Friday, June 27, 2014

"The Sparrow Found a House" - Review and Giveaway! (and we all know how I love giveaways!)

Today, I have a book review for you, followed by a GREAT giveaway, sponsored by Elisha Press and hosted by yours truly. :-) {I solemnly swear that I was in no way persuaded to positively review this book due to fondness for my new little nephew Elisha. ;-)}

The Book:

The Sparrow Found a House by Jason McIntire. Published 2013 by Elisha Press. {My thanks to Elisha Press for providing me with a review copy.}

The Back Cover Description:

Fifteen-year-old Jessie Rivera is living every teenager’s nightmare. Her widowed mom has married a man who wears his heavy Christian values like his sergeant’s stripes – on both sleeves.

Glenn Sparrow is persistent, immovable, and not afraid to be firm. Worse than that, he’s loving, kind – even fun – and he has Chris, Moe, and Katie completely won over.

But Jessie is determined that she won’t be won over, or give up her “freedom” without a fight. She knows what she wants, and it isn’t what they’ve got.

Or is it?

My Thoughts:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Author Jason McIntire shows how the Gospel can transform a family that is "broken" like the Rivera-Sparrows, and he does it in a often funny, down-to-earth way.

Author Jason McIntire
I enjoyed every character in the Rivera-Sparrow family, not without reservation but with the negative-positive connections you feel toward people in real life. Though the back cover mentions only Jessie, The Sparrow Found a House delves into each child in the Rivera-Sparrow family, which makes it a great read-aloud for a family with children of various ages and genders. There's somewhat passive older brother Chris, determined and straightforward older sister Jessie, bright and cute little sister Katie, and little brother Moe. Each of the children caught my interest quickly, and I found myself rooting for them to "win" their individual battles, whether over violent video games {Chris} or over conceit {Katie}.

McIntire places quite a number of secondary characters in the story as well, but I found it easy to keep track of them. Each of these secondary characters helped move the plot along and further developed the theme of how the Gospel transforms family life, working from the inside to the outside. We find that once a person has been changed by Christ, he or she cannot keep that alteration to themselves; it will affect everything he or she does and says.

The writing is easy and quick-paced and enjoyable. I found myself looking forward to how the story would twist and turn. I'd love to see a sequel that followed one or all of the Rivera-Sparrow children into their teen years/adulthood. I applaud Elisha Press for striving to create wholesome books that the entire family can relish.

Any Reservations?

Well, I have the blessed situation of having experienced public school, private school, and homeschooling, all for approximately the same amount of time. I enjoyed all three and saw negative attributes in each that could have benefitted from the others' positive points. Thus, while I personally favor homeschooling and most likely will homeschool my own children in the future, I can't "cotton" to the way in which McIntire dramatically glamorizes homeschooling and vilifies public schooling. His portrayal of the public school system as a whole and its teachers seems unrealistic in an otherwise lifelike novel, and his implicit equation of homeschooling with Christianity rings false, in my opinion.


I recommend The Sparrow Found a House for a good family read-aloud or for teens {its intended audience} to read by themselves. The book includes a little violence and frightening elements: Two thugs threaten Chris and Jessie on their way home from school; a neighbor tries to scare the Sparrow family with illegal fireworks; a burglary occurs. There are no romantic elements, unless you count the eldest son's crush on a girl at his school, but this is undetailed.

Special Notes:

Elisha Press provides free e-copies of their titles through their website: ELISHA PRESS. Their current titles make great read-alouds {as mentioned above}. You can also sign up for their e-mail list to be apprised of new releases, etc.: click here.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher Elisha Press in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Now it's YOUR TURN! :-) Would you like to an Elisha Press book for free?

Elisha Press is generously providing a paperback copy of ANY of their titles to one WINNER of the GIVEAWAY below! {Winner will be notified by e-mail.} Feel free to enter and SHARE!a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rocky Point, Bribery, & the Peiffer Giveaway Winner

When I was a little girl, there was only one way to get to Rocky Point Amusement Park.

Through reading 100 books.

From June 14th {the day after our school "let out" for summer vacation} until the last few days of August, my sisters and I added star stickers to our book charts.

Each star denoted one book read. We planned what books we'd each read, my sisters and I and my mom, carefully stacking them until the wobbly towers reached our waists. As a child of four or five, my books were usually just picture books with simple storylines, read about to me by my Mama-Bee. As we grew, the books grew with us: Caddie Woodlawn, Eight Cousins, Encyclopedia Brown, Charlotte's Web, The Little House Books, Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood, Stuart Little, Big Red ... Most books were new to us - fresh-as-watermelon reads for the sticky days - but Mama-Bee allowed a few repeats as well, as long as the books stayed within our reading level: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler appeared multiple times for some very odd reason. :-)


Oh, we did things other than read as well: swam and bicycled and played baseball and went to camps occasionally. But we knew one thing: Mom wouldn't budge on the 100 books. If we didn't read them, we weren't going to Rocky Point for that last summer hurrah before school began.

We each read 100 books. Without fail. Every summer. Until Rocky Point closed in what was a very mournful day for the Roque family.

Was that it? Did we stop reading since there was no longer any point? {Pun not intended. :-)}

Not at all. In fact, I think we picked up speed. :-) Which is why I believe in careful bribery to teach good habits, to help an immature one to see the good of something that - on the surface - seems tedious but bears great rewards.

They say the teachers of Israel used to coat the school tablets with honey as a sharp, sweet reminder to their pupils of how delightful the Lord's Word is {Psalm 119:103}. As the pupils memorized the words on the tablets, they could lick off the honey.

So it was with us - my two sisters and I. We licked the "honey" of Rocky Point and learned to love the "tablet" of reading beneath. This summer, I won't be reading 100 books, but here are five that I will be getting to {Lord willing and the crick don't rise!}:
  1. Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot - I admit, a re-read. My sister introduced this book to me, and Elliot's quiet words of deep wisdom are so helpful as I walk toward Jerusalem.
  2. Robert Falconer, by George MacDonald - I've been wanting to read this one for years! Sir Gibbie, Donal Grant, and others by MacDonald have been mind-baptizing books for me. I can't wait.
  3. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis - I've read Out of the Silent Planet, but I've not gotten around to the other to yet.
  4. The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser - A partial re-read, this is one of those books I love reading but somehow never manage to finish.
  5. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, by Iain H. Murray

And we have our winner for a signed copy of one of Caleb Peiffer's novels! :-) Thanks to everyone who entered. Kristen, I will be putting you in touch with Caleb shortly via e-mail so that you can let him know which novel you would like to receive! :-)

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Interview & Signed Paperback Giveaway with Mystery Author Caleb Peiffer: Part 2

Welcome back, Caleb! :-) Time for another round of questions ...

What literary character are you most like?

CALEB: My first choice is Don Quixote. We're both dreamers, idealists, and often delude ourselves into thinking impractical things are very practical. If I wasn't writing, I'd probably be lying in a ditch, recovering from a fight with a windmill. My second choice is Amory Blaine. I don't expect you to know who that is -- As widely as "The Great Gatsby" is read, Fitzgerald's first novel, "This Side of Paradise," is comparatively little-known. Amory is the protagonist, shamelessly based on Fitzgerald himself, and I've rarely felt as thorough a connection with a literary character as I did with him. Since then I've read more of Fitzgerald's work, and though I don't always identify with the characters and sometimes not even the stories, I often identify with the writing.

What was the hardest part of writing your current book?

CALEB: When I was writing "Gone Like the Shadow," I met with a roadblock I hadn't encountered with either of my previous books. It was a feeling of insufficiency. It's a serious problem that most writers will understand. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, what we call "writer's block" is essentially just the fear of failure, dressed up until we can't recognize it right away. In my case, "Gone Like the Shadow" dealt with a lot of personal emotions, and a lot of story and heart was based on the spiritual experiences of a person I care very much about. I felt like that was a lot to live up to, and I began to be afraid that I couldn't pull it off. But here's the thing. Every writer deals with inspirational blocks, usually emotional, oftentimes a feeling of insufficiency. This wasn't my first - just maybe my worst. Some get through writer's block by allowing themselves to write as poorly as necessary as long as they're writing, and then make it all better in revision. I disagree with this for a lot of reasons. My main reason is it's like saying you can build a house out of cardboard and then paint it to make it look like it's brick. How much pride does a writer really have in their work if he or she is willing to do a slipshod job and later make it look like they didn't? When writer's block comes around, writers have two choices: to write poorly and let themselves fail "for now," or to write well. So I chose to write well and I got through. I'm not saying it works 100% of the time, and even though I chose to "write well" I didn't always. But just the choice to work my hardest, and to accept that was okay that it was hard, freed me and gave me the strength to keep going. Honestly, some of my best work came out in moments like these, I think. In the worst of times, I was willing to do my best, and that meant I was really making the effort for my art.

Your titles are unusual and mysterious. How do you come up with them?

CALEB: All my titles in the "Wheelchair Sleuth Mysteries" come from Scripture. When I'm reading I often pick out verses I would consider using, and this is how I find a lot of my titles. Other than that, it's all very haphazard. Sometimes, I'll just brainstorm and make a long list of titles I like, narrow it down to just a few I'm really wild about for a lot of good reasons, and then get friends to help me make a rational final choice. It's not a matter of finding the one perfect title, because any given book could have dozens of perfect titles. When I'm deciding on a title I pick based on a lot of criteria: is it descriptive? is it relevant? is it pretty? is it catchy? Sometimes I pick titles on a gut feeling, but I always find criteria like these hidden behind those feelings.

Your books are set in the early decades of the 1900s. What part of researching did you find most interesting? Least interesting?

CALEB: The most fun I have in researching is tracking down quotations for use as epigraphs, finding ones that fit and making sure I'm tracing them to the right source, and that the source comes before the time my novel is set in. It wouldn't work to have a post-WWI factory worker quoting Lee Harper, would it? I also read a lot of novels from the time period I write in, to get a stronger feeling for the atmosphere and the way people talked and thought (and to collect quotations as I go!). I always enjoy that. Most of my favorite novels come from that time period -- that's one of the reasons I enjoy writing in that time period! I also enjoy learning about historical events, people, and innovations technological or lingual or otherwise, and exploring different sources of information to flesh out my understanding of them from different angles. But the devil is in the details; the least interesting part of researching is that moment when I just need to know whether one character's shoes would have buttons or laces, because it might be an important clue and I need to know how to make it accurate. All I need is just one trifling tidbit of information, and that is always the hardest thing to trace down.

Seeing that your writing is strongly influenced by your Christian worldview, I'd like to know: Do you have a favorite book of the Bible?

CALEB: I like to read Proverbs and Psalms regularly, just because they're handy references for guidance and inspiration. But my favorite book would have to be the book of Job. Job's story speaks in a practical and vividly emotional way about the experience of [the] human relationship with God. When I'm dealing with struggles of my own, reading about Job's affliction and his faith and bravery in the face of them is very humbling.

What will you be working on next, Caleb?

CALEB: Leo Westmacott will be coming back in the future, but at the moment I'm working on several other projects. My main focus at the moment is a novel loosely rooted in the story of the golem of Jewish folklore. In the beginning the concept was born as a sequel to Shelley's "Frankenstein," but as I plotted it became more and more my own until I decided to make the necessary changes to make the story entirely my own -- although a lot of the influences are still there, I'm not going to lie!

Thanks for stopping in, Caleb! I've really enjoyed having you here, and your answers have been really thought-provoking! :-)

Visit Caleb:

His blog
His Facebook page
His Amazon page


Dear Readers, if you haven't entered the giveaway for a SIGNED PAPERBACK copy of your choice of Caleb Peiffer's books, you still have time! :-) Our giveaway ends at 11:59 P.M. on Thursday, June 19th. You can enter below:

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Interview & Signed Paperback Giveaway with Mystery Author Caleb Peiffer: Part 1

I just love it when I find a new author that I can recommend without reservation! :-)

Caleb Peiffer is such a one. Caleb and I crossed paths earlier this year while I was reviewing one of his novels, Gone Like the Shadow, part of the "Wheelchair Sleuth" mystery series which follows a genius wheelchair-bound detective in an very dangerous worldwide game of real-life chess. While great for individual reading, they're also good for read-alouds with older children. Here's an excerpt of my review:

My overall impression: This is an exquisitely-crafted mystery story … not your average detective novel at all. Though this works perfectly as a standalone book, it is connected to the two other books Peiffer has written. I haven’t read them, as I downloaded this one as a Kindle freebie, but I’m looking forward to getting to the others in the near future. If they are anything like this story, they are well-worth the purchase price.

The funny thing is, straight-out mystery is not my usual go-to genre for leisure reading. My feeling toward them usually is, “Once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.” But this author snagged me with witty (but not sarcastic) dialogue, fascinating and diverse secondary characters, and turns and twists I didn’t see coming. The story keeps moving, and I found myself thinking about the plot during my non-reading hours, trying to figure out how the pieces would fit together. Turns out – and this was one of the great things since I’m a little hard to surprise with plot twists – I was wrong almost every time! I loved, too, how the main characters had numerous faults coupled with their redeeming virtues.

Caleb's stopping by today to answer a few of my questions - and any you might have for him. :-) He's also generously offering a signed paperback copy of one of his mysteries for the winner of our giveaway! So, pull up a chair and "drop some eaves" (as Sam Gamgee would say) while Caleb and I book-talk ... then enter your name in the giveaway! (This is a longer interview, so we'll be having part 2 tomorrow, as well.)

Welcome, Caleb! I'm glad to have you here today. Something I always like to know about authors is: What books and authors inspired them to write?

CALEB: The farther back you go, the more authors there have been who have inspired me in different ways. Before I could read, sometimes my father would read "Calvin and Hobbes" to me, and my mother would read "Trixie Belden," and those are two vital elements right there. A lot of the things that continue to influence and inspire my work as a writer trace back to Watterson, I think, and my interest in mystery might have started with Tatham. The first book I ever read on my own was "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" by Beverly Cleary, and I knew from the moment I put that book down that I didn't like putting books down, and I wanted to keep picking them up and even make my own. I've been a lifelong mystery lover, but I don't think it as until I met Agatha Christie that I realized I wanted to write mysteries myself. When Poirot propounded his first solution to me in "Murder on the Orient Express," I knew that what Agatha Christie had just done to me was something I wanted to do for my readers. That was a great feeling. My mysteries owe most of their inspiration to Christie. In fact, the solution to my first detective novel, "The Second Death," was based off a guess I made reading, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." It turned out I was wrong, but I liked the idea so much it stuck with me and a few years later I used it on my own.

I sympathize with you about "The Mouse and the Motorcycle." I didn't want it to end, either! Now, has your writing changed since you wrote that first book?

CALEB: That's an interesting question. My writing process evolved a lot going from book one to book two. In writing and life and everything, the second time is always easier. And I think my writing style has definitely matured and grown since my first book as I've gained experience, and thereby confidence, in working with the novel form. There were some things I did that I've learned not to do, things I would change if I were writing it now, some things I even regret, and then there are even things I can look back and say, "Why did you stop doing that?" Anything worth doing isn't done just once, it has to be done continually, and it will grow. Mistakes will be made, and so will improvements. It may never be perfect, but it will always get better, even if there are times when it gets a little worse, too. I've even been asked if I planned on rewriting my first book, but that's really not something I approve of at all. Not because I'm afraid to say I made mistakes, but because why should I hide them? A friend of mine was growing a garden recently. The first tomato they grew rotted and died before it ripened. But the plant didn't try to regrow that same tomato and my friend didn't try to fix it. That's against nature. The second tomato the plant grew came out beautiful and red, and I think it was one of the best tomatoes I've ever seen. As Ray Bradbury put it, "I don't believe in tampering with any young writer's material, especially when that young writer was once myself."

Caleb, is there a particular theme that comes out in your writing frequently?

CALEB: There are a lot of themes I tend to write about. It's hard to pick just one. My faith of course and related principles come into my writing a lot. Love is another one, because love is very important to me and I feel like it's something that's undervalued, or at least largely and widely misunderstood. But I think if there's one theme I write about more than any other, one that almost always sneaks its way into even my shortest work one way or another, it's beauty: admiring and appreciating it, taking notice of the things we take for granted, and having the sense to walk fast enough so you have the time to stop and smell the roses when you get to them. Plainly put, I don't think we appreciate the pretty things about our lives and our world enough in our day-to-day lives, and one of the reasons I write at all is to encourage people to open their eyes a little wider.

Caleb, thanks for stopping by today! We'll be finishing up our interview with you tomorrow. :-)

A couple of Caleb's novels are FREE on Kindle this weekend, so if you have a Kindle, snap them up on Amazon! Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, Caleb is providing an autographed paperback copy of ANY of his novels to the winner of our giveaway! The winner will be announced next Friday. (This is a GREAT, no-risk way of gettting a taste of a new-to-you author!) Please feel free to SHARE!

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Sneak-Peek! The First Chapter of JEMIMA AND THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING CUFFLINKS & the Winner of Last Week's Giveaway

Well, well, well! I have two fun things for you today: A sneak-peek at my soon-to-be-published middle-grade fiction book, Jemima and the Mystery of the Missing Cufflinks; AND I get to announce who won last week's giveaway of an Alicia A. Willis e-book of their choice (see the end of this post!

So let's get started! :-)

Some of you may be unsure of what I mean when I say, "middle-grade fiction." Is it fiction for middle-schoolers? Does it differ from young-adult? What is the reading level required? What kind of themes does middle-grade fiction explore?

Middle-grade books are meant for the 9-12-year-old age group. They freely use a larger vocabulary for their adept readers. They handle who-am-I, how-do-I-fit-in, and what-do-I-think issues within a larger world than that of primary-grade books. The mature themes of young-adult literature are not strongly developed in true middle-grade fiction.

Jemima and the Mystery of the Missing Cufflinks occurs in 1813 Regency-era England. However, this is not meant to be primarily historical fiction (though it fits into that category as well): Jemima takes place in Regency England, but I desired the story be the main focus of the book, rather than filling it to the brim with period details, history, etc. For this reason, I have chosen not to retain certain details from that period which might bog down a modern 9-12-year-old - For example, Jemima and her family speak in a somewhat modern dialect; in this way, the style is similar to that of the American Girls series.

I would love to hear your feedback! You can either comment at the end of this post, or use the contact form to the left to send me an e-mail. :-) Happy reading!

~ ~ ~
            “Jemima! Jemima! Je-mi-ma!”
            Jemima Sudbury scooted further into her hiding place and pretended that she couldn’t hear William. She had found this enormous hole in the trunk of the oak tree behind the manse just two weeks ago. The hole was at least three meters off the ground – perfect for escaping from her little brother. William was afraid of heights.
            “Jemima! I know you’re up there, Jemima!” Her little brother insisted from beneath the tree.
            Jemima felt a tickle in her nose. She scrunched up her face. Not a sneeze. Not now. She concentrated on reading the next page.
            “Jemima! I want to show you something!”
            The tickle grew stronger.
            “Jemima, I’ll tell Mama you’re being mean to me!”
            She couldn’t help it. “Aaa-choo!”
            “Jemima, I heard you!”
            At least her nose felt better. Jemima sighed, closed her book, and scrambled out of her hiding place. She clung to the rough bark as she climbed down the trunk, her bare feet finding good spots to grip with her toes. With just a few practiced motions, Jemima arrived on the ground with a thump.
            William grinned at her. “Knew you were there.” He squinted up at her. William was just eight, three whole years younger than Jemima and a full hand shorter. He had freckles spinning wildly across his turned-up nose, and his carefully-trimmed hair blazed red around his chubby face. He was usually a nice little brother. That was just it, though, thought Jemima dolefully: He wasn’t a real girl-friend; he was a younger brother.
            “I never said I wasn’t there,” she finally retorted.
            “You didn’t answer me, though. Hey, want to see something?”
            Her brother’s eagerness wasn’t abnormal, but the brilliant sparkle in his blue eyes told Jemima that he had a special surprise up his shirt-sleeve. “What is it?” she asked curiously. William didn’t have anything in his hands.
            “Can’t bring it out here. Come into the stable,” William urged, his voice low and mysterious.
            “What is it?” Jemima stalled. She wasn’t going to be dragged away from her precious few minutes of reading for something silly!
            But William wouldn’t say. “Come on,” he whispered. “You’ll like him.”
            “Him?” Jemima exclaimed.
            William clapped his grimy hand over her mouth. “Hush! Come on!” He grabbed Jemima by her hand and began to run toward the stable on the other side of the small orchard, pulling her along with him.
            They came to a halt in front of the stable. William put a finger to his lips, cautioning Jemima to be quiet. He looked around them to make sure that nobody was nearby before unlatching the door with quiet fingers. “I’ll go first,” he instructed her. “You follow me. And don’t say a word. He’s scared.”
            Jemima nodded, her eyes wide. She followed William through the squeaky door and into the empty box stall, smelling the sweet scent of hay and straw.
            “Here he is,” announced William, pointing to the corner of the horse stall, where their father’s horse Cricket stayed at night.
            Jemima looked where William indicated. There, tied to one of the posts, a long sleek creature crouched. “What is it?” asked Jemima, a little wary.
            “He’s an otter,” exclaimed William, excitement rising in his voice again.
            “Where did you get him?” Jemima took a step closer to the animal. The otter cringed against the wall.
            “Mr. Taversham’s son gave him to me.”
            “Horrible Abel, you mean?” asked Jemima.
            “Uh-huh. He’s going to live with his aunt, and she won’t let him have the otter,” explained William.
            Jemima crossed her arms across her chest. “I’m not sure Mama will let you have an otter, either, William.”
            William frowned. “Aw, Jemima! He’s just a little otter!”
            But the otter looked pretty large to Jemima. “Look at the length of his tail alone, William. He’s at least as long as you are tall.” She looked at the otter. He tilted his smooth brown head and peered back at her with shy eyes, dark as pitch. “He is cute, though, isn’t he?”
            William grinned. “Now, I just have to—”
            “Jemima! William! Time for dinner!” They heard the spritely voice and knew that it came from the back door of their home.
            “That’s Mama calling.” Jemima gave a final glance at William’s new pet and hurried out of the stable.
            “You stay here,” she heard William tell the otter before trailing behind her.
            “Are you going to ask Papa at dinner?” Jemima asked as she stepped onto the dirt path that led up to the door. Very few of the pointy stones bruised her calloused feet; Mama insisted that nobody would be hurt – and they would save a little coin – if Jemima and her siblings went mostly barefoot during the spring, summer, and autumn months. Even Mama usually discarded her shoes in the house.
            Jemima liked it. Being barefoot meant you could feel the cool grass springing under your feet. If you weren’t wearing shoes, you didn’t have to worry about stepping in too many puddles in the streets of the small country village of Brooksford in which the Sudbury family lived.
            “I wonder if Mary made a pudding.” William said, his face brightening as he skipped to catch up with Jemima.
            “What kind do you think it will be?”
            William thought for a minute. “If Papa is home for dinner, probably bread pudding. I could take some out to the otter afterward.”
            “If Papa and Mama let you keep him,” reminded Jemima. “Which they probably won’t.”
            William’s face fell.
            “But I hope they do,” Jemima added, smiling. William beamed.
            Mary met them at the back door of their rambling house.  “Dinner’s ready, and your father’s waiting for you at the table. Where have ye been?”
            “Just reading, Mary,” replied Jemima, holding up her book for the maid-of-all-work to see.
            Mary squinted at the cover. “Why a girl needs to read such books is beyond my understanding, but far be it from me to question your good mother. Now, scoot. Ye hardly have time enough to clean up.”
            Jemima grinned. Mary acted fierce, but Jemima knew that the servant woman had a warm heart beneath her tough skin. “I’m hurrying,” Jemima replied as she slipped into the kitchen.
            “You, too, William.” Mary admonished. “Here, let me scrub that dirt off your face, lad.” Mary dunked her dishrag in the water bucket beside the door and rubbed away at the squirming boy’s cheeks. “Where’ve ye been? In George Wilson’s piggery?”
            “Ow! Ow! Mary, you’ll scrub off all my freckles!” Jemima heard her brother yelp as the maid gave him a hearty washing.
            In just a moment more, William scampered past Jemima, who was washing her face and hands in another water bucket inside the kitchen. “Wait, William!” Jemima said, drying herself off with the piece of clean linen that stayed beside the wash bucket for that purpose.
            Impatiently, William turned and stood, jogging from one foot to the other. Jemima knew he was anxious both for a piece of that pudding and also to ask about his otter. She was eager too, but it would never do for the two of them to rush into the dining room like street urchins!
            “Here.” Jemima straightened William’s jacket collar. “Tuck in your shirt,” she instructed as she attended to her own dress’ brown sash, pulling each end around from the front to the back, then around again to the front before re-tying the droopy bow.
            “Am I alright, now, Miss Fussy?” William teased, grinning at her.
            “I suppose you’ll do,” Jemima sighed and followed William through the kitchen door, into the hallway, then into the blue-and-white dining room.
            The rest of the family already sat waiting for them. “Come, sit down, children,” said Reverend Sudbury, Jemima’s father. His voice was mild, as always, and his weary, bony face held a gentle smile. Jemima knew he had spent much of the morning and early afternoon visiting with the elderly and infirm members of his parish. His greying brown curls held the indentation of his hat, so he must have walked right into the dining room without going to his bedchamber first.
“I’m sorry for being late, Father,” Jemima apologized with a sheepish smile as she took her chair between her sisters.
Reverend Sudbury returned her smile. “Shall we pray?”
As her father offered the blessing on the food, Jemima peered anxiously through her fingers at her sister Grace beside her, who kept her eyes closed and her hands laced together. Seven-year-old Grace hadn’t felt too well this morning. Jemima was glad to see that her little sister had recovered enough to join them at their four-o-clock meal. Still, Grace’s face looked so thin you could see her blue veins crisscrossing beneath the skin.
“Amen.” Reverend Sudbury finished the prayer. Jemima snapped out of her thoughts, guilty that she hadn’t heard a word of the blessing.
“This looks delicious, Mary,” Mama commented as the servant brought in the last dish. Jemima saw steam rise from it. A hot pudding!
“Thank ye, ma’am,” Mary smiled quickly and left the room. In some families, Jemima knew, a maidservant would be required to stay and serve the family. Since Mary was the Sudbury family’s only maid, however, Mama thought it more efficient for the family to serve themselves while Mary attended to other work.
 “Potatoes, Jemima?” Susan asked, offering her the platter on which the round vegetables piled high, moist and lightly golden in the late afternoon light. Jemima’s gentle older sister held the dish while Jemima scooped out two potatoes. Susan was seventeen, nearly grown-up, but she still laced her brown hair in a simple braid down her back. Mama always said that Susan had plenty of time “to get old;” she should stay childlike as long as she could.
Across the table, William and fifteen-year-old brother Nathaniel were already digging into their mounded plates. Despite the seven-year age difference between the brothers, they looked remarkably similar. “Twins,” Mama declared. “The image of one another.” And it was true, Jemima thought of her brothers with dozens of freckles scattered across their cheeks and such fiery hair. Both Nathaniel and William promised a short, bulky stature, unlike their father’s reedy height.
Two brothers, two sisters. Two younger than she, two older than she. Jemima was right in the middle of the family. Usually a good place to be, she thought, taking a bite of boiled beef. She glanced over at William, wondering when her brother would broach the subject of the otter.
William caught her eye and grinned nervously. She smiled and nodded at him, hoping it would give him courage. Her brother opened his mouth, but Papa spoke first.
“What have you children been up to this afternoon?” he asked.
William looked at Jemima. “Actually, Papa,” he began, “I visited Mr. Taversham today.”
“Oh?” Papa said.
“Yes, sir,” gulped William. “Did you know that Abel is going to live with his aunt?”
“Yes,” smiled Papa, “I did know that.”
“Perhaps it’s a good thing,” put in Mama. “I didn’t care for that boy’s naughty ways.”
“Now, now,” said Papa. “With Mr. Taversham’s own ways, would you expect different from his lad?” Papa turned to William. “And what else did Mr. Taversham tell you, William?”
            “He told me that I could keep Abel’s otter, Papa!” William declared.
“An otter!” Nathaniel exclaimed, a grin spreading across his face.
Jemima saw Papa and Mama exchange amused glances.
“An otter, you say?” said Papa.
“He’s really quite a handsome creature, Papa,” added Jemima, hopefully.
“How do you know that, Jemima?” Mama asked. “Where is this otter?”
            “Uh, he’s in the barn,” said William. He put on his most winsome smile. “Please, can I keep him? I’ll take care of him. He can live in the river out back.”
Papa looked at Mama. She hesitated, then shrugged. “If he stays in the river, I suppose you may keep him,” agreed Papa. “Mind,” he warned, “he mustn’t cause any trouble.”
“He won’t, Papa!” William leaped up from his chair and gave first Papa and then Mama a great hug. “Thank you!”
Jemima grinned at her brother as he sat down. That had gone better than she had thought it would! She buttered a thick slice of bread and took a big bite.
“On a very different note, I received a letter today,” announced Father, putting down his fork and knife. The attention of the family turned to him.
“A letter? Did it come by post?” This came from Mama, her brow furrowing.
“Aye, it did,” answered Father. “It was prepaid,” he added when Mama’s eyes widened in alarm.
“Is it from Captain Kent, Father?” Nathaniel asked eagerly. Jemima’s older brother loved to hear news from their cousin, who had a purchased post in the Royal Navy. Nathaniel’s eyes danced as he leaned toward Father.
“No, Nathaniel, it is not from Captain Kent. It is, in fact, a request from another cousin of mine, who I didn’t realize was still alive.” Father drew the cream-colored letter from inside his waistcoat.
“Not from André, Edward?” asked Mama, a bite of cabbage suspended midair on her fork.
Father nodded. “Yes, from my cousin André, now residing in France.” Father put on his wire spectacles and unfolded the letter. “He tells me that his wife Marguerite will soon be joining him there.”
Next to Jemima, Susan shuddered. “I wouldn’t want to go to France right now. Not right after the war.”
“I think it would be exciting!” Nathaniel exclaimed. “Imagine: France, land of the Lady Guillotine! The massacres, the political intrigue, the heads rolling in the streets, the—”
“Son.” Father’s voice stopped him.
“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” added Mother, dabbing at her mouth with her napkin.
Nathaniel’s head drooped.
“Anyway,” Father continued, scanning the letter, “André wonders if his wife might leave their only child here in England for the time being. She is just your age, Jemima.” Father caught Jemima’s eyes and smiled, and Jemima felt sunshine flood her all the way to her toes. A cousin! A playmate! Someone besides William with whom to share secrets, play in the dirt, and lead in games.
“She could share a room with the girls,” suggested Mother.
“Another girl in the house! Just what we need,” grumbled William. He folded his hands across his chest.
“William, you will not fuss. Now Aimée is your cousin and needs a place to stay. How could we as her family refuse her?” asked Father, his eyebrows raised.
William shifted in his chair. “Alright, Father.”
“Another pair of hands will be most helpful right now as summer comes on,” added Mother. “Poor Mary is nearly worked to the bone, and the girls haven’t enough time for their studies anymore.”
“Jemima does,” put in William. “This afternoon, when she was supposed to be studying her German, she was reading in the tree past the raspberry bushes.”
So much for helping William keep his otter! Jemima glared at her younger brother and kicked him under the table. Hard.
“Ow!” yelped Nathaniel, grabbing his leg and staring at Jemima. “What did you do that for?”
“Sorry,” muttered Jemima.
“Children! What has come over you?” Mother asked.
“William,” Father said, “if I wish to know anything about your sister’s activities, I’ll ask her or your mother. We’ve no need to tattle in this house. Jemima, I assume you meant that kick for William. There are better ways to express your feelings to your brother.”
“Yes, sir.” William ducked his head.
“Yes, sir.” Jemima nodded.
            “Well, then,” Father approved, putting away the letter. “I’ll answer with a speedy affirmative reply.”
~ ~ ~

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