THE FAMILY WAY by Tony Parsons (HarperCollins, £6.99): TONY Parsons seems to have cornered the market in blokey books about parenthood and now after Man and Boy, One for My Baby and Man and Wife, he has abandoned the lad's angle and written from the point of view of three sisters.

One doesn't want babies. One desperately wants a baby and can't have one. And the youngest, who didn't want one, is now pregnant by an Aussie diving teacher she never wants to see again. How neat.

With great writers, it doesn't matter if they're writing from the male or female point of view. Tony Parsons is not a great writer, so all the time when he's writing about the messiness of pregnancy and miscarriage, you can't help thinking that it's being written by a man - and a man, who for all his credentials, doesn't seem to know how women think. Come to that, even the men seem pretty one dimensional. But he has some good insights, some tender touches and the story plots its way quite satisfactorily to the inevitable happy ending.

LEAVING HOME by Anita Brookner (Viking, £12.99)

IT'S always surprising to find that Anita Brookner's heroines live in the 20th century. They seem instead to be pale echoes of Victorian or Edwardian misses, subject to old rules and ways of life but not to modern restraints - especially not the need to earn one's own living.

Emma Roberts is a student who goes to Paris to study 17th century formal garden design. Part of the purpose is to break away from the relentlessly quiet and claustrophobic life she shares with her widowed mother in London. But even in Paris, her life seems equally hemmed in by straight lines and formal patterns. For a student, she seems remarkably middle-aged. She makes one or two half-hearted friendships but is doomed to live the life of her mother, lonely, purposeless, polite and uneventful.

She drifts along in this self-absorbed, beige-coloured weariness, so that the reader longs to shake her. You long for her to get a grip, get drunk, eat a McDonalds or at least go to a decent party.

But no. All is politeness and restraint. The prose, too, is formal and controlled. And yet somehow, this unlikely heroine draws us in and engages our sympathy for the small tragedy of a life half-lived.

Sharon Griffiths

HIS 'N' HERS by Mike Gayle (Hodder & Stoughton, £6.99)

JIM and Alison meet while at university, fall in love, marry and then split up. Four years after they separate, they meet again and start to question where it all went wrong. The story is told quite neatly from both perspectives and paints a very accurate picture of twentysomething coupledom, but it failed to really resonate emotionally with me.

Gayle writes about the minutiae of life (doing the shopping, going to the pub etc) very realistically but not the minutiae of feelings or real relationships. When Jim's dad dies, for example, his grief is covered in a couple of paragraphs. And when the couple split, there is no sense of the tremendous loss or the complexity of what led to the break-up. His 'n' Hers is a pleasant enough read and a page-turner, but you won't care too much about what happens to the characters.

Sam Strangeways

SOUND OF BATTLE by Alan O'Reilly (Llumine Press, 9.99)

COMMITTED Christian Alan O'Reilly does a brilliant job of recording the sound, the fury, the destruction and the futility of much of war in his gripping war novel which deals with the front-line battles as well as life on the Home Front. And so as we follow paratrooper Bill Harris through the blood-soaked campaigns in North Africa, Italy and Arnhem, we are constantly kept in touch with the conditions back in Blighty through the career of his nurse sweetheart, Anne Linton. North Yorkshire writer O'Reilly pulls no punches and portrays the awfulness in chilling clarity.

ENEMIES OF THE EMPIRE by Rosemary Rowe (Headline, £18.99)

ROMANO-British sleuth Libertus does not go looking for trouble, it just seems to follow him around, so it is no surprise that an official visit to the wild, western frontier of Wales in the entourage of his patron, Marcus Septimus, puts him in mortal peril.

The town of Venta is split into two feuding armed camps and Libertus manages to fall foul of both of them before escaping... only to plunge deeper into trouble at the hands of merciless Celtic rebels who keep alive their memory of the heroic British King Caractus by bumping off their Roman oppressors.

This is a genuine treat for those who like a murder-mystery wrapped in the colourful cloak of history, for Rosemary Rowe not only tells a cracking whodunit but effortlessly launches the reader into an age when the only empire in Britain was Roman.

Steve Craggs.

Published: 05/04/2005