House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini – Book Review

House of Secrets coverWe really do have to thank JK Rowling for making reading and books enticing for children. Before the Harry Potter series, reading amongst children was on the decline, but it is as strong as ever now, with hundreds, if not thousands of new titles being published each year – all with varying degrees of success. So it was always going to be a winner wasn’t it when JK Rowling has a quote saying: “A breakneck, jam-packed, roller coaster of an adventure.” written on the cover. But with Ned Vizzini being a popular YA author already and Chris Columbus well-known for the popular 80’s film, The Goonies as well as directing some of the Harry Potter films, House of Secrets was always going to be well received and big on adventure.

HOUSE OF SECRETS follows three siblings and their family as they are forced to move to a mysterious new house in San Francisco and end up embarking on a journey to retrieve a dark book of untold power. The first story in an epic fantasy adventure trilogy!

When Brendan, Cordelia and Nell move to Kristoff House they have no idea that they are about to unleash the dark magic locked within. For the house once belonged to a crazed writer, whose stories have come to life. Literally. Now the Walker kids must battle against deadly pirates, bloodthirsty warriors and a bone-crunching giant. If they fail they will never see their parents again and a power-mad Witch will take over the world. No pressure then . . .

House of Secrets is the first book in a major new series. It’s going to be epic.

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,Columbus and Vizzini 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.

House of Secrets is available as a Hardback from:

Amazon UK / Amazon US & AUS / The Book Depository

House of Secrets is available as an eBook from:

Amazon UK

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Chris Columbus on Goodreads / Ned Vizzini on Goodreads


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