Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: Amber House by Moore, Reed, & Reed

 Amber House by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Pages: 368
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

"I was sixteen the first time my grandmother died . . ."

Sarah Parsons has never seen Amber House, the grand Maryland estate that's been in her family for three centuries. She's never walked its hedge maze nor found its secret chambers; she's never glimpsed the shades that haunt it, nor hunted for lost diamonds in its walls.

But all of that is about to change. After her grandmother passes away, Sarah and her friend Jackson decide to search for the diamonds--and the house comes alive. She discovers that she can see visions of the house's past, like the eighteenth-century sea captain who hid the jewels, or the glamorous great-grandmother driven mad by grief. She grows closer to both Jackson and a young man named Richard Hathaway, whose family histories are each deeply entwined with her own. But when the visions start to threaten the person she holds most dear, Sarah must do everything she can to get to the bottom of the house's secrets, and stop the course of history before it is cemented forever.



I'm a character girl, and I pretty much disliked to hated all the characters. So my stars were shriviling up and dying right off the bat. I was super disappointed.

Sarah is the kind of girl like Nora from The Book of Blood and Shadow, and I don't ever really click with that kind of character. She bores and frustrates me with her emotional distance and slightly haughty approach to others.

Sam, Sarah's brother, was probably the most likable character, but he wasn't working for me either. Apparently he's autistic, but apparently in the world of Amber House "autistic" doesn't actually mean what it means in real life. Instead, "autistic" means "super special, precocious, and wildly brilliant beyond his years!" There were a few superficial nods to actual diagnostic criteria, but they were barely there and not very realistic.

So every time Sam came into the story I was torn between softening and liking him and being totally annoyed because his characterization was WRONG. I tried hard to pretend he wasn't autistic so I could just enjoy him as a regular character, but the authors made a point to not only mention it a bunch of times, they even tied in the super special power of fake autism into the MAIN CRUX of the plot! *GAH*

Then there's Sarah's mother, and she is AWFUL. My gosh, she's like a villainess she's so cruel. She reminded me a little of Lady Tremain from Cinderella with her ruthlessness and the way she tried to use her daughter to gain status. Worse, I think we're supposed to feel for her on some level, and while usually I love stories where the villain is given so much depth that you DO start to feel for them, Amber House isn't that kind of book.

Which leads me to my overarching character complaint: They were too cardboard. They felt like checklist characterizations without much substance to back up the surface level descriptors.


I'm a gigantic Gothic fiction fan, so I had pretty high hopes and expectations for Amber House. In terms of plot, I'd say Amber House was about 70% there for me.

There are two scenes that stand out in a BIG positive way and I'm pretty sure I'll remember for a long time. One is especially fantastic for its sheer creativity and holy-cow-I-want-that factor. It's incredibly awesome. (The hidden house).

Amber House definitely had the secrets from the past mingling with the present thing going on and I loved how Sarah's soft-paranormal ability let me peek into that past. I had a blast unravelling the family secrets and piecing together the truth about the Bad Things that happened.

Also, Amber House (the actual house) is one of THOSE houses that's big and glamorous and special and I love getting to explore all its nooks and crannies (and secret passage ways! And other even cooler secret things!). 

But, as with the characters, it all felt a little lacking. I wanted more from everything. The family secrets, once revealed, felt a little "That's it?" and also kind of convoluted. There were a few threads that I felt were left hanging, too.

The slavery sub-plot made me feel like I was back in elementary school being talked down to by teachers explaining how everyone in the past was either an abolitionist SAINT or an EVILLLLL slave owner who spent every waking second of their days whipping and raping their slaves. Yes, this is a YA book, but no, young adult readers aren't stupid and don't see the world in stark contrasts.

There was also a decent amount of time spent on "normal teen things" with Sarah going out on dates and stuff, and I was totally bored during these scenes. Also, it was of the more angsty teen variety than the romantic comedy light variety (she angsts about her mom and her parents' divorce, too).

I'm chalking my boredom up to a combination of my indifference toward the characters and the fact that I don't really like contemporary teen issues to begin with. There was nothing wrong with the writing here though, so readers who tend to like those things shouldn't have the problems I had with it.


Meh. There's a kind of love triangle, but I didn't get the feeling Sarah was really into either guy, and neither was I. Neither relationship dominate the plot though, so the fact that both felt underdeveloped and lackluster didn't affect the story much, which is fine by me since I like plot to take center stage over romance anyway.

Bottom line

Amber House was decent and I enjoyed the time I spent reading it, but I don't feel the need to keep my copy. I think I might have enjoyed it more if this had been my first introduction to Gothic fiction. I know I would have enjoyed it more if I clicked more with the characters.

Still, it's a fun way to spend some time and the fact that it's a standalone (or, at least it works fine as a standalone...any word on sequels?) is nice. If there was a sequel, I don't think I'd read it (too many books, too little time, and Amber House wasn't strong enough to make the sequel cut for me).

While there wasn't anything (that I can remember) that would make this particularly inappropriate for MG readers, I don't think it would appeal to them as much. Likewise, I'm not sure how engaged adult non-YA readers would be, especially given the more "teen" issues. The pace is moderate with some lulls and bursts of action, though it felt longer to me than it actually was.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Amber House that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews/Goodreads.


  1. I really enjoyed this one. Sorry you didnt. I liked Sarah, and loved to hate her mom. I really liked Jackson too. I really loved the house and wish I could have attended that party!

    1. Yay! I'm so happy you enjoyed it. I had really high hopes for it, so I'm happy to see that at least someone got to experience the book living up to them :P Oh yeah, I would have loved to have been at that party! Or, even better, get a chance to explore the house (but maybe not the spidery parts!)

  2. Too bad about this one! Like you, I'm definitely a character-driven reader, so hearing that the characters in Amber House aren't completely fantastic is rather disappointing.

    Though, on Sam: my sister has high-functioning autism, and she doesn't act in any way like you'd expect from your typical "autistic person"; actually, "precocious, super special, and billiant" describe my sister pretty well. (Albert Einstein had the same form of high functioning autism as well, as a matter of fact). Of course, I haven't read the book, so I can't really judge, but from what you describe, Sam seems to have the less stereotypical form of autism, which is much more common and less recognized by unaffected society.

    1. Well, the characters weren't fantastic for ME. I don't think there was anything wrong with Sarah's characterization though, so if you click with her personality then I think you'd enjoy the book a lot more.

      Hm, I'm even more interested now in seeing your take on the book and Sam! I don't know though, that may be the case, but he seemed not even like a genuine kid to me. He was "wise beyond his years" in a way that didn't seem right to me. Still, he was a sweet character.

  3. So sorry you didn't love it. I love the cover. Thanks for the heads up. I might have to try this one. :)

    1. The cover is beautiful. I hope you end up enjoying the book!

  4. Great review. That would bug me about the autistic kid who really wasn't characterized properly. The story sounds unique. Maybe I'll try it from the library.

    1. Yeah, it bugged me a lot. He's a nice kid though, so at least there was that. I'm very curious to see what you think of it if you read it.

  5. Aww too bad, I wanted it to be awesome but it sounds like it's not quite there for you - which probably means it isn't for me either!


    The evil lady does sound pretty evil, though, and always give a story props when they got a good villain.

    1. Nope, it fell short for me :(

      OH yeah. The mom was totally evil. I can't even properly describe how cruel she was.

  6. What?! The romance is "meh?!" Why did you send me this one?! Don't know what my requirements are?

    1. hehehehe (well, technically I didn't send it to you yet...)

  7. Wow...sounds like lack of great characters shot this one down a star...darn...the atmospheric aspects sound so good.

    1. Definitely lost stars for me because of the characters, but I wouldn't turn people away from reading it because of that. I think it's totally a case of either clicking with the characters or not and that's too personal to go off my experience only.

  8. Ugh. The brother's "autism" sounds like it was created very rudely and fake compared to what it actually is. That's not right... Eh :/ I don't think I could get over the characters... Not a book for me.
    She’s Got Books on Her Mind

    1. But looking at Renae's comment maybe her brother's autism was right...

    2. Yeah, maybe. He just didn't seem very realistic to me in any way. But I'm very curious to see Renae's take on him considering her own experiences.

      The characters didn't work for me, but they might for you! Sarah is written well, she just isn't the type of character I tend to like.

  9. I can feel your frustration with this book. I thought it was a nice premise, but I, too, am a character girl (and a plot driven girl). So...yeah, I think I'll pass this.

    1. Frustration is a very good word. I wanted to love it so much. I'd recommend giving it a shot and seeing if you connect with Sarah more than I did. If you do, then I think you'd enjoy the book a lot more.

  10. Not sure I would like the way the autistic character was approached and described either! I'm a bit conflicted because I am definitely intrigued by this hidden house idea, but I don't know how strong my interest is overall when I factor in the unlikeable characters...


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