How did I manage to get through my childhood without reading this book?
The Secret Garden was published in 1911 and is about a spoiled little English girl (Mary), born in India but sent back to England to live with her uncle when she suddenly becomes an orphan. Mary becomes intrigued when she hears a story of a secret garden that’s been locked up for ten years, and as expected, the story follows her search and (*spoiler alert*) discovery of the garden.
The main characters drive this story and stop it from becoming cliche or predictable. There’s one boy I love (Dickon) and another boy I can’t stand (Colin), but Mary manages to find qualities in both.
You will even love the red robin – trust me
When I realised that it took me 85 days to finish A Town Like Alice, I was shocked. That’s a long time to read a book. And in this case, I must stress that it had nothing to do with the quality of the story.
I was shocked… because I know that every time I picked up this book I was hooked. I’d fall into the story and find myself racing through the chapters. The 85 days it took to get to ‘The end’ just doesn’t do this book justice. And it’s purely an indication of what my life has been like over the past few months.
In November 2015, pretty much the day I started this book, I also found out I was pregnant with our second child. A wave of nausea and tiredness hit me from day of conception and lasted till I was 16 weeks along. It was a struggle to make it through everyday life, so to then find the energy to pick up a book at the end of the day? No chance.
I reserved this book online from our local library. When it was time to pick it up, I took my 2-year-old son along and he chose a couple of picture books while we were there.
When I took the books to the counter to get scanned, the librarian snatched them off me, then proceeded to huff and puff and click the computer mouse and sigh. Finally she spoke:
‘When you reserved this book,’ – held up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – ‘you did it under your library card. You really should have used your son’s card because it’s such a muck around for me to change it over to his name to check it out.’
She thrust the books towards me and turned to do something else.
Did I have the heart to tell her this book was actually for me?
Before I started this book, I had a good look at the front cover.
The words at the bottom caught my attention: ‘Probably the funniest book ever written – SUNDAY TIMES’.
I needed a good laugh. My previous two books had been Great Expectations and Catch 22, which although had their funny moments, they dealt with such serious topics it was impossible to call them funny books.
So I started at page one, and waited with bated breath for hilarity to ensue.
And I waited. And waited.
I really want to say it, so as cheesy as it is, let me have my moment: I really didn’t have great expectations for this book.
OK, now that’s out of the way I can tell you what I really thought of it.
This was my first ever Dickens that I’ve read cover to cover and I was incredibly impressed. It’s a long book (I know you probably get sick of hearing that from me) but Dickens made me realise that (in the case of novels that span a significant amount of time) length really does matter.
My very first Dickens
It took me a long time to get through the 484 pages – sixty-five days in fact – and I found myself in the habit of setting small goals and rewarding myself for chapters finished. I have to read 5 more pages before falling asleep (never worked), or if I get to the end of this chapter I can have a bowl of icecream (all the icecream was eaten well before the end of the book).
I’d never read a book about war. War stories reminded me of history class at school, which I never had much time for. What could you possibly learn from the details of war? I understood that war was bad and that should be avoided, but other than that I really wasn’t interested.
If I’d known Catch 22 was a war story I probably wouldn’t have put it next on my list for the 100 book challenge. I was familiar with the ‘catch 22’ concept – where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – but I didn’t know its origins. So it was time to take that plunge and I opened to page 1 of the Heller’s classic.
Am I the only person who didn’t know Catch 22 was about war?
Invite me to your parties, Jay!
It’s the characters that make this story. The narrator, Nick, is fairly plain and uninteresting, but the people around him are such complex, intriguing and entertaining characters that I loved this book from beginning to end.
The story follows the life of the rich on Long Island in the 1920s. They invite themselves to parties, they complain about the heat and are utterly unhappy in their marriages. It’s the perfect recipe for an engaging story where the characters drive the plot, not the other way round.
After a few recent disappointments in my 100 book challenge, this was a refreshing change.
Number 12 on the 100 book challenge
Coming off the back of Pride and Prejudice, I needed something that was short, easy to read and straight to the point. This book promised all of these things. It delivered… but I was left with an uneasy feeling that the story could have been so much better. That it was almost a very good book.
The positives are many. For one, it’s a brilliant concept: that, at the moment of your death, you meet five integral people from your life to help you realise things about your life. Two, the characters are interesting. Three, the story is revealed slowly throughout without pages of info-dump.
But I didn’t love it.
A bunch of boys get stuck on a tropical island without any adults. Sounds pretty tame, doesn’t it?
Lord of the Flies (1954) was the 10th book on my 100 book challenge and drew me in from the very beginning. A group of boys are stranded on a desert island. At first it seems like paradise, but just a few pages in you start to see things going terribly wrong. The boys can’t agree on whether they should focus on being rescued (build a fire) or getting meat to eat (hunt pigs). The two main characters, Ralph and Jack, bicker, argue and viciously fight throughout the book. Everything falls apart quickly when the structure and rules of society are taken away.
It’s a beautiful (and at times terrifying) warning of just how fragile the order of civilisation is.
It was Sherlock Holmes’ birthday yesterday. If he’d been alive today, and more importantly if he’d been real, he would have turned an impressive 161. That shows just how long ago these stories were written.
Yet the detective himself is so well known among people of today. I bet that even my nephew knows that when someone turns up to a fancy dress party with a magnifying glass and a tweed hat that they’ve come dressed as Sherlock.
The detective from the 1880s is still well-known today
But Conan Doyle, the author himself, didn’t seem that keen on the adventures of Sherlock. He even tried to kill him off at one stage in a case called The Final Problem, but due to public outcry he resurrected the detective in later books. Sometimes characters just want to write themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it.