Showing posts with label Susanna Kearsley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Susanna Kearsley. Show all posts

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is a combination historical fiction and contemporary with romances taking place during both time lines and running parallel to each other. Kearsley uses one central character, Carrie McClelland, to tie both storylines and romances together.

James VIII of Scotland
(1688 - 1766)  
Carrie McClelland is a seasoned historical fiction author writing a historical fiction romance that took place in the midst of the failed Jacobite conspiracy to return James Stuart or James VIII to the throne of Scotland in 1708. Unfortunately, Carrie is suffering from writer's block, but while visiting Scotland fate takes a hand and she ends up at a place that calls to her, Slains Castle in Cruden Bay and there meets a man with winter sea eyes. Carry moves to a cottage within sight of the Slains Castle and begins the process of writing her story from the perspective for a fictional woman as the central character, one she names after a long-dead Scottish ancestor, Sophia Paterson. At first her story seems to spill out of her with characters and situations so vivid and real that she can't seem to stop writing, but slowly Carry's research shows that her characters and events, down to the smallest details, were indeed true. Carry ends up with more questions than answers. How can this be happening?

Admiral Thomas Gordon
This is where I fell in love with this book. Kearsley seamlessly weaves two beautiful stories together. She focuses the historical fiction romance of the young, orphaned Mistress Sophia Paterson whose kinswoman the Countess of Erroll, mother to the Earl of Errol takes her in to live as her companion in Slains Castle at Cruden Bay. Soon, Sophia is embroiled in a Jacobite conspiracy to return James Stuart or James VIII to the Scottish throne and meets the young and loyal Jacobite John Moray who already has a price on his head for treason against the crown. Kearsley then proceeds to weave a gorgeous romance between these two characters that is full of danger, betrayal, excitement, angst, and timeless love.

James, 4th Duke of Hamilton
(1658 - 1712)
I love that within this romance Kearsley includes historical characters John Moray, Nathaniel Hooke, Captain Thomas Gordon, the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Erroll, his mother the Countess of Erroll, and more. However, these characters are not portrayed as two-dimensional historical figures but become viable characters in the novel that contribute to both the story and the romance. I was particularly taken by the Countess of Erroll whose characterization is extremely well-rendered, as is Thomas Gordon. Sophia and Moray's romance made me sigh out loud, bite my nails at the danger they both faced, and cry. . . Yes, this was an emotional read for me.

But Kearsley's main character is Carrie McClellan and she is a historical fiction romance writer, so think of this as a romance within a romance. By setting up the story this way, Kearsley uses her character's portrayal as a writer to incorporate pertinent historical background and deftly avoids making it feel like info-dump, instead history becomes a key element of the exciting romance/story Carrie is weaving. However, this set-up also serves to give readers an intimate view into a writers world: how they conduct research, the writing process, and even little details like daily routines, and even relationships with readers. I loved that little peek into a writers' world.

All of those details are an intrinsic part of the contemporary storyline which includes a straight forward romance with Carrie as the female protagonist. This romance narrated in the first point of view from Carrie's perspective has little angst and not much conflict, but it includes some of my favorite secondary characters and it ties in quite well with the historical fiction story and romance. Additionally, in Mariana I loved how Kearsley executed the time-travel aspect of her story, in The Winter Sea although on the surface the end result of how Carrie gains knowledge about a different period in time may sound similar, in reality it is quite different and if not necessarily as arresting to me, how Kearsley develops this aspect of the story is definitely intriguing.

Kearsley's writing swept me away to Scotland, both to 1708 and contemporary times. This is only my second read by this author, but I'm loving her writing style, the excellent fusion of historical fiction romance and contemporary romance that she uses to whisk me away to another time while simultaneously keeping me grounded to the present, and her talent for bringing historical characters to life and creating a romance that stays with me. So, the end result is that I will definitely continue to explore her backlist with pleasure.

Slains Castle, Cruden Bay, Scotland

Part I: Group Read: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley hosted by Christine of The happily ever after...

Part II: Group Read The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley
Originally released in 1994, Mariana by Susanna Kearsley has been reprinted and released quite a few times, including this year's release of the digital edition. Mariana is a time travel romance that takes the reader on a back and forth journey between contemporary times and the 17th Century. The story takes place in Britain on a quaint, bucolic, small village steeped in history and atmosphere.
All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creak'd;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the house
Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek'd,
Or from the crevice peer'd about
Old faces glimmer'd thro' the doors,
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without.
     ---Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Mariana"
There's much to love about this story and I do believe that it stands the test of time. Kearsley hooks the reader on the story from the beginning by having a child recognize a house she has never seen, in a town she has never visited. In this tale of time travel, she beautifully weaves in Julia Beckett's contemporary story with Mariana Farr's life as it was lived in the 17th Century, reincarnation and time travel -- the movement by a person's soul between two different time periods. This movement is almost seamless and frankly the simple way in which it is done lends a certain plausibility to the story by the end. I actually loved this aspect of the story.

The historical details used to build Mariana's story during the 17th Century are excellent: the plague that hit London, small bits about the King's coronation and politics, religious beliefs and attitudes toward women, children, nobility, and peasantry, plus details about daily life. All of these factors fit the historical times and are captured by Kearsley, setting a distinct atmosphere between Mariana and Julia as they live their lives in the house called Greywethers in Exbury, Wiltshire. When time traveling, I particularly like the fact that Julia cannot change the past through her knowledge of the present or contemporary influences, instead she becomes the woman that was Mariana -- not Julia in Mariana's body. Yet, when returning to the present, she retains knowledge and memories from her expeditions to the past. For some reason, this really made sense to me.

The romance happening in the 17th Century between Mariana and her impossible love, the angst and the beauty of it, accompanied by the brutal realities of those times are well rendered by Kearsley. The fact that Mariana's story is told in spurts, or in a stop and go manner, while Julia lives her contemporary life and deals with what is happening to her, doesn't affect Mariana's story in the least. Her romance is a full, complete story, if a sad one in the end. But is it sad? After all, this is a reincarnation story too... and Julia has the opportunity of righting wrongs in the present.

The secondary characters, Julia's brother Tom, Vivien, Grey de Mornay and Iain Sumner all become an intricate part of the story and Julia's life. Some of the characters, her brother Tom in particular, truly become three-dimensional and just as absorbing as does Julia. And, just as important to the overall story are the secondary characters from the past: Mariana's uncle Jabez Howard, friend Rachel, aunt Caroline and Richard.

When it comes to the overall story, Julia becomes so entranced by the past that her decisions become muddied, fuzzy and confused. But truthfully this story is all about Mariana, because what happened in her life affects Julia's decisions about her present life and her future. Both lives are so tightly woven together that in the end, there is only one happy ending for both women.

Leslie reviewed this book back in September. That review is the reason I picked up this book last week -- thanks Leslie! In her review she called this a "non-traditional romance," and to my way of thinking she hit the nail on the head with that phrase, the unusual ending alone makes it so. That ending will surprise and shock most readers. For this reason alone I strongly recommend not to peek ahead at the end-- it will spoil the whole effect of the story.  Mariana is so intriguing and absorbing that I could not put it down until the very end. It is a great read!

Mariana is my first read by Kearsley, but it won't be my last. I already have The Winter Sea (a book I've seen around countless times) in my possession and will read it next.

Category: Historical Romance-Time Travel/Sci-Fi
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Sourcebooks/April 1, 2012
Grade: A-

Visit Susanna Kearsley here.