February 13, 2012

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley


Last year I read my first Susanna Kearsley book and it ended up being one of my favorites of the year. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her backlist. The Winter Sea had a similar plot to The Rose Garden in that they both had historical plots taking place parallel to their present counterparts, but that’s where the similarities end.

On one of my latest reviews I was complaining about unrealistic endings where the characters got everything they wanted, and how I felt that we should get more bittersweet endings where the characters had to make sacrifices. This book is a perfect example of that. I think not everyone would be happy with how things end but to me it was fitting to the circumstances. The ending was both happy and sad, and I was very glad (and weepy!).

Carrie McClelland writes historical fiction. She plans to set her latest novel in France, but fate, the muses and something else have different plans altogether. When researching for her novel she finds herself drawn to a small town in Scotland and to the story of some new characters. She names her heroine after a family ancestor, but when she starts writing she realizes that fiction is starting to resemble reality more and more, and that coincidence is not enough reason to explain what’s happening.

While in Scotland she meets Jimmy Keith and his two sons, Stuart and Graham. The pull she feels towards Graham is as strong as the one she feels towards the story and their relationship develops quickly. She also has to deal with Stuart’s affections but there are no villains here, it’s obvious that she wants Graham and it’s obvious that once Stuart realizes it, his heart wont break.

I’m hesitant to even explain a bit of the historical plot because it’s so interesting and surprising that it shouldn't be spoiled. There’s a love story at its core that’s beautiful and romantic, and at times I felt like a voyeur reading it. To me it was such a private thing to be witnessing, which is weird because I have lost count of how many sex scenes I have read, and the romance between these characters was a secret courtship of stolen moments with nothing graphic about it. But the characters felt so real that it was like reading about friends or family.  It’s also a story about spies, plotting and suspense. There’s enough drama, mystery and incertitude to keep every reader guessing, and to keep this reader in particular ugly-crying through half the book. 

The contemporary romance is subtle and sweet, a bit understated but compelling and satisfying. The historical romance, on the other hand, is passionate and angsty. It reminded me to those old-school historicals where the characters fall in love quickly only to spend the rest of the book separated, the difference being that what keeps them apart are the circumstances instead of a misunderstanding or the characters’ own stupidity. Yes, you will worry and the happy ending takes time, but you will be rewarded at the end, and you won’t doubt that the leads love each other and want to be together.

Ms. Kearsley’s voice is amazing. She paints such a vivid picture that I had no trouble at all imagining myself in the places she describes. This book flows faster than The Rose Garden, a book that had an almost sleepy quality to it. In The Winter Sea things happen a lot quicker and there’s more action. Most of it happens off-page, but the uncertainty of not knowing when the action will finally catch up to the characters was enough to get me interested and worried. 

I’m a fan of stories within a story, but I think that they are hard to pull off. Almost every time one story overshadows the other. One would think that something like that would be the case here, mostly because both stories are so different. But not once did I find myself thinking that one couple was stealing the other couple’s spotlight. There’s also the fact that both stories are deeply intertwined so you want to know more about them just to find out how it all ends.

The Winter Sea is complex, interesting, romantic and heartbreaking. It’s beautifully written, evocative and engaging. A wonderful story that I'm sure fans of romance will enjoy.

Review by Brie
Grade: 5
Sensuality: McDreamy

Synopsis:

History has all but forgotten... 

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. 

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. 

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her...

Sourcebooks Landmark. December 01, 2010.

12 comments:

  1. I love Kearsley! This one is sitting on my TBR pile so I'm glad to hear that you liked it so much. I've only read two of her books, but they're both two of my favorite books. You should check out "The Shadowy Horses" and "Season of Storms" if you have the chance.

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    1. I actually read The Shadowy Horses but I had some issues getting into the book. I think I was expecting more romance and I couldn't connect with the heroine. Need to check Seasons of Storms. Have you read Mariana? That book sounds similar to The Winter Sea, at least the heroine is a writer. I think she has improved her style a lot although her awesomeness is definitively present in all of her books.

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    2. Unfortunately, I haven't read Mariana yet. Its been on my wishlist for awhile though. I think Kearsley has subtly changed genres over the years. Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms are pretty much gothic mysteries. It sounds like her two newest novels are closer to historical/contemporary romances. Was there a mystery in this one?

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    3. Not a mystery per se, more like the suspense of not knowing how the historical plot will end. And yes, you’re absolutely right, her style has changed and now leans more towards romance, or at least the romance plays a bigger role in her latest novels.

      I think Mariana has a plot that’s a mix between The Rose Garden and The Winter sea, the heroine is a writer who suddenly finds herself back in time in another woman’s body, she has a love interest in the present and one in the past…. I think I’ll read that one next.

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  2. Sounds fascinating! I love love love historicals and this one sounds romantic and mysterious, which is perfect for me. I bought The Rose Garden because of your review so I'll probably end up with this one as well. Sound too good to pass up. Great, in depth review.

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    1. I can't wait for you to read The Rose Garden. I'm trying to decide which was my favorite of the two and I think I'll go with The Rose Garden, but it's very close!!

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  3. I've had this book for a while now and really look forward to reading it...some day. :-| Lol. I will try to get to it this year though. TRY, I say! Great review, Brie!

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    1. LOL! I think you're going to love it, but I know why you're taking your time to read it because I found out about it a year ago and I waited, and waited and waited to read it, then The Rose Garden came along and I was hooked, but even then I read The Rose Garden first. There's something weird about this book!

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  4. I so need to read this author!! I've been meaning to, but I keep thinking her style won't suit me ^_^; And I don't know why I have this feeling. I mean, this is clearly romance... Hmmm, maybe I'll make that one of my goal this year :)

    Lovely review Brie.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean! As much as I loved this book I think it can be polarizing, you either love it or hate it, no middle ground, because the things that make it beautiful to some can make it boring and slow to others. So I get why you’re having second thoughts. You should download a sample and see how you like the style and if it catches your attention, although it starts a bit slow (although not as slow as The Rose Garden).

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    2. I actually think I have this one in my TBR pile to tell you the truth! I got it at RWA... and I have a few other of her books as well. I just need to stop procrastinating and read it :)

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  5. The chapters alternate between Carrie's life in modern day and the experiences of her ancestor Sophia in 1708. Usually when a book is written in this manner there is one story I tend to prefer over the other. This was not the case in this book and both storylines were equally well written, entertaining and filled with characters that I cared about. There were also romantic interests in both timelines which were touching and both the conclusions were satisfying.

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