703 of 718 people found the following review helpful
First Sentence: It wasn't chance.
Bestselling author Carrie McClelland comes from France, where she is working on a book related to the 1708 attempted return of James Stewart to regain his throne. On the way to the christening of her friend and agent's baby, she takes a side road and is drawn to Slains Castle.
Deciding to move from France to Scotland, she rents a cottage near Slains and finds her connection to the old castle is closer even than her ancestor who once lived there.
This is not a gothic, time travel or a torrid romance. It is a flawlessly crafted novel set in two time periods with a romantic relationship in each. From the first page, I was immersed in the story. Kearsley's sense of place is evocative; I was with the characters in sight, sound and even smell.
Her characters became real to me. In the present day, Carrie is a wonderful protagonist; smart and independent, as is Sophie in the past. Surrounded by a strong group of supporting characters, I felt I could sit down and have a chat with any of them. The plot is so well done and flows beautifully between the two time periods.
Kearsley is an excellent writer. There is a lot of factual information in the story, but it is incorporated as part of the story and through dialogue; thus never taking you out of the story or causing you to question her facts. After the end of the story, she very clear about what liberties she did take, and those were few. The explanation used for the link from the present to the past was fascinating and one with which I was unfamiliar.
At the same time, there was nothing dry about this book; I did laugh, I did cry, at times, my heart beat a bit faster from suspense and romance and I absolutely loved the endings. Not normally one to do comparisons but I believe fans of Diana Gabaldon, and Mary Stewart, and others, would enjoy this book; not to mention Ms. Kearsley's existing fans. I wish her books were more frequent but, for another of Ms. Kearsley's books, I'm willing to wait.
184 of 197 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2009
The Winter Sea is wonderful. It is exactly the kind of historical fiction that I love reading. The story is about a writer in the present time who travels to Scotland and stays at a cottage in Cruden Bay (between Aberdeen and Edinburgh) near Slain Castle to research materials for her novel about the Jacobite uprising of 1708. (King James (Catholic) was exiled from the English throne to France when Mary and William became King and Queen (Mary was James' daughter) at the request of the English people. King James died in France in 1700, but his son James (aka The Pretender) with the help of the French King invaded Scotland to try to reclaim the crown.) This was the period of the first Jacobite uprising, historical materials for which are hard to come by, as there were many cover-ups, betrayals, etc. Ms. Kearsley gets better with each book she writes. I was reminded pleasantly of Lady Dorothy Dunnett's writing style in which fictional characters are interwoven with real people and events. This book was so much like Lady Dunnett's Checkmate, her six book of the Lymond Chronicles, except that Kearsley is so much easier to read. I loved this book.
114 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2011
At my age, I'll just say over six decades, I have read a few books in my time. Some of my favorite books being, West With the Night, by Beryl Markham; Sena Jeter Nashlund's, Ahab's Wife, One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon; The Red Tent, Cutting for Stone, The Help, Sarah's Key I could keep going but you can tell the kind of books I like from that sampling. Well I have never been so emotionally involved in a book like I was with Winter Sea. I can hardly find words to tell what a fantastic read this was. All I can say, and I do love to write myself, is that I wish I could tell a story the way Susanna Kearsley does!
252 of 273 people found the following review helpful
Susanna Kearsley's "The Winter Sea," is a darn good read. From the opening pages, her words flow like that of an old friend, lulling the reader into a comfortable sense of satisfaction that has one wishing that as the pages turn, more pages will mysteriously appear to allow this particular treat to be savored longer.
In the great romantic/suspense tradition of Mary Stewart--who in my opinion retains the grand old dame seat for positioning her damsels in distress with the most literary language and in magical venues that act as characters while crafting a plotline that withstands the test of time and achieves levels of sophistication and nuance that most of today's writers can't even fathom--Kearsley's heroine finds herself in an abnormal situation but not of the usual predictable formulaic fabrication. Like Stewart's ladies, she possesses intelligence and a degree of fierce tenacity that fits with the sensibilities of the 21st century yet the telling of her tale relies on subtlety to convey that extra oomph that propels this one beyond the ordinary overly sentimental romantic confection that lends to knowing the ending before even reaching the midpoint of its pages.
Instead of the usual potboiler revolving around murder, kidnapping or the plight of a helpless child, Kearsley manages to interject an element of the supernatural into each of her stories. "The Winter Sea" cleverly relies heavily on such a premise--in this case, genetic memory and uncontrolled yet compelling voices from the past--but with such a light and deft professional touch that the reader becomes more absorbed with rather than skeptical of a turn of events more akin to the horror anecdotes of Barbara Erskine than Stewart or Victoria Holt.
Delightfully, Susanna Kearsley utilizes the story-within-a-story technique in "The Winter Sea." Her protagonist, Carrie McClelland writes historical fiction for a living. Like Bram Stoker before her, she draws upon the centuries old New Slains Castle near Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire, Scotland to fire her imagination for a narrative of Jacobite intrigue occurring after the Treaty of Union motivated the exiled `Pretender', Prince James, to attempt an uprising against the English Queen Anne circa 1708. Using the castle itself as the novel's locale, she decides to relate this Stewart reclamation for the crown from the vantage point of Sophia Paterson, an ancestor that she knows little about other than the fact that she appears in the family genealogy as living during the required time period. Hunkered down in a rented cottage in the middle of cold Scots winter, Carrie quickly becomes immersed in not only the novel that seems to be frenetically writing itself, but by her sixty-something landlord, the charmingly quirky Jimmy Keith of the Doric tongue and his two attractive yet different sons, the irrepressible pub-going womanizer, Stuie--so full of himself he can't see what's plainly in front of his nose and the quietly unobtrusive historian Graham and his sidekick canine, Angus, both of whom delight in wild walks along the treacherous seawall that acts as a natural boundary to the backdrop of the North Sea.
As Carrie entwines her fictitious character's life with the real espionage that transpired in and about Slains Castle, she makes a point to authenticate her information with a degree of historical accuracy. When she realizes that much of what she thought of as fiction indeed reflects not just a clever verisimilitude of her own imaginings but actual chronological truth that has remained secret for over three centuries, she investigates the idea that she may be channeling the soul of a woman whose spirit yearns for the ultimate peace found in disclosure.
True to the example of Mary Stewart, Kearsley writes romance with the subtlety of great literature. This is no bodice ripper--so those expecting lurid scenes of eroticism back off and look further--nor is it a feminist manifesto a la vintage Barbara Michaels. Kearsley's protagonists have purpose--goals of their own where the men come on the side as delicious accoutrements to a main course already rich with caloric plot content. In "The Winter Sea," she interjects just the right amount of romantic appeal to both her heroines--these women love with a calm passion that does not belie their strength of character. Their stories unfold in pretty much the same manner that any woman's attraction for her man twinkled into full-fledged existence. She structures a firm base of mutual appeal that hooks into the reader's soul and then buttresses this with silent understanding that all of us recognize as echoing the real deal that we all desire.
Kearsley's men are delectably desirous. Strong and silent, they reflect men that women want by their side. Her manner in presenting the qualities of the two love interests in this tale remind me of what I personally find intriguing about the man in my life--the juxtaposition of his strength and his sweetness. Thank you, Ms Kearsley, for knowing what we women like so well.
Bottom line? I rarely give a book five stars, but Susanna Kearsley's "The Winter Sea" deserves the acclaim for this genre of novel. Reflective of the Mary Stewart School of romantic suspense, Kearsley weaves an airtight spell that alternates and mingles the past with the present in a believable likeable way with a strong locale that acts as a player in its own right. Kudos go to her ending that, believe it or not, had this jaded reader blinking back both tears and smiles of surprise and approval. Well done. Recommended for those readers that wish Mary Stewart had over 100 titles to credit her name.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2010
Having just finished a long historical novel I must admit, I wasn't sure I was ready to jump into another one, but once I got absorbed into Sophia's story, I was glad I did. Hard to put down and the ending was absolutely perfect. Nice to read a book that is romantic, captivating, and intersting without needing the use of sex, violence, or foul language. Highly recommend!
74 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2011
I agree with all the reviewers who thought that the story was slow and had no plot, but no one seems to have touched on the reason that I was so upset with the book: the blurb on the back.
Here it is:
"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..."
I read the whole novel and could locate no "ultimate betrayal" or any evidence that the "knowledge comes very close to destroying" our heroine. She seems to take the "ancestral memory" in stride...she hardly wonders at all.
The back cover also said something along the lines of "when she can no longer tell the difference between past and present, he saves her." I saw no sign of the Carrie not being able to tell past from present. Did everyone at the publisher really read the book?
Also, the author (both Kearsey and the fictional one) has boxed herself into a corner with the choice of a female narrator. The female can't be there for anything exciting because she's a woman. So, all the exciting things have to be TOLD to her. Everything that might be interesting happens "offstage."
I thought the writer did a nice job with setting and mood, but characters and plot are not a reason to read this book.
35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2011
The Winter Sea is a novel within a novel, something that writers are told to avoid. While some writers can pull off this kind of novel, Susanna Kearsley did have a bit of trouble.
The first protagonist is an author who writes historical romance. This time she is using the 1708 attempt to return King James, in name only and only in France at the Saint Germain court, to Scotland to rule when she hits on the idea of telling the story from a woman's point of view. She is drawn to Slains castle, now a tumble-down wreck of its former self, and to a little cottage within view of the castle, and the writing begins.
The second protagonist is Sophia Paterson (with one T), an orphan, who comes to live at the castle under the protection of the ruling family. She meets and becomes a part of the intrigue and planning for King James's return and falls in love. There are no surprises there or in the main story, and now comes the supernatural element.
Carrie, the author, seems to be channeling her ancestor Sophia, a character she chose at random, and sees the whole plot unfold through Sophia's eyes. While both stories are somewhat interesting, the segues between present day Slains and Slains in the early 1700s are jolting. However, I did manage to adjust.
The requisite sweet love scenes are apparent in Carrie's and Sophia's lives, as is the tragedy that tears Sophia from her life at Slains and sends her back to the western coast of Scotland. The worst part of what were interesting, albeit forced, situations is the utter predictability of the endings of both. The device is ham-handed and the slide into yet another POV even more jolting than the side slips from present to past.
Kearsley exhibits a good sense of drama, sometimes a bit on the scene chewing side, and the romances are the usual fare for formula romance, but the whole premise of channeling and ancestor and ascribing it to genetic memory is on the whole a bit out there. I would have preferred just letting Carrie go with it instead of the whole worried about her sanity and medical explanation ploy.
The writing is clear and clean and the story proceeds at a moderately uneven pace. Commas were strewn everywhere, mostly where they were not needed, and were irritating and confusing at times. Smoother transitions and a less deus ex machina ending would have been nice, but overall the book was a pleasant, if unoriginal, read.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2011
I am sure I am going to get some gruff for this because I really don't like reviewing a book if I don't (can't in this instance) finish it but I find that my opinion is right in line with the other less than stellar reviews for similar reasons and wished I would have read those reviews first before downloading this. This book was nothing but boring. I gave it chance after chance to pick up and get going but it was a total snoozer. I have read plenty of books that are worth the 5 stars that are slow in the beginning and pick up to where you can't put it down - but this is not one of them. The only thing this book has going for it is the cheap download price. The main character is a total bore and the surrounding characters around her are boring as well. There was nothing in this book that made me want to turn the page and keep reading. I also hate it when books that have a supernatural element are just there to be there. You have to convince me to believe in the unbelievable. This was just coincidence after coincidence just because.
If you read books based on reviews, skip this one. If you are looking for some good historical fiction I suggest The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose (in that order) and I also enjoyed the Lady Julia Grey series.
57 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2011
I got this book for my Kindle after reading many of the reviews and seeing the high number of 5-star ratings. I was very disappointed. Actually, I was very bored. Nothing happens in this book. Page after page of boredom. The premise was fantastic. The writing is quite good. The progression of the story is extremely dull and repetitive. I wanted to love it. I was looking for a book to rival Outlander, but this wasn't it.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2011
I read this book thinking it might come close to Diana Gabaldon's books. I was expecting way too much. I had a very hard time getting through this story and cannot believe I actually finished it. The writing is poor, the characters are shallow and boring, and the story is utterly predictable. Not much else to say.