I bring you an Austinesque romance by an author I’ve featured a few times (and she’ll be back, no doubt):
Find Wonder In All Things: Persuasion Revisited by Karen M Cox
“There could have never been two hearts so open… Now they were as strangers”
Mountain Laurel Elliot is like her name—she blooms best in the cool comfort of shade, hidden in the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia. Alone on her mountain, she lives a private existence with only her pottery—and her regrets—for company.
James Marshall had a secret dream and Laurel was part of it, but dreams sometimes lead to unexpected places. James’s heart broke when Laurel cut him loose, but he moved on—and became successful beyond his wildest dreams.
For one glorious summer, James and Laurel had each other, but life has kept them far apart.
“a magnificent modernization of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.” -Austenesque Reviews
Winner of the Independent Book Publisher’s Award 2012: Gold Medal in Romance and
Next Generation Indie Finalist in Romance 2013
About the author:
Karen M Cox is an award-winning author of five full-length novels accented with romance and history: “1932”, “Find Wonder in All Things”, “Undeceived”, “I Could Write a Book”, and “Son of a Preacher Man”, as well as a companion novella to “1932” called “The Journey Home”. She has also contributed stories to four anthologies: “Northanger Revisited 2015”, in “Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer”; “I, Darcy”, in “The Darcy Monologues”, “An Honest Man” in “Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes and Gentlemen Rogues”, and “A Nominal Mistress” in “Rational Creatures”.
Karen was born in Everett WA, which was the result of coming into the world as the daughter of a United States Air Force Officer. She had a nomadic childhood, with stints in North Dakota, Tennessee, and New York State before finally settling in her family’s home state of Kentucky at the age of eleven. She lives in a quiet little town with her husband, where she works as a pediatric speech pathologist, encourages her children, and spoils her granddaughter.
Channeling Jane Austen’s Emma, Karen has let a plethora of interests lead her to begin many hobbies and projects she doesn’t quite finish, but she aspires to be a great reader and an excellent walker – like Elizabeth Bennet.
Connect with Karen:
Visit with Karen on several of the usual social media haunts:
If you would like periodic bits of authorly goodness delivered to your inbox, be sure to get Karen’s News and Muse Letter. Updates, sales, book recommendations, etc. are yours for the asking.
I have read several stories and books by Karen M. Cox, both set in and out of the Austen universe, and have enjoyed her beautiful writing, so I did not hesitate when I was offered the opportunity to review the new edition of this novel, which was well-received a few years back. Although this is a retelling of Austen’s Persuasion, I can confirm that it is not necessary to have read that novel to enjoy this one, as I could barely remember the plot of Austen’s original, and it did not detract from my appreciation of the quality of the writing. Fans of Austen will have the added enjoyment of comparing the two, but the rest can be assured that the novel works as a romance in its own right.
I have commented before that this author’s writing has a timeless quality, and even when she sets the action in the present (or very close), there is something that makes one feel nostalgic, and I experienced this very strongly at the beginning of the book, when the male main character, James, recalls his summers at the lake, the time he spent there with his best friend, Stuart, and ends up falling for Laurel, the sister of her friend’s on-and-off girlfriend. The author’s description of the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia made me experience a weird sense of longing, as I’ve never visited but I felt as if I had. It is evident that the author knows and loves the area and can transmit her affection to her readers, who get to understand why Laurel feels so attached to it as well.
The story is narrated from the two main characters’ point of view, and the author clearly separates the two, with the first part (and intermezzo) written from James’s point of view; the second, set several years later, from Laurel’s; and the third alternating both. This allows readers to experience their doubts, frustrations, confusion, and mixed feelings, while at the same having a greater understanding of what lies behind some of their behaviours, words, and actions. If you love stories of the “will they/won’t day” type, you’ll have a field day here because there are many close encounters, lost opportunities, misunderstandings, and numerous occasions when you’ll wish you were there to tell them to just get on with it and talk to each other. But we all know what they say about the course of true love.
The novel is about second opportunities. James and Laurel fall in love when they are quite young, and although he tries to convince her to move in with him when he goes to Nashville to try to make a living in the music business, she’s just started college and decides to follow her family’s advice, carry on with her studies and stay at home. He makes it big —although not exactly how he expected— and seems to have moved on, but he still thinks of her. And it’s mutual. In this retelling of Austen’s story, the characters don’t challenge traditional gender conventions upfront as is common these days, and therefore the book stays closer to the spirit of the original (well, not in all aspects, and the subtlety of the author’s touch is perhaps what most reminded me of Austen). It might be frustrating for those who look for a heroine with a more modern outlook, but, personally, I liked Lauren, understood her plight and her reasoning, and felt her choice of priorities marked her as a very strong woman. James is the one who leaves home and tries to become a success by going wherever the opportunity arises, while Laurel remains close to home, helping her family, and become an artist, living fairly isolated in a mountain cabin, in touch with nature and needing that inspiration to grow into herself. The novel is also about identity, strength, courage, and belonging. We might think we know these qualities and concepts, but they are ultimately very personal and there is no one definition that fits all. The novel also reminds us that we might get to regret the decisions we make, but we’ll never know how things would have been if we’d chosen another path, and we have to live our life now and not get stuck on what may have been.
I enjoyed the setting of the story and the little community of friends and relatives that develops around the two protagonists. I liked the secondary characters, although some of them only appear for a brief period of time, and I was particularly touched by Laurel’s mother and her plight. There is no great emphasis on social mores and the wider world around the main characters (as there would have been in Austen’s novels), and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more on Laurel’s art and James’s music, but this is pretty much a romance focusing on the two characters’ relationship, and very romantic at that, so I’m sure fans of the genre will be more than happy with the story arch. Ah, there are sex scenes (three), which are not extremely graphic, but as somebody who doesn’t care for erotica, I thought I’d better warn you about them. Although it could have been done in other ways, these scenes go some way to challenge the status quo and the way we see the characters, and also exemplify the different phases of the relationship.
I thought I’d share a couple of samples from the novel to give you a taster.
James remembers the summers he spent at the lake with his friend Stuart.
Mrs. Pendleton had said they were eating dinner at the marina restaurant that night, and then there’d be more walking around the dock and maybe some fishing as the sun set. The next day, it would all start again. It seemed as if days on the lake lasted forever and ran one into the other, as the long, lazy days of summer should.
Here Laurel is talking to her sister, Virginia.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
“Yes, I know. You’re always fine. I just wish you could be happy too.”
This is a novel for romance lovers, especially those who enjoy stories about second chances, and also for fans of Austen. It is beautifully written, and it would be a great choice for book clubs interested in romances and Austen. It includes a number of questions at the end that would help get the discussion started as well. I am pleased to say I have another one of the author’s novels waiting to be read, and I hope they’ll keep coming.
I received an ARC copy of this novel. This has not affected my review, which I freely chose to share.
Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click (the book is being published today, so it should be available already), and keep reading and reviewing. And I hope 2020 brings you lots of love and romance!