It’s Excerpt Time! — Chapter 1, First Half

Dear Readers and Loyal Newsletter Subscribers,

Great news! Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, Book 1 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series, releases on  . . . drum roll, please . . . FEBRUARY 1. Hallelujah!

Every Thursday this month, my blog will feature an excerpt from my book.

So get a clue, Readers. Please let me know what you think. And don’t forget to mark your calendars and purchase my book at Amazon.com in paperback and/or eBook on February 1.

But for now, I present to you Chapter 1, the first half:

 

Chapter 1       “A Mystery from Nutmeg Street”

Dead eyes, with years of curses and murder in them, stared back at thirteen-year-old Lexi Wyatt. She smiled. Lexi loved a good mummy and anything Egyptian. And a gripping mystery.

She and her friends treated Dr. Thornsley’s musty study like a shrine, with all its carefully copied treasures from Dr. T’s many Egyptian expeditions. She turned from the mummy mask on the wall to question Mrs. Thornsley but saw her twin brother, Lanny, walking toward her. He had a look Lexi knew meant her blond, brainiac brother wanted to share an important thought. Which meant he shared all his thoughts, Lexi decided, since he always had that look and considered everything he thought important.

“Lexi,” he whispered, “I just realized something. You and I are like ancient Egyptian kings and queens!”

She hesitated a moment, trying to decide if hearing his explanation was worth letting Lanny have his ego moment. Yes, she decided—if she was like Egyptian royalty, she wanted to know why. “Okay, I give. Explain.”

“Well,” he started, “Dad is a famous archaeologist, and Mom is an equally famous art historian, right? And because of them, we get access to all kinds of amazing places and people and adventures, right? We benefit from our lineage, just like princes and princesses do when they become queens and kings. See? Kings and queens–us! It’s all about lineage.”

“Oh,” she said. “Good one.” She could stand being like any royalty, but especially Egyptian.

And it wasn’t all that big a stretch, really. They did get to accompany their parents on many business trips around the world for the Antiquities Research Collective—or the ARC, as everyone in town called the “think tank” in beautiful Cortez Park. Not only did the twins’ parents work there, but so had Dr. Thornsley. Lexi dreamed of imitating the kind, brilliant man by becoming an Egyptologist herself someday. Then, she would work at the ARC as a vital member of the team of some of the world’s most renowned archaeologists and art historians.

Lanny and Lexi’s best friends, Moki Kalani and Rani Kumar, often went along on the ARC-sponsored adventures. Best of all, somehow, all their experiences with fascinating people and places ended up with them solving some mystery or other. They’d even started calling themselves detectives and taking on cases to solve. It was the best life Lexi could imagine. Those were the reasons the Wyatt twins, plus Moki and Rani, were here today, in the study of Dr. and Mrs. Thornsley’s big old house on Nutmeg Street. They were about to hear their next mystery.

But this mystery felt more serious than all the others. This one was happening because their family friend, the extraordinary Egyptologist, Dr. Thornsley, was dead.

Lexi returned to her task, addressing Mrs. Thornsley. “So you say, Mrs. T, four months ago Dr. T started getting mysterious phone calls.” Lexi gently ran her finger over a stubby pencil that had been used by Dr. Thornsley, whom she would never forget. “He’d jump up and lock the study door after saying hello. Sometimes, his voice would rise in anger, and then he’d bang down the landline receiver. Have I got that right?”

“Yes, that’s right, Alexia. The calls started last February right after Dr. Thornsley and I returned from a short trip out of town.” Mrs. Thornsley fidgeted with the old, curly telephone cord. “He changed the subject whenever I men­tioned the calls, but I . . . I think he was being threatened.”

Lexi set her hand on the widow’s shoulder, looking fondly at the kind, fashionably dressed woman who often called her “Alexia” rather than her nickname. “Don’t worry, Mrs. T. We’ll find out what’s going on.”

They always did. They had solved all their mysteries. Their first case was just last year when they were in France with the twins’ parents. By chance, they helped the French police catch two jewel thieves and a sizable hoard of diamond bracelets stolen from a Paris jewelry store. That led to the four kids uncovering a ring of international jewel thieves. The news went viral. After re­turning home to a citywide celebration in their honor, the squad officially established their Botanic Hill Detectives Agency, and the cases poured in from near and far.

But this new mystery was right in their neighbor­hood. They had to solve it, mainly for Dr. and Mrs. Thornsley.

Thirteen-year-old Rani gracefully pivoted to face Mrs. Thornsley, her gold and turquoise sari twirling just a bit. Whenever possible, she preferred wearing clothing from her native country of India. “You said something else happened here in the study, Mrs. T?” She drew a squiggle on the dusty top of Dr. Thornsley’s wooden desk.

“Actually, two more strange occurrences, Rani. Three months ago, in March, an old framed picture from this very desk went missing.” Mrs. T’s index finger jabbed deci­sively at its surface. “It showed Dr. Thornsley twenty years ago with some people I never knew from his hometown back East. When I asked him what had happened to it, he said the picture had fallen from the desk and broken. He had planned to get a new frame, but the picture never reappeared. One month later . . . he died.” Mrs. Thornsley covered her face with her hands. She worked hard to choke back some sobs. Rani came to her side and put her arm around the woman.

After a moment, she continued. “Then one afternoon last month, I came home from running errands to discover that someone had broken into this room. Nothing appeared to be missing, but this desk had been ransacked. The police found no fingerprints or other clues to lead them to a suspect.” Mrs. Thornsley could no longer control herself. Tears flooded down the furrows in her face. She fretfully wrung her tired, wrinkled hands. Lexi, always emotional, teared up, too.

Seeing the two crying, Moki looked around and ner­vously shifted his weight from one foot to the next. “Hey, uh, Mrs. T,” he asked, “what’s that I see over there on the coffee table?” The Hawaiian boy, who had moved to Southern California five years ago, pointed beyond the study door. With big eyes, Lanny silently thanked Moki for the rescue.

“Bless you, Moki,” said the woman. “You read my mind. I’ve had enough of this room for a while. Let’s go. I set out some snacks for you four in the living room. It’s been very difficult for me to spend any time in this study alone, you know, since my husband’s death in April.” Mrs. Thornsley dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and squeezed Rani’s small but strong hand.

“That makes perfect sense to me, Mrs. T,” replied Lexi, blinking back a tear while supporting Mrs. Thornsley with an arm around the woman’s small waist. The girl snapped off the wall switch to the study’s overhead light fixture with her free hand.

Moki, a confirmed foodie, bounded into the living room. His Hawaiian shirt was a blur of colors as he ran and barely missed clipping his side on the woman’s enormous grand piano. His huge brown eyes had zeroed in on a platter piled high with cookies.

Mrs. Thornsley couldn’t resist a booming laugh. “Oh, Moki. You’re like medicine for my poor, sad soul. Please, do help yourself. You’ve earned your fill.”

“Thanks. Don’t mind if I do.” He lunged toward the platter and dug into the cookies. “Mmm, chocolate chip,” Moki said through a mouthful. “My fave.”

Lexi and Rani served everyone some of the frosty lemonade from the nearby crystal pitcher.

They stared as Moki grabbed a third large cookie. “Oinkers!” snorted Lexi.

“Huh?” he replied with crumbs cascading from his lips.

“Didn’t you have breakfast this morning?” asked Lexi.

“Sure, but that was almost two hours ago. Anyway, mysteries make me hungry,” he croaked between chomps.

No one seemed to have noticed that Lanny had remained behind in Dr. Thornsley’s study. Something had caught his eye. The room’s lighting was subdued now, and the study was as still as a tomb. Lanny felt as if he had been transported back in time to ancient Egypt. Such was the magic of this room. The only movement came from some dust particles that danced inside a splinter of sunlight stealing in through the sheer-curtained French doors behind Dr. Thornsley’s massive wooden desk.

A low cabinet beneath Lexi’s favorite mummy mask contained, among other mementos, meticulously detailed, expensive copies of assorted treasures from Dr. T’s exca­vations. There were miniature cat- and ibis-headed statues and raised cobras on pharaohs’ headdresses. In addition, Dr. Thornsley had displayed his old compass, badly scratched by desert sands, yellowed dig-site maps, and various archaeological tools. Though fascinating, he and his friends had seen these objects before in what Lexi called Dr. T’s mini museum during their frequent visits to Nutmeg Street.

What had actually grabbed Lanny’s attention was an out-of-place object on the floor to the left of Dr. T’s desk. He stooped to pick it up. It was a small sandstone sphinx. Its right forepaw had cracked off. Lanny knelt and rum­maged under the desk and soon found the broken piece, reuniting it with the maimed original already cupped in his left hand.

From his low position on the floor, Lanny thought he saw a shadow cast on the rug. He turned around quickly to glance in the direction of the French doors. . . .

Come back next time for the conclusion of Chapter 1.

 

 

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My 2020 Vision

Dear Readers and Other Visionaries,

To clarify, the only time I have 2020 vision is while wearing my eyeglasses! Actually, that’s not even the kind of vision I mean here. I’m talking about my vision for the New Year, appropriately, 2020.

Some might call a vision a resolution or goal, but I prefer vision in this case because it is fun to picture it in my mind.

Simply put, I delightfully foresee my book Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets, once it launches on February 1, 2020, in LOTS of kids’ hands. Like many authors, I plan to give some of my books away to kids for free. My intent as a writer is that my books might bring some of the joy, adventure, and healthy role models to kids as Nancy Drew and Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries did for my childhood.

So get a clue, Readers. I hope you have some goals, visions, or resolutions in mind for 2020. Here’s to more clarity, good adventure, joy, and peace in all our lives. Happy 2020!

 

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A Dickens of a Christmas

Dear Readers and Holiday Revelers,

There is nothing quite like a great book to relax by the fireside during the holidays. My recommendation is A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (1812-1870), with the unforgettable character Ebenezer Scrooge. (You can get the eBook on Amazon Kindle for $0.99. The Audible version is available for free. Wow! Merry Christmas.)

Many of you have probably seen one or more versions of the movie, but the book is so rich in the imagery of nineteenth-century England that it deserves a read. Experience again the famous line, “‘If they (the poor) would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population'”–words that would come back literally to haunt the miserly man and prompt his wake-up call!

Christmas was one of Charles Dickens’ favorite times of the year with it being a major religious event, but not yet commonly celebrated as a festive holiday. He loved the meaning of Christmas, especially Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany. Dickens’ writings can be credited with introducing feasting, games, family togetherness, and other traditions into Western culture, traditions we still practice to this day.

Did you know that before Queen Victoria came to the throne of England (1837), Charles Dickens had written five short Christmas books and numerous festive stories? In 1843, he was alarmed by the poverty of London and, vowing to “strike a sledge-hammer blow on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child,” wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. His goal was to wake up the world to the inequities in life. Beyond social justice, his other goal was to make some fast money since his literary career was at somewhat of a crossroads! Six thousand copies of A Christmas Carol were published by Chapman & Hall of London with Dickens paying the publishing costs himself so that he could receive the profits. (The publishing company received a commission.) It sold well, but he still didn’t make much money from it.

As he wrote what would arguably become his most famous work, Dickens said that he “could feel the Cratchits (Tiny Tim and family) ever tugging at his coat sleeve, impatient for [him] to sit back down and write their story.” As it turned out, the Cratchits’ story resembled the author’s impoverished childhood home life, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch for the author to describe horrible living conditions.

One critic called the story “a national institution.” William Makepeace Thackeray, Dickens’ friend and fellow author, called it “a national benefit.”

Sources:  charlesdickensinfo.com; oxfordlearning.com

So get a clue, Readers. Settle in with your copy of A Christmas Carol. No matter your religion or lack thereof, let the story work its magical message of charitable giving, transformative repentance, and abundant blessings on you and those around you. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

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Gadzooks! Methinks ’tis Yuletide.

Dear Kids and all Writers,

Need inspiration for writing? Check out this true story . . .

As I was decorating my home for the holidays recently, my mind transported me back to the late 1990s. My daughter was in high school then. Despite it being a weekend that December day and so close to the holidays, she had a writing assignment that was giving her fits. She burst out of her bedroom and flopped down on the living room sofa.

“Lucky you,” she said to me angrily. “You get to decorate the Christmas tree while I have to write this dumb paper for my English class.”

“What’s the topic?” I asked.

“Would you believe that I have to write about an object or a feeling as if I were William Shakespeare? You know, in his language called “Early Modern English.” Doesn’t sound too modern to me with all the thee’s and thou’s he tossed around in his plays.”

Before I could say anything, she continued. “And what’s worse, I can’t come up with a topic. And what’s even worse, I’d rather be decorating the tree with you!”

“Well . . . then . . . why not . . . write about that? I replied with a smile.

“About what?”

“About how upset you feel because you’d rather be decorating the Christmas tree with pretty lights and ornaments. You would be describing both an object and a feeling!”

Without another word, my daughter disappeared into her bedroom. Within thirty minutes, she was back, mission accomplished and ready to help decorate!

I laughed as she read her essay to me: “Hark, methinks I spy yon Yuletide tree! Drat! Such pleasures as I donning it with festive fobs is not written in fiery stars . . .” and so on, until I thought the Bard of Avon was sitting in the living room, describing the bright scene!

But best of all, she actually had fun writing the piece once she had an idea. Her laughter as she read was heartwarming for us both.

So get a clue, writers. Sometimes, your next idea might be right in front of you. Listen to your feelings. Look nearby for opportunities. “Gadzooks! Methinks I spy a writer taking up thy quill . . . ”

 

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Dollars from Heaven

Dear Readers of All Ages,

You’ve probably heard the term or maybe even the song, “Pennies from Heaven.” The pennies represent unexpected good fortune or a windfall. Yesterday, I received dollars from Heaven. Emphasis on “Heaven.”

I was at the check-out counter in a grocery store where I seldom shop. I had never signed up for the “Club Card” that would have entitled me to those wonderful discounted prices on many items. The checker suggested that I put in a relative’s phone number to see if it would work. Wow! Nice of her to tell me that. I then remembered that my late mother used to shop at the store often. So, I entered her old phone number and, . . .

You guessed it. It worked!

Thanks, Mom in Heaven, for saving me $4.21 yesterday. But more than money, you also sent me a warm, fuzzy feeling on a chilly day. You’ve been gone for almost four years, but I still miss you. So does Jimmy Lambchop, “our” dog.

So readers, get a clue. You might not know when you are about to receive heavenly pennies or dollars. So ears, eyes, and hearts wide open. And don’t forget to thank the person who sent them.

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A Note of Thanks

Dear Kids and All Readers,

The season when many of us focus more intently on our blessings has arrived.

Years ago, when I was still a classroom teacher and raising a child, I taught my students and my daughter the value of saying thank you, especially for gifts they receive at this time of year and for their birthdays. I tried to impress upon them that whereas texting or emailing Grandma, Auntie, or Mom and Dad a thank-you was better than nothing, the best way, in my opinion, was with a handwritten note that gets mailed or hand delivered. (This was not intended to ensure a continuous flow of gifts year after year–though it might help!)

My daughter became very good at writing thank-yous without being told. Of course, it might have helped that I often gave her a box of thank-you notes as a stocking stuffer.

Many relatives who received these notes from her commented on how special it was for them to receive, the old-fashioned way in her own writing, her gratitude and other feelings when she opened the gift. Some students shared similar reactions from their family members with me. Some relatives said that was the only thanks they had received! This underscored my comments that thank-you notes can be very memorable as well as appreciated.

So get a clue, readers of all ages. Taking a few moments to hand write a thank-you note could double your gratitude in the hearts of some friends and relatives. And that can warm our hearts and make us all more thankful. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

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