The Secret Garden

Has anyone out there ever heard of Focus on the Family Radio Theater? They are a rather incredible recording studio that dramatizes books, stories from history, and their own original productions. I grew up listening to them, everything from the Chronicles of Narnia to the Adventures in Odyssey. They were a very prominent part of my childhood, whether we listened to them on road trips, or in the living room while we puzzled, or did our school work at the dining room table.

One of the books that I remember listening to very distinctly is The Secret Garden.

Oddly enough, I never really read the book until this last year. I’ve had it on my shelf for ages, loved the story since I was probably as young as ten years old, and watched my younger sister blaze through it for school and love every page. And yet, I’d never picked it up.

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When I finally did, I couldn’t put it down.

The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox, a lonely English child living in India. Her father is an English officer stationed there, and her mother is a great beauty with no time for her little sour-faced daughter. Mary is left in the care of her servants, rarely getting a glimpse of her parents as they flit past her, intent on their own lives.

But an outbreak of cholera lays waste to the household, and with both of her parents dead, little Mary is sent to England to live with her uncle. Archibald Craven, the master of Misselthwaite Manor, in Yorkshire. Yorkshire is a very different place from India, and Mary has a great many things to learn and adjust to, include learning to dress herself, although she is already ten years old and ought to have learned long since. But the fresh, Yorkshire air begins to work in the little lass, and she slowly loses the pinched, sour-faced, disagreeable air and begins to look—and act—like a normal child.

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But Misselthwaite is not all that it seems. Grief hangs heavy over the Manor, a shadow that is ten years old. Her uncle, Archibald Craven, refuses to see her for more than a few minutes at a time and is often away traveling, as if he would like to escape the house and the memories trapped inside it. Mary begins to hear stories of a garden, a secret garden, that belonged to Mr. Craven’s dead wife. The door is locked now, the key buried, but Mistress Mary has never been taught to mind her own business or to leave well enough alone, and she goes looking for it.

The fresh, clean beauty trapped inside this book fed my soul. The simple, gorgeous descriptions of springtime coming to life on the moor brought a breath of fresh air into my little house, and made me wish for my own little ‘bit of earth’. Frances Hodgson Burnett did an incredible job of portraying the moor, the gardens, the flowers, and the new life of Yorkshire, and of the magic and enchanting beauty of spring bringing life to dead earth. May we all remember the magic of the changing seasons so well.

And over the walls and earth and trees and swinging sprays and tendrils the fair green veil of tender little leaves had crept, and in the grass under the trees and the gray urns in the alcoves and here and there everywhere were touches or splashes of gold and purple and white and the trees were showing pink and snow above his head and there were fluttering of wings and faint sweet pipes and humming and scents and scents.

Stay Awake

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He’s awake when I push the screen back. He has blood on his gear, blood on his clothes, blood on his face, but he’s awake, and he smiles at me. “Didn’t want to sleep through this,” he tells me, and I understand. We’re only a few miles from the front lines, not far enough to completely deaden the noise of the fighting, the thunder of the mortars. With what he’s seen, I doubt he’ll ever sleep properly again.

We talk while I stitch up his shoulder. He’s from North Dakota, he tells me, on a farm near the state line. I’m from New York state, and my father grew up on a farm. He tells me he’d rather be plowing, or hunting on his family’s land. I’ve never been hunting, so I ask him about it. His eyes are glazed with pain, even with the anesthetic, but he tells me about the trips he and his brothers took in the fall. I listen and try to piece the flesh on his shoulder back together.

Neither of us belongs here. Sometimes I’m not sure why I came, except I know that if I didn’t, there would be no one to ask him about his hunting trips or keep him awake when he’d really rather not fall asleep. I stay longer than I meant to, but the relief in his eyes makes the extra time worth it. I think he might be ready to close his eyes when I finally leave.

Artemis Fowl

Welcome back, book lovers!

I hope you all had a lovely holiday. I know I did. Much as I enjoy writing like a mad woman, working on two different, rather massive projects and running this blog and others, it was nice to take a few weeks off and clear my brain out a bit. Everyone needs time off occasionally, right?

Right?

Anyway, that’s what I kept telling myself whenever I felt guilty about sitting on my butt all day, reading Agatha Christie novels and watching multiple episodes of my favorite shows. Not the most productive way to spend my time, but I did enjoy myself, and my brain is working better now.

I think.

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Anyway. The holidays are over and my time off has come to an end. I’m back at work this week, this blog and the rest of my writing projects are going again, and my head is one straight again.

Sort of.

Something that I have come to notice in the last few years is that the books I read as a young teen—whether or not I actively read them now—are the books that I will instinctively reach for in any used bookstore or library. I might not have the tolerance or the time to read them any longer, but I remember them. I remember searching them out in the library, waiting weeks for the bookmobile to bring just one of them by, and devouring the entire book in six-hour reading sessions. If I tried to read a whole book in six hours now, I might go crazy.

And possibly lose my job. Because, you know, my boss really likes it when I actually show up for work.

One book that I went back to again and again when I was a young teen was Artemis Fowl. I don’t quite remember where I picked this one up, something about the friend of a friend of my brother or something confusing like that, but the moment I read the first chapter, I was hooked. And, all these years later, I’m still hooked.

Artemis Fowl is the story of an Irish prodigy, a twelve-year-old boy with an intellect unlike anything the world has ever seen before. He is brilliant, ruthless—and a criminal.

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But not just an ordinary criminal. He is heir to the Fowl estate, an empire built on crime, the son of a dead crime lord. At twelve years old, he is intelligent enough to befuddle the psychiatrists and doctors who have attempted to get inside his head, and to keep the life his father left behind from slowly crumbling, holding together a dwindling fortune, a mother who has lost her mind in grief, and a household that looks to him for guidance. And yet, for all his premature responsibility and intelligence, he is still child enough to believe in fairies. And criminal enough to want to exploit them.

His ambitions eventually cause him to cross paths with Captain Holly Short, a fairy and a member of the LEP, or Lower Elements Police. In fact, he kidnaps her. What follows is a battle between an advanced species that is not supposed to exist and the intellect of a twelve-year-old prodigy. Neither side comes out unscathed.

Artemis Fowl is the first book in a fantasy series that became one of the most loved books in my young teen years. I never miss a chance to recommend it to teens or young adults alike, no matter what their reading level. If you should happen to pick it up anytime soon or enjoyed it once yourself, let me know! I’d love to hear about it.

“Fly, little fairy,” said the voice. “And tell your friends Artemis Fowl the Second says hello.”

Until I Come Home

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I parked the truck behind the house when we came. It’s covered in branches now, leaves littered over the seats and the bed. I dragged the branches up from the creek bottoms that first night, to hide the truck and to make it seem as though it belongs here. But the leaves fell on their own. We’ve been here a long time, longer than we’ve stayed anywhere else.

The house is falling apart. I can’t see it through the woods until I reach the curve in the drive, even though the trees are bare now, their leaves piled along the narrow, lonely road. The paint is peeling on the broken fence, and the shutters hang at an angle. It’s nearly three miles to town, two to the nearest neighbor, but I don’t mind the walk.

I leave the truck where it is, with leaves piled in front of the license plates. He reported it stolen when we left him. They’re still looking for it. And for me.

I see a face in the window when I push the rusty gate open, balancing the paper bag of groceries against the post. My lips tighten. They aren’t supposed to be near the windows while I’m away. Someone might see them. This house is supposed to be empty.

It is empty, really, or most of the way. We’re practically ghosts anyway, after the last few years. It will take a long time before that heals.

Room

Among the many books that I have loved in my lifetime, very few of them have been contemporary fiction. The books I generally love, and reach for, are children’s fiction, YA, teen fantasy, history and myth, and—more recently—some of the more popular classics you would find on those lists of books that claim you must read these titles before you can be a real human being.

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I am not a great believer in those lists.

But, as I said, contemporary fiction does not tend to interest me much. If there are no dragons, ancient forests, revolutions, pirate ships, or any other interesting elements, I usually set it back on the shelf. I especially tend to avoid books with coffee shops in them. Nothing interesting ever happens in a coffee shop. I know. I’ve been to many. Somehow Jean Valjean wading through the sewers of Paris carrying Marius’s limp body on his shoulders has always been more interesting to me than police chases, courtroom dramas, or coffee shop romances.

One of the few exceptions I’ve found to that ill-informed prejudice is Emma Donoghue’s Room. I picked this book up while I was traveling in Idaho, off a bookshelf that wasn’t mine and didn’t seem to have anything else on the floor to ceiling shelves that looked remotely interesting. I opened it up out of boredom and desperation, in other words, and found myself completely captivated by the story inside.

Room is the story of five year-old Jack, told in his words, seen through his eyes. Innocence and horror mingle seamlessly in this gorgeous, brilliantly conceived book, reflecting, almost, the naive inquisitiveness of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. As the pages flit past we begin to understand what Jack does not, why he and ‘Ma’ live alone in Room, why Door beeps before it opens, and why they are never allowed outside.

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This heartrending and, at times, beautiful story of an abducted young woman imprisoned in a shed by her captor and abused nightly is brought to life by her son, Jack, who sees only hints of the horror hidden from him by his Ma. To him, Room is all there is. The walls of his world are—and always will be—covered in cork, Door will only ever open when ‘Old Nick’ comes at night, and his only window into the outside world is Skylight, which shows a patch of blue sky and occasionally a stray leaf. Trees and sidewalks, other people, dogs and kids, stores and houses are ‘TV’, not real, and his world instead revolves around Ma and the life she has with him.

The courage of Ma and the beauty of her ingenuity in creating an entire world to share with her son inside this eleven-by-eleven shed is what makes this book something really special. Their devotion to each other, the sacrifices they make to keep each other safe and, ultimately, to escape their modern day prison, is a story of hope and redemption amid a situation too horrible to imagine. Jack’s bravery in Room and outside of it is truly inspiring, and brings me back to this book time and time again.

In Wardrobe I can’t get to sleep. I sing quietly, “John Jacob Jingheimer Schmidt.” I wait. I sing it again.

Finally Ma answers. “His name is my name too.”

“Whenever I go out—”

“The people always shout—”

“There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt—”

 

Come Home

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I leave the car in the woods by the road. I take the keys and lock all the doors before I go, but I already know it will be gone if I come back. I know better than to leave a vehicle to the scavengers. It takes a shotgun to keep them off, not a locked door and missing keys. If I come back, I’ll have to walk.

If I come back. I still haven’t decided if I’ll stay or not. I need a few days, a week of safety to decide that. My family has survived this world far better than most, but only because they are better at hiding than most. I don’t know if I can bear to hide away, no matter how tired I am.

I take the trail into the forest, but I leave it after the first mile. Rain is falling, pattering on the needles, dripping from the branches. Fog rolls down from the mountains, drifting through the trees, settling in the hollows, muffling the sounds of the forest. Dusk creeps along with it, and follows me as I duck beneath the branches. The sun set half an hour ago, before I’d even reached the trail. I set out too late. I should have left this morning, but I’m a coward at heart. I didn’t want to come at all.

The cabin is wreathed in fog when I finally find it. It was built to blend in, to hide among the trees. If I didn’t know it was here, I would never have found it, especially at night.

The windows are black, but smoke drifts from the chimney, swirling with the mist. They’ll welcome me. I swore I would never come back here, never hide the way they do, but they’ll welcome me anyway. In this world, family means something, and blood is as good as a promise.

Ozark Native

Ozark Native

“It was one of those perfect Ozark mornings—clean, fresh, and green. I closed my eyes, puffed out my chest, and sucked my lungs full of that fresh-scented air. I could feel the tingling sensations clear down to my toes. It made me feel like I had just been born and had my whole life to live again.”

As a Missouri native, I grew up exploring the Ozark foothills and have always appreciated author Wilson Rawls for his simple, but lovely descriptions through the eyes of young boys as they tromp through forests similar to my own. Rawls’s books Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys contain such heart and beauty that it’s hard to put them down, no matter the age of the reader.

I’m excited for the opportunity to write a guest blog for A. R. Geiger! I’ve known Abigail for a number of years. She’s a lovely soul, and I’ve been blessed beyond measure to have her as a friend. If you haven’t checked out her book of short stories, The Birdwoman, you’re really missing out. Her short stories are very short and engaging, thought-provoking, with gorgeous imagery and energy. Again, they’re stories you won’t be able to put down. And when you finish it, you’ll be thirsty for even more.

Now, for my review of one of my all-time favorite books.

Wilson Rawls, author of Summer of the Monkeys, gives his raw, but humorous perspective of his native country in the Ozark mountains of Oklahoma through the eyes of 14-year-old Jay Berry Lee.

Jay Berry and his dog Rowdy are running through the woods one day, when Jay Berry sees something that stops him short. A monkey. In the river bottoms.

This adventure explores Jay Berry’s life one summer as he tries to catch the monkeys for a reward being offered by a circus. Like any young Ozark boy growing up in the early 1900s, he desperately wants his own .22 and pony, and this is just the way to make enough money for both.

Comical scenes of monkeys attacking Jay Berry and Rowdy, heart-rending scenes between Jay Berry and Daisy, and daily life with the Lee family will draw you from page to page. Rawls never shies away from emotional scope and incredible, selfless sacrifice.

I can’t say much more about this book without avoiding spoilers because of how cohesive the story is. However, I would like to share imagery of the Ozark hills through Jay Berry’s eyes:

A little farther along, just as Rowdy and I rounded a bend in the road, I stopped and stared in wonderment at the sight directly ahead. Here and there on the long sloping hillside, milky white splotches stood out like spilt buckets of milk in the deep green. The Ozarks’ most beautiful flowers, the dogwoods were in full bloom. Mixed in with the green and white, the deep glare of redbuds gleamed like railroad flares in the dewy morning.

As I stood there drinking in all of that beauty, I said, ‘Rowdy, Daisy says that the Old Man of the Mountains is taking care of everything in the hills. If he is, he must have worked a long time painting that picture.’

This description is near and dear to my heart because every spring, as I’m driving though our hill country, I drink in all of this beauty, too. It makes my heart sing with gratefulness.

Summer of the Monkeys contains wonderful lessons of life and of the heart, adventure, love, and laughter. You will laugh until you can’t laugh any more. By the end, your heart will be so full you’ll think it will burst. I wish that every kid should grow up reading this book.

About the author

profilepic Hi, my name is Bethany Swoboda of Wordbender Editing. I’d be honored if you would take a moment to visit my site, which I’m just starting up. I love reading, reading, reading, exploring the woods on horseback, and fully submerging myself in any adventure (book or real life) that I can.