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Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

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Five stars in 2017
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Winterhouse: 01/20/18

cover art

I was looking for a follow up to Ghosts of Greenglass House and Winterhouse by Ben Guterson seemed like a good fit. The book opens with Elizabeth Somers arriving home on the last day of school before winter break to find a note from her aunt and uncle and a train and a bus ticket to Winterhouse for the three weeks of vacation.

Winterhouse is up in the mountains — I'm going to guess the Cascades just because the author is from Seattle — but they could be any snowy mountains. It sits alongside Lake Luna. It's been run by the Falls family for more than a hundred years. The current proprietor, Norbridge Falls is the end of the line.

Although the hotel has thirteen stories and numerous guests, there are only a handful of characters, which keeps the story fascinating and tightly paced. There is Elizabeth who sees the mysteries of the hotel as an escape from her own weird life — a rather loveless one with an aunt and uncle who barely talk to her. Then there is Freddy, a boy her age who spends every winter holiday at the hotel while his parents travel. Like Elizabeth he loves puzzles and word games. There are a pair of jigsaw puzzle aficionados and their wives; they've been working on the same massive puzzle for two years. There's Norbridge Falls and Leona Springer, the hotel's librarian. Finally there are the Hiemses who rode in on the same bus as Elizabeth.

Atmospherically Winterhouse reminds me of a middle grade version of the Overlook from The Shining (the book, more so than either the film or miniseries). Imagine the Overlook in its declining years before it had gotten to the point where it had to be shuttered over the winter months. Imagine the Overlook when despite the tragedies and the impending curse it was still a relatively happy place. Imagine the Overlook at a crossroads — where it can either get better or fall into ruin.

Tied up into the fate of Winterhouse are a number of puzzles, a missing book, some family legends, a bunch of adults not willing to share what they know because of their own grief or their own desire to protect the next generation.

The final piece of what makes this a great middle grade mystery-fantasy is the artwork by illustrator Chloe Bristol. Her illustrations bring the characters to life as well as the impressive sounding interiors of the hotel.

Per the author's website, Winterhouse is the first in a planned trilogy. The second book is The Secret of Winterhouse and will be published early 2019.

Five stars

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