Every once in a while a book or a series of books come along that really grab your attention. The most recent book to stand out for me: “The Second Spy,” Volume 3 in The Books of Elsewhere series. I’ve been a fan of the books since the very beginning, enjoying both “The Shadows” and “Spellbound,” so I was very excited to get my hands on “The Secret Spy,” and boy, does it live up to its predecessors.
At the center of The Books of Elsewhere is Olive Dunwoody, a spunky young woman who is slowly uncovering the mysteries held deep within the McMartin mansion. The mansion is fully furnished when the Dunwoodys move in, including creepy old paintings that are seemingly stuck to the walls, and peculiar cats. During her explorations, Olive comes across some dusty old glasses that allow her to walk into the paintings and the land of Elsewhere.
Elsewhere is like the normal world, except it’s not. There’s a sinister presence looming. With the glasses on, Olive can interact with the inhabitants of Elsewhere, including Morton, a little boy who is more real than not.
“The Second Spy” begins with Olive facing one of her greatest fears — junior high — and it doesn’t go well. That’s bad enough, but things at home are heating up as well. Annabelle McMartin is back. There’s no doubt after Olive falls through a hole in her backyard. Buried deep under her home are dangerous secrets, and with them, Annabelle could be unstoppable.
Normally, Olive would turn to one of her friends for help, but they all seem to have more important things to do. Harvey, Horatio and Leopold, the house’s guardian cats, are acting suspicious. Rutherford, Olive’s neighbor and best friend, is talking about moving to Europe. Even Morton, the poor little boy who was painted into Elsewhere, is starting to rebel. Knowing who to trust is getting harder and harder, and if Olive doesn’t figure it out soon, she could get trapped in Elsewhere forever.
Author Jacqueline West knows how to set a scene. As soon as you open her books, you are transported to a vivid world of mystery and suspense that feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. Not only does the McMartin mansion come to life, but so to does the world of Elsewhere. There’s great use of imagery that pushes the story forward in an unobtrusive, yet very necessary way.
As Olive has matured, so has Jacqueline. “The Second Spy” has a freshness to it that “Spellbound” may have been lacking. It feels almost as if we’re discovering Olive anew, and that’s a pleasure.
The cats have always played a large role in Jacqueline’s books, but it’s in “The Second Spy” that they really reach their own. Their personalities and quirks add a lot to the reading experience and build on themes of trust, duty and the difference between right and wrong.
Though “The Second Spy” is steeped in suspense, Jacqueline has worked to create a nice balance, adding levity and heart when needed. Though the suggested reading age is 10, more advanced young readers will likely gobble this up. As will the intended reading group, and most likely those who are much older. If you haven’t read The Books of Elsewhere, now is the time. They’re great for summer reading.
*Read Cracking the Cover’s interview with Jacqueline West.
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