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The Independent Culture
A RUTHLESS NEED by Catherine Cookson, Bantam Press £15.99

Cruel posh girls, lads in flat caps, freshly scrubbed front steps and long-suffering mothers - but it's all too late. You have to be 13 to abandon yourself to the world of Catherine Cookson. In this, her latest novel (she's written nearly 100), the handsome Geoff Fulton returns from the war to discover that Lizzie, a young girl he once saved from the "worst peril", has now grown into a beautiful young woman. Like DH Lawrence on a low heat - after a few pages you start wishing for something more fanciful to pop up . . . just like you did at 13.

A MATCH TO THE HEART by Gretel Ehrlich, Fourth Estate £9.99

This study of the phenomenon of lightning bristles with information and charts the physical repercussions of electrocution with good-humoured detachment. Along the way, myths are debunked (lightning loves to strike the same place twice since it can follow the same ionised channel), and facts and figures are aired: flashes hit the earth 100 times a second and kill more people than any other natural phenomenon; 600 people die each year from lightning strikes in the US. Most memorably, Ehrlich describes the effect of having 30 million volts pass through you: "Nerves are like wet noodles . . . after electrocution they are more like cooked spaghetti".

THE ART OF THE BRONTS by Christine Alexander and Jane Sellars, Cambridge £55

Everyone knows the Bronts were geniuses as writers, but what about their paintings and drawings? This expensively produced volume confirms that, despite their enthusiasm for art, their talents were less visual than verbal. Though the pictures themselves (including watercolour landscapes and lurid images of the heroes and heroines who peopled their famous fantasy worlds) are rather disappointing, the book is illuminating from a biographical viewpoint: that Charlotte exhibited her pictures in Leeds, for example, contradicts the traditional belief that the Bronts were cut off from civilisation.