Book Review: The Philosopher’s Stone (Illustrated)

On the 20th anniversary of the first publication of The Philosopher’s Stone, I was due to start reading a new book and thought it would be appropriate to reread the first Harry Potter book.  It’s not the first time I’ve reread it, though:  it’s probably the tenth.  It could be more.  I’ve actually lost count!  I reread all of them at irregular intervals, mostly all at once, like a single, giant book, which is really what it feels like, each book being another “part.”

This was, however, the first time I had reread the illustrated version.  When I first got it, I paged through it with wonder, having already oohed and aahed over it in a bookshop.  Despite having all the Harry Potter books on my shelf (only five of which from a matching set), I had to have this.  It was the first time I had ever seen illustrations of the Harry Potter world that actually came close to the ones in my imagination.  The movies are WAY off.  They don’t even scrape the surface.  But it’s more than the accuracy of Jim Kay’s depictions, it’s the stunning artwork itself.  His watercolours are breathtaking.  I have so many favourites, it’s hard to chose the best one.  I love Hagrid’s cabin:  this is EXACTLY what it looks like, not the sterile, perfect log cabin in the movie.  Here it’s an upturned boat and is smothered with vines and ivy with gardens nestling right up to the front door.  It takes hours to get past the Diagon Alley chapter because there are two whole pages to peruse at close quarters, the detail so intense that you see something new each time.  THIS is what Diagon Alley looks like!  Cluttered and old and full of peculiar things.  The pictures are full of quirks and oddities, like a glimpse down Oil Can Alley:  the illustrator not only has a fine grasp of the Harry Potter universe, but has allowed his imagination to stray further.

I particularly love the way each page looks like a sheet of watercolour paper with blobs and blots and spillages of watercolour paint.  Many of the paintings are dreamy with beauty:  Hagrid zooming across the night sky on a (tiny) motorbike;  Hagrid and Harry crossing the sea in a (tiny) boat (Hagrid’s teeny tiny pink umbrella/wand is hysterical);  the glowing white unicorn in a midnight Forbidden Forest;  the doors of Hogwarts slightly ajar, with a glow of golden light from within and a black cat sitting on the step.  The characters are perfect too:  Harry looks just right, particularly in a rather tender drawing towards the back of the book.  Dumbledore, Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, Draco … all their portraits are ideal.  Naturally I’ve wished for more:  Gringotts, the dormitory, a rather better depiction of a Quidditch match, Harry’s parents in the Mirror of Erised.  One can only dream how Jim Kay might have painted these and other aspects of the story.

It’s funny how with each rereading you pick up another tiny detail that you didn’t notice before:  Hagrid FLIES to the outcrop of rock to find Harry and deliver his Hogwarts letter.  How did I not notice this before?  And if Hagrid really did fly (one presumes he might have been joking), HOW did he fly?  He’s a giant with little magical training.  No other character that I can recall can fly without assistance (a broom, a bewitched motorbike, a thestral etc etc) except Voldemort.  So did Hagrid really fly?!

This first book in the series is very young with the author coming between the reader and the characters quite often in the way that writers for young children often do:  it’s just a style of storytelling which is perfectly all right but a relief when it gets dropped in the about the third book (I think) and you’re allowed much further inside Harry’s head.  One presumes also that as a character, Harry is going to get more interesting as he gets older too, as more and more of his story is revealed.

I was working in a bookshop in 1999 when The Prisoner of Azkaban came out.  I remember the tremendous fuss and the THOUSANDS of copies of the first two books being re-ordered.  They TOWERED in the bookshop, piled in piles so high they were like walls around the tills.  I was faintly amazed by all this.  I had absolutely no interest in children’s fiction, being a reader of hard sci-fi at the time, and couldn’t understand the popularity of these twee little books.  And then one day I was sitting at the till, dying of boredom, when I noticed The Philosopher’s Stone on the counter.  It had been abandoned there for some or other reason and I did just what we had been commanded never to do:  I opened it and began to read.  I read it surreptitiously so that no one would notice.  No one did.  I finished the first chapter in about ten minutes and my first thought was:  shit, this kid is really suffering.  I then read the book properly and with every reread, my favourite scene never changes.  Hagrid says:  “Harry, yer a wizard.”  Tears every time.

Hagrid and Harry

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Bookwhacking

I Googled this word, thinking it was a Real Word…….it isn’t, as it transpires, but it should be.  It speaks for itself:  it’s what you do when you whack people over the head with your book, though not literally (my definition.)  And don’t we all do it, all us desperate indie authors who have no money to spend on Real Advertising (you know – the kind where your book appears on the side of a bus). “Bookwhack” was coined by a Goodreads group called SIA Showcase for Readers and Writers who describe themselves thus:

From the group that coined the term bookwhack*, here is the official bookwhack group! In all seriousness, we at Support Indie Authors understand how difficult it is to be seen and to make our books known. As we are a group intended for authors, our goal is to help one another, not sell to one another, but we see a lot of folks who strain at the boundaries of what is discussion and what is a bookwhack. Thus, this showcase was born.

(SIA – Support Indie Authors)

This was my introduction:

The Exodus Sequence is a collection of connected science fiction novelettes with an exploration of other genres: horror, fantasy, even a moment for romance.  The first trilogy (Wired, Reflected and Walked) introduce the reader to the “aliens,” creating mysteries without solving them.  The next trilogy (Spooked, Suicided and Crashed) introduce main characters that will appear again.  In fact, several characters appear in different stories but are often not recognisable in that particular incarnation.  The idea is create the mystery in the first book and then begin unravelling the details in two subsequent collections.  The third trilogy (Woken, Experienced and Caged) are my most experimental works.  Woken is the first real fantasy-type story I’ve written and while it drips beauty and romance, at its heart is an intense and philosophical discussion about immortality.  Experienced is written from the viewpoint of one of the “aliens” so quite a lot of backstory is revealed providing you can get through the dense drug-comedown narrative.  And since these are “aliens” so to speak, the drug is not like any other anyone has come across before!  One of the secrets of Atlantis is revealed in Caged, the final story of the last trilogy and is as easy to read as Experienced is difficult.  The very last story, Drowned, is an extra, existing in the Exodus Sequence universe without any consequences.  It’s the only story not to be published singly.

As an unknown writer, I’m really desperate for reviews. If you’d like to read and review this collection, I’m happy to send a PDF to anyone who asks.  As the first nine stories are available to buy singly, you could just read one or two stories from the collection to review, rather than the whole thing.  All the novelettes are available from Amazon.  The link is for the collection, free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

http://amzn.eu/54P8vus

And that’s me bookwhacking on my blog. It’s what it’s all about anyway.

Link to SIA Showcase:  SIA Showcase for Readers and Writers

 

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Last day to get my books free (for all E-readers)

I’ve gone quite cross-eyed with promotions this week, having to rely mostly on Twitter.  This has not been ideal for obvious reasons, Twitter being a flood of ads that produces no results at all except perhaps a few more follows and the odd re-tweet.  (Honestly, when last did you buy something you saw advertised by someone on your Twitter feed??)  I couldn’t find any platforms for Smashwords ads either – all the most successful ones are geared towards Amazon.  A Smashwords blog listed several sites that would advertise but the blog was ancient and the links either broken, wrong or connected to dodgy sites you wish you hadn’t gone to and now worry about viruses and such.  Thanks, Smashwords.  So here I am, back on my blog, asking you, nice reader, to please please download my free (FREE)(did I mention they were free?!?) ebooks from Smashwords for ALL E-readers, even the ones that can’t buy books for any more from “regular” sites (like my ancient Nook).

For your convenience, I’ve listed the four free books on the homepage of my website.  The links will take you to the relevant Smashwords page so that you don’t have to scrabble about looking for them or negotiating my author page.

www.susannahjbell.com

SMASHWORDS FREE

 

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Free books for a week

I thought I’d give away four of my novels free this week.  I haven’t tried this before with more than one title, so the results should be interesting!  It’s the ninth annual Read an Ebook Week on Smashwords and I picked all four my Smashwords titles for the promotion.  Telling people about it hasn’t been as easy as I’d hoped.  I’m only really familiar with Freebooksy but they primarily promote free books on Amazon.  No doubt I’ll be researching this all week.  I’ll start with BookBub and see how it goes from there.

In the meantime, here are the links to my free books!

ALL FOUR BOOKS

V. GOMENZI

FLESH FOR SALE

TRANSFERENCE

A DOORWAY INTO ULTRA

 

FLEET QUINTET

 

 

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COMMENCES in review!

I can’t believe I’ve reached this point!  It’s taken over twenty years to turn COMMENCES into a novel that is actually readable!  Now in review on my Kindle Bookshelf, it’ll be out by the end of the week.  I’m REELING with joy!

kindle-bookshelf

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Please let me know what you think of the blurb for my new book

Billions of years ago, before the artificial universe, there was the Fleet. 

Fleet personnel number 50 – mostly known as Dett – sees a spacial dissociation in Fleet space and realises the control sector is broken.

She interacts violently with Fleet personnel 410 – the Magician – a time strategist who has been running a continuous cast for aeons.  Trapped in a time loop, they fall in love before being torn apart in the cast’s dramatic climax.

Dett begins a search that takes her from Fleet space into the artificial universe, from her primary attractor to Garanthal.  She encounters Fleet personnel 2 several times but he never fights back.  Driven insane by a crucifixion tree, 2 has also interacted with 410 and wants him as a time engineer to unify the primary attractors, so beginning a new Fleet.

But the Fleet are in complete disarray.  All the rules have been broken.  The remaining Founders reconvene the Fleet only to witness an irretrievable split.

The fourth novel in The Fleet Quintet, COMMENCES begins where the old Fleet ends.  It tells the story of 50 and 410 and their interaction with the stone angel.  It ends in the present – with Archturan.

grieving-angel-statue.jpg

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Radio Review: Journey into Space

I love radio serials.  I used to listen to them on Springbok Radio in another land, far, far away, but I don’t remember any sci-fi.  Radio 4 Extra (the badly renamed Radio 7) used to have a whole hour of sci-fi every evening at six, but has cut it down to half an hour.  I wrote to them once to complain and they replied that they had run out of stuff to broadcast.  Which might explain endless repeats.  But if it’s JOURNEY INTO SPACE they’re repeating, then I’m in sci-fi heaven.

1950’s radio serials don’t get better than this.  Set in the far off future of, um, the 1970’s, the four main characters – Jet Morgan (the captain), Doc (who narrates), Mitch (the Australian) and Lemmy (the radio operator) – get to go to the moon, to Mars and then on to save the world.  The action is quite slow but the immense cliff-hangers at the end of every single episode ensures that you have to come back for more.

This is intelligent, thoughtful sci-fi with some deliciously strange ideas – just what you want from a radio serial.  Amazingly, it hasn’t dated at all with some of the issues more pertinent today than in the fifties.  Some of it is whacky but it still works.  I still laugh at the idea of giant rhubarb in the Martian canals – but then so do the characters.  This being radio, you really need to be able to tell the difference between the actors (something often lost in modern productions) and you always know who’s talking here, despite the fact that one of the supporting actors played 22 different roles!  There are times when you know who’s talking before the characters do.

Terrific story, characters you love – and sound effects good enough to transport you whether they’re blasting off, drifting through space or walking down a corridor.  You can see everything in the mind’s eye and often it’s way more interesting than TV productions.  Imagination is always going to be more effective than cardboard sets or an over-reliance on CGI.  Take-offs and landings, travelling through space, inner and outer doors opening, hypnotic alien music, voices miked from inside a space suit……it’s all there to enhance the visuals.  It’s easy to imagine the trek across space to Mars, to see the Martian buildings and later the installations on the asteroids.  Doc’s narration provides mood and atmosphere as well as visual information.

The science might not be wildly accurate and the characters slightly improbable but I can’t say that I take any notice.  I’m too busy chomping my fingernails as our intrepid explorers hurl themselves into yet more danger.  Charles Chilton, the brilliant author of Journey into Space, also transcribed the series into books but I would go for the CDs.  If you wait long enough, though, Operation Luna will come around again on Four Extra, followed by The Red Planet and then World in Peril.  With 20 episodes in the 2nd and 3rd series, that’s four weeks of listening.  Radio bliss.

Wiki Link

Amazon Link

 

radio_times_5_dec_1954

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