Summary: Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, she knows there’s something odd about the place—not least the walls covered in strange antique paintings. But when Olive finds a pair of old spectacles in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside these paintings to a world that’s strangely quiet . . . and eerily like her own Yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets—and Morton, an undersized boy with an outsize temper.
As she and Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It’s up to Olive to save the house from the dark shadows, before the lights go out for good.
- Full of humor and wit
- Finally, a book with talking animals that I actually enjoyed
I decided to tackle THE SHADOWS after reading a bit of Jacqueline West’s writing during my past internship. I don’t read too many middle grade novels, though I ought to, so THE SHADOWS was a refreshing change of pace to my reading pile.
Olive moves into an old Victorian house over the summer. After exploring the house’s various rooms, Olive discovers a pair of old spectacles that allows her to jump into the various portraits throughout the house. The concept of THE SHADOWS, the first book in the Books of Elsewhere series, reminds me a bit of the old Nickelodeon cartoon Chalk Zone. The idea was well executed and the paintings came alive in my imagination.
This book is quite funny. I don’t know if it’s middle grade humor in general or just simply West’s writing that cracks me up into a fit of giggles. Olive’s parents nerdy jokes sometimes went right over my head, but I adored their geeky ways. Olive was a great protagonist. I love how she isn’t characterized as traditionally book smart. Unlike her scholarly parents, Olive has no talent for math. Instead, she has more of an artistic streak. As a person who loves humanities, I was really glad to read about a protagonist who excelled in the arts.
Believe it or not, this is one of the few instances where I find the talking animals okay – in fact, they were more than okay. Horatio, Leopold, and Harvey added wit and humor to the novel and it would not have been the same without them. The three cats were fantastic secondary characters. They each had a vibrant personality. They made me giggle.
I did start to feel frustrated by the storyline halfway through the book. I thought the pacing started to drag. However, the pacing did pick up towards the end of the novel.
THE SHADOWS ties up nicely, so I am curious to know what’s next for Olive in the following Books of Elsewhere novels. This isn’t my new favorite middle grade series, but I did enjoy reading it. I will definitely continue on with the series, but I might pick up the sequel in audiobook format.
About the Author
This is Jacqueline West. Jacqueline loves dogs of all shapes and sizes, is sadly allergic to cats (though she manages to write about them without developing a rash), and is at least a little bit afraid of all fish larger than a hot dog bun. If you are sharing a pizza, she will ask for the crust pieces. Don’t get her talking about Kurt Vonnegut, Tori Amos, Northern Exposure, or Sylvia Plath, or you’ll be sorry. Jacqueline lives amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota, with her husband and her dog, a Springer Spaniel mix named Brom Bones.
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