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.”
~ ~ ~

Wow! We had A LOT of entrants! :-)

And the winner of last week's giveaway is...

Please look for an e-mail from Alicia A. Willis, in which she'll ask for your choice! :-)

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