September 7, 2017

"Ye cannot ever say which way this world will take ye."


Practically from the moment she finished reading it, Kelly from Belle of the Literati was pushing me to read The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. She'd discovered a new all-time favorite, and she couldn't stop talking about it. Plus, she knew that I was a fan of adult historical fiction, too, and would likely enjoy the Scottish setting. It seemed meant to be! So, she gifted me with a copy this past Christmas to make sure I'd read it.

Since then, anytime I mentioned that I wasn't sure what to read next, she suggested starting this book. I had to admire her persistence! And it paid off, too, because it was the first thing that came to mind for August's Picky Pledge Reading Challenge prompt, "A Book You Were Gifted." I often ask my family and husband for books for my birthday or Christmas, but choosing one of those felt like cheating. I wanted a book that someone picked out for me all on their own! And this one definitely fit the bill.

In The Winter Sea, Carrie McClelland is hoping to turn the Jacobite uprising of 1708 into her next bestselling novel. She's struggling a bit with the story until she visits Slains Castle in Scotland. Suddenly, inspiration is everywhere. She creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors, Sophia, and begins to write. But something strange is happening with the story and Carrie's memories...

After hearing so much praise from Kelly, I definitely had my hopes up going into this book. How could I not?! When I finished it, I could see exactly why she loved it so much. If I'd read this first, I would have immediately flagged this as a "Kelly book" on so many levels. I really enjoyed it overall and am so glad she gave me a copy! I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own, and I would have been missing out on a good read. 

My main dislike is actually tied to one of my reading quirks: I'm typically not a fan of dual timelines. This book alternates between a contemporary and historical story, and I honestly wished I was only reading the historical one. Carrie's story explores the idea of ancestral memory, and I think that's the main reason it was included. Aside from that aspect, you don't really need the contemporary storyline since Carrie is mostly just writing and researching in it. If you love the concept of actually experiencing the life of someone in the past, I don't think you'll mind the dual timeline aspect. But it didn't quite work for me. 

The only issue I had with the writing itself was the occasional info dump. It took me about a hundred pages or so before I was truly hooked by the story because the beginning was pretty slow. Kearsley included a lot of background on the Jacobites and their rebellion! I appreciated the history lesson, but it did feel there was a bit too much of it at times. In general, I'd rather the history be shown (a gripping battle scene) than have it told (characters having detailed conversations about the outcome of said battle). 

Thankfully, those two complaints were balanced out by what I loved about this book: the historical story and the setting. I was interested in Carrie's writing process, her research and her time in Cruden Bay... but I was absolutely swept away by Sophia's life-changing time spent at Slains Castle. I loved the devastating past she had to overcome, her romance with a handsome rebel, her strength of will in the face of danger and her loyalty to the people she loved. I was itching to get back to past anytime the story shifted to the present!

And in both time periods, I loved the setting. I've never been to Scotland, but Kearsley brought it to life. I could imagine it all in my mind - the wind sweeping in off the sea, the crashing of the waves, the dangerous footpaths along the coast, the crumbling ruins and its former splendor, the beauty of the greenery, the warmth of the tiny cottage, and the nosiness of the nearby villagers. Honestly, I wished I could transport myself there! The tone of the story complemented the mood of the setting, which made it such an atmospheric read. 

While it wasn't quite an all-time favorite for me, I am so thankful that Kelly pushed me to read The Winter Sea. I enjoyed reading it and loved chatting with her about it after I finished! I can see so many historical fiction lovers being drawn into this story. If you're looking for an unforgettable journey to Scotland, this book is your ticket. 
Release Date: January 2008 | Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 536 pages | Source & Format: Gifted; Paperback
Series: Slains #1

This was my eight read for The Picky Pledge Reading Challenge that Alexa and I are doing in 2017! It's the perfect motivation to read books from my TBR and adds an extra dose of accountability, too. In addition to reading and reviewing one challenge book per month, we're answering three questions about each one!

1. How long has this book been on your TBR? 
Only about eight months! It was a gifted to me this past Christmas.

2. Who gave you this book? 
I received this book from Kelly from Belle of the Literati.

3. Do you know (or have a guess) why they chose the book for you?
Because it's one of her favorites, and she was in major book pushing mode!

3 comments:

  1. I love Scotland as a setting too! I have only been out of the US once and it was with a fellow Outlander-fan (and relative) to visit Scotland. It is just as amazing as you imagine. If you ever get the chance, it really is a wonderful place to visit (not that I have a lot to compare it to!)

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  2. I loved the Winter Sea! The sequel was pretty good too.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed it! This book is also a new favorite for me. I agree that I prefer reading about the past rather than the present :)

    Tasya // The Literary Huntress

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