Thursday, July 25, 2013

"The Strangers"

Jacqueline West is passionate about stories where magic intersects with everyday life—from talking cats, to enchanted eyewear, to paintings as portals to other worlds. A former teacher, occasional musician, and two-time Pushcart nominee for poetry, West lives with her husband and her dog, a Springer Spaniel mix named Brom Bones, amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota. There she dreams of dusty libraries, secret passageways, and more adventures for her characters in "The Books of Elsewhere" series.

West applied the Page 69 Test to The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Four: The Strangers, and reported the following:
I had my doubts that the Page 69 Test would work for The Strangers in a way that wasn’t either baffling or boring—because in this case, looking at page 69 means not just jumping into the middle of a book, but into the middle of a series. The Strangers is the fourth volume of my middle-grade fantasy series The Books of Elsewhere. Volume One: The Shadows, Volume Two: Spellbound, and Volume Three: The Second Spy were released in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and obviously, a lot of story has piled up inside of them. But aside from the slightly overwhelming number of characters, this page represents the book almost eerily well.

Page 69 has my central players—12-year-old Olive Dunwoody, who lives in a house with a long, magical, and dangerous history, her three talking cats, who keep watch over the house, her friend Rutherford, a know-it-all with magical talents of his own, and her friend Morton, who is actually a living painting (See? Middle of a fantasy series)—venturing into the abandoned house next door. They’re following the lead of an awkward young man named Walter, one of the strangers alluded to in the title. Walter claims he’s there for Olive’s protection, but Olive isn’t sure.

The Strangers, like other volumes in the series, often hinges on the issue of trust. Olive has been a shy, independent, often lonely person. Placing her trust in anyone, even people she knows well, is a struggle for her, and now that she has so many secrets of her own to protect, relying on others is especially risky. But at the same time, her own curiosity—and her need to protect her home and her friends—pushes Olive farther and farther into dangerous territory…

From The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Four: The Strangers:
Dead leaves crackled beneath Olive’s feet as she hurried after him, with Rutherford, Morton, and the cats close behind. They edged around the corner of the house, through a clump of withered hydrangeas, into the shelter of the house’s back wall. Through the nearest windows, Olive spotted a flicker of light—the faint, floating glimmer of a candle gliding through the house’s quiet rooms.

She glanced down at Morton, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was watching Walter, who had stopped at the back door, with one hand pressed against the wood. Walter’s voice was soft, but Olive caught the stream of words it carried—words from some other language, low and smooth and strange.

“Walter?” she breathed. “What are you doing?”

Walter didn’t answer.

The door creaked open before them. A breath of air drifted out of the darkness inside, cold and smoky with the scent of dust. Somewhere in the depths of the house, the glimmering light bobbed and brightened.

Walter stepped over the threshold.

Morton followed him.

“Morton, wait!” Olive whispered, darting after him through the gaping doorway. The cats brushed against her legs, keeping close. Rutherford hurried behind. “I’m not sure this is wise,” Olive heard him say, before the door banged shut, leaving them all sealed in the dark.
Learn more about the book and author at Jacqueline West's website and the The Books of Elsewhere website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones.

--Marshal Zeringue