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Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

4.4 52
by Lesley M. M. Blume

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This promising first novel introduces memorable 11-year-old Cornelia S. Englehart, who lives in Greenwich Village with her "very famous concert pianist" mother, Lucille Englehart. Cornelia finds it difficult to make friends, as people often use her to get to her famous parent. She utilizes her "impressive dictionary collection" to learn long, confusing words in order to protect herself from people who pester her with "nugatory" questions about her mother. When the renowned elderly writer Virginia Somerset moves in next door, Cornelia discovers that they both "practice the art of parisology." They grow close over cups of mint tea, and Virginia's stories of her "audacious escapades" with her three sisters captivate Cornelia. Readers, however, may find these stories to be more of a distraction than an enhancement, partly because the stories of the Somerset sisters unfold from an adult perspective and partly because they detract from the main story line about the heroine's unfolding friendship with Virginia and Cornelia's problematic relationship with her mother. Still, the blossoming bond between Cornelia and Virginia is central to this tender story, and their passion for words is infectious. When Virginia suggests to Cornelia, "Did it ever occur to you that your mother speaks through music and not words?" her question opens up an opportunity for Cornelia to begin to heal her relationship with her mother. Blume is a writer to watch. Ages 8-12. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Kathryn Erskine
It is refreshing to see a book that harkens back to a quieter, nostalgic time with a heroine who likes nothing better than to read dictionaries and learn erudite words. Although set in contemporary New York, it has the feel of an earlier era, with only scant mention of a TV and nothing about computers and video games. The protagonist is a quiet, lonely girl whose best friend is an adult. There is very little action on the part of eleven-year-old Cornelia herself; rather, she sits and listens to the stories of the elderly Virginia Somerset. Even the stories themselves are not about children but rather about women in their twenties, in the 1940s and 1950s, no less. Fortunately, for many readers, this is enough and in fact will prove quite enjoyable. Cornelia gradually opens up as she hears Virginia's colorful and entertaining stories, eventually making them into little plays with some of her new friends. With Virginia's help, she even gets closer to her self-absorbed, distant mother. Virginia, her longtime friend, Patel, and the stories of Virginia's sisters are well-rounded and delightful.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Cornelia Street Englehart's mother, a world-famous concert pianist, is always traveling, and Cornelia is left with the housekeeper. The 11-year-old has no interest in following in her mother's "finger-steps"; instead, she is enthralled by words. One afternoon, she meets her new neighbor in her New York City neighborhood: a captivating woman named Virginia Somerset, who lives in a stunning, exotic home. The only thing that equals the d cor is Virginia and her stories of the four adventuresome Somerset sisters, world travelers who shook things up across continents from 1949 through the early 1950s. Cornelia treasures her time with Virginia, and she desperately hopes that no one, especially her mother, finds out about their friendship. Then,Virginia becomes ill, and a new understanding between Cornelia and her mother heals what has been until then an irreparable rift. Friends and storytellers don't last forever; it is their presence and invaluable gifts that live on in those close to them. Virginia encourages her young friend to share her "audacious" stories, as that is the purpose of telling a story. Cornelia is a fabulous read that will enchant its audience with the magic to be found in everyday life.-Tracy Karbel, Glenside Public Library District, Glendale Heights, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A series of entertaining vignettes about the lives of four high-spirited, globe-trotting sisters in the 1950s are meant to teach a diffident young girl about the importance of self-esteem in this well-intentioned but not particularly successful first effort. The central conceit, that lonely Cornelia finds comfort and companionship in her friendship with a lively old woman, seems entirely plausible. After all, the two share a fascination with words and Cornelia is entranced by the exotic decor of her neighbor's lavish apartment. What strains the imagination is the notion that any 11-year-old, however sophisticated, would be intrigued by Virginia Somerset's stories, which are decidedly adult in tone and topic. From an encounter with Picasso to the rescue of a starving Indian orphan, the Somerset sisters' adventures are larger-than-life. Unfortunately, readers don't find out enough about Cornelia to care about her, and the neat resolution, in which Virginia's illness precipitates a rapprochement with Cornelia's distant mother, seems contrived rather than heartwarming. With luck, Blume's undeniable writing talent will be more child-friendly next time around. (Fiction. 10-12)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
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Random House
Sales rank:
650L (what's this?)
File size:
409 KB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an 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.

Meet the Author

Lesley M. M. Blume worked as an off-air reporter and researcher for ABC News’ Nightline and has traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. She lives in the labyrinthine West Village with her boyfriend and her black French bulldog.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eleven year old Cornelia Street considers herself a wordsmith. She'd rather curl up with a good book than socialize with her classmates. At the end of the schoolday, she heads home to her apartment building in Greenwich Village, where members of the household staff await her - but where her mother rarely stays. Cornelia's parents are both world-famous pianists. Most people would envy that fame and that talent, but not Cornelia. She has no desire to play piano herself and wishes that her jet-setting mother were home more often. Her father is not in the picture Cornelia has never known him. Though she has every (material) thing she could need, Cornelia is lonely. That is, until new neighbors move in across the hall. Who would have thought that an elderly woman would become a little girl's best friend? The dazzling Virginia Somerset shares Cornelia's love for stories and big words. The self-proclaimed Scheherazade tells Cornelia amazing tales that star Virginia and her three sisters as they travel all over the world, meeting famous artists and leaders. Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume is absolutely adorable. What a delightful book! I loved the story-within-a-story format and the descriptive writing. I could almost see Virginia's eyes sparkle as she related her adventures to Cornelia. If it had been released fifteen years ago and I had found it at my local library, it would have become one of the titles checked it out and read repeatedly. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book on many fronts - dealing with friendship, respect, loneliness and adventure. The Somerset sisters' 'escapades' are absolutely rollicking. Ms. Blume writes articulate, charming prose. This is a book that should (and I'm sure will be!) a great success, both immediately and in years to come.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cornelia And The Audacious Escapades Of The Somerset Sisters is a great book for all ages no matter if it's read by a parent or read alone it's a great book no matter what. It's also very educational because you learn about a lot of different places in the world for example Morocco,France and many other places. This book is also good for book clubs because it has a decent amount of pages and a good topic to talk about. I told my mom about part of the story and she thought it sounded like an interesting story. Well happy reading and enjoy the book!
BavarianPrincess More than 1 year ago
A friend of mine actually bought this book for me because my name is Cornelia. Although the target "audience" for this book are young readers, I have to say, I also thoroughly enjoyed the book even though I am a mature reader. This book will get readers interest in increasing their vocabulary, and also teach about different cultures, art history, etc. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In a world of friends and family, cornelia feels pretty neglected; she has a mom thats barely ever home and a dad she never even met. I am almost considering writing a letter to mrs. Blume to ask about a sequel. I got this book from my cousin who thought i would like it since i love to read. (It had a dog on the cover, i thought cornelia was a dog! Lol) I reccomend for all ages, for even though there is difficult vocab it kinda gives you the definition by using 'context clues', as my reading teacher would say.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so good (:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The next book l buy will be this one its so cute i love the cover
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best books i have ever read. The way the writer makes you feel like you are apart of the book is outstanting. I am a big reader and i would recomend this book to any one 9-12 yrs old. SO you have to buy this book!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was one of the best books i have ever read! It even made me cry at the end. Definately recomend and really hope there is a sequal!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I received this book when I was eleven or so from my friend. This was her favorite book at the time, and I loved it as well. There is some very difficult vocabulary for younger readers which are sometimes explained and sometimes not, and even adults will be astonished at some of those weird words! An excellent book that I plan to share with my sister when she gets old enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WHAT I THINk is fascinating is virgina tells the story of the sommerset sisters of the place where Lucy traveld. Best book besides percy jackson 39 clues and harry potter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I jonestly think it's the best nook I've ever read. It touched my heart, made me laugh, had beautiful details, strong storyline, and great vocabulary. I LOVE THIS BOOK! Worth the money, 100%!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was one book to pick from at my school book fair. Nothing else seemd interesting and I love piano. As soon as I got into it I realized that this was not a book about piano at all. When I did finish the book it became one of my favorites! It is a touching and gripping story as well as a story of friendship that really will touch ANYONE'S heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lol i learned very hard vocabulary and some foreign language phrases :) i have this on paperback youll love this book
BookReader920713 More than 1 year ago
Great book for grades 5,6,7
Anonymous More than 1 year ago