Re-Read: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [Audiobook]

If you have read this blog before, then there is a good chance you may have noticed my love for J K Rowling’s magical Harry Potter series. What you might not have known before was my huge childhood love of audiobooks. In particular, I have very fond memories of being tucked into bed and listening to my audio cassette of The Adventures of Portland Bill … so many times I’m surprised I didn’t wear it out! I’ve renewed this love as an adult by re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone via the audiobook narrated by the much-loved Stephen Fry.

For those who don’t know, the Philosopher’s Stone is the first book in the series, where we first meet Harry Potter with his famous lightning scar. At the time, poor Harry is leading a miserable life of neglect in the home of his cold Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, and his spoilt cousin, Dudley. But everything is to change by the arrival of an unexpected letter confirming his admission to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In this hidden wizarding world, Harry is no obscure, unloved orphan but the famous survivor of the dark wizard: ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named! So in confusion and excitement, Harry embarks upon his first year at Hogwarts, where he will discover acceptance, friendship, answers, magic, danger and adventure.

Sadly it has been years since I read any of this series and while I have enjoyed many watches of the films, it was great to rediscover all those wonderful extra details. I’d also forgotten just how funny and lighter the earlier books are too. What I have always loved most about this series is the whole host of colourful and memorable characters and creatures that Rowling has created – all of whom I thought were brought to life beautifully by Stephen Fry, who cleverly uses only subtle changes in tone, pace, pitch and accent to give each character their own distinct voice.

Overall, I found listening to the audiobook Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read brilliantly by Stephen Fry, extremely comforting and fun.  I usually listened to this while doing my ironing and it was so good, it made me almost want to find more ironing to do! Next I am looking forward to starting the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets audiobook. Great read.

Are you a fan of Harry Potter? Have you tried any of the audiobooks?

New Read: The Lioness and the Spellspinners

Earlier this year, I read The People the Fairies Forget by Cheryl Mahoney, the third charming, fairy tale re-imagining I have enjoyed from Cheryl’s Beyond the Tales series. Luckily for me, I already had the fourth book and prequel to the series, The Lioness and the Spellspinners, lined up to read. (If you are unfamiliar with this author or series, never fear, I don’t think these books necessarily need to be read in order).

This book takes us back to Marilegh (before the famous dancing princes curse) which is a kingdom made up of many islands. On one of the smallest, remotest islands lives young Forrest and his family, who enjoy a quiet, peaceful life of farming intertwined with the family tradition of magical spellspinning. However Forrest’s safe world is to be dramatically turned upside down by the arrival of a more unpredictable and dangerous form of magic, that also coincides with him unceremoniously finding Karina, a prickly, knife-wielding girl, sleeping-rough in his family’s barn one morning.

Stuck on the island, Karina is taken in by Forrest’s kindly, indomitable mother, no questions asked, but after growing up as an orphan on the tough streets of the capital, she finds it hard to trust this strangely hospitable and trusting family. And when they claim they can knit spells of protection, luck and health into their garments, that really doesn’t help either. From her dark past she knows magic exists, but magical knitting that’s just ridiculous … right?! This scoffing at their family tradition raises the hackles of the protective Forrest, who initially eyes this newcomer with suspicion yet, like the rest of his family, he is willing to give her a chance.

However when the chickens start laying golden eggs; the horse starts talking in rhyming couplets and Forrest’s parents are suddenly called away, Forrest and Karina will crucially need to get over their misgivings and work together to figure out the cause of this series of fantastical and inexplicable magic before it can become something more dangerous. So unravels a new tale of magic, friendship, danger, theft and betrayal – all of which is brought to life beautifully by Cheryl with some great description, imagination and humour. Also, for those who have read the other books in the series, there are subtle, clever nods to characters and adventures that are to come, with an amusing cameo from a younger incarnation of a certain ‘Good Fairy’; sparkles and all!

Overall, I thought The Lioness and the Spellspinners was another well written, witty and thrilling adventure, that still gently pokes fun at the traditional fairy tale tropes. Both refreshing and comforting to read. Now, I need to wait (not so) patiently for Cheryl to write another book. Great read.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Cheryl Mahoney?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 7/10

Tough Travels: Strongholds

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed ADEPTS. This month’s topic is:


STRONGHOLDS.

‘The Tough Guide offers information on various kinds of fantasy strongholds. For example,  you might be looking for CASTLES, complete with ‘frowning battlements, slit windows and multiple defensible spiral stairways inside’ and which ‘occasionally adorn the heights for pictorial effect’. Or perhaps TOWERS, which ‘stand alone in WASTE AREAS and almost always belong to wizards.’ Towers are often ‘several storeys high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb. The Rule is that there is also a strong no-entry SPELL, often backed up by a guardian DEMON.’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This is another topic that I missed the first time round, therefore it is great to have another chance to have a go at it. It was a lot of fun but also quite hard to narrow this list down, because what self-respecting fantasy book/series doesn’t have a well fortified stronghold … or two?! However here are a few of my favourites (as I said this is by no means an exhaustive list – in some cases I have had to limit myself to just one choice per book/series):

Minas Tirith
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

From Tolkien’s expansive Middle-Earth,  I have had to limit myself to just one and that one is Minas Tirith: the heavily fortified capital city of Gondor. Constructed up the side of a large, steep hill on seven levels, each level 100ft higher than the one before, and all levels have thick, white walls and gates that face in different directions. Which makes this place pretty darn impregnable!

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The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The elusive Dark Tower is the longed for end goal for Roland Deschain of Gilead, the last gunslinger, and his ka-tet. Its best defence is how almost impossible it is to find! Then if you do find it; survive the powerful magic surrounding it and manage to climb to the very top, there is a cruel twist waiting for you.

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The Eyrie
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

From Martin’s equally expansive Westeros, I have also had to limit myself to just one and that one is The Eyrie: the principle stronghold of House Arryn. While other strongholds could boast of equally strong fortifications, none could best its situation – built literally straddling the top of a mountain peak, meaning a treacherous climb for any would-be-attackers before the fighting even begins.

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Hogwarts
Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

A school is not an obvious choice for a stronghold, however we are told there is no places safer than Hogwarts and Gringotts (the wizarding bank). And with strong walls; surrounding lake; stone guardians and powerful protecting enchantments it makes for a formidable stronghold against the dark lord, Voldermort and his Death Eaters in the final showdown.

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What fictional strongholds can you think of? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: DRAGONS!

New Read: Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow

After devouring Volume 1, last year, and Volume 2, earlier this year, I was very keen to get my hands on this: the third and final volume in Colleen Oakes’ young adult Wendy Darling series, inspired by J M Barrie’s Peter Pan. (If you are unfamiliar with this author or series you may instead want to check out my thoughts on the first book: Wendy Darling, Volume 1: Stars).

At the beginning of this series, Wendy and her brothers were whisked away by the wild, magical Peter Pan to Neverland; a fantastical land of turquoise seas, glimmering beaches, mermaids, pirates and freedom. However, Wendy soon discovered all was not as it seemed and she was forced to take shelter with the dreaded Captain Hook. Together they have hatched a dangerous plan to bring down the blood-crazed Peter for good, but it will involve Wendy returning to Pan Island and the clutches of Peter. The fate of her brothers, her beloved Booth and the whole of Neverland is in her hands.

It was wonderful to see this interesting re-imagining from the point-of-view of Wendy, and she was again joined by a host of colourful characters, including: the adorable Michael; the thoroughly dislikeable John; the big-hearted Smith (Smee!) and, my personal favourite, the infamous Captain Hook. While I haven’t always ‘liked’ Colleen Oakes’ re-imagined characters I do think they are realistic and much better fleshed out than in J M Barrie’s original tale. I also loved being able to delve deeper into the settings too, which Oakes’ brought vividly to life through her beautiful descriptions.

Sadly I did have a small issue with some of the language used in this final instalment – considering the main protagonists are meant to be from Edwardian London. There was the more harmless use of the Americanised ‘toy store’ instead of toy shop, but then there was the far more dubious use of ‘f*nny’ … Now, I believe in America this is slang for ‘ass’ or ‘bottom’. Here in the UK though, it means a much more intimate part of a lady! Fortunately, Oakes weaved such a wonderful tale of adventure, danger, magic and love with so many twists and turns, that the small slips in language didn’t majorly affect my overall enjoyment. Plus what an ending – I didn’t see that coming!

Overall, I thought Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow was another enjoyable fantasy adventure and a satisfying end to this interesting re-imagining of Peter Pan. Previously I have read and loved another of Colleen Oakes’ series, Queen of Hearts, and I really, really hope the final instalment of this comes out soon! Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any other books inspired by Peter Pan?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 5/10

(Coincidentally, Wendy Darling, Volume 1 was also my 5th read for last year’s 10 Books of Summer!)

New Read: Pyramids

About two years ago, I started to work my way through, from the beginning, the books from the epic Discworld series by Terry Pratchett which my father and I already own between us. Next up was Pyramids the seventh published Discworld novel.

In Pyramids, I was taken to a new-to-me part of Pratchett’s magic, weird and fantastical creation: the tiny kingdom of Djelibeybi (pretty much the Discworld counterpart to Ancient Egypt). This is a land steeped in history; covered in pyramids and obsessed with tradition, which sees its world, quite literally, turned upside down when young Teppic is suddenly thrust upon the throne after the sudden death of his father. It’s bad enough being new on the job, but Teppic hasn’t a clue as to what a pharaoh is supposed to do. And so ensues a boggling, roller coaster ride of mad priests, sacred crocodiles, marching mummies, mathematical camels, a headstrong handmaiden and a monstrous, time and space bending pyramid. Djelibeybi is never going to be the same again!

Our hero Teppic’s ignorance is due to the fact that since childhood he has been away training at Ankh-Morpork’s famed assassins’ school. Now he is a modern stranger in his own backward land. While I often wished he would grow a spine, I certainly sympathised for him as he meets opposition to every change he proposes: from installing plumbing to outlawing the practice of throwing people to the crocodiles! We soon learn the real power lies in the hands of the high priest Dios, who mysteriously seems to have always been there to see tradition is strictly followed. Fortunately along comes the feisty handmaiden Ptraci, who has enough spine, attitude and get up and go for herself, Teppic and the land combined.

Terry Pratchett is a well loved author of mine and I was very sad when he passed. For me the best way to do him tribute is to continue to read and share my thoughts on all his wonderfully fun books. Pyramids is the ninth Discworld novel I have read, but the seventh published, and with my pre-existing love of anything Ancient Egyptian this book was always going to be a winner for me. Although I am now trying to read the books I already own roughly in order, I don’t believe this is a series you necessarily have to read in order, as the stories often follow various different groups of characters. Except for Death, there were no character I recognised in this book so I could have easily read this as a stand alone novel.

Overall, I thought Pyramids was another extremely fun, wacky, Egyptian-inspired instalment in Pratchett’s fantastical Discworld series. I look forward to reading more – the next instalment we own is Reaper Man. Great read.

Have you read this? What are your favourite Discworld novels?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 3/10

Tough Travels: Adepts

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed NON-HUMAN HEROES. This month’s topic is:


ADEPTS.

The Tough Guide defines an Adept as ‘one who has taken what amounts to a Post-graduate course in Magic. If a Magic User is given this title, you can be sure he/she is fairly hot stuff. However, the title is neutral and does not imply that the Adept is either Good or Evil.’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This is another topic that I missed the first time round, therefore it is great to have another chance to have a go at it. In particular, I like how magical Adepts can be good or evil, so I have broken my choices down into goodies and baddies:

***** GOODIES *****

Albus Dumbledore
Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

To give him his full name, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore is the greatest headmaster that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has ever known. If that’s not impressive enough he is also the only wizard that Lord Voldermort has ever feared (more to come about him).

Gandalf
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

At the beginning of this classic trilogy we meet Gandalf the Grey and his fabulous fireworks, but don’t be fooled he is a very powerful wizard. Who will pass through fire and death to return as Gandalf the White; the most powerful wizard in Middle-Earth.

***** BADDIES *****

Queen Jadis/The White Witch
The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis

Queen Jadis is the sole survivor of powerful race of giant people from a dead world, however she is best known as the evil White Witch that subjugated the creatures of Narnia and trapped them all in an ever-lasting winter – always winter, never Christmas.

Lord Voldermort
Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

Finally we return to the magical world of Harry Potter for the opposite of Dumbledore and Harry’s archenemy: the dark lord himself, Voldermort, who is a brilliant….terrible….yes….but brilliant wizard.

What magical adepts can you think of? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: STRONGHOLDS.

Tough Travels: Non-Human Heroes

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed ASSASINS. This month’s topic is:


NON-HUMAN HEROES

The Tough Guide assures us that HEROES are ‘mythical beings, often selected at birth, who perform amazing deeds of courage, strength and magical mayhem, usually against all odds.’ Furthermore, ‘if you get to meet a so-called Hero, she/he always turns out to be just another human, with human failings, who has happened to be in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time, more likely)’.

HOWEVER. For good or for evil, some of fantasy’s most memorable Heroes are not human at all. Some look human, but aren’t. Others may look monstrous, but be ‘human’ on the inside. Others still never pretend to be anything other than what they are – and why should they? In nearly all cases, we are likely to Learn Something from them – usually that appearances can be deceiving, or that the concepts of both ‘Human’ and ‘Hero’ are entirely subjective’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This is another topic that I missed the first time round, therefore it is great to have another chance to have a go at it. Especially as I love a non-human hero…particularly if they are a cute, furry, talking animal! Here are a few of my favourites (this is by no means an exhaustive list…I could of gone on and on):

Bilbo Baggins
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

If you read this blog regularly, then you probably saw this one coming. I adore this book! Bilbo may look like a small human or child, but he is in fact a hobbit: small, curly-haired, pointy eared creatures, with big hearts and appetites to match. This little hero leaves his comfortable hobbit-hole for a magical adventure to claim back the dwarves’ long lost home from a dreadful dragon.

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Reepicheep
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

The Chief Mouse of Narnia is small, furry and rather cute, but don’t be fooled he is famed for his courage and deadly skill with a rapier. We first meet him in Prince Caspian, when he fights for the young prince and later in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when he travels with the now young king to the end of the world, where he bravely continues on alone to Aslan’s Country; the last big adventure.

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Remus Lupin
Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

In Harry’s third year at Hogwarts, we are introduced to his third new Professor of the Dark Arts: Remus Lupin. He is a clever, patient, compassionate and highly skilled wizard, however as a child he was attacked and turned into a werewolf. Yet he never lets this stop him. Instead using his curse to infiltrate a dangerous werewolf gang and he is selfless to the end.

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Oy
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

Finally but certainly not least, we have Oy the talking billy-bumbler: a small, furry animal akin to a cross between a dog and a raccoon. We first meet him in the third book in the series, The Waste Land, where he quickly steals hearts. He is not just small and cute, but also fiercely loyal and will lay his life down for his friends. I so wish that billy-bumblers were real!

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What non-human heroes can you think of? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: ADEPTS.