REVIEW: Once Persuaded, Twice Shy by Melodie Edwards

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When Anne Elliott broke up with Ben Wentworth, it seemed like the right thing to do . . . but now, eight years later, she’s not so sure.

In her scenic hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Anne is comfortable focusing on her successful career: filling her late mother’s shoes as town councilor and executive director of her theater company. She certainly keeps busy as the all-around wrangler of eccentric locals, self-centered family members, elaborate festivals, and the occasional attacking goose. But the more she tries to convince herself that her life is fine as is, the more it all feels like a show—and not nearly as good as the ones put on by her theater company. She’s the always responsible Anne, always taken for granted and cleaning up after other people, and the memories of happier times with Ben Wentworth still haunt her.

So when the nearby Kellynch Winery is bought by Ben’s aunt and uncle, Anne’s world is set ablaze as her old flame crashes back into her life—and it’s clear he hasn’t forgiven her for breaking his heart. A joint project between the winery and Anne’s theater forces both Ben and Anne to confront their complicated history, and as they spend more time together, Anne can’t help but wonder if there might be hope for their future after all.

Dear Ms. Edwards, 

Confession time. I hadn’t really looked at reading this book until the publicist contacted me about it. After reading the blurb – specifically that it “is full of witty banter, romantic angst, and compelling characters as it captures the heart of the classic,”  I decided to take a chance – as sometimes Jane Austen retellings work and sometimes they don’t. I’m happy to say that this definitely worked for me.

So here in Niagara-on-the-Lake Anne Elliott is the director of the local theater company and a town councillor. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer years ago, Anne took on the roles and responsibilities Mrs. Elliot had carried. For the most part, Anne is happy and fulfilled. She’s got the education, experience, and social skills to carry things off but unexpectedly meeting the (beloved) aunt and uncle of the man she broke up with eight years ago is a shock. When the marketing person in the theater comes to Anne with a proposal, one that she’s already been in contact with the Fairchilds about, Anne realizes that she’ll have to stop ducking said aunt and uncle. When they tell her that their (beloved) nephew Ben Wentworth, now part owner of his own investment company, will be handling most of the negotiations for a piece of their winery (which was once the Elliott family home), Anne realizes she’s about to see the man whose heart she broke. Time has changed her a bit but what about Ben?

I want to live in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The town is charming in the best way. It’s managed to maintain its small town feel and quaintness partly due to the (sometimes bickering) town council; the meeting Anne runs is hilarious.

“As I was saying, they will have to go through the same process as anyone else. I don’t have many details yet,” Anne continued quickly, desperately trying to keep control of the room. “Town council will be meeting with the developer soon to learn about the application. I will now take questions . . .”

The room erupted again.

“We should run them out of town!”

“Not a question,” Anne clarified.

“Is it true their CEO is super handsome?”

Relevant questions,” Anne clarified.

“Is the CN Tower still the tallest building in the world?”

“Relevant questions that I can answer,” Anne clarified.

“Not since 2009.”

“Relevant questions that I can . . . what?”

Anne is competent, well liked, but kind of stuck in a rut. She loves the jobs she has but is frustrated with her self absorbed father and older sister. Those two are supposed to be annoying and are written perfectly so. 

Ben Wentworth has made something of himself. Eight years ago, he was the type to drop everything and be spontaneous. This partly scared Anne who is the (mental) list making type. Now Ben has finished his degrees, worked in banking and started his own venture capital business which, as he explains it to someone else, is for people willing to take a risk vs those going for a sure thing. Overhearing this startles and stabs Anne in the heart a little as she wonders if it’s meant as a dig. When they meet again, he’s cool but professional. He also begins to pursue a young actress whose opinion of her Anne overhears. It’s the crap end of a crap day and against the advice of her good friend (the delightful) Vidya, Anne indulges in a breakup haircut (from a boss stylist) and an updated fashion look. 

“Jen,” she called to one of the women standing around. “Prep a chair ASAP, we’re gonna need a cut and color. It’s a breakup.”

As if they were an ER that just got a code red, the women flew into motion with terrifying efficiency. Anne found herself wrapped in a cape and seated in a chair facing a mirror, half a dozen fashion magazines dumped in her lap, while the eyeliner goddess ran her hands through her patient’s hair, familiarizing herself with its texture.

“Now, take a look at those magazines while we do the wash, let me know if you see anything you like. Tell me whether you suffer split ends, humidity frizz, how short you might want to go, if your ex was tall, and how long you were together.”

I have never felt so understood. The woman’s professionalism was soothing. It was like her own when a budget dipped into the red.

Keeping developers from building monstrosities in the name of (their) profit is part of what Anne does and I’m not surprised at how this used to incorporate a character from the original book. The young actress and her attempts to playfully catch Ben updates the Louisa character. 

I like that most but not all of the original “Persuasion” characters are here though some have larger or smaller roles. Anne’s got a backbone and competence and is a very modern woman yet has still allowed herself to be tied down and burdened with seeing to her vain and selfish relatives, and however much she loves it, the whims and demands of the theater and town council. Anne is the problem solver and everyone takes advantage. Ben’s true feelings for Anne after all these years are, of course, mostly hidden. Brava that Anne understands and accepts that Ben is going to be at least a little pissed at her. There are glimpses that allow Anne to daydream that maybe he has forgiven her but their misunderstandings and the little snags that just keep them from clearing things up are handled well.   

There is one great scene that does double duty. Everything that can go wrong for Anne does and guess who is there to see it? But it also serves to explain the breakup in a way he never understood before and it hits harder than any lame “We don’t think he’s good enough for you.” 

“She didn’t want your life dragged around because you were chained to a useless partner, picking up after him and being pulled down by him. So, what the hell are you doing chasing around after your father and sister? Isn’t it nearly the same thing? Only you’re being burdened by your mother’s partner instead of your own.”

Anne stared at him, mind blank. She could only take in his beseeching expression, like he was willing her to understand something that she couldn’t wrap her head around.

But this experience also jump-started Anne’s decision to kick over the traces of family responsibility and lay down some of the burdens she had taken from her mother.     

Anne’s friend Vidya provides an awesome breakup playlist plus helps show Anne that she’s been so wrapped up in doing everything that her mother did that she doesn’t immediately recognize someone who just wants to be a friend. Anne’s so used to people needing and taking from her that having someone offer something without strings startles her. She also has great advice for Anne (“You accept that you can’t fix this with your impeccable management skills, you accept that it’s broken, you eat your weight in ice cream . . .”) after a shitty day. The Fairchilds are lovely people with reasons for why they want to become so involved in their new town and with the theater project. They also care deeply for Ben, seem to like Anne, and surprise her at the end with how they’re keeping tabs on the relationship.             

Picking out the equivalents of the original characters or scenes is part of the fun of reading a reimagination of a classic and I think they’re all done well here. When we meet up with them, Anne and Ben have had eight years to mature, eight years to regret what they lost, and eight years to become the people they are now. Would they have made it then? Maybe. Will they make it now? I’m thoroughly convinced. And which adaptation of “Persuasion” is the best? I have to vote for the 1995 movie. B+

~Jayne

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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