This middle grade book was both a Agatha and an Edgar nominee managed to (mostly) keep me guessing until the end. A mix of mystery, magic and supernatural thriller the story delivered confusion and thrills in equal parts and I hope I can sit down and read the next in the series soon!
Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to care for, and even Winterhouse itself?
Mystery, adventure, and beautiful writing combine in this exciting debut richly set in a hotel full of secrets. from Goodreads.
I’m quite sure I picked up Winterhouse because of the illustrated cover. Illustrated covers are one of my impossible-to- resist covers (along with maps, books about libraries / bookstores, and embossed titles). I started the book expecting a middle grade mystery, perhaps a locked room version, and found myself very surprised by the twists and turns of this story.
First things first for every middle grade author: how to get rid of the adults? Easy! First, kill off Elizabeth’s parents and then give her neglectful relatives only too happy to ship her off, by herself, to a hotel for Christmas. Does it matter to her Aunt and Uncle that she is alone? Absolutely not! All the matters is that the trip is paid for and they are compensated with a vacation.
At the hotel Elizabeth finds her surroundings to be nearly tailor made for her puzzle solving and book loving personality. Elizabeth loves anagrams, cyphers, and reading and her lonely life before Winterhouse was spent occupying herself with words. This skill becomes increasingly more useful as the mystery and curse of Winterhouse reveals itself to Elizabeth.
At some point in the middle of this book it became clear to me that the story was not a straight forward mystery. Instead, there was some supernatural and magical aspect in the hotel. Normally, I don’t like to be surprised by a twist of genre but the author made it work without sacrificing the mystery. Still, if you are a genre purist this might detract from the enjoyment of the book.
The one thing that did bother me was Elizabeth’s refusal to follow simple rules or listen to other people. This is a pretty standard plot line in middle grade books and is usually caused by the main character not being properly listened to by the adults in their lives. However, the author was building a beautiful friendship between Elizabeth and another lonely guest, Freddie, that started to feel manipulative on Elizabeth’s part. She just kept convincing Freddie, who had stayed at Winterhouse for three Christmases and felt it to be his sanctuary, to be embroiled in one fiasco after the other while lying to him and hiding things from him. Honestly, it made me not like Elizabeth very much.
With the exception of the unhealthy friendship, I find myself wanting more stories from Winterhouse. I only hope that, when I continue the series, Freddie manages to put his foot down more frequently than in this first book.
Tell me, please! What would both you more, a genre twist or an unhealthy friendship?