Sunday, June 30, 2013

House of Secrets (House of Secrets #1) by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

If you like action and a fantasy foray of pirates, witches, ghosts, skeletons, magicians, and more then you might like this book. The lack of character development, unlikable characters' behavior at times,  and loose plot ends made me not like this book very much. I did like the descriptions of the villains, the bone room, the pirate with the dolphin tattoo versus a shark, and the wind witch, who could transform into a hag or whirlwind. Most of the story is told from siblings twelve-year old, Brendan, and fifteen-year-old, Cordelia Walker. The younger sister, eight-year-old Eleanor Walker gets some page time but less than her older siblings. The Walker family is viewing an old Victorian house for sale with their real estate agent, when Eleanor sees an old lady in the woods by the house. The three kids go to investigate only to find a statue of a woman with one hand by the house. When the family leaves, Brendan decides to check out the statue one more time, but it is gone. An old crone hisses at him that his family doesn't belong in the house setting off a series of events thats hurdles them into another world on a quest to find their parents. The three learn what it means to be family and work together versus fighting.

The straightforward plot is a bit predictable and the execution doesn't always work. The kids in the beginning are so outrageously rude to the adults that they came across as spoiled brats instead of strong-willed characters. When Brendan wields a weapon against a stranger I really thought there was something wrong with him mentally. Yes, the old woman threatened him to not buy the house, but she doesn't make it sound dire enough for Brendan to resort to inappropriate violence. He's the more scary of the two by acting so extreme. Next, when Cordelia steals something, I'm thinking... maybe I don't want to read this book. As the plot evolves it becomes apparent why these two things happen as a contrivance to move the plot forward, but were out-of-character for Cordelia and Brendan.

While some of the references to pop culture were funny such as "instant-oatmeal spells" and Cordelia not being named after King Lear's story, but Cordelia Chase in Buffy the Vampire; it soon began to feel like a tornado of pop culture attacking me and it interfered with the storyline at times. I have no clue what "punk'd" meant and got overwhelmed by Lunchables, Scooby Doo, American Girl dolls, iPhone, MacBooks, Mick Jagger, Target and more. I would have preferred if the author had just stuck with the items pertinent to the plot such as the Playstation.

I have read a few books where the authors can't seem to strike the right balance between cartoonish violence and violence. The pirates are buffoons in the beginning and then become violent. I did like the part where Brendan has to do something selfish to fulfill the quest and he does all he can to get Will's weapons. Boys in the library are always asking me for weapon books and war books no matter what country I am in. They love explosions, swords, and guns and this plot twist is a way to live out that fantasy. Another contrived plot point happens when Brendan doesn't take the book or tell the others about it much later in the story. When the violence becomes more serious with real people dying I thought the shift back to cartoonish violence jarring. This happens toward the end when a character pulls his eyeball out when an arrow pierces it and asks Brendan to kill him to which Brendan replies, "get an eye patch." I had issues with this character whose humor was oftentimes disrespectful and mean rather than funny.

The wind witch's powers are never explained and she is a one-dimensional villain. She is driven solely by greed and there is no explanation as to why she became that way. The ending with the money didn't settle with me very well. I thought the dad's problem's would be addressed and found the selfish money resolution a turn-off. Money can buy comforts but not happiness and the dad lost more than a sizable income. He lost his reputation and career. I also wondered why the giant helped the kids risking his life and Eleanor's dyslexia did not have enough authenticity for me to empathize with her as a character. The explanation of how she tried to think about it in her head first was a start, but I wanted more. While I did finish the book and I found some action sequences entertaining, as a whole it didn't do much for me.

2 Smileys

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