What We've Been Reading

What We've Been Reading - The Willoughby Book Club

 The Hunger of Women by Marosia Castaldi

The Hunger of Women was a truly unique reading experience. Translated posthumously into English, Castaldi's narrator has moved from the chaos of Naples to the foggy lowlands of Lombardy after the death of her husband. Here she opens a restaurant, serving the local bourgeois dishes of sumptuous Neapolitan cooking, while ruminating on her relationships with the women in her life. Expect mouthwatering descriptions of food and philosophical ponderings. There's a mythic quality to the writing, with references to religion and classical literature. It's a reckoning with the self and God and her identity as a lesbian, as a human and as a mother.  Don't go into this one expecting plot. Poetic, hypnotic and sometimes unnavigable, I've been thinking about this short but powerful book since I finished it. 

- Olivia


The Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Cespedes

I first heard about this Italian feminist classic after reading a list of Elena Ferrante's favourite books. Set in 1950s Rome, the narrator, who has always been defined by her role as wife and mother, decides to start writing a secret journal.  It's a beautifully-told insight into the interior life of a woman who is seeking more from her prescribed life. It was a groundbreaking novel when it was originally publishing, shining a much-needed light on the oppressed role of women in 20th century Italian society. 


I had just watched the Roman movie 'There's Still Tomorrow'  before reading the novel and it was a perfect companion for it, so pick up the book and try to see the film if you can!

- Olivia


Up at the Villa by W Somerset Maugham

Written in 1941, this slight but very twisty novella follows beautiful 30 year old Mary Panton, who is summering at her friends villa in the hills above Florence following the untimely death of her alcoholic and abusive husband in a car crash. She enjoys the solitude and location of the villa, occasionally motoring to Florence to join friends at dinners and parties. 

The book falls into three acts as Mary finds herself caught between her eligible suitor Sir Edgar Smith, headed for a life of respectability and acclaim in colonial India, her rakish acquaintance and confidante Rowley Flint, and an impoverished refugee busker with whom she has a one night stand.

I read this from a sense of not having read enough classics, and was hooked straight away. It's a dark and pacy, and a very speedy read.

- Marianne


The City of Brass by Shannon Chakraborty

The first in The Daevabad Trilogy, this follows Nahri in 18th Century Cairo trying to make a living of swindling nobles and using a magic she has and doesn’t understand. Alongside and hidden to Cairo, is an older world that seems to have the answers to Nahri’s questions.

When her life is turned upside down by a magical being brought back to life, she may start to regret wanting a different life when the magical world is not what is seems.


I enjoyed this book so much and the rest of trilogy too! I couldn’t help myself and read the whole series, one after the other. There’s so much going on, from Nahri learning who she really is, magic, djinn, old history and mythology and to the royal politics that very slowly and very dangerously escalates as the book and series goes on.

It’s gripping, intense and very emotional in places, I would recommend this book and the rest of the trilogy to anyone who loves a good chunky fantasy series!

- Alisha


Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

The cosiest of cosy fantasy books! After a lifetime of running around, fighting and chasing different creatures and monsters, Viv is ready to settle down somewhere and have a slow quiet life. Deciding to open a coffee shop in a town that hasn’t tried or heard of coffee before, doesn’t seem to be the best choice, but Viv is determined to make this work! With the help of other creatures, who slowly become her closest friends, the shop is a hit and has the town talking, until disaster strikes!

Is all as it seems in this unassuming coffee shop?

I really enjoyed this, it’s incredibly sweet and heartwarming, I was smiling throughout! You can’t help but love Viv, alongside her gaggle of friends (Thimble is the cutest!), as they build the perfect coffee shop and strong foundations of lasting friendships.

- Alisha


Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I was hunting for a nice, escapist but Solstice-y book, and picked up Lolly Willowes. First published in 1926, Lolly Willowes, also known as The Loving Huntsman is billed as an early feminist classic.

After an eccentric upbringing Laura Willowes moves by necessity to her brother and sister in law's house following the death of her beloved father. She succumbs to the role of Aunt, losing even her name to 'Lolly' via her nieces. Years pass in suburban respectability until she has a sudden burst of unpredictability in her mid forties, and moves to the tiny village of Great Mop in the Chilterns, and begins to carve out a life of genteel eccentricity. When her nephew intrudes a little too much on her new life she finds herself embracing witchcraft, gaining a kitten and pledging herself to Satan. 

I loved this story of what we give up for others, and how freedom comes, in this case, at the cost of the 'satisfied but profoundly indifferent ownership' of Satan. this made me want to move to the country and live a mischievous life with cats.

- Marianne 

Love in Provence by Jo Thomas

 I have just finished reading Love in Provence by Jo Thomas. I’m not a big romance reader but I do love these books and I think I’ve probably read most of them now. 

Until I started reading it, I didn’t realise it was a follow-up to Escape the French Farmhouse. I read this years ago so couldn’t remember anything about the previous story but I didn’t feel it mattered at all. There are a few brief re-caps but it could easily be read as a standalone.

The story follows Del, who in the previous book bought an old farmhouse on a lavender farm to begin a new life in the south of France. After settling in with the locals and cooking for a little traditional restaurant, things are turned upside down following the death of her close friend and business partner Henri, with his estranged son, a Michelin star chef, turning up with his own plans. 

I love the descriptions of the locations and the food, you could easily imagine you were in the lavender fields in this book. Always a bit predictable, these books are always easy to read and very enjoyable...they are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

I would definitely recommend this book, and any of her previous ones too…especially in this nice sunny weather!

 - Chloe


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