Review: The Night Gardener (Jonathan Auxier)

The Night GardenerThis much-anticipated follow-up to Jonathan Auxier’s exceptional debut,Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, is a Victorian ghost story with shades of Washington Irving and Henry James. More than just a spooky tale, it’s also a moral fable about human greed and the power of storytelling.

The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making.

So hard to put in words what I thought about this book.

There are many things that stand out to me in The Night Gardener as extraordinary: characters, lessons learned, themes, and of course the story telling.

Each page reads like an old Victorian ghost story. The story is not terrifying or full of gore, but sends just enough shivers up your spine to keep you turning the pages. Molly and Kip- two orphaned siblings- were great compliments to one another. Each is layered and complicated, with very distinct and separate paths to take in this tale.

Then, there is this whole underlying theme of courage for all the characters involved. For each, courage meant something different, and yet it all worked together perfectly. I think Molly and Kip's quest to find courage were the easiest to relate to for younger readers, while the Windsors speak to older readers. The author also uses the symbolism of Kip's crutch (appropriately named Courage) to further extend the theme perfectly.

On a side note, this story took the author 9 years to write. Nine years! That is serious dedication, and I think the end result is brilliant. There is no wonder that this book would make its way to the 2015 Sunshine State Reader list. Also, for fans of Ray Bradbury, you will notice similarities between The Nigh Gardener and Something Wicked This Way Comes. That simple fact alone pushes this book up to the top of my awesome forever list.

Bottom line: read it. But when you do read it, read it to appreciate all the subtle motifs and deeper themes that might go overlooked by a younger reader. 

Interview with Sarah Beth Durst and review of The Girl Who Could Not Dream

I am so incredibly excited to announce that TODAY is the birth day of Sarah Beth Durst's newest book, The Girl Who Could Not Dream. This is a fantastic- and highly original- middle grades novel that will delight readers of any age.

Ms. Durst has so graciously agreed to answer a few questions about The Girl Who Could Not Dream and her writing process for us today.

I love that Jessica Day George mentioned in her review of this book that it was one of those “why didn’t I think of that” stories. What inspired you to write this book?

Sometimes I have really fantastic dreams with dragons and alien robots and volcanic explosions and talking animals... and then I wake up and they slip away, becoming these vague blurs that I can't quite remember.  I always wish I could somehow capture those dreams -- bottle them up and save them for other nights when I'm only dreaming about boring things like missing the train.  Or eating salad.

In THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM, Sophie and her parents own a secret dream shop where they buy, bottle, and sell dreams.  Her best friend is a loyal and cupcake-loving monster named Monster, who came to life out of a classic monster-in-the-closet dream.

I wrote this book, in part, because I really want a dream shop.  And my own Monster.

When I started reading, I fell in love with the story from the moment Monster uttered his first words. His prickly nature and sarcastic sense of humor won me over! It also made me wish I had my own pet Monster that shared in my own cupcake obsession. If I were being 100% honest, I think Monster is me. I just love his surly self, trying to be mean when he's really just a big softie.

I also loved the totally cliched rainbow pooping unicorn. Because honestly, who isn't obsessed with unicorns that poop rainbows? I know I make a reference to one at least once a week. I even bought a birthday card for a friend solely because it had a rainbow pooping unicorn.

If you had to pick a dream to experience, which type would it be?

A fantasy quest, complete with talking animals, New Zealand-like scenery, and an ending in which everyone lives happily ever after.

I think Monster might be my favorite character in this book. Did you have anyone in mind when you developed his personality?

Monster was the first character I created for this book.  Really, it feels like he came to me fully-formed, plopped down on my desk, and demanded I write his and Sophie's story.  He felt like his own person (or really, monster) from the very beginning.

Given the events at the end, is there any chance of a sequel?

I don't have any immediate plans for a sequel, but I have to admit that I do miss Sophie and Monster, so who knows what the future will bring...  :)

I am currently working on a new epic fantasy trilogy for adults.  The first book, THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, is coming out in fall 2016 from Harper Voyager, and it's about bloodthirsty nature spirits and the women who can control them.  I'm having tremendous fun writing it!


Oh. My. Word. I might faint. Epic fantasy and one of my favorite authors-- going to be a long year, folks! 

The Process:
How is writing for a middle grades audience different from writing for a young adult audience? Do you find them to be similar or completely different?

For me, the key is to try to see the story through the character's eyes.  The closer you can get to your protagonist's worldview, the better the story and the more true it will be for your audience.  In other words, if you write a story seen through the eyes of a character who is twelve years old, it will pretty much automatically come out as middle grade.  If your protagonist is sixteen, then the result will be YA.

So that's my two-cents'-worth of writing advice for writing for different age groups:  Don't worry about the audience; worry about your characters.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?

It varies from novel to novel, but there is usually a point in the process (I call it the "Doomed Stage") where what you've put on the paper doesn't match the shining beautiful image of the story in your head.  Sometimes this happens at the beginning, but more often it happens in the middle, after the shiny newness has worn off yet the end is so very far away.  The solution, for me at least, is to keep writing.

For me, that's pretty much the solution to all of life's problems: keep writing.

Do you ever find yourself in a writing slump? How do you motivate yourself to keep going?

Chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.  Also, I remind myself that it can't get better if I don't keep going.  Bad writing days are often the price you pay in order to have good writing days later.  Sometimes it can be tricky to remember that.  So I give myself lots of pep talks -- and chocolate.  And then I keep writing.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at The Little Mermaid film reference while reading. What is your favorite Disney movie?

Beauty and the Beast.  I want that library!!!

My favorite Disney character, though, is Tiana.  I love that she works to make her dreams come true.  (I know, I know, the plot has her learn to loosen up, but I admire her pre-Naveen.  In fact, I worry a lot about their relationship -- I think she deserves better.)

There is a lesson here. Readers of The Girl Who Could Not Dream will find a compelling story of a trio of unlikely heroes having to face their deepest fears. 
Sophie spends a lot of time surrounded by great books. What is your favorite genre since I’m sure it is too hard to pick a favorite book?

Fantasy.  It's always been fantasy.  I love the feeling of closing a fantasy book and feeling as if the world is a bit larger and more magical than it seemed before.  A few of my favorites, in no particular order: Tamora Pierce, Bruce Coville, Charles de Lint, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Mercedes Lackey, Rae Carson, Diana Wynne Jones, Tanya Huff, Jessica Day George, Naomi Novik, Seanan McGuire, Rick Riordan, Merrie Haskell, Laini Taylor, Rachel Hawkins, J.K. Rowling...

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

That list of favorite fantasy authors makes my heart happy. Tamora Pierce changed my life and Bruce Coville made my oldest son enjoy reading. The Girl Who Could Not Dream is a suitable addition to one of my favorite genres, and worth reading. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Sophie loves the hidden shop below her parents' bookstore, where dreams are secretly bought and sold. When the dream shop is robbed and her parents go missing, Sophie must unravel the truth to save them. Together with her best friend-- a wisecracking and fanatically loyal monster named Monster-- she must decide whom to trust with her family's carefully guarded secrets. Who will help them, and who will betray them?

Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

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