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

MMGM is a weekly feature hosted each Monday on Shannon Messenger’s blog. Some of our authors participate on their individuals blogs. On occasion we’ll post one here.


I read the book “House of Secrets” by Ned Vizzini and Chris Columbus, director of the first and second Harry Potter films. With that as a resume for entertainment value with a description that sounded appealing, I had high hopes for this book.

The online description of the book reads, “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.”

What I thought: This book had lots and lots and lots and lots of action and adventure to keep the reader’s interest. If you’re a middle grader, the target audience, the action will keep you engrossed without a doubt and you might even learn a bit about WWII, mythical creatures and more. A word of warning, some parts get a bit gory.

That said, the plot line is not clear and it feels like the book is crammed with action for action’s sake, not for building to a climax with a satisfying resolution after one’s investement of time and energy. Perhaps this is because some parts seemed overly repetitive. One example, the bad guys kept reappearing. I remember thinking, “Kill ‘em already!” This continual reappearance of the villians made the book overly long. The story could have been concluded as effectively in probably 3-4 fewer chapters.

As an author, I seek to create characters the reader can relate to. This in turn has us care deeply about how the conflict resolves. Unfortunately, the characters of the Walker children, their parents and the storybook folks lacked depth and it felt as though the main characters did not develop through their ordeal. I hate to say it but I was left not caring enough about the Walkers to read the following two books in the series.

The end was also disappointing as the situation resolves overly quickly making everyone suddenly live happily ever after. It reminded me of the joke about playing a country song backwards – the characters got their parents back, their house back in one piece and more, all within the last chapter.

This is Chris Columbus’ first middle grade novel so I’ll cut him some slack, and while it has action and adventure galore, it lacks in plot and character development. That said, if you are looking for a mindless, action-packed diversion, this is the book for you, for it dispenses that in abundance. Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Linda1L. R. W. Lee is the author of the Andy Smithson MG/YA coming of age fantasy adventure series. A planned 7-book series, the following are currently available:
Blast of the Dragon’s Fury, Book One
Venom of the Serpent’s Cunning, Book Two.
Book Three, Disgrace of the Unicorn’s Honor is coming Fall 2014

She is a wife, mom and reader of the same kinds of books she writes. From age 8 she had a passion to write books that not only entertain, but also teach uncommon life principles. Learn more about her books, read sample chapters, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!
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