37 novels you should be reading now - according to Norfolk book sellers

Author Mitch Johnson at Kett's Books in Wymondham

Author Mitch Johnson at Kett's Books in Wymondham - Credit: Supplied by Ketts Books

As shops re-open we ask the people running some of our local independents what’s selling, what’s recommended and what they’ve loved reading during lockdown.

Tracy Kenny, manager of Kett’s Books in Wymondham, said: “It's just been wonderful to be able to throw open the door and watch customers so happy to come in. They are happy to be in town, and especially to be allowed to browse and discover books they didn't know they wanted. Chatting about those books, their kids, the dog - it's all good. It's great to be around people again.” 

Kett's Books in Wymondham

Kett's Books in Wymondham - Credit: Supplied by Kett's Books

She explained why local bookshops are so valuable. “Every independent bookshop curates its book selection around the tastes and interests of its community, so we're really interested to get to know our customers and what they enjoy reading.  You won't find any algorithms making recommendations in our shops. And because we're interested, in an independent bookshop you know that you'll be able to share the experience of enjoying books with someone. In an independent bookshop we aren't just selling stories, we're offering human connections. 
“Choosing any independent shop over the internet is an investment in the way we all think life should be - experts taking pride in their work, sharing their passion, caring about the customer getting the best. The internet can't look you in the eye, it doesn't pay taxes, it doesn't give work experience to your teenagers, it doesn't pick up the rubbish on the streets in your town. Independent shopkeepers keep towns alive. It's within everyone's reach to spend a few pounds in their town every week. It makes a big difference.” 

Author Mitch Johnson at Kett's Books in Wymondham

Author Mitch Johnson at Kett's Books in Wymondham - Credit: Supplied by Ketts Books

Local recommendations: We really believe that we should make it easy for even non-readers to join in conversations about books, so every year we run One Community, One Book, an initiative to encourage the whole town to read the same book. We're really excited to be working this year with Norwich-based children's author Mitch Johnson, whose book Pop! is published on May 6. It's got a stolen secret recipe, a chase across America, corporate greed, plastic pollution, and the dangers of overdoing the sugar. It's great fun. We also have a One Community, One Book title for adults. Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession has been out for a few years, but we felt like it's the perfect encouraging read for coming out of a tough year, and we're enjoying watching the town discover it. 

Holly Ainley, of Jarrold, in Norwich said: “It has been so positive to see customers and welcome readers back into the department again. We’ve found people end up going away with books they didn’t realise they wanted, after simply being able to talk to colleagues again and swap recommendations. 

“Books are a part of Jarrold’s history and heritage (we used to be printers and publishers) and so is being part of the local community.  

Holly said there had been a great response to Jarrold’s online events programme, which will continue at least until the summer.  

Jarrold, Norwich 

Jarrold, Norwich - Credit: Supplied by Jarrold, Norwich

Local recommendations: We are excited to be stocking the new paperback edition of Richard Barnes’s George Skipper: An Architect’s Life and Works. Also Norfolk-based watercolourist John Hurst’s new memoir, Watercolour Words: Fifty Years, part proceeds of which go to the Norman Lamb Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund, and a beautiful new illustrated title from Norfolk publisher Mascot Media, Kingfisher by Alan Marshall. Personally, I’m recommending the new paperback of Simon Barne’s memoir, On the Marsh, about his work to preserve the marshland next to his home near Loddon. 

Popular now: Maggie O’Farrell’s compelling historical fiction, Hamnet, and Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library. We’ve seen an increase in sales of books that promote wellbeing and self-care, as well as a whole range of titles about the power and appreciation of nature. 

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What have you been reading? Thin Places by journalist Kerri ni Dochartaigh about her upbringing in Northern Ireland and the way this shaped her relationship with nature; Lean, Fall, Stand the much-anticipated new novel from Jon McGregor, out next week and all about a man who suffers a stroke after an accident in the Antarctic; and Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, a heartbreaking story about love and race relations in Britain today. 

Pam Horrocks, director of the Holt Bookshop in Lion House Court, Holt, said: “The re-opening of the bookshop was a very exciting time for us. As a fairly new business we have been closed due to the pandemic for as long as we have been open – four months out of eight! It was like the first opening day all over again.” 

Pam Horrocks, director of The Holt Bookshop

Pam Horrocks, director of The Holt Bookshop - Credit: Supplied by The Holt Bookshop

Popular now: The Sentinel by Lee Child, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.  

Local recommendations: Watercolour Words – Fifty Years by John Hurst, and The Hidden Norfolk classic crime series by J M Dalgleish with a limited number of signed copies available in the shop. 

Coming soon: Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light out in paperback on April 29, Lucinda Riley’s long-awaited The Missing Sister due out in hardback on May 27 and, perfect for outdoor entertaining, Tom Kerridge Outdoor Cooking, due out May 27.  

What have you been reading? I have just finished The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin. Emotional, involving, witty and sad. Can strongly recommend. 

The Old Station Pottery and Bookshop in Wells-next-the-Sea is an unusual mix of ceramics and second-hand books, displayed together through five rooms.  

Owner Thom Borthwick said one of the joys of a second-hand bookshop is ‘The chance of the unexpected, finding that book you never knew you wanted.’ 

“We stock all sorts of the more unusual titles, from Structural Concrete simply explained to Paper Tearing for Infants, along with Victorian ‘ripping yarns,’ ancient Greek plays, and football annuals from the 40s and 50s. If you've never heard of it, we've probably got it!”  

The Old Station Pottery & Bookshop. Wells-next-the-Sea.

The Old Station Pottery & Bookshop, Wells-next-the-Sea. - Credit: Supplied by The Old Station Pottery & Bookshop. Wells-next-the-Sea.

Popular now: Gardening, cookery, DIY, family history and art books, particularly how-to guides on painting, drawing or sketching etc, are all popular as people continue lockdown projects. And children’s books of the 1940s and 50s by authors including Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton. 

Local recommendations: “Anything by Richard Mabey, Roger Deakin, or Ronald Blythe. All inspired writers to get you in an optimistic mood for spring. Also books on painting and crafts so you can continue those lockdown projects.” 

Coming soon: “As a second-hand bookshop it is a case of waiting to see what comes in,” said Thom. “A signed first edition Harry Potter would be nice! But more realistically some nice old children's books, some good art books, or some crime thrillers from the 30s and 40s, all would be most acceptable.” 

What have you been reading? “Again a lockdown hangover. Unable to visit my beloved Greece for over a year I have been reading Herodotus, Xenophon, Pausanius and any other Ancient Greek writers. I always knew having a bookshop would come in useful one day!” 

A sign at re-opened Bookbugs and Dragon Tales in Norwich

A sign at re-opened Bookbugs and Dragon Tales in Norwich - Credit: Supplied by Bookbugs and Dragon Tales

Leanne Fridd, owner of Bookbugs and Dragon Tales, Timberhill, Norwich, said: “Having only opened the shop in August 2019, we feel like we are getting fairly good at reopening now, with four under our belts in 18 months! We have been so fortunate that we have received such wonderful support from our customers who, without exception, have been kind and patient and glad to be back.” 

“Bricks and mortar bookshops cannot always compete with online retailers’ prices but no algorithm can truly match the knowledge and humanity of a bookseller.  

“Our unique approach to bookselling is to use theatre, creativity and the arts to bring books to life and help develop a life-long love of reading.” 

Owners Dan and Leanne Fridd outside Bookbugs and Dragon Tales, Norwich

Owners Dan and Leanne Fridd outside Bookbugs and Dragon Tales, Norwich - Credit: Supplied by Bookbugs and Dragon Tales

Local recommendations: “We are particularly excited about some books by Norfolk-based authors with whom we will be collaborating - Milly Cow Gives Milk by Deborah Chancellor and illustrated by local Julia Groves, a lovely board book which shows where our food comes from; Pop! by Mitch Johnson, and a wonderful picture book by Fiona Barker called Setsuko and The Song of The Sea. We are also thrilled to be involved in a new book called Aggi and The Mystic Boots all about microbes from the amazing Norwich based Paramecium Press.” 

Popular now: “People are understandably feeling a little frazzled at the moment and the books they are choosing are reflecting this. We are noticing that 'big feelings' are being explored through children's picture books. A particular favourite is the recently published Barbara Throws a Wobbler by Nadia Shireen. Lots of people have also bought Michael Rosen's Many Different Kinds of Love about his personal battle with Covid and the incredible support he received. I think we all need a little kindness in our lives right now.” 

At Not Just Books, Riverside Walk, Thetford, owner Jane James said: “We're a little haven of calm in a busy world.  We can chat to you if you want or you can become lost in the world of books and your own thoughts. As we only let eight people in the shop at a time at the moment it’s the best of both worlds: you can be out but not overwhelmed by people after all the recent restrictions and I think people appreciate that.” 

Not Just Books in Thetford, featuring a window whale painted by Pacdmacandra, illustrator of The Tale of the Whale

Not Just Books in Thetford, featuring a window whale painted by Pacdmacandra, illustrator of The Tale of the Whale - Credit: Supplied by Jane James

Local recommendations:  We were lucky enough to have a local illustrator, Pacdmacandra, come and paint our window to mark the publication of The Tale of The Whale and that is proving very popular - and a great conversation point as people go past the shop. And A Prince and a Spy by Norwich-based Rory Clements. 

Popular right now: Children's picture books. A few parents have said that they are desperate for new stories to read as they have been reading and re-reading the same books over lockdown. Walking books are also proving popular as restrictions lift, I think a lot of people have the staycation in mind this summer. 

Coming soon: Really excited about Jon McGregor's Lean Fall Stand being published on April 29.  He used to live in Thetford and it’s great to be able to celebrate and share that connection.   

Marilyn Brocklehurst of Norfolk Children’s Book Centre in Alby, near Aylsham, said the shop has reopened to school staff by appointment and plans to open to everyone by appointment from May 4.  

Norfolk Children’s Book Centre in Alby, near Aylsham

Norfolk Children’s Book Centre in Alby, near Aylsham - Credit: Supplied by Norfolk Children’s Book Centre 

“Independent bookshops are owned and run by book-lovers passionate about their shops, and each one is different. We are unique because the bookshop is built in my Norfolk garden completely isolated from the bustle of the high street,” said Marilyn. “A visit to our shop always involves a journey, so in the past we ensured that our visitors are welcomed with tea and biscuits so they felt they could settle in for a good while. We hope to resume free refreshments in the autumn.” 

The shop will continue to post books to customers and offer email suggestions for people who are not ready to visit yet. “Our locker collection system has been a great success for local book-lovers who have discovered we can provide adult books too!” added Marilyn. 
Phillipa Clements and Ian Gallagher run the Tombland Bookshop, Tombland, Norwich, and said: “It has been a real joy to reopen our doors and see our lovely regular customers and all the new visitors.   

“You just can’t browse the internet in the same way you can browse bookshop shelves.  Who knows what you might find, that you were not exactly looking for? That is the magic of bookshops.” 

Tombland Bookshop, Norwich

Tombland Bookshop, Norwich - Credit: Supplied by Tombland Bookshop

Local recommendations: A really good browse!   

What have you been reading?  Of course being the Tombland Bookshop we read CJ Sansom’s latest novel Tombland early on in the pandemic, a wonderful novel about Norwich and Kett’s Rebellion, so we are enjoying reading more on this moment in history such as In Search of Robert Kett by Adrian Hoare.   

The Book Hive, Norwich

The Book Hive in Norwich - Credit: Archant

At the Book Hive in London Street, Norwich, owner Henry Layte has celebrated reopening with window displays promoting local books and installing a special wall tile by Norfolk artist Paul Bommer. “He made one which looks like a medieval series of tiles when you put them together and has a beautiful series of pictures and the words 'A fine Citie' and 'Floreat Norvicum' - which means Norwich shall flourish. This will be a permanent addition to the building, marking the city's struggle coming through the pandemic and our hope for the future,” said Henry. “In addition to this we'll be making the shop a generally fun place to be!” 

Local recommendations: A new book published by our own publishing house Propolis Books, and designed by Norwich’s Niki Medlik. The Actual Whole of Music by Haydn Middleton is a wide-ranging, ethereal story about a gang of people travelling across a brave new world after emerging from an unknown 'blackout'. Although it sounds very similar to our situation now, he's been writing it on and off for about 20 years. And children’s picture book The Song For Everyone by Lucy Morris. It's utterly beautiful. 

Claire Dunne of Ceres Bookshop in Swaffham said: “We know our customers and so choose stock accordingly. We let customers know when something they might be interested in has arrived. Overall it's a more personal service.”

Local recommendations: As always Elly Griffiths, Norfolk Heritage Walks, Norfolk Beaches Handbook and Dog Walks Around the Norfolk Coast. 

Coming soon: Gyles Brandreth 's Philip the Final Portrait,