What We've Been Reading

What We've Been Reading - The Willoughby Book Club

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

I'm (as usual!) late to the runaway success that is On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, but after hearing Ocean Vuong speak on several podcasts I was keen to give this a try. I also absolutely love the title- how could you not want to read something with that title?

Written as a letter from a son to his illiterate mother, this is heartrending from the very start. Narrated by the son Little Dog, in his late twenties, this book gradually uncovers a family history of war in Vietnam, of intergenerational trauma, and the immigrant experience.

Although this is a slender book, every single word counts and it cannot be rushed, demanding to be fully ingested. I'm in awe of the writing, which is extremely beautiful, and it is clear from the outset that the author is a poet. 

- Marianne


Above The Waterfall by Ron Rash

Above the Waterfall

Above the Waterfall was my introduction to the work of Ron Rash, an American writer who is seemingly less well known in the UK. This was a slim, quiet novel set in a rural town in the South Carolina Appalachian mountains. The book follows Les, who is soon to retire as the sheriff of his small town, and has one final mystery to solve. He wrangles the help of Becky, a troubled park ranger with a history that refuses to be forgotten, to figure out what is going on.  

Similar to my favourite US novelist, Willy Vlautin, this is very much a slice of blue-collar life, focusing on the have-nots in American society. Each chapter is told from the perspectives of either Les or Becky. The more poetic nature writing of Becky complements the more direct, practical narration of Sheriff Les. Despite the quiet tone to the novel, it is a gritty look at smalltown life and the hardships which accompany it, particularly those related to the opioid epidemic, which has ravaged this part of the country. 

It was an interesting, well-written read and I'd definitely be interested to check out more of Ron Rash's work in the future.

- Olivia


Things They Lost by Okwiri Oduor

Things They Lost

Set in the fictional Kenyan town of Mapeli, this layered debut novel follows four generations of women, each haunted by a mysterious curse that hangs over the Brown family. At its heart is 12-year- old Ayosa Ataraxis Brown, who is the loneliest girl in the world. Overflowing with Kenyan mythology and folklore, the story follows Ayosa as she navigates her toxic relationship with her mysterious mother, who comes and goes so often, while also trying to ignore the ominous and mischievous wraiths that pursue her.

I really loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys anything mythology-related. Rich in characters, detail and the Kenyan landscape, you really feel Ayosa’s emotions when she’s lonely, angry with her mum or when she finally makes a dear and beloved friend.

 - Alisha


Four Aunties and A Wedding by Jesse Sutanto

Four Aunties and a Wedding

Look away now if you want to read the first in this series!

The perfect wedding is all coming together for Meddy and Nathan, who have waited a long time for this moment, but is all as it seems? Along with crazy family situations and awkward meetings between parents, when the possibility of someone being murdered at Meddy’s wedding is revealed, her and her aunties can’t help but try to figure out a way to stop it from happening. The dream of a perfect wedding slowly slips away as the day descends into chaos.

This was another dip into this series and it was just as fun, chaotic and full of hijinks as the last! Easy to get into, you will want to carry on reading to see if Meddy and her aunties can stop a murder from happening at her wedding. With twists you don’t see coming, you can’t help but root for Meddy and her wish for the wedding of her dreams.

- Alisha


The Women by Kristin Hannah

The Women

I recommend Kristin Hannah’s books to anyone that will listen, so I bought this new one as soon as it was published.

Set in 1965, the story follows Frankie, who, when her brother leaves to serve in the Vietnam war,  impulsively joins the Army Nurses Corps to follow him out there.

As always, it's a real eye-opening and emotional story of love, family, friendship & bravery. I think this is the first book I have read about Vietnam, and I always enjoy a story based somewhere new to me.

Kristin Hannah’s book always have me absorbed from the first chapter.

- Chloe


Outlawed by Anna North


I really enjoyed this romp of a book. 

Set in a strange, dystopian version of the Old West in 1894, this follows the story of Ada, a young midwife. Married young and hoping for a baby herself, her hopes soon fade and she becomes ostracised in extreme fashion very rapidly, in her society that deifies fertility.

She takes refuge in a community of nuns before escaping to join a band of outlaws, the Hole in the Wall Gang, who are creating their own risky utopia and daring to live a precarious life by their own rules.

Despite it's bleak themes this is a fun romp that you'll read quickly. Cross-dressing outlaws, makeshift bomb-making, a marriage of convenience... this has it all!

- Marianne 


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