – a colour-coded calendar signalled good days (green) and bad ones (red) for trips and meetings, based on consultations with a San Francisco “stargazer” who was paid on a monthly retainer. Her paranoia intensified after Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr. Her sleepless nights were helped by a nightly banana, as “she feared the crunching of an apple might wake her husband”.

Nancy’s wary nature “did have its upsides”. She saw the peril posed by the Iran-Contra scandal and “hectored a stubbornly resistant” Reagan until he admitted to the arms-for-hostages deal. Likewise, appreciating the “full potential of his powers of persuasion”, she pushed her husband to negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War. Tumulty thinks of the Reagan marriage as an ideally durable romance, says Peter Conrad in The Observer. While she “touchingly” reports on Nancy’s devotion after Alzheimer’s turned Ronnie into “a hollow wreck”, for them “love was a state of neurotic dependency”. As their son and daughter “complained” in speeches at Nancy’s funeral, “no one crossed the boundary into the space they held as theirs”.

Available as an audiobook on Audible.