The Seventeenth Child by Ethel George

The seventeenth childI discovered this book after a visit to the Norfolk Record Office; I often visit the NRO on my lunch break when the NRO holds short talks on their collections (follow @norfolkRO or see to see what’s on!).

On this particular day, the recorded interviews of Ethel George were being played and discussed by Jonathan Draper, the archivist. After listening to Ethel’s vivid and colourful descriptions of days gone by in Norwich, I borrowed her book from the library. Having heard her voice – with true Norfolk accent, and a brilliant laugh – I could just imagine her sitting with me, chatting over a cup of tea!

Unlike some, Ethel made it clear that the past was not always rosy. Her memories include hardship and poverty, the dirt and smell of the city when dozens of families lived in ‘yards’ and without basic amenities. Ethel recalls the fathers who worked all sorts of jobs to provide for their families (and those who didn’t); Mothers worked hard to keep their families clean and fed, and hers was no exception – especially with 17 children to look after!

Mental illness, domestic violence, scandal and unemployment are all touched upon. Ethel speaks of her parents’ background before moving on to her childhood and the close bond between her siblings, with the adventures and escapades they got up to and their experiences at school. As a young woman, Ethel went to work in a number of well-known Norwich trades, found love and married; her stories from this time are just as funny and interesting!

Ethel’s memory was astounding and I really enjoyed the small details such as the clothes she wore, the food and drink she enjoyed (or wished for!), and Norwich events she attended. I get the impression she was full of life with a mischievous streak! A great read, even if you aren’t originally from Norwich, like me!


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Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith

Vicious CircleVery apt title! There was more description of the various types of torture & killings than was really necessary. I’m sure some of it could have been left out without spoiling the plot. There was also a lot of sexual content, some of it depraved.

This is the second in the Hector Cross series, best to read the first one first. The plot itself was well-worked & came to a suitable if bloody conclusion.

I’ve always enjoyed books by Wilbur Smith but was disappointed because of the gratuitous violence. Won’t be reading any more in this series if there are any.


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The Orwell Prize

Orwell PrizeThe annual Orwell Prize is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. The award is made for the work which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’.
There are two awards, one given to a book, the other to a journalist.

The shortlist is going to be announced on the 24th April, which of these do you think should be on it?

This longlist of books was chosen from 235 entries.

The Tragedy of Liberation by Frank Dikotter

In 1949 Mao Zedong hoisted the red flag over Beijing’s Forbidden City. Instead of liberating the country, the communists destroyed the old order and replaced it with a repressive system that would dominate every aspect of Chinese life. In an epic of revolution and violence which draws on newly opened party archives, interviews and memoirs, the author interweaves the stories of millions of ordinary people with the brutal politics of Mao’s court.

Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El

If you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms. As political change sweeps the streets and squares, parliaments and presidential palaces of the Arab world, Shereen El Feki has been looking at upheaval a little closer to home – in the sexual lives of men and women in Egypt and across the region. The result is an informative and insightful account of a highly sensitive, and still largely secret, aspect of Arab society.

The General by Ahmed Errachidi

On September 11th 2001, in a café in London, Ahmed Errachidi watched as the twin towers collapsed. In a series of terrible events, Ahmed was sold by the Pakistanis to the Americans and spent 5 years in Guantánamo. Beaten, tortured and humiliated, he did not give in, instead this very ordinary, Moroccan-born London chef became a leader of men. Known by the authorities as The General, he devised protests and resistance by any means possible- and eventually freed, his innocence admitted.

The World’s Most Dangerous Place by James Fergusson

Although the war in Afghanistan is now in its endgame, the West’s struggle to eliminate the threat from Al Qaida is far from over. In 2010 Al Qaida operatives were reportedly streaming out of central Asia towards Somalia . What is now happening in Somalia directly threatens the security of the world, how Somalia became the world’s most dangerous place and what we can or should do about it.

The British Dream by David Goodhart

One of Britain’s most influential centre-left thinkers examines UK immigration policy and argues that there have been unforeseen consequences which urgently need to be addressed.

Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape by Jay Griffiths

While travelling the world in order to write her award-winning book ‘Wild’, the author became aware of the huge differences in how childhood is experienced in various cultures. One central riddle captured her imagination: why are so many children in Euro-American cultures unhappy and why is it that children in many traditional cultures seem happier? Kith explores these questions.

This Boy by Alan Johnson

This is the story of two incredible women: Alan Johnson’s mother, Lily, who battled against poor health, poverty, domestic violence and loneliness to try to ensure a better future for her children; and his sister, Linda, who had to assume an enormous amount of responsibility to protect her family.

The Red Fortress by Catherine Merridale

The Kremlin is one of the few buildings in the world which still keeps its original, late medieval function: as a palace, built to intimidate the ruler’s subjects and to frighten foreign emissaries. ‘Red Fortress’ conveys this sense of the Kremlin as a stage set, nearly as potent under Vladimir Putin as it was under earlier, far more baleful inhabitants.

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography by Charles Moore

Published after her death on 8 April 2013, this book supersedes all earlier books written about her. At the moment when she becomes a historical figure, this book also makes her into a three dimensional one for the first time. It gives unparalleled insight into her early life and formation, especially through her extensive correspondence with her sister, which Moore is the first author to draw on. It recreates brilliantly the atmosphere of British politics as she was making her way, and takes her up to what was arguably the zenith of her power, victory in the Falklands.

Edmund Burke by Jesse Norman

Philosopher, statesman, and founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke is both the greatest and most under-rated political thinker of the past three-hundred years. Born in Ireland in 1729, and greatly affected by its bigotry and extremes, his career constituted a lifelong struggle against the abuse of power. Amid the 18th century’s golden generation that included his companions Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon, Burke’s controversial mixture of conservative and subversive theories made him first a marginal figure, and finally a revered theorist – a hero of the Romantics.

The Confidence Trap by David Runciman

Why do democracies lurch from success to failure? The current financial crises is just one example of how things keep going wrong, just when it looked like they were going right. Wide-ranging, original, compelling, this is the story of modern democracy through the history of moments of crisis from WW1 to the 2008 economic crash.

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore 

If your children were forced to testify against you, what terrible secrets would they reveal? Moscow 1945. Stalin and his courtiers celebrate victory over Hitler, then shots ring out & on a nearby bridge, a teenage boy and girl lie dead. It’s no ordinary tragedy and they’re no ordinary teenagers, but the children of Russia’s most important leaders who attend the most exclusive school in Moscow. Murder? Suicide? Or a conspiracy against the state?

The XX Factor by Alison Wolf

Throughout history, being female defined a woman’s fate. Now, women’s careers rival men’s. But while these changes are revolutionary, their impact is unequal: in reality, the ‘sisterhood’ of working women is deeply divided. Since the groundbreaking 1960s, working women have drifted further apart. This title explores the topic of women in the workplace.

Coolie Woman by Gaiutra Bahadur Feki (not in stock)

In 1903 a Brahmin woman sailed from India to Guyana as a ‘coolie’, the name the British gave to the million indentured labourers they recruited for sugar plantations worldwide after slavery ended. The woman, who claimed no husband, was pregnant and travelling alone. A century later, her great-granddaughter embarks on a journey into the past, hoping to solve a mystery: what made her leave her country? And had she also left behind a man? Gaiutra Bahadur, an American journalist, pursues traces of her great-grandmother over three continents. She also excavates the repressed history of some quarter of a million female coolies. Disparaged as fallen, many were runaways, widows or outcasts, and many migrated alone.

The ghost hunters by Neil Spring

GhostA fictional account of what may have happened at Borley Rectory – “The most haunted house in England”.

When Sarah Grey’s hidden account of her work with Harry Price is discovered, it throws new light on the events that occurred at the Rectory during the Ghost Hunter’s investigations there. Was Harry Price genuine or a charlatan – and what exactly was happening at that brooding and isolated house? Sometimes, it is best not to know the truth.


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The Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore

I have recently read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it, not least because it is set in Norfolk and there are references to Holt and Wells, both places that I love. It was easy to visualise the Norfolk woods that a lot of the story takes place in. Even a brief visit to Holt library is mentioned.

The book starts with Jude having a recurrent nightmare that she suffered with as a child.

Jude is a recently widowed London based auctioneer. She is pleased to get  the chance to value the collection of an 18th century astronomer, Anthony Wickham, in Norfolk where she grew up. It transpires that her Grandmother has a link to Starbrough Hall, the home of this collection and whilst getting to know the family and it’s history whilst revisiting her own, unanswered questions begin to have some meaning. Why does her young niece Summer have the same nightmare?

Wickham’s is a tragic story with links to the present. The folly in the grounds of the hall seems to hold some secrets. Jude, with the help of a local naturalist, Euan uncovers the answers and yes you have guessed, he is the love interest.

A really lovely story, recommended to me by a colleague. It has been read by many customers in Acle library, all have enjoyed it and gone on to order the other titles that she has written.

Kymm Lucas

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The fault in our stars by John Green

faultComing to this book very late, I suspect that everything worth saying about it has already been said- but I loved it so much that I must add my voice to the chorus.

John Green writes with courage and conviction about a young woman with terminal cancer and her relationships with those around her. Hazel is a wise and believable central character with a great sense of humour and huge insight. Forced to attend a cancer support group by her mother, she meets the “very hot” Augustus Waters and the two embark on a tentative relationship. Augustus lost a leg to bone cancer a year or two back (and a girlfriend to a brain tumour too), so has an understanding of the pain and humiliation involved in medical treatments. It would be easy to say that their relationship is based on this shared circumstance, but it is not. It is based on their similar outlook on the world, their shared reading tastes, their cleverness.

The book is a wonderful study in love, loss and grief. You’ll find it almost impossible to put down and if you get through it without crying you’re in a minority. Though written originally for teenagers, it certainly holds up for adult readers. It’ll be made into a film later this year, but I think the book is so well written (and revolves around literature to such an extent) that it would be a shame to miss out on the experience of reading it.


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Salt by Jeremy Page

SaltAtmospheric and verging on magical realism, this novel evokes the ethereal and claustrophobic nature of a family isolated from society by culture and geography. Following the timeline, and written in the first person of, a boy growing up in Blakeney and the Lincolnshire fens. We follow the events leading to his birth, the circumstances surrounding his heritage and the painful way England in the post war decades dealt with issues which might seem trivial today.

The spectre of mental illness hangs heavily over the whole piece, affecting several generations of the same, seemingly doomed, family. I was hypnotized by the almost druggy, hallucinatory sense of bleakness and stifled desperation viewed through the prism of a damaged silent child’s memories. Really emotional in places, this book has a way of creepily needling you inside, and as such wouldn’t be appropriate for a holiday read in the Maldives, more for a dark winter’s night by the fire fuelled up with a large port.

I was also fascinated to learn that he went to school with my sister in law and that he grew up in the village where my mother-in-law still lives. Blakeney is only a short drive away. And his love for, and familiarity with the location is obvious. Sit in a pub in Cley reading this book looking out over the marshes and you will feel you are there.

Bitesized version: Bleak, magical, transporting and tragic. A Norfolk Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with a touch of the Wallander landscape. Think – an epic song by the Doors or Pink Floyd about a family struggling to communicate and survive in an unforgiving environment, with plenty of realistic Norfolk dialect.

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

flynnA cracking crime thriller which doesn’t let up for a minute. Nick Dunne’s wife has disappeared without trace on their fifth wedding anniversary- and it isn’t long before suspicion falls on him.

The book is crammed full of all the best ingredients of a thriller, with plenty of twists and turns, a surprise around every corner and a truly monstrous villain.

It’s topped best-seller lists in America and the UK and everyone’s been talking about it. The reservation lists in libraries have been a mile long, but it’s back on the shelves and if you haven’t read it yet you should.

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Incognito by David Eagleman

eaglemanA fascinating and thought-provoking read, David Eagleman takes us on a tour of the unconcious mind. The book looks at the processes of the subconcious and shows how it intersects with the thought processes we are aware of. Written in such a way that (although important scientific points are covered thoroughly) the reader is never baffled nor left behind.
Once the science has been covered in good depth, the author moves on to more philosophical areas to consider the implications of the findings he has outlined.
An excellent read!

The Nightingale Nurses by Donna Douglas

Nightingale NursesThis is the 3rd book in the Nightingale series, following Nightingale Girls & Nightingale Sisters. It’s best to read these in order.

Anyone who loves ‘Call the Midwife’ will enjoy these too.

Set in 1930′s London they tell the stories of the trainee nurses at The Nightingale Hospital; the trials & tribulations both of their lives as nurses & their personal lives.

It includes unrequited love, domineering mothers, bedpans, fortune-tellers, lies, deceit & the consequences. It also includes anti-semitism, & the riots with the Blackshirts marching through the East End.

It’s all knitted together really well and makes for an enjoyable story.


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