Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Spotlight + Giveaway: Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb

Apologies for the radio silence, all. It's been a rocky couple of weeks here at HDB headquarters, and unfortunately that means blogging takes a back seat. Rest assured that we haven't gone anywhere for good though! You're stuck with us, and our bookish ramblings.

Now then, on to the spotlight book of the day! Before you run screaming from my incessant gushing, let me very simply say that this is a book that I was really excited for. I'm sure many of us grew up walking the halls of Misselthwaite Manor with Mary, and have a soft spot in our heart for Dickon. So imagine my happiness when I found out that Holly Webb, an author who I greatly admire, was writing a follow up to that classic tale! Enter Return to the Secret Garden, in all its nostalgic glory.

Return to the magic of Burnett’s classic tale with a brand-new character as she discovers a very secret garden.

It’s 1939, and the occupants of the Craven Home for Orphaned Children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall, a fancy manor in the English countryside, to escape the Blitz. Emmie would hardly call the orphanage “home,” but her heart breaks knowing that leaving Craven means leaving her beloved cat, Lucy. Away from everything she’s ever known and trapped in imposing Misselthwaite, Emmie finds herself more miserable than ever.

But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house—a boy who cries in the night, a diary written by a girl named Mary, and a garden. A very secret garden…

Now, as a die hard fan of this book, I understand if you're a bit worried about a follow up to this childhood classic. Rest assured, I've been reading through this and am getting ready to write a review just for all of you! So far this book has been utterly charming, and definitely lives up to its predecessor.


     The children marched down the street in a long line of twos, and only one of them looked back. The others didn’t turn because they didn’t need to. There was nothing to look back for. Everything they owned was with them—-a few clothes, a battered, shapeless stuffed toy here and there. Each of them carried a paper bag and a gas mask, and that was all they had.

     Emmie trailed, peering over her shoulder, so that Arthur, behind her, gave her a shove to tell her to keep up. She kicked him swiftly and walked backward instead, still trying to see.

     But Lucy wasn’t there. It was stupid to expect that she would be anyway, Emmie thought. Lucy hardly ever came out onto the street. She was shy, and she hated loud noises. Emmie still stared though, hoping to see the small, black cat peering after her around the corner of the tall house. Lucy had probably fled out into the backyard, Emmie decided miserably. She kicked Arthur again because he was smirking at her—-and because she felt like it.

     “Emmeline Hatton!”

     Emmie whipped around with a sigh. Of course Miss Dearlove hadn’t seen Arthur giving her a push. She never did see. “Me, miss?” she asked innocently, trying to look as though she didn’t know what was the matter.

The matron glared at her. “No, the other Emmeline Hatton. Of course you! You bad--tempered little girl, how dare you kick Arthur like that?”

      “He pushed me…” Emmie started to say, but Miss Dearlove didn’t bother to listen. She grabbed Emmie by the arm and hauled her up to the front of the line. She was a tiny lady, not actually much bigger than Emmie, but Emmie didn’t dare pull away. She had known Miss Dearlove forever. The matron was like a busy little clockwork train, wound up into a clicking fuss of pure crossness. It was best not to get in her way—-but somehow Emmie always did.

      “You can walk here with Miss Rose and the babies since you can’t be trusted to behave like a ten--year--old. Why is it always you? And after your ridiculous behavior this morning as well. As if we haven’t got enough to worry about.” She glanced down at her watch. “Miss Rose, we need to hurry. The station’s bound to be busy, and there isn’t that much time to spare.” She scuttled down to the end of the line again with one last growled “Behave!” to Emmie.

      Miss Rose was usually less bad--tempered than the matron, but even she eyed Emmie and sighed. “Today of all days, Emmie? I would have thought you’d have more sense.”

     “He shoved me,” Emmie muttered. She knew that wasn’t quite true, but she wasn’t letting them have the last word. “It isn’t fair. Why do I always get into trouble?” She walked down the street next to Miss Rose, seething and muttering to herself. If she huffed and growled, she wouldn’t cry, and she wasn’t going to give Arthur Banks the satisfaction of that, however much Miss Rose frowned.

     They had been told the day before that they were leaving. Miss Dearlove had stood up at the end of breakfast and explained that since war was expected to be declared within a few days, the Craven Home for Orphaned Children would be evacuated “somewhere safe.”

     No one knew what evacuation meant, except that it was vaguely connected with the rows of brown boxes on the shelves in the schoolroom, which contained the gas masks. Once a week for the last few months, they had pulled the masks on and sat staring at each other, snout--nosed and goggle--eyed. After the first few tries, Arthur had figured out how to make a rude noise, a sort of farting snort around the rubber facepiece. He did it every time now, and they all laughed. Even Miss Dearlove didn’t sound that cross when she told him off.

     But Emmie had dreamed of those huge, round eyes almost every night since. The glass lenses of the masks leaned over her, stooping down close and staring. The gas masks were supposed to help them breathe, Miss Dearlove said, but when Emmie thought of her mask, sealed away in its flimsy cardboard box, she found her breath catching in her throat. Where was this gas going to come from anyway? No one had said. Arthur and his friend Joey said it would be dropped by planes, but all the gas that Emmie knew about came in pipes to the kitchen for the stoves. She didn’t see how it could be carried in a plane. If only someone would explain, she thought bitterly, kicking at a crack in the pavement as they marched on. Where were they going—-and why? What was happening? No one told them anything. They didn’t need to know. They just got packed up like their clothes and sent away…

     “Look.” The little girl Emmie had been shoved next to tugged at her sleeve.

     “What?” Emmie muttered, not looking.

     “Over there.” Ruby pointed across the road. “See, Emmie, there! Do you think they’re being evacuated too?”

     Emmie turned and saw that they were passing a school, where a long column of children was lining up on the playground. They were carrying an assortment of battered cases and brown paper bags, and there were labels tied onto their coats.

     “I suppose so.”

     “Just like us…” Ruby said thoughtfully. “I didn’t know everybody was.”

     “We have to get out of the cities—-in case of planes flying over,” Emmie said vaguely. “All the children do.” That was what the boys had thought anyway. They had been lurking around the matron’s sitting room, listening to the news broadcasts, so Emmie supposed it was possible they were right. The children on the playground did look a lot like them, except that there were mothers huddling around them and even a few fathers. They were pushing packets of sandwiches into children’s pockets, hugging them, and running along beside them as the line of children started to snake out onto the street. The children marched away, following two older boys who had a banner with the school’s name stitched onto it. Almost like a procession, Emmie thought.

     Some of the schoolchildren were crying, Emmie noticed. A lot of the smaller ones were clinging to their mothers, pale faced and bewildered. They didn’t seem to know what was happening either. But some of the others looked happy, swinging their cases as if they were off on holiday. Perhaps they were—-they might end up at the seaside.

     Emmie blinked thoughtfully. She was almost sure she’d never been out of London. Until now, she hadn’t really thought about where they were going. She’d been too worried about what they were leaving behind. Maybe those two boys in the line with grins all over their faces were right. It was an adventure…

     But almost all the mothers were brushing tears away quickly with the sides of their hands so as not to be seen. Emmie shivered. She supposed the children from the Home were lucky—-all the adults they knew were coming with them. It didn’t make her feel lucky though. She tried to remember the softness of Lucy’s head bumping against her fingers, the warmth of her breath as the little cat nuzzled against her. But all she could hear was Ruby, grumbling because she was tired and her shoes were too tight.

     They hadn’t gone all that far, but the streets were so much busier than the quiet area around the Craven Home. Even Emmie felt tired, with so many people pressing around her and the constant roar of cars and carts and buses along the bustling street. On any other day, it would have been fun to stand on one of those islands in the road and watch and wonder where all these people were streaming off to. Today, Emmie wished she was back sitting in the window of her dormitory, peering out at the street to see the grocer’s van and a car every so often. She’d wished for something to happen, something exciting, and now it had.

Holly Webb worked as an editor at Scholastic Books in the UK before she became a full-time writer. She is the author of the popular Rose series. Holly lives in Reading, England, with her family. Visit Holly at www.hollywebb.com.
Find her at: Website | Facebook | Twitter




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