Gr 4—6—This sequel to The Shadows (Dial, 2010) picks up with Olive Dunwoody still trying to discover the many secrets hidden in the old Victorian house she and her parents have moved into. She has her dependable sidekicks, three lively talking cats that manage to keep her from hurting herself when she is possessed by the spirit of the mysterious book that she discovers. She realizes that she could use it to release Morton, a boy who has been imprisoned in a painting for many years by the house's former owners. Olive comes to the shocking realization that the spellbook has forced her to do various deeds while she has been sleeping. This realization is brought to a head when one of her cat protectors manages to wake up her up just before she jumps to her death. Has she not only put her life in jeopardy but also any chance of saving Morton? Who has directed the spellbook to possess Olive and why? These questions and many more will keep young readers engaged as the mystery unfolds. Olive matures in the story; her emotions, including remorse, are genuinely portrayed, and relationships with the cats and with her quirky neighbor, Rutherford, ring true. Some chapters drag a little but overall this is a suspenseful read that leaves plenty of room for the next title in the series. While it stands on its own, it will be enjoyed most by readers familiar with the first book. Occasional full-page, black-and-white drawings are appropriately dark and mysterious.—Julie Shatterly, W.A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC
Olive's quest to free Morton from Elsewhere, located inside the paintings in Olive's house, involves a search for a spell book and family connections obscured by time. Though this installment gives Olive less Elsewhere time than The Shadows, it generates plenty of magical creepiness by exploring the idiosyncrasies of the house--and the neighbors. Shadowy (but not scary) black-and-white illustrations enhance the mystery.
Spellbound a worthy successor to The Shadows, lives up to its name in more ways than one. Not only is Olive literally mesmerized by a witch’s spell book, but this well-crafted tale of good versus evil will likewise enchant readers. Through her vivid, detailed descriptions, Jacqueline West has created a convincingly eerie world tinged with magic: “Olive made a wild grab at one of the hands. Its cold, painted skin squirmed in her fist. It felt like a plastic sack of cold jelly, but with bones turning and moving inside of it. While Olive held on, it wriggled, turning and groping, snaking its fingers between hers.” Olive’s quest to rout malevolent spirits from her home is scary and funny by turns. West knows just when to put on the brakes, preventing a scene from becoming too dark. More often than not, it’s one of Olive’s hilarious, feisty, talking cats that defuses the tension. Rutherford, a boisterous, talkative new neighbor, is a great foil for introspective Olive, whose initial aversion to Rutherford makes their eventual alliance all the more satisfying.

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