The Willoughby Book Club Reading Challenge 2023: A Mid-Year Update!

The Willoughby Book Club Reading Challenge 2023: A Mid-Year Update! - The Willoughby Book Club

In January we launched the first ever Willoughby Book Club Reading Challenge!

We put our thinking caps on, came up with a selection of prompts and threw the challenge out to you!

As a lot of us in Team WBC had been suffering reading slumps we were looking forward to reading out of our comfort zones, trying something different and hopefully finding some new favourites along the way, as well as re-integrating the habit of reading into our daily lives.

How about you? Have you been reading along with us? We'd love to hear how your year of books is going so far, and have these prompts encouraged you to try anything new?

Here's how we've been getting on so far with the Willoughby 2023 Reading Challenge!


Well, I set good intentions at the start of 2023 to read voraciously and joyously... and like most good intentions I have not achieved quite what I set out to do! I have enjoyed the Reading Challenge, though, it has made me think more broadly and generously about my reading, and I have added some audiobooks to my reading as well, which I am not usually a fan of. I'm gradually getting back into the habit of reading and have enjoyed a few days of deep focus on books in a way I haven't for a long time.

Gobbolino book cover

A children's book:

Gobbolino the Witches Cat.

This was actually an accidental read: I took it off the shelf in Willoughby HQ to see if it was suitable for a young subscriber, and got drawn in with nostalgia at the illustrations and memories. It took me right back to reading this when I was young, and absolutely longing for a cat, especially one whose tail crackles with magic, and it also took me back to reading it with my own daughter years ago who was also mad about cats. What an enjoyable hour or two's read.


Anam Cara book cover

Book you've read before, years ago:

Anam Cara by John O'Donohue.

I first read this during my first ever bookselling job in Manchester city centre, where I was a buyer and bookseller for the mind body spirit department, and this is the 25th anniversary edition. I was struck with both how well this has aged, and also how unsuitable it was for me back then! This is much more appropriate for a more... contemplative phase of life! I really like John O'Donohue's writing and found myself happily dog-earing the pages to return to (apologies, book purists!


Ultra Processed People book cover

A genre you wouldn’t usually choose:

Ultra-Processed People by Dr Chris van Tulleken.

I don't usually read a lot of popular science titles, but I was completely gripped by this. It is fascinating, horrifying and enlightening, and manages to remain accessible throughout. I have been boring anyone who will listen about emulsifiers and UPF's since reading this, and am now an avid label reader in the supermarket as well as being very angry at what we are being presented with as food and the companies enriching themselves at our expense.


She and her Cat book cover

A book from a non-human point of view:

She and Her Cat by Mikoto Shinkai.

This was a lovely read, transporting and gentle, and written predominantly from the perspective of the cats in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Tokyo as they weave through the lives of the inhabitants. As a cat lover I'm firmly in the target market for this book, but regardless, it's pleasingly written and satisfying, a real hug of a book, perfect to curl up with if you're in need of comfort.



Okay honestly, I am a bit behind on the reading challenge. I’m very much a mood reader and can’t really plan ahead for what books I’m going to read. Most of the time it’s just what I feel in the moment. But it’s also one of the things I love about the challenge: when I’m in a slump and can’t find what to read next I can look through the prompts and let it guide me.

Here are some of my favourites so far:

One Piece book cover

Book published in the year that you were born:

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda.

As a big anime and manga fan I'm ashamed to say I have never actually read One Piece. And with this prompt I couldn’t help but give it a go, seeing as the series is as as old as me (and still going!). It was definitely a lot of fun and I can see why it has such a big following. With 105 volumes out I don’t think i'll catch up any time soon but I’m definitely invested from the first three volumes.


Poppy War book cover

Book set in a different world:

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.

This was a book chosen for me by our followers on Instagram and I absolutely adored it, and immediately ordered the rest of the trilogy. With so many high fantasy books being set in some version of medieval England it was a nice change to explore a more diverse setting and the influences of Chinese history and folklore. Its my favourite book I’ve read this year thus far.



Vipers Daughter book cover

A children's book:

Vipers Daughter by Michelle Paver.

I read the first six books of this series with my brother as children. We were both pleasantly surprised to find out that years after the last book, Michelle Paver has decided to continue the series. With a quick re-read of the series (which hold up amazingly, even as adults) we both have been diving into the new books they are just as good as the originals!



Winnie The Pooh

Book with an author same initial as your own:

Winnie the Pooh by A.A Milne.

Hey, it may have been cheating to use a re-read but Winnie the Pooh is a childhood favourite of mine and the nostalgia was needed. Also finding a Author with the initials AM Is surprisingly difficult!



Dictionary of Hiberno English

Genre you wouldn't usually choose:

A Dictionary of Hiberno-English by Terence Patrick Dolan.

As an Irish person living in the UK, I’m constantly finding out different Irish-isms I have and phrases that I think are commonplace are actually very uniquely Irish. And while I usually struggle a lot with reading non-fiction I actually really enjoyed this one and finding out the history of Hiberno-English and how phrases and meanings have evolved over time. Sure it's pure deadly like.


Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow book cover

Book recommended by a friend:

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

This is actually my current read as everyone I know seems to be reading it and loving it. I’ve had several of my friends recommend it to me with glowing reviews and so far I absolutely agree with them. I’m always a fan of coming of age stories and this one is so beautifully written that I’m looking forward to each new chapter.



Secret Garden book cover

A classic: 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I have seen the film adaptation of this numerous times but have never read the book. I found a lovely hardback version with a beautiful front cover so couldn’t resist buying it and finally reading it. It looks nice on my bookshelf too

I could have counted The Secret Garden as the 'beautiful book' prompt too, but instead I chose


Trial of Lotta Rae book cover'The Trial of Lotta Rae’ by Siobhan MacGowan, a historical story about one woman’s tragic fight for justice which I picked up based on the front cover. I buy a lot of my books based on the front cover if I’m being honest. I will quite often go to a shop and pick a book because it’s got an interesting or pretty front cover…and they usually end up being something I’ve enjoyed. It has made me pick things up and read titles I wouldn’t normally choose too.


Landlines book cover

A non-fiction title:

Landlines by Raynor Winn.

I will admit that I don’t usually read non-fiction, but a friend recommended The Salt Path to me last year and I loved it, so have since read the following two, most recently with this one that I was bought for Christmas. A real inspiring story following Ray and her terminally ill husband Moth as they walk the paths of country. For someone who loves the outdoors and walking, I loved the descriptions of the environment and wildlife, and it makes me want to be out there too.


Secret Diary of Adrian Mole book cover

A book you’ve already read, years ago:

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsned.

I read all of these when I was younger and was bought a really nice 40 year anniversary edition as a gift recently. I don’t usually re-read books but I enjoyed this in a different way reading it a second time around and from a different age perspective.


Matilda book cover

A children’s book:

Matilda by Roald Dahl.

I have only read one book by Roald Dahl, The Twits, when I was younger, no others. I have seen both the film adaptations of Matilda, and have seen the musical numerous times so thought it was about time I read the book. I read the whole book in one afternoon with a bag of Percy Pigs and loved it, especially the illustrations. I now want to read more, starting with Fantastic Mr Fox...



Wow! What a busy year it’s been so far… as I look at the books left to tackle in the big Willoughby Book Club Challenge, I’ve realised how many wonderful books left I have to read.  

Milk Teeth book cover

Book set somewhere hot:

Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews.

As a fan of contemporary fiction, I knew this would be right up my street! A beautifully written love story set across France, Spain and London, Milk Teeth made me want to run away to Barcelona and leave all my problems behind. Andrews masterfully writes what it is like being a turbulent 20 something year old woman, showing us the struggle of being seen as too much or not enough. I am so glad I grabbed a copy of this as soon as I did!  


The Lovely Bones book cover

Book from a non-human point of view:

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

One of my favourite films, I have always had The Lovely Bones on my to be read list. Just as heart wrenching as the film, The Lovely Bones begins following Susie Salmon as she adjusts to her new life in heaven, watching over her family and friends as they continue life without her, following her disappearance.  



Ugly Love book cover

Book with a terrible cover:

Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover

(although any of her books could’ve been chosen for this category in my opinion). Although the cover did put me off, I am a sucker for a romance novel with bad reviews. I must admit I did enjoy Ugly Love despite some questionable tropes, it left me feeling heartbroken. Hoover has become my go-to author for an easy romance read to get me out of a reading slump. 


Since You've Been Gone book cover

Book you've read before, years ago:

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson - a past favourite of mine.

Sloane was Emily’s best friend, she got Emily out of her shell and made life interesting. As they get ready for the best summer ever, Sloane just disappears. Only leaving behind a to-do list, Emily is left with Sloane inspired tasks to complete with only the help of Frank Porter to check things off her list. Since You’ve been Gone is full pf laughs, tears and love, I loved it just as much as I did when I was a teen.  



We’re over halfway through the year and I’ve been picking and choosing from our reading challenge prompts!

Practical Magic book cover

A book published in the year I was born:

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

As a fan of the movie, I had to read the book too and it fit the challenge perfectly! Whilst the movie adaptation obviously differs from the book, I enjoyed both and I’m really glad I’ve finally read it!



A Magic Steeped in Poison book cover

A beautiful book and a book based on folklore:

A Magic Steeped in Poison and its sequel, A Venom Dark and Sweet by Judy I. Lin.

Both books are so pretty and are definitely a couple of my favourite book covers! These two books are full of Chinese mythology and ancient tea making skills, all happening amid power battle over China.



Northanger Abbey book cover

A classic and book you’ve read before, years ago:

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

I remember reading this after finishing secondary school and really enjoying it! As it’s been a while, I thought to read it again and I’ve forgotten how fun this book is! A bit of a mystery and a bit of romance, what more could you want?




I’m having a great reading year so far in 2023, partly aided by the Willoughby Reading Challenge prompts, which have encouraged me to think a bit more deeply about the kinds of books I enjoy reading. So far, I’ve ticked off 11 of the prompts- not too shabby! I’m enjoying the range of books that I’m reading and have particularly liked getting to titles that I wouldn’t have ordinarily picked up. Some of my highlights include:


A classic:

Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys

This blew my little trainer socks off. I was vaguely familiar with Rhys’ work, having studied Wide Sargasso Sea at university, but this one really sticks out in my year’s reading. There’s interwar Paris, longing, psychological ennui, drinking alone in bars… what more do you want from a book? Her writing is precise and beautiful and I can’t wait to pick up another of her Paris-set novellas.

A novella:

A Girl Returned by Donatella di Pietrantonio, translated by Ann Goldstein

I read this while lounging around decadently on holiday. I always try to read books related to the place I am travelling to, so this Italian novella was a perfect selection. Set in 1975 in Abruzzo, and narrated by an unnamed 13-year-old, the story follows a year in the life of the so-called ‘arminuta’, the girl returned, who has grown up in a comfortable, middle-class home with her supposed parents, only to be sent away one summer to live with her real family. Confused and poverty-stricken, the girl must come to terms with her reality and learn to survive among her new relations, including her brilliant but stubborn sister, Adriana, and her neglectful and cold birth mother, while trying to figure out why she has been discarded in the first place.

It’s a really effective novella that challenges our assumptions of and explores the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, heightened by youth and misunderstanding. Translated into English by Ann Goldstein, Elena’s Ferrante’s translator, ranks highly for me for its use of language, character, and stark realism.

A book based on folklore:

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

I really enjoyed this one! Set on the fictional Caribbean island of Black Conch, the young fisherman David becomes entranced by a mysterious creature who emerges from the sea one day, attracted by the strumming of his guitar. Aycayia is a mermaid, cursed centuries ago by jealous wives to spend millennia alone. When she is caught violently by American tourists, her future safety is threatened and David spontaneously rescues her. However, when she begins turning back into a woman, their lives are never the same again. It’s a lush, atmospheric piece of magical realism that refuses to shy away from discussing the awful legacy of colonialism, and does so without losing any of Roffey’s unique richness of language or storytelling.  


I’ve recently picked up another Roffey title, The White Woman on the Bicycle, and can’t wait to pick it up!

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