Top Twenty Books That Rocked Essex

By Essex Book Festival

By Essex Book Festival

As part of our 20th Birthday celebrations in 2019 we announced this list of the Top Twenty Books that Rocked Essex. Nominated by readers and book lovers across Essex in partnership with Essex Libraries and BBC Essex, the Top Twenty are either based or partially set in Essex. 

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad

£7.99 £7.43

Featuring Tilbury Docks 'Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire.'Marlow, a seaman, tells of a journey up the Congo. His goal is the troubled European and ivory trader Kurtz. Worshipped and feared by invaders as well as natives, Kurtz has become a godlike figure, his presence pervading the jungle like a thick, obscuring mist. As his boat labours further upstream, closer and closer to Kurtz's extraordinary and terrible domain, so Marlow finds his faith in himself and civilization crumbling.

The War of the Worlds

H. G. Wells

£6.99 £6.50

Features the Essex coast. 'Death!' I shouted. 'Death is coming! Death!'In this pioneering, shocking and nightmarish tale, naive suburban Londoners investigate a strange cylinder from space, but are instantly incinerated by an all-destroying heat-ray. Soon, gigantic killing machines that chase and feed on human prey are threatening the whole of humanity. A pioneering work of alien invasion fiction, The War of the World's journalistic style contrasts disturbingly with its horrifying visions of the human race under siege.

Secret Water

Arthur Ransome

£7.99 £7.43

Features Hamford waters. John, Susan, Titty and Roger, the crew of the Swallow, take on the job of mapping the mass of small islands round Pin Mill while living on the biggest one. But who are the mysterious savages who lurk in the islands - and is the tribal totem they find in their campsite a threat of attack. ?

The Essex Serpent: The number one bestseller and British Book Awards Book of the Year

Sarah Perry

£8.99 £8.36

Features the Blackwater estuary and Colchester. Overall Book of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2017 London, 1893. When Cora Seaborne's controlling husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Along with her son Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves town for Essex, in the hope that fresh air and open space will provide refuge. On arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition, is enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a yet-undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar, who is also deeply suspicious of the rumours, but thinks they are a distraction from true faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, Will and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves at once drawn together and torn apart, affecting each other in ways that surprise them both. The Essex Serpent is a celebration of love, and the many different shapes it can take.

We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea

Arthur Ransome

£7.99 £7.43

Set in the Stour estuary. 'Now Susan,' Mother said, 'And you too, John. No night sailing. No going outside the harbour. And back the day after tomorrow. Promise.'But promises can't always be kept. Within twenty-four hours John, Susan, Titty and Roger find themselves fighting a night gale in the treacherous waters of the North Sea, adrift and in the main shipping lanes. Suddenly, it's real adventure and only their sailing skills can help them now.

Dracula

Bram Stoker

£4.99 £4.64

Scenes in Purfleet. 'it was butcher work...the horrid screeching as the stake drove home; the plunging of writhing form, and lips of bloody foam'Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic shocker introduced Count Dracula to the world, an ancient creature bent on bringing his contagion to London, the very heart of the British Empire. Only a handful of men and women stand between Dracula and his long-cherished goal, but they are vulnerable and weak against the cunning and supernatural powers of the Count and his legions. As the horrifying story unfolds in the diaries and letters of young Jonathan Harker, Lucy, Mina, and Dr Seward, Dracula will bevictorious unless his nemesis Professor Van Helsing can persuade them that monsters still lurk in the era of electric light. The most famous of all vampire stories, Dracula is a mirror of its age, its underlying themes of race, religion, science, superstition, and sexuality never far from the surface. A compelling read, rattling along at break-neck speed, it is a modern classic. This new edition includes Stoker's companion piece, 'Dracula's Guest'.

The Oaken Heart: The Story of an English Village at War

Margery Allingham and Dr. Ronald Blythe

£14.99 £13.94

Tolleshunt D'Arcy The Story of an English village at war.

Starter For Ten

David Nicholls

£8.99 £8.36

Set partly in Southend on Sea The debut bestseller from the author of the phenomenally successfully ONE DAY and Man Booker longlisted US. STARTER FOR TEN is a comedy about love, class, growing-up and the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom. It's 1985 and Brian Jackson has arrived at university with a burning ambition - to make it onto TV's foremost general knowledge quiz. But no sooner has he embarked on 'The Challenge' than he finds himself falling hopelessly in love with his teammate, the beautiful and charismatic would-be actress, Alice Harbinson. When Alice fails to fall for his slightly over-eager charms, Brian comes up with a foolproof plan to capture her heart once and for all. He's going to win the game, at any cost, because - after all - everyone knows that what a woman really wants from a man is a comprehensive grasp of general knowledge . . . STARTER FOR TEN is a comedy about love, class, growing-up and the all-important difference between knowledge and wisdom. Are you up to the challenge of the funniest novel in years?

The Witchfinder's Sister: The captivating Richard & Judy Book Club historical thriller 2018

Beth Underdown

£8.99 £8.36

Set in and around Manningtree and Colchester. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives. But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women's names. To what lengths will Matthew's obsession drive him? And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?Winner of the HWA Debut Crown Award 2017, this beautiful and haunting historical thriller is perfect for fans of The Familiars, Hamnet and Where the Crawdads Sing. _________________________'Vivid and terrifying' Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train'A clever, pacey read that blends truth and fiction' The Times'At once a feminist parable and an old-fashioned, check-twice-under-the-bed thriller' Patrick Gale'A richly told and utterly compelling tale, with shades of Hilary Mantel' Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat'Beth Underdown grips us from the outset and won't let go . . . at once a feminist parable and an old-fashioned, check-twice-under-the-bed thriller' Patrick Gale, author of Notes from an Exhibition

The Turn of the Screw

Henry James

£5.99 £5.57

Set in an Essex country house. 'A most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale' Oscar WildeThe Turn of the Screw, James's great masterpiece of haunting atmosphere and unbearable tension, tells of a young governess sent to a country house to take charge of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Unsettled by a dark foreboding of menace within the house, she soon comes to believe that something, or someone, malevolent is stalking the children in her care. Is the threat to her young charges really a malign and ghostly presence, or a manifestation of something else entirely? Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by David Bromwich Series Editor: Philip Horne

The Forgotten Seamstress

Liz Trenow

£9.99 £9.29

Scenes in Braintree. A stunning book set in the Edwardian era about a seamstress working at Buckingham Palace. Full of drama, betrayal and compelling historical detail, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley and Tracy Rees. It is 1914 and Maria, a shy teenager, is appointed to Buckingham Palace as a seamstress for the royal family. There, she is lucky enough to meet the Prince of Wales and is soon captivated by his glamour and intensity. But theirs is a doomed love affair and before long Maria's life takes a tragic turn. Torn between passion and integrity, she makes a choice that has devastating consequences ... Can a beautiful quilt, discovered many years later reveal the truth behind what happened to Maria?

1984

George Orwell

£8.99 £8.36

Featuring Colchester. THE AUTHORATITIVE TEXT "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."The year is 1984. War and revolution have left the world unrecognisable. Great Britain, now known as Airstrip One, is ruled by the Party, led by Big Brother. Mass surveillance is everything and The Thought Police ensure no individual thinking is allowed. Winston Smith works at The Ministry of Truth, carefully rewriting history. But Winston dreams of freedom, and of rebellion. It is here that he falls in love with Julia, and starts a secret, forbidden affair with her - but in this world nothing can be kept secret, and they are forced to face consequences more terrifying than either of them could have ever imagined. A dystopian masterpiece, this is the powerful and prophetic novel that defined the twentieth century. WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ROBERT HARRIS

The Peregrine: 50th Anniversary Edition: Afterword by Robert Macfarlane

J. A. Baker

£12.99 £12.08

Set around Essex countryside. Reissue of J. A. Baker's extraordinary classic of British nature writing, with an exclusive new afterword by Robert Macfarlane. J. A. Baker's extraordinary classic of British nature writing was first published in 1967. Greeted with acclaim, it went on to win the Duff Cooper Prize, the pre-eminent literary prize of the time. Luminaries such as Ted Hughes, Barry Lopez and Andrew Motion have cited it as one of the most important books in twentieth-century nature writing. Despite the association of peregrines with the wild, outer reaches of the British Isles, The Peregrine is set on the flat marshes of the Essex coast, where J. A. Baker spent long winters looking and writing about the visitors from the uplands - peregrines that spend the winter hunting the huge flocks of pigeons and waders that share the desolate landscape with them. This new edition of the timeless classic, published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first publication, features an afterword by one of the book's greatest admirers, Robert Macfarlane.

Midnight is a Lonely Place

Barbara Erskine

£10.99 £10.22

Set on the Essex coast. Don't miss this stunning novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of Lady of Hay - a gripping tale of secrets, betrayal and revenge... After a broken love affair, biographer Kate Kennedy retires to a remote cottage on the wild Essex coast to work on her new book, until her landlord's daughter uncovers a Roman site nearby and long-buried passions are unleashed... In her lonely cottage, Kate is terrorized by mysterious forces. What do these ghosts want? Should the truth about the violent events of long ago be exposed or remain concealed? Kate must struggle for her life against earthbound spirits and ancient curses as hate, jealousy, revenge and passion do battle across the centuries.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Agatha Christie

£8.99 £8.36

Set in an Essex country house. Agatha Christie's first ever murder mystery, reissued with a striking new cover - includes for the first time the original courtroom climax as an alternate ending. 'Beware! Peril to the detective who says: "It is so small - it does not matter..." Everything matters.' After the Great War, life can never be the same again. Wounds need healing, and the horror of violent death banished into memory. Captain Arthur Hastings is invited to the rolling country estate of Styles to recuperate from injuries sustained at the Front. It is the last place he expects to encounter murder. Fortunately he knows a former detective, a Belgian refugee, who has grown bored of retirement ... The first Hercule Poirot mystery, now published with a previously deleted chapter and introduced by Agatha Christie expert Dr John Curran.

Barnaby Rudge

Charles Dickens

£9.99 £9.29

Scenes in Chigwell. 'One of Dickens's most neglected, but most rewarding, novels' Peter Ackroyd Dickens's first historical novel is a thrilling tale of murder, treachery and forbidden love with rioting mob scenes to make your hair stand on end. Barnaby Rudge is a young innocent simpleton who is devoted to his talkative raven, Grip. When he gets caught up in the mayhem of the Gordon riots and a mysterious unsolved murder, his life is put in jeopardy. Barnaby Rudge is a powerful historical tale of treachery, forbidden love, abduction and the dangerous power of the mob.

Moll Flanders

Daniel Defoe

£5.99 £5.57

Set in Colchester. 'Twelve Year a Whore, fives times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent'So the title page of this extraordinary novel describes the career of the woman known as Moll Flanders, whose real name we never discover. And so, in a tour-de-force of writing by the businessman, political satirist, and spy Daniel Defoe, Moll tells her own story, a vivid and racy tale of a woman's experience in the seamy side of life in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England and America. Born in Newgate prison, and seduced in the home of her adoptive family, she learns to liveoff her wits, defying the traditional depiction of women as helpless victims. First published in 1722, and one of the earliest novels in the English language, its account of opportunism, endurance, and survival speaks as strongly to us today as it did to its original readers. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

Sharpe's Regiment: The Invasion of France, June to November 1813

Bernard Cornwell

£9.99 £9.29

South Essex. Richard Sharpe returns to England to save the regiment. Major Sharpe's men are in mortal danger - not from the French, but from the bureaucrats of Whitehall. Unless reinforcements can be brought from England, the regiment will be disbanded. Determined not to see his regiment die, Sharpe returns to England and uncovers a nest of high-ranking traitors, any of whom could utterly destroy his career with a word. Sharpe is forced into the most desperate gamble of his life - and not even the influence of the Prince Regent may be enough to save him. Soldier, hero, rogue - Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles whose green jacket he proudly wears.

The Manningtree Witches

A. K. Blakemore

£12.99 £12.08

Set around Manningtree and Colchester. Fear and destruction take root in a community of women when the Witchfinder General comes to town, in this dark and thrilling debut. England, 1643. Parliament is battling the King; the war between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers rages. Puritanical fervour has gripped the nation, and the hot terror of damnation burns black in every shadow. In Manningtree, depleted of men since the wars began, the women are left to their own devices. At the margins of this diminished community are those who are barely tolerated by the affluent villagers - the old, the poor, the unmarried, the sharp-tongued. Rebecca West, daughter of the formidable Beldam West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only by her infatuation with the clerk John Edes. But then newcomer Matthew Hopkins takes over the Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about the women of the margins. When a child falls ill with a fever and starts to rave about covens and pacts, the questions take on a bladed edge. The Manningtree Witches plunges its readers into the fever and menace of the English witch trials, where suspicion, mistrust and betrayal ran amok as the power of men went unchecked and the integrity of women went undefended. It is a visceral, thrilling book that announces a bold new talent.

Strange Magic: An Essex Witch Museum Mystery

Syd Moore

£8.99 £8.36

Set in Manningtree. Rosie Strange doesn't believe in ghosts or witches or magic. No, not at all. It's no surprise therefore when she inherits the ramshackle Essex Witch Museum, her first thought is to take the money and run. Still, the museum exerts a curious pull over Rosie. There's the eccentric academic who bustles in to demand she help in a hunt for old bones, those of the notorious Ursula Cadence, a witch long since put to death. And there's curator Sam Stone, a man about whom Rosie can't decide if he's tiresomely annoying or extremely captivating. It all adds up to looking like her plans to sell the museum might need to be delayed, just for a while. Finding herself and Sam embroiled in a most peculiar centuries-old mystery, Rosie is quickly expelled from her comfort zone, where to her horror, the secrets of the past come with their own real, and all too present, danger as a strange magic threatens to envelope them all.

The Oak Papers

James Canton

£16.98 £15.79

For more information - please www.essexbookfestval.org.uk 

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