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One year ago, Sweta Srivastava Vikram’s most emotional poetry collection Saris and a Single Malt was on tour with Poetic Book Tours.

Chick with Books said of the collection, “Heartfelt, raw, honest and thought-provoking.”

Jorie Loves A Story said, “Vikram bleeds her emotions through words.”

Diary of an Eccentric said, “Saris and a Single Malt is a touching tribute to Vikram’s mother, a love song from a grieving daughter.”

This is a poetry collection that is raw and beautiful. And as part of the celebration, Vikram is offering 4 copies of the book to some lucky U.S. residents.

SARIS AND A SINGLE MALTAbout the book:

Saris and a Single Malt is a moving collection of poems written by a daughter for and about her mother. The book spans the time from when the poet receives a phone call in New York City that her mother is in a hospital in New Delhi, to the time she carries out her mother’s last rites. The poems chronicle the author’s physical and emotional journey as she flies to India, tries to fight the inevitable, and succumbs to the grief of living in a motherless world. Divided into three sections, (Flight, Fire, and Grief), this collection will move you, astound you, and make you hug your loved ones.

IMG_2240About the Poet:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram, featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning author of 11 books, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, mindfulness writing coach, and wellness columnist. Sweta’s work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press, 2018) is her debut U.S. novel.

Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, and mindful living to female trauma survivors, writers and artists, creative types, busy women, entrepreneurs, and business professionals in her avatar as the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife. You can find her on: Twitter (@swetavikram), Instagram (@SwetaVikram), and Facebook.

Enter to win 1 signed copy and a $15 Amazon gift card or 1 of 3 other signed copies of Saris and a Single Malt.

Entrants must be U.S. residents.  Giveaway ends on Aug. 28, 2017, at 5 p.m. EST

Click to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.

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Sweta Vikram and her father

I am pleased to welcome poet Diamante Lavendar to Diary of an Eccentric today to share a poem from her latest collection, Poetry and Ponderings, and her inspiration for writing it. Please give her a warm welcome:

Please Do Not Weep

Do not fret
For your grievous loss;
Do not feel
Like a wave that is tossed;
Do not weep
By yourself, so alone;
For I am with you,
Soon you will be home.
The things of this world
Are transient and brief;
I will be your comfort,
Your ease and your peace;
Notice the good
And perceive not the bad;
Observe what you’ve learned,
The lessons you’ve had;
For everything you’ve been through
Has come at a cost;
There is good in the bad,
You have won and not lost.
I have set you here, love,
And you shall I keep;
Do not lose hope,
And please do not weep.

-Diamante Lavendar

What prompted me to write this poem?  My past and all the cumulative experiences I’ve had in life.  I’ve been hurt so many times that it became something I expected.  The people I was supposed to be able to trust the most were some of the most UNtrustworthy people I’ve known.  It has taken me a very long time to come to the point of making peace with my past.

After I wrote Breaking The Silence, the book about my life (which won 5 awards for Inspirational Fiction), I put together Poetry and Ponderings.  I was still working through some of the issues I had been plagued with during my lifetime.  Right before Poetry and Ponderings was published, my eighteen-year-old daughter died.  She was my hope and inspiration in life.  Now I find myself revisiting the agony of losing a child since it has happened to me three times.  Although my experiences have been stark and devastating, my writing is sparked with hope and love.  Because I have come to know that the spirit realm is alive and well, I believe I will be reunited with my children again and I look at God as the father I’ve always wanted.  It’s been rough, that’s no lie, but I believe I came here for some spiritual graduate work….and I got it.  It is my wish that I pass all the tests and graduate well.  It is also my wish that the books I write help others to learn and grow and spark a relationship with spirit.

Thank you, Diamante, for sharing your poetry and your story with me and my readers. Congratulations on the publication of your book!

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About Poetry and Ponderings

In this rare collection of nonfiction Christian poetry and prose based on real life experiences, Diamante Lavendar, a victim of abuse, shows the reader the raw emotions of pain, hate, and denial that occur before a victim of abuse can find a way to heal from the pains of assault. Knowing herself the very difficult journey of being a victim, Diamante was abused as a child, and turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Many years later, she started to heal under God’s watchful eyes and was able to find love in her life again. She shares these truly inspiring, religious poems in the hopes that it may help other victims heal their hurts, as she did while writing the poetry collection.

Check out Poetry and Ponderings on Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Diamante Lavendar has been in love with reading since she was a child. Diamante believes that everyone should try to leave their own positive mark on the world, and to make it a better place for all. Writing is her way of leaving her mark—one story at a time. She began writing in college and has published poetry in anthologies over the years. Most of her writing is very personal and stems from her own experiences, and those of her family and friends. She writes to encourage hope and possibility to those who read her stories. To learn more about Diamante Lavendar and her books, please visit her website.

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For more about Diamante Lavendar and Poetry and Ponderings, and to follow the blog tour, click the button below

Source: The authors
Rating: ★★★★★

How could she have known what a love of Jane Austen’s writing had brought her: the friends, the life choices which had led to a job she loved, a slow but steadily growing confidence in herself as someone of value?

She felt like someone had died, the sense of loss was so severe.

(from The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen)

In The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen, Ada Bright and Cass Grafton ponder what the world, and one woman’s life in particular, would be like if Jane Austen never existed. The novel is set in Bath during the annual Jane Austen Festival and centers on Rose Wallace, who lives in a basement apartment in the building the Austen family occupied in Bath. Rose is happy with her job at a company that rents out luxury apartments in the city for people on holiday, and she is ecstatic that her online friend, Morgan, is coming from California to meet her in person and attend the festival.

Rose and Morgan’s friendship is a testament to the welcoming online community that has been created around a mutual love for Jane Austen’s novels. Rose is quiet and reserved, especially around her crush, Dr. Aidan Trevellyan, who she sees only once a year during the festival. Morgan’s outgoing personality, and her ability to make friends everywhere and anywhere she goes, takes Rose out of her comfort zone but complements her perfectly. And it is this friendship, as well as the novels of Jane Austen, that could be lost forever when Rose meets a mysterious, intriguing stranger.

If I hadn’t been so busy the last couple of weeks, I would’ve devoured this book in a day! Bright and Grafton give readers a little of everything: friendship, romance, time travel, and plenty of humor to keep the sense of despair from weighing down the story. The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is an endearing tale that had me pondering how my life would be different without the influence of Jane Austen — from the novels I love so much that I read them over and over again to the fan fiction that means I never have to say goodbye to my favorite characters, from the friends I’ve made in the JAFF community to the novel I’m working on right now.

I loved everything about this book: the characters, the relationships, the setting, the writing. I especially enjoyed how Bright and Grafton opened the door for a sequel, and I am dying to see what happens next! Definitely a contender for my list of favorite books read this year.

Disclosure: I received The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen from the authors for review.

I am delighted to welcome Ellen Marie Wiseman to Diary of an Eccentric today to share an excerpt from her latest novel, The Life She Was Given, which I will be reviewing here soon. I fell in love with Ellen’s writing when she offered me a copy of The Plum Tree, which made my “Best of 2012” list. I’m woefully behind in reading her later releases, but hopefully I can catch up soon. In the meantime, let’s give Ellen a warm welcome to celebrate her latest novel, out today.

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An excerpt from The Life She Was Given, courtesy of Ellen Marie Wiseman

Chapter One

Lilly

 

July 1931

Blackwood Manor Horse Farm

Dobbin’s Corners

 

 

Nine-year-old Lilly Blackwood stood in the attic dormer of Blackwood Manor for what felt like the thousandth time, wishing the window would open so she could smell the outdoors. Tomorrow was her birthday and she couldn’t think of a better present. Sure, Daddy would bring her a new dress and another book when he came home from Pennsylvania, but it had rained earlier and she wanted to know if the outside air felt different than the inside air. She wondered if raindrops made everything feel soft and cool, the way water did when she took a sponge bath. Or did the outside feel warm and sticky, like the air inside her room? She had asked Momma a hundred times to change the window so it would open, and to take the swirly metal off the outside so it would be easier to see out, but as usual, Momma wouldn’t listen. If Momma knew Daddy let her play in another part of the attic when she was at church, Daddy would be in big trouble. Even bigger trouble than for teaching her how to read and for giving her a cat on her third birthday. Lilly sighed, picked up her telescope off the sill, and put it to her eye. At least it was summertime and she didn’t have to scrape ice off the glass.

Daddy called this time of day twilight, and the outside looked painted in only two colors—green and blue. The row of pine trees on the other side of the barn, past the fields where the horses played, looked like the felt Lilly used for doll blankets. Shadows were everywhere, growing darker by the minute.

Lilly skimmed the edge of the woods, looking for the deer she saw yesterday. There was the crooked willow tree. There was the rock next to the bush that turned red in the winter. There was the broken log next to the stone fence. There was the— She stopped and swung the telescope back to the fence. Something looked different on the other side of the woods, near the train tracks that cut through the faraway meadow. She took the telescope away from her eye, blinked, then looked through it again and gasped. Air squeaked in her chest, like it always did when she was excited or upset.

A string of blue, red, yellow, and green lights—like the ones Daddy put above her bed at Christmastime—hung above a giant glowing house made out of something that looked like cloth. More lights surrounded other houses that looked like fat, little ghosts. Lilly couldn’t make out the words, but there were signs too, with letters lit up by colored bulbs. Flags hung from tall poles, and a line of yellow lights floated above the railroad tracks. It looked like a stopped train. A really long one.

Lilly put down the telescope, waited for her lungs to stop whistling, then went over to her bookcase and pulled out her favorite picture book. She flipped through the pages until she found what she was looking for—a colorful drawing of a striped tent surrounded by wagons, horses, elephants, and clowns. She hurried back to the window to compare the shape of the tent in the book to the glowing house on the other side of the trees.

She was right.

It was a circus.

And she could see it.

Normally, the only things outside her window were horses and fields, and Daddy and his helper working on the white fences or yellow horse barn. Sometimes, Momma walked across the grass to the barn, her long blond hair trailing behind her like a veil. Other times, trucks pulled into the barn driveway and Daddy’s helper put horses in and out of trailers or unloaded bags and hay bales. Once, two men in baggy clothes—Daddy called them bums—walked up the driveway and Daddy’s helper came out of the barn with a shotgun. If she was lucky, deer came out of the woods, or raccoons scurried along the fence toward the feed shed, or a train zoomed along the tracks. And if she put her ear to the window, the chug of the train’s engine or the shriek of the whistle came through the glass.

But now there was a circus outside her window. A real, live circus! For the first time in her life, she was seeing something different that wasn’t in a picture book. It made her happy, but a little bit mad at herself too. If she hadn’t been reading all afternoon, she might have seen the train stop to unload. She could have watched the tents go up and caught sight of the elephants and zebras and clowns. Now it was too dark to see anything but lights.

She put down the book and counted the boards around the window. Sometimes counting made her feel better. One, two, three, four, five. It didn’t help. She couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d missed. She pressed her ear against the glass. Maybe she could hear the ringleader’s cries or the circus music. The only thing she heard was air squeaking in her chest and her heartbeat going fast.

On the windowsill, her cat, Abby, woke up and blinked. Lilly wrapped an arm around the orange tabby and pulled her close, burying her nose in the animal’s soft fur. Abby was her best friend and the smartest cat in the world. She could stand on her hind legs to give kisses and lift her front paw to shake. She even jumped up on Lilly’s bed and got down when told.

“I bet Momma will go to the circus,” Lilly said. “She doesn’t have to worry about people being afraid of her.”

The cat purred.

What would it be like to see an elephant in person? Lilly wondered. What would it feel like to touch its wrinkly skin and look into its big brown eyes? What about riding a pink and white horse on a carousel? Or walking among other people, eating peanuts and cotton candy? What about watching a real, live lion perform?

As far back as Lilly could remember, there had been times at night after her light was out when she snuggled in her bed, her mind racing with thoughts of leaving her room and going downstairs. She’d read enough books to know there was more than one floor in a house, and she imagined sneaking across the attic, finding a staircase, making her way through the bottom floors of Blackwood Manor, and walking out the front door. She imagined standing with her feet on the earth, taking a deep breath, and for the first time in her life, smelling something besides old wood, cobwebs, and warm dust.

One of her favorite games during Daddy’s weekly visits was guessing the different smells on his clothes. Sometimes he smelled like horses and hay, sometimes shoe polish or smoke, sometimes baking bread or—what did he call that stuff that was supposed to be a mix of lemons and cedar trees? Cologne? Whatever it was, it smelled good.

Daddy had told her about the outside world and she had read about it in books, but she had no idea how grass felt between her toes, or how tree bark felt in her hand. She knew what flowers smelled like because Daddy brought her a bouquet every spring, but she wanted to walk through a field of dandelions and daisies, to feel dirt and dew on her bare feet. She wanted to hear birds singing and the sound of the wind. She wanted to feel a breeze and the sun on her skin. She’d read everything she could on plants and animals, and could name them all if given the chance. But besides Abby and the mice she saw running along the baseboard in the winter, she’d never seen a real animal up close.

Her other favorite game was picking a place in her book of maps and reading everything she could about it, then planning a trip while she fell asleep, deciding what she would do and see when she got there. Her favorite place was Africa, where she pictured herself running with the lions and elephants and giraffes. Sometimes she imagined breaking the dormer window, crawling out on the roof, climbing down the side of the house, and sneaking over to the barn to see the horses. Because from everything she had seen and read, they were her favorite animals. Besides cats, of course. Not only were horses strong and beautiful, but they pulled wagons and sleighs and plows. They let people ride on their backs and could find their way home if they got lost. Daddy said Blackwood Manor’s horses were too far away from the attic window to tell who was who, so Lilly made up her own names for them—Gypsy, Eagle, Cinnamon, Magic, Chester, Samantha, Molly, and Candy. How she would have loved to get close to them, to touch their manes and ride through the fields on their backs. If only it weren’t for those stupid swirly bars outside her window that Momma said were there for her own good. Then she remembered Momma’s warning, and as quickly as they started, her dreams turned to nightmares.

“The bars are there to protect you,” Momma said. “If someone got in, they’d be afraid of you and they’d try to hurt you.”

When Lilly asked why anyone would be afraid of her, Momma said it was because she was a monster, an abomination. Lilly didn’t know what an abomination was, but it sounded bad. Her shoulders dropped and she sighed in the stillness of her room. There would be no circus for her. Not now, not ever. There would be no getting out of the attic either. The only way she would see the world was through her books. Daddy said the outside world was not as wonderful as she thought, and Lilly should be happy she had a warm bed and food to eat. A lot of people didn’t have a house or a job, and they had to stand in line for bread and soup. He told her a story about banks and money and some kind of crash, but she didn’t understand it. And it didn’t make her feel better anyway.

She gathered Abby in her arms and sat on her iron bed tucked beneath a wallpapered nook with a rounded ceiling. Her bedside lamp cast long shadows across the plank floor, meaning it would be dark soon and it was time to turn off the light. She didn’t want to forget again and have Momma teach her another lesson. Momma had warned her a hundred times if anyone saw her light and found her up there they would take her away and she’d never see her or Daddy or Abby again. But one night last week, Lilly started a new book and forgot.

She put the cat on the bed and examined the scars on her fingers. Daddy was right, the lotion made them feel better. But oh, how the flame of Momma’s lantern had burned!

“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” Momma said.

Lilly wanted to ask if the Bible said anything about sparing the fire, but didn’t dare. She was supposed to know what the Bible said.

“I wonder what Momma would do if she found out I read the books from Daddy instead of that boring old Bible?” she asked Abby. The cat rubbed its face on Lilly’s arm, then curled into a ball and went back to sleep.

Lilly took the Bible from the nightstand—she didn’t dare put it anywhere else—moved the bookmark in a few pages, and set it back down. Momma would check to see how much reading she had done this week and if the bookmark hadn’t moved, Lilly would be in big trouble. According to Momma, the Holy Bible and the crucifix on the wall above her bed were the only things needed to live a happy life.

Everything else in the room came from Daddy—the wicker table set up for a tea party, complete with a lace doily, silver serving tray, and china cups. The matching rocking chair and the teddy bear sitting on the blue padded stool next to her wardrobe. The dollhouse filled with miniature furniture and straight-backed dolls. The model farm animals lined up on a shelf above her bookcase, all facing the same way, as if about to break into song. Three porcelain dolls with lace dresses in a wicker baby pram, one with eyes that opened and closed. And, of course, her bookcase full of books. It seemed, for a while, like Daddy would give her everything­—until she read Snow White and asked for a mirror.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when she was certain everyone was asleep and there was nothing but blackness outside her window, she turned on her light and studied her reflection in the glass. All she saw was a blurry, ghost-like mask looking back her, the swirly metal outside coiling across her skin like snakes. She stared at her white reflection and touched her forehead and nose and cheeks, trying to find a growth or a missing part, but nothing stuck out or caved in. When she asked Daddy what was wrong with her, he said she was beautiful to him and that was all that mattered. But his eyes looked funny when he said it, and she didn’t think he was telling the truth. He’d be in big trouble if Momma found out because Momma said lying was a sin.

Good thing Lilly would never tell on Daddy. He was the one who taught her how to read and write, and how to add and subtract numbers. He was the one who decorated the walls of her room with rose-covered wallpaper and brought her new dresses and shoes when she got too big for the old ones. He was the one who brought Abby food and let Lilly in the other part of the attic so she could walk and stretch. One time, he even brought up a wind-up record player and tried to teach her the Charleston and tango, but she got too tired and they had to stop. She loved the music and begged him to leave the record player in her room. But he took it back downstairs because Momma would be mad if she found it.

Momma brought food and necessities, not presents. She came into Lilly’s room every morning—except for the times she forgot—with a tray of toast, milk, eggs, sandwiches, apples, and cookies, to be eaten over the rest of the day. She brought Lilly soap and clean towels, and reminded her to pray before every meal. She stood by the door every night with a ring of keys in her hands and waited for Lilly to kneel by her bed to ask the Lord to forgive for her sins, and to thank Him for giving her a mother who took such good care of her. Other than that, Momma never came in her room just to talk or have fun. She never said “I love you” like Daddy did. Lilly would never forget her seventh birthday, when her parents argued outside her door.

“You’re spoiling her with all those presents,” Momma said. “It’s sinful how much you give her.”

“It’s not hurting anyone,” Daddy said.

“Nevertheless, we need to stop spending money.”

“Books aren’t that expensive.”

“Maybe not, but what if she starts asking questions? What if she wants to come downstairs or go outside? Are you going to say no?”

At first, Daddy didn’t say anything and Lilly’s heart lifted. Maybe he would take her outside after all. Then he cleared his throat and said, “What else is she supposed to do in there? The least we can do is try to give her a normal birthday. It’s not her fault she—”

Momma gasped. “It’s not her fault? Then whose is it? Mine?”

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Daddy said. “It’s not anyone’s fault. Sometimes these things just happen.”

“Well, if you had listened to me from the beginning, we wouldn’t . . .” She made a funny noise, like her words got stuck in her throat.

“She’s still our daughter, Cora. Other than that one thing, she’s perfectly normal.”

“There’s nothing normal about what’s on the other side of that door,” Momma said, her voice cracking.

“That’s not true,” Daddy said. “I talked to Dr. Hillman and he said—”

“Oh, dear Lord . . . tell me you didn’t! How could you betray me like that?” Momma was crying now.

“There, there, my darling. I didn’t tell anyone. I was just asking Dr. Hillman if he had ever seen . . .”

Momma’s sobs drowned out his words and her footsteps hurried across the attic.

“Darling, wait!” Daddy said.

The next day, Lilly quit praying before every meal, but she had not told Momma that. Since then, she had disobeyed her mother in a hundred little ways. Momma said it was wicked to look at her naked body and made Lilly close her eyes during her weekly sponge bath until she was old enough to wash herself. Now Lilly looked down at her milk-colored arms and legs when she bathed, examining her thin white torso and pink nipples. She felt ashamed afterward, but she wasn’t being bad on purpose. She just wanted to know what made her a monster. The only thing she knew for sure was that her parents looked different than she did. Momma had curly blond hair and rosy skin; Daddy had a black mustache, black hair, and tan skin; but her skin was powder-white, her long, straight hair the color and texture of spider webs. It was like God forgot to give her a color. Is that what made her a monster? Or was it something else?

Now, hoping she’d be able to see more of the circus tomorrow, she changed into her nightclothes, climbed into bed, and switched off the light. Then she realized Momma hadn’t come up to make sure she said her prayers.

Lilly curled up next to Abby and pulled her close. “She’s probably at the circus,” she said, closing her eyes.

***

The next night, after Lilly first saw the circus outside her window, the rattle of a key in her door startled her awake. She sat up and reached for her bedside lamp, then stopped, her fingers on the switch. It was the middle of the night and if Momma saw the light, it would mean big trouble. Maybe Momma had found out she’d spent the entire day watching the circus through her telescope instead of straightening her room and reading the Bible. The circus looked tiny through the end of her telescope and she couldn’t make out every detail, but no matter what Momma did to her, it was worth seeing the elephants and giraffes being taken into the big top. It was worth seeing the crowds of people outside the tents and the parade of wagons and clowns and costumed performers. It had been the most exciting day of her life, and nothing was going to ruin it. She took her hand away from the lamp and, one at a time, touched her fingers with her thumbs. One, two, three, four. The door opened and Momma slipped inside carrying an oil lantern. Lilly watched her enter and her belly trembled. Momma never came into her room this late. At the end of the bed, Abby lifted her furry head, surprised to see Momma too.

Momma—Daddy said her real name was Coralline—was a tall, pretty woman, and she always wore her long blond hair pinned back on the sides. Her only jewelry was the wedding band on her left hand, and she dressed in simple skirts and sensible shoes in the name of modesty and for the glory of God. Daddy said Momma put on her best dresses and furs when she went out to important dinners and parties, but only because that was what everyone in the outside world expected. Lilly didn’t understand why Momma changed what she looked like, but Daddy said that was okay. One time, Daddy showed her a picture of Momma all dressed up and Lilly thought it was someone else.

Daddy liked to tell the story of how he had first spotted Momma between the barn and the round pen, sitting on a barrel watching the horses play in the field. Momma’s father, a retired Pentecostal minister who always dreamed of raising horses, had come to Blackwood Manor Horse farm to buy a stallion. Daddy thought Momma was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. But it was six months before she would talk to him, and another six before she agreed to have dinner. For some reason, Momma’s parents didn’t trust Daddy. But eventually Momma and Daddy were walking hand in hand through the apple orchards; then they got married. When Daddy got to that part of the story, his face always changed to sad and he said Momma had a hard time growing up.

Now, Momma came into Lilly’s room in a flowery dress and pink heels. Her lips were painted red and she was wearing a yellow hat. Lilly couldn’t stop staring. She had never seen Momma dressed like that, not in person anyway. Momma’s cheeks were flushed and she was breathing hard, as if she had run up the stairs.

Lilly’s stomach turned over. Daddy was supposed to come back from Pennsylvania tomorrow. He promised birthday presents first thing. But he had told her a long time ago that she didn’t need to worry about being left alone when he and Momma went out because his helper was always downstairs in case someone called about a horse. If “something” happened to Daddy and Momma, the helper would read a letter in Daddy’s desk. He would find Lilly in the attic, and he would know what to do. Lilly wasn’t sure what “something” was, but she knew it was bad. What if Momma was here to tell her “something” happened to Daddy and he wasn’t coming back?

Lilly touched her tongue to each tooth and counted, waiting for Momma to speak. One, two, three, four . . .

Then Momma smiled.

Momma never smiled.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Momma said.

Lilly blinked. She didn’t know what to say. Daddy brought surprises, not Momma. “Where’s Daddy?” she managed.

“Get dressed,” Momma said. “And hurry up, we don’t have much time.”

Lilly pushed back her covers and got out of bed. Abby sat up and stretched her front legs, treading the blanket with her claws. “Is someone coming to see me?” Lilly said.

Besides her parents, no one had ever been inside her room. One winter she got sick and Daddy wanted to call a doctor, but Momma refused because the doctor would take her away and put her “some place.” Instead Daddy spent three days wiping Lilly’s forehead and applying mustard powder and warm dressings to her chest. She would never forget the sad look on his face when she woke up and said, “Daddy? What’s ‘some place’?”

“It’s a hospital for sick people,” Daddy said. “But don’t worry, you’re staying right here with us.”

Now, Momma watched Lilly take her dress from the back of the rocking chair. Lilly’s legs felt wobbly. What if someone was coming to take her “some place”?

Momma chuckled. “No, Lilly, no one is coming to see you.”

Lilly glanced at Momma, her stomach getting wobbly too. Momma never laughed. Maybe she had been drinking the strange liquid Daddy sometimes brought up to her room in a silver container. Lilly didn’t know what the drink was, but it made his eyes glassy and gave his breath a funny smell. Sometimes it made him laugh more than usual. What did he call it? Whiskey? No, that was impossible. Momma would never drink whiskey. Drinking alcohol was a sin.

“Why do I have to get dressed, Momma?”

“Today’s your birthday, remember?”

Lilly frowned. Momma didn’t care about birthdays. “Yes,” she managed.

“And I’m sure you saw the circus outside.”

Lilly nodded.

“Well, that’s where we’re going.”

Lilly stared at Momma, her mouth open. Her legs shook harder, and her arms too. “But . . . what . . . what if someone sees me?”

Momma smiled again. “Don’t worry, circus performers are used to seeing people like you. And no one else will be there but us. Because against my better judgment, your father insisted on paying the circus owner to put on a special show for you.”

Goose bumps popped up on Lilly’s arms. Something felt bad, but she didn’t know what. She glanced at Abby, as if the cat would know the answer. Abby looked back at her with curious eyes. “Daddy said he wasn’t coming back until tomorrow,” Lilly said.

Momma smiled, but her eyes changed. The top half of her face looked like it did when Lilly was in big trouble. The bottom half looked like someone Lilly had never seen before. “He came home early,” Momma said.

“Then where is he?” Lilly said. “He always comes to see me when he gets home.”

“He’s waiting for us over at the circus. Now hurry up!”

“Why didn’t he come get me instead of you?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Lilly wished she hadn’t said them.

Momma walked toward her and her hand rose with a sudden speed. It struck Lilly across the jaw and she fell to the floor. Abby leapt sideways on the bed and crouched next to the wall, her ears back.

“You ungrateful spawn of the devil!” Momma yelled. “How many times have I told you not to question me?”

“I’m sorry, Momma,” Lilly cried.

Momma thumped her with the side of her foot. “What did I do to deserve this curse?” she hissed. “Now get on your knees and pray.”

“But, Momma . . .” Lilly’s sobs were too strong. She couldn’t get up and she could barely breathe. She crawled to her bed with her hair hanging in her face and pulled herself up, air squeaking in her chest.

“Bow your head and ask for forgiveness,” Momma said.

Lilly put her hands together beneath her chin and counted her fingers by pressing them against each other. One, two, three, four. “Oh Lord,” she said, pushing the words out between wheezes. Five, six, seven, eight. “Please forgive me for questioning my momma, and for all the other ways I have made her life so difficult.” Nine, ten. “I promise to walk the straight and narrow from here on out. Amen.”

“Now get dressed,” Momma said. “We don’t have much time.”

Lilly got off her knees and put on her undergarments with shaky hands, then took off her nightgown and pulled her play dress on over her head. Her side hurt where Momma kicked her and snot ran from her nose.

“Not that one,” Momma said. “Find something better.”

Lilly took off the play dress and half-walked, half-stumbled over to the wardrobe. She pulled out her favorite outfit, a yellow satin dress with a lace collar and ruffled sleeves. “Is this one all right?” she said, holding up the dress.

“That will do. Find your best shoes too. And brush your hair.”

Lilly put on the dress and tied the belt behind her back. She brushed her hair—one, two, three, four, five, six strokes—then sat on the bed to put on her patent leather shoes. Abby edged across the covers and rubbed against Lilly’s arm. Lilly gave her a quick pet, then got up and stood in the middle of the room, her ribs aching and her heart thumping. Momma opened the door and stood back, waiting for Lilly to go through it.

Lilly had waited for this moment her entire life. But now, more than anything, she wanted to stay in the attic. She didn’t want to go outside. She didn’t want to go to the circus. Her chest grew tighter and tighter. She could barely breathe.

“Let’s go,” Momma said, her voice hard. “We don’t have all night.”

Lilly wrapped her arms around herself and started toward the door, gulping air into her lungs. Then she stopped and looked back at Abby, who was watching from the foot of her bed.

“That cat will be here when you get back,” Momma said. “Now move it.”

Thank you, Ellen, for being my guest today and for sharing the first chapter of your novel. I hope you’ll visit again soon!

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About The Life She Was Given

From acclaimed author Ellen Marie Wiseman comes a vivid, daring novel about the devastating power of family secrets—beginning in the poignant, lurid world of a Depression-era traveling circus and coming full circle in the transformative 1950s.

On a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time—and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

Moving between Julia and Lilly’s stories, Ellen Marie Wiseman portrays two extraordinary, very different women in a novel that, while tender and heartbreaking, offers moments of joy and indomitable hope.

Check out The Life She Was Given on Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

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About the Author

Ellen Marie Wiseman

A first-generation German American, Ellen Marie Wiseman discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in NYS. She is a bestselling author whose novels have been translated into seventeen languages. Her debut novel, THE PLUM TREE, is loosely based on her mother’s stories about growing up in Germany during the chaos of WWII. Bookbub named THE PLUM TREE One of Thirteen Books To Read if You Loved ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. Ellen’s second novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, was named a Huffington Post Best Books of Summer 2015. Her third novel, COAL RIVER, was called “one of the most “unputdownable” books of 2015″ by The Historical Novel Review. Her fourth novel, THE LIFE SHE WAS GIVEN, will be released in July 2017. She lives on the shores of Lake Ontario with her husband and two spoiled Shih-tzus, Izzy and Bella. When she’s not busy writing, she loves spending time with her children and grandchildren.

Connect with Ellen Marie Wiseman via Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Giveaway

Ellen is generously offering one copy of The Life She Was Given to my readers. This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada addresses only. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and tell me what intrigues you most about the book. This giveaway will close on Sunday, August 6, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and to celebrate her life and her novels, my guest today is Rose Servitova, with an excerpt from The Longbourn Letters: The Correspondence Between Mr. Collins & Mr. Bennet.

Please give her a warm welcome:

I love minor characters and believe they add so much to novels. What I loved about writing this book, is the licence it gave me to allow Austen’s brilliant characters such as Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh, Mary Bennet and Mrs Philips as well as Mr Bennet and Mr Collins more ‘air-time’ to develop and become more tangible. It also enabled me to introduce new, comical minor characters such as the charismatic Reverend Smellie, the eccentric inventor Mr Lucas, the carriage-driving Baroness Herbert and Reverend Green (who walks an invisible dog).

This excerpt is taken from the second chapter of The Longbourn Letters – The Correspondence between Mr Collins & Mr Bennet, when the plot of Pride and Prejudice is coming to an end (Lady Catherine’s fury at Darcy and Elizabeth’s engagement sparks a sudden visit by Mr and Mrs Collins to Lucas Lodge). The relationship between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet, although in its infancy, is on the cusp of taking on, as it does for the remainder of the novel, a life of its own.

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An excerpt from The Longbourn Letters, courtesy of Rose Servitova

Lucas Lodge

11th October, 1792

 

My Dear Sir,

We have just now arrived at Lucas Lodge and wish to let you know of our unexpected arrival into the Hertfordshire countryside and your neighbourhood. Charlotte, in her condition, was eager to spend time with her family, while her health permits it but, in truth, we are moved more speedily hither due to a matter of great concern to me.

Lady Catherine was rendered so outraged by the news of her nephew’s engagement and left lose all her disappointment and fury that much of it fell on my own head. She stated that my being Elizabeth’s cousin and Charlotte as her childhood friend were responsible for throwing the lovers together and, indeed, almost conspiring against her. In such a state of trepidation, we felt it safest to remove ourselves immediately to Lucas Lodge to take cover and wait for the worst of the storm to pass, though I must confess, that it may take some time. I should never wish to witness her ladyship in such a distressed state again and pray that it shall not happen for the remainder of my residence at Hunsford.

I can only wonder that her deep disappointment perhaps stemmed from not soon calling Darcy her own son, adding vinegar to the wound, for it was certain in her mind that fate would have it so. Indeed, I too am bitterly disappointed for my vision of their wedding ceremony is crushed and there is no occasion now fitting my great passages. I shall bear it as best I can but I must confess I am perplexed that you did not heed my warning and part the lovers until a more convenient route be found. One wonders how he could be thus tempted to act in such a rash and unguided manner when he could have had Rosings in addition to Pemberley. I will, however, put aside my displeasure to add that I sincerely wish them well and hope that, although it would be impossible for Lady Catherine to degrade herself by attending the wedding ceremony, both Charlotte and I would be flattered to be present. I believe I heard from the servants that, not one, but two, pineapples have been ordered for the celebrations of this momentous occasion.

We encountered Baroness Herbert, her dog and carriage on the final stretch of our journey. Indeed she does move at alarming speed, displaying a wildness of character quite unbefitting a member of the aristocracy. 

We will no doubt, sir, be delighted to see you within the next day or two.

With compliments to your wife and daughters,

 

William Collins

 

Postscript: I am all astonishment with regards your prize-winning blackcurrants for when I first visited Longbourn last year, I shook my head with regret that the bush was in such a sorry state. I will not tell you, sir, that it was dead but it was certainly not alive. Your lettuce, which I momentarily mistook for cabbage, existed for the sole purpose of feeding the local population of rabbits and slugs. That the blackcurrant bush not only survived but went on to win first prize with its crop is a miracle, cousin, of biblical proportions. I myself have enjoyed some little success at the Westerham Fair, third prize in the categories in which I entered, but as the first and second prizes were all won by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I was deeply humbled and delighted to witness my name listed next to hers in the winners logbook. In her current fury, however, all that is forgot.

 

 

Longbourn,

11th October, 1792

 

My Dear Sir,

I congratulate you, for you must be delighted. Elizabeth’s impending marriage to Darcy makes you practically a nephew-in-law of Lady Catherine in all but name. Little did you think when you were casting yourself at her feet as a humble servant that you would one day look her in the eye as an equal and relative? I hope in time, when her fury takes a turn for the better, that she will relish, nay enjoy, the connection as much as we do. Fear not, your wonderful ‘passages’ will get a day out, at some future time. Keep them safe, sir, for you never know when your eloquent passages will be in great demand amongst the upper gentry of this fair land.

May I caution you, sir, not to trouble yourself with rushing to our sides on this visit. We know that you will be tending to the needs of your wife during this delicate time of expectancy and we would not have it on our consciences, if she should need you at Lucas Lodge while you were entertaining us. Yours is a generous spirit and one we must take care not to take advantage of. If we see you within the week, we will consider ourselves most fortunate.

Another reason which would have me delay the pleasure of your company is that you would find us not quite ourselves as wedding preparations have taken over our lives, minds and purses. The weddings will be joined – Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley. The date will soon be fixed and if you hold tight at Lucas Lodge, you most probably will be in attendance, for these lovers have no patience.

As you can imagine, Mrs Bennet has already made her way to the draper in Meryton for the sole purpose of returning to inform me that there is nothing therein fit for the clothing of one who will be soon the mother-in-law of both gentlemen. She must, she declares, absolutely must, visit the best warehouses in London in the company of her sister-in-law, Mrs Gardiner. I encourage it, and choose to forget the cost, for the few days of peace it will afford me. The older I get, it seems, the greater value I put on my time rather than my money. Mrs Bennet will take our daughters with her and so, I will once again be free to roam my house without interruption and, temporarily at least, become the head of the house once more. Only last week, while searching for an old map of the West Indies, I entered the back room, wherein the lady of the house occasionally retires when she has one of her headaches, to discover I had not set foot in it for over a year and it had new wallpaper, a bureau and armchair which I had never seen in the course of my life. A veritable stranger, I have become, in my own home!

I will send for you to join me for dinner on one of these quiet evenings, when I have the house to myself and we can do as we please without offence to any other. It will also give me the opportunity to show you the first prize ribbon which my blackcurrants won for me and we can marvel together at this miraculous happening.

Your cousin,

 

Henry Bennet

Thank you, Rose, for sharing this delightful excerpt with me and my readers. I can’t wait to read the book!

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About The Longbourn Letters

Where Pride and Prejudice ends, a new relationship begins.

Good-humoured but detached and taciturn, Mr Bennet is not given to intimacy. Largely content with his life at Longbourn, he spends his evenings in the solitude of his library, accompanied only by a glass of port and a good book. But when his cousin, the pompous clergyman Mr Collins, announces his intention to visit, Mr Bennet is curious to meet and appraise the heir to his estate.

Despite Mr Bennet’s initial discouragement, Mr Collins quickly becomes a frequent presence in his life. They correspond regularly, with Mr Collins recounting tales of his follies and scrapes and Mr Bennet taking great pleasure from teasing his unsuspecting friend.

When a rift develops between the men, Mr Bennet is faced with a choice: he must withdraw into isolation once again or acknowledge that Mr Collins has brought something new and rich to his life.

Tender, heart-warming and peppered with disarming humour, The Longbourn Letters reimagines the characters of Pride and Prejudice and perfectly captures the subtleties of human relationships and the power of friendship.

Check out The Longbourn Letters on Goodreads | Amazon

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Book Trailer

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About the Author

Rose Servitova

Irish woman, Rose Servitova, is an award-winning humour writer, event manager and job coach for people with special needs. She has published in a number of literary journals as well as being short-listed in the Fish Flash Fiction Prize and at Listowel Writers Week. Other than PG Wodehouse, Rose is a lifelong fan of Jane Austen. Her first novel, The Longbourn Letters – The Correspondence between Mr Collins & Mr Bennet, described as a ‘literary triumph’, has received international acclaim since its publication earlier this year. Rose is also curating Jane Austen 200 – Limerick, a festival celebrating Limerick’s many links to Austen while nodding at its extensive Georgian heritage through literature, architecture, screen, theatre, fashion, talks and, of course, tea!! Her next novel is in the offing.

Connect with Rose Servitova on Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Giveaway

Rose is generously offering 2 signed paperbacks of The Longbourn Letters, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address, and tell me how you are celebrating Austen’s life and works or what intrigues you most about this book. This giveaway will close on Monday, July 31, 2017. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Source:: Author
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Frederick sat there for a moment, thinking. “You know, I have to say the number one barrier in a lasting relationship with me is weakness of character. If a woman can easily be persuaded by her friends and family to do something she doesn’t really want, then she and I won’t make a good pair.”

I sat there looking at the television and I realized I was never going to be able to fix the mistake I had made. This next month was going to be torture.

(from Modern Persuasion)

Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks takes Jane Austen’s Persuasion into the present day. Emma Shaw (Anne Elliot) is an editor at the publishing house run by family friend Karen Russell, who is grooming Emma to take over the imprint run by her father, Walter Shaw. Somehow Emma manages to sort out her father’s and sister Elizabeth’s financial troubles, cater to her needy sister Mary, and get everything in order for PubCon. She’s hit hard by the appearance of Frederick Wentworth, who is there to promote his new book before going on tour.

Circumstances conspire to put Emma in charge of Frederick’s book tour, which makes for some awkward situations given that they haven’t been in touch since she turned down his marriage proposal eight years ago. Emma holds it together the best she can as she and Frederick, accompanied by his friend Patrick and her assistant Louisa, go from city to city barely speaking to one another, and definitely not addressing their unresolved feelings.

Marks’ knowledge and appreciation of Austen’s novel shines through in her retelling. I recognized Anne and Captain Wentworth in her Emma and Frederick (though I wonder why her name was changed to Emma). I liked the setting of the novel, the various cities on the book tour and then in Cape Cod, and how Marks translated the obstacles faced by the characters into modern times and made them feel real and relevant. However, some of the scenes could’ve been fleshed out with some dialogue, and some of the repetitive elements at the end could have been eliminated.

Even so, I enjoyed Modern Persuasion. It was fresh and fun, a fast-paced read, and I always enjoy when authors are inspired by an Austen novel other than Pride and Prejudice.

Disclosure: I received Modern Persuasion from the author for review.

Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

But I do know there is no justification. No possible rationalization for what the Nazis did, for what civilian Germans permitted and encouraged to happen.

And yet: you. Here you are. You have the temerity to sit in my home, at my table, with your lights and your cameras and your questions and your historical credentials. You dare to seek some explanation. You dare to record the stories of the butchers and those who abetted them. You dare to seek some exoneration of a people who committed wholesale slaughter of an entire race!

(from Those Who Save Us)

Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us focuses on a broken relationship between a mother and daughter who lived in Weimar during World War II. The book centers on Anna Schlemmer, who has spent 50 years in silence about her wartime experiences. Her daughter, Trudy, who was just a baby during the war, remembers only bits and pieces of her life then.

The novel opens upon the death of Anna’s husband, Jack, the American soldier who married Anna shortly after the war and brought her and Trudy to Minnesota. Trudy, a professor of German history, does her duty in caring for her mother, but the distance between them is palpable. Her unanswered questions and desire to understand her mother’s wartime choices prompt her to take on a project in which she interviews Germans about their experiences during the war, including how they survived and what they knew about the Nazi atrocities.

Trudy has long been haunted by a photograph she found in her mother’s drawer as a child: what looks to be a family photo of Anna, Trudy, and an SS officer. The truth behind the photo is revealed over the course of the novel, which shifts back and forth between Anna’s wartime story and 1997 as Trudy interviews subjects for her project and navigates her mother’s coldness and silence.

What struck me most about this novel was how the war resulted in a sense of guilt and isolation for both Anna and Trudy. Anna stands by her actions during the war, both good and bad, as a means of survival and protecting her daughter, though the shame and the lingering trauma closed her off to both her husband and daughter. Trudy carries guilt based on her interpretation of the photo, and her mother’s refusal to revisit the past has left her without a support system. It was interesting how both of them carried the weight of guilt, though Trudy was too young to remember the war.

Those Who Save Us is a rare instance for me in which both the past and present aspects of the novel were fascinating. Although it is hard to connect with Anna and Trudy, as they keep themselves at arm’s length even from each other, Blum enables readers to understand their motivations and empathize with them as the story unfolds. Blum also doesn’t shy away from detailing the violence of war, and there were several times that I had to put the book down and calm my emotions. I had hoped for more resolution in the mother/daughter relationship at the end, but Blum stays true to their characters while giving them and readers a sense that healing is on the horizon. Those Who Save Us is a well-crafted, thoughtful novel that takes on some pretty ambitious subject matter but handles it with care and without assigning blame.

Serena and I featured Those Who Save Us as the June/July readalong on War Through the Generations. Our discussions can be found here (beware of spoilers): Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4. Stay tuned for an interview with author Jenna Blum, which also will be featured on War Through the Generations sometime soon.