Books and Wands
|House of Secrets: A Review
We were very excited to be contacted by HarperCollins the publishing house of Chris
Columbus and Ned Vizzini’s new book House of Secrets. They wanted us to review the book for
them. Already having the endorsement of JK Rowling –
|“What’s doing it?” asked Cordelia.
“Magic!” Brendan said.
“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
– they also wanted fans to help market the book. So being one of the chosen few (ha, ha ;), of
course we said yes!
From the moment it arrived, I was pumped to get going. It came in a special little box like you
have to uncover a secret treasure within.
The all-knowing eye on the front of the box, there is
messaging and a postcard from the authors within.
Instantly, it starts with promises of dark magic, secrets and
things not always being as they appear. I wanted to dive
right in and explore.
I should explain. Part of why I was so excited is because Chris Columbus graduated from the
same University (NYU) I did and I happen to already be a fan of his. I know he wrote Goonies
and directed two Home Alone movies I was addicted to as a kid and Mrs. Doubtfire and Percy
Jackson! And, yes, he directed the first two (and best, in my opinion) Harry Potter movies. I’ve
been a huge fan of his for years, above and beyond Hogwarts so I was very excited to begin this
To be fair to Mr. Vizzini, he’s also a former New Yorker (he lives in LA now, but we’ll forgive
him for that =P). He’s written The Other Normals, It's Kind of a Funny Story (which was made into
a movie starring Emma Roberts), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah... Vizzini was hand-
picked by Columbus to be his co-author based on his previous work.
The two are a winning pair if you ask me…and they did, so here goes nothing…
The story starts with three siblings Cordelia -15, Brendan -12, and Eleanor -8, in the car with their
parents looking for a new home. Great start because you immediately start asking questions
like why did they have to move in the first place.
Fun fact: Columbus named the characters after his kids – he has a son named Brendan and a
daughter named Eleanor.
They are immediately likeable. You like this family. And already these three are going to make
a great heroic team – they’re funny together, fight occasionally, but always come back together
in the end.
Little Eleanor has dyslexia – my big brother has dyslexia so immediately I heart Eleanor.
But what’s more – it’s completely obvious these guys have kids. I’m not sure if Vizzini does but
I know Columbus has a bunch. You can tell because there are numerous pop culture references
and, frankly, they write bickering siblings really well. I do mean that as a compliment. Very
It gets creepy pretty quickly. I’ve had the question come up already so let me clarify – it’s
suspenseful, but not scary.
They layer on the mystery straight from the beginning. Statues that move, an antique store of a
house, the loss of Dr. Walker’s job, the family history, ‘the incident’, dead mounted bats in
attics…it’s definitely creepy and suspenseful.
Though in the spirit of transparency, there’s a part with a skeleton that scared the pants off me!
Seriously. I was in bed reading it and I had to get up and check the house…and slept with a
flashlight after that. =/ (For those of you reading it, it’s not the first time you meet the
skeleton…when it comes back. Wait for it.)
In truth I must say once the action starts, it doesn’t let you go. It reminds me of Potter in that
Oops! Don't worry, your
copies will have all the
illustrations. I just found this
Love the illustrations. They
are a very nice addition to
the story! See here: The
Upon reading further, I thought I was going to have a problem with the main ploy of the quest.
Namely, it’s explained that in order to find their way out, the kids have to do something entirely
selfish that in no way will help the others or their situation. And right away my brain short
circuited to this MTV valueless culture and I got a little annoyed, but I was hoping there would
be a lesson so I kept reading.
It paid off. Yes, there is a moral to the story. Actually, there are several lessons you can take
from this story. The importance of family (even when your siblings are annoying you, or if you
don’t really have one). The courage it takes to do the right thing. How one act can change the
direction of everything. How sometimes being brave and being smart are two different things.
That you are capable of things you never thought possible (check out the amateur surgeon in
Chapter 23. Or this gem:
“We used to have this Uncle Pete,” she explained. “I mean, we still have him,
but he’s not the same. He started drinking way too much. One time he got
crazy and threw a raw steak at our aunt. So I don’t approve of drinking, and
you’re not allowed to drink if you’re in here.”
House of Secrets
Have I mentioned I love Eleanor? She’s eight, and like Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of
Narnia series, is maybe the brightest and the toughest. But saying that is a disservice to the other
two, Brendan and Cordelia, who are each great in their own rights. And, truly, this is the first
novel where I can honestly say each character shines. Each of them is a hero at some point or
another and each of them have their moments of despair only to be lifted up by the others.
Really well done work characterizing the kids.
Now, the characterization of the villains are top notch as well. The Wind Witch is truly
terrifying. When you first meet her, she’s gross – bald, one-handed and sinister, but she’s worse
as the story progresses.
The Storm King – when you finally meet him – is unbelievably powerful, seemingly invincible.
And each minor baddie along the way, Krom (that’s right a red-headed character who likes to
eat with a name that sounds similar to…Ron, except meaner) and Slayne…Captain Sangray and
Tranquebar. These bad guys are appropriately scary, mean and totally deserve a good
Vivid description that doesn’t slow down the pace or distract from the story development
makes you feel like you’re really in these new worlds. This book is well-crafted and clever. I
definitely recommend it to readers of all ages.
I’ll be passing this along to RGW and when the new mom finishes it maybe we’ll add a few
spoilers to this review, but until then I think I’m safe in bestowing on behalf of Books and
Wands the grade of an A+ to House of Secrets.
Tom Felton, the actor behind Draco Malfoy, read it and tweeted about it too!
You can get your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Also, completely unrelated fun fact: Vizzini is the name of the character who masterminded the
abduction of Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride which is inconceivable!
And you know if a Harry Potter actor likes something, you have to get it for yourself! ;)
It really is worth it, go give it a try!
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Under the Influence
From Chapter 2, when the creepiness really starts with a moving one-handed statue, it doesn’t
stop until you’re out of breath and in an entirely new world. The climax of the initial action
transports the three siblings into the books authored by the man who once owned the creepy
house they just moved into.
Once there, they are on a quest to discover where they are, how to get back to the real world and
if they can rescue their parents. Along the way they meet Will Draper. (The requisite British
character that lends authenticity to everything…and in the process completely reels in the
American teenager without even trying – which is sadly very accurate. ;)
The bad guys in this are many and varied and all of them are so well drawn out they seem real.
We have a band of marauding Medieval Times-y dark knights, a ship full of wacky pirates, a
Wind Witch, a mystical Satanic book and a Storm King.
Add to that a giant (love Fat Jagger), a floating house, giant carnivorous bugs, a rebel alliance,
chases, explosions, a fancy dumbwaiter and a magical attic that brings things back to life and
you’ve got one heck of a story. I’m not kidding; there’s something for everyone.
I’m trying to give you a decent breakdown without spoiling anything for would-be readers
(which is hard), because like with Rowling, part of the fun here is the way everything is revealed
and sewn together at the end.
I, for one, loved that throughout the story it seems as if these things are just happening to the
Walker clan, but in the end we see they are also affecting the characters and stories as they
interact with the worlds. Very clever and very fun.
There are also unexpected siblings. And a glimpse into what I hope will be in Book 2 as you are
left to wonder how Celine knows about Brendan. (Don’t know what I’m talking about, get to
At 490 pages, and with 77 chapters, it might be a bit too much for the younger kids to read on
their own, but it’s a pleasant trip and really, once the fun starts, you won’t put the book down.
Besides which, unlike with Rowling here, each chapter is not a set page number (I think the
Potter books each have 20 page chapters). This book’s chapters vary in length, some as short as
3 pages, so don’t let the number 77 scare you.
I also have to say that I really enjoyed the small illustrations. Included within just about every
chapter, there is a small drawing that illuminates one aspect or key point of that chapter. The
artwork adds to the descriptions without distracting from the story.