Cover Image: The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story

The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Instead of spending her summer with her parents and friends at a fun cottage, Alice now must spend her summer with her mom and her nursing patient, Mrs. Bishop in Blackwood House while her parents contemplate divorce.  On their way to Blackwood House, Alice's train makes a hard stop and Alice gets a concussion and must spend time resting.  Blackwood House is full of antiques that Alice can't touch and the cantankerous Mrs. Bishop;  however, Alice finds a friend in the house cleaner's daughter, Lily.  Together, they explore Blackwood House and find a dollhouse replica of Blackwood House  in the attic. Alice begins to dream of the dolls in the dollhouse and slowly, what happens in Alice's dream dollhouse world begins to affect real life and real life begins to affect what is happening in the dollhouse. 
The Dollhouse is a haunting and magical middle grade mystery.  Though written for a middle grade level, I was easily pulled in by the intrigue of the dollhouse and the wonderfully written characters.  Alice was highly imaginative and anxious, placed in a setting where her imagination could run wild and dealing with many novel situations.  Lily has a developmental difference that allows her to see the world as open and welcoming.  I really enjoyed that Alice and Lily were fast friends.  The dollhouse world was fascinating.  I equally enjoyed the girls in the dollhouse, Bubbles and Fizz and how they reflected people in Alice's real world.  The mystery of the dollhouse and how Alice was connected to it kept me guessing until the end.  The themes that Alice and Mrs. Bishop dealt with throughout the book, grief, divorce and  loss of self identity are just as engaging.  

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
A spooky middle grade read.  I love Charis Cotter's books because they aren't too scary for kids and just scary enough for me.  At many points in the book I wasn't sure what was real and what was a dream, but that is kind of the point.  It keeps you guessing and pulls you through the story.  Loved it.
Was this review helpful?
Is Alice dead or maybe she is actually a doll?
Alice's parents are considering a divorce, so her mom, who was nurse, took a live-in job taking care of an elderly lady. During the journey, Alice severely hits her her when the train came to a grinding halt. Upon reaching thie destination, the first person Alice meets was girl named Lilly and shortly after, Fizz and her sister Bubble made an appearance.
"Are you a ghost?"
Was it possible that Fizz and Bubble made an apperance because of Alice's head bump or were they real?
This Gothic Middle Grade novel got me from the first word, I found the story to be entertaining and a nice little thrller for the young reader. Although the novel's foucus audience is toward 4th and 5th grade reader, in my opinion, any age would enjoy the novel. The story is fast paced and the characters are well fleshed out. Parts of the story were unexpected, in fact the novel reminded me of serveral of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and I gave the book four out of five stars.
This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Alice is having a rough start to summer - her parents are on the verge of divorce, her summer plans have been ruined because her mother accepted a new job as a live-in nurse for a mean old lady in a creepy old house, and she has a concussion from an accident on the train trip to the house. As if that wasn't enough, Alice has found a strange dollhouse in the attic, one that looks like an exact replica of the real house she's living in, and now the dolls are coming to life. As Alice tries to determine whether the events unfolding are real or all in her head, her interactions with the two houses begin to overlap, making the truth even harder to reveal.

I felt like the book started off very bland and flat, with the backstory being rather rushed, chapters ending with no conclusion or cliffhanger to keep you turning the page, and Alice's mother acting very inappropriately and it being treated like it is normal parenting behavior (fighting with her husband in front of Alice, essentially alienating the dad by airing her grievances, showing lack of concern for Alice when she starts having nightmares, etc.). I was pretty convinced I wasn't going to like the book after the first twenty or so pages, but I was determined to stick with it, and I'm glad I did! 

The writing pacing and form got better after Alice arrives at the house, and once the ride began, I was hooked and read the rest of the book in one sitting. Charis Cotter develops tension well and switches seamlessly between scenes in the dollhouse and the real house, a technique that is difficult to master as I often get easily frustrated by stories written in that back-and-forth style. I have ADHD and I often get focused on one storyline and just want to follow that one, and find myself jumping around chapters or slugging through to get to the part I like best, but Cotter did a very good job of blending the stories together so well that I was invested in both Alice and Fizz's stories equally. 

I also want to take a moment to praise how the author is inclusive and creates diverse characters (there may be potential light spoilers in this paragraph, please skip ahead if you do not want to reveal anything). While there is only a small cast of characters and thus not a large multitude of types of diversity in the story, the developmental delay of two characters is depicted accurately and respectfully - although the specific type or cause of their DDID is never named outright, we get sensitive depictions of it that are neither overdone nor half-baked, they are very realistic examples that develop the characters. I really like how other characters do not treat those characters like they are stupid or inferior, and form genuine bonds with them rather than out of pity or obligation. The one time that attitude is depicted by a minor character, it is made strikingly clear that is not acceptable and offensive.  There are times when this is not done perfectly, for example when Alice is describing one in passing as "a child not of this world," Alice's initial impression of the first character as wondering what is wrong with her (although I don't believe those are the exact words used, it was the impression it gave), and how Alice compares the second character to the first upon meeting them by recognizing the developmental delay, but to be fair, for the most part those are observations of a literal child who has not ever met someone who has DDID and Cotter did not take the easy pathway of blending these two characters into one unrecognizable amalgamation, using them solely as a plot device, or disrespecting their differences and I appreciate that. It is good to have positive representation of neurodiversity in horror where the character isn't always the monster or even suddenly a superhero with magical powers brought on by their differences and this is one of the better examples I've seen of that representation.

Because this is a middle grade novel, it isn't so scary it will keep you up at night, but there are some creepy moments that I felt were well written and atmospheric. There were many scenes where I was pleasantly reminded of other books and films, such as Coraline, Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge, The Others, and even Northanger Abbey, which is mentioned in the story as a parallel though I've never read it (never been an Austen fan, but I may be convinced after this one). I even ended up tearing up at the twist even though I already knew what was coming around the first fifty pages, given I'm fairly good at predicting these things and, being a middle grade novel, it isn't too complex to deduce what's going on fairly early on. Despite having a pretty good idea of what was going on, I enjoyed the apprehension Cotter weaved in Alice's confusion and fear of whether what she was experiencing was real, a dream, or something darker.

Overall, The Dollhouse is a heartfelt, fast-paced, spooky story with depth. I typically like my middle grade novels to contain important lessons, and while I still wish the beginning backstory and behavior of the mother had been more appropriate, the themes of friendship, trauma, and the impact of repressing secrets were very meaningful. This book would make an excellent movie, one I'd be eager to see even after I just saw the whole thing play out in my imagination. It has a near-perfect mix of horror, action, mystery, and sentiment. 

Note: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley. I was not compensated in any other fashion for the review and the opinions reflected below are entirely my own. Special thanks to the publisher and author for providing the copy.
Was this review helpful?
I can understand the dilemma in middle grade horror. You want to give a mild scare without risking traumatizing your reader. This can mean, though, that the scares lack teeth. There is no real threat to the characters, just a spooky atmosphere. The reveal is a bit confusing.
Was this review helpful?
Gothic and creepy: will definitely make your kids afraid of dolls if they aren't already. Another good option for the spooky season!
Was this review helpful?
I am a little unsure what to make of this book. It captivated me from the start, but I also found it quite confusing. It is well written, extremely atmospheric and intriguing. You have an excellent sense of location and are constantly trying to figure out just what is happening with Alice, Fizz and the dollhouse. The surreal, other-worldly atmosphere that Alice is experiencing is captured extremely well. I also loved the character Lily, and the acknowledgment that the author provides at the end. Thoroughly enjoyable along the way, however, I wasn't 100% satisfied with the resolution.
Was this review helpful?
When Alice's parents decide to split up, her mom finds a job as a live-in nurse taking care of the elderly Mrs. Bishop who recently took a tumble in her beautifully preserved 1830's Georgian-style home called Blackwood. Once they are settled in, an interesting series of ghost sightings, all-too-real dreams, and a secret dollhouse in the attic plague Alice's every waking moment. 
As Alice falls deeper into the mystery of Blackwood and its secret dollhouse, her own reality begins to shatter around her. Can she find the answers even as she slips into her own dark imagination?

  I loved Small Spaces by Katherine Arden so I jumped on the chance to read this and wasn't disappointed!
The mystery of the dollhouse and the house's original occupants will take you for a spin and the spook factor will keep you on the tip of your toes! I was thoroughly absorbed in this mysterious ghost story and didn't want to put it down!

I especially loved the attention to detail when describing Blackwood and its interior and also that the MC had just enough knowledge of the architectural style (thanks to an old-house-obsessed father) that we are given a little info on it upfront. As a big fan of spooky, old houses--both in literature and real life--that tickled my fancy a lot and helped me imagine the house better as I was reading.

Middle-grade readers will love this!
Was this review helpful?
Let me start by saying that the cover is absolutely breathtaking. It's honestly a whole vibe that's perfect for the season. 

I really enjoyed this one. There's something about middle grade spooky stories that I just can't get enough of. Alice is a character that everyone will fall in love with, hurt for, and root for. The writing style set an eerie tone throughout. I went into it blind and I think thats the best way, so I won't give any spoilers. 

I recommend this for all ages.
Was this review helpful?
Hmm. I have teetered back and forth between 2 and 3 stars for this one. I think I'm settling on a 2.5 rounded down and I'll explain why.

Let's start with the good: this was a creative story. It kind of reminded me a little bit of that movie The Others with Nicole Kidman. It didn't have the same plotline or anything, but it did give me the same vibes. I liked that the line between the real word and the dollhouse world became thinner and thinner to the point that the reader couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't.

But here is where I roll into what I had the major problem with... by the end of the book, I still couldn't tell if certain things were real and actually happened or if they were just fake memories. Alice had several memories or dreams of things that did/didn't happen and there was no closure or explanation. Sure, we found out what really happened in Mrs. Bishop's life, but I still have no clue what went on in Alice's. I don't know what the parallels mean and what actually happened.

Some will argue that's the beauty of a good ghost story. Not me. I need answers. Otherwise, what did I spend my time reading this book for? I went through all of the confusion to get to the end and leave feeling.... confused? Argh.

It was compelling enough and it was something different that I haven't read before, but it's just not the type of ghost story I like.
Was this review helpful?
What a unique book. I was drawn to the gothic elements and the creepy premise but I stayed for the multiple mysteries all unfolding at once. The tone was so creepy throughout that I found myself unable to separate myself from the story. I do think the middle of it dragged a bit but the ending picked up again.
Was this review helpful?
Well it was a fine book. Can’t say it was my favorite but it was enjoyable. Thanks for the read and chance to read it
Was this review helpful?
A haunting tale that blurs the boundaries between the dream world, the supernatural and reality.  The isolated, ancient house makes for a perfect gothic backdrop, as Alice and her mother arrive to tend to the cantankerous, elderly owner. On the first evening and after a nasty bump and suspected concussion on the train journey,  Alice awakens to find herself rigid and staring into the face of a ghostly girl around her own age. Both girls are afraid that the other is an apparition. The mysterious link between them materialises as none other than an intricate dollhouse locked away in the attic. It is an exact replica of the house and its inhabitants; past and present. So unravels the stories of young Fizz, intertwined with that of the elderly homeowner Fiona and the concussed Alice. The mystery becomes darker as we question whether events have unfolded as a result of Alice's head injury; Has she has dreamed them?; Is she more susceptible to supernatural phenomena following her accident ? Or is there a deeper magical force is in play that has created this between world alternative reality? It is a gripping and thrilling read.
Was this review helpful?
I am a sucker for middle-grade ghost stories, and The Dollhouse caught my attention right off the bat. 

The premise is really interesting, Alice a 12-year-old girl who is looking forward to spending the summer with her friends, has to cancel all her plans due to parental drama. Alice and her mother who is a nurse, head to a creepy mansion to care for an elderly woman with a beautiful dollhouse that has a spooky past. Due to a bumpy start, Alice begins to discover that playing with locked up dollhouses isn’t always fun and games. 

Overall, it was a good read and I really think it suits a middle grade audience. I highly recommend it especially with the spooky season approaching. 

Thank You to Charis Cotter and Penguin Random House, for the digital ARC provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
Was this review helpful?
This book definitely has the creepy element that middle school readers enjoy. I enjoyed it and  felt spooked at times. For example, how  terrifying would it be to wake up in the dark of the night to breathing in the bed next to you. 

At times I felt confused as Alice moved between reality and dream world or whatever it was. Even after reading, I’m not exactly sure of the explanation, but the writing was so good it kept me turning pages into the night. 

The story may be a little long for some readers to stick it out. 

So what’s going on? 

Life is being upended for Alice and not in a good way. Her parents aren’t getting along and the divorce word has been mentioned. This fact causes them to cancel their yearly cottage trip. This is the event that Alice waits for the whole  the school year. Instead, Alice and her mom are heading to some small, back woods town where Alice's mom will be a live-in nurse to a rich and grouchy elderly lady who very much dislikes children. I’m still a bit fuzzy as to why her mother chose this route. 

Anyway, the house is huge, imposing and spooky, and everything inside, although ancient, has been kept in pristine condition. In other words it is not a fun place to spend the summer. Things start to get weird when Alice finds an intricately designed dollhouse in the forbidden attic that's an exact replica of the house she's living in. Then she wakes up to find a girl asleep next to her in her bed—a girl who looks a lot like one of the dolls from the dollhouse.

As the dollhouse evolves and becomes a disturbing part of Alice’s waking and sleeping world, she becomes determined to solve the mystery. Alice is a whole lot braver than I would have ever been. Who are the girls in the dollhouse? What happened to them? And what is their connection to the unkind and mysterious woman who owns the house?
Was this review helpful?
There were a lot of really cool elements here, but on the whole I must confess that I found it rather confusing. Particularly as a middle grade-themed book. I'm still not entirely sure what was real and what wasn't - and not in a good way. 

I really enjoyed the descriptions and the setup. But as the back-and-forth got more intense and there seemed to be no rules, rhyme, nor reason to any of it, I found myself floundering both in my feelings of coherence about the story and, frankly, in my connection to it. It never occurred to me to stop reading, I was constantly on the lookout for the thread that would tie it all together, but it never came. As a result it left me confused rather than entertained... 

Still, there was a lot of really fantastic stuff here. The description and characterizations very interesting, and there are some novel constructs that I really enjoyed seeing introduced. But the whole thing felt really fuzzy, and I'm not sure I'd easily be able to recommend it as a result...
Was this review helpful?
Somewhere in the back of my mind, this reminded me of a set of books I used to read in school. There were three children: Biff, Chip, and Kipper, and they had a magic key that would glow and suck them into an old dollhouse and the children would have magical adventures. Does anyone remember those? The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story reminded me slightly of that, only with a much eerier vibe.

Alice and her mom move into an old Georgian house, where her mom is going to work as a nurse and caretaker to elderly Mrs Bishop. The house seems perfectly normal at first, but when Alice falls asleep things start to happen. Is she dreaming or is it something else? Alice is curious, and eager to discover the secrets hidden inside the house, and the mystery of the dollhouse that lives in the attic.

The story is sufficiently creepy, and constantly had me wondering just what was going on, and what would happen next. At times it felt like I had the answers and then something else would happen to make me question it. And I will admit that not one of my guesses turned out to be correct.

The one thing I will say about this book is that although it is a middle grade, I personally did find it to be a little creepy. I don’t think I’m an easily spooked person but this did manage it. And as the mother of an almost 8 year old, I would want to wait until she is quite a bit older before I attempt to read this with her as I know that some of the themes and scenes would terrify her and she would most definitely have nightmares. One of the main themes of this book is death, and while she is not a stranger to that, it is also not a theme she is currently able to handle in her books.

All that being said, the imagination that brings the story to life is quite special. The voice of the narrator, Alice, really does pull you in and make you feel like you are experiencing it right along with her. The mystery really is solved as Alice discovers pieces of information, and everything unfolds gradually.
Was this review helpful?
This is a spooky, interesting story and I enjoyed seeing the tale unfold and guessing what was really going on. Alice and her mother are on their way to a new town to live with an elderly woman who needs a nurse after a bad fall. After the train stops abruptly, causing Alice to have a concussion, things start getting strange. Alice starts having vivid dreams that take place in the twenties and has visions of things that may or may not have happened.

Alice is a fun main character, she tries to make sense of everything going on and isn't afraid to stand up to grumpy Mrs. Bishop. She makes a cute friend named Lily, who helps her investigate the mysterious dollhouse and how it relates to the dream world. The girls had a sweet relationship and their interactions were my favorite parts.

I did think there would be more ghosts or scary scenes, but since this is a middle grade read I understand not making it too creepy. The ending has a nice wrap up but leaves a bit of mystery for readers.

I voluntarily read and reviewed this book. Thank you to Penguin Random House and NetGalley for the copy.
Was this review helpful?
This was such a great spooky middle grade read.  I would have definitely picked this one up a kid who loved all things spooky.  This is coming out at the perfect time just it time for the spooky season.
Was this review helpful?
(My rating is actually 4.5 stars but this does not allow for half points.)

Alice must leave the city for the summer with her mother who is to act as a live-in nurse for a difficult old lady. Alice’s father, an absentee workaholic, is not with them, and the threat of her parents’ divorce hangs over the young girl. In the attic, she finds an old dollhouse, an exact replica of the house she is currently living in. One night, she is visited by the ghost of a girl about her own age, who matches one of the dolls in the dollhouse. Alice, who knows herself to have an overactive imagination, must determine wether the ghost is real and, if so, why she is being haunted.

This is a children’s/middle grade novel, so although it is a ghost story it isn’t overly scary. Honestly, that is why I read it, as I scare easily and would have stayed away from an adult ghost story. I don’t know how it would appeal to a child, but I really loved it. Alice reminded me a bit of myself as a child, curious and living in her imagination. It may appeal particularly to older Millenials, because the setting is very reminiscent of the mid-eighties to nineties. (Actually, if I do the math of the events in the book, that time would make perfect sense.) There are no cell phones, tablets, wifi, or any of the other things we can entertain ourselves with today, so Alice relies on her new friend (the daughter of the housekeeper) and her imagination. 

The mystery of who the ghost is, if she really is a ghost, where she came from, and how she can be released is heightened by the fact that the reader cannot entirely rely on Alice’s perceptions because they are, by her own admission, sometimes unreliable. It was refreshing to have a narrator who is honest about their own unreliability. 

I loved the tone of the book. It reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it didn’t leave the same slightly bitter taste in my mouth. I found The Dollhouse hopeful, despite the darkness contained in the tale. I admit I had tears in my eyes at some points, and could not stop turning the pages to learn how it would all be resolved. This book is lovely: sad, hopeful, nostalgic, thrilling, and entirely satisfying.
Was this review helpful?