Monday, December 8, 2014

MG Book Review: House of Secrets, by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

General Information
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Year of publication: 2013
# of chapters: 77
# of pages: (e-book)
Genre: Fantasy
Website: wikipedia
Next book in the series: Battle of the Beasts (2014)

Plot summary (from Amazon):
Hailed as “a breakneck, jam-packed roller coaster of an adventure” by J. K. Rowling, this New York Times bestseller is the first installment in the explosive tween fantasy series by famed Hollywood director Chris Columbus (of Harry Potter fame) and bestselling author Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story).

Siblings Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia Walker once had everything they could ever want. But everything changed when Dr. Walker lost his job. Now the family must relocate to an old Victorian house, formerly the home of occult novelist Denver Kristoff—a house that simultaneously feels 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.

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 to 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 that it’s not just their family that’s in danger . . . it’s the entire world.

Positive Points
The cover and the title are what first hooked me. I won a free book in a contest on Claire Caterer's blog, and I chose this one out of several books listed.

The fact that it was co-written by Chris Columbus, producer of Gremlins and The Goonies and director of Mrs. Doubtfire, caught my attention. I was curious to see what kind of book this would be. The result: it reads more like an action movie script than a novel. If you love nonstop action from beginning to end, this is for you. This is clearly a plot-driven book, as opposed to a character-driven book. Not much character growth happening here (wait, this should go with the negative points).

Numerous references to modern elements (Need for Speed, Lady Gaga, iPad) will make this book outdated a few years from now, but it grounds the novel in modern days, which can also be good. Today's kids can relate.

Negative Points
The POV shifts were distracting, hopping from one character's thoughts and feelings to another in the same chapter, sometimes even in the same paragraph. As an author, this is something I was told not to do. The story should be told from the view point of only one character at a time, in clear sections or paragraph if more than one. But would a regular reader mind it that much? I read some of the reviews on Amazon and found out that many readers had a hard time identifying with the characters and really caring for them. Could this be related? A deeper, limited POV would have helped the reader connect with the main character, and there should only be one or two. This book had way too many POVs.

There was too much violence, in graphic details, for a MG book. Reference to vivisection (dissecting someone alive) didn't seem appropriate for kids 8-12 years old. Is it just me? There were also some mild swear words (damn, hell).

The kids reminded me of the orphans in A Series of Unfortunate Events: older sister, brother in the middle, and younger sister (not a baby, in this book, but still).

What makes this book unique
No other book I know combines a giant, medieval warriors, pirates, and a witch, all in the same book.

Overall Impression
Not the best read, but entertaining and action-packed. I just wish it had been better written.

My Rating:

Thinking of purchasing this book? I'll make it easy for you:

1 comment:

Greg Pattridge said...

Great insights into this story. I'd seen this one but was never quite sure whether to take the time to read it. Sounds like a good idea that would have been better with a single POV and more character building. Thanks for the heads-up.

Post a Comment