What We've Been Reading

What We've Been Reading - The Willoughby Book Club

Sisters Under the Rising Sun by Heather Morris

Sisters under the Rising Sun

I have enjoyed the previous books by Heather Morris so I was lucky to receive an advance copy of this new one as it’s not published until 28 September.

Set in Singapore in 1942 and based on a real life events, it follows the story of British, Australian and Dutch women who were imprisoned in the war camps by the Japanese in WW2. When English musician Norah meets Australian nurse Nesta, they build up a friendship and find hope and strength during the everyday horrors they endure.

This is a heartbreaking, emotional read about brave women struggling for survival. The fact that this story is based on real events makes it even more harrowing. It was well-researched and sensitively written, albeit a difficult read at times. I especially liked the author's notes about the individual women at the end. I always like books that I can learn something new from and have read quite a few books based on WW2, but nothing set in this location, so it was something I initially knew very little about.

- Chloe


Game of Lies by Clare Mackintosh

A Game of Thrones

This is the second book from this author featuring detective Ffion Morgan. Having enjoyed the first, The Last Party, I was looking forward to reading this one.

In the Welsh mountains, seven strangers are trapped in a camp for what they think is a new survival reality TV show. What they’ve not been told is that each contestant has an innermost secret that could ruin their lives if discovered. If the other players can guess that secret and reveal it live on air, then they won’t be eliminated from the show. When one of the contestants disappears and the director ends up dead, everyone is a suspect.

Full of tension and twists, this was an original plotline which had me gripped from the start. Although this book does feature characters and a bit of background from the previous story, I think it would still be fine to read as a standalone. And you cannot beat a story with a dog named Dave!

- Chloe


I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins

This book is a really interesting, rompy piece of autofiction. Watkin’s characterisation of herself is extremely honest, sometimes to her own detriment! Experiencing some kind of postnatal crisis after the birth of her first child, she leaves her daughter and husband behind to fly across the country to promote her latest book. She meets up with old friends from home, seeking to transcend the ordinary boundaries of marriage and motherhood, while simultaneously reckoning with her youth spent in the Mojave desert, as the daughter of an ex-Manson Family member and a nature-loving mother with a penchant for breaking and entering.

Describing the wilderness and sheer vastness of the desert landscapes, the book unfolds like a ghost story, with Watkins haunted by the memories of her dead parents. In my view, both her mother, Martha and her father, Paul, are the backbone of the novel and without their stories, the book would be a very different beast.

In many ways it’s a very sad book, but it’s also very funny. Her dialogue is quick and deadpan, never lingering for too long. Her writing style is unique, as Watkins invites us readers to bear witness to her family story. If this book were to evoke a particular sensation, I would say this novel feels like being out in the sun for too long and also like being prickled by a cactus spine.  

- Olivia


The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers.

The Perfect Golden Circle

The Offing by Benjamin Myers was one of my favourite reads of the last couple of years, so when Marianne recommended a more recent Myer’s novel, The Perfect Golden Circle, I knew I had to pick it up! This was everything I wanted at the time of reading. Set over the summer of 1989, two friends dedicate months to planning and creating vast, radical crop circles. They encounter drunken aristocrats, fly-tippers and poachers, all while maintaining a single-minded dedication to producing art. It’s a quiet, atmospheric tribute to male friendship, rural Britain and finding purpose in a chaotic world. If you enjoyed watching the BBC series, The Detectorists, this has similar vibes!

- Olivia


People Person by Candice Carty-Williams

People Person

The Pennington half siblings knew of each other, with only one hazy memory of their first meeting together in a drive around Brixton, orchestrated by their absent dad, with hardly anything in common. Years later, Dimple publicly breaks up with her boyfriend to her loyal online followers, when she desperately needs them back in her life. With a dramatic event being the first reunion of the Pennington siblings, their lives turn chaotic as they learn how to being in each other’s lives.

I loved this book so much, it really helped to get me out of my reading slump! Despite the dramatic introduction to Dimple in her adult life, I found this book very funny and laughed out loud quite a few times. I loved seeing the growing relationship between the Pennington siblings, just complete chaos and constantly talking over each other.

- Alisha


Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan

Kick the Latch book cover

Kick the Latch is a piece of autofiction which was created from conversations Scanlan had with a fascinating woman named Sonia, who has spent the majority of her life deep in the world of horse racing, both as a groom and a trainer. Born into relative poverty in small-town America, Sonia gives insight into this world- language, customs and the rest. Told in short, sharp chapters, Sonia’s voice is really distinctive. She is unsentimental, yet her passion for the horses she works with comes across so clearly. Scanlan avoids reducing Sonia’s story to that of romantic, blue collar Americana. Life is bleak, shot through with dashes of hope and joy and her admiration of her interviewee is apparent. You’ll ride the highs and lows of Sonia’s life- and what a life it has been!

 If you like deep dives into niche subcultures and/or character studies, I’d urge you to pick this up. Fans of Willy Vlautin’s Lean on Pete will absolutely love this, too.

- Olivia


So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

So Late in the Day

I was so excited to get my hands on Claire Keegan's latest short story.

On a Friday evening after a mundane day's work in Dublin, Cathal gets the bus home to Arklow, where he spends the evening alone. As the evening passes with the company of the television and a ready meal, his mind turns to what might have been with a woman named Sabine.

Claire Keegan's writing is luminously beautiful, with never a word out of place. She says so much with so little, each sentence weaving a tapestry from the most ordinary but resonant moments.

If you haven't read any of her books yet (why not?) treat yourself to this.

- Marianne


A Man and His Cat by Umi Sakurai

A Man and His Cat book cover

Recently I was looking for a light read, something without big consequences or events, just pure escapism. So I fell back on a old favourite: slice-of-life manga- genre all about the day-to-days lives and goings-on of the characters, a glimpse into their lives, and something you stroll into rather than jump in to.

There is no better example and showcase of this than A  Man and His Cat. This is a gorgeous tale of an older widower who decides to fulfil a dream of his and his late wife’s: adopting a cat. The tale is mainly told from the perceptive of Fukumaru, a rather ugly cat who thought he was never going to be adopted until Mr Kanda walks in.

The first volume is all about Fukumaru learning to live and understand his new owner, and is full of cat puns and some really heart-breaking flashbacks. I was enamoured and spent a lazy sunny afternoon reading the next eight volumes. With an ever-expanding cast of characters and their life stories I never felt bored or that the series dragged.  This was a truly heart-warming read, and is definitely a series I will return to over and over again when I need to slow down and escape a little. Whether you are already a fan of manga or looking for your first step into the genre, I highly recommend A Man and His Cat.

- Aishah


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