What We've Been Reading

What We've Been Reading - The Willoughby Book Club

Kala by Colin Walsh

I loved this noirish, coming of age thriller from Colin Walsh.

In the town of Kinlough on the west coast of Ireland, three friends come together for the first time since the summer of 2003, when one of their inseparable group of friends disappeared without a trace.

This is so taught and well written, and kept me completely gripped throughout. It was so atmospheric and had such a strong sense of place, and conveyed the heady sense of hope and possibility of the coming of age years juxtaposed with the darkness of the friends current circumstances and reasons for reuniting.

I was really gripped by this book, but also in absolute awe that this is a first book: I really admired the craft of the author as well as the book itself. This comes highly recommended, it's the sort of book you want to discuss with everyone else who has read it as soon as you've finished.

- Marianne


Song of Silver, Flame Like Night by Amelie Wen Zhao

Inspired by Chinese mythology, Song of Silver, Flame Like Night is an adventurous tale of fate, romance, and magic.

Lan, as she’s now known, after the Elantians have colonised the country, is desperately searching for any remnants of the past that can answer her questions on the strange mark left on her wrist by her mother.

No one has ever been able to see this mark until she bumps into the mysterious Zen, who saved her life, is discovered to be a practitioner and one of the secret magicians in the Last Kingdom. With fate connecting them, they both have the power to liberate their land, but also to destroy the world.

A fast-paced mythological fantasy that kept me turning the pages to find out what was going to happen next. I enjoyed learning about the magic system as the characters use the elements around them to conjure spells and incantations. I really love a book based around mythology and this didn’t disappoint!

- Alisha


Miss Carter and the Ifrit by Susan Alice Kerby

I picked up this book when having a nice long browse in Much Ado books in East Sussex, which is a total treasure trove of books and lovely covetable bits and pieces. 

I chose it as I was curious about the imprint, Furrowed Middlebrow (of Dean Street Press) which I haven't come across before, and I do like a mid- century forgotten book, as well as not being able to resist buying something from such a nice bookshop. They even gave me a beautiful handmade bookmark. Consider me totally charmed!

Miss Carter is a forty-something spinster living alone and working for the Censorship in the final months of the Second World War, when she buys some blocks from a blitzed roadway. When burned, they release a long-trapped Ifrit (a supernatural figure from Islamic folklore). The enthusiastic, loveable Ifrit quickly brings colour and adventure to Miss Carter's drab existence, and I loved the descriptions of her delight at a well-cut outfit or the taste of a grape after years of rationing.

This is very much of it's time, but is a lovely, gentle read, that is perfect for a bit of escapism. You'll like this if you enjoyed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day or similar.

- Marianne


Devil's Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

I read Starve Acre by this author a few years ago and loved the combination of folk horror elements, complex characters and atmospheric moor setting. Hurley uses similar themes in Devil's Day- a fantastic slow burn of a book that really utilises the hostile natural environment to explore deep-seated paranoias and hyper-localised superstition.

Narrated by the ambivalent character of John, who has returned to the Endlands valley of his childhood home for 'Devil's Day, a time which commemorates and ameliorates the supposed curse placed by the devil on their farmlands many years ago. With John adamant that he and his wife permanently return and revive the farm, after the recent death of his formidable grandfather (or 'Gaffer'),  his wife Kat becomes increasingly unsettled by the curse that is feels so present in their daily lives.

Gothic and scattered with folklore and rural imagery, this is an eerie look at a fearful, closed-knit community at odds with a changing world and the lengths they are willing to go to keep it as it should be.

- Olivia


You Are Here by David Nicholls

I am new to David Nicholls and have only recently read One Day and absolutely loved it, so I was really lucky to be given an advance copy of his new book ‘You Are Here’, which is out later this month.

The story follows Michael and Marnie, two lonely divorcees, who are bought together by a mutual friend on a walking weekend. Over a very wet hike across the country, when everyone else has dropped out and gone home, they find themselves stepping out of their comfort zones and opening up to each other.

I spend a lot of time out walking in that part of the country, so this book seemed perfect for me.

I really enjoyed the setting and the description of the views and landscape. I could also relate to some of the struggles on the walks with the terrain and the weather conditions.

I really enjoyed the interaction between Marnie and Michael, and I liked how each chapter alternated between both of their points of view. It was really easy and enjoyable to read, perfect to pick up when I had a spare five minutes.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily describe this book as humorous, it definitely made me smile on a number of occasions. A really relatable, feel-good read.

- Chloe


The Butcher of the Forest by Premee Mohamed

This was actually one of the books that I have been looking forward to this year and I excitedly picked up not long after it came out. It’s a short 160-page dark horror fantasy novella and its perfectly suited to its short length. I’m not usually a big fan of dark horror books. I’m waaaay too big of a 'scaredy cat' for it and this story does become very dark.

Woken in the middle of the night, Veris is dragged and forced before the Tyrant, the monstrous and wrathful ruler, to make a simple choice: enter the dark, wild and otherworldly forest of Elmever and retrieve his children, or die, along with her remaining family and village. As the only person to have ever returned from the depths of the forest, she is haunted by it's gruesome secrets and creatures. This also makes her the only person remotely capable of surviving this death sentence. With less than 24 hours until the children are lost forever, Veris once more enters the trees of Elmever.

This a gorgeously written novella, with winding and lyrical prose that really captures the disturbing and depraved nature of the forest, along with the inner demons and tragedy that clings to the main character. This, along with the short length of the novella, are the reasons I could persevere, as the dark horror, gore and certain subject matters (murder, abuse etc.) make it a deeply uncomfortable read. It's probably not for everyone and not exactly my usual cup of tea but it is definitely a compelling read and I’m really glad I picked it up.

- Aishah


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