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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.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published June 9, 2010

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Jacqueline West

24 books659 followers
Jacqueline West on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jacquel...

Jacqueline's blog: http://jacquelinewest.com/blog/

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,144 reviews
Profile Image for human.
640 reviews987 followers
August 12, 2021

This was pretty much as good as I remember it. I absolutely love the concept that this book is centered around, and it has just enough mystery and magic and adventure to keep things entertaining. It's a book that you can pick up and quickly finish, while also being completely absorbed in at the same time.

Eight-year-old me clearly had good taste in books 😎
65 reviews3 followers
February 15, 2010
Rarely do I, as a male, identify with female characters. However, in the case of Olive I was able to lose myself in the story completely. Elements of Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman, and a touch of Madeleine L'Engle combine flawlessly to create a story that is both fascinating and engrossing. However, it is truly unfair to compare West to other authors without highlighting the fact that while her style and prose are reminiscent of the aforementioned others it is still unique and refreshing. Her worldbuilding and character development are done with the panache of a poet. Truly a delight to read.
Profile Image for Robert Kent.
Author 10 books33 followers
February 26, 2013
FIRST PARAGRAPH: MS. MCMARTIN WAS definitely dead. It had taken some time for the neighbors to grow suspicious, since no one ever went in or came out of the old stone house on Linden Street anyway. However, there were several notable clues that things in the McMartin house were not as they should have been. The rusty mailbox began to bulge with odd and exotic mail-order catalogs, which eventually overflowed the gaping aluminum door and spilled out into the street. The gigantic jungle fern that hung from the porch ceiling keeled over for lack of water. Ms. McMartin’s three cats, somewhere inside the house, began the most terrible yowling ever heard on quiet old Linden Street. After a few days of listening to that, the neighbors had had enough.

Esteemed Reader, Friedrich Nietzch once wrote, "if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you." Or maybe it was his sister. Either way, I'm still not entirely sure what it means. But it inspired Hitler, who was a painter. In The Books of Elsewhere, if you stare into a painting, the painting stares into you. And that ought to be worth an email from author Jacqueline West asking why I used Hitler to segue to her book for children:)

What is it about paintings that so captures the imagination of writers? Certainly enchanted paintings have played a central role in the works of Rowling, King, Wilde, Dahl, and many, many others. Perhaps it's that the frame of a painting sometimes looks less like the boarder of a picture and more like the edge of a window to another world. An Elsewhere TM where the viewer could tour alien landscapes, meet interesting characters, and maybe even get in an adventure. For most viewers this will never happen because they don't have the magic old-fashioned glasses.

Meet eleven-year-old Olive Dunwoody. She has the glasses.

West didn't just kill off poor Ms. McMartin in paragraph one for no reason. She's left that old stone house on Linden Street vacant so Olive and her family can move in:

It wasn’t long before someone heard about the old stone house for sale at an astonishingly low price and decided to buy it.
These someones were a Mr. Alec and Mrs. Alice Dunwoody, a pair of more than slightly dippy mathematicians. The Dunwoodys had a daughter named Olive—but she had nothing to do with the house-buying decision. Olive was eleven, and was generally not given much credit. Her persistently lackluster grades in math had led her parents to believe that she was some kind of genetic aberration—they talked to her patiently, as if she were a foreign exchange student from a country no one had ever heard of.

Observe how West identifies conflict between her characters in their introduction, which is a writer's trick worth making note of. After all, the whole point of crafting characters is to get them in conflict with each other and as many other conflicts as can be had. Conflict keeps pages turning.

Olive's parents are nerds of the highest order to such an extreme degree as to make Elissa Brent Weissman blush. For this reason, it's hard not to be fond of them, but seriously:

“We met in the library at Princeton,” answered Mrs. Dunwoody, her eyes glowing with the memory. “We were both reading the same journal—The Absolutely Unrelenting Seriousness of Mathematics for the New Generation —”
“Or ‘Ausom’—get it?” interjected Mr. Dunwoody. “‘Awesome.’ Very clever.”


I suspect Olive will grow up to be a nerd of a very different sort: an English nerd, which is a nerd just as awkward as a math nerd, though usually possessing a greater fondness for alcohol:) Olive is aloof and introspective. She doesn't appear to have friends, but that's an unfair judgement as she just moved. Still, if there weren't fantastical figures about for her to get in an adventure with, I'm certain she would invent them. Olive's mind is quite a bit like a writer's mind, and I suspect writer's everywhere will identify with this passage, which might have been taken from my own youth:

In her bedroom, Olive dug through the closet looking for a pair of slippers to wear for protection against the chilly stone floor. But there were no slippers to be found. Olive owned six pairs of slippers, but none of them were ever where they belonged. This was because Olive's body often did things without consulting Olive's brain, which was usually busy with something much more interesting than putting things away in the right place.

In any case, West puts Olive at odds with her parents from the start and keeps them at odds for much of the novel. There are many plot conveniences derived from this device, but more, it creates conflict, which keeps pages turning. Olive's issues with her parents are not the main conflict, though I might argue that a girl who feels out of place in her family might be more prone toward seeking out fantastical worlds of escape than one who doesn't.

West has a whole adventure planned for us rooted in a greater conflict that will stretch over the series, but that doesn't diminish the brilliance of Olive's smaller conflict with her parents. Every scene she has with her parents is made more interesting and more readable because of the conflict, and is there such a thing as a book that is too interesting or readable?

Eventually, Olive puts on the magic old-fashioned glasses and is able to travel to a wonderland inside the houses paintings complete with talking cats who never seem to have good news:

“Keep your eyes open. Be on your guard. There is something that doesn’t want you here, and it will do its best to get rid of you.”
“Get rid of me?”
“Of all of you. As far as this house is concerned, you are intruders.” Horatio paused. “But don’t get too anxious. There’s very little you can do about it either way.

And so begins an adventure that will suck the reader into West's world as Olive is sucked into a painting. The Shadows is an exciting first novel in what promises to be a wonderful series and you should add it to your reading list. That's where I'll leave my review and my description of the plot as to avoid spoilers.

But I do have two more passages to share and one last point to make about craft. First, read this:

And the painting at the top of the stairs still seemed to be keeping a secret. Olive stood in front of it for almost half an hour that first night, until her eyes crossed and bits of the trees popped out at her. Nothing. Nothing but the feeling that there was something not quite right about this painting.
And it wasn’t the only one.
There were paintings all over the house that gave her the same funny feeling. Right outside her bedroom door, there was a painting of a rolling field with a row of little houses in the distance. It was evening in the painting, and all the windows in the houses were dark. But the houses didn’t look like they were sleeping comfortably, just waiting for sunrise to come and start another day. The houses looked like they were holding their breath. They crouched among the trees and blew out their lights, trying not to be seen. Seen by what? Olive wondered.

One of the things that had attracted me to read The Shadows in the first place was the promise by other readers that it was a scary book. And I was not disappointed. There are some definite moments of unease and creepiness. I'm admittedly not a parent, but I think most children will enjoy the book and few will have nightmares. Some will, though:)

My second point about craft is to note how West chooses to reveal the magical properties of the paintings surrounding the Dunwoody family. She doesn't bluntly state that a person can travel through them, or even that the paintings gaze into the Dunwoodys in a most Nietzchian fashion. Instead, she draws out the suspense by slowly revealing there's maybe something going on with those paintings:

The shadows suddenly rippled and bent, and within the shadows, a pale splotch darted out of the undergrowth. Olive froze, staring at the white path. She blinked, rubbed her eyelids with her fingertips, and looked again. Yes—there it was. Something was moving inside the painting, a tiny white shape flitting between the silhouettes of the wiry trees. Olive held perfectly still. She didn't even breathe. The tiny white shape made one more quick plunge toward the path, then dove back into the thorny black forest. And then the painting, too, was perfectly still.

When writing middle grade, writers are too often tempted to cut corners as the text must be as sparse as possible (there are acceptable word counts to strive for). Pacing is worth considering and shorter is almost always better, but some effects are worth slowing down for. By drawing out the reveal of a magical object, a writer can heighten suspense and work the reader into a vulnerable frenzy of wanting to know more, which is a perfect state in which to terrify them:)

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from The Shadows:

Mr. Hambert, on the other hand, was sweating like a mug of root beer in the sun

In the big old house, their belongings looked small and out of place, like tiny visitors from outer space trying to blend in at a Victorian ball.

Her parents had warned her not to let her imagination run away with her ever since she was three and had woken them night after night wailing about the sharks hiding under her bed. “Olive, honey,” her father had patiently explained, “when a shark is out of the water, it is crushed by the weight of its own body. A shark couldn’t survive under your bed.” Three-year-old Olive had nodded, and went on to imagine sharks slowly suffocating among the dust bunnies.

Half of Olive’s brain said, That cat just talked! The other half of Olive’s brain said stubbornly, No it didn't All Olive’s mouth said was, “What?”

In the distance, she heard her father knocking his toothbrush on the sink. The house creaked. A twig of the ash tree tapped softly against her window, again and again, like a small, patient hand.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
132 reviews11 followers
March 8, 2010
Brilliant debut novel by Jacqueline West! I receive plenty of ARC's every year, but very few that leave me satisfied and excited for the follow-up.

SPOILER ALERT!!! This Victorian-esque mystery novel has a brilliant and strong heroine in Olive Dunwoody. She is an average girl with genius mathematical parents, and she feels her ordinary existence as she moves from school to school for her parents career. Olive's parents finally decide to put down some roots, and they choose the most unique, spooky and creepy house to move in to, with Olive having no say in the matter in her parents eagerness to snatch up a house where lonely Miss McMartin died - at the age of 104. Olive soon learns that the house is not normal as she begins to sift through Miss McMartin's belongings, coming across an old pair of spectacles that she soon discovers has magical powers, namely to see old portraits and paintings come to life. Olive uses the spectacles to enter the paintings, and soon thereafter, excitement and danger lurks in every corner. She befriends sweet Morton, a boy who is a part of a painting, a boy who remembers a hazy past, but Olive dismisses him as just a painted figure who wishes for more. Joining their friendship are the wonderful talking cats, Horatio, Leopold and Harvey. Together, they fight the forces that are trying to take over the house and trying to snuff Olive's existence by making her a part of the spooky paintings.

This is the kind of book you should put in the hands of children who are looking for an excellent mystery novel, and are fans of Harry Potter, Coraline, Molly Moon, and books and characters steeped in the mysterious supernatural and magical. I would recommend this book children in grades 4 through 8, although it would be an enjoyable read for any age.

Profile Image for Melki.
5,785 reviews2,340 followers
October 2, 2017
Well, this one had great potential . . .

Eleven-year-old Olive and her parents move to an old house that comes furnished with all the previous occupant's possessions. When Olive stumbles upon a pair of glasses that allow her to crawl inside paintings, things take a turn for the mysterious. Great idea, eh? And it could have led to some fantastic adventures, but the author just didn't go there. Perhaps if the book had been longer, there could have been some whimsical bits with the paintings, before we got down to the main plot, which is an attempt to reanimate an evil old man.

Olive herself is a rather blah, and not a very endearing character. Even the three talking cats failed to enchant me. Perhaps the author stretches her imagination a bit further in the next few books, but I won't be continuing on with the series.
Profile Image for Joseph Brink.
365 reviews24 followers
September 28, 2022
This book claimed to be similar to Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl. I was highly skeptical, but the description was spot-on.

Jacqueline West captured a Dahl-esque humor and a Gaiman-esque creepiness in this delightful little book. I devoured this in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tbh, my initial reaction to pulling this book off the library shelf was total disinterest. The authors name meant nothing to me, the title was cheesy, and the cover is kind of gross, of I'm being honest (nothing like the ominous, disorienting sketches inside, which were incidentally by the same artist, but which I absolutely loved).

I'm glad I didn't judge it by its cover and gave it a try, because it was definitely worth it. And, after also just reading "Long Lost" by the same author, I am happy to report that her books seem to be consistently good.

I will be reading more of this series soon. :)
Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,681 reviews124 followers
May 20, 2012
I have a favorite pen. The ink seeps out of it so I hardly have to press the felt tip to the paper. Bliss... no callouses, no hand-cramps, just my handy-dandy pen and a cup of tea when I sit down to write. So imagine the irony when I come across this paragraph that I absolutely have to write in my journal and I can't find my blasted pen:

"In her bedroom, Olive dug through the closet looking for a pair of slippers to wear for protection against the chilly stone floor. But there were no slippers to be found. Olive owned six pairs of slippers, but none of them were ever where they belonged. This was because Olive's body often did things without consulting Olive's brain, which was usually busy with something much more interesting than putting things away in the right place. A second pair of socks would have to do."

Olive, I mutter, grabbing a ball-point pen I know will leave my hand cramped, I know exactly how you feel.  The reader immediately gets a feel for Olive's creative, random nature contrasted with her nerdy, brilliant mathematical parents. At dinner, Olive asks for a small helping of lima beans and her mother says, "Twenty-four for you, then."  And while you might not be able to relate to Olive (like myself), you will definitely laugh.

Olive has just moved into a creepy Victorian stone house with a scary basement, talking cats, and paintings where the objects move. She's kind of lonely in the big old house but has a blast exploring its nooks and crannies. When she finds a pair of spectacles she realizes she can climb into the paintings and of course, jumps in the painting that is creepy. She's also intrigued because she can see a boy running through it. Meet Morton. His skin looks like a painting or porcelain but he wants out of the painting. He explains that a bad man brought him there and when a dark shadow chases them she impulsively yanks Morton out of the painting with the help of one of the cats and puts him in another one that is less threatening.

Her next painting adventure involves meeting a women in a painting and having tea with her making her first friend. She also breaks the tea cup, puts 10 cubes of sugar in her tea, and thwacks her head on the picture frame when exiting, but she's having a hey-ho time until she starts to find out things from people in other paintings about the bad man that put them there. The man who has now targeted Olive because she lives in his house. The man who wants to kill her.

The pacing is fast, the humor keeps the story from being too frightening for young readers, and the characters are kooky and fun. The writing is very descriptive and the author creates a setting that is easy to get lost in. Mrs. Dewey she describes as looking as if she had been stacked on top of each other like a snowman. The cats are like the Three Musketeers with one cat being the thespian. He switches his voice using a pirate voice or a Shakespearean voice, to name a few. He reminded me of my sister who used to do that except she was either a Looney Tune character or the lion in the Wizard of Oz.

There were some nice plot twists and I was kept guessing as to what would happen next. When all looks lost Olive recognizes that the mess they are in is really because of her actions and it was refreshing to see her take responsibility for them. Only a couple of times did I wonder why the cats do not give Olive necessary information. The ploy is to keep the reader guessing as to whether or not the cats are helping or hindering Olive and the author gives the reason that they are serving the McMartins but I thought it was weak. I thought they should have had a curse on them similar to the necklace.

Morton changes from a frightened mean boy to one willing to stand up to evil. It was funny when he was hiding under the bed and then crawls out to explain how he had decided to fight the bad man and says he's strong flexing his spaghetti arm. Morton and Olive become friends in the story and Olive has to apologize for not believing in him. Morton is younger than Olive and their friendship requires Olive to be kind and not be the know-it-all older brat. She is a good person who learns from her mistakes.

This book reminded me of Breadcrumbs with how the author describes cold weather. It is like another character in the story the way it pervades the pages with images of snowmen, ice daggers, and crystals. West does such a good job getting the senses involved that I was left with a frosty nose a few times. A fun fantasy read.

Reading Level 5.1
Profile Image for Leah.
212 reviews8 followers
March 16, 2011
This volume by Jacqueline West, The Shadows, is first in the series of Elsewhere. Right away - loved the cover. If you see it in person, the cover actually reflects light and looks like it's glowing. The drawing is a perfect likeness to Olive, the main character. Each illustration is a mix of creepiness and adorability.

I am amazed by Jacquline West and her ability to pack in multiple story lines, adventure and several twists with a few heapfuls of angst in 241 pages. She tells the tale of Olive Dunwoody moving into her family's first home - the McMartin mansion. This is no ordinary creepy old house - it's a keeper of secret portals disguised as paintings. Olive discovers a pair of enchanted spectacles that allow the paintings to come to life when she looks through them and even enters them. Olive meets a distraught boy, Morton, in a painting of her own street and works to free him. Olive battles the evil that lurks in the paintings in a way that parallels Christianity. In order to explain that comparison I'd have to spoil the story so I'll just leave the ending for you to discover.

I loved Olive's spunkiness in this story. When she battles evil old Aldous McMartin, she stubbornly tells him, "I am not afraid of you," and later "Is that supposed to be scary? Because it isn't." Even when he induces the feeling of spiders covering her body, causing her stomach to lurch, she simply tells herself This isn't real, this isn't real, this isn't real. In today's world of catastrophes and powers that be, who wouldn't want to be like Olive?

The best part of the story was how she threw in twists early into the story line as well as in the middle and end. The story never sagged and was full of surprises. Olive's predicament is resolved, but not the entire big picture, leaving the door wide open for a sequel but not to the extreme that it weakens the book. The only thing I didn't care and took my by surprise was the dark elements of witches discussed by the cats. The sequel gives a hint to potions and such. I may decide not to read the sequel if it's based on dark arts, but will be anxious to check out any works by Jacqueline West.

I would recommend this book for upper-middle grade because of the scary elements.

I give this book ***** 5 stars
April 4, 2023
I’ve had these for what feels like forever, so i'm so happy I finally picked up this 1st book. I loved this so much! Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When Olive & 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 . .. & eerily like her own. Yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets--& Morton, an undersized boy with an outsize temper. As she & Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker & 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. This was such a unique story in so many ways. The magic svstem with the magical paintings in this huge old house, the house itself, the 3 talking cats, & the glasses that let Olive go inside the paintings-all so good & I loved it. Everything about this is utterly atmospheric. The writing is so vivid & imaginative. Olive parents are the best, & make me giggle so much. They remind me of Gomez & Morticia Addams-mathematician style. Lol Olive is a flawed, clumsy, forgetful, imaginative, lonely, & relatable girl. I loved the backstory of the house, the former owners, the paintings, & the cats. All so intriguing. Morton & his backstory was also incredible. Although, I found Morton himself rude, & kind of bratty lol. I loved the cats so much. Harvey is a character & a half lol. Leopold is the best, & it's hard to pick between him & Horatio..but Horatio mayyy be my favorite. This is full of suspense, mystery, danger, adventure, magic, friendship, bravery, atmosphere, & imagination. Highly recommend. BEAUTIFUL cover by Poly Bernatene & also the most STUNNING illustrations sprinkled throughout as well.💜
Profile Image for Brenda.
846 reviews36 followers
December 1, 2012
I initially had this book in audio format but felt like I was missing something. A quick trip to the bookstore solved that one. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the narrator, I just felt like I was missing out on flipping the pages, looking at the illustrations and reading the words. I fell in love with the wonderfully detailed pictures of the McMartin home and Olive trying on long gloves and combs in her hair. I was instantly lured into the book by the author’s style of descriptive writing and poetic word choices that kept enticing me to continue reading right until the very end. I felt that I was able to empathize with Olive and was drawn into her desire to save Morton. It was Mrs. West’s specific word choices that really painted detailed images that brought the photographs in the book of lakes, trees and dark shadows to life and sent the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end at times. This book is equal parts spooky, suspenseful and has some wonderful poetic imagery. I am really looking forward to going back and finish the audiobook and for the next book in her series.

ETA: Starting a re-read 12/1/12
Profile Image for DarkKnuWayve.
2 reviews13 followers
May 18, 2017
If you like The Book Jumper you might like this, instead of jumping in books the main character can jump into paintings. The plot was simple and at times it was slow, but it was enjoyable. I could tell you the plot but you can look it up on here. There were some good and some bad. The good, being able to jump into paintings. The bad, I didn't really like the ending. And there are three talking cats, if you're into that. It's the first of a series and I'll give the rest a chance. Hopefully the series get better.
Profile Image for Kateryna.
481 reviews85 followers
November 23, 2016
Olive and her family move into a big, creepy house and as she explores, she finds that the paintings come to life and the cats talk to her. The storyline was nice but halfway through the book the pacing started to drag, some things didn't make sense.. And I just felt it could've been less predictable and more mysterious. An entertaining choice for kids who want a story that's a little scary, but not too much. I'm not sure I'll be continuing the series, as I'm not totally entranced by this world.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,460 reviews9,615 followers
January 26, 2014
Profile Image for Robyn.
1,772 reviews118 followers
May 7, 2020
“Ms. McMartin was definitely dead.”

WHO wouldn't like a book that opens with that line? But what kid would want their parents to buy a house, actually a huge mansion (old, old, old) where someone died? NOT ME... nope! Poor Olive, her parents did... parents who are brilliant and see her normal intelligence as less than, but they still love her. Having mathematically inclined parents must be a common theme in middle school books, THE TREEHOUSE WARS included this as well.

Olive finds the three house cats, that are AMAZING (I am coming around to wishing I lived there, her cats talk). As Olive explores the house she discovers she finds more and more strange things, painting that move, old spectacles that allow her to see the paintings come alive and everyone is moving! Grecian girls dancing, men mortaring a stone wall, a woman serving tea—and a scared child ducking for cover in the sinister forest! Not ONLY can she SEE the movement, if she pushes against the painting, but she can also push her way into the scene. There she meets Morton (a little boy, one of my favorite characters in the book).

I enjoyed the book, though it was cute, I found Olive a great role model as she was brave, calm, and critically thought her way out of issues. She didn't panic when she thought spiders were all over her... that has to be the bravest girl alive!

4 stars

Happy Reading!
Profile Image for Laura.
1,616 reviews79 followers
June 30, 2012
It was an intriguing concept, and it reminded me a little of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. But I didn't enjoy it as much as Coraline. The main character certainly had spunk and I wanted to know how things would turn out, but there was something missing. The setting was intriguing and I thought the author did a nice job of making the story suspenseful without going over the line into "scary" - and it was a nice blend for it's middle school age group. The cats were an interesting touch, but I wasn't totally in love with them. I can't say that I loved this book, but I did like reading it and I'm going to read the sequel (partly because I picked it up at ALA) and I'd probably recommend for readers who want a touch of "eery" in their stories.

*Taken from my book reviews blog: http://reviewsatmse.blogspot.com/2011...
June 1, 2022
I don't remember much about this series except that it was rly rly good and taught me the word grimoire. (Now my favorite word!)
Profile Image for aarna :).
144 reviews36 followers
May 18, 2022
my favorite book when i was a kid and it STILL hit
Profile Image for Stefanny Natalia.
252 reviews26 followers
June 19, 2019
Well,penasaran sama buku ini gara2 diracuni temen bookstagram, dan setelah baca buku pertamanya,ya lumayan bagus. Temanya cukup unik tentang anak perempuan yang bisa keluar masuk ke dalam lukisan, tapi ada beberapa adegan yg cukup bikin aku agak garuk2 kepala ahahah
Apa mungkin karna aku terlalu berekspetasi tinggi sama buku ini ya?
Profile Image for Laura McLain.
Author 1 book24 followers
March 20, 2011
THE SHADOWS, a middle-grade paranormal novel, opens with a great line: “Ms. McMartin was definitely dead.” The decedent leaves behind a huge old pile of a mansion, and as her nearest relative has just died in Shanghai of “a severe allergic reaction to a bowl of turtle and arsenic soup,” the house is put on the market. Mr. and Mrs. Dunwoody, a pair of university mathematicians, buy the house and move in with their eleven-year-old daughter, Olive. Olive’s parents are loving, but tend to consider her slow as she hasn’t inherited their mathematical genius.

Olive is largely left to her own devices and begins to explore the mansion. The house is full of spooky noises, dusty cobwebs, and creepy paintings. “Olive had never been anywhere—not even the doctor’s office, not even gym class—that made her feel so out of place, or so alone.” (The reference to feeling out of place in gym class resonates strongly with me!)

Paintings hang all through the house and Mrs. Dunwoody finds they are impossible to remove from the walls. Olive notices a flicker of movement in one painting, a sinister moonlit forest scene. Later, while playing in an upstairs bedroom for antique jewelry, lace and gloves, she finds a pair of old spectacles. She puts them on and all the paintings come alive: Grecian girls dancing, men mortaring a stone wall, a woman serving tea—and a scared child ducking for cover in the sinister forest.

Olive peers closer and closer at the canvas, and discovers that while wearing the enchanted spectacles she can push her way into the scene. After safety-testing with her teddy bear, she hops through the portal into the sinister moonlit forest. She locates the frightened child, a boy named Morton, who explains his fear of the Bad Man.

Olive continues to investigate the mysteries of the house: Who built it? Who is the Bad Man? Who created the living paintings? Where did Morton come from? What is buried in the creepy basement?

I won’t spoil the story by answering the questions, but suffice it to say that the story is enjoyable and should appeal to readers of middle-grade fantasies like HARRY POTTER, SEPTIMUS HEAP or LEVEN THUMPS. Ms. West writes with an authentic, entertaining voice.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,131 reviews
December 10, 2014
Let me start off by saying that Lexy Fridellhas a perfect voice with which to narrate the books in the Books of Elsewhere series. She's got that high-ish Lisa Simpson voice, and that works for these books since our main character is an 11 year old girl. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to deal with Fridell's voice, but it all worked out just fine.

I did enjoy The Shadows, the first book in the Books of Elsewhere Series. It was good fantasy aimed at older elementary school kids. There was some suspense, some horror, some sense of magic, and that was all nice, and the right kid would probably enjoy reading this book.

To me, though, an old auntie in her 40s, the book didn't feel particularly fresh. At various points I found myself reminded of Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. All of those are classic books, and it's not like The Shadows suffers in the (ahem) shadow of those books. But again, it isn't fresh, and I'm not sure that there's anything in particular that would pull me irresistibly toward reading the next book in this series. Maybe if I were a 5th or 6th grader interested in fantasy I'd go back for round two, book two, and maybe someday when I need something to occupy my mind I will give book two a shot anyway. Olive is a compelling little character even if she leads a story that has been told before.
Profile Image for Monster.
340 reviews24 followers
October 15, 2010
Meet Olive, an 11 year old girl new to the neighborhood whose family has just moved into a mansion with quite a past. As Olive explores the house’s many rooms and their contents, she rushes headlong, literally, into unearthing the dark history of the mansion’s previous inhabitants, when she finds a pair of glasses tucked away in the drawer. When Olive dons them, she learns there is far more to the strange, dark paintings that seem permanently affixed to the walls than she thought – she can actually step inside and enter the paintings. In one painting, Olive meets Morton, who, along with three guardian cats, helps her discover the true nature of the sinister Aldous McMartin and his granddaughter Annabelle. Olive inadvertently releases Annabelle from her painting, and now Annabelle is intent on bringing Mr. McMartin back to life so he can reclaim his mansion at the expense of Olive and her family. It’s up to Olive to put things right again.
Beautifully detailed illustrations are interspersed throughout the story, adding to the highly descriptive narrative. The Shadows is very reminiscent to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline with the absent parents, a new home to explore, a talking cat (cats in this case), and entrances to another world; however, the story holds its own on a more light-hearted level. The Shadows is a delightful read of witchcraft, hauntings, and a young girl’s power to face her fears and set the world right. Recommended for a school library or a public library’s juvenile fiction collection, for ages 7-12, The Shadows would also work well as a bridge into young adult literature and for those who enjoyed Coraline.
Reviewed by Kelly Fann
Profile Image for Adri.
22 reviews1 follower
August 30, 2021
I was looking through some books I have and decided that I wanted to reread them, or finish their series. Right now that series is The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West. I’m pretty sure I read Spellbound before The Shadows, but it doesn’t matter because I’m starting over.

With writing that kept me on the edge of my seat, The Shadows follows Olive as her parents move into a creepy stone house. A house that came furnished with many secrets and creepy paintings. As I said, this is my second time reading it and I wondered if I still liked it. Actually, it read just as exciting, and creepy as the first time. With the way I wanted to discuss it, it would have been spoiler heavy. So I’ll keep it abstract. I think what I loved most back then was Olive’s curiosity and interaction with her environment. She steadily built confidence to deal with fears and situations that I think some readers, especially middle grade, can relate to. Even when I first read it, I could tell where it was going with a few particular characters, but there were many things I didn’t see coming. And the end was definitely one of them. I sometimes wondered how Olive was going to get out of her predicament. By the time I was done, I knew I needed the second one.

Over all I really enjoyed rereading The Shadows. If you’re looking for a creepy middle grade, maybe give The Books of Elsewhere series a try.

This review also appears on my blog, Toile, Think, Go.
1 review
May 21, 2021
The Shadows (The books of elsewhere #1) by Jacqueline West. Contains mystery and wonders. Who would've thought a house could hold an enormous number of strange dangers? Going to a house full of unexpected possibilities is rather fearful.
Moving to Linden Street as an eleven-year-old named Olive Dunwoody. Right when she moves into the house, she finds many strange rooms with paintings. Olive's strange feeling of the painting in the hallway asks to take it off the wall but for some odd reason the painting won't come off. As she saw something strange move in the painting, she could not think but ran away. Soon after moving in Olive meets a cat named Horatio who can somehow talk to her? Once the cat talks, he mentions the house owner not liking them living here, how they seem like intruders. She meets two more cats that help Olive on the way, but she wonders if the trust for the cats is a mistake. The book is well written showing emotion and curiosity on what yet is unknown in the book. While reading the book, it somehow makes it more interesting while reading. “It's been my experience that those people who seem the most 'normal' are in fact the most dangerous.”
The Shadows leaves you wondering what could be next and while reading you'll find yourself feeling more intrigued than anything. Will demonstrate the power of critical thinking skills and promote problem solving. Joining the investigation on the way may be more fun than imagined.
Profile Image for John.
Author 8 books32 followers
October 10, 2012
This is a well-written middle-grade fantasy, mostly serious but with many humorous moments. Olive Dunwoody, age 11, moves into a spooky house with her affectionate but distant parents, does some exploring, has magical adventures that gradually become darker and more dangerous, gets in deeper than she bargained for, and ultimately has to fight for her life. There are daring rescues and desperate escapes. During the course of the story Olive makes friends and grows up a little.

The prose is sound. Jacqueline West can turn a clever phrase. The plot is well structured and the pace is good. I was impressed that even during chapters without much action, the reader doesn't feel that things lag. Olive is high-spirited, adventurous, and has a sense of humor, but also has some damage which she has to overcome. The supporting characters are broadly drawn in a manner appropriate for middle-grade fiction. I applaud the author for succeeding in keeping the personalties of three different talking cats distinct. During one scene, a character who had seemed benign is slowly revealed as evil and dangerous. The character's evolution over the course of a few pages is a fine and subtle bit of writing.
Profile Image for Linda.
913 reviews140 followers
April 25, 2011
I want more! I hope this is a long series, because I just love the main character, Olive. She is your classic outcast, the kid who has no friends, until she meets a boy who happens to live in a painting. She can't figure out how to help him, but she tries, and in so doing, incurs the wrath of a vengeful spirit whose name she doesn't know. Three talking cats try to help her, but are they really her friends?
With elements of fantasy mixed with real-life concerns of the deepest fears of a young girl, this story draws you in and does not let go. Discovering that she has hidden talents, Olive grows throughout the book, and in the end, finds that being 'creative' is kind of handy, after all. There are so many questions, but they all come together neatly at the end. Well, almost all of them.
This is a delightful book for all ages, although it does have some truly creepy sections that might really scare younger readers. But for a classic tale of underdog might, this is one for the permanent shelf.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
37 reviews4 followers
July 8, 2010
I love this book. It's like a delightful mix of 100 Cupboards and Coraline.

Olive and her parents just moved into a big, old Victorian house. Her parents are pretty busy with their jobs, so Olive has some time to explore her new house. Olive examines the paintings left on the walls and well as the drawers of dressers and other furniture left in the house when her parents bought it. Before long she discovers and old pair of spectacles, and and even bigger surprise - when she's wearing the glasses she can step into the paintings! However, there is something sinister lurking in the "elsewhere". Olive must muster up all her bravery and resourcefulness now to protect herself and her family from the mysterious presences that wants it's house back.

The book is just the right mix of funny, creepy, and fantastical. I loved it from beginning to end and can't wait to read where this story goes next! (I just hope that the next time I get a book with all it's pages!)
Profile Image for Angela.
1,180 reviews22 followers
March 5, 2010
This should work well for our neighborhood. The ideas about art and the studiously aloof, but loving parents are a perfect match for our overly-academic customers. The story is a fun one that will be a delight to share with kids.

I'd pair this in a display with Agee's INCREDIBLE PAINTING OF FELIX CLOUSSEAU.

Several excellent kid critic reviews are coming in for this. Here's the first one:

In my own words: There’s something odd about the McMartin House, and everyone knows it. Poor Olive Dunwoody; she has to move there. And one thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be easy settling in. If you like suspense, adventure, and children’s horror all in one book, you’ll be staying up late reading this book.
Reviewed by Yoav age 9

And, after having dinner with Jacqueline, I'm happy to be her GoodReads Fan. She's a keeper!

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