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House of Secrets Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 23 2013
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“A breakneck, jam-packed roller coaster of an adventure about the secret power of books, HOUSE OF SECRETS comes complete with three resourceful sibling heroes, a seriously creepy villainess, and barrel loads of fantasy and fear.” (J.K. Rowling)
“A swift-paced…clever page-turner for any reader who has wanted to take part in literary adventures … This story is compelling, great fun, and sure to be popular.” (ALA Booklist)
“The young Walkers are plucky, quick thinkers whom readers will grow to love. With a new adventure that seems to arrive with every chapter, the story unfolds quickly, thus keeping kids hooked and wanting to find out what will happen next.” (School Library Journal)
“The story is an engrossing page-turner with a parade of near-escapes, hilarious mishaps, and courageous face-offs with terrifying villains. The nonstop action will keep readers on the edge of their seats” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
From the Back Cover
Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia Walker once had everything: two loving parents, a beautiful house in San Francisco, and all the portable electronic devices they could want. But everything changed when Dr. Walker lost his job in the wake of a mysterious incident. Now in dire straits, the family must relocate to an old Victorian house that used to be the home of occult novelist Denver Kristoff—a house that feels simultaneously creepy and too good to be true.
By the time the Walkers realize that one of their neighbors has sinister plans for them, they're banished to a primeval forest way off the grid. Their parents? Gone. Their friends? A world away. And they aren't alone. Bloodthirsty medieval warriors patrol the woods around them, supernatural pirates roam the neighboring seas, and a power-hungry queen rules the land. To survive, the siblings will have to be braver than they ever thought possible—and fight against their darkest impulses. The key may lie in their own connection to the secret Kristoff legacy. But as they unravel that legacy, they'll discover it's not just their family that's in danger . . . it's the entire world.
From master storytellers Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini comes this wildly imagi-native fantasy about a family's journey to find its way home.See all Product Description
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To be fair, this book had a lot of potential, and yes, it does take you on a hugely action packed adventure, whether that be fighting skeletons, riding with pirates, toppling an evil queen, feeding a giant colossus ... the list goes on. This type of packed adventure will undoubtedly please and excite its 10 year + age group. And in particular, when everything comes to a head in the form of magical battle at the end of the book against the 'Wind Witch' - it gets very exciting indeed! But I'm afraid, for me at least, this is where the positives end. I have numerous qualms with this lengthy book, it's almost difficult to know where to start.
I guess the first qualm is with the writing itself. It must be very difficult writing a book with two authors; each taking a turn to write a chapter before swapping over - and the two voices here are obvious, yet neither successful. It suffers from way too many cliches and badly formed descriptions. At times the books is written quite formally, whereas in other parts, colloquialisms take over and it can get a little confusing. The viewpoints change mid paragraph sometimes also and one of the most obvious signs of poor technique is when a character describes their own blue eyes - how can they see what their eyes are doing if they aren't looking in a mirror. "If Bellamy Walker had wanted to press assault charges, she could have," is a perfect example of how ridiculous some of the sentences are. In this example, the children are glad of their parents being alive and hug her.
You really need to connect, care or like the characters in a book to really love it, yet the three children in here are pretty annoying. They just got on my nerves I'm afraid. Even child simply fits into a typical American stereotype, Cordelia being a book 'nerd', Brendon being a computer game playing, sports lad and Nell being, well, totally over the top. She's meant to be about 8 years old, but she watches Game of Thrones and talks as if she was a late teenager. In fact distinguishing between the three characters is paper thin most of the time. They never develop as characters, are often contradictory and really emotionless in the bigger impact moments. There is one moment where they think their parents are dead, and apart from one paragraph where they are sad, the next page moves along discarding the emotional seriousness of this realisation. In fact, in the next page, Brandon goes to try and 'chat up' a girl.
Stereotypes hinder this book too much. They befriend a WWII British pilot about midway through and therein after, all they do is comment on his bad teeth, confirming that derogatory comments like that take centre stage, but also at the same time alienating its English market. The youngest Walker child is also dyslexic and towards the end of the book, Brandon says to Nell: "Like if you wanted to write, 'Brendan stops the Wind Witch', but you dyslexed it up ..." - I'm sorry, but to me that is an outrageous line to put in a children's book. I'm afraid that the two authors are totally naive when it comes to realising how impressionable young children can be, who may pick that up to later bully someone who may be dyslexic.
House of Secrets had a bagful of potential, but is deflated rather quickly by the awful writing technique, derogatory stereotypes and cliches, as well as the overly written characters, which only serve to annoy you. I couldn't care less if they died or failed in their task to try and retrieve the magical book. It's like the book was purposely written just so it can be turned into a film, and I wouldn't be surprised if that happens. The characters just strike you as simple, never really evolving as the book progresses, and that's mostly down to the disjointed narrative. There are much more entertaining, original and captivating children's books out there. I have read that is the first book in a series, so you never know, it may get better from here. Did I also mention that not once do you actually read any description to what the children actually look like - oh, apart from Cordelia's dirty blonde hair. If your child loves pure action, they'll get something from this, but trust me when I say, this is far from perfect.
Even without referring to a poorly conceived, wandering plot line that seems to be headed simultaneously in several different directions without any single plot direction ever really reaching adequate resolution, it has to be said that the writing in this story is at best stilted and outrageously amateurish.
Apparently the story is directed at young readers in grades 4 to 8 but it is difficult to imagine anyone in that age group understanding musical references to Mick Jagger or Styx, American cultural references to the cartoon Scooby Doo, or British historical cultural references to such terms as "above stairs" and "below stairs".
The use of random Latin quotations as magical spells sounds rather familiar and derivative at best (or should one call it actual plagiarism?) from another young adult series we're all familiar with. The device of simply saying the words backwards to undo the spell was trite and ridiculous even for a child's novel.
Strongly recommended against. There's little enough precious reading time in this world.
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