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  • Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters
  • Written by Lesley M. M. Blume
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Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

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On Sale: January 08, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-84918-3
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis

Eleven-year-old Cornelia is the daughter of two world-famous pianists—a legacy that should feel fabulous, but instead feels just plain lonely. She surrounds herself with dictionaries and other books to isolate herself from the outside world. But when a glamorous neighbor named Virginia Somerset moves next door with her servant Patel and a mischievous French bulldog named Mister Kinyatta, Cornelia discovers that the world is a much more exciting place than she had originally thought.

An unforgettable story of friendship and adventure that takes readers around the world and back again, Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters is a dazzling first novel by Lesley M. M. Blume.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter One Cornelia p

It was winter in New York City and the days were short. At three o’clock in the afternoon, the sun already hung low over the horizon, casting sharp pink light on the clouds above the skyscrapers.

Cornelia S. Englehart lagged five steps behind her classmate Lauren Brannigan as they walked down the street. School had just ended for the day.

Lauren wheeled around to face Cornelia, her long blond braids whipping through the air. “Come on, Cornelia,” she said irritably, as if Cornelia were her annoying little sister. “Hurry up.”

Cornelia reluctantly quickened her pace.

“So, what do you want to do this afternoon?” Lauren asked without enthusiasm after they had walked several blocks in complete silence.

Now, in certain circles, Cornelia was renowned for her extreme reserve. Some girls always have a coterie of pretty friends, sisters, and cousins fluttering around them—but not her. She spent most of her time alone and hadn’t had playmates since nursery school. Party invitations and after-school playdates had become few and far between. And when Cornelia did get asked over to someone’s house, she was terribly out of practice and awkward.

“We can do whatever you want,” Cornelia answered, her breath forming a misty cloud in the cold air.

Lauren sighed impatiently. “Well, I just got some new American Girl play scripts for Christmas,” she said. “Maybe we can dress up and act one of them out.”

Cornelia’s heart sank. “I’ve never done a play before,” she said, longing for her warm bedroom at home, with her armchair and all of her books.

“Fine,” Lauren said. “My older sister just got a karaoke machine as one of her presents. Why don’t we use that?”

What a nightmare, Cornelia thought. “I don’t like singing either,” she said.

Lauren lost her patience. “What do you like to do, then?” she snapped, staring at Cornelia.

“We could play Scrabble,” Cornelia suggested. It would give her secret satisfaction to trounce Lauren in the game, for Cornelia knew lots of uncommon words. It was her special weapon.

“That is so boring,” said Lauren as she strode down the street. “But better than nothing, I suppose.”

They arrived at Lauren’s brownstone house and rang the front doorbell. When they heard the sound of footsteps coming toward the door from inside, Lauren whispered to Cornelia, “The only reason I invited you over in the first place is because my mother made me.”

She smiled meanly as Cornelia’s face turned ashen. At that moment, Mrs. Brannigan yanked the front door open.

“Hello, girls,” she cried, clapping her hands together in apparent joy. “Come in, come in. It’s absolutely freezing out there! Hello, hello, Cornelia! Welcome to our humble home. It’s about time you came over and visited us. Ever since I heard that you were in Lauren’s class, I have been simply begging Lauren to invite you over to play. And you live so nearby as well.” She took the girls’ coats and stuffed them into the front closet. “Follow me, troops—I have a snack for you in the kitchen,” she shouted as she practically galloped down the front hallway.

Lauren glared at her guest as she followed her mother to the kitchen. Cornelia trailed after them.

“Sit down, ladies, sit down,” Mrs. Brannigan whooped, clattering down some plates, cupcakes, and glasses of milk for the girls. Cornelia, who found Mrs. Brannigan as volatile as a pot of boiling water, warily sat down at the kitchen table. Mrs. Brannigan plunked down in the chair next to her.

Lauren stomped to the refrigerator. “I want Sprite, not milk,” she complained. “I’m not five years old, in case you forgot.” Of course, she didn’t offer Cornelia any soda as she poured herself a huge glass.

Mrs. Brannigan gave a little hoot. “Have whatever you want, dearest, as long as it’s not brandy,” she said, and smiled coyly at her cleverness. Then she swiveled around and leaned in toward Cornelia as if they were long-lost friends.

“So, my dear,” Mrs. Brannigan said. “How is that mother of yours?”

“Fine,” Cornelia replied, wishing by now that she were at the bottom of the ocean. The cupcake sat like a wart on the plate in front of her.

“I heard her play in a concert at Carnegie Hall last month,” Mrs. Brannigan said. “Marvelous, absolutely marvelous! She has such flair, and my goodness, is she gorgeous! Those long, elegant arms! I could just die! I imagine that you play the piano too, don’t you?”

“No,” said Cornelia.

“What?” shrieked Mrs. Brannigan. “You don’t? How can that be? I would think that your parents would insist! Especially since you’re their only child, and all of that talent would go to waste if you didn’t play too! After all, your father is a famous pianist also, isn’t he?”

Cornelia stared at her glass of milk. “Yes, he is,” she said after a moment. “But I’ve never met him.”

For the first time since the girls had walked through the front door, the room was utterly silent. Even Lauren stared at Cornelia.

Mrs. Brannigan shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “Ohhh,” she said. “I see. Well, that’s all right, dear.” She patted Cornelia’s hand in a fakey, consoling manner.

Then she went on, “In any case, your mother seems so fabulous. I have always wanted to get to know her! She seems very warm. And, you see, I am planning this charity gala—a big party—and I’m sure it would be a big hit if your mother played the piano at it.”

Tears sprang to Cornelia’s eyes. Now she understood the invitation to Lauren’s house. Believe it or not, this sort of thing had happened to her before. It always astonished Cornelia that adults were willing to make such fools of themselves in front of her just to get the chance to meet her famous mother.

“I think I’ll go home now,” she said, feeling older than her eleven years. “I have a stomachache.” She got up and began to walk toward the front door. Lauren looked elated for the first time that afternoon.

“Ohhhh,” wailed Mrs. Brannigan, sensing that her mission was in danger. “What’s the matter, sweetie?” She followed Cornelia down the hallway and snatched an envelope from a desk in the foyer.

“Just a second, dear,” she cried, handing the envelope to Cornelia. “Please give this to your mother. And come back anytime! I mean it—absolutely anytime!”

Cornelia put on her coat, marched out the front door, and closed it behind her, sealing Mrs. Brannigan back up inside. Cornelia sighed with relief. Her visit had lasted a grand total of ten minutes, nearly a record high for an after-school social outing.

She looked at the letter in her hand. “To Lucy” was scrawled on the front of the envelope. “Please call me!” was written on the back of it.

Cornelia dropped it in the gutter and went for a stroll.


From the Hardcover edition.
Lesley M. M. Blume

About Lesley M. M. Blume

Lesley M. M. Blume - Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

Photo © Caitlin Crounse

About the Author


Lesley M. M. Blume is an author, journalist, columnist, cultural observer, and bon vivant based in New York City, where she was born.  She did her undergraduate work at Williams College and Oxford University, and took her graduate degree in history from Cambridge University, where she was a Herchel Smith fellow.

Ms. Blume has authored three critically-acclaimed novels for Knopf Books for Young Readers: Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters (2006), The Rising Star of Rusty Nail (2007), and Tennyson (2009).  Upon the release of Tennyson, reviewers and critics placed her in the same class as writers Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and Truman Capote (“Brilliant, unusual writing.”—The Chicago Tribune).  

She is currently finishing her fourth book for Knopf—Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties—which will be released on September 14, 2010, and recently inked a deal for her fifth (The World Before Us, Fall 2011).

As a journalist, Ms. Blume began her career at The Jordan Times in Amman and Cronkite Productions in New York City. She later became an off-air reporter for ABC News Nightline with Ted Koppel in Washington, D.C., where she helped cover the historic presidential election in 2000, the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and countless other events and topics.  She now writes on cultural topics full-time, contributing to a wide array of publications, including Vogue, Slate, The Daily Beast, and The Big Money.

She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and their French bulldog, who was a featured character in her first popular first novel, Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters.  

You can learn more about her at www.lesleymmblume.com.


In Her Own Words: Writing Cornelia


“Before I actually sat down and wrote Cornelia, I’d been thinking about the book’s characters for a long time. In fact, I grew up with many of them, in a way. My own mother was a concert pianist, trained at Juilliard by a great Russian master. My childhood was spent amidst her coterie of artist friends, which included flamboyant art dealers, crazed pianists, and aspiring opera singers (in fact, I used to torment a ‘Howling Dog’ who came to practice at our home; she shall remain anonymous).

“Indeed, most of the incidental characters in Cornelia were inspired by real people. For instance, we had a family accountant who worked and held court at various odd-spots around New York City, including a disheveled yarn warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen. None of the warehouse workers quite knew what to make of him, and, as a little girl, neither did I. But I was very aware, even at an early age, that my experiences and encounters with such characters were deliciously atypical. And so I filed them away in my mind and on the pages of journals, knowing that I’d want to remember them in full-color at some point in the future.

“The idea for the Somerset sisters came about in this way: one of my mother's friends had a vast, echoing mansion in Montclair, and in many of the rooms stood old black-and-white photographs of her husband’s great-aunts, having wild adventures all over the world. These ladies were all rich and restless and left their husbands behind as they toured everywhere from Hollywood to the pyramids. Naturally, the photos made quite an impression on me. I wanted to be like these women. I wanted to lean casually into Clark Gable’ s side and smile as camera lights flashed, or have my picture was taken while perched on a camel, squinting into the Egyptian sunset. The great-aunts seemed like such wonderfully free creatures, who truly loved being alive.

“Later, I started having adventures of my own. Like the Somerset sisters, I went ‘anywhere and everywhere a train or a boat or a plane would take me.’ I sent myself to English universities and Bedouin tents and Parisian cabarets. I studied everything and wrote it all down, and my heroes were fiercely independent women like Martha Gellhorn, Christiane Amanpour, and Marlene Dietrich. I relied heavily on my travel journals as material for Cornelia, and many of the Somersets’ escapades are based on my real-life adventures. Although, sadly, I did not get to meet the great Pablo Picasso or the ghost of King Arthur. But I certainly would have liked to, and was happy to give the Somerset sisters the opportunity to do so in my book.

“Now I live in Greenwich Village, in the building where I envisioned Cornelia living with Lucy, Madame Desjardins, Patel, Mister Kinyatta, and of course, Virginia. This beautiful part of New York City has captured my imagination as much as the medina of Marrakech or the ruins of Tintagel. In a way, Cornelia is my heartfelt homage to this neighborhood and city where I was born, and to which I returned, and to all of the people and places that happened to me in-between.

“It’s all been extremely colorful, to say the least.”



-–Lesley M. M. Blume,
July 2006
Awards

Awards

NOMINEE 2009 Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award
NOMINEE Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award
NOMINEE Arizona Young Readers Award
NOMINEE Missouri Mark Twain Award
NOMINEE Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award

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