What We've Been Reading

What We've Been Reading - The Willoughby Book Club

With both our reading intentions for the year in mind AND the Willoughby Book Club Reading Challenge prompts, we're off! We've all started the year in a flurry of reading, and have all made the most of the cold, dark evenings by enjoying the company of some good reads.

What have you been enjoying recently?


A Touch of Mistleoe by Barbara Comyns

A Touch of Mistletoe

Barbara Comyns was a really fun discovery of mine towards the end of 2023. A Touch of Mistletoe, a forgotten classic republished by Daunt Books, alongside the equally wonderful Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, is a coming-of-age saga with a difference. Told in a wry, often left-field way, it is the story of two sisters, Blanche and Vicky, who move to London to make better lives for themselves. Following their highs and lows, their fortunes and their missteps, Comyns explores how women can carve out a creative and fulfilling life for themselves, against all the odds. It's often funny, sometimes tragic and always a fascinating insight into bohemian life in the capital. If you like anything published by Persephone or Kate Atkinson's Shrines of Gaiety, I recommend getting your hands on a copy, pronto!

- Olivia

Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh

Around India in 80 Trains

A recent bout of insomnia left me looking for some escapist reading, and I turned to Around India in 80 Trains to transport me to a warmer climate and the soporific rhythm of a train on a track. This did not disappoint (- not to imply it was at all boring!) It's been a while since I have read any travel writing, which used to be a favourite of mine since working in Stamfords, where I would travel the world from the pages of a book, read sneakily under the till. I loved the insights into a different country, and the intricacies and foibles of an awe-inspiring rail network. I loved Monisha Rajesh's youthful voice and enthusiasm, which transported me back to being young and free to travel. I'll look forward to reading Around the World in 80 Trains, as she's a great travel companion.

- Marianne


Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

Little Disasters

When Liz, a paediatrician, hears that her friend has bought her baby into A&E at the hospital she works at, she rushes down to help. Jess claims the baby just won’t settle, but x-rays show Betsey has a fractured skull. What has caused the trauma? Why was there a delay in bringing the baby to hospital? Why is her friend being cagey about the events earlier in the day? Liz has to make a decision whether to trust her friend or involve the police and social services, as per protocol. This book is a cross between a domestic thriller and a moral dilemma story.

Not far from the beginning I thought I had this book sussed and I’d worked it all out…but I was wrong! I really enjoyed this book! It was a quick, easy read that kept me interested and was equally as gripping as ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ and ‘Reputation’.

- Chloe


The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The Mermaid book cover

A bit of a mix between The Little Mermaid and The Greatest Showman, The Mermaid is the tale of Amelia, who one day finds herself caught in a fisherman’s net. He can’t bear to see her trapped so sets her free. Amelia falls in love with the fisherman, however, and decides to take on a human form so she can marry him. When Jack is lost at sea many years later, Amelia decides to join PT Barnum and becomes an exhibit in his New York museum in the hope of making enough money to explore the world. Barnum is cruel and ruthless, and sees Amelia as his way of making a fortune, but Amelia is headstrong, opinionated and won’t be pushed around.

Equally as good as ‘Lost Boy’ and not as dark as ‘Alice’, and as with all of Christina Henry’s books…it has a beautiful front cover too.

- Chloe


Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

Big Swiss

This was dark, funny and unputdownable, and a very odd one to kick off 2024's reading!

Greta has a job transcribing sex therapy sessions, and in doing so creates a narrative and a bit of an obsession around one of the clients, whom she calls Big Swiss. When she hears a familiar voice at the local dog park, she embarks on a deeply problematic, but very funny relationship with her.

I do like a difficult and unlikeable protagonist in a novel, but Greta has to be one of my favourites. For every terrible decision that you want to shake her for, you can't help but feel very compassionate toward both her and Big Swiss, both of them products of their generations, upbringings, and their past traumas. I also loved the side characters of Om and Sabine in this novel, qho are both fabulous and funny. The bitingly funny and cynical descriptions of the town of Hudson also really brought this novel to life.

- Marianne


Unbroken by CL Clark


I wanted to start the year off strong with a book that I have been meaning to get to for years. After reorganising my shelf, I came across Unbroken by CL Clark, which has been on my list for ages. Who was I refuse it? Boy, was it the right choice!

A thick fantasy book? - perfect

by a POC author? - incredible

with an amazing female main character? – what more do you really need?

Honestly though, It is such a great book. With a slow and steady pace that takes it time to immerse you in the world and the magic, you build a thorough understanding of the societies, politics and relationships of both the empire Balladaire and Qazal, the land and people it stole from and colonised. It was especially interesting to read it from the perspective of Touraine, a Qazali child who was stolen away and groomed into a perfect little soldier for the country that colonised and destroyed her homeland. She is raised to believe the lies and stereotypes engrained in her, that the people of Qazal were savages that needed to be saved and trained and that they all deserved to be treated as lesser.

It's incredible to see that all fall apart when she is sent back to Qazal to quash the rebel uprising.

I really admire and appreciate how CL Clark deals with and explores colonialism in the book. It's an honest and raw reflection of an experience that millions have experienced around the world. Without over-embellishing it or sensationalising, it felt grounded in a reality, where sometimes fantasy books do not.

Still, while singing all its praises, it wasn’t a perfect book to me. I didn’t really like the other main character, Luca, princess of the empire. Touraine isn’t perfectly fleshed out either. There were definitely aspects to the book that could have been better polished. But I still thoroughly enjoyed it and still think about one particular quote now, weeks later.

“Touraine was starting to think it was impossible to come from one land and learn to live in another and feel whole. That you would always stand on shaky, hole-ridden ground, half of your identity dug out of you and tossed away.”

- Aishah


The Dust Never Settles by Karina Lickorish Quinn

The Dust Never Settles book cover

The Dust Never Settles is a love letter to Peru, showing us the beaches, local bars crammed with fishermen, its music and folklore, the rise and fall of the Inca Empire, and so much more! So much happens in this book that I don’t know where to start.

It’s so full of history, magical realism, family, and family secrets that I couldn’t help but be absorbed into the story. It made me realise that I know very little about Peru, its history and South American history in general, which I definitely want to change!

Anaïs is back in the country after leaving 7 years ago to sign a contract to sell the ‘yellow house on the hill’. With her grandparents dead, she needs to make this last big decision for her family home. As she prepares to say her final goodbye, Anaïs is bombarded by the ghosts of the house and learns the dark past of previous generations and how her family came to be.

- Alisha


This is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone 

This Is How You Lose the Time War book cover

Despite being a slight book, it very easily sucks you in. Red and Blue are on different sides of the time war- a time war that has them travelling to different times and many different universes. Accomplished at what they do, they start to leave letters for each other in very creative ways, which become more and more inventive as time goes on.

Hiding them from their leaders, the letters gradually change from being arrogant and smug, to more friendly, and then expressing love. As Red and Blue’s relationship blossoms, a shadow follows them, picking up pieces of their letters. Will they be able to keep their romance a secret for long?

Despite being set during a war in a very distant, otherworldly future, this book is surprisingly moving and romantic, and you can’t help but root for the two characters as they start to fall in love. I absolutely loved the way they travelled to so many different time periods, as well as the unique ways they left letters for each other. I’m very glad I finally read this book!

- Alisha


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