The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

When her parents are killed in a cholera outbreak in India, Mary Lennox is sent to live with an uncle she has never met at Misselthwaite Manor. At first she is spoilt and unfriendly, but when she discovers a locked garden she begins to take more of an interest in her new life in Yorkshire, and gradually discovers the secret of the garden.

The 1993 film version of The Secret Garden was one of my favourite films as a child so I was eager to finally read the book. It didn’t disappoint although it’s always a different experience reading a book when you already know the story. I loved the descriptions of the garden and I particularly liked Dickon as a character. I feel I probably would have enjoyed it more had I read it when I was younger, especially before seeing the film. However, I’m glad to have finally read it.

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The Secret of Chimneys – Agatha Christe

While in Africa, Anthony Cade agrees to help his friend Jimmy McGrath and return a manuscript to London. After an attempt to steal the manuscript from him, he ends up at the country house of Chimneys, involved in a political scandal and murder case involving the royal family of Herzeslovakia.

This is far from my favourite of Christie’s novels that I’ve read, but it’s enjoyable enough and easy to read, despite a fairly complicated plot. I found I missed Poirot or Marple, and the number of characters pretending to be someone other than they were was a little ridiculous. However, for some easy escapism, it’s a good read.

For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

During the Spanish Civil War, a young American volunteer who has experience as a dynamiter, Robert Jordan, is sent to the mountains near Segovia to join a rebel group that will help him blow up a bridge to try and prevent the fascist enemy troops from responding to an upcoming attack.

This novel is very character driven and effectively conveys the intense relationships that develop during a time of war. However, the writing style is difficult and it took me a while to get used to it, although I can understand Hemingway’s decision to try to make the novel feel ‘foreign’, using English that reads as if it were a direct (bad) Spanish translation, such as

‘I obscenity in the milk of all of you’

There are also some very long sentences and some fairly long passages with stories told by members of the rebel group that do not add to the plot at all.

This has a slow moving plot and the writing style is a little challenging at first, but it is worth a read for the conditions during the Spanish Civil War and the power struggles that can arise in a group of guerrillas.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old and lives alone in Glasgow. She has a set routine, wearing the same clothes and eating the same food each day of the week, including drinking two bottles of vodka at weekends. She is very isolated, but when she sees a man collapse on the street and goes to help she suddenly finds herself interacting with new people, and gradually her life begins to change.

This was a fantastic read, and at times hilarious. Some of Eleanor’s social observations are hysterical, and I found myself cringing when she spoke with no filter at all. It is also heartbreaking at times, such as learning of the trauma Eleanor experienced as a child, and her descriptions of her loneliness, which were sometimes difficult to read.

These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted.

I did find some of Eleanor’s lack of awareness unbelievable at times – for example, I find it hard to believe that she’d have no idea what a high 5 is. However, these are only very minor quibbles. I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone.

Origin – Dan Brown

Edmond Kirsch, a futurist and outspoken atheist, is assassinated while giving a presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao that he claims will have a catastrophic impact on the future of the world’s religions. His former teacher, Professor Robert Langdon, along with the curator of the museum, Ambra Vidal, set out to try and find another way to reveal Kirsch’s presentation to the world, which he claimed would finally definitively answer humanity’s two most important questions, ‘Where do we come from?’ and ‘Where are we going?’

As with other Robert Langdon stories, the action is fast paced and moves between several locations in Spain, including Barcelona and El Escorial. As someone who lived in Spain for eight months and visits the country regularly, I really enjoyed knowing some of the settings. The novel includes interesting themes, such as the future of technology, particularly Artificial Intelligence, (Langon and Vidal have the help of a supercomputer built by Kirsch, namely a Siri/Alexa type character called Winston) and connections between science and religion.

This is a fun read, although almost inevitably after the huge build up the final reveal from the presentation is anticlimactic. It also lacks a lot of the symbolism that I particularly enjoyed in The Da Vinci Code. However, for some escapism and enjoyment, I would definitely recommend this novel.

 

 

Charlotte’s Web – E.B White

Wilbur the pig is the runt of his litter, and after Fern Arable saves him from being slaughtered he is sold to her uncle who keeps Wilbur in his barn. When it seems that Wilbur may once again be facing death, his new friend Charlotte the spider decides to help him by writing messages in her web to persuade the farmer to let him live.

I am not the target audience for this book but as I’d never read it as a child I decided to give it a try. It is a very sweet story about friendship and I enjoyed the characterisations. I would recommend this as a book for young children, but be warned that there are some sad moments.

 

Mort – Terry Pratchett

Mort, an awkward teenager, is recruited by Death as his apprentice. One evening when covering for Death, he decides not to follow the rules and allow Princess Keli to live, but this has a disastrous consequence on reality which he must try and fix.

This is the fourth novel in the Discworld series and is probably my favourite so far. It is full of humour and I loved the characterisation of Death. I look forward to seeing him in more Discworld novels.

Goodnight Mr Tom – Michelle Magorian

At the outbreak of World War Two, 8 year old William Beech is evacuated to the village of Little Weirwold and sent to love with an elderly man called Tom Oakley. At first he is extremely timid and nervous due to his strict upbringing by his mother who is a religious fanatic, but gradually he develops confidence and begins to love his new life in the country. After a few months, he receives a letter saying that his mother is unwell and wants him to go back to London. A few weeks later, not having heard a word from William, Tom decides to go to London with his dog Sammy to find out what’s happened.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book but afterwards I felt the plot became a little disjointed. I also didn’t always find William’s character development believable, such as when he and his friends decide to investigate the spooky house in the village and he is the only one brave enough to go ahead. I did however love the character of Tom, and thought the writing was very effective when describing William’s life with his mother.

Dead Simple – Peter James

Michael Harrison is a bit of a prankster, so on his stag do his friends decide to get their revenge by burying him alive for a few hours in a coffin. However, before they can let him out, they are killed in a car accident. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace must try and find out where the missing groom is, and whether his bride may know more than she’s letting on.

I had actually seen a play version of this story before reading it and although I could remember the main premise I had forgotten some details so it did not spoil my enjoyment. I thought it was very well written, particularly the chapters about Michael in the coffin which were fantastic at portraying the claustrophobia and were very uncomfortable to read. I also really liked Roy Grace as a character, and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series.

Charlie and the great glass elevator – Roald Dahl

Charlie and the great glass elevator picks up immediately where its predecessor, Charlie and the chocolate factory left off. Charlie, his parents, both sets of grandparents and Willy Wonka first head off on an adventure in space where they come across some vermicious knids, and then head back to the factory where one of Wonka’s new creations, Wonka-Vite, goes a bit wrong.

Before rereading this I wondered why I didn’t remember this story as clearly as I could remember Charlie and the chocolate factory, and I think it must be because it isn’t such a good story. I felt there was a lot of build up in the section in space, which then came to am abrupt end, and then the rest of the story back in the factory almost felt like a completely different book.

There are some classic Dahl wit here, but not his best story by far.