Monday, April 6, 2020

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle

* * * *



When your nemesis also happens to be your fiancé, happily ever after becomes a lot more complicated in this wickedly funny, lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy debut.

Naomi Westfield has the perfect fiancé: Nicholas Rose holds doors open for her, remembers her restaurant orders, and comes from the kind of upstanding society family any bride would love to be a part of. They never fight. They're preparing for their lavish wedding that's three months away. And she is miserably and utterly sick of him.

Naomi wants out, but there's a catch: whoever ends the engagement will have to foot the nonrefundable wedding bill. When Naomi discovers that Nicholas, too, has been feigning contentment, the two of them go head-to-head in a battle of pranks, sabotage, and all-out emotional warfare.

But with the countdown looming to the wedding that may or may not come to pass, Naomi finds her resolve slipping. Because now that they have nothing to lose, they're finally being themselves--and having fun with the last person they expect: each other.


Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review


You Deserve Each Other takes a different look at a relationship in tatters. Sometime since Nicholas and Naomi's engagement there occurred a massive breakdown between them that's kept them in a near-constant passive-aggressive mode with each other for the past months. On the surface the rift seems irreparable and all they do is sabotage things hoping that one of them will cave and call off the wedding. No one wants to be the first to accept defeat, especially when walking away means having to pay off all the cost of the wedding so far. 

What could've caused things to get this bad? We gain that insight as the history of relationship is told backwards.  Nicholas' mother is a big antagonist here as the overbearing, manipulative, control freak who wants to monopolize her son's time. She always manages subtle jabs at Naomi for not being good enough for her him and Naomi has never felt her fiancé defend her in these situations. Nicholas just continues to be a mama's boy. Then there's also their differing views on success and ambition. He is doing well at a dental practice and she's happy working at a souvenir shop. The thing is, Naomi has never felt that urge to pursue a career that requires a degree or for her to be behind a desk. So right now it just feels like all they do is needle each other or one up the other. The story is told from Naomi's perspective and with a good chunk of it from her head space, I was eager to know what was running through Nicholas' mind. I did eventually get that once their usual snark and insults started dissipating and was replaced by actual dialog.

I'll be honest, after reading the first chapter I was worried the hostile tone would be pervasive throughout the story. That was followed by Naomi scheming ways to get back at Nicholas, some of those schemes involving the most ridiculous of outcomes. All I kept thinking was how it could get that bad. There seemed to be no love lost between them and then I wondered what the point was. Hang in there, though because Nicholas does something so unlike him (that's one of the things Naomi hates about him: his predictability) that it seems to shift things between them. Relearning things about each other and actually vocalizing their thoughts (who would've thunk it, right?) begin to make all the difference in the world. 

This is essentially a smartly written, slow burn (and there is some burning involved), lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers romance, and I appreciated the author not using sex to magically fix everything. Rather that comes in much later when they're finally reconnecting emotionally but it's a scary step for both of them. The enmity that's a huge part for most of the book might initially be off-putting because when we first meet Naomi and Nicholas they're at their worst which makes them simply not likable - fact - and that can make it difficult to push through. What helped me was the snark and sarcasm because I'm a fan of that. I don't necessarily think this is a "fun" read but it does lighten up and there is reconciliation which is what makes it worth the read. You Deserve Each Other is a about rekindling a relationship and romancing in reverse. I was happy with the outcome and thought it suited the Naomi and Nicholas perfectly.

~ Bel


Friday, March 27, 2020

The Quiet Girl ARC Giveaway








Series: n/a; standalone    I    Genre: Psychological Thriller    I    Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication Date: August 11, 2020


Good girls keep quiet. Quiet girls won't stay silent forever.

When Alex arrives in Provincetown to patch things up with his new wife, he finds an empty wine glass in the sink, her wedding ring on the desk, and a string of questions in her wake. The police believe that Alex's wife simply left, his marriage crumbling before it truly began. But what Alex finds in their empty cottage points him toward a different reality:

His wife has always carried a secret. And now she's disappeared.

In his hunt for the truth, Alex comes across Layla, a young woman with information to share, who may hold the key to everything his wife has kept hidden. A girl without a clear recollection of her own past. A strange, quiet girl whose memories may break them all.
To find his wife, Alex must face what Layla has forgotten. And the consequences are anything but quiet.


Preorder Your Copy Today!


Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo  |  iBooks



Add It To Your Bookshelf!

Goodreads  |  BookBub



Advanced Paperback Copy Giveaway

To celebrate the cover reveal of THE QUIET GIRL by S.F. Kosa, we're giving away four advanced reader copies (ARCs) of the book!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Four winners will each receive an Advanced Reader Copy of The Quiet Girl by S.F. Kosa. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of S.F. Kosa (Sarah Fine). Giveaway ends 4/30/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!


About Sarah Fine


SARAH FINE is the author of several books for teens, including Of Metal and Wishes (McElderry/Simon & Schuster) and its sequel, Of Dreams and Rust, the bestselling Guards of the Shadowlands YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing), and The Impostor Queen (McElderry, January 2016).
She is also the co-author (with Walter Jury) of two YA sci-fi thrillers published by Putnam/Penguin: Scan and its sequel Burn. Her bestselling adult urban fantasy romance series, Servants of Fate, includes Marked, Claimed, and Fated, and was published by 47North in 2015, and her second adult UF series —Reliquary (and its sequels Splinter and Mosaic) was published 2016. When she’s not writing, she’s psychologizing. Sometimes she does both at the same time. The results are unpredictable.
Sarah Fine writes psychological thrillers under the name S.F. Kosa.

Newsletter  |  Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Instagram  






 





Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Grown Up Pose Blog Tour

* * * *

A delightfully modern look at what happens for a young woman when tradition, dating, and independence collide, from acclaimed author Sonya Lalli.

Adulting shouldn’t be this hard. Especially in your thirties. Having been pressured by her tight-knit community to get married at a young age to her first serious boyfriend, Anu Desai is now on her own again and feels like she is starting from the beginning.

But Anu doesn’t have time to start over. Telling her parents that she was separating from her husband was the hardest thing she’s ever done—and she’s still dealing with the fallout. She has her young daughter to support and when she invests all of her savings into running her own yoga studio, the feelings of irresponsibility send Anu reeling. She’ll be forced to look inside herself to learn what she truly wants.



Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review


Anu questioning her life and what has become of it is nothing out of the ordinary. I think many of us do that at some point when we finally have a moment to look around and take stock of things. For Anu it was realizing that everything she had built thus far was because it was expected of her, simply doing things to make her parents happy. She felt stifled in her marriage and got to a point where she didn't know who she was. Separating from her husband and making space for herself was the first step in whatever journey she was about to embark on. Except now months later she's still drifting because she hasn't yet found the answers.

A chance meeting outside of a yoga studio initiates a change. Making a new friend and then stumbling upon the opportunity to run her own yoga studio might come from left field but it also makes some sense as she's always loved yoga and this could be a way for her to create something of her own. She makes an impulsive decision which immediately sets her anxiety loose. Being that she's still kind of a mess emotionally, it takes a few starts and stops before she finds her footing.

I think Sonya Lalli has a knack for writing characters who are at difficult crossroads in their lives. Grown-Up Pose has echoes of her first novel, The Matchmaker's List. In both cases, she’s not afraid for her protagonists to be flawed, flounder or fail because after much soul-searching they’ll eventually pick themselves up. Grown-Up Pose spoke to me on so many levels and I enjoyed going along on Anu’s journey. Anu got so lost in the routines and going through the motions that she lost sight of the good things she had. She needed to sort of lose all that before she could fully appreciate the choices she'd made. 

Grown-Up Pose is a very grown up book about the difficulty of adulting and responsibility. It's not all dower, though because it's also about making space to create good things in your life. We're always growing and evolving, and as Anu discovers for herself, having the right people beside you make all the difference in the world.

~ Bel


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Rich Boy Blog Tour

The Rich Boy - BT banner.jpg

Rich Boy was witty, exciting and had the most intense slow burn romance I’ve read in a long time. ” —Audrey Carlan, #1 New York Times bestselling author

The Rich Boy, an all-new “do not miss” swoon-worthy standalone with off-the-charts chemistry from New York Times bestselling author Kylie Scott, is available now!

TheRichBoy EBOOK.jpg

I’m the type of girl who’s given up on fairy tales. So when Beck – the hot new busboy at work – starts flirting with me, I know better than to get my hopes up. Happily ever afters aren’t for the average. I learned that the hard way.
But how can I be expected to resist a man who can quote Austen, loves making me laugh, and seems to be everything hot and good in this world?
Only there’s so much more to him than that.
Billionaire playboy? Check. Troubled soul? Check. The owner of my heart, the man I’ve moved halfway across the country to be with, who’s laying the world at my feet in order to convince me to never leave? Check. Check. Check.
But nobody does complicated like the one percent.
This is not your everyday rags-to-riches, knight-in-shining armor whisking the poor girl off her feet kind of story. No, this is much messier.




Download your copy today!

Amazon    I   AppleBooks    I   Amazon Worldwide  

 Nook    I    Kobo    I    Google Play

Add to Goodreads 


Excerpt

“You haven’t told me your story,” he says once we’re seated in a booth and have ordered.
 “I finished my degree and realized it was basically good for nothing and there were next to no jobs available anyway. Or at least nothing that appealed. Teachers and librarians are fighting for every scrap of funding they can get while newspapers are folding. The publishing industry is going through serious cutbacks. Majoring in English Lit may have been a mistake.” I shrug. Truth is, I got stuck for various reasons. But this explanation is easier to swallow. “Figured if I was going to wind up serving then I’d like to do it somewhere I can walk along the beach now and then, without getting stuck in traffic for hours.” 
He nods. “Makes sense.” 
“I thought so. I’ll figure out what I want to do with my life eventually.” 
“No rush. Good that you can take the time and space to figure things out for yourself without anyone pressuring you.” 
“Just the student loans hanging over my head,” I say. 
His answering smile is brief and small. “Grow up around here?” 
“Close enough, San Bernardino,” I say. “What about you?” 
“No, I’m half a country away from home and intend to keep it that way. Though maybe half a country away is still too close. I hear Iceland’s nice this time of year.” 
I raise my brows in question. 
“Family.” He shrugs. “What can you do?” 
The waitress delivers our food, filling up the table with Beck’s order of half of the breakfast menu. Without hesitation, he proceeds to devour it all. If I ate that much, my ass wouldn’t fit in the seat. 
“Want some?” He offers me a forkful of pancake, dripping with syrup. “It’s good.” 
“I’m fine with my burger. Thanks.” And I’m curious as heck about his family, but pressing him further wouldn’t be polite. Dammit. 
“So what are my future wife’s favorite hobbies and or interests?” 
“Hmm.” I stick a fry in my mouth and chew, thinking it over. “Reading, films, music…the usual. You?” 
“Lots of things.” 
“Such as?” 
“I don’t know…hiking, rock climbing. Stuff like that.” 
“So basically I like to sit still and you’re all about being busy and athletic. We have nothing in common.” 
“No. Wait. I can change,” he jokes. “Give me another chance.” 
“You shouldn’t have to change.” I swirl another fry in some ketchup. “I’m sure you’re perfectly fine just as you are.”
About Kylie

Author-Kylie-Scott.jpg


Kylie is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. She was voted Australian Romance Writer of the year, 2013, 2014 & 2018, by the Australian Romance Writer’s Association and her books have been translated into eleven different languages. She is a long time fan of romance, rock music, and B-grade horror films. Based in Queensland, Australia with her two children and husband, she reads, writes and never dithers around on the internet.

Connect with Kylie

Amazon   I   Bookbub   I   Facebook   I   Twitter   I   Instagram 

Goodreads   I   Pinterest   I   Book+Main Bites 




Stay up to date with Kylie by joining her mailing list

Review

* * * *

This is very much an offbeat fairytale featuring a slow burn romance and a family that would fit perfectly amongst E! Entertainment’s long list of über rich types reality shows. I was a bit lost at the beginning because I felt like I was dropped into the story a few chapters in and missed the important bit where Alice and Beck first met and instantly hit it off. They just simply get on while he's working as a busboy and she's a waitress. He quotes Austen to her which is a surefire way to win her over as she was an English Lit major. He calls her "wife", they hang out after work but everything is very much above board. He doesn't try to squirm his way into her pants or make any other move though it's clear they're both into each other. He's living a bare bones lifestyle and is evasive about his personal life only saying that he needed some time to himself. Then someone in a snazzy suit shows up to tell him he’s needed at home and off he goes. He leaves an open invitation for Alice to follow him back to Colorado and .... she takes him up on it! Mind you, they've only known each other for a matter of a few days. Not weeks or months. Days. She throws all caution out the window to join him and the moment she boards a private jet she is literally dropped into another world.

The best way to approach The Rich Boy is to suspend all disbelief and not impose your own opinions as to how you think Alice should react or behave and just go with it. There were plenty of times when my mind went, “but...but...but...” and I had to shut it up and lose the judgment. The entire situation is bizarre and surreal, and it's crazy how easily Alice adapts to certain situations or even how unquestioningly some of his family accept her into the fold. There's a whole lot of eccentricity and privilege thrown around that'll make your eyes bulge out of their sockets but somehow it works. That's because Beck does mean well and Alice tries to hold onto the sassy person that she is, and they're surrounded by some quirky and spirited characters as well, so they're not entirely in their own bubble.

I am forever a Kylie Scott fangirl because of her humour. The Stage Dive and Dive Bar series are great examples of that. With The Rich Boy she embarks on a different approach, going for the more outlandish and something that really is far removed from most of our realities. Her humour is still there, the witty banter and smart heroines are still intact. This is different. It has a soap opera-reality show vibe, and as I said, suspend disbelief and enjoy the nuttiness. 

~ Bel

* Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review


Thursday, March 5, 2020

Get A Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters #1) by Talia Hibbert

* * * * *

Talia Hibbert, one of contemporary romance’s brightest new stars, delivers a witty, hilarious romantic comedy about a woman who’s tired of being “boring” and recruits her mysterious, sexy neighbor to help her experience new things—perfect for fans of Sally Thorne, Jasmine Guillory, and Helen Hoang.

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamourous family’s mansion. The next items?

Enjoy a drunken night out.
Ride a motorcycle.
Go camping.
Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
And... do something bad.
But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…
 


Source: library borrow from Hoopla Audio


This is only my first Talia Hibbert novel and I am absolutely blown away by what a fantastic storyteller she is! The title and the cover give you the idea that it'll be a fun, whimsical rom-com and to a certain extent it is. However, it also busts any myths about living with chronic illness. Hibbert doesn't extract pity from the reader but rather informs and educates through this marvelous story of a woman determined to not be afraid anymore, and who wants to conquer the world by ticking off one thing after another on her list. 

Chloe was an instant hit with me what with her funny, smart and sarcastic personality. She's just so bright and resolute despite how often her fibromyalgia kicks her down. Moving out from under her family's ever-watchful eye is what she needed to do for herself to starting living and experiencing things again. Red, the superintendent of her building notices her and assumes she's stuck up upon their first meeting. He's had enough experience with those types and doesn't want to have anything to do with that. Except that Chloe is like a magnet. He can't resist her. Underneath her barbed responses and quick run-ins, Chloe can't stop thinking about him, either. An awkward encounter involving a tree and a cat bring them together, and I honestly have never laughed so much listening to a book. 

Both Chloe and Red have been hurt by their exes and people they were close to. This is where Hibbert had me - she details so intimately how Chloe's illness has affected her friendships and how not everyone is patient when she goes through her rough spells. I didn't know much about fibromyalgia but reading how it affected Chloe was eye-opening. When there's flare up she's pretty much out of commission. A lot of time is spent managing the pain before she can start feeling herself again and pop back to life. These are the moments when Chloe is most vulnerable and simply tired. And for Red to start noticing the little details is truly sweet. I get Chloe being skeptical because why let anyone get close if they're just going to walk away when things are bad? But Red makes it clear he wont abandon her even if she does try to push back. 

There's so much amusement in this story because Hibbert refuses to let her heroine be a victim. Not only is Chloe a warrior but she's thriving because she's found a way to live her life and make adjustments for when she absolutely needs to. A reviewer friend, who's never led me astray with books recs, even told me that she felt like Hibbert had described her life. I take that as not only an incredible compliment to the author but also a grateful hat tip for bringing an invisible and misunderstood disease to the forefront. Hibbert knows what she's talking about and brought her research, sensitivity and compassion to Chloe's story.

Aside from Chloe and Red, there are also other characters such as Chloe's sisters and a strange cat owner who bring even more laughs and colour with their presence. If you can, I highly recommend the audiobook because the narrator does a smashing job of bringing them all to life. I especially love the contrast she does between Chloe's sometimes high-pitched silliness and Red's low grunts and quiet demeanour. Their interactions made me laugh so much to the point that I had to clutch my sides from laughing so much! 

I loved Get A Life, Chloe Brown and I want nothing more than to read the next book, Take A Hint, Dani Brown, right now. So, yay! More of the Brown sisters to come because they are a crazy, lively bunch and I love them!

~ Bel


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Henna Artist Blog Tour




We are pleased to participate in THE HENNA ARTIST Blog Tour. THE HENNA ARTIST is a new historical fiction novel from debut author, Alka Joshi.


✤✤ BOOK SUMMARY ✤✤ 

After fleeing an arranged marriage as a fifteen year old to an abusive older man, Lakshmi Shastri steals away alone from her rural village to Jaipur. Here, against odds, she carves out a living for herself as a henna artist, and friend and confidante to wealthy, upper caste women. Surviving by her wits and talents, she shares her knowledge and keeps their secrets in a delicate balancing act amid the changing 1950s social mores brought about by Indian Independence. Vulnerable to opinion and innuedo, at any point her intentions might be misunderstood, and she could fall prey to a damaged reputation or worse. Still Lakshmi manages to save to build a house with the dream of bringing her aging parents here to live with her and redeem herself in their eyes. Then one day her ex-husband arrives in town seeking her out with a girl in tow, a sister she did not know she had. Her sister is both passionate and reckless by nature, and all of a sudden the caution that Lakshmi has carefully cultivated is threatened, along with her livelihood. But she preseveres, and in doing so manages to lift up the others around her with her success.


Lakshmi's tenacity and spirit see her join the ranks of other brave women of historical fiction, such as Farough Farrokhzad in Jasmin Darznik's Song of a Captive Bird.With gorgeous prose and urgent themes, the novel will captivate readers of Shobha Rao's Girls Burn Brighter, and those who seek a narrative both compelling and necessary.


✤✤ BUY LINKS ✤✤


Target I Walmart I Google I iBooks I Kobo


✤✤ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ✤✤



Alka Joshi is a graduate of Stanford University and received her M.F.A. from the California College of the Arts. She has worked as an advertising copywriter, a marketing consultant, and an illustrator. Alka was born in India, in the state of Rajasthan. Her family came to the United States when she was nine, and she now lives on California's Monterey Peninsula with her husband and two misbehaving pups. The Henna Artist is her first novel. Visit her website and blog at thehennaartist.com

✤✤ CONNECT WITH ALKA JOSHI ✤✤



✤✤ REVIEW ✤✤


* * * * *

Set in Jaipur shortly after India's independence from the British, we see a country at a pivotal crossroad. It's a country that's rebuilding itself with renewed pride in its deep cultural history as it faces encroaching influences from Western culture through cinema and even from rich families who have the luxury of education abroad. It's in this new world that we meet Laskshmi, a talented but unassuming young woman who has modest dreams of building and owning her own home. She's far removed from her previous life as a wife in a poor village where she fled an unhappy marriage, leaving family behind to pursue something she felt she was meant to do. Her travels took her far and she eventually made her way to Jaipur where she earns her living as a henna artist whose talents are much-sought after by the elite women of the city. Lakshmi has quietly worked with these ladies over the years, listening and observing, learning much about them and their families. The delicate network of families is as intricate and elaborate as the impressive henna designs that have garnered Lakshmi such wide esteem. While she has earned a decent living so far, she yearns for more stability and perhaps some clout within the community. Lakshmi hopes to attain that by helping to arrange a marriage between two influential families. She has to work astutely because reputation and propriety are of utmost importance. As soon as she has laid the invaluable groundwork, her own personal life threatens to jeopardize her dreams. Out of nowhere, her husband appears bringing along a younger teenaged sister she did not know existed. Their presence throws things into tumult now because Lakshmi has to appease a scorned husband who seeks money from her, and a sister who has nothing left in the world but her.

I was drawn into this beautifully and succinctly detailed world from the very first page. The descriptions of Jaipur during the '50s seemed almost otherworldly to me, far removed from what little I know of Indian history. Looking up pictures of the Pink City, my eyes just consumed all the beauty and majesty of the architecture. Having these pictures in my mind, I could easily see Lakshmi maneuvering her way around the city. There's a quiet certainty about her that I found was comforting and impressive. The independence she forged for herself and life she created are vastly different from any assumptions one may  about women living in India at that time. There's so much that Joshi nicely fits in about this period regarding society from the caste system to the power players. I think The Henna Artist's strongest appeal is the women. The privileged clientele Lakshmi encounters have interesting backgrounds and they've cleverly shaped their lives to suit them within the confines of society and marriage. There's Pavarti, an influential socialite amongst the women whose favour Lakshmi seeks and relies on. Kanta, a close friend to Lakshmi, is a young well-to-do wife and espouses a lot of the western culture infiltrating India. The majarani runs a prestigious school for girls that offers unbelievable opportunities that most young Indian girls could only dream of. 
There's a clear distinction between the haves and have nots and how the rules apply differently as witnessed when Lakshmi interacts with women who are poorer, doing her best for them. These are only a few of the women throughout the book who seek out Lakshmi not only for her talents but also discretion in extremely personal matters. Her covert expertise in traditional medicine and healing is highly valued though whispered about in circles.

The Henna Artist is a sublime and stunning historical fiction debut that not only captivates you but also moves you. I often say that as I've grown older, I've become more open-minded about how women choose their own path in life. I used to have a one-size-fits-all mentality but reading The Henna Artist has re-enforced the beauty of women finding their own way, taking as many turns as they need to get to where they eventually need to be, where they find their purpose. Nothing encapsulates that more to me than this beautiful, poetic line:



The Henna Artist is one of my favourite novels to come out this year. Fall in love with this must-read treasure!

~ Bel

* I received an advance e-galley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



✤✤ EXCERPT ✤✤

Prologue

September 1955

Ajar, State of Uttar Pradesh, India

Her feet step lightly on the hard earth, calloused soles insensible to the tiny pebbles and caked mud along the riverbank. On her head she balances a mutki, the same earthenware jug she uses to carry water from the well every day. Today, instead of water, the girl is carrying everything she owns: a second petticoat and blouse, her mother’s wedding sari, The Tales of Krishna her father used to read to her—the pages fabric-soft from years of handling—and the letter that arrived from Jaipur earlier this morning.
When she hears the voices of the village women in the distance, the girl hesitates. The gossip-eaters are chatting, telling stories, laughing, as they wash saris, vests, petticoats and dhotis. But when they spot her, she knows they will stop to stare or spit at the ground, imploring God to protect them from the Bad Luck Girl. She reminds herself of the letter, safe inside the mutki, and thinks: Let them. It will be the last time.
Yesterday, the women were haranguing the Headman: why is the Bad Luck Girl still living in the schoolteacher’s hut when we need it for the new schoolmaster? Afraid to make a sound for fear they would come inside and pull her out by her hair, the girl had remained perfectly still within the four mud walls. There was no one to protect her now. Last week, her mother’s body had been burned along with the bones of other dead animals, the funeral pyre of the poor. Her father, the former schoolteacher, had abandoned them six months ago, and, shortly after, he drowned in a shallow pool of water along the riverbank, so drunk he likely hadn’t felt the sting of death.
Every day for the past week, the girl had lay in wait on the outskirts of the village for the postman, who cycled in sporadically from the neighboring village. This morning, as soon as she spotted him, she darted out from her hiding place, startling him, and asked if there were any letters for her family. He had frowned and bit his cheek, his rheumy eyes considering her through his thick glasses. She could tell he felt sorry for her, but he was also peeved—she was asking for something only the Headman should receive. But she held his gaze without blinking. When he finally handed over the thick onionskin envelope addressed to her parents, he did so hastily, avoiding her eyes and pedaling away as quickly as he could.
Now, standing tall, her shoulders back, she strolls past the women at the riverbank. They glare at her. She can feel her heart flutter wildly in her breast, but she passes, straight as sugar cane, mutki on her head, as if she is going to the farmers well, two miles farther from the village, the only well she is allowed to use.
The gossip-eaters no longer whisper but shout to one another: There goes the Bad Luck Girl! The year she was born, locusts ate the wheat! Her older sister deserted her husband, never to be seen again! Shameless! That same year her mother went blind! And her father turned to drink! Disgraceful! Even the girl’s coloring is suspect. Only Angreji-walli have blue eyes. Does she even belong to us? To this village?
The girl has often wondered about this older sister they talk about. The one whose face she sees only as a shadow in her dreams, whose existence her parents have never acknowledged. The gossip-eaters say she left the village thirteen years ago. Why? Where did she go? How did she escape a place where the gossip-eaters watch your every move? Did she leave in the dead of night when the cows and goats were asleep? They say she stole money, but no one in the village has any money. How did she feed herself? Some say she dressed as a man so she wouldn’t be stopped on the road. Others say she ran off with a circus boy and was living as a nautch girl, dancing in the Pleasure District miles away in Agra.
Three days ago, old man Munchi with the game leg—her only friend in the village—warned her that if she didn’t vacate her hut, the Headman would insist she marry a widowed farmer or demand she leave the village.
There is nothing here for you now,” Munchiji had said. But how could she leave—a thirteen-year-old orphan girl with no family or money?
Munchiji said, “Have courage, bheti.” He told her where to find her brother-in-law, the husband her older sister had abandoned all those years ago, in a nearby  village. Perhaps he could help her find her sister.
Why can’t I stay with you?” she had asked.
 “It would not be proper,” the old man replied gently. He made his living painting images on the skeletons of peepal leaves. To console her, he’d given her a painting. Angry, she’d almost thrown it back at him until she saw that the image was of Lord Krishna, feeding a mango to his consort Radha, her namesake. It was the most beautiful gift she had ever received.
Radha slows as she approaches the village threshing ground. Four yoked bulls walk in circles around a large flat stone, grinding wheat. Prem, who cares for the bulls, is sitting with his back against the hut, asleep. Quietly, she hurries past him to the narrow path that leads to Ganesh-ji’s temple. The shrine has a slender opening and, inside, a statue of Lord Ganesh. Gifts are arranged around the Elephant God’s feet: a young coconut, marigolds, a small pot of ghee, slices of mango. A cone of sandalwood incense releases a languid curl of smoke.
The girl lays Munchiji’s painting of Krishna in front of Ganesh-ji, the Remover of All Obstacles, and begs him to remove the curse of The Bad Luck Girl.
By the time she reaches her brother-in-law’s village ten miles to the West, it is late afternoon and the sun has moved closer to the horizon. She is sweating through her cotton blouse. Her feet and ankles are dusty; her mouth dry.
She is cautious, entering the village. She crouches in shrubs and hides behind trees. She knows an alone girl will not be treated kindly. She searches for a man who looks like the one Munchiji described.
She sees him. There. Squatting under the banyan tree, facing her. Her brother-in-law.
He has thick, oily, coal-black hair. A long, bumpy scar snakes from his bottom lip to his chin. He is not young but neither is he old. His bush-shirt is spotted with curry and his dhoti is stained with dust.
Then she notices the woman squatting in the dirt in front of the man. She is supporting her elbow with one hand, her forearm dangling at an unnatural angle. Her head is completely covered with her pallu, and she is talking to the man in a quiet whisper. Radha watches, wondering if her brother-in-law has taken another wife.
She picks up a small stone and throws it at him. She misses. The second time, she hits him in the thigh, but he merely flicks his hand, as if swatting away an insect. He is listening intently to the woman. Radha throws more pebbles, managing to hit him several times. At last, he lifts his head and looks around him.
Radha steps into the clearing so he can see her.
His eyes widen, as if he is looking at a ghost. He says, “Lakshmi?”

Excerpted from The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi, Copyright © 2020 by Alka Joshi. Published by MIRA Books.