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Flash Reviews (3rd August 2013)

Little Vampire on the Farm – Angela Sommer-Bodenburg
I did enjoy this story, but it wasn’t quite as well plotted as The Little Vampire in Love.  I would have liked more to happen, and it was also a little lacking in Little Vampiric activity.  On the whole, I do really like the characters which

Tony in The Little Vampire film

Tony in The Little Vampire film

Sommer-Bodenburg has created, but Tony seemed just a touch too petulant and unkind here.  His grumpiness irked me a little after a time, which was a real shame, as I found him to be a bit of a sweetheart in the aforementioned book (and in the film!).

Karlson Flies Again – Astrid Lindgren
The Karlson series does not feature my favourites of Lindgren’s characters, and nor is it my favourite of her tales.  Despite this, it is rather a fun read nonetheless.  Karlson is an incredibly stubborn protagonist, and has to be ‘the best’ at everything.  I must admit that I do not find him a likeable character at all, but without him, I suppose there would be no possibility of such a story.  He does provide a nice contrast to the rather too good at times Smidge, the book’s other protagonist.  Overall, Karlson Flies Again is nicely written, and it is certainly not a book which is short of adventures.

Hungry Hearts and Other Stories – Anzia Yezierska
I probably would never have heard of Yezierska had she not been on the Virago Modern Classics list which I’m making my way through.  I was quite looking forward to seeing what her writing style would be like, particularly after being so intrigued by the blurb of Hungry Hearts and Other Stories.  Inside its interlinked stories, I found some incredibly interesting musings on time, place and community, and I liked the author’s thoughts and comments about forging a new identity in a foreign country.  Despite this, very few of the characters were easy to identify with, and I felt compassion for none of them, a fact which never endears me to a book.  I was also a little annoyed by some of the grammatical misuse as the story went on.  I know that they were used merely as a tool to set the scene and to highlight both the learning of English and the displacement of Jews in the USA, but the double negatives really began to get on my nerves.  I feel that Yezierska overused them, and thus any power they could have had was lost.  Hungry Hearts and Other Stories is not the best short story collection I’ve ever read by any means, but it was quite interesting nonetheless.

Feather Boy – Nicky Singer
I absolutely adored the CBBC television adaptation of Feather Boy when it was shown during my childhood, and was so excited when I found out that it was based upon a novel.  Reading it, I can see how well adapted the original material was to the screen.  Robert Nobel, otherwise known as ‘Norbert’ by his cruel classmates, is just as endearing and adorable in the book.  I love the way that the story is told from his perspective.   I very much enjoyed the intertwined mysteries woven throughout, and the way in which Robert’s story crossed paths with that of his Elder’s.  The building of their friendship and his growing courage is wonderfully realised.  Feather Boy is so well written, and I am pleased that I am able to add it to my favourites list.

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‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Colin, Mary and Dickon in the 1993 film version

There are many tales from my childhood which I absolutely adore (The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Madeline, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.), but The Secret Garden is my absolute favourite.  I watched the VHS of the 1993 film so often when I was younger that I managed to wear it out.

The story in The Secret Garden is lovely.  On the surface of it, the plot seems rather simple – a young girl is sent to England after the death of her parents during a cholera epidemic, and is forced to stay in the middle of nowhere (rural Yorkshire, to be precise) with a mysterious uncle whom she does not know.  At first Mary Lennox, the young girl in question, is lonely, but her inherent stubbornness allows her to make the best of her situation.  Those who persevere with her – the kindly maid Martha, for example – alter her personality, and she begins to care about those around her in consequence.  Mary finds out about a secret walled garden which belonged to her aunt, and which has been shut up since her death.  She vows to resurrect it with the help of kindly Martha’s lovely brother, Dickon.

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‘The Secret Garden’ Penguin Threads edition

What complexities there are creep into the plot almost immediately.  Hodgson Burnett weaves ever such a lot of different details into the story – life in colonial India, disparities between different societies around the world, cholera, disability, death, suffering, the bleakness of surroundings, loneliness, the building of relationships and an appreciation of the natural world.  I absolutely adore all of the characters in their own ways.  Mary is headstrong – amusingly so at times – and her determination is often rather inspiring.  Mrs Medlock is nowhere near as awful as the film makes her out to be (Maggie Smith’s portrayal of her did used to frighten me a little, I admit), and she does have compassion for her charge.  Colin, despite his petulant nature and obsession with having a lump on his back like his father’s, is rather adorable.

I adore Hodgson Burnett’s writing style.  With it, she has crafted a beautiful and memorable tale which gets better with every read, and she has introduced me to some of the finest literary characters I could ever hope to meet.  The Secret Garden is an utterly enchanting novel, and the story and its characters will always have a place within my heart.  I love the way in which they grow and develop as the story progresses, and their interactions with one another have been portrayed so well.  A truly heartwarming tale, and a perfect summery read.