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Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters Paperback – January 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 5-7–Cornelia Street Engleharts 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 mothers 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 décor 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 dont 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Gr. 4-6. The realistic, emotionally awkward heroine of Blume's first novel will remind readers of the protagonists in books by E. L. Konigsburg and Louise Fitzhugh. A taciturn, unhappy 11-year-old, Cornelia lives in Greenwich Village, where she's cared for chiefly by household servants. When she makes friends with Virginia Somerset, the elderly woman who moves in next door, her life changes. Virginia becomes Cornelia's Scheherazade. Her stories of herself as a younger woman, wreaking genteel havoc as she and her sisters traveled abroad after World War II, are interspersed with chapters detailing the subtle but positive changes in Cornelia, in her home, and in her social life. The changes are echoed in Blume's characterizations: characters lacking Cornelia's sympathy seem flat, while others gain dimension as Cornelia takes on a broader view of life. Francisca Goldsmith
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 650L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling; Reprint edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440421101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440421108
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lesley M. M. Blume is an author, journalist, columnist, and cultural observer based in New York City. 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 children's novels for Knopf. Upon the release of her third novel, 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). Ms. Blume's first collection of short stories, Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties, was published on September 14, 2010.

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 and researcher 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.

Now writing full-time, Ms. Blume covers culture, media, politics, and fashion (and sometimes the thorny politics of fashion). Her work has appeared in many publications, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and The Daily Beast, among others. She co-created and served as founding editor of The Window, Barneys New York's online fashion and culture magazine, where she remains editor-at-large; she is also The Huffington Post's longtime contributing style editor.

On November 1, 2010, Chronicle Books released to great acclaim Let's Bring Back, a book by Ms. Blume based on her popular column of the same name for The Huffington Post. Starting in 2012, Chronicle will release a series of topic-specific editions of Let's Bring Back, as well as a line of ancillary products.

Ms. Blume lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and their French bulldog, who was a featured character in Ms. Blume's bestselling book, Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters.

Sadly, most of her heroes and heroines are dead or fictional. They include but are not restricted to: Diana Vreeland, Marlene Dietrich, Isak Dinesen, Katharine Graham, Zero Mostel, Royal Tenenbaum, the Marchesa Casati, Oscar Wilde, Elsa Schiaparelli, Anthony Blanche, Flora Post, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lee Miller, Edith Wharton, and Collette.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Noel Jordan on January 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have an early galley of 'Cornelia' and have already re-read it three times. It is a completely magical book, and reminds me of the sort of classic books I read when I was young ('Harriet the Spy", "Eloise," "Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," "21 Balloons"). In the day or so it took me to read the book, I felt as though I, like Cornelia and Virginia, had traveled to Paris, London, Morocco and India - and had acquired a whole host of fascinating new people in my life. I didn't want it to end, and actually missed the characters when I wasn't reading the book! And Virginia Somerset is most certainly the sort of mentor EVERY girl (and woman) wishes she'd had, not unlike Mary Poppins and her ilk.

This is a rare sort of work in a market saturated with fantasy genres and "Gossip Girls" values. I'd recommend it to any parent, teacher, library or school who wanted their children to develop a strong appreciation of friendship, language, music, history and world adventures.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Little Willow on October 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Independent Bookseller on July 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I am an independent bookseller in the Midwest. I was told that 'Cornelia' was similar in sensibility to 'The Penderwicks,' and was intrigued. But when I actually read 'Cornelia', I fell in love with the book. I see a lot of books in this genre - but this one was in a class of its own. When I read the very first chapter, I wanted to adopt Cornelia and bring her home!

I would love to see this book receive the Newbery, or at the very least, become a Newbery Honor Book. It deals with so many important issues - from family relationships, language, loneliness -- but manages to do so in such a wonderful way!! I know that a book about a lonely girl sounds like it might be a downer, but it absolutely was not. The escapades of the Somerset sisters all around the world were hilarious and uplifting -- and they connect young readers to different cultures at a time when international understanding and outreach is at an all-time low. Also, I love it when authors use real life characters in their fiction: like Pablo Picasso's appearance in the book, as well as the Queen of England.

I would recommend this book to everyone from parents looking for an intelligent beach-read for their kids, to educators who wish to teach their students about the importance of words, travel, and geography.

The only thing that I wished had been differently is that I wanted to know more about the relationship between Cornelia's parents, who are two world-famous concert pianists. But I guess that theirs, as they say, is another story.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. Williams on June 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
Cornelia is the daughter of a famous pianist, Lucy. And, unfortunately for Cornelia, that's all anyone ever seems to care about. When she's invited over for a new play-date with a possible-new-friend, it's typically because the parent wants to find out what Lucy is like, or somehow befriend Lucy via Cornelia. Add to this the fact that Lucy is always traveling and never takes Cornelia with her, and that when Lucy is home she's often busy with her music, Cornelia decided to seek refuge in long, complicated, and rarely used words. They are her barrier -- if someone starts asking her too many questions about Lucy, Cornelia delves into a profusion of words that no one else can understand and it's not long before the conversation wanes.

So, when a new and fascinating neighbor (Virginia) moves in, Cornelia is thrilled to discover that Virginia is not only a lover of words, too, but a writer. And best of all, Virginia seems interested in Cornelia, and Cornelia alone - not her mother. So, Cornelia visits Virginia often, each time learning about some new and amazing adventure in a different country that Virginia and her three sisters had experienced when they were in their early twenties. Cornelia is fascinated by the stories, and little by little we wonder what effect they will have on her own life and relationships.

I think the book is well written. The prose is good and flows well, and I think Blume does have a nice way with words. But, sadly, there were several things about the book that just didn't sit right.

For one, I'm not really sure who this book would appeal to. I like the idea of kids enjoying tales about older girls traveling the world - and think it is possible. But there seemed little in these travels that would appeal to young readers.
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