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Book Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

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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, a knowledge that comes very close to destroying her…

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is one of those books that is for the patient reader; it has a slow buildup and plenty of character development and background but the payoff is absolutely phenomenal.

The story itself, along with the unhurried and fluid way Ms. Kearsley expertly tells it, reminds me of Ciji Ware’s A Cottage by the Sea. Both stories primarily take place in a European cottage by the water (The Winter Sea in Scotland; A Cottage by the Sea in Cornwall, England) with a plethora of history and both have alternating time storylines, with flashes between the present and in the past.

Much as Ms. Ware’s Cottage made me want to travel to Cornwall, so too does Ms. Kearsley’s book cause me to desire to journey to Scotland’s coast and the city of Aberdeen. The descriptions are perfectly lovely, leaving me hungry for my own little warm Scottish cottage, complete with a power meter, a roaring fire and a table full of Scottish fare.

Historical fiction lovers will delight over the retelling of the 1708 Jacobite invasion, where Ms. Kearsley uses actual persons, along with a few fictional characters to move the story along. I enjoyed both the real characters as well as the ones that came from Ms. Kearsley’s imagination. I fell in love with Sophia and John Moray, whose romance was sweet and passionate, and I enjoyed the warm relationship Sophia had with Kirsty and with the Countess. I also liked the similarities between Sophia and John’s tale, along with the current day Carrie’s tale. Even those characters who were to be disliked or not trusted were so strongly drawn that they inspired powerful feelings while reading. All were vivid in my mind, leaving me to believe that The Winter Sea would make a stunning movie.

The only drawback to the book was the realistic use of Scottish dialect and terminology. I had to read some of the passages more than once to understand what was being said and it could be somewhat taxing but it’s a minor personal gripe given the overall excellence of the book.

The ending of the book and conclusion of both stories were enormously rewarding, leaving me with a lump in my throat and a warm, gladdened heart. There were no loose ends left; to the contrary, the puzzle pieces of the tale came together beautifully to tie into a festive literary present.

I would not hesitate to recommend The Winter Sea to any reader, but most particularly those who love romance and who love historical fiction. The Winter Sea will not disappoint.

A stunning, gorgeous and heartwrenching tale that is perfect for the holiday season, The Winter Sea is available for purchase at major booksellers now and at Amazon.com.

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About Lori Hedgpeth

  • Hi, I read about this book on, I believe, Broads-Book-Blog, linked to Deborah Harkness’s fine novel. “The Winter Sea” is a terrific and sustaining read. I am utterly captivated by it! And, as a published writer myself, I find her thoughts about writing–the creation of characters (more like how they move into your brain)–and the interweaving of the past and present, utterly fascinating.