A life of the incomparable Orson Welles by the finest film writer in the English language should be unbeatable. Thomson records the trajectory from dazzling ascent to long, spluttering decline wilh insight, passion and wit. But the account is marred by the authors annoying tricksiness particularly the conversations he has with himself in an orotund style owing much to Orson. Unluckily for Thomson, this work appeared at the same time as Simon Callow's magnificent portrait of the young Welles. Still, the legend is big enough for both of them.

The Practice of Writing by David Lodge (Penguin, pounds 7.99)

This haul of solidly informative lit crit on such substantial figures as Greene, Joyce, and Nabokov by Lodge the academic is bolstered by musings from Lodge the jobbing writer. He ruefully recalls his struggles,to adapt Martin Chuzzlewit for TV - "The director is not a literary scholar, I was unable to persuade him that `lodger' did not have its modern slang meaning of penis in Dickens' day." The quirkiest inclusion is an inpenetrable, 12-page structuralist analysis of a three-page fragment by Pinter. When they met, the playwright expressed doubts if the piece was entirely serious, "It was, of course."

Between God and Gangsta Rap by Michael Eric Dyson (Oxford, pounds 9.99)

Opening with a poignant letter to his brother, serving life for murder, Dyson probes many issues facing black Americans. Of the Simpson trial, he notes: "Can we doubt that if O J had been accused of murdering his black wife... we wouldn't be learning of it with a similar degree of intensity," Dyson, an academic and Baptist minister, also offers a rare, if guarded, defence of rap, which "may do more to force our nation to face social problems than countless sermons."

Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine (Sceptre, pounds 6.99)

Sitting on a balcony overlooking the Siberian steppes, a young Russian boy listens to his grandmother's memories of turn-of-the-century Paris. He imagines Neuilly-sur-Seine as a collection of Russian log cabins, and goes to bed with the taste of Cherbourg sea air and oysters on his tongue. As a young man he decides to visit this "France-Atlantis" for himself. A hauntingly romantic novel that examines the bonds between memory and language, and has had critics comparing its Russian author to Chekov, Proust and Alain Fournier.

In The Dark House by Louise Kehoe (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

A haunting, beautifully written memoir by the daughter of the architect Lubetkin, a vain bully with an explosive temper. Even before she finished school, the author left home following a violent row with her parents. After much heartache, a rapprochment took place. Before he died, the elderly, widowed Lubetkin visited Louise (now in the USA) and left a clue that he was the secret son of a Russian admiral. But the real truth, eventually uncovered by his daughter, revealed a tragic gulf behind the volcanic facade.

Sanditon by Jane Austen and another Lady (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

A few months before her death in the summer of 1817, Jane Austen managed to complete almost 11 chapters of a new novel. The beau monde of the seaside resort of Sanditon was her setting, as seen through the eyes of sensible, astute Charlotte Heywood. Writer Marie Dobbs slips into Austen's blustery world with unobtrusive ease, keeping her language relaxed and, most importantly, retaining Austen's jokes: the hypochondriacal Parker family continue in their obsession with the restorative power of sea-bathing and post-prandial herbal teas, and the querulous Lady Denham (the Lady Catherine de Burgh of the piece) continues to disapprove of everyone's opinions but her own.

A Little Yellow Dog by Walter Mosley (Picador, pounds 6.99)

Mosley's LA mysteries crackle with the kind of well-dressed dialogue you'd expect from a Raymond Chandler novel. The fifth in the Easy Rawlins series finds our hero off the streets and working as a school janitor for the LA Board of Education. A respectable new life for Easy, until a corpse turns up in the school garden and one of the teachers goes missing. Mosley's depiction of the black and hispanic neighbourhoods of Fifties Los Angeles lends his book an extra edge.