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Culture: the hot summer reads set in Essex

With stay/vay-cays finally on the horizon, we’ve rounded up some of the region’s hottest reads to see you through the holidays. From ghostly sightings across the salt marshes to satire in Southend, we've got you covered

When God Was A Rabbit

This darkly comic, critically-acclaimed debut from Sarah Winman shuttles between suburban Essex (where protagonist Elly grows up), the wild Cornish coast and bustling streets of New York. It spans four decades. It asks the Big Questions. It even features a rabbit called God. But it’s Winman’s ability to expertly navigate the pull and power of family ties in her narration of loss and love that will keep you captive on the sun lounger. When God Was A Rabbit, £9.99, Headline

The Essex Serpent

Rooted firmly in author Sarah Perry’s home county and, more specifically, Aldwinter – a fictional town near Colchester that backs onto the Blackwater Estuary – The Essex Serpent has won a slew of awards for its eerie depiction of murder, mystery and monsters on the salt marsh. Set in 1893, we follow sometime heroine Cora Seaborne as she fleas her controlling, unhappy marriage to start over in the peaceful Essex countryside with her son. Cue a community in panic and a creature of folklore that refuses to loosen its grip for the ultimate gothic yarn. The Essex Serpent, £8.99, Serpent’s Tail

She Rises

It’s 1740 and Louise Fletcher is working as a young dairy maid before the lure of the ocean sees her relocate to Harwich, where life soon merges with warship sailor Luke, the haughty captain’s daughter Rebecca, and a crooked naval port drenched in smuggler’s secrets. This immersive coming of age tale by Kate Worsley is one to read with your toes wedged in the surf and a fizzing G&T on the go. She Rises, £12.99, Bloomsbury

Hiding From The Light

A spellbinding tale that weaves witchcraft and haunted cottages with romance and a rector on the edge, this gripping scorcher by Barbara Erskine is set in the mist-cloaked streets of Manningtree. Already hooked? Say hello to Emma Dickson – a former high-flyer who finds herself in the grips of something sinister with no way out… Hiding From The Light, £10.99, Harper Collins

Starter For Ten

Before bestselling author David Nicholls penned the chart-topping One Day and Us, he mastered his comic craft in Starter For Ten: a touching tale about love, class and growing up on campus in 80s’ Southend. It follows Brian Jackson, a hopeless hero who has one goal in life: to make it onto TV’s biggest general knowledge quiz show. But then his enigmatic teammate Alice Harbinson comes along and the ambition gets a kickstart. Now they have to win. Starter For Ten, £8.99, Hodder & Stoughton

Secret Water

Perfect for channeling your inner kid explorer (or reading aloud to little adventurers), this gem by Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome is set in Hamford Water, near Walton-on-the-Naze and follows John, Susan, Titty and Roger as they take on the job of mapping their way out of the mud flats. Expect nostalgia in buckets and spades as this charming story on the Essex coast unfolds and the Swallows turn a dull holiday into an epic family odyssey. Secret Water, £7.99, Red Fox

The Woman In Black

Hot on the beach? Hit Susan Hill’s white-knuckle ghost story for a sure-fire shiver fest. Set on a remote island cut off at high tide (depicted as Osea Island in the 2012 movie), this chilling east-coast thriller tells the tale of Jennet Humfryre – a vengeful mother who will stop at nothing (and no one) to haunt the grounds of Eel Marsh House. The Woman In Black, £8.99, Vintage Classics

The Peregrine

A truly gorgeous example of British nature writing, this highly-acclaimed poetic prose from JA Baker centres on the desolate marshes and fields surrounding Chelmsford, where Baker lived throughout his life. The book is, in many ways, a record of desire; an almost autobiographical account of his relationship with the wild and, in particular, his unrequited love affair with the skyward peregrines, who soar into the sun ‘like a bar of river gravel, golden-red’. Already feeling soothed? Just add golden hour and a glass of wine. The Peregrine, £12.99, Harper Collins

Check out local independent book stores Red Lion Books, Maldon Books and Wivenhoe Bookshop for stock enquiries.

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