Find Wonder in All Things, by Karen M. Cox – A Review

Find Wonder in All Things, by Karen M. Cox (2012)From the desk of Christina Boyd.

Jane Austen’s most serious and compelling work, Persuasion, is all about retribution, forgiveness and second chances.  Her masterpiece begins seven years after the broken engagement between the young heiress, Anne Elliot, and a junior naval officer, Frederick Wentworth—when he is thrown back into her sphere and both must face the pain from their past.  Karen M. Cox’s award winning novel, Find Wonder In All Things is a modern day homage to this Austen classic.  The tale begins with a lakeside friendship in the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky between Laurel Elliott and James Marshall.  As the two grow, childhood friendship turns to summer romance and halfway through Laurel’s first semester at the local college, James decides to move to Nashville to pursue his music dream.  He assumes she will drop everything to join him.  But at just eighteen and with a generous art scholarship, weighted by family expectations as well, who would fault her for refusing him and staying on the college track?

Eight years later, James, now rich and famous, returns to the lake to visit his sister, while Laurel has turned into a reclusive, starving artist.  Ok, not quite starving but by no means a financial success story.  And most definitely alone.  “Unbidden, he came to mind:  handsome, dashing and determined.  The eight years of separation had softened any flaws she ever saw in him, and now he was almost larger than life to her.  He had been right to believe in himself and in his ability to make his mark on the world.  He had made it, too – perhaps not in the way he intended but still successful beyond his wildest dreams.” p.115.  Captain Wentworth, I mean, James is determined to play it cool and aloof towards Anne.  I mean Laurel!  And Laurel’s regrets are freshly re-visited as she is keenly aware of her depraved status and jealously towards the younger woman James now bestows his attentions.  But Laurel’s generous, self-assured spirit unearths old feelings he thought long buried and a companionable friendship blossoms.  When a water skiing accident throws the two together, emotions come to the surface.  “And he had whispered her name and called her beautiful and sweet.  She could hear the words, and then ‘want…want…’  It had made her roar to life inside her lower belly.  Yes, she thought, I want too.’ But then he left.” p 177.  Maybe too much time and hurt had passed between them…

If you are looking for the cookie cutter formula of a Persuasion adaptation, this may not be it.  For example, you might be surprised that Austen’s pretentious, preening Sir Walter Elliot has been transformed into a struggling but kind hearted marina owner.  And Anne Elliot’s selfish, self-absorbed elder sister Elizabeth has morphed into an affectionate, married, and doting mother named Virginia.  Although many of Austen’s key characters have also been re-named and undergone a modern makeover, they remain comfortably familiar to the Austen fan.  I admit, some of my appreciation was in recognizing the subtle parallels. (Please note that although the prologue opens with Laurel and James as children, their tender love scenes later in years most assuredly rates this an adult read.) However, one need not have read Persuasion beforehand to enjoy this novel.  Find Wonder In All Things stands on its own and no wonder at all, why it was awarded the GOLD MEDAL in the Romance category at the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards.  Congratulations, Karen Cox on another lovely read!

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Find Wonder in All Things, by Karen M. Cox
Meryton Press (2012)
Trade paperback (254) pages
ISBN: 9781936009176

© 2012 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Hidden Paradise, by Janet Mullany – A Review

Hidden Paradise, by Janet Mullany (2012)From the desk of Christina Boyd.

Austenesque and romance writer Janet Mullany dives headfirst into erotica genre in her latest release, Hidden Paradise.

Warning:  Dear readers, please avert your eyes if your genteel sensibilities are offended by a romance novel that might be classified in the same arena as Fifty Shades of Gray.

Disturbingly, the book opens in the throes of a ribald sex scene – without even a “how do you do” – only to be awoken by a phone call from a friend in England! Thusly, we are finally introduced to the recently widowed Louisa Connelly, Jane Austen expert, who is to be the honored guest at Paradise Hall, an English resort and spa, catering to the Austen enthusiast.  Hmmmmmm? Sound vaguely reminiscent of Shannon Hale’s bestseller, Austenland?  However, dressing up in authentic Regency-style clothing and experiencing everything Austen in a real Georgian country manor – similarities end there.  For one, Paradise Hall is no secret, exclusive get-away as the proprietors are most assuredly determined in getting the word out to potential guests… Enter Mac Salazar, handsome, lusty journalist whose middle name just happens to be Darcy!

Although, it has only been a few months into her mourning, Lou escapes her Montana ranch, and accepts to give a trial run of the place and give her Jane Austen stamp of “authenticity” for her friends and proprietors, Peter and Chris. Moreover, she hopes to encounter her late husband’s shade in the very place they had once planned to visit together.  But almost within the first few hours of being on the property, she realizes that this experience might be a bit more eye opening than she first expected when she secrets upon a couple coitus a la vache.  And she stays to watch! Later when she is formally introduced, it doesn’t take Einstein to surmise Mac Darcy Salazar is the resident lothario, noting that his historically accurate britches betray his virile reflex constitutionally inclined to passion.  “‘It’s an interesting concept, time travel with no chance of getting stuck in the past, or treading on a bug and changing the course of history.’  ‘It’s a very sexy period.’  She was halfway down another glass now and the room was beginning to take on a subtle, mellow glow that was half sunset, half alcohol. ‘Mainly because in popular culture, of course.  People say there’s no sex in Austen.  They’re wrong.  Her books are full of sex, but it’s all subsex.  Subtext.’ ‘That’s the champagne talking.’” p. 40.   Lou, willing Paradise Hall as all fantasy and nothing more, is determined what better place to satiate her own pangs of lust. And loneliness. It just so happens that Mac happens to be charming.  Smart.  And unbeknownst to the world around him, in search of something more substantial than romp after romp. Continue reading “Hidden Paradise, by Janet Mullany – A Review”

Henry Tilney’s Diary: A Novel, by Amanda Grange – A Review

Henry Tilney's Diary, by Amanda Grange (2011)Guest review by Christina Boyd

Albeit Jane Austen first sold Northanger Abbey to a publisher in 1803 (at first entitled Susan), it did not appear in print until 1817 when it was published after her death as a four volume set with her final novel Persuasion. In Northanger Abbey, Miss Morland is a daughter of a well-to-do clergyman, unabashed Gothic novel reader, and heroine-in-the-making, “Something must happen and will happen to throw a hero in her way.” Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1. Upon leaving her family home in the quiet village of Fullerton for the excitement of the resort town of Bath, the good-hearted and suggestible Miss Morland is entangled in a plait of plausible falsehoods fabricated by more sophisticated people she encounters. Invited to Northanger Abbey, the country home of the Tilney family, Catherine lets her Gothic-infused imagination run wild during her visit there. She suspects something sinister — true, but as in all Austen’s major works, money is the real labyrinth. Cloaked in a black veil of parody, Jane Austen subtly mocks the Gothic novel with actual dangers, fears, anxieties and misfortunes that torment Catherine Morland, making it relevant to the age in which she lived.

Author Amanda Grange’s latest offering Henry Tilney’s Diary, mirrors Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, but from the male protagonist’s point of view. When the young clergyman Henry Tilney is to be the hero, as in so many of the Gothic novels that he so fond of reading, the perverseness of his upbringing in a medieval home with a choleric, militaristic father, an aggrieved, sickly mother, his burlesque lothario of an older brother and a kindly, pretty sister cannot prevent him. Grange has scripted a rich back-story, starting with Henry’s first entries in his diary at approximately age 15.  We are privy to his most private thoughts regarding his parents, his mother’s illness, his sister Eleanor and her secret amour, and of course, how his rake of a brother Frederick came to be.  I found Henry so unlike other Austen heroes. He takes nothing seriously unless required, yet, is so self-assured that he has ready opinions on everything from marriage, politics and even fine muslin!

As in Grange’s previous books in the Austen diaries series, the entries are dated which is helpful in keeping the timeline in focus. She masterfully writes our hero’s thoughts and recollections with a strong, clear voice, seasoned with his wit, charm and satirical eye as Tilney attempts to influence others to rationality, even while on his search to find his own heroine. “‘Papa says I am the cleverest girl he has ever met. Captain Dunston remarked upon it as well.  But I think he is a very stupid fellow.’ ‘He must be,’ I said; a remark which she did not understand, but which made her smile, for she liked to think of my sharing her opinion of the captain.’” p. 97.  Fortunately, this Miss Smith did not suit.

Negotiating through a world that is oftentimes mendacious, and a society that is characterized by guile and polite fabrication, when Henry does meet Miss Catherine Morland, a pretty, young lady of meager fortune, he can’t help but be enchanted by her fresh charm and glorious honesty. And to discover her love of reading, it would seem he had found his match! Amused by her description of the south of France, “I could not help smiling when she went on, ‘It always puts me in the mind of the country that Emily and her father traveled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho.’  Eleanor and I looked at each other, delighted to have found another fellow admirer of Udolpho. Your heroine?  Eleanor mouthed silently to me.  I smiled, for Miss Morland certainly had all the hallmarks of a heroine.” p.115.

When General Tilney, who has pre-determined his children will make wealthy marital conquests, takes an unlikely interest in Catherine, even inviting her to visit their home, Henry is pleasantly surprised. Later after an indulgent evening of laughter with just the three young people, “‘This is how it will be when we are married,’ I said to Eleanor, when Catherine had retired for the night. ‘I am sorry for it, but there it is.  My wife will not secretly resent you, as you believed when we were children. She will not slowly poison you, or lock you in the attic.’  Eleanor gave a sigh. ‘We must all bear our disappointments in life, dear brother, and it seems that having a good and charming sister, who loves me as much as I love her, is destined to be one of mine.’” p. 191. While Henry admits to himself his affection for Catherine, he also discovers her suggestible imagination has led her to suspect that his mother was incarcerated and murdered by his father…  “Oh! I would not tell you” the rest “for the world!  Are you not wild to know?” Northanger Abbey, Chapter VI.

Amanda Grange continues to build a dedicated fan base with her warm, witty and informative diaries of Jane Austen’s male heroes (and even a villain) since her first Mr. Darcy’s Diary in 2007 to Mr. Wickham’s Dairy last April. I was too anxious to wait for the US release in December 2011 for Henry Tilney’s Diary so I impatiently paid a small fortune last May for the shipping and hardback copy published through Robert Hale in the UK. I recall that from the time UPS delivered the book until I finished it sometime in the wee hours of the morn, I was thoroughly engaged. I believe my money and my time, well spent; surely one of her best diaries to date! Austen fans may declare Mr. Darcy as their favorite, I dare say, Mr. Tilney improves on acquaintance. Even if you are not as familiar with Northanger Abbey as other Austen works, you will still find the tendency of Henry Tilney’s Diary to be altogether recommendable.  A must for your reading list.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Henry Tilney’s Diary: A Novel, by Amanda Grange
Berkley Trade (2011)
Trade paperback (288) pages
ISBN: 978-0425243923

Christina Boyd lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her dear Mr. B, two youngish children and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Bibi.  She studied Fine Art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Salisbury University in Maryland. For the last nine years she has created and sold her own pottery line from her working studio. Albeit she read Jane Austen as a moody teenager, it wasn’t until Joe Wright’s 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice that sparked her interest in all things Austen.  A life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, visiting Jane Austen’s England remains on her bucket list.

© 2007 – 2011 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, by Marsha Altman – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:

A campy, madcap adventure story, Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape is Marsha Altman’s third book, in her Pride and Prejudice Continues series.  The year is 1812, seven years after Elizabeth Bennet and her devoted sister Jane married Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley respectively, and the families are all returning to Longbourn for the wedding of Kitty Bennet, daughter number four. Within the first 100 pages, Elizabeth Darcy finds herself immersed in the intrigues of the Napoleonic War as she races across the continent to the rescue of Mr. Darcy, who has become imprisoned in a medieval cell in Transylvania!  Unbelievable? Quite, but hang on . . . there’s more.

Licentiously diverting is Altman’s treatment of her own original character’s as well as Jane Austen’s canon characters. Altman’s Mr. Darcy was half brother to George Wickham who he apparently killed Continue reading “Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, by Marsha Altman – A Review”

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