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The Garden of Lost Secrets by A M Howell - Review

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I had seen this book recommended on Twitter way back in January so I pre-ordered it and it duly arrived on to my Kindle app. I don't really like to use Amazon much, but I do find the Kindle app easy to use both from the Amazon store and through Netgalley, so I have to use it at times. I do try to buy physical books elsewhere, though. I recommend Wordery, I find prices are comparable to Amazon.

Anyway, that's my Amazon rant. It's hard to not use them and I'm as guilty as anyone.

This book is a middle grade book set in England in World War One. Clara lives with her mum and dad in Kent. Her brother Christopher is away fighting the war, and her dad has recently returned from the front and has lung problems due to the mustard gas. He is supposed to go away and convalesce, so Clara is sent to her aunt and uncle in Suffolk.

Clara has only met Mr and Mrs Gilbert before, but she has fond memories of them. Mr Gilbert is the head gardener for an Earl, and Mrs Gilbert is the housekeeper of his house. They live in a cottage in the grounds. But they're not the loving aunt and uncle Clara wants or needs. There's a mysterious locked room in their house and Clara can't seem to do the right thing. Clara's mum said she would write to Clara, but nothing arrives - is Mrs Gilbert keeping her letters in the locked room?

Clara is keeping a secret of her own - she has a letter from the Ministry of Defence which arrived on the day she left Kent. It must be to do with Christopher, but if he's dead Clara can't bear to find that out. She meant to give the letter to Mrs Gilbert when she arrived but now feels she can't.

She is awake one night when she sees a mysterious boy in the gardens, who then disappears. She slips out another night and meets Will, who is the brother of one of the gardeners, Robert, and who is being hidden in the gardens. Then the Earl's fruit - exotic fruits like mandarins and pineapples - starts going missing and Will comes under suspicion. But Clara trusts him and is determined to clear his name.

I didn't love the book. I felt like there was a lot going on and nothing really got resolved at the end. I just didn't warm to it, but I could understand why kids would, and I really did like the setting. I'm giving the book three out of five, but I will be interested to see what A M Howell writes next. Clara is a likeable heroine and I liked Will, but I didn't think the pay off of the book and explanations at the end were satisfactory enough for a middle grade book.

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