Beryl Bainbridge's The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (Little, Brown, £16.99) was a poignant swansong for an inimitable novelist. Frances Wilson's How to Survive the Titanic: or the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay (Bloomsbury, £18.99) achieved the feat of shedding bright light on the sinking of the liner a century after the event. Virginia Nicholson's Millions Like Us: Women's Lives in the Second World War (Viking, £25) offered first-class oral history about British women during the war and its aftermath. In different ways, two literary biographies - Matthew Hollis's rereading of Edward Thomas in Now All Roads Lead to France (Faber & Faber, £20) and Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: a Life (Viking, £30) - managed to inject vigour into a genre that has fallen on hard times. Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: a Life in the Dark (Viking US, $27.95) reminded us that there isn't a film critic today writing as knowledgeably or as influentially as Kael, the screen world's feisty controversialist nonpareil.