NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: HOUSE OF SECRETS by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

Title: House of Secrets
Authors: Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini
Pub info: Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2013; 490 pp
Genre / Audience: fantasy adventure / middle grade, ages 10+
Caveats for Younger Readers: there's a fair bit of violence, especially stabbing, and some killing too; also, the plot gets pretty convoluted and may lose a young reader

I was pretty pumped to read a book written by the director of Harry Potter films #1 and #2. Should film directors write books? Well ...

Goodreads summary:
The Walker kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games . . . but everything changed when their father lost his job as a result of an inexplicable transgression. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by Denver Kristoff, a troubled writer with a penchant for the occult.

Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey into a mash-up world born of Kristoff’s dangerous imagination, to retrieve a dark book of untold power, uncover the Walker family’s secret history and save their parents . . . and maybe even the world.
Status: finished 9/2/14

My impressions:
The premise of this book intrigued me, and yes, I was seduced by J.K. Rowling's blurb (“a breakneck, jam-packed roller coaster of an adventure"). I won't say that JKR's assessment is wrong--it definitely is breakneck and jam-packed--but perhaps that's the problem. I wanted to fall in love with this book, and I was pretty happy with it for the first half or so. But then it got a bit crazy--unfocused, overwrought, everything tossed at the reader with almost no room to breathe. Giants, pirates, knights, witches--I felt like this story couldn't find its feet.

That said, a lot of kids will love all the fun and scary stuff that happens. Even though this is a long book, it's fast reading, thanks to the font size, scattered illustrations by Greg Call (which are wonderful), and short chapters. But it seemed to me the authors were trying to throw too much in the kettle, and that left little room to get to know the characters or even provide much justification for all the action. There was no real reason for any of these baddies to show up; they just do. Nothing seems to happen as a consequence of anyone's actions, with the exception of the mysterious book that the kids are repeatedly tempted to open. And the ending came a bit too easily for my taste as well.

One Goodreads reviewer said that the youngest sibling, Eleanor, was not realistically represented, and I agree with that criticism too. But again: Some readers will enjoy this wild ride, and it certainly keeps you interested. I suspect more kids than adults will love this.

About Chris and Ned:
Chris Columbus is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is known for such films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Home Alone. House of Secrets is his first novel, but he and Ned have already released the second book in the series, called Battle of the Beasts (Balzer+Bray, 2014).

Ned Vizzini was the author of several young adult novels and essays, including It's Kind of a Funny Story (Disney-Hyperion, 2007) and Be More Chill (Disney-Hyperion, 2004). Collaborating with Chris on the second book of the House of Secrets series was his last project before his death in 2013.

You can watch the book trailer to House of Secrets here, and listen to the authors' perspectives on writing the book. Read the Top Ten Secrets Behind House of Secrets here, and take a sneak peek at the first chapter here.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: October 6.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.

To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here

And be sure to visit Shannon Messenger's blog to see more fun links to great middle-grade reads and giveaways!


  1. Thanks for the review. Sounds interesting and packed with adventure, but a little long for my taste.

    1. I was daunted too, Janet, but it does move quickly--which was good, because I was rather wanting to get it over with at one point.

  2. I love MG stories with creepy houses. This one sounds really good. Think my youngest might even like it!

    1. About the first third of this book fits the creepy house genre--but after that the kids are pretty well out of the house. I think Jacqueline West's BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE is a better example of the genre, but kids who like lots of adventure should like this one just fine.

  3. That cover should pull in quite a few readers. I might even give it a try. Author Chris Columbus also directed movies like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire so he has a rich background with family dynamics.

    1. I wish I'd seen a bit more of that come into play in this book, actually. Some of the characters were a bit uneven. Still, a pretty fun read.

  4. I've read House of Secrets and you're right about it losing focus mid-way through. But it was still a mainly fun read. Thanks for the review.

  5. Is it a coincidence that the book I reviewed this week is a creepy house book, too? Or are there larger forces at work here? (Cue mysterious music!)

    It sounds to me as though this book might be a case of publisher choosing big name to make best-selling book, regardless of how good the book turns out to be. Or am I just being cynical here? :-P

  6. Yes, the cover is really intriguing. I appreciate your honest review. I don't like endings that come too easily, but this does sound like it has some other things going for it.

  7. This one has been on my radar for awhile. I love the cover. I hope to get to it soon. Thanks for the review.