I am not exactly an enthusiast of novels featuring young children as main characters, but "Secrets on the Walls" has managed to bring out the child in me with its imaginative story and whimsical characters. I liked the vivid descriptions of the worlds inside the paintings and the creatures inhabiting them. Some of the scenes, particularly in the first half, reminded me of the wonderful strangeness of dreams. Because the time spent in most of them was very short, they felt more like theatrical scenery than actual worlds. There was a certain beauty to that. Some places, however, seemed to serve no purpose at all, such as the world with the wolf or the violin world—perhaps their relevance to the plot is revealed in the second book. The characters that the sisters met in each one felt a little undeveloped. Strangely enough, the first half felt slow paced, despite rushing through many interesting worlds. I liked that, but I would have liked to know more about the worlds themselves. The second half, which took place mostly in one world, felt much faster paced because of the tension building up.
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Emma’s past is nicely weaved into the story and the narrative carries warmer tones in those fragments. I preferred those. I would have liked to read more about her and the circumstances that ultimately led to her granddaughters’ adventure.
It was the writing style that, for me, took a while getting used to. There is an obvious inclination towards poetic language, however the phrasing was awkward sometimes, as was the word choice. I assumed some were accidental, but what bothered me most was the frequent use of “emitted” to say that someone let out a whimper or other sound. “Exited” and “chill”—as in chill out—are other examples. I felt they did not belong here. They kept distracting me, dispelling the magic. There are instances where using a personal pronoun instead of repeating the name of a character in the same paragraph, or even the same sentence, would have made the reading smoother. Lastly, the dialogue flowed well, but I had to remind myself, on several occasions, that the girls were only 10 and 13. They felt older. Their thinking and manner of speaking was often too mature for their ages, at least for the 19th century. Perhaps I have some misconceptions about that era. As others have already noted, a bit of editing is needed.
"Secrets on the Walls" is an enjoyable read and there is no denying that you have a lot of creativity. My quibbles are only with the writing style. It’s a matter of taste, of course, but it’s also much easier to notice some things when you read other people’s work than when you write yourself. I’m a beginner with the latter. On the other hand English is a foreign language for me, so I might be mistaken in my criticism.