The quick shift back to below freezing weather has all of us at Willoughby huddled back inside and and under the covers with a good book.
We've all been excited to begin the first ever Willoughby Reading Challenge
, and have managed to tick a few boxes with some of these titles. Are you joining us on this year's reading adventure? Let us know what you've been reading, and what prompts you've checked off.
Icon by Louise O’Neill
I had been looking forward to settling down with the new Louise O’Neill and this didn’t disappoint. I was hooked from the start, and absolutely guzzled down the last 100 pages as the tension grew.
Protagonist Samantha O’Neill is at the height of her career. She has just published a new book, and the company she has built is ready to go public. She’s mined her life experiences for content for books, lectures and social media to build her profile and persona, but she’s recently published an article about a formative teenage sexual experience after which she is contacted by her old friend who remembers the experience quite differently.
This is an interesting exploration of memory and ‘truth’ and the truths we tell ourselves, and the queasy sense of being confronted or challenged in our understanding of the world. It is also a compelling portrait of the unravelling of a very unlikeable protagonist.
With its themes of friendship, feminism, influencer culture and the wellness industry this is L O’N at her best.
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult
This is the first Jodi Picoult book I have read and I was absolutely engrossed from the start.
This story follows Olivia, who fled an abusive marriage to move back to her hometown with her 6 year old son Asher to take over the families beekeeping business. Now Asher is a teenager, we meet his girlfriend Lily, who has also escaped a troubled past.
One night, Olivia gets a phone call to say Lily is dead and Asher is in a police cell accused of her murder.
This was a real deep and thought provoking book. It covered a lot of social issues…domestic violence, bullying, abuse, sexual identity but it was done really well and sensitively.
I felt really invested in the characters and I liked how each chapter was told from both Olivia & Lily’s perspective and at different points in time. There was a lot of information about bee-keeping throughout the book but I actually really enjoyed learning about this along the way.
I will be going back to seek out some of her previous books now.
Paradais by Fernanda Melchor
Paradais is the International Booker- nominated second novel from the wholly original Mexican author, Fernanda Melchor. It follows two bored and angry outcast teenage boys, Polo and Franco, on a luxury housing complex. Polo is a lower class gardener who drinks too much and dreams of escaping his circumstances. Franco is spoiled and rich and lives with his grandparents, harbouring an intense and delusional obsession with his attractive, married neighbour. The boys spend time with each other out of necessity, drinking themselves into a stupor at any available moment. But when Franco devises a macabre plan to get what he thinks he deserves, things escalate to a terrifying crescendo.
This is a short novella but manages to explore the hefty themes of toxic masculinity, the stark class and racial differences of modern Mexico, and the darkness that exists below the surface of the polished suburban aesthetic. This book isn’t for the squeamish, so approach with caution!
Birds of Paradise by Oliver K Langmead
Set in the modern day world, this books follows Adam, the very first man, who still walks the earth. He’s become a shadow of himself and is exhausted with every day life, and he’s not the only one who feels like that. The inhabitants of Eden are condemned to live immortal lives in plain sight, whilst the pieces of The Garden have been scattered around the world.
But, as pieces of The Garden start turning up, Adam, along with Magpie, Crow, Owl and other creatures of Eden, they must stop the pieces of Eden becoming playthings for Mankind.
I’ve really struggled to get stuck into a book recently, but this had me hooked and wanting to carry on until the end. It’s fast-paced, keeps you interested and something I’ve never really read about before. It’s a very enjoyable book and you immediately side with the creatures of Eden! I’d love to know more about the lives the characters lived before the setting of the book too.
The Unspoken name by A K Larkwood
An absolutely brilliant epic fantasy. One of my favourites of the past few years and a fantastic debut for the author. Csorwe, raised for the slaughter her whole life decides to change her fate. When offered a way out of sacrificing herself to God she takes it with both hands, even if the hands are that of a weird man from a different planet who just so happens to turn up mid-sacrifice. On a journey over 8 years, she learns and grows as the loyal sword hand to a disgraced mage as he fights to regain his position in the world. All along they are haunted by the promise that “if you live long enough, all debts come due”. While the start is a bit tedious and it takes a while to get into, I was thoroughly engaged by the fourth part of the book “The Traitors Game” and I just couldn’t put it down. The book is full of incredible world-building and well thought out characters - everything I love about a good fantasy book. The book was full of thoughtful insights like;
“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you, Csorwe,” he said. “You have looked your foretold death in the face and turned from it in defiance. Nothing in this world or any other deserves your fear.”
followed by gems like;
“She told him the plan. It was loud and dumb and very likely to hurt, so, of course, he agreed.”