May in Books: Stone of Farewell; The Deathly Hallows; In a Land of Paper Gods

With May bringing the first heatwave of the summer, the days have been just perfect lately for sitting under a tree and reading al fresco. And even though that means the weather here is beyond lovely, I always like my books this time of year to go somewhere—whether that’s to the fantasy realm of Osten Ard, a Chinese missionary school, or back to the nostalgic halls of Hogwarts.


Stone of Farewell, Tad WilliamsWhen I found The Dragonbone Chair, the first part of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, last year, I fell in love with it completely—not because it’s a well-crafted paragon of the fantasy genre, but because it’s utterly ridiculous, dripping with just about every trope you can imagine, and absolutely impossible to take too seriously.

Stone of Farewell, the second part of the series, is pretty much more of the same. Admittedly, it was quite slow-going compared with The Dragonbone Chair (it’s more or less 800 pages of displaced heroes traipsing about and trying to regroup in the wilderness) but the middle books in trilogies are always a bit hit-and-miss, and it’s not as if I was expecting anything more than what I got—a harmless, silly flight of fancy.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (reread)

Nothing says summer like a bunch of school leavers on a camping trip, right? Granted, those school leavers also happen to be on the run from the forces of magical fascism, and they spend less time drinking round the campfire and more time just trying not to die—but nevertheless, when it comes to some light-hearted adventure reading, you can’t really go wrong with revisiting Harry Potter.

Though saying that, I think this will probably be the last time I reread these books for a while now. It’s been an interesting experience going back to where I fell in love with books in the first place, especially from this new perspective of being a writer and an English student, but as much as I adore Harry Potter I think it’s time to put him back on the shelf and leave him be for a while.


In a Land of Paper Gods, Rebecca Mackenzie

In a boarding school atop the mountain of Lushan, a band of mischievous missionary children play at being prophetesses whilst their parents pursue their calling across China. But at the mountain’s feet lies a country at war, and as the children play their games the Japanese are drawing ever nearer to Lushan.

Paper Gods is a book that’s been on my radar for a while now, but it wasn’t until I was introduced to Japan’s wartime conquests in eastern Asia by The Garden of Evening Mists that I got round to picking it up—although once I did, I could barely put it down again. There’s not really much more to say about it other than it’s just that compelling; except that it would be wrong not to mention Mackenzie’s brilliance in bringing the relatively alien world of a missionary school in 1940s China to life, a skill which took Paper Gods  to the shortlist for the 2017 Ondaatje Prize.

If you’re a devotee of Second World War fiction or you just want a book that’ll take you somewhere this summer, In a Land of Paper Gods will do you just fine.

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New Year’s Reading List

New year, new books: now there’s a resolution I can get behind. In my opinion, there’s no finer way to kick-start the year than by getting your teeth into a new book, whether that means taking a chance on an author you’ve never heard of or knocking a few of those Christmas gifts and holiday sale bargains off the to-be-read shelf.

With all the new beginnings in the air, I also like to spend some time on the approach to spring tackling some of those books I feel I should have read already, the Steinbeck and the Nabokov and the D. H. Lawrence—those books I buy from charity shops because they look all literary, but somehow never get round to reading at the time. Last year it was the time for To the Lighthouse and Fahrenheit 451, but I think with the way things are looking for the foreseeable future, it might be a good idea to make my reading list a little more dystopian this year…


The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Last year it took me pretty much forever to get round to reading the 2015 Man Booker winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings, so this year I’m determined not to be so sluggish with Paul Beatty’s 2016 winner The Sellout. Yes, that does mean giving it quite the bump to the top of my 80-strong to-read list—but given its satirical look at race relations in the US, and with many Americans currently re-evaluating whether racism is really as bad as everyone says (yeah, it really is), there doesn’t seem to be any more fitting time than the present to make myself acquainted with The Sellout.


img_3230His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet

Another to-be-read from last year’s Man Booker shortlist, with all the praise Graeme Macrae Burnet’s fictional murder case study has garnered I could hardly say no to giving it a spin—not to mention my love of all things Scottish wouldn’t let me pass it up if I tried.


img_32351984, George Orwell

1984 is one of those books mentioned above that caught my eye in a second-hand shop, but once brought home was consigned to wait patiently at the tail end of my to-be-reads. But, as with The Sellout, the zeitgeist is pointing me towards Orwell’s Big Brother classic; after all, we probably haven’t got much time before 1984 stops being fiction and becomes enshrined as legitimate prophecy.


img_3234The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry

One of the many books to arrive mysteriously in my stocking on Christmas morning, I fell in love with The Essex Serpent‘s thistly cover and dreamlike prologue so quickly I actually started reading it the minute I unwrapped it. Now two weeks and 150 pages in, this already looks like a pretty solid nominee for my book of the year.


img_3237Stone of Farewell, Tad Williams

I read the first volume of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, The Dragonbone Chair, back at the end of last summer, and after taking a few detours through Middle-Earth and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, I feel it’s about time I got back to Williams’ sword-and-sorcery epics. I’m hoping the series does something to pick up in Stone of Farewell: The Dragonbone Chair was plenty enjoyable but got a bit stale towards the end, and it’ll be a shame if Stone does nothing more than pick up where Chair fizzled out.

September in Books: The Dragonbone Chair; The Gospel of Loki; The Order of the Phoenix

The Dragonbone Chair, Tad WilliamsThe Dragonbone Chair

Young, inept servant boy Simon falls into a world of monsters, mages and magic swords after accidentally rebelling against the High King of Osten Ard. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a good bit of absolute pulp.

And that’s exactly why I loved The Dragonbone Chair. Sure, the plot is very much a remodelled Fellowship of the Ring, the dialogue is stuffy and melodramatic, and every other character has the classic Exotic Apostrophe wedged into their name (hello, Khendhraja’aro); but Tad Williams doesn’t seem to care. He’s cheesy and he knows it – and with the fantasy genre firmly entrenched in the serious and the grim these days, a little unashamed cheese is no bad thing.


The Gospel of Loki, Joanne M. Harristhe-gospel-of-loki

The rise and fall of Asgard, retold from the perspective of Loki the Trickster.

I won’t lie, I bought this one purely for the cover. I thought the premise – reimagining the villainous Loki as a victimised anti-hero – was neat, but if it weren’t for the oh-so-shiny cover, I doubt the blurb would have been enough to sway me.

In fact, I actually put off reading this for months purely because I was worried the book itself wouldn’t live up to its packaging – and now it’s finished, I can’t honestly say that it did. I’m not sure whether it’s because my love for the cover art set too high a standard or because I was never really invested in the ‘sympathy for the Devil’ angle to begin with, but I just struggled throughout to find any real foothold in this. I think perhaps if I were younger I would have found something more in the snarky, misunderstood tone (Harris really does reduce Loki from a god to a seething, “oppressed” teen sometimes) but as I am now it just didn’t do it for me. A shame, considering how great it looks on my bookcase…


the-order-of-the-phoenixHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling (reread)

After going straight from Ulysses to Don Quixote to A Brief History of Seven Killings, I needed a bit of a detox – and what better for that than the favourite book of my childhood?

I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve read Order of the Phoenix, but clearly not enough times for it get stale. One of the things for which I’ve always loved this book is introducing two of my favourite characters in all of literature – Luna Lovegood and Bellatrix Lestrange – and also for developing Ginny Weasley into something more substantial than the hapless damsel she was pared down to in the films.

And then there’s that great climactic set piece as Dumbledore finally confronts Voldemort himself; until now, I’d never really appreciated Dumbledore’s weary sense of duty as he marched into the Ministry, entering a fight he was too old for but couldn’t yet leave behind. “It was foolish to come here tonight, Tom” – one of those sublime moments when J.K. Rowling truly nails the scene.