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Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes (M Joseph, £14.99, 576pp)

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes (M Joseph, £14.99, 576pp)

Even when Maeve Binchy or Roddy Doyle have a new novel out in Ireland, Marian Keyes pips them to number one. Author of four previous blockbusters, including Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, and Rachel's Holiday (a semi-autobiographical novel about recovering from alcoholism) 37-year old Keyes, like Helen Fielding, has given romantic comedy a much needed face lift. Chatty and warm-hearted, Keyes's talent is to tell it how it is. Her dialogue is natural, her chapters brief, and her characters convincing. Whether transplanted to New York or London, her freckle-faced heroines know they should take work and man trouble on the chin, but end up taking to their beds instead. Trying on a more sophisticated milieu for size - whether it's the Manhattan clubbing scene or magazine journalism - they stumble around like frisky heifers, but finally exit with the approval of their professional peers

Aspirational without being patronising, Keyes's books are well researched. Set in Dublin, her latest describes life on a new woman's monthly, Colleen, and despite some wide-eyed comments about launch parties, fashion freebies and exotic sushi lunches, the novel gives a more authentic picture than any number of romans à clefs by magazine insiders.

The love interest revolves around three lonely-hearts: Lisa Edwards, neurotic control freak sent over from London; her deputy, Ashling, and Ashling's best-friend Clodagh, a frustrated mother of two. Between them they divvy up a motley crew of males, and the last remaining samples of Oui Oui perfume. EH

Gore Vidal by Fred Kaplan Bloomsbury, £8.99, 850pp

Though low on finesse and high on bulk, this epic portrait of the enfant turned vieux terrible is great entertainment. In his recent appearance in The Psychiatrist's Chair, Vidal confirmed the account of his chilling farewell to his sottish mother: "I'll never see you as long as I live." He kept his word. But Kaplan misses the point about the punch-up with Norman Mailer (described by an observer as "one of the great moments of modern literature") in 1977. According to Vidal, it was prompted by Mailer's dim view of feminism.

Lincoln by Jan Morris Penguin, £7.99, 216pp

Though honest Abe is not the sexiest of subjects, Morris's breeze of a biography is a joy, as revealing about America as it is about the "kind, likable and clever man" who was also a "ruthless" war leader. She visits the famous log cabin ("some of its logs are probably genuine"), tuts about his shrewish wife and recalls Lincoln's advice to a solder even taller than he was (6ft 4in): "avoid alcohol, pies and pasty and sleep with your head lower than your chest". Chatty, funny, atmospheric, this book is a small tour de force.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem Faber, £5.99, 311pp

One of the weirder detective novels you are likely to read: genre-crosser Jonathan Lethem is more interested in neurological imbalance than solving any crime. Lionel Essroy suffers from Tourette's syndrome. Employed by Brooklyn goodfella Frank Minna, he is groomed for life on the streets. When Minna is murdered, "Unreliable Chessgrub" finds himself in the unlikely position of becoming a real detective - not easy when you can't throw away someone else's gun without touching four other things, including your shoe, first.

When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant Granta, £6.99, 260pp

It's 1946, and Evelyn Sert, a Jewish hairdresser from Soho, exchanges the grey streets of the West End for the sun of Palestine. Just 20 years old, she's still a "work-in-progress", and Tel Aviv proves an ideal setting in which to try on a series of disguises. Not only a fascinating novel about a moment in history; Grant's evocative prose buzzes with ideas about displacement, identity and, in Evelyn's case, the complicated process of growing up. Winner of this year's Orange Prize, the novel attracted unexpected controversy and debate over history and fiction.

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