Beach-bag blockbusters

summer paperbacks
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The Independent Culture
A Vicious Circle by Amanda Craig (Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99) One of those rare novels that delivers a thrill of recognition on every page - and not just for the literary hacks it lampoons. Following the transformation of Mary Quinn from "Slouch" Club waitress into ruthless hackette, Craig's panorama of Nineties London takes in doomed affairs, single motherhood, the crumbling NHS and priggish young men fonder of designer kettles than of their wives.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan (Penguin, pounds 5.99) Tired of loading the dishwasher and driving her son to Little League practice, Californian banker Stella Payne decides to take a vacation from the real world. Six new swimsuits later, she's sipping pina coladas by a Caribbean pool and checking out Winston Shakespeare, a 21-year-old Adonis.

Accordion Crimes by E Annie Proulx (Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99) Proulx's stories of immigrant America are as raw as a Minnesota winter. Following the travels of a green accordion as it passes from hand to hand over 100 years, she rehearses the songs of exile of four generations of Americans.

Next of Kin by Joanna Trollope (Black Swan, pounds 6.99) When Robin Meredith persuades Caro, a cowgirl from California, to share his workaday Midlands farm, he doesn't expect her to drop dead from a brain tumour. Nor does he expect his brother to take her death so badly. As unobtrusively plotted as the gentle countryside it describes.

Cause of Death By Patricia Cornwell (Warner Books, pounds 5.99) It's New Year's Eve and the body of a local investigative reporter has been found on the bottom of an icy river. Another tough case for ballsy Kay Scarpetta and her sidekicks: niece Lucy (computer whiz and outed lesbian) and police captain Pete Marino.

Catwalk by Georgina Newbery (Warner Books, pounds 5.99) Don't be put off by the trashy cover; this pastiche of the fashion biz is a classy little number. Set in the corridors of a Conde Nast-like glossy mag, it records a summer of King's Road drinks parties and romantic encounters for the mag's surprisingly likeable editor and her deeply camp deputy.

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald (Vintage, pounds 6.99) Set in Nova Scotia's Cape Breton, this haunting saga shows its author to be as intimate with small cruelties as her fellow-countrywoman Margaret Atwood. Married at 13, Lebanese-born Materia gives birth to a child she can never love. Three more daughters follow, as does the First World War and a run of peculiar tragedies.

Bombardiers by Po Bronson (Minerva, pounds 6.99) Less of a novel than a high-adrenaline trashing of corporate America, this wicked depiction of West Coast bond dealers will appeal to anyone who's seen the inside of a city dealing room. Given a block of overpriced bonds to offload, they develop the "bombardier" mentality: flying as close to the wind as possible without risking psychological breakdown.