MG Series Recommendation: The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West

I had another YA book ready to review today, but I bumped it because I finished reading the final book in Jacqueline West’s The Books of Elsewhere series last week and I just have to gush about it. THE SHADOWS, the first book in the series, was one of the first middle grade books I read back when I decided to write MG several years ago, and I’ve been following the series ever since. The fifth and final book, STILL LIFE (a title with multiple meanings!), was fantastic and a perfect conclusion. I did review the third book, THE SECOND SPY, back in 2012, but I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the series, so I’m going to keep this review fairly general, and some of my points from that earlier review may be repeated.

The Books of Elsewhere is a fantasy series for young readers written by Jacqueline West. Beginning with The Shadows, the series follows the adventures of eleven-year-old Olive Dunwoody as she travels to Elsewhere: the world inside the antique paintings on the walls of the old stone house on Linden Street. Danger and mystery are around every corner as Olive encounters evil magic, talking cats, and a small boy trapped inside the painted world.

And here are the five things I love most about this series.

1. The premise – I love how this series ties together art and magic. Who wouldn’t want to climb into their favorite painting and experience it firsthand? Well, I would! Of course, these paintings are a little more sinister and much more alive than the imitation Renoirs on my walls …

2. The voice – While the majority of these stories are told from Olive’s point of view, the novels are in third person omniscient, so there is a narrator closely overseeing the events as they unfold. I think that’s very hard to pull off well these days, with the preference for close third person or first person narratives, but Ms. West is a master. I love the introduction to the final book, and it doesn’t have any spoilers, so I’ll share a bit.

“Winter is a dangerous time.

“There is ice to slip on. There is snow to skid through. There are whiteouts and wind chill, frostbite and head colds. And there are all kinds of winter sports–like sledding and skating and downhill skiing–that will help you hurt yourself very efficiently.

“Simply stepping outdoors in the wintertime can be dangerous. If you’re the kind of person who tries to avoid danger and discomfort, you might step outdoors as rarely as possible. If you’re a gangly, distractible twelve-year-old girl who is prone to falling down even without snow and ice to help you do it, you might avoid the outdoors whenever you can.

“And if you are a gangly, distractible twelve-year-old girl with a huge stone house to nestle inside, and if you have far more chilling reasons than frostbite to avoid the outside world, you might hardly leave your house at all.”

3. The ability to surprise me – I could call these twists because there certainly are twists in these stories, but I’m more impressed by the fact that after reading five books in this series, I could still be surprised. There were constantly new developments I didn’t expect–not necessarily twists–that kept each novel original and unique within the series.

4. The series story arc – It’s rare to find a five-book series. I think that has something to do with my previous point. It’s hard to develop a unique story goal for each new book while still carrying through a continuing storyline. Ms. West did an excellent job keeping me engaged through five books, and I appreciated that while I wanted to keep reading, none of the endings were cliffhangers :).

5. The conclusion – The ending to the series was very satisfying. All of my questions about the story world were answered, and I was left wanting to recommend it to all of you, so that’s a success!

So, who’s already read this series? I know when I reviewed THE SECOND SPY a couple MMGM readers said they intended to …

Responses to “MG Series Recommendation: The Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West”

  1. Deb A. Marshall (@debamarshall)

    Thanks for sharing this. I love it when we can recommend a whole series! Got me some reading catch up to do and have to see if the new library I am at has this one. Don’t think we do and there will be a few (and more) students who I know will love this.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      I started volunteering in the school library when my son started Kindergarten last year. I’m constantly telling the librarian about more books she needs to buy or series that are missing books. She hasn’t kicked me out yet :).

  2. Greg Pattridge

    I’d seen a few of the titles before, but really didn’t know too much about the story. Thanks for filling in the missing pieces for me. I’m going back to look at your 2012 review as this series looks like one to recommend.

  3. Tasha Farrell

    I’ve read the whole series, and it’s definitely one of my favorites! In addition to the points you mention, her writing is wonderful and liberally sprinkled with metaphors, alliterative language, etc. that really pulls the reader in


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