The Secret of Dinswood

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

This had it's moments where it was very good and I really enjoyed and the majority where this was just okay. I wished that the main character focus was not on 4 but rather on a smaller number as there was a bit too much going on to follow all four clearly. The story did not have the all ages appeal I like in a middle grade stories but was a bit too juvenile. This was okay but it could have been much better.
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The Secret of Dinswood was an entertaining middle grade adventure focused on finding a pirate's treasure hoard. There was lots of action, plenty of puzzles, and a good pace, but I did find that it was a little uncomfortable in places due to some of the sexist stereotyping of boys and girls. If this is aimed at the 9-12 age bracket, then I thought that the focus on crushes was a little inappropriate - almost as if this had been intended to be YA and then aged down to fit the adventure side of things in. There's also, as other readers have mentioned, some very overt references to Christianity that felt out of place in a modern story - I do feel this should be labelled as Christian fiction. Despite this, the core adventure is fun, so I'm sitting on the fence as to a rating. I don't think I'd give it to a child of mine without a discussion about the issues with the viewpoints expressed by the author.
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This was my first book by this author, It was pretty enjoyable. I would give this book a 3.5 star rating! It was a pretty Quick and easy read!
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Ellen Alexander's The Secret of Dinswood follows 12-year-old Emma Higsby, who is desperate to get away from a home where she feels unwanted and unloved. Emma finds her way to Dinswood Academy, through a scholarship competition and finds herself at home in the mountainside castle school. Unfortunately, Dinswood has a funding issue and may not be open much longer. With the help of her friends, Emma finds a legend of hidden treasure from a legendary pirate and they push through trials to attempt to save their school with the secret treasure. I was provided a copy by BHC Press via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I was drawn to this story as the hunt for a place to belong is such a universal concept. Emma finding a new home, a place where she's meant to be, in Dinswood Academy feels right. Alexander's portrayal of boarding school is far more like my own experiences than the Harry Potter series or Curtis Suttenfield's much more adult Prep. Boarding schools, while giving free reign tend to not breed bullies and deep dividing lines. Unlike day schools, you have to live with these people, even if you aren't friends, you tend to find ways to let things go rather than escalate. Emma's experience of snobs, but not cruel people, truly feels realistic. However, as anyone can guess, that doesn't offer much to a plotline.

Instead, Alexander takes us down the path of hunting a hidden treasure to solve the schools solvency issues. Unfortunately, that really is maybe 20% of the book as a whole, most of the book is taken up by multi-page descriptions of relay races and school events that are rather boring and lead to skim reading to get through. Unfortunately, even when I was in middle school, a long description of a relay race wouldn't have held my attention.

I was, honestly, quite surprised to see quite so many nods to religion throughout the book, including long paragraphs about how Emma's soul found peace in the chapel. Given that this book only has Middle School and Teen & YA book tags, with no mention of religion in any descriptions that rings as rather problematic to me. In this day and age, parents - and children - should be able to make their own decisions about having religion in their Middle School/YA books.

Now for the elephant in the room, which quite a few people seemed to have picked up on, the language used in the book is incredibly old fashioned. I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that this book had been written 20+ years ago. As much as I love a good period drama this isn't quite that. Unfortunately, it falls in that in between zone that feels a bit out of touch not just with modern teens, but also modern adults would read with their kids.

While The Secret of Dinswood is a sweet book, it's concept is stronger than it's execution. I would've liked to have seen a stronger voice from the author rather than stayed cliche phrases and old-fashioned descriptions. 

This review will be published September 26, links will be added after this date.
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I did not complete this book and therefore will not be reviewing it on social sites. It had an interesting storyline and good writing but it had a little more of religion thrown into the mix than I was expecting and the story moved a little slowly. I think it would work for middle grade children , who like reading series' about schools.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 compelling...it'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.
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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
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DNF 

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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