July 14, 2014

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:58 am by suebe2

The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet Books

Molly and Kip aren’t sure what to expect when they arrive at the mansion where Molly has been hired as the maid, but it certainly isn’t what they find.

The first trick is in getting there.  No one in the vicinity will tell them how to get through the sour woods to the Windsor’s mansion.  At best, they give only vague directions.  More often than not, they mutter vague warnings then say no more.

It isn’t until the siblings encounter a tiny old woman carrying a pack that they final get the directions they need.  A storyteller, Hetty agrees to help them out on one condition.  Molly has to tell her what they find at the mansion.

As they travel through a forest where no birds sing and no animal hum, Molly wonders what Hetty expects to hear.

Then they catch their first sight of the house — a structure that is as dark and delapidated as the massive tree that grows around and through it.  They make their way across a yard covered with row upon row of shallow hills to the front door.

Molly gets to work, cleaning the massive home, serving her new mistress and cooking the meals.  Kip busies himself in the yard, whipping the gardens into shape but avoiding the big tree which has been warned by their mistress never to touch.  The children’s aren’t sure how but somehow they know that this tree is at the heart of the mysteries that surround this grim family.  Why is everyone so listless and pale?  Why has their hair gone dark and lank?  And why is Molly’s doing the same?

This isn’t blood and guts horror but horror of a more traditional sense – ominous, moody and dark.  Mytery and magic.  Tone and timber.  The sour woods are a creepy place.

But this is still a solidly middle grade story.  Yes, there are human villains.  Yes, they threaten people and people do get hurt (I’m not saying who or how or why) but it isn’t a gory story.  It is all about the atmosphere which only begins to lighten when Kip and Molly face their past, open up to each other and solve the mystery threatening adult and child alike in the Windsor home.

The children are Irish emigrants and the setting is vaguely creepy English manor house.  The mood of the book is helped along by dark scratch board styled illustrations by Patrick Arrasmith.

There’s no way this is a beach read, it is far too moody and dark, but it is a fast read and one that should definintely be on the list of young readers who enjoy a spooky tale.

–SueBE

 

September 9, 2010

Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:14 pm by suebe2

Suspect

by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Seventeen-year-old Jen has plans for the summer when Dad tells her that she is needed at the Schoenhaus, the bed-and-breakfast inn owned and operated by her grandmother.  One of her regular staff has been injured and a themed weekend is coming up.  Guests will gather together and spend the weekend acting out and solving a mystery.

Jen resists until Dad tells her a bit about the mystery.  It is loosely based on the disappearance of Jen’s mother some 13 years earlier.  Her grandmother may need help but Dad is more than a little worried about why the woman is suddenly determined to prove that a murder took place years earlier.

Reluctantly, Jen agrees to help and soon finds herself not just cleaning room but playing the part of the victim, a character based on her own mother.  To complicate matters, the victim’s boyfriend is being played by Jen’s handsome un-cousin, a boy related to her grandmother’s second husband.

Again, I can’t give too much more information without giving away some serious plot elements which I am entirely unwilling to do.  This is, after all, a mystery.  As a mystery, it passes two big tests for me:

  1. It hooked me and wouldn’t let go.  I picked up this book while I was packing for a lakeside weekend.  I planned to read it because the author is a personal friend.  I did not plan on staying up until the wee hours of the morning to find out who the murderer was.
  2. I didn’t figure out who the murderer was and that is a huge compliment because, very often, when I read a mystery I do figure it out.

Nitz plants clues in sight of the reader but she also has created a complicated enough story complete with red herrings that the clues don’t stand out.

The main character is an athlete and sports are frequently discussed but the book will probably have a much greater appeal to girls than boys.   It would also be suitable for advanced younger readers — no sex (just romance) and no drugs although the main character does have a glass of wine with dinner but even that plays into the mystery.

Give this book to the tween or teen reader in your life, but you might want to wait until they get their chores done.

–SueBE

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