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Mary & Hugh #1

A Desperate Fortune

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The highly anticipated, brand-new timeslip romance from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread-its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal's cipher.

But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal's reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn't hold the secrets Sara expects. As Mary's tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take... to find the road that will lead her safely home.

528 pages, Paperback

First published April 7, 2015

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About the author

Susanna Kearsley

26 books8,145 followers
New York Times, USA Today, and Globe and Mail bestselling author Susanna Kearsley is a former museum curator who loves restoring the lost voices of real people to the page, interweaving romance and historical intrigue with modern adventure.

Her books, published in translation in more than 20 countries, have won the Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize, RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, a RITA Award, and National Readers’ Choice Awards, and have finaled for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year and the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.

She lives near Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

(Aka Emma Cole, a pseudonym she used for one novel, Every Secret Thing, a thriller which at the time was intended to be the first of a trilogy featuring heroine Kate Murray, and which may yet be finished, some day. Meantime, Every Secret Thing has been reissued under Kearsley's name, and the Emma Cole pseudonym is no longer in use.)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,910 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
May 5, 2019
Susanna Kearsley does another of her patented dual timeline novels, this one with computer programmer and amateur cipher-breaker Sara, a British woman with Asperger's, staying in France while trying to crack the cipher that Mary Dundas wrote her journal in, during 1732. The story alternates between Sara's first-person POV and Mary's unexpected adventures during the Jacobite Rebellion, told in third-person. Both of them find romance in unexpected places.

There were some nice parts to it, like the MC with Asperger's and the descriptions of code breaking, as well as some interesting historical background and research (the part of the afterword about the real-life Mary Dundas was heart-wrenching), but overall it was So. Slow. Like a pleasant stroll in the park for 500 pages. Even the *exciting* parts felt pretty tame.

Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,883 reviews5,800 followers
November 9, 2015
*3.5 stars*

I love Susanna Kearsley, and I have really enjoyed almost everything she has written. This book feels strongly like a Susanna Kearsley book, but it is a little different than most. While it has the duel storyline, the Scottish themes that she so often uses, and the romance, this book, unlike others, had no time-travel/time-slip elements. Though I usually enjoy those light paranormal elements in her stories, I think that this book worked well without them.

I wish I could give this book two totally separate ratings. In fact, I wish that half of the story didn't exist altogether. It isn't that the part set in present day is bad, it just paled in comparison to the story told in the past.

The main characters from the 18th century, Mary Dundas and Hugh MacPherson, were an epic couple. Their story is told very elegantly and over a long period of time, and in an extremely subtle way. This isn't your typical historical romance couple, folks. In this book, the Jacobite history plays an enormous role in the story, and the romance is something that seems to develop almost on the back burner. The clandestine actions, the lies and the pretending, made this story very compelling, and, during which, we get to see Mary very slowly change her opinion of Hugh from a stoic, unattractive, and intimidating Highlander to the greatest man she has ever known. Both of these characters had deep, deep baggage, and to see them come together and trust each other was lovely. Very few writers could have created such an compelling couple, and I wish we could have followed Mary and Hugh on to more adventures at the end of the book, a la Outlander.

The present-day couple were much less interesting for me. Though Sara's story of having Asperger's Syndrome was interesting, I didn't feel much chemistry between her and Luc. Every time their storyline came up, I felt like I was in a rush to move past it and back to Mary and Hugh. I was much less invested in Sara and Luc, though I did like reading about the side characters of Luc's ex-wife and son. I mostly found Sara and Luc's page time dragging on, and it made the book feel much longer than it was.

Though this isn't my favorite Susanna Kearsley book, I'm still always impressed by her ability to craft an extremely well researched and subtle story. I can't wait to see what she does next.

**Copy provided in exchange for an honest review**
Profile Image for TL .
1,879 reviews53 followers
April 8, 2018

Once again I am sad to leave this people behind... Miss Kearsley has created people I will not forget and that have stolen their way into my heart, never to leave.

Bit dramatic? Maybe, but the truth still :) <3

I will return to visit you again soon, my friends...

Original review:

This one takes a little bit to get going but is well worth your time and patience. :)

Miss Kearsley's gorgeous writing is on display in full here, weaving the dual narratives together seamlessly and building the world her characters inhabit so lovingly.

Hugh and Luc have taken the top spots of my favorites of the men she has written (sorry Rob!). Good, loyal, and full of integrity.

Mary Dundas was easy to like, I felt like I grew close to her over the course of her journey. You can't help but admire her courage and strength as she and the others make their way across to get to their final destination. (Not an easy or trouble free one).

Alistair's book series sounds like something I would love to read.. loved his passion for his subject matter. And Claudine's photographs sounded so amazing.

Noah, such a sweet boy... I fell in love with everyone in this book actually haha.

The descriptions of the surroundings, present and past... <3!!
It makes me want to visit Scotland more than ever one day:).

Sara was an interesting person and I enjoyed getting to know her and her cousin, watching her grow as she translated Mary's diary.
Her part of the story wasn't as compelling as the historical part but still enjoyable.

Seeing characters pop up from her other novels was fun as well:).

Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
August 19, 2018
It's quite difficult where I live to access English books as English speakers are very much a minority in a majority French language province. I rely very much on my e-readers and friends and family and local libraries that might have at least a shelf of books I haven't read. So how lucky I am that I recently discovered that a local French bookstore does carry some English titles and ons happened to be A Desperate Fortune.

A dual narrative that alternates between contemporary France and a France of 1732 held my attention on a park bench for most of this Sunday. Though at times, the story suffers from the author's "desperate" need to give both her female protagonists a happily ever after, I have a lot of respect for SK's storytelling especially as it surrounds the Jacobites.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,157 followers
August 1, 2015
When the newly unemployed Sara Thomas accepts a temporary job decoding a mysterious old journal from 1732, she unravels an unexpected story of adventure and romance while experiencing a surprising Paris interlude of her own. Although a little slow going, thought the added perspective from Sara's Asperger Syndrome was well presented.

Good story, but needed a little more spice for my taste. The Rose Garden still my favorite!

Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
746 reviews1,792 followers
March 5, 2015
I'm having a hard time figuring out how to rate this book. I have read several of Kearsley's novels and loved them. This one, unfortunately, didn't live up to my expectations. It was really slow. I enjoyed the characters but the story was just not very strong. I must confess that the ARC copy I read had huge 'SOURCEBOOK' logos on every other page which was distracting and is probably weighing into my review. I still love SK and will jump at the chance to read her next novel. 3.5.
Profile Image for Diane Lynn.
254 reviews5 followers
May 6, 2015
I really enjoyed this book and that puts me in the minority amongst my GR friends. I figure that’s what keeps things exciting here at GR. You just never know what will strike a chord with one person and not with the next.

I won’t be writing a recap as the book blurb does a great job of that. I really appreciated the way both storylines flowed. There was no silly gimmick to get from one time period to the other. (That mind reading in The Firebird always took me right out of the story and I had a hard time getting back in). As usual, Susanna Kearsley does a great job of letting the reader see and understand the character dynamics. I also loved seeing all of the references to her previous books. For example, the troglodyte houses from The Splendour Falls. Plus I’m sure that was . A big plus is the reference to her next book, Bellewether, which she is working on right now. You know when you read, “But that is another story.” from this author, that some day you will get that other story. I'm already wondering how the drawing in A Desperate Fortune, is going to fit in. According to her writing room, her next book will be set in Long Island during the time of the French & Indian/Seven Years' War, in America. I’m looking forward to reading that one!

I enjoyed the slow, natural buildup of the relationships in both storylines. No insta-love here. I also liked how she brought Asperger’s syndrome into the story. The main character in the present day story has this syndrome and I was worried that that might become the story, but it didn’t. I don’t know much about it but it sure fits into the story well. The ciphering was very interesting. As usual for me, I enjoyed the story set in the past more than the present day story. And, my, oh my...I loved the hero from the storyline set in the past!

Overall, a wonderful group of characters (plus a cat and a dog), two great stories, and very interesting historical info based on some real people and events. Last, but not least, an ending to the historical story that left me all weepy. That’s always the sign of a good book!
Profile Image for Ava ☕.
257 reviews38 followers
April 8, 2015
Opening up the first chapter of this book, or any book by Susanna Kearsley, is like front row tickets to your favorite band, world peace, finding the perfect jeans, Disneyland, and losing 10lbs in December all rolled into one.

In Kearsley fashion, a present and historical timeline make the backdrop of the story.

The present day involves a young woman named Sara Thomas, a computer programer with an ability to solve number games, codes, and cyphers. Sara is hired, through a friend, by a Parisian author to decipher a diary written in unknown code. A diary that holds secrets much differently than anyone expected. Sara likes working in the beautiful country of France. She becomes attached to her neighbors, and despite the obstacles and blessings of her living with Asperger's Syndrome, Sara manages to discover much about her own self and what is truly home.

The diary in the story segues Kearsley's timelines quite nicely. The diary is written and encrypted in the 1730's by a twenty-one year old Mary Dundas. Herein, Mary writes of alleged monetary deception by a man she would end up traveling with, a bankruptcy of an economy, the continuing Jacobite cause, long lost family, severe political unrest, and the mercurial nature of love.

Mary is thrust into the company of a possible embezzler, Jacobite spies, a Highland woman serving as a kind traveling companion, and a fierce Highland protector. Mary embarks on a journey to reach the exiled King James' protection and hopefully sympathetic ear.

I love the storyline written about someone with Aspergers. Sara's character is written well, respectfully, and true to life. Beautifully done.

The running theme throughout the story felt very bold, yet simple. Home is where we chose to make it, even when our story takes a detour for the worst or people tell us who we are, where we are going. Sara was told she could not have normal relationships. In her mind, Aspergers defined who she was and while strongly reinforced, she lived, in the best way I can describe, as resolved.

In the same manner, Hugh MacPherson, a 1700s Highlander, stripped from all he cared for on this earth. Further, making choices that darkened his next choice, until he could no longer recognize the man he had become. Resolved in his choices, as he saw no other path.

Its easier to believe the bad stuff about yourself. But it is also the influence of only one that can pepper your worldview for the best.

My only complaint, if you could call it that, was the slower but necessary start to the story. By the time Mary and her companions set out, I was hooked.

Lastly, if you haven't read any of Kearsley's other stories and you love to mix your historical fiction with present day, paranormal, adventure, romance, and/or time shift or time slip*, or all of the above? Get thee to a bookstore or e-reader near you!

(*A time slip is what Wikipedia calls it. I had to look it up, but I digress...)

Many thanks to Netgalley for the review copy of this title.


Jacobites, historical fiction, and adventure. WOOT!

With every book she outdoes herself which, by the way, has earned her the 2014 RITA Award for Paranormal Romance for her last book, The Firebird. I will read anything she writes. Cannot wait for this one.
Profile Image for Misfit.
1,637 reviews289 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
April 21, 2015
I yield at 61%, every time I pick this up it's still the same - nothing happening here, move along feeling. I may try another day, but too many books are calling me at the moment and too many library patrons are in line behind me.
Profile Image for Ira.
1,070 reviews100 followers
April 17, 2018
3.5 stars.

If you read Ms. Kearsley book before, you probably know already she always have two parallel stories in her book. And I need to be honest with you, I was cheating here. The rating only for the contemporary/present story.

I couldn’t get into the historical part, only read selective chapters.
It wasn’t like The Winter Sea which I love very much. For me the history part here is overpowering the romance. At some point I just gave up and only read the present setting story which I found more interesting.

However many of you loves this book and Lyuda’s review here will explained better if you want to know more about this book.

You might interesting to know, the two romances in the story weren’t connected. So you still get a wonderful story if you only read one romance.

If you never read Ms. Kearsley before, The Winter Sea probably a better choice to start.
Profile Image for Carole (Carole's Random Life).
1,796 reviews485 followers
December 26, 2018
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books.

I have some pretty mixed feelings about this book. I liked it well enough but I didn't fall in love with it as I had expected to do. This is a story that is told in two timelines and I found that I really enjoyed one timeline much more than the other which usually makes it a little harder to completely enjoy a novel. I am glad that I decided to finally pick this one up and did enjoy the overall experience.

As I mentioned, this book is told in two timelines. The first timeline is focused on Sara. Sara was a really interesting character that I found myself liking her right away. Sara has Asperger's Syndrome which does have an impact on how she thinks and sees the world. I enjoyed watching her work to break the code for Mary's diary as she was hired to do. I think that my favorite part of her timeline was the interactions with all the other characters. I loved watching her develop a relationship with Luc, Noah, and Denise.

The second timeline follows Mary Dundas in the 1730s. Mary has been living with an aunt and really wants her father and brother to want her around so she is excited when her brother comes to get her. Her brother really needs Mary to help out with a mission to protect the Jacobite cause. Before she knows it, Mary is entangled in an exciting adventure that is quite dangerous. I never felt the same connection to Mary that I did with Sara. Even though there was more action in her timeline, I found that everything seemed to move rather slowly.

I believe that this was my first time listening to Katherine Kellgren's narration and I have to admit that it did take me some time to get used to her voice. She did a good job with the rather large cast of characters and added a lot of emotion to the story. By the end of the book she did win me over and I had no problem listening for hours at a time.

I think that a lot of readers will like this one a bit more than I did. This was a book that told two very interesting stories. Unfortunately, I preferred one of those stories much more than the other and anytime the book changed to a new timeline, I thought that it lost some momentum. I do look forward to reading more from Susanna Kearsley in the future.

I received a digital review copy of this book from Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley and purchased a copy of the audiobook.

Initial Thoughts
I have mixed feelings about this one. As is often the case in books that use two timelines, I found myself enjoying one of the timelines in this novel much more than the other. I actually like the present day story that was centered on Sara as she worked to decode Mary's diary. For some reason, I just connected with those characters more than the ones that were featured in Mary's diary. There was a lot to keep track of in Mary's story and that is where most of the excitement in the novel takes place. I listened to the audiobook and I do admit that it took me some time to adjust to Katherine Kellgren's narration. I thought that some of the character voices that she used sounded quite similar and I had to really focus to keep track of who was speaking. By the end of the book, I found like I liked her narration much more than I did at the start of the story.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book563 followers
February 6, 2019
Susanna Kearsley has rapidly become one of my favorite historical fiction writers. There is always an element of romance in her books, and I confess to enjoying that element, but there is also solid background research, realistic settings within that history, and strong fictional character who are surrounded by people and events that actually occurred.

In A Desperate Fortune, she follows the dual timelines of Sara and Mary. Sara is a young lady with Asperger's who is good at solving encryptions; Mary is a young lady in 1732 France who has left behind her an encrypted diary. In the course of transcribing the diary, we get both Sara’s story and Mary’s. As usual, Kearsley does a marvelous job of juggling the two stories and keeping the reader interested in both. So few writers pull this off well for me.

One of the fun contrivances Kearsley uses is introducing characters from her previous books, mainly for cameo parts, but like running into an old friend when touring a foreign city, it gives you a feeling of connection and home. It also helps to keep the time element clear in the historical portion when you encounter characters that are already firmly placed in your mind. Besides, who doesn’t smile when a character steps onto the page and they can say, “oh, I know him”?

This kind of book always makes me feel young again. It is the kind of book I relished when my dreams were new and the future looked like fun. It was a much needed break from some very heavy reading and made me wonder why I don’t indulge myself more often in reading something just because I want to.
Profile Image for DeAnn.
1,357 reviews
September 26, 2015
Susanna Kearsley has written a winner! This time there is no time travel involved, but still two stories told, one present day the other set during the Jacobite times. I am definitely a little in love with both Luc Sabran and Hugh McPherson. Kearsley has created two compelling, and of course, handsome male romantic leads. I like the female characters as well, but the romantic story is engaging! I will admit I even cried a bit at the end when I thought the ending was going to be different.

There's an interesting plot device with Asperger's and I think she's done a good job showing a bit of life in that world. Believable characters and a great story to boot.

I admit I did gloss over some of the history parts as it is somewhat confusing. If you like her books, this one is a good one!
Profile Image for Brittain *Needs a Nap and a Drink*.
373 reviews449 followers
April 21, 2015
Susanna Kearsley has done it again. And it's beautiful and wonderful and all the good things about a book that makes you keep coming back to it over and over.

Susanna Kearsley is an auto-buy author for me. When a new book of hers comes out, I try to pick it up as quickly as possible and usually devour it in an afternoon. All of her books blend the past and the present in such a way that you feel like you are stepping into the shoes of the characters and experiencing everything that they do.

A Desperate Fortune follows the growth of two women: Sara, an English woman who struggles with the day to day challenges of living with Asperger's in a society that increasingly demands extroversion and conformity and Mary, a young woman who grew up in France during the Jacobite revolution and finds herself at the center of a covert operation that goes bad quickly.

I absolutely adored Sara. She wants desperately to be normal and she goes with the "Fake it till you make it" mentality when dealing with others. She quit her most recent job because it forced her to work with others instead of working alone which she prefers. After she is given a cipher to crack, Sara is invited to work for an author who has found a very curious diary. The diary is that of Mary Dundas and is written entirely in code. It is supposed to depict the life of an ordinary girl in France but instead, it's the story of a great adventure.

Mary Dundas starts her story by wanting to move back with her family after an invitation from her brother. But her brother has other plans and sends her to be a tool in trying to protect a fugitive from England that is a sympathizer to the Jacobite cause. Mary tries to play her role perfectly but things quickly go south and she finds herself traversing the country with a quiet and intimidating Scotsman, a charming Englishman, and a chaperon. Their journey is perilous and forces Mary to abandon her ideals of living a peaceful life with her brother's family and stand up for herself.

The romances are absolutely lovely in this book.

Sara always pushes away her love interests and is content with being solitary for the rest of her life. She has accepted it and it's okay. Then she meets Luc Sabran who sneaks through the cracks in the walls she has built. He is patient and kind which is exactly what she needs in her life. Sara wants calm and steady and that is what he offers.

And Hugh MacPherson...

I have to say that he is my favorite hero that Kearsley has written so far. Yes, he bumped Rob off the top. He is so wonderfully written, it is amazing. Hugh is cold, removed, strong, stubborn, and all of the things you want/don't want in a damaged man. He just wants to keep everybody safe and do his job but the close quarters between Hugh and Mary force them to try to get along and help each other. Mary is originally terrified of him but it grows to respect and admiration in such a natural way that it is perfectly believable.

The historical aspects of this book are on point, as per usual. This author loves this particular period in French and Scottish history and has done a great job of tying in the history with the romance. The outfits are period appropriate, the manner of speaking, and she obviously does her research. I love well planned books. They make my heart soar.

Characters from the author's other novels make cameos which is fun in many ways. I like seeing that all the stories are tied together in some way. However, it can get a bit tiring. You have to remember their stories and make those connections and sometimes it can be annoying.

There are 3 reasons that this isn't a 5 star book for me.

1) The cover - not relevant to anything. Just a sepia tone of a pretty girl.

2) The ending for Sara was too abrupt and I hated how it concluded way before Mary's story.

3) The beginning was a bit slow. It was like the story had to gear up a bit before it got going. But if you're patient, it's entirely worth it.

So yeah...another wonderful book from this author. It's such a fine and lovely thing that I couldn't even find gifs for it.

I'm still basking in book afterglow here.

Review also posted at Tara Belle Talking

Profile Image for Molly O'keefe.
Author 106 books2,105 followers
August 5, 2014
Am I super lucky to have gotten my hands on an early copy of A Desperate Fortune? Yes! Yes I am. If you love Kearsley - it's got everything you love, plus, I thought an extra dose of adventure. Two time-lines, tons of romance, tons of adventure and for money you don't get a better hero than Hugh MacPearson. You just don't. Very great book!

Susanna is my September author for THE AUTHOR IS... so if you'd like to read a great interview with her sign up for my newsletter at www.molly-okeefe.com
Profile Image for Lyuda.
538 reviews138 followers
August 3, 2015
I can’t believe I‘ve not read this author before. Thanks to my GRs friend Linda for her review which helped me to discover this gifted author.
The story is actually two stories in one set in different times but connected through a diary of a young woman, Mary Dundas. The diary was written in 1732 during turbulent times of Jacobitism. It survived centuries but Mary’s story was not known as the diary was written in a cryptic code. That is where the second story comes in. Set in present times, it features a programmer and amateur decoder, Sara Thomas, who breaks the code to give a voice to some thought ordinary but turned not so ordinary woman of the past. In a hand of a less gifted author, the book could’ve been a total confusion and hard to follow as it goes from one narrative to another, featuring adventure, danger, spies, murder, and two love stories and, add to this, one story is written from the first person POV and the other is not. But it is not the case with this book. If I have one word to describe it, it would be “riveting”. I had no problem following two storylines. It was very interesting to see how growth and maturity of Mary throughout her story helps Sara, who has the autism spectrum disorder, gain confidence in herself. Sara, slowly breaking the code, has discovered so much more about herself, including how to trust and more importantly how to love. Mary’s story was my favorite of the two. It was so satisfying to see her growth from sheltered young maiden to a strong young lady. The two romances in the story were beautifully written. The chemistry between both sets of characters was palpable and the author achieved all of it without characters removing any piece of clothing :) The book has one of the most romantic declarations of love I read. It made me swoon! I feel like the book will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Angie.
645 reviews1,013 followers
December 22, 2015
Originally reviewed here @ Angieville

I discovered Susanna Kearsley's books a few years ago through the utterly wonderful The Winter Sea. It was love from start to finish with that book, and I eagerly checked out a few more of her backlist. I never fell quite as hard with the others as I did with The Winter Sea though, and so when I heard about A Desperate Fortune it didn't automatically zip to the top of my TBR. But then my friend Beth read and loved it and did that thing where she smiles enigmatically and says, "You'll have to tell me when you've read it." Implying that I will. And that it will likely go well. I trust her implicitly. But I am a bit of an uncooperative reading soul these days, and so I knew I would come to it when I came to it. Attempting to force things lately tends to backfire spectacularly. Then the other night I crawled into bed and cast about. As one does. I figured I'd give it a shot. Just the first few pages. Just to see . . .

Sara Thomas has learned how to manage her life. She prefers to work alone when at all possible. She plays Sudoku when she gets anxious. She occasionally meets someone she's interested in seeing more. It lasts a few weeks, and then she ends it before she has to explain why it won't work long-term. She has her beloved cousin Jacqui to point her in the right direction in social situations, or provide her with the necessary reprieve as needed. So when Jacqui comes to her with an intriguing proposition related to one of her famous historians, Sara is interested. Having always loved code-breaking, she takes on the challenge of deciphering the fragment, only to find out the next step is a trip to France and the overwhelming task of deciphering the entirety of a young woman's journal. A young woman from the 18th century. Mary Dundas was born a Scot but raised in France. Her unusual tale takes her from the French countryside to the heart of Paris to the shadow Jacobite court in Rome. And Sara is along for the ride as she moves temporarily into the home of the woman who currently owns the journal and learns to navigate life in a small French village and the kind advances of an unusual family that lives there.

I'm such a sucker for a Jacobite Rebellion tale. This likely dates all the way back to Patricia Calvert's wonderful Hadder MacColl, which I read and loved as a kid. It was encouraged on by Jennifer Roberson's Lady of the Glen, which I read and loved as a teen. Ms. Kearsley excels at the time period as well, and her books have been such a delight to discover and love as an adult. As is often the case with a Kearsley book, I fell in love with the characters in the contemporary storyline first. I was fond of Sara instantly, as she matter-of-factly outlined her life with Asperger's, her reliance on her cousin Jacqui's social cues and advice, and her foray into amateur code-breaking as a form of independence in France. It took me a bit longer to warm up to Mary Dundas and her perilous journey. I am known to struggle with a road trip, but as soon as Mary made her way to Paris and took up the reins of her ruse, I fell into her story as well. The introduction of one mysterious Highlander by the name of MacPherson did not hurt in the slightest. As lasting imagery from this novel goes, it is those atmospheric scenes from Mary's life that linger in my mind. The unsettling glow of MacPherson's pipe lighting in a dark room. The tucking of a small dog into a rough cloak as tired feet press on. Two figures standing quietly just inches apart near the bridges of Rome.

But my favorite scene of all (which I can't resist quoting a bit of for you here) comes from Sara's story. Sara's and Luc's.
"Luc." I felt a sudden weight within my chest, a pressing sadness as I realized he was wanting something more than I could give him; something more than just a simple holiday romance. "I don't . . . I can't . . ." He mattered more than any of the others had, and so it hurt me more to disappoint him, but that only made it more important he should hear the truth. "I can't sustain a real relationship. I always mess things up." I'd meant to state that calmly as a fact, but my voice wobbled on the final words and Luc's own voice grew gentle in response.

"How do you mess things up?"

In every way conceivable, I could have told him. "I just do."

"It might not happen this time."

"Yes, it will. It always does. I'm just not capable—"

"Who told you that?" His words, still quiet, cut across my own with an insistence that I simply couldn't bring myself to answer, so I briefly closed my eyes and closed my mind against the memories.

Luc fell silent too, and when my eyes came open he was watching me. Not crowding me, but standing close enough that I was very much aware of him.

He asked me, "If you could . . . if you were capable of having a relationship, would you want one with me?"


"You like me."


"Good. So your plan was that we should spend time with each other, and then you would leave me?"


Luc gave a nod, and remarkably I saw the curve of his smile. "What?" I asked.

"It's a terrible plan." He came closer. "No, really, you need to revise it. I'll help you."

Two lovely, very subtle romances thread their way through the dual timelines. I found myself immeasurably charmed by both of them. The pacing on the whole is quite slow, languorously so. But my interest and attention never flagged. It merely meant my consumption of the novel was a more leisurely and relaxed affair—an experience I thoroughly treasure. Susanna Kearsley's books always feel like the warmth of a fire on a winter night to me. If you find yourself with a few hours to spend on a cozy evening in the near future, I can't think of a more enjoyable read to tuck in with than A Desperate Fortune. I'll be gifting it this holiday season for sure.
Profile Image for Ann☕.
303 reviews
June 28, 2019
Susanna Kearsley offers yet another dual timeline story with a romantic twist, this time centered on a diary written in code by Mary Dundas during the Jacobite movement in Europe. In the present day, we find a novice codebreaker set with the task of discovering the secrets of the journal. Both the past and present contain mysterious circumstances and possibilities for romance.

This is a slow paced novel, with details about each character revealed layer by layer. It wasn’t quite up to par with The Winter Sea, which is the first novel I read by Kearsley and continues to be my favorite. Still, I enjoyed the historical setting and the inclusion of a character with Asperger syndrome to decipher the diary, added a unique element. I am pleased the author included a note at the end, describing her historical research and how she chose the characters in the story. Romance novels usually aren’t my preference anymore but I enjoyed the change of pace from my nonfiction reading. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes.
Profile Image for Joanne.
63 reviews2 followers
April 28, 2015
While I love many of Susanna Kearsley's books, I found A Desperate Fortune to be very similar to The Firebird -- very slow moving with very little plot twists and turns to keep the story moving forward. I was rewarded for sticking with the book around the 37th chapter (out of 42 chapters!) as at this point the pace picked up and it was a bit of Kearsley magic, but alas, too little, too late to give more than 2 or 3 stars.
Profile Image for LJ.
3,159 reviews311 followers
June 3, 2015
First Sentence: My cousin didn’t try to catch the bride’s bouquet.

Sara Thomas finds, having Asperger’s Syndrome, it is much easier for her to work on her own. A computer programmer, she uses Sudoku as a way to control her episodes. Presented with the challenge of breaking a cipher, which she does in 17 seconds, leads her to a job within a family home in Paris deciphering and translating the journal of Mary Dundas, a Jacobite exile yearning for freedom, and a place to belong. Divided by centuries, these two women are each on a journey of self-discovery.

Kearsley is an absolute delight to read. She introduces us to an interesting, unusual character creating an immediate affinity, and then adds a very intriguing puzzle.

Her wonderful descriptions allow us to walk into the middle of a scene…”It was, I thought, the perfect postcard view of what an English village green should look like, right down to the pond at the far corner, with its trailing golden willows and its noisy scrambling ducks…” Yet it’s the details of something seemingly insignificant, such as a man and his gun-shy Gordon Setter, that make such a difference…”He took his glove off when he shook my hand—the mark, my father always said, of a true gentleman.”

Kearsley does a wonderful job of providing a very concise, yet informative, lesson on Scottish history and the Jacobites. She also brings characters across from past books, but in a way that someone reading this, and no other, aren’t left wondering. Sara, our present day protagonist, is a very interesting character and the information on Asperger’s is fascinating but included in such a way that is natural and fits with the flow of the story. Luc, to whom Sara is attracted, is a bit too good to be true, but don’t we all wish. However, it is through him that we learn interesting about French laws related to children and the school schedule.

The dialogue is excellent, capturing the structure of English, French, and Scots characters. There are lovely descriptions of meals, from the simple snack of bread with lots of butter, chocolate and milk or coffee, to a festive dinner…”We had champagne and oysters, smoked salmon on toast and roast pork and a platter of delicate cheeses, with wines for each course and a chocolate log cake for the finish.

While dual time-period stories can often be frustrating, Kearsley handles them beautifully. The character and plot in each period holds its own; one doesn’t feel to be less important or significant and both are equally intriguing. What is even more impressive is that it reflects what usually happens when reading historic texts or journals. We, in the present, have only an overview, somewhat of a summarized view of the events of the past. By including the story from Mary’s point of view, we are privy to the actual events. It is within Mary’s story that we also find wonderful suspense and tension. It also opens the door to learning things with otherwise might not, such as the history of fairy tales. And for those who love stories of Highlanders, McPherson is a true, red-headed Scot with two swords, one being a basket-hilt Scottish sword, and a dirk.

The depth of Kearsley’s research is very impressive. Within the historic period, much is based on actual figures, places and events, all of which adds richness and veracity to the story.

“A Desperate Fortune” begins in the present, and ends in the past, yet both stories are complete, satisfying and completely wonderful and touch your heart. This may well be Kearsley’s best book…yet. It's a definitely "must-read."

A DESPERATE FORTUNE (Susp/Rom/Hist-Sara Thomas/Mary Dundas-England-Contemp/1732) – Ex
Kearsley, Susanna – Standalone
Sourcebooks Landmark – April 2015
Profile Image for Wendy.
1,681 reviews568 followers
December 31, 2018
A Desperate Fortune, by Susanna Kearsley, is my 2nd novel by this author.
I really wanted to enjoy this novel more than I actually did.
This is a story that is told in two timelines. I found that I enjoyed one timeline much more than the other. I could connect with the characters in the present day but found the historical timeline very slow.
I will try this author again as I have heard so many wonderful things about her other novels.
Profile Image for Heidi (MinxyD14).
380 reviews93 followers
November 28, 2022
4.5 stars'ish ... the historical detail is wonderful. If you can brave the awkward unfolding of the contemporary love story you will be well rewarded with Mary & Hugh's story - which was touching and beautifully crafted. The author's notes at the end were akin to an unexpected Christmas gift!
Profile Image for Sophia.
Author 5 books346 followers
August 17, 2016
I read another book from this author and after enjoying her old-style romantic suspense tone I wanted to read more of her work. I spotted this one which promised a split story with two heroines a few centuries apart with a diary at the center of matters for them and settled in for an engaging set of stories.

This is a standalone story, but fans of the Author's earlier Jacobite-centered stories like The Winter Sea and The Firebird will recognize a few crossover characters doing cameo scenes.

The book opens with contemporary heroine, Sara Thomas, being offered the task of deciphering a 300 year old diary for an author's research project. Sara joins the household of the diary's current owner and slowly settles in to the French household and beginning her own little romantic adventure. While reading about the intrepid Mary Dundas, the girl's story captivates Sara and challenges her for the first time to take a chance and reach for what she really wants even if the negative voice in her head tells her she can never have a normal life.

Born in exile to a Jacobite sympathizer and his French wife, Mary Dundas is sent to live with her aunt's family when she was just a little girl until the time comes that her brother comes for her. Mary discovers that all is not what it seems and she is now caught up in intrigue, espionage and danger. The people around her are keeping secrets and these are the people she must trust for her welfare. She wished to travel and for adventure. Now if she can only survive to appreciate it.

Split stories between contemporary and historical times are an iffy venture for me. I usually end up preferring one story line over the other. And I did in this case, as well. Mary Dundas' story from the past held me attention much more over Sara's. However, that is not to say that I disliked Sara's story.

Mary lives in dangerous, changing times with the English spying and keeping track of the Jacobites in exile and the Jacobites are constantly scheming to put their king back on the throne and gain Scottish. She is an ordinary young lady who only dreams of life outside her uncle's quiet home until she finds herself in the midst of a desperate adventure and a man she isn't sure she trusts holds her life in his hands.

Sara has Asperger's syndrome and it controls her life to a certain extent. I loved seeing her work with it and figure out how to put things in place to work with it. She has kept quietly to herself preferring isolated jobs and assumes she can never have a long-term relationship until a handsome and lively Frenchman teaches her differently.

While I didn't mind Sara's story, I did find the repetition that occurred a bit between Mary's narration and then Sara reading it again in the diary slowed things up somewhat and was a distraction more than anything. I also liked the romance she had, but it was fast and underdeveloped because the focus was more on Mary and the diary.

Now Mary's story was the gem. I never wanted to leave off and go back to the present. She's surrounded by secretive and desperate characters. The reluctant adventure she is on hones her and shows her to be much more than she knew. She is surrounded by people who have seen tough and hard times and her opinion alters as she grows to understand how the world works.

So in the end, this was a solid two for one story with well-drawn characters and a particularly compelling historical story full of suspense and a surprising romance.

My thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Amy S.
250 reviews35 followers
April 17, 2015
This is a book about patience and broken people.

I finished this book two days ago, but I've been kind of digesting my thoughts and sitting on this review.

A departure from her last few books, this book does not contain any supernatural elements or time slips. It does follow a present day and past timeline. Sara, who has Asperger's, which in many ways makes her the perfect candidate to decode a diary from the 1700's written in cipher, And Mary, our Jacobite heroine who finds herself thrown into an adventure and possibly love.

Both women are dealing with feelings of abandonment and rejection. Both are trying to find where they fit into the world and how to be authentically themselves (hello, Oprah!).

I will get the cons out of the way first. I've got two biggies: The first half of the book is slow. Really slow. It gets better, but it is a slow book in general. Because she is a wonderful author it was not painful or boring exactly, but I honestly feel she could have edited more. It really did not get going for me at all until Chapter 17. Secondly, this is the first time in a Kearsley novel where I didn't feel the same love for both storylines. I was far less interested in the present-day timeline than with the historical one. It was a bit jarring for me to switch back and forth. I could have lingered in Mary's world happily without visiting Sara's much. On the one hand, having a heroine with a form of autism is pretty darn cool. It was interesting to navigate her world and thoughts. Sometimes, however, it could be a bit distracting for me.

Pros? Yes. Mr. MacPherson has got to be one of my favorite characters in her novels. And I was so impatient with him at the beginning. What kind of hero could he possibly be, I kept thinking. I wasn't sure I was buying it. But by the end…oh the end. For me, I felt like the last few scenes with them were just beautiful. And the relationship Kearsley built for them was real love. Not insta-love/lust, not convenient love-to-make-the-readers-happy. Real love. She didn't wrap up every storyline with a neat bow. Life is what it is. For me, the ending made the beginning worth it. Remember I mentioned patience? Patience is rewarded for Mary and for the readers.

She really hits her stride on the last third of the book. This is where I felt her particular strengths as an author shone. Great characters, fantastic dialogue.

I don't know if this will be one of my top favorites of hers, but there are definitely favorite scenes, definitely favorite characters (love the pirate captain!). And I would definitely re-read down the road. One way I know I love her books is when I finish the book and find myself re-reading huge sections just to absorb it better and to understand things I missed.


I mean, I don't care or anything. Just thought I'd mention it.
Profile Image for Linda .
1,820 reviews266 followers
June 24, 2015
With the kiss of dual timelines, Susanna Kearsley introduced a modern-day woman with Asberger's syndrome to 1730's France. Sara Thomas had been hired to help an author complete the last book in a trilogy. The country gentleman, Alistair Scott, took his research seriously. Determined to make his third story a success, he won Sara over by encouraging her interest. She was to unravel a code used in a diary by a young lady from a bygone era: Mary Dundas. With political intrigue humming in the background, Sara soon discovered Mary to be a human chess piece.

I loved the two men who integrated themselves into the ladies' lives. The very modern and gentle Luc; written with such intelligence, assurance and devotion. And Hugh MacPherson: a Scottish Highlander, soldier and bodyguard. A loner even among compatriots. A deep thinker and a man that was so well-suited for Mary even when she wasn't aware of it. There was some wonderful chemistry with both couples but if you are expecting more, be aware that this was a clean romance.

As I mentioned before, the story smoothly connected distinct and separate timelines. I never once had a problem switching from the present to 1732 and then back again. The author revealed the past using the third person and the present time using first person tense. It could have been tricky but Ms. Kearsley pulled it off.

Be sure and pay close attention to the little nuances that the author slipped into some paragraphs. A seemingly innocent relationship. A certain individual's name. A casual thought. If you read something and your intuition tells you different, more than likely you are right. I was invested in Mary's mission and Sara's assignment; A DESPERATE FORTUNE succeeded because it captivated my emotions.
Profile Image for Hannah.
797 reviews
July 29, 2016
While better then The Firebird IMO, this one still fell flat for me in comparison to Mariana and Every Secret Thing. The past storyline never made an emotional connection with me, and the *twist* I've come to expect of Kearsley was missing in this one.

What I did appreciate was that this Kearsley heroine (the modern day one) had Asberger's syndrome. I'm one of those readers who gnash my teeth over book heroines who have nothing to recommend them but pure physical beauty. It was a bold step for Kearsley to feature a person with strengths and flaws like the rest of us. I liked Sara and her struggles to find love and acceptance.

Not my favorite, but still a good reading experience - can't wait for Kearsley's next one! The French and Indian War in America - count me in!!

Profile Image for Adrienne.
516 reviews121 followers
September 10, 2022
4.5 Brilliant historical fiction brilliantly told. Kearsleys' lead character, commoner, Mary Dundas (circa 1730s) wrote a journal in code. Using a cipher that 300 years later needed a code breaker. Enter Sara Thomas. She is hired to break the code: revealing incredible daring-dos' for an exiled Jacobite king living in France.
Incredible adventure, loyalty, betrayal and rebellion. An aspect of historical fiction that was/is new to me.
Profile Image for Tracy.
585 reviews43 followers
June 24, 2018
I love this author! I've read all her books and they are great. I prefer her later books to the earlier ones only because I feel she's become a more talented and competent writer. This particular book is another great one. It had a few slow parts but overall was a good story. If you like historical fiction, I highly recommend starting with The Winter Sea, The Firebird and then this book.
Profile Image for Dorine.
602 reviews31 followers
November 24, 2015
Rated 4.5 - This novel is like an archaeological dig of words, with the main character in this century unraveling the clues about the main character in the past. Exciting and intriguing, A DESPERATE FORTUNE surprises with unexpected emotion.

A great mixture of a modern day story following a mystery as it unfolds in history, A DESPERATE FORTUNE combines two time periods in a fictional tale that’s exciting as well as emotional. I was drawn to this novel, not just for the historical aspects but also because the modern-day heroine’s Asperger’s diagnosis made me very curious about her coping mechanisms.

Sara Thomas depends on her cousin Jacqui to calm her sometimes nonsensical Asperger’s world. Sara knows she’s different but Jacqui does her best to help Sara blend into society, even if Sara pretends to be what she’s not in order to get through the more difficult moments. Jacqui teaches Sara to mimic normal so even those closest to her sometimes forget that she isn’t just like them.

When Jacqui presents Sara with a cipher to unscramble as a means to test her for a job with a client of hers, it challenges Sara. In the process, this cipher job resolves many of Sara’s lifelong doubts about her ability to have a normal life, including meeting a man who accepts her uniqueness. The cipher leads Sara to France to decode a diary written by a woman in the 1700s. A DESPERATE FORTUNE is a historical adventure that unravels as a modern day mystery, enhanced by two love stories, one in present day and another in 1732.

I’m fond of journals and diaries, especially historical ones. I’ve had this particular book on my wish list for some time and to my surprise the publisher granted my wish by offering it to me for review. I was in a reading funk at the time it was offered and since I was in desperate need of a good historical, I accepted. It was exactly what I had been seeking and in some ways beyond what I had imagined. I love it when I’m surprised by a book.

Mary Dundas had been left with relatives to raise her when her mother died and her father followed his political aspirations. She felt abandoned, so when her brother comes for her in 1732, something she had always dreamed about, Mary is too excited to ask very many questions. Eventually she realizes that she is the perfect solution to a Jacobite’s need for discretion. Mary Dundas finds herself on a dangerous mission for a cause she has never supported until now, and falling for a man who is the most dangerous of them all. Will she live through the risky role she must play to find her happy-ever-after?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Lately I’ve been avoiding books with this many pages because it takes me too long to finish the book, but I sped through this one. There were a few times when the extra-long sentences made me wonder when to breathe as I was reading, but I got used to them. There was also a section about halfway through the book where the character Mary was hashing out her situation within her mind and it seemed to go on a bit too long for me. But when you consider that this is an over 500 page novel and those are the only quibbles I had, which didn’t stop me from reading further, then I’d say this novel was near perfection.

This book pulled me out of my reading funk because I couldn’t put it down and when I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Any author who encourages my anticipation of the next page is bound to go on my favorites list.

I especially enjoyed Sara’s part in the story because she made Mary’s story come alive. Sara’s struggle with Asperger’s was realistic and heartwarming. Mary is an innocent caught up in a time when her family is torn apart by their political beliefs and she is left to figure out where she fits in their lives. When Mary is given hope, she instantly gravitates toward it because it’s all she has wished for and that makes her story all the more heartrending. I was emotionally captivated until the end and pleased with how both heroines’ lives turned out, even though this book make me cry.

I especially enjoyed Mary’s ability to spin a tale to entertain. Her fairy tales were a nice touch to her character, adding an element I had never considered, keeping me further intrigued. I think that’s what made this book so stimulating. The two time periods combine over time as the diary is decoded, but there is also the lightness of the fairy tales Mary makes up amidst the danger. It’s the combination of several riveting elements for both characters that kept me captivated.

I also think that historical lovers will enjoy the author’s note at the end explaining how she created this book and how it relates to others she has written. I love knowing how much of historical fiction is true and where the author veered off with her imagination. The historical research is fascinating and how it all weaves into the story makes the book even more enjoyable. Susanna Kearsley’s obvious talent has me anticipating more of her books.

A DESPERATE FORTUNE is the type of fiction I like to read, with a little modern and a little history, traveling back and forth between the two time periods as the mystery resolves. It’s like an archaeological dig of words, with the main character in this century unraveling the clues about the main character in the past. Neither character has accomplished anything of rare importance yet in their lifetime, but together they’ll reveal their special qualities as the story unfolds. Exciting and intriguing, A DESPERATE FORTUNE surprises with unexpected emotion.

Review by Dorine, courtesy of Romance Junkies and The Zest Quest. Digital ARC provided by publisher through Netgalley.
Profile Image for Roxanne.
801 reviews54 followers
January 30, 2016
Thank you to Sourcebooks via Netgalley for the free review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Did I like this book?

Do you ever read a book and think, "Wow, this book is what that other book wanted to be"? That's what happened to me with "A Desperate Fortune". It was fantastic, and just so much better than many others I've read written in the same vein.

At first, I was intrigued by the modern storyline because of my immediate connection with Sara. She has Asperger's, and it was interesting for me, as the mother of a teenage Aspie boy, to see how she was able to cope with her own difficulties as an adult. She often has trouble making connections with others, and I'd say that her only real friend is her cousin. This older female cousin is wonderful, instinctively able to tell when Sara is becoming overwhelmed in social situations and excellent at redirecting her with Sudoku puzzles. She is also the one who gets Sara her job as a codebreaker, which is a perfect fit for Sara: she can work all day at something that intrigues her and not worry about fitting into the corporate world, which has always been a disaster in the past.

In contrast, the historical storyline was a bit slower to capture my interest, but by the time I'd read about a third of the book, I was hooked! I could not wait to see what happened with Mary and Hugh, and I honestly wasn't sure how it all would end. It's definitely a bit of a slow build, but with that comes the satisfaction of reading a book that is truly well-crafted. I enjoyed every moment!

Will you like this book?

With its two connected storylines in two different time periods, I think this book will appeal to those who liked "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay or fans of Sarah Jio. Although the time period of the historical storyline is similar to Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series, I feel it would be unfair to compare the two - the "Outlander" series, while one of my favourites, is a serious commitment with the length of the series and the length of each individual book. "A Desperate Fortune", in contrast, is a standalone novel that probably won't take you months to finish. And while there is a bit of romance and a tall, masculine Highlander in this book, there's no steamy bodice ripping, etc. In other words, the romance is quite clean.

Will I read more by this author?

I've long been a Susanna Kearsley fan - she's Canadian, don't you know? - and I've read most of her older titles, but for some reason or other, I haven't read any of her newest books. Let me tell you that I will be remedying that very soon!
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