Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Winterhouse Book Poster Image
Perfectly set bookish mystery with some spooky stuff.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Main character is an avid reader and mentions many books, both classics (like Anne of Green Gables and The Wind in the Willows) and modern kid favorites (The Mysterious Benedict Society, Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Inkheart, and more). Kids solve puzzles using a Vigenère cipher, which is thoroughly explained and graphed in an illustration of a Vigenère square. A word ladder begins every chapter and kids compete to have the shortest word ladder and the cleverest anagrams. A boy experiments with walnut shells to make a fuel source. Mentions of historical figures such as Houdini and Shackleton.

Positive Messages

Choose good over evil. Recognize qualities you don't like in yourself and do something about them. Trust your instincts and know when to trust others. There's a lot of sneaking around here and pawing through others' belongings -- a common activity in mysteries to help solve them, but still breaking and entering.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elizabeth is resourceful, a book lover, and very smart. Her curiosity often gets her in trouble or pulls her toward doing something sneaky, from lying to breaking into rooms to look for clues. She's worried she's too bossy with her friend Freddy, the very reluctant Watson to her Sherlock, and tries to change. Freddy is thoughtful, an inventor, and more of a rule follower. Some diversity in the characters: Freddy is half-Mexican and the librarian is from Uganda.


An evil ghost tries to come back to life and kill with witchy powers -- one character passes out and wakes up again. Scares involving curses, sudden noises or things falling, lights that chase people, and a coffin making banging noises. Talk of mistreatment by Elizabeth's aunt and uncle. Much talk of loss among the main characters: Elizabeth can barely recall her parents' deaths at age 4. She's told it was from fireworks. Norbridge talks of his wife's death from illness and daughter's death in a car accident and other family members that have gone missing or died. Freddy thinks his parents don't like him.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

At a holiday celebration, adults get champagne and kids get sparkling cider. Mention of Elizabeth's uncle drinking beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Winterhouse is the first book in a trilogy set in a remote fancy hotel. A bookish girl named Elizabeth travels there alone for the winter holidays. The mystery begins focused on puzzles and code-breaking, but shifts into spooky stuff. Spoiler alert (regrettable, but so parents grasp the level of scariness Winterhouse builds up to, since tweens' abilities to handle scary stuff vary greatly): There are curses, sudden noises or things falling, lights that chase people, and also a coffin that makes banging noises. And -- don't tell this part -- an evil ghost tries to come back to life and kill with witchy powers. No one is seriously hurt. Elizabeth talks of her parents who died when she was 4 and recalls being mistreated by her aunt and uncle. She also talks a lot about her love of reading and word puzzles. She does word puzzles with a young inventor named Freddy and visits a giant library in the hotel staffed by a librarian from Uganda.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byccmos June 25, 2019

Same old gender tropes

Writing a book is maddening, soul-churning work so I don’t give two stars lightly. That said, my review of Winterhouse has little to do with the writing and mor... Continue reading
Adult Written byJournoMom December 14, 2020

Lacks positive messages and themes

This is a ghost story. It moves slowly—very slowly at first—and picks up the pace toward the end, culminating in some grisly scenes with a corpse-ghost. The boo... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old April 16, 2021


This book took me so long to finish because it was so boring. The characters are annoying and it’s not entertaining at all. I almost quit the book.
Kid, 12 years old May 20, 2020

Compare to harry potter

it is a wonderful book with lots of mystique. it is wonderful. as good as harry potter. i suggest reading this book. there is death and some scary stuff but oth... Continue reading

What's the story?

In WINTERHOUSE, Elizabeth returns from school to find her home at her aunt and uncle's locked, a small bag of clothes hanging on the door, $3, and a bus ticket. Her guardians had been given money by a mysterious benefactor to be used on a holiday vacation for them and a trip to the Winterhouse hotel for Elizabeth. Rather than question a stranger's intentions, they take off without notice. They're those kinds of guardians. When Elizabeth arrives at the remote luxury hotel, she can hardly believe her luck: a room all to herself, a huge library to explore, oodles of winter sports to try, and even a new friend, Freddy, also there by himself, and he's a huge fan of word puzzles, too. It's all shaping up to be an idyllic holiday until Elizabeth finds a book in the library, on instinct, hidden on a high shelf. She sneaks it back to her room without checking it out, not knowing why. It's called A Guide for Children and is filled with games, codes, and puzzles. Harmless fun, Elizabeth thinks, until the hotel owner, Norbridge, tells her about a book his family has been anxious to find for generations. A key to a family secret. Elizabeth is sure that her stolen book is not the one he means, until she spots a few large silver letters on the book she didn't notice before. And when she tries to show them to Freddy, she realizes they are letters only she can see.

Is it any good?

With the perfect setting of a snow-covered, remote luxury hotel, this is one of those books you want to jump into and never leave, even when spooky stuff starts going down. It's easy to dream about your days at Winterhouse, helping with a giant puzzle, eating lots of homemade candy, going to lectures on famous explorers, skiing around a frozen lake. And if you're really curious, like Elizabeth, you can stay busy exploring the dramatic family history that goes with the place. It's a special book that grounds the reader so well in the environment and makes you want to explore as much as the characters do. First-time author Ben Guterson really gets this right.

Guterson also builds in a whole lot of mystery in one story, making you wonder which direction you'll eventually be led. With the focus on code-breaking, some creepy booksellers, and word puzzles early on, the scary place the story ends up will probably surprise you. It's not a bad place, just a strange shift in tone. It quickly shifts back, however, to a sweeter note at the story's end. New ties are formed and promises are made to bring the whole gang back together. Escapist readers are sure to be excited about two more trips to Winterhouse.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they would do to uncover a mystery in Winterhouse. Would you go to the lengths that Elizabeth goes to? What would it depend on? What rules do real detectives have to follow when investigating a case?

  • Would you like to go to a place like Winterhouse for the holidays all by yourself? What would you do all day?

  • Will you read the next book in the trilogy? What do you think will happen to Elizabeth next? What mysteries are still left unsolved?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries

Themes & Topics

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