Monday, February 8, 2010

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

More about THE SECRET GARDENTitle: The Secret Garden
Author: Frances Hogdson Burnett
Genre: Children
Publisher: Geddes & Grosset 2004
Length: 222 pages

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.

10-year-old Mary loses her parents to epidemic cholera. She is sent away to her uncle who lives at Misselthwaite Manor in England. Mary's life begins to change after she discovers a secret garden next to her uncle's house. While she tries her best to revive the dead garden, she realizes that there is so much more to life than just feeling lonely and getting everything her way. Like the roses and lilies that sprout to life in the secret garden, Mary becomes healthier and happier. However, Mary is soon to realize that she is not the only person whose life has changed because of the secret garden.

"The Secret Garden" is essentially about the power of positive thinking, a classic children book where something valuable is to be learned. The young characters are all very lovable. The beauty of their innocence is hard to find in many children/YA books nowadays. Although the story is enjoyable, I can imagine that this book could be too wordy for young children who lack of long attention span. Parents could instead read this book to the kids before bedtime. 

Now why did I read this book? Well, I read it because I wanted to see if this book would be suitable for translation and brought to China's children book market which lacks of quality books. I have to admit that this is the first time in a long time since I've read a children book. I am glad that I picked "The Secret Garden" to jump start my memories because this book is awfully sweet and refreshing. I decide not to translate this book in the end due to various reasons, but I do not regret reading it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Illusion - Edmond Cheng


About a few weeks ago, I was contacted by a local Hong Kong writer named Edmond Cheng who asked me if I'd like to review his new novella "Illusion". I was quite excited at the opportunity of reviewing and supporting a local writer's work, so I happily agreed.

"Illusion" is a story of riveting mystery. The protagonist - a happily married young man named Thomas - has a bizarre encounter with his best friend's mother Aunt Wai Ha who informs Thomas that her daughter-in-law, Helen, is having an affair and urges Thomas to warn her son Jonathan.  Thomas doesn't think much of this incident until when he finds out from his wife Karen that Aunt Wai Ha has been dead for months. From this point on, Thomas' life is forever changed. He is haunted by an unknown spirit that repetitively infuses unusual images into Thomas' mind. After a failed attempt to warn his Johnathan about Helen's evil deception, Thomas receives a strange phone call which leads him to Johnathan's dead body. At the same time, his wife has gone missing. In order to get his wife back, Thomas has to summit all courage and goes head on with the two people behind this tragedy: Helen and her lover Brian. After several thrilling chase scenes, Helen and Brian are finally caught by the police. However, Johnathan's journey does not stop here. Another truth of the mystery is revealed to him, and he realize he is the master of his own illusion.

This is Mr. Cheng's first attempt at writing a mystery novel, the effort is worth applauding for as mystery is one of the most difficult genres in literature. The story is a good one, although there are a few imperfections. While the ending the story is suspenseful and surprising, it has taken quite a sudden U-turn and left me a bit bewildered. I feel that somehow it lacks a close connection to the previous development of the plot. As a reader, part of the fun of reading a mystery novel is the constant guessing of what the ending will be, and the success of a great mystery often lies in the writer's ability to end the story at a place that is just inches away from most reader's guess but still within the sensible realm. As for "Illusion", I'd say that the ending has just stepped out of sensible realm, thus the shock has become too far-fetched to have a substantial effect.

I assume that English is not Mr. Cheng's first language, since the writing comes off a bit stiff and even awkward in a few places. I strongly recommend Mr. Cheng engage in intensive reading in English literature so that he can bring color and emotion in his narration.

This novella is included in the book "Unearthed" which is published by Midnight Showcase. Mr. Cheng is an English teacher in Hong Kong. He is currently working on a new sci-fi mystery named "Prison". I wish Mr. Cheng the best of luck on his writing career!