Recommended for readers 8-12
Elizabeth Somers is an 11-year-old orphan, living with her awful aunt and uncle. She has vague memories of the accident that took her parents’ lives, and a pendant around her neck, given to her by her mother. But a mysterious benefactor has paid for Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle to go on vacation over winter break, and she’s sent off to the Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the odd but kind Norbridge Falls. There, Elizabeth makes her first real friend – an inventor named Freddy, whose family sends him off to Winterhouse every winter break – and discovers a strange book in the library. She learns that the Winterhouse has some very deep secrets, but she’s not the only one trying to discover them: there’s a very creepy married couple that seems to be trying to figure things out, too. And why are they inviting her to tea? Mysteries abound in the first story of a new trilogy.
Winterhouse is loaded with puzzles for readers to piece together as they go. You’ve got a bookish heroine, a kid inventor who loves word puzzles almost as much as our heroine does, and a mystery code that will make or break our characters. There’s an awesome librarian, if I may say so myself, and a quirky proprietor whose secrets run deep: in short, a wonderful and group of characters that readers will enjoy adventuring with and discovering more about. Angular black and white illustrations by Chloe Bristol add interest to the book’s surroundings, and the beginning of each chapter provides a word ladder to introduce readers to a fun pastime that comes up throughout the novel. Other word games include anagrams, ambigrams, and a Vigenere Square – a code that holds the mystery to the story. Author Ben Guterson explains the puzzles and codes on his webpage. There are some great book references in Winterhouse, too: some of Elizabeth’s favorites include good readalike suggestions, like The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. (I’d also add Jennifer Chambliss’ Book Scavenger and Greenglass House by Kate Milford.)
A fun beginning to a new middle grade series. Give this one to your code breakers, for sure.