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Picks and Pans Review: Last Gasp! Beach Reading

updated 09/06/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Summer's on the wane, and even ardent readers may have missed a few of the season's most talked-about tomes. Here, a look at titles that are making a splash.

COLORS INSULTING TO NATURE Written by Salon.com columnist Cintra Wilson, this debut novel follows an eccentric family named Normal. The most lovable character: Liza, a teen-star wannabe who leaves home to headline a play called "Beneath the Valley of Mommie Dearest."

Too clever for her own good? Wilson cranks out the zingers (Liza fears becoming "another lost, self-hating, Stepford-zombie-bloodsucker wandering Hollywood's purgatorial void"), but her snarky tone can wear thin.

BEING COMMITTED A fourth novel blending witty urban tales with serious life issues from bestselling author Anna Maxted (Running in Heels).

A cut above:

Sure, it's chick lit—the heroine is a London P.I. with a cute boyfriend named Jason—but Maxted's cheekiness and intelligence help this.

RIFT ZONE This flashy first novel was written by Raelynn Hillhouse, who says she ran contraband (rum and the like) in East and West Berlin from 1983 to 1989.

A Bonding experience: The story's slick and suspenseful: The heroine makes like a female 007 when she's caught up in a plot to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev.

THE CURSE OF THE SINGLES TABLE Subtitled A True Story of 1001 Nights Without Sex, this airy memoir by L.A. writer Suzanne Schlosberg ("the Cal Ripkin of celibacy" to her friends) ends happily.

What happens on Night No. 1,002? We're not telling.

DRIVE ME CRAZY Another novel about life in the fast lane from hunky phenom Eric Jerome Dickey (Between Lovers). It's fab for: Romantic-thriller junkies amused by references to pop culture.

LABOUR DAYS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FICTION ABOUT WORK This wildly entertaining volume features trenchant (and sometimes morbidly funny) tales by Edith Wharton, Richard Ford and others. Best moment: In a short story by Denis Johnson, an ER patient with a knife "buried to the hilt" in his eye is treated by stoned orderlies and an M.D. who asks the victim, "What seems to be the trouble?"

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