Book of the Week, March 18th 2017

Alex is not much of a people person. He has little enthusiasm for his job as a mortgage adviser and his marriage is on the rocks. Though just separated from his wife and eight year old son, it’s really not that he doesn’t love his family – more that he lacks the skills to show it.

His son, Sam, is autistic and needs certainty to feel safe. The often unpredictable reactions of people are hard for him to handle. Sam discovers the computer game Minecraft, where the object is to build imaginative worlds out of blocks like a giant virtual Lego set and in the fixed structures of the game Sam finds the certainties that the human world lacks. Alex links up with his son in this virtual world and together they embark on adventures, battling zombies, creating fantastic cities and in the process building the relationship which has eluded them in the real world.

This is a funny, moving and uplifting story about the trials of modern family life and the challenges facing an autistic boy growing up in an unpredictable world.

Published b Sphere in paperback , £7.99.

Book of the Week, March 11th 2017

Two days ago was International Women’s Day and this week our pick is Jenni Murray’s personal choice of women whose lives have influenced our history.

The selection kicks off with local heroine Boadicea who chased the occupying Roman army out of Colchester and then London before succumbing to superior forces. Her exploits demonstrate that courage and leadership are not the preserve of men.

There is Fanny Burney who by the age of ten had written her first novel, was a great influence on Jane Austen and in the early nineteenth century wrote an extraordinary account of her diagnosis of breast cancer and the mastectomy that followed.

Aphra Benn was the first woman to earn her living by writing plays. She was enormously popular during her lifetime, yet later was criticised by Samuel Johnson and others for writing like a man! She was attacked for the lewdness of her writing and for 150 years almost ignored.

Included alongside Queen Elizabeth 1st are scientists, artists and politicians from across the years and as she describes the lives and achievements of these great women, Jenni Murray includes reflections about her own remarkable life.

Published by Oneworld, Hardback , £16.99.

Jenni Murray will be appearing at an Essex Book Festival event at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford on Sat 25th March.




Book of the Week, March 4th 2016

He may have died before he was thirty but Mathew Hopkins’ short life had enormous and terrifying impact, particularly in East Anglia. In the 1640’s England was in the grip of Civil War and political passion and religious fervour was at its height. Mathew Hopkins became notorious as the Witchfinder General and, from his base in Manningtree, he embarked on a personal mission to seek out witches and bring them to trial. He toured the surrounding counties, developing methods of extracting ‘confessions’ that were cruel and ruthless. Punishment for those found guilty was death by hanging.

Beth Underdown has written an unusual and powerful novel that tells the story of Matthew Hopkins from the point of view of his sister, Alice. Returning from London after the death of her husband, Alice finds the brother she played with as a child now turned into a cold hearted young man. She tries to stay close to him in the hope of being able influence him away from his horrifying excesses. The novel explores how this son of a vicar from Great Wenham in Suffolk might grow up to become a man so consumed by suspicion, hatred and cruelty.

Penguin Hardback, £14.99.

Book of the Week, February 25th

The first chapters of this novel chart the unlikely rise of a maverick politician in America. Buzz Windrip speaks powerfully to the nation’s ‘forgotten men’, the white working class. His platform is anti-immigration and racist. He promises revitalisation of industry and redistribution of wealth from the establishment. And he promises to bring pride and prosperity back to ordinary Americans. Against all expectation, the blustering, controversial Windrip rides a wave of populism all the way to the White House.

The parallels with last year’s presidential campaign are clear but surprisingly this is actually the reissue of a book first published in 1935! It is a political satire written during the Great Depression and rise of Hitler in Germany. As president, Windrip consolidates power in his own hands, the media is controlled, dissent is stamped out and the regime becomes increasingly authoritarian.

The book becomes a disturbing alternative vision of how fascism could take root – even in the land of the free. Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930 and 80 years after publication this chilling tale is once again hitting the bestseller lists.

Book of the Week, February 18th 2017

At the outbreak of war in 1914 Colchester was the Eastern Region Army HQ and thousands of new recruits reported to the Garrison for training. While exercising on Abbey Fields the guns of the Western Front could often be heard.

This expert account of the war years covers the role of Colchester as provider of soldiers, manufacturer of arms and equipment and later, as a vast hospital looking after the war wounded. It was here in Colchester that much of the early research was done into shell shock or post-traumatic stress disorder as it was eventually to become known.

Pictured are the cheeky postcards sold to the recruits – which led to a boom for the town’s post office. As winter approached women and children were busy knitting socks, gloves and scarves for the soldiers. In February 1915 a bomb fell in the tiny back garden of number 41 Butt Road. The damage was extensive but the only casualty found amongst the debris was a dead thrush.

The facts are brought to life with personal recollections and photographs giving a wonderfully rounded picture of life in Colchester during those difficult years.


Book of the Week, February 11th 2017

Of all the Gods of Asgard, Thor became the best known when, in 2011, the powerful hero and wielder of a mighty hammer, jumped from the pages of the Marvel comics and onto the silver screen.

The family of he Norse Gods are a wild and mixed up bunch. The surviving original sources of what was originally an oral tradition are fragmentary and often contradictory. Neil Gaiman picks his way through the complexity, spinning together a simply sequence of tales moving from the creation of the world through to its inevitable ultimate destruction, the Twilight of the Gods

In his hands the ancient characters spring to life. Odin, the all-seeing, who brings to the world the magic mead which inspires poetry and storytelling. Thor, who is forced to dress as a woman to retrieve his stolen hammer. But throughout all the stories one character stands out. Loki the trickster god, a selfish pathological liar who spins webs of deception though the ages.

Set in a northern waste peopled with gods, elves, giants and trolls, Gaiman brings to these timeless stories a fresh vision and humour.