What We've Been Reading in May

What We've Been Reading in May - The Willoughby Book Club

May is surely the nicest month of all. The cow parsley is tall and the grass is green and lush, and it's beginning to feel like summer but without the oppressive heat of midsummer. Everything feels full of promise and potential, and it's lovely to enjoy the first few days of weather good enough to read in the park or garden. Here's what we've been reading this past month:


Indelicacy book coverIndelicacy by Amina Cain

Indelicacy is a short, strange, and timeless novel, told from the perspective of a mostly unnamed narrator. As the book unfolds, the narrator, a young woman, is a cleaner in a museum. She spends her days wandering the galleries, contemplating the paintings and art she dusts, hoping for a day that she’ll be able to have the time, space, and means to write about them. A man of money and opportunity proposes marriage and she is quickly delivered into a life of luxury and comfort. But to be the wife of a rich man has its own restrictions and she soon has to carve an identity for herself, the pen her only chisel.

The New York Times describes it as ‘A Room of One’s Own with a few wicked twists’ and this captures the book’s spirit perfectly. By not directly mentioning a definitive setting or time, you begin to realise the irrelevance of these two factors to the core of the narrative. It feels both like an homage to the classics and something wholly new. Cain writes in a way that urges you to pause after every sentence because of its brilliance. For such a slim thing, there are layers that can be peeled away, new meanings captured. You almost become the narrator herself, as she tries to distil her thoughts on life, friendship, love, and freedom. I loved it and am still thinking about it a week later.



One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe

I have enjoyed every one of Nina Stibbe's books and this is no exception. The perfect book for a sunny weekend, I devoured this.

Susan and Norma have been friends since their teenage years, thrown together through circumstance and Susan's usefulness to Norma. This book traces their lives and the course of their friendship from Susan's perspective, through marriage, children and careers, ending at the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, which feels very fresh and recent. It will be interesting to see how this is reflected in fiction in the coming years: this is the first book that I have read which has tackled it.

I enjoyed the light touch on friendships and their waxing and waning and ambiguities over the course of time, as well as the gentle humour of everyday life. This is full of recognisable moments written with real warmth and perception.



Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola

Host of popular student radio show, Brown Sugar, Kiki Banjo is in trouble when Malakai Korede transfers to Whitewell University.

Sharp-tongued and an expert in relationship evasion, Kiki’s on a mission to make sure the Women of the African-Caribbean society at Whitewell don’t fall into messy and questionable relationships.

After a public mishap between Kiki and Malakai occurs after she’s denounced him live on air, they must pretend to be in a fake relationship to save their reputation, as well as Kiki’s radio show, Brown Sugar.

I really enjoyed reading this. It was a really fun and cute read, perfect for a weekend in the sun! I loved getting to know Kiki and seeing her allow herself to open up to more relationships in her life, both platonic and romantic. A fake relationship can be great to read about and this one didn’t disappoint; it had a little bit of everything!



Perfect Golden CircleThe Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers

Set in the summer of 1989, this is the story of the friendship between Calvert, a damaged Falklands veteran, and Redbone, an affable, chaotic visionary. 

The pair set out under the cover of darkness to create crop circles of increasing complexity all over the Wiltshire countryside, and as the crops ripen and the heat rises, their friendship and understanding deepens and grows organically. 

I loved the writing about the landscape and the wildlife. I could almost feel the warmth of a summer evening and the green smell of the barley and corn underfoot. This book took me back to the excitement of first seeing crop circles, and the magic and secret creativity of them, but most of all it's a love letter to the countryside and the gentle magic of being with others in nature. 



Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

Good Morning, Midnight is one of those books that I instinctively knew I’d love before picking it up.

We are introduced to a discontented Englishwoman in Paris, Sasha, who has returned to the city she left several years ago, to contemplate and reconcile the events of her past and her attempts to save her mind from insanity. She drifts between hotel rooms, bars and cafes, just scraping by, attracting questionable men, and desperately wondering where everything went wrong. It’s beautiful and sad and psychologically astute. It’s inter-war The Bell Jar, if Esther Greenwood had a penchant for Pernod and natty hats. Read it, feel depressed and then read some more Jean Rhys!



For The Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten

 “The first daughter is for the Throne.

The second daughter is for the Wolf.”

I have definitely jumped on the folklore/fairy-tale retellings train with this Little Red Riding Hood/Beauty and the Beast/Snow White-esque story. This book has been recommended to me since its release, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. It is a very strong debut by Hannah Whitten, and I already have the second book on order!

Red (Redarys) has been aware of her fate her entire life. Her older twin sister is destined to take the throne while she is fated to be a sacrifice to the wolf deep in the Wilderwood, as all second daughters have been for the past several hundreds of years. What would happen if the sacrifice isn’t sent? No one is quite sure anymore, but one thing is for certain, once they enter the Wilderwood they are never heard from again. Only once its Red’s turn, she comes to realise not everything she has known up until now has been true. And that there is a much heavier burden on her shoulders than she was prepared for.

While this book has it shortfalls I thoroughly enjoyed the way Whitten weaves the story and slowly answers the questions left stirring as the plot unfolds. I also absolutely adore both the main character Red and her sister Neve, and the connection they have. Both are willing to do anything for their sister, even if it means burning the world to ash. Whitten also masterfully sucks you into the world, especially the Wilderwood. Full of mystique and a dark gothic atmosphere.

I highly recommend this book, but definitely have the second book on hand as you’ll want to jump straight into it.



Secret Dreamworld of a ShopaholicThe Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I’m a bit late to the table with this one but I’ve just finished the first book in the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella.

I have so many subscribers who mention her as a favourite author and I’ve never read anything by her, so when I saw it in the shop, I thought I’d give it a go. A real funny, light-hearted story about Rebecca Bloomwood, who flat-shares with a friend in London, and is a finance journalist advising people on how to manage their money but whose own spending is completely out of control.

I am someone who absolutely hates any kind of shopping (unless it’s books obviously), will avoid shops at all costs, and I really contemplate before spending money, so this book is probably the most stressful one I’ve ever read. The times I wanted to shout at the character for her reasoning behind why she was buying something when she already wasn’t paying off what she’d previously spent, even when she was trying her ‘cutting back’ method- she was still spending just as much! 

All that said, I absolutely loved this book. I finished it so quickly. Fun, imaginative, so easy to read, some really good characters. I liked how the chapters were interspersed with letters from the bank and some of Rebecca’s excuses for missing payments made me laugh. I’ve already added the next book in the series to my ‘wish list’.



Memphis by Tara M Stringfellow

Centred around a mother and her two daughters returning to their hometown of Memphis, this story splits over three generations of the North family, following their lives, loves, mistakes, and growths.  

It's quite dark at times with racial and domestic violence, gang violence, police brutality, sexual harassment, but a real complex and meaningful story about family, community, strength and resilience. I love any books based in the Deep South: the descriptions of the neighbourhoods, food, and music all make me feel like I’m there.



If I Can't Have YouIf I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin 

If I Can’t Have You is the addictive, sinister and compelling story of Constance Little, who falls deeply, madly in love with someone who doesn’t love her back… 

After the recent, tragic loss of her mother, Constance’s life is spiralling out of control. Seeking love, affection and attention from all the wrong places, her life is a balancing act, and she’s trying to stay afloat. That’s when she meets Dr Samuel Stevens at her new job as a GP receptionist. From the moment she first sees him she is obsessed. Making me feel a range of different emotions, I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about Constance but as I neared the end of the book, I came to admire Constance despite her obsessive and dangerous traits…   

I don’t want to go into too much detail as I think the plot and character development is far too intriguing to spoil, just know that once you have started, you won’t be able to put down! 


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