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on May 29, 2008
It wasn't chance, the story starts, and from the moment that Carrie McClelland takes the turning that leads along the coastal route to Cruden Bay, you know that she has begun a life-changing adventure, no matter how subtly she has been lulled into it by the ruins of Slains Castle rising out of the mists of the winter sea. The reader gets just as bound up in the life of Sophia as Carrie does as she finds herself compelled to tell the story of the brave Scottish girl who speaks into her mind.

Susanna Kearsley's beautiful prose flows like liquid velvet. Her characters, both past and present, become real, living people, and well before the middle of the story you come to believe that this is no tale, but a true record of what is happening in Carrie McClelland's life as well as in Sophia Paterson's. Susanna Kearsley weaves the two strands of her story, present day and historical, so seamlessly that the change from one to the next is a natural progression. I was as involved in the complete story when it was set in Carrie's time as when Sophia spoke to her and took her back through time to Slains Castle and the central figures in the plot to return King James to the throne.

The Winter Sea is a story of intrigue and love set on the harsh north coast of Scotland. Well researched and rich in historical detail, The Winter Sea never gets bogged down in the history it is following – it is vibrant, fresh, and alive. This is in part due to the fact that Carrie and Sophia are both such easy characters to identify with; honest, determined, loyal and loving, and also because the setting is so vividly portrayed. You see the castle, shore, and sea through their eyes. And their love interests are both men that do more than make a girl's knees go weak; they are men of quiet integrity and honour, and senses of humour that are as endearing as their sudden, devastating smiles. Carrie soon discovers that not only does chance have nothing to do with the adventure she has embarked upon, but there is a thread that connects all four of them, reaching out from the past to bind them together irrevocably.

This is by far Susanna Kearsley's best book to date. Her books have often been compared to those of Mary Stewart – if you love Mary Stewart's stories, you will be sure to love Susanna's. With The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley has staked her claim to the throne as today's queen of the genre. The Winter Sea is a completely enjoyable and fulfilling read, the kind of book you will return to again and again.
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on June 20, 2008
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
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on June 7, 2008
I have been anxiously awaiting this book for quite some time and I wasn't disappointed. It was a wonderfully absorbing read. However in my opinion, although coming close, it wasn't quite as powerful as my all-time favourite Kearsley novel "Mariana". She set a very high standard with that one!
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on November 30, 2010
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (Rated: C)
ISBN 978-1-4022-4137-6
Published December 2010
Trade Paperback, 523 pages

Reviewed by Sandra

This is historical fiction at its best! Not only does the reader get a brief history of Scotland, but interwoven in that history are double love stories, one in the 1700's, the other in modern times.

A young author, Carrie McClelland, is writing a novel set in Stains Castle, Scotland that begins in the spring of 1708. The backdrop of this tale is set against the unsuccessful attempt to restore James Stewart VIII to the throne of Scotland. One of the main characters in the story is Sophia, an ancestor of the author, who lived at that time. Sophia falls deeply in love with a dashing young Jacobite (as supporters of James were called) marries him and has a baby. Due to the political climate of the time, all of their lives are in jeopardy. When Sophia receives news of her husband's death, in her despair she makes a life-altering decision.

McClelland rents a cottage near the ruins of the castle in order to get a "feel" for the past and to get the inspiration to finish her novel. She meets and falls in love with a history professor from a nearby University who is very familiar with the 1700s. In the process of researching and writing her novel she often experiences strange feelings. "I felt an unexpected twisting of unease deep in my chest....a sense of something at my back that made me scared to look behind." Another time she describes it as "every hair on my neck was rising with the sense of something wicked on its way." And thus the story begins to alternate between the past and the present. It may be tempting to read it as a time-travel novel, but the author herself often refers to déjà-vu, ancestral memory or genetic memory to account for her familiarity with the past. Part of the brilliance of the novel was having the reader decide for themselves. Personally, I saw no evidence of time travel in the story, but the story "called to me" much as do the bagpipes, as some of my ancestors were Scots. Is that genetic memory? This well-written novel provoked such questions.

To all readers who enjoy historical fiction, this novel won't disappoint.
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on December 2, 2010
Historical fiction author Carrie McClelland suddenly finds her current work-in-progress stalled and during a brief visit to Scotland she finds herself under the spell of Slains Castle in the remote northeast town of Cruden Bay. The spell works its magic, the past comes alive and Carrie's fingers fly across the keyboard and she transports the reader back to the Jacobite plot of '08 to restore King James to Scotland's throne.

The story:

Sophia Paterson arrives at Slains castle, home of distant relative and she's soon as immersed in Jacobite intrigue along with the rest of the family. John Moray, one of the many people who carries messages between Scotland and France, falls in love with Sophia, but he's a very much wanted man and cannot stay in Scotland, nor can he take her back to France.

Parallel with Sophia's story is Carrie's, along with two brothers in love with her (although I'm pretty sure it's only true love for one of them). Sophia's past seems to have a life of its own, to the point that she's writing real events before she could possibly have known them. Is *someone* from the past guiding her to discover what happened 300 years ago? If so, why?

I loved this book and couldn't put it down. A perfect blend of romance, real history and what if and for once I enjoyed the storyline in the present as much as that of the past. One big thumbs up to the author, she did a great job using her characters and dialogue to cover back history without those annoying info-dumps, i.e. historian brother Graham explaining in plain English to brother Stuie about Jacobite history. Nicely done. This novel has also been published in the UK under the title Sophia's Secret, so don't go and buy the same book again. 4.5/5 stars.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 11, 2011
Fictional author Carolyn McClelland has travelled to Scotland to continue her research for her newest novel. While there, she feels oddly compelled to remain in Cruden Bay, the site of the now ruined Slains Castle. As she continues to research her characters and location, so finds herself being pulled into the real lives of her characters, people that she thought she was making up. Turns out they are all real.

By the time I was turning the first page of this book, ready to start page two, I was totally drawn into the story. They wasn't a chance that I would be able to set it aside for long. The story is set in a rural area of Scotland and the our main character is already admitting that something, or someone is guiding her almost from the moment she arrived. There was no doubt that I would have to keep reading.

As fictional author Carolyn sat to write, it seemed to her that the story kept telling itself to her. That it knew what needed to be written and that she had no say. I had no trouble believing that. I have sat down to write and my characters have told me what I had to do with them. Why would it be any different with this author.

Author Susanna Kearsley made both worlds real to me. The current day in Scotland and the long ago 1700's were both so vivid that at times I forgot I was reading fiction and I could feel myself living with Carolyn, Jimmy, Grahme, and with the older Sophie, and other visitors to Slains Castle.

Yes, this book has romance, but it has a lot more. It is full of historical characters who are a lot more than faded images in history books. Ms. Kearsley has brought them to life once again. If only I had been lucky enough to have had a history teacher in school who could have brought historical figures to life such as this.

I especially enjoyed the character of modern time Dr. Weir and his research into genetic memories. I have come across similar discussions previously and found it an excellent rational for what was happening with Carolyn.

The Darien Expedition/Scheme discussed in the book is a real event.
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on January 6, 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 4/5


Carrie McClelland is a well-known writer in search of her next book. While beginning her research about the French-Jacobite invasion at Cruden Bay in France, she has a hard time capturing the voices for her new characters, her story is not evolving, she feels stuck. She knows that something is missing, she frequently travels when writing and doesn't understand why her characters won't unveil themselves. On her way to a Christening for her agent and best friend's child, Carrie goes to Scotland and accidentally discovers the ruins of Slain Castle. Carrie immediately feels a connection, and knows that she must come to Scotland. The Castle contains her characters, their story needs to be told. Carrie immediately goes back to France, picks up her few belonging and decides to move to Scotland. She sets herself up in a quaint cottage and begins her writing, working at night and in isolation, her novel begins to take shape. When her landlord learns that she is a writer, and working on a book containing the Slain Castle, he helps Carrie contact some local historians including his own son. Carrie is immediately drawn to her characters, and their voices come to her so easily, in fact this is the first time she is so drawn to her characters. While in search for a female character, Carrie remember Sophie Patterson, a distant cousin according to her father, the genealogist. Sophie quickly becomes the main character. A young girl, abused, abandoned and taken in by her wealthy Aunt. Sophie comes to Slain Castle expecting to be a hired hand, but her Aunt will not have family working in the Kitchen. She treats Sophie like one of her own children and Sophie's world is nothing like she imagined to could be. Carrie has no issues writing about Sophie, she's astonished when her fictional details are proven to have been real-life events that happened to Sophie. Carrie can't understand it, but it seems that she may have inherited the story of Sophie.

Overall Impression:

Susanna Kearsley intertwines two stories, the story of Carrie the writer, and Sophie Patterson. The past and present continually shift, capturing readers and leaving them wanting more. I loved reading both perspectives. When I was reading about Sophie, I was wondering about Carrie and vice-versa. I really loved the story, I was swept up in both worlds, and kept wanting to read more. Both stories are plotted out well, and readers can clearly deduce which world is being recounted. The story is moving, and the writing is superb. I had one issue with the story, Genetic memory. The flashes of memory that Carrie has been experiencing are said to have been genetic memories, memories contained in her DNA. I really didn't like this concept, it didn't feel right to me and not plausible. However, the overall story was amazing. I just couldn't settle for the genetic memory explanation...
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on April 24, 2013
One of the most inspiring, beautiful, well written historical fiction novel. Susanna Kearsley has out done herself once again. I am truly amazed at this masterpiece she has written. I was left with tears and a crushed heart and eventually that mended at the end but not all of it.

The aftermath of reading any great novels leaves me feeling alone and empty. It's hard to say goodbye to some of these characters when you're so caught up in their life and battles. I know now, it doesn't have to end...they will forever be in my "memories".

I would definitely recommend this novel and any other novels by Susanna Kearsley!

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on November 12, 2012
This book (also known as Sophia's Secret in some countries), is my current favourite of all of Susanna Kearsley's books.  It is a really beautiful story, very well written and researched by Susanna.  I was immediately enveloped by the story and felt as if I was transported to Scotland during the 1700 around the time of the Jacobites, quite like the modern protagonist Historical author Carrie  is in the book.
As all of Susanna's Historical time slip gothic novels, she has done her research well and her characters are quite believable and endearing.

If you are a fan of Barbara Erskine, Mary Stewart or Diana Gabaldon you will love Susanna Kearsley!
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on October 13, 2013
I must be one of the few who has read both The Winter Sea and Mariana, and preferred The Winter Sea. I was completely enthralled with the characters, both past and present, and with the complicated plot based on history. I loved this book and was completely absorbed in it, at the time I read it - the world in the book was as real as the world around me. I read as slow as I could, knowing I would be sad when the book was finished.
The future of Anna and the ending of the book made me very sad. It was hard for me to fathom, that was my only disappointment. I will not go into further detail to avoid spoiling the novel for someone who has not read it.
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