literature

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About a month ago, I won an advanced reading copy of House of Secrets by Ned Vizzini & Chris Columbus. As any literature nerd will tell you, the combination of these two writers is to bookworms and YA novels as crack is to your weird third cousin and his scary girlfriend. Vizzini is a hero amongst angsty, misunderstood book-loving teens everywhere while Columbus is the man, the myth, the legend behind the Harry Potter films, spearheading every Muggle’s fantasy of seeing Harry, Ron and Hermione on the big screen.

It’s basically the best nerd-cocktail to grace bookshelves since Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Yeah. I said it.

That being said, it should come as no surprise that even though I had a free copy of the House of Secrets in my possession, I purchased the super shiny important official copy from my local Barnes & Noble yesterday because I’m crazy. Crazy like a fox. Crazy like a fox that loves books.

It also doesn’t hurt that I’m unemployed right now and therefore have even more time to devote to the awesome story (again).

Let me start this “review” (with the term being used loosely as I have nothing to recommend me as a “reviewer” other than my MA in English Literature and a life-long love of the written word) with a statement to qualify my deep affection and connection to this book: I have depression which I am currently on medication for, but which still has the annoying symptom of making it difficult to concentrate on one thing for longer than about 30 minutes. Sadly, this lack of focus includes books and, as you can imagine, is a very frustrating component of this whole depression thing. In the last year I have had a very start/stop relationship with books and other projects that has been very hard to get control of and as a result I had not finished one book for a very long time by my standards. To give you an idea of said standards: before the depression symptoms took full hold of my life, I was reading a novel a week and loving it.

And then House of Secrets came along. I finished the book in less than a week. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. I came home from work and immediately plopped onto my stomach, head at the foot of the bed, legs spread and feet swinging in the air taking on Reader’s Pose – the lesser known of the yoga poses – to read for two or three hours at a time, unaware of time passing around me and ecstatic when I rose from the pages of the book to discover just how much time had vanished in the joy of reading. It was like being awake after too long a sleep.

So, I suppose this “review” is more of a “thank you” letter than anything else.

However, there are still some important and wonderful things you should know about the book that will no doubt encourage you, fellow book-lover, to buy the book and enjoy as I have enjoyed.

First, JK Rowling, JK Rowling, said this about the book, “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 fear.” So, there’s that.

Secondly, fans of Inkheart will love House of Secrets because it hits all the important points that Inkheart missed, either due to a bad translation from German or just poor plot structuring, while still a great tale Inkheart leaves something to be desired from both the characters and the telling of the story, while House of Secrets gives you parts of the story you didn’t know you wanted and rich character development, making it an easy and desirable read. There are so many plot turns and great moments to endear the reader to either Cordelia, Brendan, Eleanor Walker or all three that even when they make rash decisions or do things that seem farfetched it doesn’t matter because Vizzini and Columbus resolve it all in one way or another. And don’t mistake “resolve” for “elimination of conflict” in this case; the conflict is never truly eliminated in House of Secrets, rather it is just made less frightening by the determination of the Walker siblings and their refusal to be beaten by an insane witch, incredibly aggressive warriors and bumbling supernatural pirates. This may not sound attractive, but it adds a complexity to the story that other YA novels do not possess.

Vizzini and Columbus waste no time getting right into the adventure with an absolutely shocking event that spins the action into overdrive by page 54. And this book has it all, adventure, the supernatural, family conflict, comedy, romance, great heroes and terrifying villains. One of the ironic joys of reading a YA novel as an adult is being able to exclaim, “What the fuck?!” to oneself while reading, which I am not ashamed to say happened to me every 20 pages or so in this book, with each surprise being better than the last.

And that’s about all I can say. I don’t want to reveal too much, and with this book, I feel like an in-depth review (at least from me) would give it all away.

If you’re interested in the book and want to learn more, here are links!:

“Like” House of Secrets on Facebook: facebook.com/houseofsecretsbooks

Stay up-to-date on Ned Vizzini’s awesomeness: nedvizzini.com/

Click here to purchase the book!

. . . or you can Tweet to win a copy of House of Secrets! Click here for details.

And if you would like to read some stellar YA book reviews from an up and coming YA author, check out the blog of my fellow book-lover friend, Aubrey Cann.

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“LITERARY” IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR “ASSHOLE”

A few weeks back I was having a conversation with my friend  about being an English major. As the conversation progressed, he mentioned something about feeling daunted by reading and that he had never read a book all the way through. English classes in high school hadn’t made any sense to him, and even if he started to read now, it probably wouldn’t be “literature.” He said all of this with a sense of guilt as if I was going to reprimand him for not reading enough.

I’ve gotten this before from other people. When they hear about my education, they tell me they read but aren’t “literary about it.” Or, I get the line about not having read any of the classics. Without fail there is always a feeling of confessing one’s sins; if they tell The English Major that they don’t like/understand literature, it somehow makes it OK. I always tell them the same thing: I don’t care. 

This is a warm and fuzzy kind of rejection, I promise. What I mean when I say this to my friends, or anyone who comes to me with this problem is that I really, genuinely, from the bottom of my little bookworm heart do not care what you read as long as you’re reading. The best part? Magazines count! Newspapers count! Blogs count! It all counts! If you’re reading, you’re reading. Screw being LITERARY (said in a old man British voice while I twirl my fake mustache and puff on my tobacco pipe). If you are reading, you are reading. Plain and simple.

After explaining this to my friend, he asked me if I had ever read Dracula. Come to find out, he had started reading the book but he said it was taking him too long.

That’s another problem.

Everyone reads at a different pace. I’m gonna get real honest here for a minute: English majors don’t read all the assigned reading. 

I know, right?

Admittedly, much of the time I’m avoiding reading for school because I’m reading a book of my own choosing on the side, but that’s why I’m an English major! I’m a weirdo with a specialized skill-set of weird. The average person doesn’t read twelve novels in sixteen weeks. Just like I can’t comprehend how the hell my boyfriend can do a physics problem thingy on the whiteboard in the kitchen at 2 AM, he can’t comprehend how I can read The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope for three hours on end, get up to pee, then go for three more hours. It really gets him when I tell him what happened in two-hundred pages, “This dude doesn’t want his daughter to marry this Lopez guy because he’s racist and thinks Lopez is a Jew. He also thinks his daughter is this perfect little angel when, let’s be honest, she has totally been letting Ferdinand finger her in the servants’ quarters after dinner parties.” Then when he says, “Did any of that really happen?” I have to say honestly, “Well, they don’t say it in the book, but if I know a bitch, then, yes.”

Adding that juiciness is a requirement they don’t tell you about when reading “The Classics.” The Classics, darling, are boring as shit. I mean booooring, snooze-fest 2012. I don’t mean they are bad, I just mean there is a lot of contextualization that has to happen between the page and your brain for you to understand why Mrs. Paddington not sending a letter of thanks to Duchess Pompous is a bigfuckingdeal. In fact, it’s enough of a deal to require one-hundred and fifty pages of telling. My friend isn’t going to pick up that book independently of the classroom and go, “This shit is good.” It’s just not going to happen.

What I’m saying is baby steps are a good thing. Read what you enjoy and don’t let anyone get you down about not being intelligent enough. Those people, those assholes that try to make other people feel bad for their assumed lack of knowledge, probably don’t know nearly as much as they think they do. Either that or they are just really socially awkward, which is really a pretty good possibility. Even still, if you’re getting shit for not reading enough, just smile and think about Emily getting boned by Ferdinand Lopez, who I imagine looks like a young John Stamos.