Writing to the Moment by Tom Paulin (Faber, pounds 9.99)

In his introduction to this clutch of critical essays, Paulin praises the "instant, excited, spontaneous, concentrated" quality of journalism, which his hero Hazlitt compared to the way a glassblower "moulds the vitreous fluid". It's a shame that Paulin did not aim for even greater colloquialism. His starchy prose lacks the lightning invective that makes him such an ornament of The Late Review. The problem may lie in his devotion to litcrit. Though the liveliness of his approach is exemplified by topics such as "Eliot and Anti-Semitism" and "Shakespeare the Catholic", his acid dissection of Ian Paisley from 1982 suggests that he should tackle a broader canvas.

Nice Girls Finish Last by Sparkle Hayter (No Exit Press, pounds 6.99)

With a name like "Sparkle" you couldn't be anything other than a sassy girl novelist. Hayter was born in British Columbia, and was a reporter for CNN. Her second novel records the life and times of TV reporter Robin Hudson - a 37-year-old divorcee with a cat and an intruder-proof apartment. Robin's latest assignment: to investigate a link between a dead (and very good-looking) gynaecologist, and New York's seedy S&M nightclub scene. As sassy and hard-boiled as you'd expect.

Prohibition by Edward Behr (BBC/Penguin, pounds 7.99)

Veteran reporter Behr suggests that America's ill-fated exercise in moral absolutism stemmed from the nation's "perennial naivety". After sketching in the prohibitionist background ("God gives us the only drink - 'tis pure cold water"), his fast-moving account concentrates on the Gatsby-like bootlegger George Remus, who grossed $40m a year, half of which went in kickbacks. According to Behr, the "one innocuous weakness" of this intelligent teetotaller was a desire for social acceptability - though the fatal shooting of his wife might be considered a second flaw. In conclusion, Behr insists that the US is repeating history with severe anti-drug laws.

Beyond the Blue Mountains by Penelope Lively (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

In Penelope Lively's latest short story collection, harassed mothers and middle-aged wives are allowed to put some of their nastier emotions to rest. In the best story in the book, "The Slovian Giantess", an English academic attending an international conference gets the hots for a Henry James scholar from Sarajevo, only to be led astray by a woman called Eva in spikey boots; other stories examine the perils of marriage counselling and the high cost of holidays abroad. The perfect bedtime read, Lively's careful prose exerts a powerful calm.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Vintage, pounds 6.99)

For sheer imagination, it's hard to think of anything comparable with this epic novel from a male native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It concerns Sayura, sold to a Kyoto geisha house in 1930. After learning the skills (painting, tea, dance, music - but not flowers) of the geisha, aged 14, she dons the uniform of white make-up and heavy kimono. She is blessed with good looks, and her virginity has a high price-tag, which is rapidly paid by an eminent doctor: "Finally the homeless eel marked its territory..." Golden deals perfunctorily with the war and deposits his heroine in New York. A convincing impersonation.

A Dangerous Woman by Mary McGarry Morris (Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99)

Bestselling American novelist Mary McGarry Morris likes her small-town misfits as near normal as possible. In this, her second novel, a 31-year- old loner called Martha (almost pretty, almost bright) makes the mistake of falling in love, twice: first with Birdy, her co-worker at a dry-cleaners, and then with Mack, her rich cousin's handyman. From page one of this thrillerish read, it's clear that someone in the neighbourhood is for the chop. Made into a film (of the same title) in which Debra Winger famously appears without make-up.

Kylie: from girl-next-door to international icon by Dino Scatena (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

The press release that came with this "unauthorised biography" of the warbling homunculus ("God, she's so tiny" is the second sentence) has the gall to suggest that it offers insight into the "bizarre death of Michael Hutchence". Admittedly, we learn of the lamented star's "particular fondness for sex with two girls at once" and how he was the "single greatest influence" on Ms Minogue (particularly during the hour they spent in a lavatory cubicle). But nowhere does the book mention that Kylie's former partner has died - because it was first published in 1997.

Bending the rules: members of Pilobolus dance Ocellus, from Airborne: the new dance photography of Lois Greenfield by William A Ewing and Daniel Girardin (Thames and Hudson, pounds 14.95)

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