A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

Source: Borrowed
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum was our August book club pick at work, and even though I had to miss the meeting for another meeting, I’m so glad I read this one. Deya is a high-school student in Brooklyn, N.Y., and her traditional Arab family from Palestine has her meeting with suitors before graduation, despite her hopes for a college education. To preserve their culture in which women are the silent backbone of the family, young women are married to men in their teens to have children and raise the next generation. Like her mother, Isra, Deya is expected to marry someone she barely knows and to start a family.

“A woman is no man,” is an oft repeated refrain from Deya’s grandmother. Told in alternating chapters by Isra and Deya, the narrative is threaded with the past of the grandmother, Fareeda, who also married young but was fortunate enough to flee Palestine after being evacuated to a refugee camp. Her strength is in her faith, but she also is the backbone of her family and the driving force behind their move to America. While both Deya and Isra see the move to America as a gateway to freedom and more opportunities, Fareeda sees it as something that must be guarded against because it will destroy their Arab culture. However, it is clear that Fareeda’s and Isra’s view of their culture stems from similarly abusive relationships with their fathers, and now husbands.

“…yet something about them seemed so American. What was it? Deya thought it was they way they spoke — their voices loud, or at least louder than hers. It was the way they stood confidently on the train, not apologizing for taking up the space.” (pg. 107)

The tension in this book is broken wide open by a family secret. For her entire life, Deya has been told her parents died in a car accident, but the truth will set them free in many ways, allowing a granddaughter and grandmother to bond, a daughter to understand her deceased mother better, and a daughter to have hope that her own hard-line mother may change.

Peeling back these layers chapter by chapter will slow the pace, but Rum’s narrative is this way to demonstrate the repetitive cultural oppression these women experience every day. As a modern reader outside the Palestinian culture, it will seem repetitive and unnecessary, but I would argue it is with purpose that Rum adopts this slower progression. We need to feel that pressure, that weight of oppression and constant restriction to understand how hard it would be to break free from it even as an American immigrant.

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum is an emotional roller coast, and it will have readers shouting at these women to take advantage of their freedom and run away. But when you leave all that you know, it leaves you bare to the harsh realities of being alone in an unfamiliar world. Which is better? Sticking with the devil you know, or striking out into the unknown? Rum has created a multi-layered story that looks at the oppressive nature of the Arab community and religious expectations and the lure of freedom with consequences.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English Composition and teaches undergraduate courses in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Etaf also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans.

Mailbox Monday #746

Today is Labor Day in the United States. I hope you have time off from work, as it should be, and get in some reading time.

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, narrated by Joseph Balderrama, purchased from Audible for my next book club pick at work.

Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans – though no one calls them that anymore.

His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition”. Now, eating human meat – “special meat” – is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost – and what might still be saved.

What did you receive?

Guest Post: Being Intentional About the Objects in Your Story by Thushanthi Ponweera

Today, I have a guest post from Thushanthi Ponweera about her story I am Kavi, a novel-in-verse. Please check out what this book is about and stay for the guest post about being intentional.

Synopsis of the book:

In 1998’s Colombo, the Sri Lankan Civil War is raging, but everyday life must go on. At Kavi’s school, her friends talk about the Backstreet Boys, Shahrukh Khan, Leo & Kate… and who died—or didn’t—in the latest bombing. But Kavi is afraid of something even scarier than war. She fears that if her friends discover her secret—that she is not who she is pretending to be—they’ll stop talking to her. In an effort to fit in with her wealthy, glittering, and self-assured new classmates, Kavi begins telling lies, trading her old life—where she’s a poor girl whose mother has chosen a new husband over her daughter—for a new one, where she’s rich, loved, and wanted. But how long can you pretend to be someone else?

Doesn’t this sound fantastic? Please welcome Thushanthi Ponweera:

I first learned about being intentional about the objects and elements you write about in your story from Linda Sue Park at an online webinar. It was a new concept to me. I had already heard about not using too many secondary characters and about evaluating how much of a “main” character a main character is, but had I thought about all the background stuff? No. But after learning this nugget of wisdom, I started to think about it.

The basic idea is that everything you introduce to the reader has to have a purpose. I started combing through my draft of I Am Kavi with this in mind. The very first lines are about Jasmine flowers.

The Jasmine flowers glow incandescent
as they always do
eagerly looking for my outstretched hands.

So now I knew I had to weave in Jasmine flowers throughout the story. I started looking for places I could insert them in a meaningful way. At the beginning of the book Kavi is at home in the village of Anuradhapura. Plucking Jasmine flowers is the first thing she does each morning so that she can place them at the little altar of Lord Buddha in her house whom she worships daily. About one third into the story, she moves to Colombo and is obviously homesick. Yes!

Here was another place I could mention Jasmine, which had now become an important part of her life back home.

My nose is lonely.
It misses the sweet scent of Jasmine.

Of course, as she gets drawn into city life and is distracted by all the changes, her life back home – and with it the Jasmine flowers — is forgotten. It’s not till she’s back there in the last quarter of the book that I’m able to mention Jasmine again. This hopefully works as a signal to the reader and brings to life Kavi’s home and village setting. That was my intention!

The Jasmine blooms dot the darkness,
bright white on inky black,
their scent stronger than ever.

I’ve used other elements this way in the book too: the statue of Lord Buddha, a Kohomba tree, a bus, the temple, the full moon. When you are reading my book –and I really hope you do — keep an eye out for these and see if the repeated appearances help create stronger images and emotions. If it does, then I’ve been successful. And perhaps it will convince you to try it out in your next draft!

Thank you, Thushanthi Ponweera, for sharing these writing tips with us.

About the Author:

Thushanthi Ponweera is an author and poet from Sri Lanka. Before daring to follow her dream of being published, she was a marketing specialist and entrepreneur. Her writing reflects the frustration she feels at the inequality and injustice she sees around her and the deep love she has for her island home. Thushanthi recently moved to Qatar with her husband and two children. I Am Kavi is her first novel.

Mailbox Monday #745

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto from the library.

Vera Wong is a lonely little old lady—ah, lady of a certain age—who lives above her forgotten tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Despite living alone, Vera is not needy, oh no. She likes nothing more than sipping on a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy detective work on the Internet about what her Gen-Z son is up to.

Then one morning, Vera trudges downstairs to find a curious thing—a dead man in the middle of her tea shop. In his outstretched hand, a flash drive. Vera doesn’t know what comes over her, but after calling the cops like any good citizen would, she sort of . . . swipes the flash drive from the body and tucks it safely into the pocket of her apron. Why? Because Vera is sure she would do a better job than the police possibly could, because nobody sniffs out a wrongdoing quite like a suspicious Chinese mother with time on her hands. Vera knows the killer will be back for the flash drive; all she has to do is watch the increasing number of customers at her shop and figure out which one among them is the killer.

What Vera does not expect is to form friendships with her customers and start to care for each and every one of them. As a protective mother hen, will she end up having to give one of her newfound chicks to the police?

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell for my birthday from my mom.

On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favorite place for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

“Utterly gripping with richly drawn, hugely compelling characters, this is a first-class thriller with heart” (Lucy Foley, New York Times bestselling author) that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

What did you receive?

What Follows by H.R. Webster

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 70 pgs.
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What Follows by H.R. Webster is a debut collection of poems that shed light on the darkness and the scars left in the wake of turbulence. The opening poem, “What Follows,” sets the tone immediately: “Every house I’ve ever lived in was filled with snakes./” and “The snakes I live with now leave/quieter marks.” (pg. 3)

These poems try to make sense of the darkness in the world, the men who catcall at every woman and the boys that love the danger of the flips and tumbles of the skate park. What follows that darkness, what’s left behind? Shame? Heartbreak? Desire? It’s not the harm or the dark emotions but the glimmer of light that remains, the hope of beauty and satisfaction. “Look at the stain/in the diamond. It’s not the thing itself,/but what’s left of the light that was swallowed./” (“Occlusion”, pg. 36)

What Follows by H.R. Webster explores the space in between the before and after trauma, reminding us that there is some light in the darkness. Her poems use language that doesn’t focus directly on the trauma. The poems state what the trauma isn’t, outlining the pain with pain that is easier to understand. Readers will learn so much in these poems, through the poet’s dark humor and explorations of deep desires and lashing out. It’s a deeply human collection that reflects on our darkest thoughts and feelings — many of which we bury deep.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

H.R. Webster has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Vermont Studio Center, and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Poetry Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, 32Poems, Muzzle, and Ecotone.

The Unempty Spaces Between by Louis Efron

Source: the poet
Paperback, 62 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Unempty Spaces Between by Louis Efron, which is on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a debut poetry collection that brings readers on a journey of exploration in the natural world to find not empty spaces that must be filled, but spaces that have hidden treasures. In the opening poem, “Beautiful Trees,” readers are shown the dead branches and passed fruit and leaves that have yet to fall, but as the narrator takes us into the earth, we are shown how the rain seeps down and the roots have dug deep and continue to do so. It’s a living being beneath the surface of the earth and it is beautiful.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Empty Attics,” in which dusty items sit and wait in the dark forgotten places. Imagine all those souvenirs bought and hidden away, tarnishing in the darkness. “our treasures/memories unlit/by such neglected bulbs/still failing to see ourselves/illuminated/as dust settles again/on the balconies of our mind/” (pg.25) Here we see attics filled with trinkets and memory, but they are rarely accessed. Does this mean we are unknown? Are we in darkness even about ourselves? Efron is showing us the introspection he himself is engaged in through his poems, and on this journey with him, we are exploring the identities of ourselves.

Another poem that will capture the storyteller and listener in all of us is “Rooms Without Nightlights” as Efron takes us inside the dark bedrooms of our past and the fairytales we know by heart. He sheds light on the shadows that scared us from sleeping and kept us on edge in our basements. He asks us to leave those “ruffled sheets/to tend to their own ghosts” but also to be wary of the “inviting masks/fooled only by our children/framed on forbidden trading cards/in palmed devices.” Vigilance can be a tricky skill.

The Unempty Spaces Between by Louis Efron allows readers to fall into the cracks and explore the emotions of our childish nightmares against the backdrop of more adult concerns. In many ways, we are looking for ourselves in that darkness and seeking the truth of it before the door of finality closes on us. What is in those spaces between?

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Louis Efron is a poet and writer who has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, POETiCA REViEW, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Literary Yard, New Reader Magazine and over 100 other national and global publications. He is also the author of five books, including The Unempty Spaces Between, How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love; Purpose Meets Execution; Beyond the Ink; as well as the children’s book What Kind of Bee Can I Be?

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, is my 11th book for the 12 books recommended by 12 friends reading challenge, is a novel written with Greek mythology at its base, particularly the labyrinth and its connection to madness or mental health. In Clarke’s novel, Piranesi is given his name by the Other, the only other living person in the House, which is packed with giant statues and a maze of halls — some of which are flooded or partially flooded. From time to time, the main character is visited by birds and he fishes in certain halls for food when the tides are high. He’s a recordkeeper, tracking what’s in each hall and the tides. The Other, however, seems to have access to real-world supplies and knowledge, but relies on Piranesi to map the House for him as he continues his search for the secret knowledge.

This is a mysterious tale with slow reveals, and while clues are dropped along the way, readers may find they, too, are duped by the labyrinth. Who are these mysterious people and how do they have knowledge of the real world if they have only ever lived in the House. What is the point of all this record keeping and traipsing back and forth if there are only two people alive here? Why can they not simply live in one place together and be a society unto themselves? It is clear the relationship is not reciprocal and is lopsided in the power dynamic from the beginning.

The start of this book left a lot to be desired. It was a slow narrative that left me bored initially. I wasn’t interested in the characters for about 40 pages. However, once I got past that point, I started noticing some kernels of how this world was not necessarily real but an amalgamation of things from the real world and that it was not a post-apocalyptic world like I initially thought. Piranesi is the main protagonist and because he doesn’t initially have all of the information needed to unravel this House and its mysteries, neither does the reader. This can be tiresome, but ultimately, the novel revealed itself through a series of events and the dynamic with the Other was more intriguing and less sterile.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a book that can try your patience and it was not a beach read, which is what I was looking for last week. However, it was interesting to unravel the secrets of the labyrinth. It was more satisfying than I thought at the beginning. I’d recommend this for readers who like to think outside the box and who like mysteries where you are unraveling them with the protagonist.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham in 1959. A nomadic childhood was spent in towns in Northern England and Scotland. She was educated at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of non-fiction publishing, including Gordon Fraser and Quarto. In 1990, she left London and went to Turin to teach English to stressed-out executives of the Fiat motor company. The following year she taught English in Bilbao.

She returned to England in 1992 and spent the rest of that year in County Durham, in a house that looked out over the North Sea. There she began working on her first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. She lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.

Guest Post: Heal Your Spirit with Poetry (and a Cup of Coffee) in 30 Seconds by Xueyan

Welcome to today’s guest post from Xueyan, author of the poetry collection Time Peels All to Original White.

Book Synopsis:

Xueyan, the young poet who explores the infinite will in her own free soul, forcefully expresses her original and powerful vision in ways that reinvent traditional concepts of spirituality and common culture.

With modern settings and contemporary language, topics include the sacred and eternal, the nature of God, the existence of evil, the brutality of capitalism, the loneliness of existence, the ecstasy of intimacy, and the ubiquitous reach of love.

The collection’s 139 concise and deeply spiritual poems lay bare humanity’s most jarring mysteries and contradictions, exposing their raw essence with startling simplicity in ways that transcend borders, cultures, races, and beliefs.

Please welcome Xueyan today as she shares with us the healing power of poetry:

A good poem is like a nice cup of coffee: the liquid may stay on your taste buds for a short time, but it can refresh your spirit for a long time. As a poet who enjoys writing sharp lines, I think reading poetry and drinking coffee together is a perfect combination of spiritual and physical pleasures.

There is a classic question that is asked throughout the ages and still there is no single answer to which everyone agrees: Is life beautiful?

Is life beautiful? Looking around the world, there is chaos, there is cruelty, there is crying. However, I still believe life is beautiful because I believe in the cleansing power of the heart. Even if you inhale hate and gloom, if you have a clean heart, you will exhale love and light.

In my own way, I’d love to offer 3 hacks for experiencing life’s healing beauty.

Let your imagination release hidden possibilities and care for overlooked things

As a poet, I enjoy depicting the elements of the universe in my own way, instead of searching for scientific explanations through those complex formulas filling science books as thick as bricks.

How to depict fog? Scientists probably would cite a list of data about water and temperature and the chemistry between them, but I would depict fog in a mysterious way.


Woods longing for water

Dewy dreams twine slumberland

How to depict the night sky? I am not fully aware of the theories of Galileo and Bruno and their illustrious successors. When I was a kid, for my breakfast, my mother would drop a yummy poached egg over hot tomato noodles. I enjoyed that dish so much, I decided to compare the night sky to a yummy egg.

Night Sky Is a Dark Egg

Yolk is shining

Whites are floating

Moon and cloud

The navel is probably the most overlooked part of our bodies; we care about our hair and our nails, we dye them with different colors. Nobody cares about the poor navel, regardless of the global truth that the umbilical cord nourished us when we were in our mother’s womb. As a poet, I want to sing an ode to the navel.

Soul and Star

Stars shoot into our bodies and become souls

Navels are meteorite craters

Embrace dark memories and transcend them into poetry

How can we know light without experiencing darkness? Do I have dark memories? If the phrase “dark memories” refers to suffering from war or famine, then I should feel lucky and say I don’t have dark memories. But if the phrase “dark memories” refers to sorrows which evoke tears, then I can share a little story of mine.

When I was a kid, I walked to primary school every day and, on the way, there was a small garbage station. One day after school, as I was walking past the garbage station as usual, I heard plaintive-like yelping emanating from a paper box lying just outside the station. I was attracted by the cream-in-milk doggie sounds and I wanted to take a look. I approached the box and discovered a little yellow puppy huddling inside. Feeling pity for this poor thing, I decided to carry it home and take care of it. With my mother’s permission, I put a blanket on the balcony to settle the puppy and fed it some bread and milk. I still vividly recall how its furry little head brushed against my palm and how happy it was when it rolled on the blanket.

I named this puppy 金子 (JinZi), meaning Little Gold; even though I picked it from a trash station, to me it was as precious as gold. The next morning, I fed it more food, then went to school as usual. While in class, I thought about JinZi and I planned to take her to the park on the weekend to stroll. After school, I went to supermarket to buy some bacon for the puppy; the money I spent on bacon was the money I had saved to buy books.

I hurried home only to discover that JinZi, my little puppy, was gone. My mother told me that my father sent JinZi away because he was worried that the puppy would bite and bark. I cried, begging my father to tell me where he had sent JinZi, but my father refused to answer me. From then on, every time I passed by the garbage station, I would stop for a while, hoping the little yellow puppy, my JinZi, would be there waiting for me…

Even though, since then, so much time has flashed by, whenever I think about this poor little lovely creature… my heart still sinks, I grow a little sad. Here is a poem of mine which I think expresses the “bitter beauty” of dark memories… I embrace my dark memories and transcend them into poetry…

My Eyes Are Big Yet Small

Though my eyes can hold infinity

They cannot hold your tears

Awaken your inner poet by breathing with a clean heart

Is it easy to write poetry? If the only poems that can qualify as poetry are those as long as Shakespeare’s or Goethe’s, then I think such a judgment would limit the vitality of poetry.

I once wrote that “Poetry is the breath of the heart”; if your heart is as clear as crystal, then the words that your heart exhales are poetry…

For example, when I wrote my poem Angel, I imagined the dim reflection of the profile of an angel shining on a moonlight crystal…Rose blossoms with tearful yearning for pure love as starlight feathers fall from heaven…


Your sigh

Makes the moon rises

My poem is short, but if the hearts of readers are touched by it, then I think it is good poetry. In my opinion, good poetry should be like a lightning sword of the highest purity diamond.

To experience life’s healing beauty and to express it in the form of poetry is like breathing with a crystal-clear heart and letting words of love and light exhale from your heart as simply as watching wine overflowing from the holy cup when it is full…

Thank you, Xueyan, for sharing your poems and your insight.

About the Poet:

Xueyan lives in China. Her poems have been published in Ginosko Literary Journal and the Bangalore Review.

Guest Post, Giveaway & Excerpt: Spells & Shadows by Victoria Kincaid

Welcome to today’s guest post and excerpt from Victoria Kincaid, author of the new Pride & Prejudice fantasy Spells & Shadows. I love when our romantic pair are thrust into completely new situations.

Let’s check out this novel.

About the Book:

As a secret agent for the Mages’ Council, Mr. Darcy investigates a necromancer who is leading his followers down a dark path. When they discover him, a fight and a chase drive Darcy—injured and close to death—into the river. He is rescued and healed by Elizabeth, a talented mage at the Longbourn estate. Darcy cannot help developing feelings for her, but he dares not reveal his true identity while the necromancer’s creatures search for him.

Elizabeth Bennet is intrigued by the family’s new guest as he recovers at Longbourn. But mystery surrounds the man, and strange happenings plague the neighborhood while he visits. Elizabeth herself harbors a secret that she cannot share with the handsome stranger.

When Darcy’s enemies come calling, the Bennet family is caught in the crossfire. Worse, Elizabeth’s magic draws the necromancer’s particular interest. Darcy is falling in love with her and believes she returns his feelings, but the secret of his true identity could destroy their budding relationship—if they survive the upcoming danger.

Can Elizabeth and Darcy protect themselves and their families from the necromancer’s plots? What will happen when learn each other’s secrets? Can Elizabeth and Darcy’s love survive when it is entangled in a web of secrets, spells, and shadows?

Let’s check out the excerpt:

Hello Serena! Thank you for having me as a guest at your blog. It’s a pleasure to be back. In Spells and Shadows, a fantasy Pride and Prejudice variation, an injured Darcy has been rescued from the river and Elizabeth has been using her magic to heal him. Because he is a secret agent, Darcy conceals his identity from her. After her first conversation with Longbourn’s new guest, Elizabeth tells her family what she learned from him.

Elizabeth shut the door to Mr. Dee’s room and descended the stairs to the blue sitting room which was full of Bennet family members. Everyone glanced up when she entered.

“I heard your voice. Is our mysterious guest awake?” her father inquired.

“He was awake enough to answer some questions,” Elizabeth responded. “And he drank some water, but he is sleeping again.”

“Is he civil?” Jane asked.

“Is he married?” Lydia asked.

“Is he wealthy?” her mother asked.

Elizabeth laughed. “Yes he is civil. He did not mention a wife. And I did not think to inquire about the exact amount of his family’s fortune, but they are wool merchants with a house in town.”

“In trade?” Elizabeth’s sister Mary wrinkled her nose.

“Pssh! Who cares where the money comes from?” her mother said. “Wool….” She sighed. “Everyone needs wool. A wool merchant would do very well for one of you.”

“Mama, men who have been rescued from the river are not necessarily in want of a wife,” Elizabeth noted.

Her mother only jabbed her embroidery more energetically. “We must not waste such an
opportunity! He might take a liking to one of you girls.”

“He has requested that we tell no-one of his whereabouts,” Elizabeth told her father.

“Ooo! Perhaps he is an escaped prisoner!” Kitty said, sounding quite excited at the prospect. She read a lot of novels.

“I do not believe prisoners customarily wear such fine clothing,” Elizabeth said.

“A French soldier in hiding?” Kitty guessed.

“He has no accent,” Elizabeth said.

“A viscount who is secretly also a highwayman!”

“They are not as plentiful as you have been led to believe,” Elizabeth said with a smile.

“Perhaps he is—” Kitty started.

“Perhaps he is a wool merchant, and we should not let our imaginations run wild,” Elizabeth said firmly.

“His desire for secrecy is quite interesting,” her father remarked. “I was in Clark’s book shop today when a stranger inquired if anyone had reported a body washing up along the river. He said his brother had fallen in the river near Luton.”

“Surely it cannot be the same man,” Jane exclaimed. “Mr. Dee could not have floated all the way from Luton.” Elizabeth said nothing.

Her father shrugged. “I agree it is improbable. But it is almost equally improbable to fish a stranger from the river at the same moment someone is seeking another fellow.”

“You did not say anything about Mr. Dee?” Elizabeth asked anxiously.

Her father snorted. “I would not share any news with Clark that I would not care to have spread about the entire county. A strange man staying in my house with my five unmarried daughters is not such a thing.”

“Perhaps Mr. Dee’s family is searching for him,” Jane said, her forehead creased with

Elizabeth shook her head. “Mr. Dee knows how to contact his family. We should not reveal anything without consulting him.”

“I agree. Mr. Dee should decide who knows his whereabouts. He may have reason to be careful. Perhaps they are waging a vicious war with the cotton merchants.” Her father laughed at his own joke.

“Perhaps he is a viscount disguised as a wool merchant!” Kitty suggested.

“Whatever else he is, we know he is an injured man who needs to recover his strength,” Elizabeth said. “We must leave him in peace to do so.”

“Can’t I at least tell Maria Lucas?” Lydia inquired. “’Tis the most interesting thing that has happened in months! I will swear her to secrecy.”

Her father fixed her with a stern gaze. “No, you may not.”

Lydia huffed and rolled her eyes. “Very well. I will add it to the list of subjects I may not speak about.”

“I don’t know why you bother befriending anyone in Meryton,” Mary said with a sniff.

“They are quite unpleasant.”

“I don’t know why I bother either,” Lydia whined. “Nobody likes us.” She stood and flounced out of the room.

Of the five sisters, Lydia suffered the most from Longbourn’s relative isolation from the rest of Hertfordshire. Mary spent her time with religious books, and Kitty was absorbed in novels. Jane and Elizabeth spent much time honing their magical skills. But Lydia longed to be just like all the other girls in the neighborhood, and their mother indulged those desires. The Lucases at least would allow their daughters to socialize with the Bennet girls; Lydia took full advantage of those privileges.

Kitty shrugged. “They are pleased with us when they have need of our assistance.” She
returned to her novel.

Sadly, this was true. How many times had Jane helped farmers with flooded fields or prevented someone’s house from being swept away? The people of Meryton never hesitated to call upon Kitty when a wildfire threatened houses or crops. And Elizabeth had healed many people in the neighborhood.

Yet their talents set them apart. Mancy was rare outside London, but it was rampant in the Bennet family. When they walked into Meryton, people stared and spoke behind their hands. They even made signs to avert the evil eye.

Papa compounded the problem. He never particularly cared about the neighbors’ opinions and at times relished his reputation for eccentricity. At public occasions, he would tell odd jokes without any concern about how it might affect the family name. Her mother frequently lamented that no man in the neighborhood would ever consider courting a Bennet girl.

Mary often said the townspeople did not deserve their help if they ostracized the family. Elizabeth understood her sister’s frustration, but she would never refuse someone in need. Mary closed her book of sermons and turned to their father. “If we always help them in their time of need, we should at least collect money for our services.”

Her father sighed. “We have no need to rehearse that argument. We are not in trade.” He stood and ambled toward the door. “Lizzy, I will be in my study should our guest wish to speak with me.”

Now, doesn’t that sound like a great premise for a story. I think so. I hope you’ll check out the novel.

About the Author:

The author of more than sixteen best-selling Regency and modern Pride and Prejudice variations, Victoria Kincaid has a Ph.D. in English literature and runs a small business, er, household with two children, a hyperactive dog, an overly affectionate cat, and a husband who is not threatened by Mr. Darcy. They live near Washington, D.C., where the inhabitants occasionally stop talking about politics long enough to complain about the traffic.

On weekdays Victoria is a writer who specializes in IT marketing (it’s more interesting than it sounds). She is a member of the Magical Austen authors group and is the host of the annual Jane Austen Fan Fiction Reader/Writer Get Together.

ENTER to WIN 1 E-book, Spells & Shadows, below with your email and comment. Open until Aug. 4, 2023.

Mailbox Monday #744

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne from NetGalley.

Liza B.—the only DJ who gives a jam—wants to take her neighborhood back from the soulless property developer dropping unaffordable condos on every street corner in DC. But her planned protest at a corporate event takes a turn after she mistakes the smoldering-hot CEO for the waitstaff. When they go toe-to-toe, the sparks fly—but her impossible-to-ignore family thwarts her every move. Liza wants Dorsey Fitzgerald out of her hood, but she’ll settle for getting him out of her head.

At first, Dorsey writes off Liza Bennett as more interested in performing outrage than acting on it. As the adopted Filipino son of a wealthy white family, he’s always felt a bit out of place and knows a fraud when he sees one. But when Liza’s protest results in a viral meme, their lives are turned upside down, and Dorsey comes to realize this irresistible revolutionary is the most real woman he’s ever met.

What did you receive?