The Shadows by Jacqueline West | Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Shadows by Jacqueline West | Book ReviewThe Shadows by Jacqueline West
Series: The Books Of Elsewhere #1
Published by Penguin on 2011-06-14
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, Horror & Ghost Stories, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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When eleven-year-old Olive moves into a crumbling Victorian mansion with her parents, she knows there's something strange about the house - especially the odd antique paintings covering the walls. And when she puts on a pair of old spectacles, she discovers the strangest thing yet: She can travel inside the paintings, to a spooky world that's full of dark shadows. Add to that three talking cats, who live in the house and seem to be keeping secrets of their own, and Olive soon finds herself confronting a dark and dangerous power that wants to get 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.

Olive Dunwoody is about to discover the secrets that her house has been keeping in Jacqueline West’s The Shadows, the book which kicks off her The Books Of Elsewhere series. If you enjoy middle grade books or want a series to hand your child, I think that The Shadows would be an awesome place to start. West’s book has a lot to recommend itself: a brave heroine who is just not that into math, magic paintings, talking cats, nosy neighbors, and interesting illustrations by Poly Bernatene.

The Shadows starts off with Olive and her parents, who are mathematicians and a bit air-headed, looking at a house. Olive has lived her entire life moving from apartment to apartment to apartment. She is perpetually the new girl. This time, though, her parents have fallen in love with the house which has a bit of an air of mystery to it. Further, it comes with all the furniture and books within. Friends, the house is like a dream, there’s a LIBRARY in it, filled with BOOKS. Granted, that’s what my entire apartment looks like, but ah the luxury of a room devoted to books. Anyways, back to what The Shadows is about. So anyways, Olive and her family move in and Olive finds that her family is not alone in the house. First off, there’s a talking cat named Horatio who guards the house. Second, there are these paintings all over and one day, Olive sees something in the painting move. She is so drawn to the painting that she ends up finding a way into the painting and begins to unravel a bit of a mystery.

Olive is a standard middle grade heroine, meaning she’s navigating growing up. She’s brave and true. She has moments where she is scared and vulnerable. Yet, like many other heroines in this age category, she is quite particular. I can’t describe it perfectly, but I will say there is a scene where we learn Olive likes a certain room the best because it is delicate and grandmotherly. I also liked that we see how lonely Olive is because her parents move around so much that she can’t really make solid friends. She also feels lonely because her parents are seemingly so in love with each other and so into math that they barely notice her. Of course, Olive’s perceptions might be a little off, but it feels real all the same and authentic.

I’ve read a few books where art comes to life and where people are able to dive into paintings. I think that so far, this may be my favorite of the magical art genre. I mean, first off, the people in the paintings are cursed because of the artist that put them there, who is a total power hungry villain. I also have to sidebar right here and say that I love that middle grade books can go the full monty in regards to villains, in that bad guys are just so over the top. I love it. I loved that the talking cats in this book were sentinels and that there was a dog which was actually one of the bad guys. I mean, I am forever and always team dogs, but these cats are fantastic with pretty big personalities.

Jacqueline West’s The Shadows moves along at a fast clip. It is full of action and lovely writing. Olive Dunwoody is a great character and quite endearing if you have a soft spot for lonely main characters. The plotting is on point, with each event logical and sensible. This fast read is enhanced by the illustrations by Bernatene. Overall, I very much enjoyed this middle grade fantasy book of worlds within paintings.

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. This book sounds like just my type of book! In fact, it kind of reminds me of Coraline with the new house and talking cat and evil presence. I don’t usually read middle grade, but this one is just the kind of book I would read from the genre. It sounds so creepy and awesome! Great review! 🙂

  2. So glad to hear you enjoyed this book! It’s one of my favorite Middle Grade series and I am really looking forward to the fifth and final book which comes out this month! 😀

  3. I have been meaning to read this since I ordered it for my library. Total fail on my part that I haven’t gotten to it yet, because every time I would order a sequel, I would think – I need to read the first book!

    So glad to hear that it is awesome! I’m totally team dogs, too, but I love a good cat character, too.

  4. I don’t think I’d heard of The Shadows before your post, April! But it sounds like a fantastic middle grade read. I always love the books with a strong female heroine, because I feel like they’re the best to read about 🙂