The Willoughby Book Club Reading Challenge... How Did We Get On?

The Willoughby Book Club Reading Challenge... How Did We Get On? - The Willoughby Book Club

Can you believe we're drawing to the end of the first Willoughby Book Club Reading Challenge already?

We've really enjoyed getting stuck into books we might not have read otherwise, with our (rather daft) selection of prompts. How about you? Did you have a bumper year of books, or a rather slow and sluggish year? Were there any highlights or previously undiscovered gems?

Here's how the WBC team found the Reading Challenge:



I managed to cover quite a lot in the WBC Reading Challenge and I have read a few things I wouldn’t normally have chosen, as well as books that have been on my TBR pile for a while, so the Challenge really encouraged me to finally pick them up!

Remarkably Bright Creatures

One of the books I enjoyed most from the reading challenge is ‘A Book From a Non-Human Point of View’. I chose Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby van Pelt, which is partly narrated by an octopus. This is not like anything I would normally choose to read. I like my books to be more realistic but I loved the eye-catching front cover and I love octopuses but thought: why not? The story follows Tova, an after-hours cleaner at an aquarium who has only the sea creatures for company. Having never moved on from her son's disappearance from a small seaside town some years ago, Marcellus helps solve the mystery from the confinement of his tank.  It's a really heart-warming read and not nearly as bizarre as you would initially think!



‘Alice’ by Christina Henry is a title from ‘A Genre I Wouldn’t Normally Choose’. I hardly ever read fantasy books as I’ve always really struggled to follow and understand the genre, and feel I need to concentrate far too hard on them and that’s not something I always want when I read. However, this one popped up and I thought it sounded intriguing. It's an alternative, warped take on Alice in Wonderland. It was very dark and violent but very creative and imaginative. If I’m being honest, I don’t whether I enjoyed this book or whether I was just glad to have made it to the end! I have since read ‘Lost Boy’ by the same author though and absolutely loved it! I found it much easier to follow and it wasn’t as dark as ‘Alice’. I’ve now got ‘The Mermaid’ on my ever-expanding TBR pile, and ‘The Girl in Red’  is on my ‘wishlist’.



I’ve really enjoyed coming back to the reading challenge throughout the year. Sometimes I may have forgotten about it, but when I needed a bit of inspiration of what to read next, the reading challenge was there to give me a few ideas! Even with some of the easier prompts to follow: Hardback Book and a Floppy Book, I’ve read some great and interesting books – Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi, People Person by Candice Carty-Williams and A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo.

But I’ve found the slightly more detailed prompts more fun to choose from and made me think slightly out-of-the-box on what to read next. Using prompts such as ‘A book Recommended by a Friend’, ‘A Children’s Book’, ‘A Book Published in the Year I was Born’ and ‘A Novella’, I’ve had some really entertaining first time reads and rereads! Some of the books I’ve read using these prompts are:

Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, which was recommended to me by Liv. She knew I’d read and enjoyed The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters previously, so thought I’d enjoy this just as much. And she was right! A detailed story of oyster girl, Nan, in the late Victorian period as she navigates a very colourful life after meeting and falling for performer, Kitty Butler. After I had finished Babel by R.F. Kuang, I wanted something set in a similar period, with another strong main character and this was just right.


Northern Lights

I’ve re-read The Northen Lights by Philip Pullman, as it’s part of series I really enjoyed reading growing up, but also because it was published in the year I was born! With the TV show still fresh in my mind, it was great to come back to this book and the rest of the trilogy, as they always fill me with excitement and wonder.




Moominland Midwinter

Again, I was recommended by Marianne, the lovely children’s book Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. Receiving a beautiful copy of the book to read just automatically makes me want to open it up and have a look inside. Full of Jansson’s illustrations, it’s just great to have a flick through and enjoy the Moomin content. Perfect to be read at this time of year under a cosy blanket!




My year's reading has been scattered and disorientated, somewhat like myself. It's been nice to pin reads into the framework of the reading challenge, and to be given the permission to read for fun, silly reasons, as well as to be Improved and made more Clever!

Comet in Moominland

I spent a lovely drowsy spring afternoon re-reading Comet in Moominland in a hammock in the woods, thereby ticking three prompts in one: A Children's Book, A Book You've Read Before, years ago, and A Book from a Non-Human Point of View prompt. I always enjoy re-visiting Moominvalley and all the books are among my most read books, with one for all moods and seasons.



So Late in the Day

I gulped down So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan for the Novella prompt, and remembered how much I like novellas, and read This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill too, and then had to go and seek out more of her writing. I read books recommended by friends, and particularly enjoyed Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata and Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson, both recommended by Olivia. Liv also has a soft spot for floppy books (hence the prompt!) and this led me to Seven Steeples by Sara Baume, one of my favourite books of 2023. 


Radical Love

I don't usually read a great deal of poetry, but this year found myself carrying Radical Love, by Omid Safi with me for weeks, and it is still on my coffee table to be dipped in and out of frequently. This is a beautifully collated and translated collection of poetry and teachings from the Qur'an, the Hadith and poets such as Hafiz and Rumi, providing a small glimpse into the transcendent and numinous.



In a year of struggling to read I particularly liked ticking off multiple prompts with single books, it felt like I was making progress with not a lot of time or effort, and I've enjoyed discovering new authors and books that I might not have otherwise gravitated toward. Here's to a great year's reading in 2024!



I'm pretty pleased with the progress I made on the inaugural Willoughby reading challenge this year! It has certainly made me more conscious of the types of books I opt for when selecting my monthly reads. Overall, it has been a slower second half of the year, but what I have picked up has included two of by favourite books of the last few years, as well as some very interesting and illuminating non-fiction.


LambFor a Genre You Wouldn't Usually Choose, I discovered Lamb by Matt Hill through the wonderful Dead Ink, who are a great publisher and promoter of all things independent and unusual. Science fiction isn't always my go-to genre. I've dabbled in dystopian and horror and I enjoy the unsettling, uncanny, and surreal!   I would definitely classify this as a literary science fiction novel, but there are also elements of folk horror (another interest of mine!) which give it a gripping and claustrophobic edge. Fungal spores are spreading and infecting people, a family home consumes people who enter it and animals are dying in mysterious ways. The protagonist, Boyd, has moved with his mother to the north of England following the death of his father. But when his mum begins to act erratically and a persistent damp begins to cover their walls, the existence of something far more sinister and persistent begins to unfurl. It's a visceral eco-thriller, a page-turner, but it's also a clever and moving meditation on grief and memory.

If you like things like Black Mirror or John Wyndham, you'll not regret picking this one up.


Topographia HibernicaFor the prompt A Book From a Non-Human Point of View, I plumped for Topographia Hibernica by Blindboy Boatclub, It's something of a left-of-field book. I listened to the audiobook of it and would highly recommend doing the same. If you're familiar with Blindboy as a podcaster, you'll be aware of his incisive, often surreal commentary on everything, from Irish folklore and social history, to colonialism and masculinity. His latest short story collection is a fantastic exploration of all these things and more! Narrated by Blindboy himself and accompanied by a musical score, several of the stories give humanity to animal characters, including 'The Donkey' and 'The Pistils of the Dandelions'. He has a great ability to infuse his animal characters with empathy and humanity, while also highlighting the issues that run through contemporary society. Blindboy has a great appreciation for an underdog and has a real psychological depth to his writing, so I can't wait to pick up his other collections!



Poppy War

This was my first year trying any sort of reading challenge and I really enjoyed it. I usually struggle to find what to read next because it really depends on how I’m feeling in the moment. I can never be one of those people who create a list of what they are going to read for the month- I’m too much of a contrarian! The challenge really helped as there was so many good prompts, so it helped guide my choices and didn't leave me stuck in the endless cycle of indecision and overwhelm. It even helped me find my favourite read of the year, The Poppy War by R.F Kuang. I will admit that I didn’t fulfil all the prompts, and some prompts I used several times (sue me!).

As a fantasy reader, the prompt “Book Set in a Different World” was a great excuse to read loads more fantasy. It is impossible to narrow down to a single book, but some notable favourites were Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir and The Unbroken by C.L. Clarke.



Everyone at Willoughby got very into Claire Keegan’s books this year, at one point it was everyone’s current read, so I read Foster, for the prompt A Book Written in an Accent. As my first experience with Claire Keegan, I was absolutely converted. She captures the Irish experience so incredibly, as well as all the subtleties and nuances of the accent and identity.






I never usually read poetry. I feel like I never truly understand it (and it also gives me awful flashbacks to Leaving Cert history class). So, in all honesty, Egghead by Bo Burnham has sat on my shelf for quite a few years. It also isn’t the most traditional poetry book. But after yet another rewatch of Bo Burnham’s Inside special on Netflix, and with the Reading Challenge prompt of A Poetry Book in mind, I finally cracked it open. And honestly, I found it to be brilliant. I love his comedy and social commentary and all the poems are so uniquely Bo Burnham, none of them would feel out of place in the middle of one of his specials. If you enjoy any of his shows, I would highly recommend it.


A Man and his Cat

The Man and His Cat by Umi Sakurai was a strong contender for my favourite read of the year. I have read a frankly insane amount of manga and graphic novels this year. Not all were great and some were astoundingly mediocre (still fun reads though). The Man and His Cat however, was a standout and my choice for the Book From a Non-Human Point of View prompt. I thought it would just be a funny easy slice-of-life manga from the point of view of a cat adopted by an older gentleman. But from volume one, I found it so full of heart and sincerity. It was simply a gorgeous insight into people and our connections with our pets.


Secret Society of Irregular Witches

My current read, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna, was a great recommendation from Alisha, which so far is 10/10 and a really fun read- perfect for the Book Recommended by a Friend prompt.

I already looking forward to next year’s prompts and I hope you all join in with us!





If you would like to read any of these books, you can purchase them via our affiliate link on that supports small independent bookshops.

If you buy books from our affiliate links, we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published