Book reviews: round-up of the latest book releases

This week's bookcase includes reviews of Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain by Barney Norris, The Obsession by Nora Roberts, and Different Class by Joanne Harris

Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain by Barney Norris, published by Doubleday


Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain by Barney Norris is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £12.99 (ebook £9.49). Available April 21.

Having already made quite a name for himself in the theatre world, award-winning playwright Barney Norris is adding another string to his bow with his debut novel Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain. Although on paper the premise doesn't seem particularly special – five strangers united by one accident – in all other respects, it's a brilliant and multi-layered story. Each chapter is devoted to one of the five individuals and part of the enjoyment of the book is discovering the myriad ways they are all connected to each other. This is done gradually, with casual passing comments and small surprising revelations that draw you further into the story. The author has an uncanny ability to capture even the tiniest nuances of each character, whether it's an army wife in the midst of a breakdown, a recently widowed elderly man or a teenage boy with a hopeless crush. Although the novel is primarily character-driven, it also has a wonderful sense of place and it is in part a homage to Salisbury, where the author grew up. The city could in fact be the sixth character in the novel in terms of the frequent lyrical and evocative descriptions of the landscape, and it's impossible not to become swept up by the author's beautifully poetic language. Exploring big existential ideas about love, loss, faith and purpose, Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain is a startlingly good debut and hopefully a sign of great things to come from talented Barney Norris.


(Review by Alison Potter)


Different Class by Joanne Harris is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £18.99 (ebook £9.99). Available April 21

Chocolat author Joanne Harris' latest book is a sequel to her 2005 psychological thriller Gentlemen & Players, set in the same Yorkshire boys grammar school, St Oswald's, a year after that novel was set. This time, a former pupil has returned as headmaster, bringing new staff and attitudes that threaten the school's centuries of tradition. Once again, Latin master Roy Straitley shares the narration with an adversary whose identity and motives are revealed through passages dwelling on school events some 20 years before. While this third Malbry novel is enjoyably dark and satisfyingly twisty – a veritable study in unreliable narrators and a deconstruction of blame and abuse – I found it less gripping than its predecessors; too structurally similar to Gentlemen & Players and lacking the innovation of Blueeyedboy, which is set in the same town. Fans will enjoy the nods and clues in Different Class, but it certainly stands alone and, in fact, newcomers may enjoy the storytelling more.


(Review by Natalie Bowen)

The Obsession by Nora Roberts is published in hardback by Piatkus, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99). Available April 14

Bestseller Nora Roberts returns with a new thriller. Naomi Carson will be 12 in two days time. During one humid night, the youngster follows her father, convinced he is planning her present. However, Naomi's life is turned upside down when she discovers her father has been abusing and killing women. With her father in prison and the constant media coverage, Naomi, her mother and her brother find themselves moving from place to place to start a new life. Now 28 and a photographer, Naomi buys a rundown house in a small town. As she involves the local trades people in remodelling the house, she encounters mechanic Xander Keaton, and begins a tentative relationship. But, just as Naomi is feeling settled, two women are found murdered in almost the same way as her father's victims. Has her past finally caught up with her? And will she have to move again? Another thrilling page-turner.


(Review by Julie Cheng)


How To Read Water: Clues, Signs & Patterns From Puddles To The Sea by Tristan Gooley is published in hardback by Sceptre, priced £20 (ebook £13.99). Available now

Where many writers involved in the current nature writing renaissance excel at poetic reverie, this accessible guide takes a more practical approach. Starting with puddles and glasses of water, Gooley draws readers' attention to the basics of how water behaves, before building on those lessons as applied to ponds, rivers and the sea. Nor are lessons limited to the strictly natural; he's happy to introduce man-made sources of information which can help, whether the varying rates at which different sides of a street will dry after rainfall, or the significance of lighthouses' colours and patterns of illumination. Few readers will use this body of knowledge to such adventurous effect as the author, who in the epilogue explains how it enabled him to navigate a small sailing boat to Iceland. But it's still cheering to feel that little bit less ignorant of the complex yet comprehensible world in which we move.


(Review by Alex Sarll)

Six Facets Of Light by Ann Wroe is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £25 (ebook £12.99). Available now

Biographer and The Economist obituaries writer Ann Wroe pens a passionate and meandering love letter to a natural phenomenon in Six Facets Of Light. The South Downs in Sussex provides the backdrop as Wroe collates her own musings on light with sketches and jottings from numerous well-known artists and painters. From Turner to William Blake and Wordsworth to Einstein, each chapter explores the notion of light and how it has mystified and inspired the greatest minds throughout history in delicate wonderment. Among the theories and poems are Wroe's personal anecdotes and meditations, some of which are fascinating, but others a little too self-indulgent. Six Facets Of Lights reads as if you are in Wroe's mind, listening to her mosey from her own astute observations to celebrations of light by famous names. The pace of the narrative is just like going on a long, rambling walk on the South Downs Way in summer, making it a book best enjoyed at your leisure in the great outdoors.


(Review by Mary Ann Pickford)


Chasing The Stars by Malorie Blackman is published in hardback by Penguin Random House Children's, priced £10.99 (ebook £7.99). Available April 21

Malorie Blackman, former children's laureate, wrote what is undeniably one of the best Young Adult fiction series of all time. It's a travesty that Noughts And Crosses hasn't yet been made into a big-budget film franchise – but then, movie producers are damningly hesitant when it comes to stories that tackle race, power and segregation. They might just get themselves into gear for Blackman's latest offering though. Set on a spaceship whose lonely captain is torn between heading home to Earth and giving safe harbour and passage to a volatile bunch of galactic fugitives, Chasing The Stars is a wildly cinematic and futuristic reimagining of Shakespeare's tragedy, Othello. And tragic it is, but it's also a simple tale of girl (Vee) meets boy (Nathan). Blackman doesn't flinch from exploring sex, jealousy, insecurity, abuse and what it's like to feel alone, but this honesty and nuanced portrayal of first love and trauma is tempered by some interplanetary plot sequences that rely on you suspending your disbelief.


(Review by Ella Walker)


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