Monday, October 05, 2015

A Garden of One's Own, or, Book Review: Return to the Secret Garden (Return to the Secret Garden Blog Tour)

The Secret Garden is one of my favourite books of all time. It's certainly my most reread book, my copy boasts a heavily creased cover and spine as well as yellowed, torn pages. When I was a teenager I had a habit of reading just my favourite scenes in books over and over, so until quite recently it had a bookmark in it at the scene where Colin gives a lecture about Magic. When I reread it in preparation for Return for the Secret Garden, I was slightly underwhelmed by that scene - I'd mythologised it in my head, remembered it as longer, more dramatic.

That's what I do with my favourite parts of my favourite books and films and songs, especially when I haven't revisited them in a while. Those scenes or dramatic moments become bigger to me than they are, and I forget the rest of what made them so great. As I reread, or rewatch, or relisten, I reevaluate it, and the thing as a whole, and this often leads to surprising revelations. See my previous post about Harriet the Spy - in that case I thought I loved best the parts about sneaking around and spying on people, but it was the stuff about writing that really sunk in.

Anyway, remembering that scene so fondly, I thought what I loved most about The Secret Garden was the Magic. Wrong again! As an adult, reading it, I realised what actually I loved most is the secret garden! (And this isn't just because I've recently become obsessed with plants.) I love seeing private spaces. Photographs of lived-in houses. Scenes in films with carefully constructed and personalised rooms - the teenage bedroom, the shop the character owns and decorated themselves. At night, on the top deck of a bus, I look out for open curtains and gleefully stare into other people's houses.

Mary Lennox is a girl who doesn't have anything of her own, a space where she can be herself. Her bedroom is a place she is brought to and taken out of on the orders of others - but the garden she finds by herself. It's her sanctuary. On this reread, I was actually slightly disappointed when she starts letting other people in!

My much-loved copy of the original book. View on Instagram.
Return to the Secret Garden is set thirty years after the original, and follows another young girl's search for a place where she belongs. Emmie has never really had a proper space of her own. She lives at an orphanage, where she shares a dormitory with other girls. To snatch some privacy, she climbs through a window onto a rickety old fire escape. It's there she meets a stray cat, the first thing she has that's really hers (as much as a cat can be owned!). But then along comes the Second World War, and the orphanage is evacuated. Emmie has to leave her cat behind and travel a long way to a strange old house in Yorkshire, one Misselthwaite Manor.

I was a little apprehensive about reading a sequel to a book I love so much, but I found Return to the Secret Garden charming. It was great to see another little girl find a kind of home in the garden, even though it's no longer locked, and she has even less right to it than Mary, being an unconnected orphan, rather than the niece of the manor's owner.

Like Mary, she is grumpy and sometimes rude, but also very determined once she gets an idea in her head, and I loved all these characteristics in Mary. Many people prefer Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess to The Secret Garden, but I am a Secret Garden person through and through. It helped that I actually owned a copy of The Secret Garden. I read A Little Princess one time and returned the book to the library. I  saw the film once for my birthday. That was enough (though when I rewatched it as an adult, it did make me cry).

Sara, the 'little princess', is too good to be relatable, she's always kind and sweet, no matter what happens. Whereas Mary gave me hope - that even if I wasn't perfect, I could be likable, and I could try and improve. Emmie is the same. She's an orphan, but she is neither tediously pathetic or overly good. She seems realistic, as do all the children, who fight and fall out but ultimately help each other out.

My least favourite part was seeing the children of The Secret Garden as adults, but that might be only because I have never ever imagined them grown up! I think children reading this after the original won't find it jarring at all.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed reading Return to the Secret Garden as a child - it takes some of the best features of the original and puts them into a familiar yet strikingly altered setting. It's a cute, quick read. Many thanks to Scholastic for sending me a review copy (it's a particularly gorgeous little hardback) and to Faye Rogers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

Have you ever read a sequel to a children's classic that wasn't by the original author? What did you think? Don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour and enter the giveaway! Yes, Scholastic are giving away a copy of The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett and a copy of Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb to one lucky blog tour follower!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bookish Brits Vlog 28: A Guide to Book Swapping

I love this hat. I have never worn it outside. I have worn all my other hats out, but this one is blue and it doesn't go with much of my clothing.

Anyway, book swapping!

In this video I recommend Bookmooch (worldwide) and ReadItSwapIt (UK only). If you're in the US you can also try PaperBack Swap.

If you don't want to post books, look into BookCrossing. You may also want to see if there are any Little Free Libraries near you.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Quickly Save If My House Was Going To Be Abducted By Aliens (or any other natural disaster)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is actually a freebie, which means that you get to make up your own topic or choose one of the past topics that you missed or want to redo.

When I scrolled through the list of past topics my eyes quickly lighted upon this one, which I felt I had to do for the title alone. I mean, abduction by aliens? I'm pretty sure that's an unnatural disaster if ever there was one...
View on Instagram.
Top Ten Books I'd Quickly Save If My House Was Going To Be Abducted By Aliens
(or any other unnatural disaster)

1. My signed hardback copy of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. Because getting to meet E Lockhart after having loved her books for years, in a room full of people who also loved her books (and this after years of feeling like one of about three people in the UK who'd even read her books) was so cool and I'd want to have this book to remember it by.

2. My signed copy of Kiss and Make-Up, by Sarra Manning, which contains my favourite bits of the Diary of a Crush trilogy. I met Sarra and had it signed back in 2010, at a Chicklish event at Dulwich Library. I was unbelievably excited because a) it was the first YA book event I'd been to b) I got to meet some bloggers for the first time c) as well as Sarra Manning, who had been my hero when I was 14, I got to meet Keris Stainton, Luisa Plaja, and Simmone Howell. It still remains the only multi-author event I've ever been to where I'd read at least one book by every author!

3. My copy of Burning Your Boats, by Angela Carter
4. My copy of The Curious Room, by Angela Carter
5. My copy of The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter
6. My copy of Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales...because they're all fancy hardbacks and the first two are definitely out of print and the bottom two might be.

7. My hardback copy of The Diviners, by Libba Bray, because it's a way nicer cover than on the paperbacks and I want to get it signed one day.

View on Instagram.
8. My childhood copy of The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, because I read it so many times it's all battered and worn-in and a new copy would never be the same.

9. My childhood copy of Matilda, by Roald Dahl, for the same reason.

10. My first edition, second printing, of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, by Emilie Autumn, because even if I don't decide to keep it I could sell it on eBay for monies. Ditto for all of my digipak CDs.

What books would you save? Have you met any authors and had any books signed? If you did Top Ten Tuesday this week, which topic did you choose?

Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Tour of Little Free Libraries: The Sky is Everywhere is Everywhere

Earlier in the year, I was staying over at Nick's old house in Walthamstow. It was a bright, sunny weekend, just perfect for a little local adventure.
 Stop one on our Little Free Libraries E17 tour was Cleveland Park Avenue.
It’s purple with bears, hares, and pears. View on Instagram.
I'd recently been sent a box full of copies of Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere, as part of Walker Books' campaign to spread The Sky is Everywhere, well, everywhere, and Nick had some books he had decided not to keep (as well as one copy of The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf). So, we decided to explore the local area and visit the Little Free Libraries to leave some of our books and hopefully find some to take away. I posted a video about this a couple of weeks later, but I always planned to write it up for this blog as well, so here goes.

Stop two, Eastfield Road. View on Instagram.
The book I picked up at Eastfield Road.
Little Free Libraries are a concept that's been brought over from the US in recent years - tiny huts containing bookshelves, designed to stand in front gardens and school playgrounds, or inside caf├ęs and pubs. They're intended to encourage people to read more and to participate in their local community.

Cairo Road, stop three. I love the purple, naturally. View on Instagram.
I believe the Walthamstow LFLs were the first in the UK, but Little Free Libraries UK have now brought the idea and the boxes to people in other parts of the country, including Swindon, Birmingham, Bath, and Essex.

Howard Road's foxy Little Free Library. View on Instagram.
I wandered lonely as a another Little Free Library,
this time in Aubrey Road. View on Instagram.
Of course they are by no means a replacement for public libraries, but I like to think of them as a gateway drug. Many Little Free Libraries are outside and therefore open 24/7, unlike most public libraries. They're also very pretty and enticing. People will pass them on their way to and from work and be intrigued. They can pick up a book in a spare couple of minutes.

A double-decker Little Free Library at Garner Road. View on Instagram.
A close up after I'd made my donation. View on Instagram.
If someone catches the reading bug, they'll be reading far more books than the Little Free Library can provide, or want to find more books in specific genres, and that will draw them towards their local public library. I hope so, anyway.

This is Brettenham Road, where Nick left a copy of The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf. View on Instagram.
I picked up The Rosie Effect for my sister, who had recently finished
reading The Rosie Project. She's a former reluctant reader who is
currently working her way through an impressive amount of books!
View on Instagram.
Brettenham Road also features a friendly cat!
View on Instagram.
If people start to feel included in their local community, thanks to LFLs, that can also draw them towards their local public library to take part in activities and events.

Our final stop - Ruby Road. View on Instagram.
UKYA alert! View on Instagram. 
I had a great time visiting these Little Free Libraries - they're all so beautifully designed, and it was really nice to walk around parts of Walthamstow that we hadn't been to before.

When I went back home I felt a bit jealous of the people of Walthamstow and their LFLs - though Beckenham has a wonderful public library that I have loved for as long as I can remember.

I wasn't to stay jealous for long...but that's another blog post! Have you read any of the books I found? Is there a Little Free Library near you? Would you like to have one in your front garden? I'd need to acquire a house with a front garden and the salary to be able to afford one first, but I can dream...

If you want to watch my video of the Little Free Library tour, here it is:


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