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A Novel Sentiment

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker ~ Excerpt

Title: The Keeper of Night
Author: Kylie Lee Baker
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: October 12th, 2021
Number of Pages: 400

Synopsis: Julie Kagawa meets Scythe in this captivating and evocative journey into Death’s domain as one soul collector seeks her place in the underworld of 1890s Japan. Book 1 of a planned duology.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough yearns for the acceptance she has never found among the Reapers who raised her. When the Shinigami powers she can no longer hide force her to flee for her life, Ren and her younger brother—the only being on earth to care for her—travel to Japan and the dark underworld of Yomi, where Ren hopes to claim her place among the Shinigami and finally belong.

But the Goddess of Death is no more welcoming than the Reapers who raised her, and Ren finds herself set on an impossible task—find and kill three yokai demons, and maybe, just maybe, she can earn a place in Death’s service. With only her brother and an untrustworthy new ally by her side, Ren will learn how far she’ll go to win the acceptance she craves, and whether the cost of belonging is worth any sacrifice.

At the far edge of London, somewhere between nightmares and formless dreams, the Reapers slept by daylight.

The only way to enter our home was through the catacombs of the Highgate Cemetery, through a door that no longer existed. It had been built there long ago when the Britons first came to our land and Ankou carved a hole in their world so that Death could enter. But humans had sealed it shut with layers of wood, then stone, then brick and mortar, all in the hopes of keeping Death out.

By the nineteenth century, humans had mostly forgotten about the Door and what it meant. Then, when the London churchyards began to overflow with bones, the humans had searched for a place just outside of London to bury their dead. By chance or fate, they’d built their new cemetery right on top of the Door. It turned out that Death drew all of us close, even if we weren’t aware of it.

No streetlights lit the path through Highgate at night, but I didn’t need them to find my way home. Before I’d even passed through the main gate, Death pulled me closer. All Reapers were drawn to him, our bones magnetized to the place of our forefather. As soon as I entered the cemetery, a humming began just under my skin, like a train’s engine beginning to whir. My blood flushed faster through my veins as I brushed aside the branches of winter-barren lime trees and low-hanging elms. My boots crunched shattering steps into the frosted pathways as I ran.

I stumbled through jagged rows of ice-cracked tombstones on uneven ground and through a village of mausoleums, finally reaching the gothic arched doorway of the catacomb entrance. The pull had grown unbearable, dragging me along in a dizzy trance as I descended the stairs into the cool quietness of damp bricks and darkness. The labyrinth would have been unnavigable if not for the fervent pull.

At last, my hands came out to touch the wall where the Door used to be, but now there were only damp bricks and an inscription on the arch overhead that read When Ankou comes, he will not go away empty in rigid script. I dug one hand into my pocket and clutched my clock, pressed my other hand to the bricks, then closed my eyes and turned time all the way back to the beginning.

Time flowed through the silver-and-gold gears, up into my bloodstream, and through my fingertips, dispersing into the brick wall. Centuries crumbled away, the mortar growing wet and bricks falling loose. One by one, they leaped out of their positions in the wall and aligned themselves in dry stacks on the ground, waiting once again for construction. Objects were easy to manipulate with time, for I could draw from their own intrinsic energy rather than siphoning off my own. Rather than paying in years of my own life, I could borrow years before the bricks crumbled and quickly repay the debt when I put them back.

I stepped through the doorway and the pull released me all at once. I breathed in a deep gasp of the wet night air, then turned around and sealed the door behind me. The bricks jumped back to their positions in the wall, caked together by layers of mortar that dried instantly, the time debt repaid.

The catacombs beyond the threshold spanned infinitely forward, appropriated as resting places for Reapers rather than corpses. Mounted lanterns cast a faint light onto the dirt floors and gray bricks. It was almost Last Toll, so only the last Reapers returning from the night shift still milled around, their silver capes catching the dim light of the tunnels, but most had retreated to their private quarters for the morning.

I turned right and hurried down the block. The low ceilings gave way to high-arched doorways and finally opened up to a hall of echoing marble floors and rows of dark wood desks. Luckily, there was no line for Collections this close to Last Toll.

I hurried to the first Collector and all but slammed my vials into the tray, jolting him awake in his seat. He was a younger Reaper and seemed perplexed at having been awoken so unceremoniously. When his gaze landed on me, he frowned and sat up straight.

“Ren Scarborough,” I said, pushing the tray closer to him.

“I know who you are,” he said, picking up my first vial and uncapping it with deliberate slowness. Of course, everyone knew who I was.

He took a wholly unnecessary sniff of the vial before holding it up to the light to examine the color, checking its authenticity. The Collectors recorded every night’s soul intake before sending the vials off to Processing, where they finally released the souls into Beyond. He picked up a pen from his glass jar of roughly thirty identical pens, tapped it against the desk a few times, then withdrew a leather-bound ledger from a drawer. He dropped it in front of him, opened the creaky cover, and began flipping through the pages, one by one until he reached a fresh one.

I resisted the urge to slam my face against the desk in impatience.

I really didn’t have time to waste, but Collections was a necessary step. I didn’t consider myself benevolent in times of crisis, but even I was above leaving souls to expire in glass tubes instead of releasing them to their final resting place, wherever that was. And besides, a blank space next to my name in the Collections ledger meant a Collector would pay a visit to my private quarters to reprimand me. The last thing I needed was someone realizing that I’d left before Ivy could even report me.

But when the Collector uncorked my fourth vial and held it up to the lamp, swirling it in the light for ten excruciating seconds, I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision.

The bells of Last Toll reverberated through the bricks all around us, humming through the marble floors. In this hazy hour between night and day, the church grims came out in search of Reaper bones to gnaw on. Night collections had to be turned in by then, while day collections had to be processed by the First Toll at dusk.

The Collector sighed as he picked up my fifth vial. “I’m afraid I’ll have to mark your collections as late.”

My jaw clenched. “Why.”

“It’s past Last Toll, of course,” he said.

My fingers twitched. The lamp on the Collector’s desk flickered with my impatience, but I took a steadying breath.

“I was here before Last Toll,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.

“According to my ledger, your collections still have not been processed,” he said, spinning my fifth vial in his left hand.

I sighed and closed my eyes. Of course, I knew what he was doing. Chastising a “latecomer” would earn praise from higher management. It was the easiest way for him to climb the ranks—to exert his power over the half-breed. He would be praised for his steadfastness and gain a reputation as a strict and immovable Collector, while I could do nothing to complain. I could explode his lamp and send glass shards into his eyes, but that wouldn’t make him process my vials any faster. The fastest way to get out of there was subservience.

“Forgive me, Reaper,” I said, bowing my head and dropping my shoulders. I let my voice sound timid and afraid. “I apologize for being late.”

The Collector blinked at me for a moment, as if surprised that I’d given in so quickly. But he looked young and power-hungry and not particularly perceptive, so I wasn’t too afraid that he’d see through my tactic. As expected, he sneered as if I truly had offended him, finally beginning to process the fifth vial.

“It’s a great inconvenience to both Collections and Processing,” he said, “though I wouldn’t expect a half-breed to understand the workings of the educated Reapers.”

The only believable response to his goading was humiliated silence, so I hung my head even further and tried to make myself as small and pathetic as possible. It wasn’t hard, because the memory of the night’s events was still wringing my heart out like a wet rag and my skin prickled with nerves so fiercely that I wanted to claw it all off and escape before Ivy could find me, yet here I was, brought to my knees before a glorified teller. I imagined being a High Reaper, being able to reach over and smash his face into his blotter and shatter his owlish glasses into his eyes for delaying and insulting me.

His lamp flickered more violently and he paused to smack it before finally finishing with my last vial. He placed all seven in a tray and pressed a button that started the conveyor belt, sending the souls down to Processing. The moment he put a black check next to my name in the ledger, I stood up straight and turned to leave.

His hand twisted into my sleeve, yanking me back.

I shot him a look that could have melted glass, but he only pulled me closer.

“There’s the matter of your sanction,” he said.

“My sanction,” I said, glancing around the office to see how many people would notice if I simply twisted the Collector’s neck. Too many.

“For your tardiness, of course,” he said, smirking sourly. From his position stretched across the desk, the lamplight caught in his glasses and turned them into two beaming white moons.

The standard punishment for failing to make curfew was a night on the pillory, hands and feet nailed to the wood and head locked in a hole that was just slightly too tight, letting you breathe but not speak. The other Reapers could pull your hair or pour mead over your head or call you a thousand names when you couldn’t talk back. But the worst part wasn’t the nails or the insults. It was the Reapers who did nothing but look at you and sneer like you were nothing but an ugly piece of wall art, like they were so perfect that they couldn’t fathom being in your place. And far worse than that was my own father and stepmother walking past me and pretending not to see.

“Come back at First Toll,” the Collector said. “We’ll find a nice place to hang you up by the Door.”

It took every ounce of restraint I had left to keep my expression calm. This was the part where I was supposed to say, Yes, Reaper, and bow, but he was lucky that I hadn’t smashed his glasses into his face with my fist.

As if he could smell my defiance, he pulled me closer. His glasses fell out of the lamplight, revealing a deep frown.

“Scrub that look from your face,” he said. “Remember that I’ll handle your collections in the future.”

The future, I thought.

Luckily, I didn’t have a future.

The light bulb flashed with a sudden surge of power, then burst. Glass shards rained down over the desk, forcing the man to release me as hot glass scored his hands. Some of his paperwork caught fire, and he frantically patted out the flames with hands full of shards.

“Yes, Reaper,” I said, bowing deeply so he wouldn’t see my smirk as he sputtered about “bloody light bulbs, I knew we should have kept the gas lamps.”

Then I turned and rushed off to the West Catacombs.

Excerpted from The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker, Copyright © 2021 by Kylie Lee Baker. Published by Inkyard Press.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her writing is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, and Irish), as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Spanish from Emory University and is currently pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she watches horror movies, plays the cello, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

Author website:
Twitter: @KylieYamashiro
Instagram: @kylieleebaker

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Luminous by Mara Rutherford ~ Excerpt

Title: Luminous
Author: Mara Rutherford
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: October 5th, 2021

Synopsis: From the author of Crown of Coral and Pearl comes an immersive new fantasy about a witch who must learn to harness her power—or risk losing her loved ones forever.

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos—and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.

Excerpted from Luminous by Mara Rutherford, © 2021 by Mara Rutherford. Used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

My father once described magic as an invisible beast, an unseen enemy that could snatch our lives away at any moment. As a small, impressionable child, I had imagined a lupine creature lurking outside among the whispering pines, breathing over my shoulder in our garden. For years, I didn’t even leave the house; it was magic that had killed my mother, after all.

I was old enough now to understand that magic didn’t work that way. But as I hurried down the dark road, past the woods that had become my haven during daylight hours, my childhood fears didn’t feel so foolish. I glanced behind me, sure I’d find Belle Sabine, the fabled witch of every young woman’s nightmares, swooping down as silent as an owl, ready to steal my youth and leave an empty husk behind.

To my relief, there was nothing there. My only traveling companion was the wind nipping at my heels, spurring me forward. But in my brief distraction, I tripped over a rock in the road, falling hard onto my knees. Cursing myself for my clumsiness and superstition, I dusted off my hands, wincing as a sharp pebble dislodged from my palm. I couldn’t afford this kind of delay. It was close to midnight, and there was no moon to speak of, which made my situation even more precarious; my exposed skin glowed so brightly that moths circled me like a flame. But my little sister, Mina, was missing. I had to tell Father.

As I rose, I heard the sound of footsteps up the road. I glanced around for a place to hide, but there was no time. A moment later, a figure loomed at the margins of my glow.

Some said Belle Sabine had died, others that she was biding her time until the townspeople became complacent once again. But I was convinced she had come to kill me on the one night I had dared to venture past our threshold.

I shrank back as skirts and slippered feet came into view, followed by a woman’s arms cradling a basket, and finally, the face of Margana, the weaver who lived next door. Not here to kill me, then. But a witch, nevertheless. And one arguably as dangerous as Belle Sabine, given who she worked for.

“What are you doing on the road, Liora? It’s the middle of the night.”

“Mina is gone,” I said. “Father is still at work, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

Margana scrutinized me for a moment. “You’re a witch.”

A chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air crept over my scalp. No one had ever called me a witch to my face before, though of course I knew what I was. My entire life revolved around my glowing skin and the fear that the kingdom’s most powerful warlock would discover it. Lord Darius was employed by the king himself, gathering mages and torturing them if they didn’t do his bidding.

I pulled Father’s cloak tighter around myself, but it was futile. She already knew. I had wasted too much time getting up the nerve to leave the house after I found Mina’s bed empty, wringing my hands at the window, wondering if she’d been kidnapped by drifters or lured into the forest by a ghost lantern. Then, once I was on the road, I had foolishly stopped to look at the devil’s footprints, little white mushrooms that grew in pairs of two, resembling the cloven hooves of a demon. I’d seen them in daylight plenty of times, but never at night. They had caught my eye because their glow was so similar to my own.

Oddly, Margana’s basket was full of the mushrooms. Her cornflower-blue eyes and auburn hair were pale and otherworldly in their light. As if sensing my curiosity, she shifted the basket to her other hip. Margana was one of the few people who lived outside the gates of the ancient village of Sylvan, like us. She was also my best friend Evran’s mother—and the only other witch I knew.

“I always wondered why your father moved you girls out here after your mother died,” she said. “Now it all makes sense. But something tells me your father wouldn’t be pleased to know you’re outside, exposing yourself.” She grabbed one of my hands and turned it over, examining it like a bruised apple at market. Against Margana’s dull skin, mine looked false, as if I wasn’t a real person at all.

I pulled my hand free as politely as possible. “I should go.”

She sighed. “Keep your head down, and pray you don’t meet anyone on the road. Darius’s spies are everywhere.”

My eyes widened in fear, and she chuckled to herself. “Not me, silly girl.”

I swallowed audibly. If there really were spies in Sylvan, Margana was the most likely suspect. After all, she did work for Lord Darius. She might not be his servant by choice, but he was dangerous enough that no mage dared cross him. No mage who had lived to tell about it, anyway.

I was about to step around her when my eyes drifted to the basket once again. “I thought the devil’s footprints were poisonous.”

Her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Oh, they are. Highly. Fortunately, I don’t plan on eating them. Good luck, Liora.”

I nodded and hurried to the stone steps leading down to Sylvan, which was tucked away in a gorge, hidden from the roving eyes of river pirates. Above me, a heavy iron chain was suspended between the cliffs. As far as I knew, Sylvan was the only village in Antalla—maybe the world—that could boast having attracted not one, but two falling stars. A fragment of the first had been melted into the shape of a five-pointed star and hung from the chain. At night, it was only a glimmer overhead.

The second star—my star—had disintegrated amid the flames when it landed.

I wound my way silently through Sylvan’s narrow streets, toward Father’s shop. He and Adelle, my older, more responsible sister, were likely the only ones working at this hour. Just as I quickened my pace, I heard a high-pitched shriek from somewhere above me. I looked up to where a lamp winked on in an apartment window, illuminating two silhouettes, then down to the shop on my left. The tailor’s shop.


Without thinking, I grabbed the cast-iron boot scraper sitting by the front door of the shop and hurled it through the window. Glass shattered, leaving a jagged hole that gaped like a mouth midscream.

Heart racing, I flattened myself against the alcove by the door as a man shouted and a window screeched open. The tailor, a young man nearly as alluring as the fabrics he sold, poked his head out for a moment, then disappeared, likely heading downstairs to look for the culprit. I scurried to the nook in front of the butcher’s, hoping my light would be hidden there.

“Get behind me,” Luc said from somewhere inside the shop. “The thief could still be out there.”

“You’re so brave.”

I sighed in relief at the sound of Mina’s voice, before fury shot through me like an arrow. I should have known she would come to the tailor’s; she had flirted with Luc relentlessly today, which was how we’d acquired four yards of the champagne-colored silk she wanted for the dress I’d spent all evening working on.

A moment later, they emerged onto the street, Mina clutching at Luc’s sleeve as he lifted his lamp and peered into the darkness.

He tossed his black hair out of his eyes and frowned. “It doesn’t look like they stole anything. Just vandals, I suppose.”

“Or someone trying to send you a message,” Mina breathed, dramatic as ever. “Do you have any nemeses?”

When he turned his dark gaze on her, something tugged at my heart. She was wearing a dress I’d made for myself when I was her age. It hung loose on her thin frame, but the hem grazed her calves, a sure sign she had altered it. She had nothing but a shawl pulled around her shoulders, and from where I stood, it was painfully clear that the tailor was not interested in her the way she no doubt hoped.

“I have to find a member of the night guard and report this. You shouldn’t be here. If your father catches you, he’ll have me hanged. You’re a sweet girl, Mina, but this is inappropriate.”

“But the silk…”

“That was for your sister. Now, please, go home.”

Mina caught her lip in her teeth to keep from crying. With a nod, she hurried away, tears already streaming down her cheeks. I waited for Luc to start up the street before I ran out of the alcove to catch her.

She squealed in alarm when I placed my hand on her shoulder, and I quickly clapped my other hand over her mouth.

“It’s me,” I whispered, lowering my hand slowly when I was confident she wouldn’t scream.

She swiped at her tears. “Liora? What are you doing out? What if someone sees you?”

My anger softened at her concern, until I remembered that she was the reason I was out in the first place. “I might ask you the same questions. If Father had come home and found you missing, he’d have killed you.”

“And what if he goes home and finds both of us missing? Have you considered that?”

I opened my mouth to scold her, but she was right. “You can explain what you were doing once we get back,” I said.

In typical Mina fashion, she stuck her tongue out at me, then turned and ran toward home.

* * *

We were indeed lucky. We made it home not long before Father and Adelle. By the time he came to our room to check on us, we were both in bed. I waved sleepily at him and Mina let out an emphatic snore, but once the door was closed, I threw back my covers and leaped out of bed.

“I hope you have a good explanation for this,” I hissed.

Her voice was muffled by the thick blanket pulled up to her nose, but I could hear the tremor in it when she said, “I thought Luc liked me.”

“And I thought you were dead!” I whisper-shouted, then stalked to the window ledge to keep myself from throttling her. I plucked a pendant from the collar of my nightgown, running my fingers over the five points on the star charm to calm myself. Evran had given it to me, years ago, and its contours were as familiar to me now as the feel of his hand in mine as he pulled me through the Sylvan woods toward home at twilight. Perhaps I was being too hard on Mina. I would risk a lot of things for Evran.

“Luc told me he was having a party tonight,” she said. “I didn’t realize how late it was when I got there. Everyone else had already left.”

I was surprised that the thought of her getting ready for a party, the excitement she must have felt as she sneaked into Sylvan to meet a handsome young man, made me more envious than angry. “I heard you cry out.”

The whites of her eyes flashed in the dark.

“Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me,” I snapped.

“I’m just stretching them, Ora.” The world-weary tone was classic Mina: so eager to be a grown-up, ever since she was little. “A moth got tangled in my hair. Anyway, Luc was a perfect gentleman. And as it turns out, it’s not me he wants.”

The silk was for me. The last of my anger waned as I imagined how sure Mina must have been of Luc to do something so foolish, only to find she’d made a huge mistake. This was his fault as much as it was hers. “He was just being kind because I spend so much money in his shop.”

She snorted. “He spoke about you the entire time. He asked why you hadn’t come to the party, and what you liked to do in your free time, and why he never saw you out in town.”

“What did you tell him?” I dropped the pendant into my collar and pulled back the edge of the curtain just a bit to gaze at the real stars.

“I told him you were making me a dress, that that’s what you’re doing most of the time.”

I sighed and let the curtain fall. For a girl with glowing skin, I sounded unbearably dull. But it was the truth. If I wasn’t sewing, I was cooking, cleaning, or rereading one of our few books.

Father trusted me enough to let me go out on sunny days now. The smallest stars don’t shine at noon, he said, and my glow could be kept dim as long as I stayed in control of my emotions. But the downside of having even just a little bit of freedom was that it came with responsibilities. Father had only given me permission to go to town for errands, never to dawdle, which made taking Mina along particularly frustrating. She had made an art form out of window-shopping. I missed my afternoons in the woods with Evran, those glorious days when I could sneak out unnoticed while Father was working and my sisters were in their lessons.

I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up, a wave of guilt washing over me. Had I really believed Mina was in mortal peril? Because if not, there was no excuse for my own behavior. What if some part of me had risked going out tonight because I wanted to prove to myself, finally, that my magic wasn’t as dangerous as Father feared?

If that was the case, I had failed spectacularly. It had only taken a few minutes for me to undo all our years of hard work, and I couldn’t blame my sister for that.

“Promise me you won’t sneak out again, Mina. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

She twisted onto her side to face me. “I’m sorry. I should never have put you at risk like that. I won’t do it again.”

“It’s all right. Get some sleep now.”

Mina responded a moment later with a very genuine snore.

I smiled and tried to fall asleep myself, but I lay awake for hours, thinking about Margana. Would she tell Darius about me, potentially destroying not just my life but those of everyone I loved? I thought of Father and wondered if all this time it hadn’t been me he was protecting, but them.

Because as much as I had wanted to believe that the invisible beast was out there, that if I simply hid myself away like a secret, we would be safe, I had known for quite some time that the beast Father feared most lived inside of me.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mara Rutherford began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, Mara has since lived all over the world with her marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a master's degree in cultural studies from the University of London. When she's not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushin_g the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. Mara is a former Pitch Wars mentee and three-time mentor.

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A Dance with the Fae Prince by Elise Kova ~ Review

Title: A Dance with the Fae Prince
Author: Elise Kova
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Publisher: Silver Wing Press
Release Date: August 19th, 2021
Number of Pages: 344
Version Read: Kindle ebook
Buy: Amazon

Synopsis: She knew her hand in marriage would be sold. She had no idea a fae prince was the buyer.

Katria swore she'd never fall in love. She's seen what "love" means through the cruelty of her family. So when she's married off to the mysterious Lord Fenwood for a handsome price, all Katria wants is a better life than the one she's leaving. Feelings are off the table.

But her new husband makes not falling in love difficult.

As their attraction begins to grow, so too do the oddities within her new life: strange rules, screams in the night, and attacks by fae that Katria never thought were real. When she witnesses a ritual not meant for human eyes, Katria finds herself spirited away to the land of Midscape.

Surviving the fae wilds as a human is hard enough. Katria must survive as a human who accidentally pilfered the magic of ancient kings - magic a bloodthirsty king is ready to kill her for in order to keep his stolen throne - and her new husband is the rightful heir in hiding.

The power to save the fae is in her hands. But who will save her from a love she vowed never to feel?

My Review: I really enjoyed this book but you figure out who the true heir is pretty quick or at least I did and I wasn't disappointed when it was that person. You don't have to read the first Married to Magic book to read this one. They are all set in the same world but don't interact with each other though they did make mention to Luella and Eldas. This book was great and I can't wait to read the third book next year. 

Rating: 4½ stars 

The Reintroduction of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Christine Combe ~ Excerpt and Giveaway

I'm happy to welcome to the blog today for the first time Christine Combe with her newest novel The Reintroduction of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Christine has been generous to bless us with an excerpt and a giveaway. Thank you, Christine! The Reintroduction of Fitzwilliam Darcy releases on August 7th. 

Greetings, fellow Austenians! I’m so excited to be visiting A Novel Sentiment today to talk to you about my upcoming release, The Reintroduction of Fitzwilliam Darcy. It’s my first standalone Austen variation and I really hope you’ll like it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

In this new story, circumstances are vastly different for ODC: Elizabeth and her sisters are the daughters of a baronet and Darcy has no fortune. But as always, the stars align, and one of literature’s most beloved couples unite, determined to take on the world together!

In case you haven’t been following along as I posted the chapters at A Happy Assembly, here’s the opening of chapter 2:

Friday, 1 February 1811

“Master Fitzwilliam, you must come inside. It is time for luncheon.”

Fitzwilliam Darcy at first ignored the words, instead swinging the axe he held back and over his head and down again in a wide circle, splitting the log on the stump perfectly in two.

“I have but a few more logs, Reynolds. I shall come in when I am finished,” he replied as he took up one of the halves he had just cut and prepared to half it as well.

Percival Reynolds, a man near in age to Darcy’s late father—who had been with the family since before he was born—stepped closer. He boldly stayed the hand that held the axe before Darcy could swing it again.

“Sir, the woodpile can wait until you’ve had some rest and taken some refreshment,” he said firmly. “You’ve been out in the cold all day; it is time you should be inside and warm for a while.”

Darcy opened his mouth to argue, but the expression on the old butler’s face stayed his tongue. That disapproving look had long served its purpose, and even now that he was grown, he could not ignore it.

Heaving a sigh, he propped the axe up against the old stump and relented. “Very well, Reynolds. Lead on.”

Reynolds stood still until Darcy moved past him with a shake of his head. The two men walked the short distance to the old cottage where they resided together with Reynolds’ wife, Rosemary. He felt himself scowl, as he sometimes did on approach to the place. Oh, there was nothing wrong with the two-story, four-bedroom cottage—it was snug, but a respectable dwelling. A small family or newly married couple could do very well in it, to be sure.

But he was not a newly married young man. He was Fitzwilliam Darcy, the grandson of an earl, and he should not have had to make his home in a cottage with only two servants to tend him.

Of course, the Reynolds’ were, for all intents and purposes, not working for him. He wasn’t paying them a salary to remain—they had done so purely out of loyalty, and the excellent goodness of their hearts. As the old Pemberley butler had declared on their vacating of the estate house, “We go where our master goes, sir.” This had been followed by his wife’s teary, “Your family has always been so good to us, Mr. Darcy—we could not in good conscience betray that generosity by abandoning you in your hour of need.”

A feeling of deepest gratitude had filled him then. They had stood with him as he said an emotional goodbye to his sister, who was taken in by his uncle—the present Earl of Disley—to be raised alongside his young daughter Cecilia. They had taken on the duty of laying cloths over every portrait and piece of furniture in the house, had been with him when he locked the doors to Pemberley for the last time, with no idea when they might be free to open them again.

It had been almost five years since they had been forced to abandon the ancestral home of the Darcy family, which had for centuries been a place of honor and prestige. Every day of that five years he had cursed the name Wickham, for it was his old childhood friend and his father—the latter of whom had once been trusted with the management of the estate—who had forced Darcy to give his sister into the care of others while he had to make do with a cottage on the grounds rather than the home of his youth.

“Good afternoon, Master Fitzwilliam. Percy my dear,” said Mrs. Reynolds as the two men entered the house. As expected, the table in their small dining parlor had already been laid out with cakes, biscuits, fruits, and cold meats; a steaming pot of tea sat center of it all. Darcy marveled, as he often did, that she could manage it all without Cook to help her—but the one time he’d asked, she’d sharply reminded him of where she had started her service to the family. Mrs. Reynolds had initially been a kitchen maid, had even served as Cook for a few years, before moving into the more eminently respectable position of housekeeper.

After discarding his outerwear, Darcy stepped over to the washstand to clean his hands and face, then took a seat at the table. He was soon joined by the two servants, and a short Grace was said before Mrs. Reynolds poured and served tea to each of them. They consumed the repast in silence, as was their habit, and were about finished near twenty minutes later when the sound of an approaching carriage drew their attention.

Carriages did not approach this cottage. It was rather out of the way of the other tenants, which is what Darcy had wanted. The seclusion suited him, as his pride had been deeply wounded by having to give up the estate house and live as though he were one of his tenants or servants. Though the last few years had served well in humbling him, making him more compassionate as regarded the lower classes who had heretofore helped make his life so very comfortable, he rarely associated with them. Thus, for the most part, only the Reynolds’ suffered his mortification alongside him.

Stepping outside, flanked by his most loyal people, Darcy watched the approach of a small but recognizable carriage. He recognized the livery of the driver, though he wore heavy outer garments to ward off the chill of winter.

What could his uncle want to speak to him about that would bring him all this way in person? Lord Disley usually sent a single footman on horseback to deliver any messages.

Georgiana, he thought, feeling alarm shoot through him. His sister—something had happened to his sister. Dear God, was she hurt? Was she—

No. He would not go there.

When at last the two-horse equipage came to a stop, Darcy immediately stepped up to it. No one exited the carriage, but the driver did climb down from the box. It was a young man his own age, whose face he recognized but whose name he could not at present recall. The young man bowed, which told that he had been recognized in return—a surprise, given his rather disheveled state. Darcy had learned quickly that function over fashion was key to maintaining one’s home and land with his own hands.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy,” said the carriage driver as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a sealed letter. “As you may have guessed, sir, I have come on behalf of the Earl of Disley.”

“So I gathered,” Darcy replied in a droll tone as he broke the seal and unfolded the note.

Disley Court
1 February

Dear Nephew,

I hope this note finds you in good health and spirits. All here at the Court are well, and as I know it will bring you comfort, know that Georgiana continues to excel in her studies—she is absolutely remarkable at the pianoforte, and her cousin excels at singing. She and Cecilia compliment each other most excellently when they perform; they are as close as sisters could be, and do everything together.

But you do not want to be told things which you already know. I am sending the girls’ carriage to bring you to Cheshire as there is a matter I wish to discuss with you regarding Pemberley. I think it is best done in person. I shall expect your arrival by supper.

Sincerest regards,

Pemberley. What could the earl have to say about the estate—had he found the Wickhams? Or the massive Darcy fortune they had managed to purloin with their lies and trickery?

Unlikely, he mused bitterly. After all, it had been nearly five long years, and nary a trace had been found of either.

“I will prepare your trunk, sir,” said Reynolds, though he had not seen the note.

“I will lay out a change of clothes for you,” added Mrs. Reynolds, and she followed her husband into the house. The presence of an entire carriage was enough to tell the two servants that he had been summoned.

Darcy just stopped himself telling them not to bother; after all, it wasn’t as though his uncle was unaware of how he lived. He’d been offered the chance of joining Georgiana in removing to Disley Court but had declined. His pride would not allow him to run away—Pemberley was his home, and he would not abandon it completely.

There must always be a Darcy at Pemberley, he’d said, quoting an old family saying.

Stifling a sigh, he looked to the carriage driver—Marcus, that was his name; the footman was his younger brother Robert—and said, “I should not be long. You and Robert must come inside; Mrs. Reynolds will see that you have tea to warm you while you wait.”

“Thank you, Mr. Darcy. Most obliging,” said Marcus, who gestured to his brother before following Darcy into the house.

Darcy encountered Mrs. Reynolds on the landing after climbing to the first floor. “Please see to some tea for the coachmen, if you would.”

Mrs. Reynolds merely smiled and nodded, and allowed him to pass her in the narrow space before continuing to the ground floor. As he entered his room, he found her husband just closing a small trunk; clean attire was laid out on the bed.

“As we’ve no notion of how long you’ll be away, sir, I’ve packed three days’ worth of your good clothing for you,” said Reynolds. “I’ll take this down and see to putting it in the carriage.”

“See to it the horses have some water as well if it’s not too much trouble,” Darcy added as he moved to sit in a chair in the corner and remove his dusty boots; a clean pair sat next to the bed.

As Reynolds helped him with tending the few animals they had on their small plot of land, he would doubtless comply with the request. “Of course, sir,” was all he said as he picked up the trunk and headed out with it.

Darcy made quick work of changing and making himself more presentable. Glancing in the small looking glass over the wash stand, he noted that he needed a shave—and his hair could certainly do with a trim—but those were hardly reasons to delay setting out. The earl would just have to put up with his having four days’ growth of beard, and hair long enough at the back to brush his shoulders.

On his reappearance downstairs, the two coachmen immediately stood. They quickly thanked Mrs. Reynolds for the tea and headed out the front door. Darcy walked up to her as her husband stepped inside.

“I can’t imagine what my uncle has to say that he could not have relayed on paper, but you can be sure I will inform you as soon as may be done,” Darcy said.

“May I be so bold as to ask what the note you were given said, sir?” asked Reynolds.

“Little beyond that the earl had need to speak to me about Pemberley, and that it was best done in person,” Darcy replied.

“I shouldn’t dare hope he’ll allow us to open the house again,” said Mrs. Reynolds. “If he’s not been able to support keeping it open all these years, I doubt we’ll get to move the master back home again.”

The lady flushed then as her eyes flicked up to meet Darcy’s. “I do beg your pardon, Master Fitzwilliam. I should not speak of Lord Disley so; I know he’s been very generous to take your dear sister in and supply you with an allowance.”

Supply me with a pittance, Darcy thought bitterly of the five hundred a year he’d been allotted, then he drew a breath and released it slowly. He could not be angry with his uncle, who had done all within his power just to keep the estate from falling into the hands of another whilst seeing to the management of his own vast holdings. He and his wife had indeed been generous in being so willing to take Georgiana into their home and raise her along with their young daughter, despite the scandal that broke when word got out that George Darcy had been swindled by his steward and lost nearly everything.

“It’s quite all right, Mrs. Reynolds,” Darcy assured her, though he agreed silently that it was unlikely his uncle wanted to talk about reopening the house.

What he could wish to speak to him about… he had not the slightest idea.


I bet you’ve already figured out what Darcy’s uncle wants to talk about. If not, tell me what you think in the comments below to enter for a chance to win an ebook copy of The Reintroduction of Fitzwilliam Darcy!

The contest is open until August 14, 2021. Good luck!


Christine, like many a JAFF author before her, is a long-time admirer of Jane Austen's work, and she hopes that her alternate versions are as enjoyable as the originals. She has plans to one day visit England and take a tour of all the grand country estates which have featured in film adaptations, and often dreams of owning one. Christine lives in Ohio and is already at work on her next book.

Mistress of Netherfield by Julia Winter ~ Review, Excerpt + Giveaway

Title: Mistress of Netherfield
Author: Julia Winter
Genre: Pride and Prejudice variation
Publisher: Glass Hat Press © 2021
Release Date: June 28th, 2021
Number of Pages: 490
Version Read: Kindle ebook

Synopsis: It is a truth universally acknowledged that on escaping an unhappy marriage, a young widow will be delighted to remove to the dower house and lease the marital abode to a single man in possession of a good fortune, provided he looks elsewhere to fulfil his want of a wife.

Five years after being forced into an unwanted marriage at the age of sixteen, and freed six months later by the death of her abusive husband, Elizabeth Grayson (née Bennet) has finally found a measure of peace. The inheritor of her husband’s estate, Netherfield Park, Elizabeth is now a wealthy young widow, independent and self-reliant. With an eye always on improving her four sisters’ woefully small dowries and providing for her mother, who will be homeless when her father dies, Elizabeth is pleased to lease out Netherfield to the Bingley family, making her home in the dower house in Meryton and vowing that she will never remarry.

Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire is rich and well connected but reserved in company with anybody outside the very few he counts as friends. Towards those friends, he is loyal and steadfast, the staunchest of supporters. So when a young man comes to him with a tale of the clandestine marriage and mysterious death of Darcy’s old school friend, James Grayson, and begs Darcy’s help to investigate the widow’s role, Darcy agrees. Visiting Charles Bingley, the new tenant of Netherfield, Darcy is very soon torn between his loyalty to his dead friend, and his burgeoning attraction to the widow.

Throw two unprincipled rogues and an elopement into the confines of Meryton, and how will Darcy’s dilemma over Elizabeth ever be resolved? And is she willing to put aside her misgivings, and trust again?

My Review: I'm not the biggest fan of either Darcy or Lizzy being married before they meet but it works in this book. I had a suspicion that her husband was a piece of work and I was right. Abuse in any form is not alright and if you are in a situation like that seek help. This book is not so much a mystery as I had one person describe it, it is more of a story where a person is trying to get an estate that isn't theirs and sticking their nose where it doesn't belong. Darcy got so dupped in this story by that person and he felt so guilty afterward. I don't want to say anymore because I don't want to spoil the story, especially what goes down after that takes place. 

I really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to seeing what the author has in store in the future. The writing was great and it didn't feel so basic like a lot of debut authors. I really recommend this book if you are looking for a good romance.

Rating: 4 stars

At Netherfield, while Jane is recovering, and the return to Longbourn:

The next day dragged.

Jane came downstairs after breakfast, well enough to rejoin normal life. She spent much of the day before the fire in the morning room chatting amiably with Mr Bingley and his unmarried sister. She was tempted out for a walk around the garden at one point, so wrapped in shawls and scarves that she was quite double her normal width as she promenaded slowly on Mr Bingley’s arm. Miss Bingley went along with them, to play propriety. She hung grimly onto her brother’s other arm and was a third in their conversations all day.

Elizabeth spent the hours mostly in the company of Mrs Hurst. They were more at ease with each other than Elizabeth could ever be with Miss Bingley. Louisa Hurst might one day prove to be a friend.

Elizabeth had two things vex her that day. Her mother’s response to her note requesting the carriage for the next day was a tart No! Indeed I will not send the carriage! Do not be so selfish, Lizzy Bennet!—indignation having got the better of Mrs Bennet’s memory as to Elizabeth’s married name—Jane must stay at least a week—these last words heavily underlined for emphasis—and make sure Mr Bingley notices her and pays his addresses. He cannot fail but love her, if he can but spend time with her. You must make certain he has the opportunity. I will be extremely vexed—more savage underlining—if you spoil her chances of gaining him!

“I shall take Jane home in my own phaeton,” Elizabeth said, putting aside the note with a sigh. Her mother learned nothing from her mistakes.

“Your father’s carriage is not available?” Mrs Hurst asked, and when Elizabeth owned to this, answered, “If you are determined to return home tomorrow… and I do understand, Mrs Grayson, that Jane may be more comfortable recovering in her own home—I would be myself! Well, I will ask my brother to lend his carriage for the trip. We will be very sorry to see you go, and though you must do as you think best, I cannot think a ride in an open phaeton will do her good.”

Which was the sort of kindness Elizabeth had come to expect from Louisa Hurst. It was a great pity that when in company with her sister she grew smaller, less clearly delineated, sitting in Miss Bingley’s shadow with her nervous fingers playing constantly with her bracelets. She was a much brighter light when separated from the irresistible cavalry charge that was Miss Bingley.

That difficulty overcome, Elizabeth went to the library after a bite to eat at noon, and there faced the second of her day’s vexations. She was joined there by no other than Mr Darcy, who, although he stopped short at seeing her, did not retreat. Instead, he returned her greeting in a tone so glacial that she expected to see icicles depend from the bookshelves and all the books wearing snowy caps over their spines.

Gathering the cold around himself like a mantle, he took a seat on the far side of the room, and devoted himself to the book he had brought with him. When she quietly slipped out of the room a half hour later, she doubted he even noticed. Unless, of course, the temperature rose from the depths of winter to the dizzy heights of spring when she softly closed the door behind her.

All in all, it was quite a relief the next day to have one of Mr Bingley’s footmen hand her down from the borrowed coach onto the gravel sweep before Longbourn’s doors. Before she could do more than thank him and turn towards the house, the front door burst open and a tall, heavyset man dressed in clerical garb hurled himself down the shallow steps to grasp her hand and raise it to his lips to slobber over it. An ecclesiastical whirlwind, he spun on one foot to catch Jane’s hand and do likewise.

“Oh, my dear cousins! I have been awaiting your homecoming, most anxiously!” He rocked back on his heels to survey them, his large hand still enclosing Jane’s. “Oh, your beauty is beyond compare. Nothing I have heard does either of you justice! My dear, dear cousins, I am so happy to see you.”

“Mmn.” Elizabeth stepped forward until the stranger had perforce to relinquish his hold on Jane’s hand and take a step or two away. “And you, sir, I assume, are Mr Collins.”

The cleric beamed. “Indeed I am, cousin. Indeed, I am!”

“Mmn,” said Elizabeth again, looking him up and down. “How… splendid.”

About Julia

Once Julia was a communications specialist with several UK government departments. These days she's thankfully free of all that, and writing full time. She lives in the depths of the Nottinghamshire countryside with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockapoo, who’s supported by Mavis the Assistant Editor, a Yorkie-Bichon cross with a bark several times bigger than she is but with no opinion whatsoever on the placement of semi-colons.

Contact Julia:

Email | Website | Twitter | Facebook


Between 21 June and 3 July, enter this Rafflecoptor for the chance of the first prize of a copy of Mr. Darcy’s Hunsford letter (complete with seal, and tied in red ribbon) and a copy of the eBook, or one of the two second-place prizes of an ecopy of Mistress of Netherfield.

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