Mini-Reviews: Strange Houses

Mini-Reviews: Strange Houses



When I have the choice between reading another book or reviewing the one I have just read, I usually choose to read another one. As much as I adore shouting about books on my blog, reading is, after all, my first love!

Therefore, I have decided to do some mini-review posts to tell you about some other books which I have read and think you might enjoy.

The mini-reviews this time are all themed around strange houses, some settings which have really stuck in my mind after reading about them. From sentient castles to houses with hidden passages, who wouldn’t be fascinated to discover that the building they are in has more to it than first meets the eye?

Have you read any of these?

Are there any that you would like to pick up?


The House with One Hundred Clocks by A.M. Howell


JUNE, 1905.

Helena and her parrot, Orbit, are swept off to Cambridge when her father is appointed clock-winder to one of the wealthiest men in England. There is only one rule: the clocks must never stop.

But Helena discovers the house of one hundred clocks holds many mysteries; a ghostly figure, strange notes and disappearing winding keys… Can she work out its secrets before time runs out?

“Fans of Emma Carroll will adore this historical tale of derring-do and righted wrongs.” – The Times on The Garden of Lost Secrets

I loved A. M. Howell’s first book, The Garden of Lost Secrets, so I was really excited to read this…and loved it even more than her first book!
This book throws you straight into the intrigue, with Helena’s father being employed to care for all of the clocks in a mysterious house where each and every room is filled with them. The job opportunity seems almost too good to be true, as her father signs a strange contract promising to never let a single clock stop. The mystery deepens when Helena meets the wealthy owner of the house, along with his sister and a boy who nobody else seems able to see.
This book reads like a classic and was the perfect piece of escapist, intriguing reading for a rainy day. Just brilliant!

The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling


Zinnie and her sisters live in the murky tunnels beneath Edinburgh’s Old Town. They keep out of the way of the authorities and remain undetected. Until, that is, rumours of a ghost bring unwanted visitors into the caverns they call home. Among them, a young Arthur Conan Doyle, keen to investigate, and MacDuff, the shady owner of Edinburgh’s newest attraction, the House of Wonders.

Caught up in a world of intrigue and adventure, Zinnie seeks answers. But how can she discover what secrets lie in the House of Wonders while also protecting the sisters she holds so dear?

A thrilling historical adventure featuring mystery in the tunnels beneath Victorian Edinburgh, for fans of Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine and Jennifer Bell.

I was really excited to read this and was lucky enough to receive an advance reading copy – thank you Little Tiger!

I fell in love with Zinnie straightaway, with her street smarts and caring for her sisters as they live in the abandoned buildings that go down underground in Edinburgh. The sitting was richly evoked and I loved seeing Arthur Conan Doyle as a young doctor, already showing an interest in the supernatural. There are lots of little nods to his stories, including a few things that Zinnie says to him which later appear in his work.

Lady Sarah Montague became another firm favourite as she defies society’s expectations of a woman at the time by traveling all over the world and exploring. What a role model! Doctor Sophia Jex-Blake was another character in the book, but one who did actually exist – after finishing the story I went off down the rabbit hole reading about her and the struggles she faced to be taken seriously as a woman in what was very much considered a man’s profession (medicine). This was a fantastically atmospheric middle grade story with realistic characters and a gentle challenge to the societal norms of the time about women, disability and difference. My only slight warning, if you’re giving this to your child, is that the murders with the severed ears is a scary image and the baddie is truly menacing – beware if giving to a more sensitive or younger reader. I finished this book with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes, hoping that this will only be the first of Zinnie’s adventures!

The House with the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs


A haunting gothic tale by master mysery writer John Bellairs–soon to be a major motion picture starring Cate Blanchett and Jack Black!

The House With a Clock in Its Walls will cast its spell for a long time.”–The New York Times Book Review

When Lewis Barnavelt, an orphan. comes to stay with his uncle Jonathan, he expects to meet an ordinary person. But he is wrong. Uncle Jonathan and his next-door neighbor, Mrs. Zimmermann, are both magicians! Lewis is thrilled. At first, watchng magic is enough. Then Lewis experiments with magic himself and unknowingly resurrects the former owner of the house: a woman named Serenna Izard. It seems that Serenna and her husband built a timepiece into the walls–a clock that could obliterate humankind. And only the Barnavelts can stop it!

This wasn’t bad, but it didn’t deliver on some of the promises from the blurb!
I was really excited to read this middle-grade fantasy book because I love magic and the set-up sounded really interesting: A young boy moves to live with his uncle, only to discover that his uncle is a wizard, the next door neighbour is a witch and the house his uncle lives in has a menacing clock in the walls which is ticking its way closer to the end of the world day by day.
Unfortunately, I found a lot of the storyline piecemeal and hard to follow. Lots of things seemed to happen for no apparent reason. Uncle Jonathon quite happily agrees to do serious magic to allow Lewis to show off to his friend. Is magic accepted in this world? Later in the story they inexplicably go out for a drive and are then followed menacingly by another vehicle. The ghost in the vehicle cannot cross running water…but it turns out that she is able to move into the house across the street so why the need for a chase?
An interesting read in some ways, but disappointing in others.


The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson


All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.
With a mix of whimsy, humor, and adventure, this debut novel will wrap itself around your heart and never let go.

I cannot believe that it took me so long to finally read this, especially as it ticks so many of the boxes for things I love in a book! Inspired by Russian folklore and tales of Baba Yaga, this is an immersive, beautifully-written story about a young girl and her search to find herself after the unexpected happens. Full of magic, wonder and heart.
Just lovely, enhanced even further by the glorious illustrations!

A Treason of Thorns by Laura A. Weymouth


Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic always kept the countryside well. And as a child, this magic kept Violet happy, draping her in flowers while she slept, fashioning secret hiding places for her, and lighting fires on the coldest nights to keep her warm.

Everything shattered, though, when her father committed high treason trying to free Burleigh from the king’s oppressive control. He was killed, and Vi was forced into hiding.

When she’s given a chance to go back, she discovers Burleigh has run wild with grief. Vines and briars are crumbling the walls. Magic that once enriched the surrounding countryside has turned dark and deadly, twisting lush blooms into thorns, poisoning livestock and destroying crops. Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain.

Vi would do anything to help, and soon she finds herself walking the same deadly path as her father all those years before. Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house—before her house destroys everything she’s ever known.

This story turned out to be even more complex that I had anticipated (though, really, I should have expected it from Laura Weymouth!), with characters who you will probably love, hate and find confusing in turns, yet who will worm their way into your heart and thoughts as they are so painfully human, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and choices which stray far into grey areas.

Burleigh House, one of the Great Houses around which the story is centred, has hundreds of years of history, magic and memory engrained in the walls, with the blood of its caretakers mixing with the mortar to channel the powerful magic for the benefit of all the land surrounding it. Violet grows up embraced by the house, with it providing flowers to cheer her up when she is ill and leading her to promise, at the tender age of five, that she will always do anything and everything for the sake of the House. Shortly afterwards, her father appears with an orphan boy, Wyn, who Vi believes is to be a companion for her.

Her world is fragmented when…Continue reading my full review of A Treason of Thorns.

Tuesdays at the Castle (Castle Glower #1) by Jessica Day George


Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie’s favorite days. That’s because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one-other than Celie, that is-takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it’s up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle’s never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom. This delightful book from a fan- and bookseller-favorite kicks off a brand-new series sure to become a modern classic.

This is fantastic – exactly what middle-grade should be! Imaginative, warm, playful and just plain great! Zelie is pitch perfect, her relationships with her siblings and parents are both warm and, at times, fractious, as you might expect and the Castle Glower is a fantastic character in its own right – how cool is a sentient castle that changes every day? I am currently working my way through the rest of this series and believe that it should be much more widely praised.


I couldn’t end this post without mentioning one of my favourite trilogies from the great Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. I have read and reread these books so many times that I could practically quote lots of the story from memory and reading them feels like slipping into your comfiest pair of pyjamas and curling up in a cosy place.

If you haven’t read them, get started now! (P.s. The Studio Ghibli movie is beautiful and I love it, but the books are even better!)


Have you read any of these books?

Would you like to read any of them after reading this post?

Could you recommend any other books that have been translated?

What are you reading at the moment?

Check out some more mini-reviews themed around Girls in Politics, the Sea , Mermaids , Rescue Dogs , Clockwork , Circuses , Female Pilots,  Greek Mythology , Gaming , Hot Air BalloonsRemembrance , VillainsGirls Having Adventures or Japanese fiction in translation?

While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of No Ballet Shoes in Syria, The Wise and The Wicked, The Day War Came, The Burning, Perfectly Preventable Deaths, Herstory or Power to the Princess?

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Thanks for reading!


One Comment Add yours

  1. I’ve read most of these I think, and really liked most of them as well! And I really want to read Howl’s Moving Castle and the suqurks- I feel woefully unknowledgable about Diana Wynne Jones x


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