The Secrets of Winterhouse: Winterhouse, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Secrets of Winterhouse: Winterhouse, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Return visit has more puzzles and the same spooky vibe.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids solve puzzles with anagrams, ambigrams, and other word and number clues. A camera obscura is rebuilt and demonstrated. An explanation of the Bihistun Inscription (like the Rosetta Stone, but in Iran with Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian languages) and azulejo (Spanish/Portuguese tilework).

Positive Messages

Like the first book, there's an element of good vs. evil. The temptation of great power leads to evil. Caring relationships with friends and family lead to the good path. Wise words on dealing with difficult people from the librarian: We should try our best not to take offense and not to give offense.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elizabeth begins the book easily frustrated with rude people. She takes advice from the librarian and her grandfather and learns to control her temper. Like the first book, she will do anything to solve a mystery, even defy her grandfather who wants to protect her. Her curiosity leads to danger, but she also shows a lot of bravery and chooses the right path over the one that leads to unchecked power. Some diversity in the characters, though it's only mentioned directly in the first book: Elizabeth's best friend, Freddy, is half-Mexican and the librarian is from Uganda.


A body revived by evil magic and two deaths by magic without much described. Two people are attacked and one person falls and hits her head. Mentions of a mysterious death and a missing body. An old woman falls sick. Elizabeth learns how her parents died (in a car wreck) when she was 4. Talk of a boy of age 5 killed by a falling icicle. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A grandmother drinks wine at dinner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Secrets of Winterhouse is the second book in a trilogy set in a remote, fancy hotel. As in the first book, Winterhouse, a girl named Elizabeth travels there alone for the winter holidays. This time, she's moving to the hotel to live with the owner, her grandfather. Also like the first book, the mystery begins focused on puzzles and code-breaking (you'll learn the difference between an anigram and an ambigram), but then the story shifts into spooky stuff. If kids made it through Winterhouse without being too scared, this one will be fine as well. There's a body revived by evil magic and two deaths by magic without much described. Two people are attacked and one person falls and hits her head. Also, Elizabeth learns how her parents died when she was 4: in a car wreck. She also learns some important lessons on how to deal with difficult people. After she loses her cool helping out a rude patron in the library, the librarian tells her, "We should try our best not to take offense and not to give offense." Kids who love science will dig the camera obscura, which Elizabeth's friend Freddy fixes and demonstrates.

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What's the story?

In THE SECRETS OF WINTERHOUSE, Elizabeth returns to the Winterhouse hotel on the bus with the rudest family ever. A boy steals her seat and his parents yell at her to find another one. She can't help but give into the temptation to use her secret power against the boy. She concentrates her mind and wills a bag from the overhead compartment to fall on his head. When she gets off the bus in the nearby town of Havenworth to meet her Grandfather Norbridge Falls, proprietor of Winterhouse, he has some great news for her: She's moving to Winterhouse to stay. He also warns her about her power and how she uses it, especially now that she knows more about Gracella, his sister who came back to life with Elizabeth's unwitting magical help the Christmas before and tried to destroy the family's hotel. As Elizabeth settles into her new permanent home, she's determined to fit in, and to leave her sleuthing ways behind. But clues are everywhere about secret passageways, and someone in the hotel is trying to uncover them at all costs.

Is it any good?

It takes some time to check in to the main story, but this return visit to the wonderful Winterhouse hotel has more clever puzzles to solve and the same spooky-mystery vibe. Kids who loved the first book will enjoy some long winter nights with this one, as well, though will be waiting maybe not so patiently for Elizabeth to give in and explore the secret passageways. She slowly solves the puzzle of why they exist, and this is important to the plot, but wouldn't she learn much faster if she and Freddy took a peek inside?

While we wait for this to happen, Elizabeth settles into her new home and tries to fit in. It will be easy for kids to relate to how frustrated she gets by rude guests (who also begin to behave rather suspiciously), and fun for all to imagine living at a cool hotel with a skating rink, a pool, an ice castle to explore, and dinner parties in a big hall with magic tricks and extra helpings of dessert.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the rude people in The Secrets of Winterhouse. How does Elizabeth handle them at first? Who helps her to reflect on her behavior?

  • How does Elizabeth feel about moving and going to a new school at the beginning of the book? Do you have similar feelings when things change? How does she gain confidence?

  • Will you read the Winterhouse finale? What other secrets do you think the hotel and Elizabeth's family keep?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries

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