House of Secrets

COLUMBUS, Chris & . illus. by Greg Call. 496p. HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-219246-2.
Gr 4–8—Brendan, Cordelia, and Eleanor Walker are dragged by their parents to look at houses in San Francisco. Their father, a doctor, has lost his job due to an incident at the hospital, and the family has to downsize. The Kristoff House overlooking the bay seems to be too good to be true for the money, but, surprisingly, their father buys it. Once the family moves in, all kinds of strange things start to happen. It turns out that there is bad blood between a former owner of the house, Denver Kristoff, and an ancestor of the Walkers. Kristoff's daughter is now the Wind Witch, and she has enticed the family to the home so that she can get hold of The Book of Doom and Desire, which she plans to use as her vehicle to rule the world. To accomplish this, the witch incapacitates the parents and sends the children into the books her father created in the hope that they will help her retrieve the magical tome she desires. Along the way the youngsters meet many of Kristoff's characters, some of whom help them and others who try to annihilate them. The setup of the story drags a bit, but once the siblings leave contemporary San Francisco for the magical world of the Wind Witch, the pace picks up. The young Walkers are plucky, quick thinkers whom readers will grow to love. With a new adventure that seems to arrive with every chapter, the story unfolds quickly, thus keeping kids hooked and wanting to find out what will happen next.—Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Jefferson, LA
A contemporary story that has an old-fashioned feel, this clever combination of adventure and humor will be a hit with fans of fantasy, thrillers, and family dramas. Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini’s writing is detailed and funny: “The new colossus . . . looked like an all-out bruiser, with a bald, acne-spotted skull, sharp red eyebrows, and a goatee like a devil’s tail. His face was twisted in a furious scowl, and he was snorting, sounding like a wild boar filtered through concert speakers.” The Walker children are all well-drawn, well-rounded characters: Brendan is clever, curious, and sarcastic. His older sister Cordelia is knowing and cynical, and a voracious reader. The youngest, Eleanor, is shy, easily frustrated, but brave. All three grow closer when they are forced to rely on one another for survival. Denver Kristoff, who previously owned the house into which the Walkers move, is a fascinating figure in his own right. The Walkers first learn about the author by reading his books and actually meeting his characters: a flying ace, medieval warriors, and terrifying pirates. Only later do they learn what’s become of the man himself.

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