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Droitwich Advertiser: Bookcase Bookcase

A look at the latest releases, plus what's new in paperback.

By Kate Whiting.

The Witness by Nora Roberts is published in hardback by Piatkus, priced £19.99. Available April 17.

Nora Roberts has been described as "the most successful novelist on planet Earth", and The Witness, her 200th book, will do nothing to halt that run of best-sellers.

It is classic Roberts fare, with a complex, slightly off-the-wall heroine, a hunky hero - and a storyline that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

At 16, Elizabeth Fitch is destined for greatness. Her consultant surgeon mother has a master plan for her only daughter - and nothing is going to stand in its way.

Until, that is, Elizabeth rebels. And that one night of teenage rebellion is destined to change her life forever.

Every Nora Roberts fan knows that romance is at the heart of her novels - but here she skilfully interweaves a plot worthy of a top thriller writer.

It's a winning combination - but keep a tissue handy.

9/10 (Review by Sandra Mangan) The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £12.99. Available now.

Six months into his retirement, the shy, quiet Harold Fry receives an unexpected letter from a former co-worker, Queenie Hennessy, telling him she is dying from cancer.

He sets off to post a letter of consolation, then decides to walk from Devon to her hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed in the belief that if he can reach her, she will live.

Rachel Joyce's debut novel is an unassuming yet gripping work, as the typically English everyman meets dozens of characters on his long journey north, each sharing a glimpse of their burdens and struggles.

The story is deftly told through Harold's leaps in recollection and it's darkly humorous yet heartbreakingly sad in its observations of family life and the numerous ways it can break down.

We slowly learn about a mysterious devastation 20 years previously and while the unassuming Harold seems just an observer, his own humdrum story is the most intriguing of all.

8/10 (Review by Natalie Bowen) The Secret Life Of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan is published in paperback by Headline Review, priced £12.99. Available April 12.

Anyone hoping that this novel will contain lurid descriptions of the Bard of Avon's sex life is in for a disappointment.

It focuses on his relationship with his wife Anne and children in Stratford-on-Avon, from whom he was parted for long periods because of his work in London, and on his theatre cronies.

Because so little is known about Shakespeare's personal life, speculation about his sexuality continues. Some of his romantic sonnets were clearly directed to a beautiful young male, while others indicate an amatory attachment to a "dark lady".

Prolific historical novelist Jude Morgan has wisely not gone over the top in this area. He attributes a gay leaning - but no more than that - to the Bard, but allows him a brief bedroom lapse with a French woman.

This beautifully written novel convincingly recreates the Elizabethan world, and is far superior to typical historical fiction, but its diffuse style does not always make for easy reading.

8/10 (Review by Anthony Looch) Non-fiction The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages Of Vasco Da Gama by Nigel Cliff is published in hardback by Atlantic Books, priced £22. Available now.

Vasco Da Gama's epic journeys to India opened up the spice trade and founded Portugal as a major trading nation.

The expeditions also continued centuries of Crusades as Christianity continued its battle of wills with Islam.

And, perhaps most tellingly off all, they inflicted hundreds of years of cruelty upon the inhabitants of several bewildered continents.

Nigel Cliff, a historian, biographer and critic, has written for The Times, The Economist and the New York Times.

In his second book, he tells in delicious detail of the almost inhuman sacrifices made by Da Gama and his intrepid fellow adventurers.

The Last Crusade also brings to life the endless horrors visited upon the peoples of India, Africa and Asia who were unfortunate enough to lie in the path of a European nation intent on expanding its horizons and growing into a seafaring superpower.

Cliff's narrative makes this a compelling and informative version of one of world history's most tempestuous times.

8/10 (Review by Roddy Brooks) Circulation: William Harvey's Revolutionary Idea by Thomas Wright is published in hardback by Chatto & Windus, priced £16.99. Available April 5.

Having made his debut with an oblique biography of Oscar Wilde, Thomas Wright now turns to a figure who, though massively influential, is less familiar to the general audience.

Jacobean physician William Harvey overturned centuries of medical dogma, demonstrating that blood did not ebb and flow tidally but is in fact pumped around the body by the heart.

Wright draws the intellectual climate of the time deftly, showing how it was ripe for such a heretical notion to gain acceptance.

On Harvey himself, he is less compelling. The account is plausible but frustratingly rife with things Harvey "perhaps" did or "may have" done.

Beyond that, Harvey himself is a rather unappealing figure - litigious, a callous vivisectionist even by the standards of the time, and not a very competent doctor.

We are all in Harvey's debt, but that doesn't make reading about his grisly experiments and social climbing any more fun.

6/10 (Review by Alex Sarll) Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain is published in hardback by Viking, priced £20. Available now.

American writer Susan Cain is a self-confessed introvert, which makes her the perfect person to argue for a greater acceptance of personalities that gain their strength from internal rather than external stimuli.

Using a combination of personal anecdotes and scientific research, Cain shows how society went from one championing 'character' with qualities such as honour and virtue, to a culture of 'personality', where being a charismatic extrovert was seen as the ideal and promoted by soap ads and the like.

She charts the biggest introverts in history, from Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks to modern-day gods of the internet such as Steve Wozniak.

It makes engaging and surprising reading, particularly to discover such snippets as brainstorming not being as productive as coming up with ideas on one's own.

But occasionally you feel she's protesting too much, that we might be in danger of reversely discriminating against extroverts and that there may indeed be more people she terms 'ambiverts' (a bit of both) than her book would suggest.

7/10 (Review by Kate Whiting)

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