The Secret of Dinswood

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

This is a book that I neither loved nor hated. I was very ambivalent about it. It wasn't the easiest to get into (I had to finally force myself to sit down and plow through it) but there was nothing BAD about it. It just wasn't for me. 

This book would be better for someone who reads middle grade more than I do (I believe that was why I had such a hard time with it, since I'm used to adult or new adult books). I didn't realize what the age suggestion was when I requested it.
Was this review helpful?
I don’t like giving up on books. It has been such a long time since I’ve gotten nearly halfway through a book and decided I could read no more. I especially don’t like to not finish books that I am going to review, because I am not able to base my review on the entirety of the text. But with all of the exciting 2019 releases, I have decided to not force myself to get through a novel just because I feel like I have to. 

This book just wasn’t doing it for me. The first few chapters, yes they were almost too similar to Harry Potter, but so did Carry On by Rainbow Rowell and I adored that book. If that was the only issue I had with this book, I could’ve handled it. If only that was the only issue.

I got about 40% of the way through this book, and I just felt like nothing was happening. The main conflict had already been set up, but then after it did, it just sort of went off on several tangents that had nothing to do with the main plot. And when things did go back to the main plot at hand, it only lasted for about a chapter before it ran onto another tangent that wasn’t very relevant at all.

Another issue I had was with the character development. There wasn’t much. Most of the characters were made up of a few stereotypes, but most of the time there was really nothing to them. The main character, Emma, didn’t have much of a personality at all. You know she is poor, smart, and likes to read books. That’s about it. 

There was also a little too much focus on romantic undertones for a middle grade novel. These are pre-teens who spend too much time worrying about boys, and once again it plays into the typical stereotypes that all girls care about at that age are boys and getting them to like them. I gave up at the exact moment the main character has her roommate (who mind you, is 12 or 13) cut all of her hair off in the hopes that Doug would like it. Look, I’m not a mother or teacher- I have no child to potentially give this book to- but if I was, there would be better books I could give to those kids. Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, this is not.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book! I think the plot was very comprehensive, and the characterization deep. I especially liked the way the writing was evocative and helped you feel and think the same way the characters did! - All in all an excellent book, everyone should read it!
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

There were times when I forgot that this was a children’s book, and other times when it was overwhelmingly obvious.  This was a novel about 4 grade 7’s at boarding school going on a treasure hunt to try to prevent the school they love from going bankrupt. What follows really reminds me of a mix of Harry Potter ( minus the magic) and the Goonies. They must overcome some serious obstacles and get involved in some violent altercations. Along the way, the group of 4 develop some strong bonds which is cute and sweet but sometimes difficult to believe. The story was also a bit long in spots. 

However, that all being said, it was a cute story and it kept me in suspense. I think this is a series and I’d be curious to see what the next installment holds. I want to see how Emma and Doug’s characters develop through time
Was this review helpful?
I really wanted to fall in love with this story! It had so many elements that I love. Sadly I have to be able to connect to the characters and I didn't do that. 

I couldn't help but draw similarities to Harry Potter, not only with regards to plot but minute details, such as the characters appearances and personalities. Which I think is why I found myself struggling to connect, because I struggled not to compare them to one another. 

I wanted a little more from the characters, to bond them, as they honestly just fall into instant friendships to take on this epic quest. And I felt that the main character, Emma, from how her character was initially described, her upbringing ect she should have been a more level headed, cautious person. And not someone so easily trusting, or wanting to throw herself into friendships so fast. It just felt a little rushed and disjointed for me. I know that their age might play a factor in this, but I felt that more work could have been put into their relationships. 

There was a big focus on potential romances, which I think for 12/13 it can be a big thing, but shouldn't be a main focus. And I think I would have enjoyed it more, had it focused on the platonic side and the sense of adventure and riddle solving. 

I love the story idea, anything to do with mystery and castles and boarding school type scenarios always gets me. And I think the premise behind it, is really good.
Was this review helpful?
This is definitely a fun middle grade story. 

It had a lot of adventure throughout the plot, and the setting of a castle boarding school was rather charming. I think younger readers who are fans of Harry Potter would love the adventures that the characters get up to throughout the story. I do think some of the descriptions felt a little bit old-fashioned, bordering on cheesy, however I'm not sure that middle grade readers would pick up on these small little cliches as much as an adult reader would.

Overall, it was a fast paced and exciting read!
Was this review helpful?
This was a great middle grade novel. I always seem to enjoy books involving boarding schools.  The friendships between the main characters was very well written.  I also loved the mystery aspect of this book.  I would most definitely recommend giving this one a try.
Was this review helpful?
I got 61% through this book and just couldn’t finish it. I don't like giving bad reviews, but I’m compelled to since I was given this book in exchange fo an honest review. There were so many things wrong, not the least of which was a storyline that wasn’t the slightest bit original or compelling, (It borrowed heavily from Harry Potter…without the magic…and Nancy Drew.) Generally, I begin my reviews with a brief synopsis, but I’m not going to bother in this case.

First and foremost, it was way too long, not because it was packed with action, adventure and intrigue, but because it was descriptive to an extreme. There was one scene where the author spent one long paragraph describing every food on the buffet table. There was also some strange compulsion to describe almost every outfit the female characters wore (including teachers). All of this verbiage bogged down what little story there was. Where was the editor? 

Second, it was very hard to pin down time and place. Based on the prologue about a pirate who decides to quit the business, make up an aristocratic title (not likely given the insularity of the British peerage), marry well and build a castle in a new country as a family home, it would make sense that it would be somewhere in Europe since there was no America in Tudor times. However, much of the dialogue and description was infused with American colloquialisms and read more like the 1950s or 60s than modern-day teens. Also, the school didn’t even have internet access or athletics, but mentioned that their students were formerly soccer and basketball players and gymnasts. What parent is going to spend an exorbitant amount of money to send their child to a school lacking the basics of a well-rounded education? Of course, most named characters were either children of Board members or scholarship students.

I could go on and on given all the notes I made while working my way to about page 250 (of over the 400), but I’ll wrap this review up by saying that, although marketed as a YA book, it would be more appropriate for ages 9-12. However, as a school librarian, I don’t imagine that my students would stick with it to the end anymore than I could. I question whether this series will stand a chance given this first installment. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BHC Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Was this review helpful?
DNF @ 91% 

Sometimes you have a long list of reasons why you didn't like a book, but this time I just didn't connect with it. I guess it was for a way younger audience than me, I wouldn't even recommend it for 12yo, having a brother that age. It's definitely younger middle-grade.

There was too much tell and too little show. The characters, their abilities, the people they met were all too convenient so the plot would move forward. The four MCs were also too childish for a 12yo that's living in a world with modern computers, videogames and smartphones. But I can understand these are things that go with the genre.
There's not much talk about the elitism in private catholic schools like this one, which would've been a nice topic to make children aware of this, and it isn't hard to bring up.

Basically I didn't have much real trouble with the book, I just wasn't the target even though I tend to love middle grade.
Was this review helpful?
This is a fun, clever middle-grade book that boasts a story with appeal for both an audience the same age as the characters and for adult readers. 

Alexander really nails the atmosphere component of the book. The plot, too, is clever and's kind of like Harry Potter meets Goonies. Add in a likable group of kids, riddles with just the right degree of difficulty for the target audience, and pirate treasure and you've got a real winner of a story. 

There were, however, a few elements of the book that were too problematic to be ignored and cost it a 5-star review. 

First, it's simply too long. I appreciate the attention to detail (descriptions of all the little things about the school, very much in the style of JK Rowling,) but there is SO much filler material in this book that should be edited out. I could have done without, for example, the several pages that give play-by-play of a three-legged race. 

The second problem is a bigger one, and it's is that the author seems very out of touch. Sometimes that just results in quality issues (the way Alexander tells us the 7th graders are dressed makes it seem like she's never seen an actual 7th grader. Also, no one under the age of 40 uses the word "slacks.") 

That alone I could have overlooked, but the author's clearly Christian conservative bent is really hard to ignore and quite frankly, completely obnoxious. This book is not billed as "Christian fiction," so it feels like a bit of a bait and switch. The mentions of the students going to chapel is fine, but Alexander's beliefs creep in all over the place in a way that I expect would alienate a large portion of the target audience. And speaking of out of touch, I'm still half laughing, half cringing at "The school did not celebrate Halloween, as it is a pagan holiday." Ms Alexander was clearly born about 100 years too late for her line of thinking. 

The above is tough to get past, and I imagine will be impossible to get past for some readers, but I really, really enjoyed the premise of the story. I'd certainly read another, IF the above issues are addressed in the second installment.
Was this review helpful?
Many years ago a pirate got so much gold that he decided to retire in anonymity. He named himself Lord Dinswood and established a school. His ancestors kept up the tradition and now it is a prestigious place. One that Emma Higsby is delighted to be going to. Her father remarried and the family doesn't seem to have a place for her any more. 
Dinswood school is high in the mountains and the students are rich and snobby. At least, a lot of them are. But luckily, Emma makes some friends. And she's going to need those friendships to help save the school from financial ruin. They'll need to solve the riddle of Lord Dinswood to find the treasure, outsmarting the others searching for the same thing.
This book was fun but a little long. Definitely a book for fans of epic tales about finding treasure.]

Three stars
This book came out February 26
ARC kindly provided by publisher and NetGalley
Was this review helpful?

This book is a story about  a couple of students at a boarding school,solving mysteries about a treasure. Unfortunately, it wasn't for me. I managed to read more than half of the book,about 57 % I believe but then decided I should leave it .
It was interesting at first but then slowly got more boring. Nothing seemed to be happening after the first little search the kids went on. I thought it was just too similar to Harry Potter ,and I see I'm not the only one who thinks that after reading a couple reviews of others who've read this book. I mean,it's set in a boarding school with strict teachers and a little village they go on a trip to ( a bit too similar to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade) ,and the kids are 'breaking the rules' while searching for a treasure. I also found it to be very predictable. Everything I thought would happen did actually happen. The author wrote the story in a way which spoiled the plot:" Emma had a feeling someday soon Reggie's intelligence would get them all out of trouble." , "She had no way of knowing the danger that awaited her later that evening.". That annoyed me the whole time.
I also found myself skimming through paragraphs of unnecessary descriptions. Everything just needed to be described to tiniest bits which bothered me too,but not as much as the spoilery stuff.

That being said,there were parts of the book that I enjoyed,like the prologue and the first trip to the village when they started discovering the mystery. One of the characters I liked was Martha which I cared more about than the main character,Emma.
Again,thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a  copy.
Was this review helpful?
If I had to describe this, it would be Malory Towers meet The Famous Five - a mystery set in a boarding school where there's strict teachers, early curfews and great friends.

I knew from the prologue that I'd like this book. The story was interesting and the sentences were not difficult to understand or get used to. Since it is targeted towards middle grade children, the sentences were short but not too simple. The pacing was suitable and it was an easy read that'd be perfect to read after a long day. 

The Secret of Dinswood was suspenseful and cleverly planned. The riddles are somewhat easy to understand the characters are likable. Some of the side characters are one-dimensional but played very important roles in the development of the story. 

I also liked the closure of the story and how it was written. It is sad that this isn't a series because I'd like to read more about their lives in Dinswood.
Was this review helpful?
The Secret of Dinswood is a fun adventure novel for young teenagers. It harkens back to the likes of Enid Blyton and Scooby Doo! A very entertaining read full of pirates, mystery and friendship.
Was this review helpful?
Overall I enjoyed this book, although it took me a while to really get into it. The storyline was great: piracy, mystery, adventure, friendship, and a little young love. Where it lacked was in actual writing. Sometimes it seemed a little too simplistic, and I also felt like it spent too much time going into detail about things that really didn’t matter, such as exactly where the friends went at all moments of a given day.

Despite that, the storyline won me over, and I really hope that there will be more of these books! I’ve already been talking about it with some students and described it as Harry Potter-like, but with piracy roots and no magic.
Was this review helpful?
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my thoughts in any way.

The book in a few words: Boarding school. Pirate treasure. Mysterious hunt. Beautiful friendships. If that does not intrigue you at least a tiny bit, then I'm not sure this book's for you.

The Secret of Dinswood follows a group of students from Dinswood Academy in their quest to save their school from financial troubles by hunting for Lord Dinswood's hidden treasure. For a school that's been struggling financially, Dinswood Academy is so freaking extravagant! This is exactly the kind of school I would've dreamed of attending during my childhood.

Emma and her friends only went on this hunt to save their school from crippling financial troubles. They go on and on about how they must save the school because it means everything to them despite only being there for, what, a few months? Granted, they did meet their best friends there but is going to separate schools really that awful to risk their lives on the hunt?

The main character here is so well-developed; I love her so much! At the start of the book, I could really feel Emma's insecurities and anxiousness of being out of place in Dinswood Academy. Since it's a prestigious boarding school, only accepting the richest of the rich, Emma could only afford to go there because of her scholarship. Despite the best efforts of her friends, she can't deny that sometimes, she feel alienated among the wealthy crowd of students. I absolutely sympathize for her because I, personally, know that feeling which made me love and understand her better.

With that, I'd like to mention that Martha, Emma's best friend, is the epitome of a great friend. She has always been there for Emma from the beginning, and she has never let the superficial things like financial status get in the way of their friendship. However, although Martha has been a wonderful buddy to Emma, she hasn't been much help in the treasure hunt and frankly, she's a bit repetitive too. In another time, and in another story, I really would have loved her more.

The pacing was a bit slow at first, which allowed readers to fully get to know the main characters and get accustomed to the school. Unfortunately, I think the book could have done with a little bit of a faster pace in terms of the mystery since they only discovered a substantial piece of clue at around 72% of the book, and they were still clueless up to that point.

This is a great book and I would really recommend it if you don't mind a slower pace in mystery and if you love stories in boarding schools as much as I do!
Was this review helpful?
A Cozy Middle Grade Mystery In A Boarding House School

Oh, how I loved this wonderful adventure! The Secret of Dinswood is just the kind of book I wish I had read more of when I was actually in my middle grade years. There’s just something empowering about a bunch of kids solving mysteries and riddles, and potentially getting themselves in trouble, skulking around dark caves and castle hallways! Even aside from that, there’s the whole allure of kids in a boarding school, especially one in a castle! I absolutely loved The Secret of Dinswood, and I sure do hope this book will have a sequel. The little number 1, stamped on the cover, gives me hope! As does the ending. I hope it won’t take long till I can read about this fun bunch of adventurers again. 

It's About...

Emma is lonely. After losing her mother and with her father having started a new family, she feels alone and abandoned. That’s why she decides to look for a new place to belong. The solution comes in the form of a boarding school – and not just a simple one, but one with a rich history and situated in a beautiful castle. Being bright, Emma wins the scholarship and settles straight in. But she’s worried she won’t be able to enjoy the company of her friends for long, because rumor has it that the school is struggling financially. However, rumor also has it that the school was built by pirates on top of a big treasure… And it’s up to Emma and her friends to find out whether that’s true or not.

Just The Right Amount of Mystery, Adventure and Tension
The mood of The Secret of Dinswood is just right! It’s exactly what I imagine a middle grade adventure should be. There’s got to be a certain amount of mystery – but not to much, because what you expect from a good middle grade adventure is… that you’ll be able to crack it before the characters do (…or is that just me..?) You’ve also got to remember that most of its readers will be younger than you! So if you’ve cracked it, it will probably be enjoyable to them too, and may even be challenging, depending on a readers’ age. I loved this mystery – it had all the prerequisites! Let’s count them out:

- an old, romantic castle with secret passages and riddles
- pirates! PIRATES!!
- some actual baddies that pose the right amount of danger: they might get you, but you’re also probably safe cause there are adults around
- and… where would we be without good friends to fight your battles with

All of that makes a wonderful adventure, at least for me! It had the right amount of clues to still leave me guessing sometimes – which is just the right amount of mystery I enjoy as well. (But keep in mind, I am a gullible reader. However, that probably means your middle grade reader will enjoy the mystery too!)

Along with a good recipe for a nice adventure, The Secret of Dinswood also has nice, uncomplicated storytelling. I like some nice flowery prose, but sometimes I just want a story that doesn’t beat around the bush either. The Secret of Dinswood is told in a simple way, so the story flows along well and is easily readable. You don’t need to concentrate too much or work at it. Just sit down and let it entertain you.

There’s Just Something About Boarding Schools In Books…
 I wonder what it is that we like about boarding school stories so much? I think I am far from being the only one who enjoys boarding school stories, despite never having lived in one, or, god forbid, ever wanting to live in one. What is it that so appeals to us in these settings?
Well, for one thing, I guess a school in a castle already presents a setting that has the promise of all sorts of secrets lurking around the corner. But I don’t think it’s just that – I think what also appeals to us is the way human relationships can be explored in depth in such a setting. Students live with each other, eat their meals together – essentially, they become their own little world. Strong relationships are natural in these contexts, and I think we enjoy seeing them develop in front of our eyes.

The Secret of Dinswood, while not a magical boarding school, was still no exception – we see budding relationships as well as friendships and rivalries form in the school. Although the book is written more from a girl’s perspective, it gives a lot of attention to the boys as well. The story centers on Emma, a poor kid in a rich people’s school – and how she finds friends and adapts. Although we only ever see everything through Emma’s prism, the story is told in third person and gives a lot of attention to Emma’s best friend Martha, as well as their friends Doug and Sebastian. What I found the most adorable in the whole book was the budding affection between Emma and Doug – innocent and only on the friendship level for now, but so sweet, genuine and lovely. The reason why I love romance (or, like, pre-romance?) in middle grades as opposed to YA is because there is just so much less angst about crushes in middle grade books, and things just somehow work out. I’m aware that this mostly isn’t the case in the real world, but come on… Let me dream?

But It Also Does Heavy Topics
However, The Secret of Dinswood doesn’t just paint everything pink and flowery. There are quite a few heavier subjects that are dealt with in the book. For starters, there is the theme about the loss of a parent – both Emma and Doug have lost their mothers, although in different circumstances. They get a chance to share their burdens and talk these painful subjects through, helping each other deal with it. And not just that – they are also teased about it and have to learn to cope with how unfeeling the world can sometimes be to another person’s pain and loss.

Besides that, there is the theme of snobbery – the clash of the rich and poor, and prejudice that comes from it. Emma and Doug both come from simpler circumstances and are in the school through a scholarship – they had to work for it and they know where they stand. Meanwhile, most of the other kids comes from affluent families, some of which are completely unaware of their blessings. Worse than that, of course there will be “rich or poor” altitudes in a school like that. Emma and Doug get teased about being poor as well as not having a full family. The reader gets to see multiple attitudes – the people who think less of them because they aren’t rich, and the people who don’t. Ultimately, the message is that you can always choose your outlook and someone’s circumstances shouldn’t change their position in your eyes.

Overall, I really really enjoyed this story. The Secret of Dinswood is somewhere in between of mysteries for children with young detectives and young adventurers looking for treasure. It was just the right kind of amusing, cozy mystery with a great ending. I enjoyed it very much and will be impatiently waiting for the sequels!

I thank BHC Press for giving me a free copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion. Receiving the book for free does not affect my opinion.
Was this review helpful?
This is a fun, middle grade adventure novel set in a castle boarding school. Fans of Harry Potter who like the aspects of adventure with a group of friends in a boarding school location should enjoy this. There is no magical element to the adventures and most of the action happens toward the end of the book. The boarding school is a Christian school but the author is not heavy-handed with the religion. The book models positive values like patience, persistence, and being there for others. I would recommend for middle grades and older readers who enjoy books in this style.  

Thanks to NetGalley, BHC Press, and the author Ellen Alexander for an advanced electronic review copy.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of The Secret of Dinswood by Ellen Alexander. I voluntarily read and reviewed this copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

While studying at the Dinswood boarding school, four teenagers become friends and discover that a treasure hidden by the school's founder could be what they need to save their school from financial troubles. In order to find the treasure they must solve all the riddles before someone else does. 

The Secret of Dinswood is a story full of mystery, adventure and most important of all, friendship. The friendship between Emma, Martha, Doug and Sebastian is the foundation of this great story and flowed strongly throughout the whole book. The mystery never felt dragged on. The switch between heartfelt and dialogue chapters and the adventure and action chapters felt very natural. As a reader I was fully committed from the first page. 

The transition between different POV's was confusing at times. Maybe because of the E-book format, but quite a few sentences needed to be reread in order to determine that the POV had changed. 

All in all, a highly enjoyable book full of adventure that I recommend to readers of all ages.
Was this review helpful?
I would rate this book somewhere around 2 1/2 stars. It's not poorly written, it's just not all that interesting or original.

If a non-magical Harry Potter and Goonies had a baby it would look something like this book - but it wouldn't quite live up to the legacy of its parents. I think the biggest problem with this book is that it was somewhat difficult to care about whether or not the characters succeed. In this day and age it is hard to feel bad that a (pretentious) school which caters to rich kids might have to close - and readers are expected to believe that in the modern era this school operates with no computers or education-based technology? That's a stretch. Also, is the board of directors made up entirely of the parents of current students? Another point against it. 

The four main characters aren't overly interesting either. Emma's father and stepmother are presented as so awful they lose some credibility as realistic characters. The entire part of the story involving the school dance was little more than filler, made very little sense, and did nothing to move the plot forward. It also seemed as though the author wasn't sure what she wanted Clarice to be as a character - the way she's presented throughout much of the novel doesn't fit with her part in the treasure hunt. The big bad bully of the story is a cliche and the fact that this school was made for someone like him makes you care about it staying open even less. I don't want to include any spoilers here, but the way in which an adult uses the children for his own amusement (under the guise of having them prove there are students worth keeping the school open for) is troubling.

This is the first book in a series, but I'm not sure there is enough to sustain it through multiple books.

A note on the covers - the front cover looks like a Disney theme park castle and the picture on the first page looks like Hogswart. It would have been better to have an artist create something original to prevent comparisons to other works.
Was this review helpful?