Thursday, January 29, 2009
Searching for a Starry Night by Christine Verstraete
Samantha Ann Carlton would rather spend her summer vacation anywhere but a spooky old house in Wisconsin...like Lake Geneva! Somehow Sam knows it's going to take more than a couple days to find a missing painting no bigger than her hand.
Maybe things won't be so bad, she thinks, since she gets to take a friend's lovable, nosy, and often mischievous Dachshund, Petey, and her best friend Lita. If they're lucky, the three of them can find the miniature replica of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and help Sam's mother get it to the museum, where it belongs.
But it's not going to be easy, Sam realizes, when she discovers that her own family has some spooky secrets. Then Petey digs up an ancient curse, and Sam fears her friendship with Lita is doomed.
Can she find the miniature masterpiece before it's too late? Will she and her best friend go home forever friends or enemies?
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(Christine Verstraete thinks you're never too old to play with dollhouses, so when she's not writing, she's probably working on a new miniature project.
Pets, especially dogs, also manage to find their way into many of Christine's projects and stories, with her real life dog serving as inspiration for her book's mischievous Dachshund, Petey.
Christine's real house is home, as well, to assorted fish and birds, plus wild turtles, and frogs that crawl across her lawn each summer.
Christine has had short fiction and nonfiction published in various magazines and online. Her short horror story, "The Witch Tree," was a contest winner published by Echelon Press. She also is author of the ebook, "In Miniature Style," with miniatures photos, stories about collectors and how-to projects.)
Excerpt from SEARCHING FOR A STARRY NIGHT:
(Finally, Sam and Lita make their way over to the housekeeper Mrs. Drake's house. They might not be able to get inside to see the woman's dollhouse collection, but they can at least peek in the windows, right?)
Sam studied the house. Neatly trimmed hedges, a variety of flowerpots. Most importantly, the driveway was empty. Mrs. Drake's car wasn't here. Sam crept closer to the house to listen. The house looked deserted. The windows were open, but no sounds drifted out.
Fishing equipment in hand, Lita jogged across the road to stash everything out of view behind the scraggly bushes, while Sam went to peek in the backyard and checked the sides of the house. A quick glance eased her mind. Okay, it looked like the coast was clear. Sam headed back to the front and nodded to her friend. "Okay, I'll take the left, you take the right, watch the bushes."
Lita's long, lanky legs made it easier for her to sidestep the giant yew bushes positioned in front of the right side windows. She squeezed close enough to the house to peer inside. Sam inched forward to peek into the living room through the left side window.
"Oh, awesome!" Lita cried. "Sam, you see the house? Look at all that other stuff!"
"Yeah. Wow, Mrs. Taylor wasn't kidding," Sam said. "There's stuff all over."
The tall pink Victorian dollhouse that they'd seen Mrs. Drake carry out of Aunt Hilda's house now sat on a table in the corner. A chair by the fireplace overflowed with a variety of dolls and bears in all different sizes. A smaller dollhouse sat on one end table. Two even tinier houses sat on the coffee table. Even the fireplace mantle was lined with a collection of dolls and more houses.
Sam's wish that she could see what was in the adjacent room was cut short by the sound of a car driving up the road. "Lita, quick! Someone's coming. Hurry, hide somewhere!"
It was a scene from an old Charlie Chaplin film as Lita hurried out from behind the bushes, fighting to pull her shirt caught on a branch, before frantically searching for somewhere to go. Sam's heart thudded in her chest as she hopped around, unsure of where to turn.
Lita decided for them. "Sam, quick, get behind that bush. I'll be around the corner."
In the nick of time, Sam jumped over the pots of mums and ducked behind one of the tall bushes in the back, thankful that it was far enough away from the building. The space was small, but it at least gave her enough room to squeeze in without getting stabbed by the bush's spiky limbs or coming out with dozens of tiny scratches on her arms. Hearing the car stop, the engine shut off and a car door slam, Sam tried to peek around the edge of the bush to confirm that it was Mrs. Drake without giving herself away.
The click-clack of a woman's heels on the concrete steps caused Sam to shrink as far back into the corner as she could, like a frightened turtle returning to its shell. She stood in the cramped space, mouth dry, hardly daring to breathe. The squeak of the screen door being opened and the rustle of paper drifted her way. Her heart thudded so loud she thought everyone could hear it. C'mon, hurry up, she urged silently. What was taking her so long to go inside?
A minute later, the sound of a voice, clearly Mrs. Drake's, almost made her run. Sam looked around in a panic, not sure what to do.
"You can come out," the housekeeper said.
Sam froze. Funny, she wouldn't have guessed that Mrs. Drake had any pets. She hadn't heard any barking nor seen a dog through the windows. The muscles in her legs tightened as she braced herself. Her heart pounded. Any minute she expected the mysterious dog to run out and head straight for her.
Mrs. Drake spoke louder. "Did you hear me, Sam?"
A puzzled look crossed Sam's face. Cat, dog, whatever it was had her name, too? Weird. No wonder Mrs. Drake made fun of her when they met!
Sam's eyes widened when her gaze met a pair of brown eyes looking straight at her. "I meant you, girl. Next time you want to hide, don't stand behind a bush you can see through. You can tell that friend of yours to come here and bring those grocery bags in for me, too."
Still surprised at being discovered, Sam nodded at Lita who slunk from around the corner with a sheepish look on her face. The two of them followed Mrs. Drake up the steps and grabbed a paper sack. Sam turned to take one more look at the bush before she went in. Mrs. Drake was right. You could see right through the bare limbs. She hadn't noticed that before! Whatever made her and Lita think it was a good idea to hide there?
With a smile, Sam carried the bag of groceries into the neatly kept house, glad to have been discovered. Actually, it was a perfect idea. It had worked to get them inside, hadn't it?
Please answer the following question for a chance to win a free copy of SEARCHING FOR A STARRY NIGHT, or just pop in to chat with Christine!!
What did Sam and Lita see the last time they looked in the housekeeper's window?
Labels: Christine Verstraete