Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Winter Sea Group Read: PART II

I finally finished reading The Winter Sea the other day and am so excited to post this book discussion for the group read. My apologies for taking so long to read this book. It took me three weeks to read, but rest assured it was not a result of lack of interest, but a mere shortage of reading time that kept me from devouring it. If it wasn't for feeling guilty for holding up the book discussion, I would say that I'm rather glad it took me a while to finish this book, because it is one worth savoring. The Winter Sea is a well written, well paced, interesting work of fiction and wonderfully laced with romance.

The Winter Sea is often referred to as time travel historical fiction, but I consider it more of a clever blend of contemporary and historical fiction in one story. The story is told from two alternating perspectives. One is the first person point of view of Carrie McClelland, a successful Canadian writer of historical fiction who is writing a novel surrounding the events leading up to the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland in 1708 as the exiled James Stewart seeks to reclaim his crown. While visiting her agent and friend in Scotland, the ruins of Slains Castle call to Carrie and she fells compelled to rent a cottage in the area so that she can properly research and write her book. She rents a cottage from a local man, Jimmy Keith and befriends his two sons Stuart and Graham, falling romantically for the latter.

The other perspective is told from the third person, following a young woman named Sophia Paterson who arrives at Slains Castle in the early 1700s to stay with a distant relation, the Countess of Erroll and takes place over a couple of years surrounding the events of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1708. It is at Slains Castle where Sophia learns of the stirrings of a rebellion on behalf of James Stewart --James VIII of Scotland and III of England, to reclaim his crown. This is also where she meets and falls in love with Mr. John Moray, a man trusted by Queen Mary herself (the birth mother of James Stewart) closely embroiled in the rebellion. Their story is a heartbreaking one full of danger and secrecy, but also one of hope and survival.

Since the purpose of this post is to lead a group discussion of The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, I am going to assume that everyone reading this has already read the book. If you have not read the book, be warned that there are spoilers in the remainder of this post as well as in the comments. If being spoiled is not you're thing, I suggest you click away and come back after you've read The Winter Sea. I hope you do, as it is worth reading.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Read at your own risk.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The main character of The Winter Sea, Carrie McClelland, is a writer of historical fiction. Throughout the book, it is as though we are looking over her shoulder witnessing how she conducts research, finds inspiration and writes as much as she could whenever her muse strikes. I loved this glimpse into the life of a writer and found it realistic and informative. Did you enjoy this aspect of the story as well? Any thoughts?

Many readers categorize The Winter Sea as time travel fiction. I'd rather say it is a clever and sophisticated meld of contemporary and historical fiction in one cohesive story. Kearsley uses the concept of genetic memory -- Carrie's ability to share some of the memories of her ancestors, to weave these two story lines together. Did the concept of genetic memory work for you in this story?

Kearsley's writing is beautiful -- richly descriptive without being the least bit excessive. The quality of the writing and even Kearsley's choice of words themselves, kept me captivated. Do you know someone who is so good at telling stories that their mere voice can lull you in and you feel as though you could listen to them talk about anything--even a trip to the grocery story or filing their taxes and you are fully absorbed in their story telling? That's what reading Kearsley's work is like. It flows so richly and naturally in your head that you just want it to go on and on. What is your opinion on Kearsley's story-telling voice?

There are many beautiful passages and memorable quotes in The Winter Sea. The following are among my favorites:

Colonel Graeme to Sophia [p.352 ebook]
'Aye,' he said, 'there is no sight so melancholy as the winter sea, for it does tell us we are truly at the ending of the year, and all its days are passed, its days of joy and sorrow that will never come again.'
Then a bit farther down the page, again spoken by Colonel Graeme to Sophia...
'For if there was no winter, we could never hope for spring.'
And later in the book among pages where my heart broke the most.. [p.451 ebook]
How did you tell a child who did not know you were her mother that you loved her, and that leaving her was all at once the bravest and the worst thing you had done in all your life, and that you'd miss her more than she would ever know?
But the heart break continues on the next page... [p.452 ebook]
[...] as surely as the wind and waves would shift the sands till next year's coastline bore no imprint of the one the year before, so too the passing days would reshape Anna's mind until Sophia was but forgotten.
Do you have any favorite quotes or passages from The Winter Sea?

Reading The Winter Sea is as much a historical lesson as it is a fictional novel. I am impressed by and appreciate the author's accurate (or very close to) portrayal of real-life historical persons in her story and her ability to weave a dramatic love story with the addition of a few fictitious characters used for romantic purposes. Who is to say that this love affair or something nearly similar didn't occur during this time.

However, the only thing that kept me from giving The Winter Sea a perfect rating is the elaborate cast of historical characters that I had such trouble keeping straight. I realize these characters were all necessary for this story--and most of them real people involved in the rebellion at the time, and I wouldn't have wanted the author to leave out a single person or detail, but unfortunately, I simply never felt confident of who was on the side of the Jacobites and who was loyal to Queen Anne. Then, if and when someone betrayed the cause, it took me a bit of time and sometimes back tracking in the story, to realize that's what happened because I forgot whose side they were on! Oye. Needless to say, it is my only complaint and likely my own shortcoming as I haven't read of anyone else struggling with this. Regarding the names, places and allegiances to the crown(s)-- did you get confused? Did it ever pull you out of the story as you were reading?

If there's anything else you'd like to add to the discussion, please do!

Thank you for participating in the group read of The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. I hoped you enjoyed the book as much as I did. Don't forget that Kearsley's latest (next) novel, The Firebird, is a companion book to The Winter Sea and is another contemporary - historical blended story that tells the story of John Moray and Sophia's daughter, Anna. I'm so excited to read it! What about you?

Read more about The Firebird on the author's website HERE.

Release dates are as follows:
    January 28, 2013 UK
    May 7, 2013 CANADA
    June 1, 2013 USA

Also, be sure to check out these links:
Hilcia's Review of The Winter Sea

If you have a review or post about The Winter Sea on your blog, let me know and I'll add it to the list.


  1. You know that I loved this book, and it started me on a quest to read everything that Susanna Kearsley has written.

    Her voice is one that just sucks me into the story. From page 2 I knew I would love this book... and I did!

    Normally with dual storylines I prefer one strand or another but for me both the historical and contemporary storylines.

    I am so glad you enjoyed this book. I am sure you will love The Firebird!

  2. Christine, I'm so glad that you enjoyed the book too. I'm loving Kearsley's style.

    As to your questions:

    1) I absolutely love the fact that we, as readers, get to experience the writer's process through Kearsley's character -- what goes into conducting the research and the writing process.

    2) I don't really think of The Winter Sea as a "time travel" story either. And, the concept of "genetic memory" seemed to me as an attempt to rationalize what was happening to Carrie. There is a sense of the unknown or the unexplained to this story. As you say, it is a magnificent blend of contemporary and historical fiction romance. But for me that aspect of the story, the unexplained, was intriguing but not arresting as it was in Mariana. In other words, it didn't work as well and that was my reason for not giving it a perfect grade.

    3) I absolutely love Kearsley's "voice." She pulls me into the story with her prose. But she also has the ability of making historical times and characters come alive for me, they become three-dimensional and I become invested in their plight even when I know (more or less) what is going to happen to them.

    4) The names, places, and allegiances to the crown never pulled me out of the story. I think because they became characters in the book, just like in any other story, I was able to keep track of who was who and where they stood politically. The suspense of who was going to betray and who was going to be loyal was great too! That part of it I loved because I was not familiar with some of the historical characters or events prior to reading this book.

    Thank you for leading this group read, Christine. AND, for the heads up about The Firebird! I will definitely be reading that book to find out what happened to Anna!

  3. It’s been several weeks since I finished reading “The Winter Sea” so please excuse me if I’m a bit hazy on the details of the story.
    The way Susanna wrote in the time travel aspect of this book, which BTW she does differently in all the books I’ve read so far, as “genetic memory” was interesting and believable. Also the similarities between the past and the present…if something happened in the past/present it would often be related to something that happened in the opposite time. I was concerned when, in the past, Sophia was told John had been killed in battle (or died because of his wounds) I thought that something might also happen to Graham, which of course didn’t happen. I believe that it made the two different time periods even more emotionally connected for the reader. As I said in my first post I love Kearsley’s writing style and had to make myself stop reading her books because I’ve read 5 since Christmas…but the good part is that I have 2 more waiting for me. :) The last one I need is “Named of the Dragon”. Has anyone visited the town on Google Earth/Maps yet? I thought it was kinda cool to see the Hotel where Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and of course all the other aspects of the town and harbour.

  4. Finally getting over here to comment - sorry it took me so long. I have to first thank you for putting me on to Kearsley, having never read her before. I love her writing style, very easy to read yet with lots of description and depth. I found THE WINTER SEA to be a real page turner - and so vivid in the descriptions and setting. I will definitely be reading more of this author (and thanks for the heads-up about the follow-up book).

    I have to agree with Wilma on the worry that set in when John had died - I was sure something was going to happen to Graham. And then I was trying to read faster because I knew John belonged with Sophia - there had to be a happily ever after! I think Carrie and Graham's HEA was less fulfilling, their obstacles not so great.

    As for the time-travel - hmmm, I didn't see this as time-travel at all. I saw two characters telling the story and I loved the premise of 'genetic memory'. A fascinating way to tell a story set in two totally different time periods. It worked for me!!

    As a writer, I loved the glimpse into Carrie's world - and wondered many times if we were looking into Kearsley's world, too. I am fascinated by various writing methods/strategy - and could totally relate to Carrie sitting down at the computer and creating the story as if in a trance. When the words are flowing, I have the same wonderment when I step back and see all that I've written!

    The historical information did not bog me down - being a first generation Canadian with Scottish parents, I know a little of the history. But when I read romance, I am focused on the hero and heroine - sad to say, but there's a lot of skimming about the political/historical facts that are woven throughout. If I wasn't sure of a character, I just kept reading because I wanted the romance, the HEA. That being said, I think Kearsley did a very good job of portraying the characters' evilness/goodness so that if/when a new character arrived on the scene, there was enough hints to remind me whether or not this was friend or foe.

    Great discussion, Christine - and, again, thanks for hosting the book club!!

  5. Thank you all for chiming in on The Winter Sea. It's great that we all loved it.

    The dual storylines really worked well in this book, didn't it? I honestly couldn't tell you which one I enjoyed more.

    Have you read any of the excerpts for The Firebird? I read one the other day and am super anxious to read it now! June couldn't come soon enough!

    Wait! Did you read The Firebird already?!

    You know, at times I wasn't sure what to think of the "genetic memory" explanations, but by the end of the book - and definitely after having let my thoughts settle a bit upon finishing - I am totally okay with it. Like you said, it was an explanation for what Carrie was experiencing. It doesn't necessarily mean it's a scientific explanation and in the end it doesn't matter. It's what she experienced and that's that.

    Gah! I'm jealous that you kept up with all the secondary or tertiary characters. History was never my subject -- and it's only since I've read historical romance in the last several years that I've fallen in love with different time periods around the world. Perhaps I put up a subconscious wall against remembering or "memorizing" people and their allegiances or roles for political purposes!

    Thanks for participating in the group read, Hilcia. :)

    I was worried about Graham when Carrie was told John was killed in battle, too! Ha! I think I connected to Carrie and Sophia on different emotional levels, as well. I enjoyed both characters very much, though and thought Graham was great.

    Wow! So awesome that you've read 5 Kearsley's since Christmas! I expect you're looking forward to reading The Firebird, too? Only two more months for you!

    I tried looking up Slains Castle on Google Maps but didn't get very far. Is that what you googled ?

    I'm so thrilled that you've been turned on to Kearsley now! She is a brilliant writer. I look forward to her other books, myself!

    I thought Sophia and John's story was much more dramatic as well. And oh so heartbreaking, too. I hope Anna learns the truth of her parents at some point in her life. I wonder if that comes up in The Firebird. I'm dying to know.

    Thanks so much for reading along, everyone! :))


Leave a comment! I love to hear what YOU think.
[I apologize, but I've had to disallow anonymous users to comment on my blog due to an influx of spam. I'll change it back as soon as I can. Thanks for understanding.]