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The Winter Sea

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History has all but forgotten...

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her...

Please note: This novel has also been published under a different title: Sophia's Secret.

Please note, this title is the original recording, which is now known as Sophia's Secret

©2010 Susanna Kearsley (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

527 pages, Hardcover

First published September 22, 2008

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About the author

Susanna Kearsley

27 books8,051 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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5 stars
25,334 (39%)
4 stars
24,589 (38%)
3 stars
10,972 (17%)
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1 star
973 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,182 reviews
Profile Image for Katrina Passick Lumsden.
1,779 reviews12.8k followers
August 10, 2012
The five stars I've given this book reflects the high I'm still coming down from after having finished it. I think I might be in love with Susanna Kearsley. I read The Rose Garden earlier this year, and being a huge fan of time travel, devoured that shit like it was going out of style. Granted, it took me a little while to get into it because I found the pacing in the beginning to be kind of slow, but after getting over that bump in the road, there was no turning back.

The Winter Sea was a whole different beast for me. This one grabbed onto my imagination much sooner and I found I really couldn't put it down. I read until I could no longer keep my eyes open, allowed myself four and a half hours of sleep, then woke and picked it right back up to finish it. I then experienced something I don't experience often; as anxious as I was to get to the end and find out what happened, I kept putting it down and waiting. It sounds insane, but I wasn't looking forward to the ending. Not because I feared it would be bad, but because I didn't want it to end at all. I wanted to just keep reading about Sophia and John and Carrie and Graham, and when it was finally over, I wanted to cry. There, again, was another complicated mess, as the ending left me feeling both happy and sad.

The way Kearsley weaves her tales together is absolutely captivating to me, and I will forever be jealous of her ability to craft a compelling tale. I don't want to give anything away in this review, so I will just say that it was refreshing to see a hero from the past being selfish and claiming the woman he loves (who also loves him) instead of trying to "spare" her by keeping away. That path always leads to trouble in a story, so I've come to recognize it as a lazy and tired device.

I might be a bit biased regarding this book considering my own genealogy traces back to several prominent Scottish families, but even those who have no Scottish in them at all should be able to appreciate the compelling, history-rich atmospheres Kearsley is capable of creating. The character voices are real and rich with emotion, the intrigue is well done, and Kearsley put in so many historical facts that this wonderful fiction also acts as a sort of history lesson. Let's face it, the conflicts between England and Scotland (especially those regarding the Stuart kings) are not easy to navigate, but Kearsley managed it with aplomb, giving life to these too-oft faceless historical figures so that it became a real story, not just dry facts from a history book. She will forever have my gratitude for helping to make sense of it all.

If you like romance, I think you'll like this book. If you like history, I think you'll like this book. If you're into political intrigue, there might be something here for you. If you're a genealogist, this will speak to you. If you're a genealogist with ties to Scotland, you'll definitely like this. And if, like me, you're all of the above? Sit back, enjoy, and be prepared to want to read it again as soon as you're finished.
Profile Image for L.E. Fidler.
705 reviews76 followers
February 18, 2019
i have what can only be described as a love-hate relationship with this book. i found so much of it to feel incredibly stupid and yet i couldn't put it down. explain that one to me!'

warning: here there be spoilers.

10 Things I Hate About You:
1. the employment of a frame story - i'm pretty sure the conversation with her editor went something like this:
sk: it's going to be two books in one! one story will be set in modern day and the other will be her "historical" novel!
editor: oh, you mean, like a frame story?
sk: no! it's two stories set in one!

gah. okay, i get that she wanted to tell these two stories and intertwine them, blahblahblah. but what starts off being about carrie mcclelland, famed historical novelist, turns quickly into the tale of sophia, abandoned orphan extraordinaire. the carrie bits soon turn into annoying interruptions that comprise of key moments like putting the kettle on or ignoring her breakfast of toast so that we don't forget about her when the book voices take over.

2a. protagonist as author - i HATE this device. so much. it frosts my cookies in ways you can't even begin to comprehend. it feels like a total copout - and, yeah, i get it, you write what you know, but this isn't her first book. you know what i'm sayin'?

2b. protagonist as obvious incarnation of writer - this is sort of a subset of number #2. kearsley was a poli-sci major (or something) as is her carrie mclelland. at one point, there is a conversation between carrie and her scottish beau about professors and books and how she hates literature courses because she doesn't go in for all that analyzing and crap. well, screw you, too, carrie. some of us like that about our books and when you espouse your theories about how fiction is emotive and should not be subject to analysis, you isolate a population that does, in fact, read fiction for the little details.

3. the writing - while for the most part, it's decent, there are moments that make the reader cringe. the conclusion of the sophia plotline ends with the trite sentiments of "coming out of winter and finding their spring" - or some such nonsense. gag me. i need that blatant bullshit like i need a hole in my head.

4. you say "DNA genetic memory," i say "functioning schizophrenic" - the sideplot with dr. weir is so underdeveloped and stupid, it's hardly worth mentioning. but i have to. carrie gets possessed by the ghosts of family past and they propel her to write her latest novel. she, being completely rational, sees a local doctor/history buff and asks him if her DNA could remember details about her ancestors' lives. no joke. you know what? the woman claims to hear voices, claims that the voices possess her and tell their stories through her literature. that doesn't sound like genetic memory to me. just sayin'.

5. what's in a name - at one point, the editor in the book points out that there are characters who share the same name and that carrie should change the names to avoid confusion. this appears to be some sort of bizarrely meta moment that kearsley uses to explain why she isn't changing the names. there are two kirstys, two grahams, a stuart and many stewarts, several hamiltons, more dukes than you can shake a stick at...i don't know. i kept them straight, but i really wished i didn't need to expend the energy to do so.

6. the graham factor - every heroine needs a hero. at least in historical fiction written for straight women. in the modern book, it's graham. and he's fine. but very one note. in fact, there is so little "character development" in the frame story at all that it is difficult to understand how carrie and graham end up together so damn fast despite some weird "magnetic pull" that exists between them. if a guy ever told me that i was "his the moment he first saw" me...i'd call the cops.

7. where's the beef (part one) - there is a ton of history here, but it is presented tangentally. what i mean is, instead of witnessing epic battles and fights, all the historical information comes courtesy of history professors, history buffs, or conversations between characters. kearsley tells, she doesn't show. and perhaps she wanted to focus on the romances, instead, but that leads me to...

8. where's the beef (part two) - the romances also seem to happen in long glances or brief conversations. she skirts over the sex, the birth, and, well, the love. you know what isn't really romantic to me? when characters wake up next to someone, get up, get dressed, and go to work. sorry. doesn't really do it for me.

9. what the dickon? - when i was little, my all-time favorite book was The Secret Garden. i ate that shit up. and i loved dickon, but i couldn't understand half of what he said because of his thick, indecipherable, regional dialect. everything was wick. and there were lots of vowels and apostrophes. now, imagine a book where every other character is a dickon, not in characterization, but in language. and you'll ken fit i say.

10. incest is...best? - so...in the final moments of the book...after a predictable conclusion to both tales, by the way...carrie is lying in bed next to grahamcracker and thinking about how his steely grey eyes remind her so much of moray's...and then she puts it all together in the creepiest "a ha!" moment i've read in awhile. sophia and moray have a daughter which sophia leaves behind at slains, a little girl who thinks she is the daughter of a fishermen, who has, presumably her own children and her own line of descendants. then, she thinks about her own fate - how moray became mcclelland and how they reproduced and had their own descendants as mclellands. and dawn breaks over marblehead and she thinks about the interconnectivity of their blood lines and SMILES joyfully as she cuddles up next to her kin. you know what wouldn't make me smile? realizing that i'm several generations back related to the man i'm sleeping with. genetics be damned; that shit is too close for comfort.

Taming of the Shrew:
1. I couldn't put this book down. I couldn't. I wanted to read it and could read huge chunks of it in barely no time at all. I can't explain it. Maybe my ancestors possessed me so that I could read this one faster than Carrie could write it?

3 stars - a good book in some ways, but horribly flawed in others.
Profile Image for Lisa Kay.
924 reviews515 followers
January 5, 2015
Update: 5/17/12
Rosalyn Landor has been nominated for the Audie Awards 2012 “Solo Narration-Female” category for her narration of The Winter Sea.


Slains Castle as it was in all its glory...

Slains Castle now...

★★★★☆ (This is a review of the audiobook.) I love to listen to the talented Rosalyn Landor read a book. Her elegant narration is perfect for this lyrical, atmospheric book. Ms. Landor does the accents nicely, especially the Scottish. She does a great job of the male and female voices in this sweeping, emotional novel, switching between the sexes seamlessly. Ms. Landor can be anyone, from an innocent young woman who feels like a fish-out-of-water, to a worldlier writer piecing together a historical account of memories of the Scottish Slains Castle and its inhabitants that haunt her. So, it was easy for one of my GoodReads groups to talk me into doing a “buddy read” of this one.

This author can write! No doubt about it, it is superb, along with being well researched on the Jacobite uprising of 1708. However, I was expecting a romantic book, and I quickly realized this was deeper and darker than I was in the mood for, at the time; therefore, I set it aside for a while. Consider that when looking at my rating. Some of you are definitely going to give this book a five star rating.

This is a “parallel” manuscript, telling two stories 300 years apart, alternating between a contemporary setting and the past. It wasn’t a lot of fun holding my breath, wondering which one was going to end badly (though I quickly figured it out). Then I held it again, wondering how bad it was going to be. Nevertheless, some of you will love the angst of that. Personally, I felt myself distancing myself from the heroine, as I didn’t want to get too attached. Still, I ended up crying.

Wonderful book! So worth the listen.

P.S. Also, while some people didn't, I liked the


McLellans Castle, Kirkcudbright, Scotland
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
October 30, 2018
4+ stars. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

My recent read of Kearsley's Bellewether left me slightly dissatisfied, but I knew (and was assured by historical novel-loving friends) that she was capable of far more engaging storytelling, so I dove into her older duology of Jacobite-era novels, The Winter Sea and The Firebird. Both of these books ― in which Kearsley employs her favored dual-timeline approach with romance subplots, a paranormal element, and stellar historical research ― were thoroughly enjoyable.

In The Winter Sea, Carolyn (Carrie) MClelland is a successful author of historical novels who is having trouble settling on the subject of her next book. She’s been staying in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, researching the role of the French in supporting the Jacobite uprisings in the eighteenth century, but can’t find the right approach for her novel. While driving to visit her agent in Scotland, she impulsively stops at Slains Castle in Cruden Bay, where the Earl of Erroll and his mother met with Nathaniel Hooke and other Jacobites to plan young James Stuart’s return to the English throne that had been held by his father, James II and VII, until he was deposed in 1688.

Carrie finds the ruins of Slains Castle unexpectedly appealing to her imagination; she hears the voice of a woman in her mind saying, “So, you see, my heart is held forever by this place. I cannot leave.” Neither can Carrie leave: she promptly rents a cottage in the vicinity of Slains Castle and begins writing her novel at a rapid pace she’s never before achieved. She hears the characters in her mind and even dreams about them, and decides to name her novel’s main character Sophia. Carrie knows her McClelland ancestors had crossed from southwest Scotland into Ireland, and that one of her ancestors from the 1700s was named Sophia Paterson. It’s a bit spooky when Carrie finds out that Sophia actually lived for a few years in Slains Castle. But when Carrie’s research shows more and more connections with the novel she’s writing ― not just names, but the events she’s dreaming and writing about ― Carrie and those around her begin to wonder what kind of connection she has to the past, and to Sophia.

Kearsley’s use of “genetic memory” as the reason for Carrie’s vivid dreams and recollections of events in the life of Sophia Paterson, down to knowing Sophia’s thoughts and feelings, was a bit of an eye-roller for me. (Scientifically speaking, genetic memory isn’t the physical encoding of specific memories in a body, but “a much vaguer tendency to encode a readiness to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli.”) But if you’re able to suspend disbelief and accept it as a story-telling device, The Winter Sea is a deeply interesting look at the lives of characters who were instrumental in the 1708 attempted invasion of Scotland by naval forces supporting James Stuart. Kearsley deftly weaves together both historical and fictional characters in her novels, and invariably provides a detailed afterword where she explains the historical background and where she’s taken liberties with actual history in writing her story.

The Winter Sea switches back and forth between Carrie’s story in modern times, researching and writing her novel and dealing with the competing romantic attentions of the two attractive sons of her Scottish landlord, and Sophia in the early 1700s, an orphaned young woman who has come to stay with her relatives at Slains Castle. Anne, the Countess of Erroll and an actual historical figure, is a fascinating woman in her own right, independent, determined and capable of playing a significant role in the Jacobite rebellions. Sophia finds both love and heartbreak at Slains, as she meets some of the movers and shakers of the time. The Winter Sea has some sorrowful moments and gets extra tearjerker points for making me weep in public (I’m sure the person sitting next to me on the plane was amused).

Sophia’s daughter’s story, and Russia’s role in the Jacobite cause in the years following this novel, are explored in its sequel, The Firebird. I highly recommend this pair of novels to readers who enjoy historical fiction with a side of romance and a slight paranormal element.

October 15, 2018 buddy read with Dichotomy Girl and Teresa.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,180 reviews617 followers
February 10, 2022
I am not generally a reader of romances but this is a very well done historical romance that I really enjoyed. The novel is written in two parallel story lines (and romances!), with an author in the current day writing a historical novel about the Jacobite uprising in 1708, so that her main character's voice relates the events leading up to the uprising and the attempt to return James Stewart to Scotland from his exile in France so he could claim the Scottish crown.

Carrie McClelland is the author who writes historical novels, but is having trouble with her latest one on the 1708 Jacobite uprising. She's tried writing in France in the location of the James' court in exile but it's just not working for her. She decides to rent a cottage on the Scottish coast near the planned landing site by the French hoping that the local atmosphere will give her the inspiration that she needs. She finds herself imagining a young girl, Sophia who comes to stay in the nearby Slains Castle where the Earl of Erroll and his mother the Countess are helping to plot the arrival of the king. Suddenly with this new character in her mind she finds the words flowing onto the page as if she is channeling Sophia's thoughts and actions.

I particularly enjoy a well researched historical novel that is based on real characters and historically accurate events. Apart from Sophia, all the main historical figures are based on real people and their roles in the uprising have been well researched, although their motives, conversations and personalities can only be guessed at and reconstructed from historical letters and accounts. It's a well written account that brings that time in history alive and I even enjoyed the romances and the all too neat ending!
Profile Image for Judy.
37 reviews1 follower
November 13, 2011
Reader beware: This author does not compare to Mary Stewart, Daphne Dumaurier or Diana Gabaldon. I really wish I could have given this book a 2.5. It was better than okay, but not much.

I really disliked the plot device of cutting back and forth from the 18th to the 21st century. When the 18th century story started to get interesting, the story would revert to the 21st century. The contemporary part of the story was dull and I didn’t care about the characters. The use of “genetic memory” as a plot device didn’t justify the jarring lack of continuity either.

However, what bothered me the most was the lack of character development. The author did a tremendous amount of historical research, and it shows in her meticulous attention to accuracy. Yet, most of the details concerned atmospherics, the flow of events, and fidelity to the historic record, but didn’t add depth to our understanding of the characters. I didn’t feel like she had gotten into anyone’s skin and portrayed a richly lived experience. Disappointing.
Profile Image for Emery Lee.
Author 6 books167 followers
August 16, 2011
8/15/11 - Addendum to original review. I did not rate this book after reading it because I was so upset about the ending, but in retrospect I have to allow that it was one of the best books (and perhaps THE BEST) I have read this year. While I am VERY stingy about 5 star ratings and this is NOT the HEA I would have chosen, I confess that the author's meticulous research, beautiful prose, and riveting parallel storyline has won me over in the end. I've decided to give it the 5 stars after all.

OK. With the beginning- I was in LOVE with this book. Absolutely enthralled with it - the writing style, the dual plot lines, the historical accuracy - truly enamored. I found it so easy to relate to Carrie in her methodical and thorough research for her historical novel and her deisre to get the tiniest details right. I enjoyed the beginnings of romance with the Keith brothers, and I immediately sympathized with the characters in Carrie's novel.

As it turns out, I am one of probably very few people who already had a very thorough knowledge of the Franco-Scottish plans in 1708 and the subsequent Jacobite risings and can say that the author was spot on with historical accuracy. I admire and respect how she was able to work so many true characters and events into the story in such an engaging fashion...


About 80% into the book, things take a bad turn and there is a particular detail of this that spoiled the entire book for me. Although there is a rather contrived HEA (one that I actually saw coming) the female protagonist does something that caused me to become completely alienated from her emotinally and I found I could never feel sympathy or respect for her from that moment on. Since I do not believe in "plot-spoiling" reviews, but try very hard to just give my thoughts on a book, I won't reveal what that "moment" was. Suffice to say, however, I felt the action was so far out of character that I had a hard time believing in the ultimate HEA. It was also so far removed from my own nature that I could not relate to it. I then found myself reading the rest of the book with an uncharacteristic detachment and just flipping pages to see how it would all be resolved.

This should have been/could have been a 5 star review but I am so conflicted about the resolution that I refuse to rate it.
Profile Image for Virginie Roy.
Author 1 book598 followers
July 23, 2020
Wow! Sometimes it's worth it to step out of our comfort zone!

I don't read romance books often, so I'm glad when I pick one and it's that good. I loved that the main character was an author and I really appreciated learning about the Jacobites, wich I didn't know much about. The love story in the past was amazing and I could easily see this becoming a TV series. I would watch it for sure!

4.5 rounded up
Thanks to my mom for the recommendation!

May 10th, 2020
Profile Image for Ira.
1,066 reviews91 followers
April 26, 2018
I’m glad in this ‘self published and write anything you want’ times, there are still author like Ms. Kearsley.

This is certainly not a bubble gum book which widely available lately, and you just need to read it once and the story will stay with you forever. The last book I felt this way, was Jennifer Donnelly, The Tea Rose.

Yep! This type of book is very rare and that’s why, it made me more appreciate the throughly research work this author done for her story.

I don’t know what more can I write here, there are more than 7000 reviews you can choose from:)
But if you love excellent writing of a beautiful love story, you must read this.

Highly recommended from me, oh one note, this is not a time travel story.

You should read to find out why this book loves by so many readers! ❤️❤️❤️
Profile Image for Sarah.
640 reviews148 followers
April 2, 2018
If you knew me at all in person, you’d know that I am a lover of history. Though I am always interested in history of any kind, my particular interests range from ancient Egypt, it’s ties to ancient Rome, and how that all eventually leads to England before it was England, across the sea to the Danes and the Northmen, and back again to England, Scotland and Ireland. What fascinates me most is how the influences of all these great people through history still dictate so very much of what we do today. How history repeats itself again and again and again. Though I still have not quite sorted out The War of the Roses and that family mess, I’m getting there.

So here I find myself, with a type of novel I have held no particular interest in for quite some time, a romance, that is saved by its historical context, and a touch of magic, or science, depending on how you look at it. And though I have no particular urge to go on a romance read-a-thon, it was a very welcome reading-slump-buster.

This is really two stories in one. The first is that of Carrie, a historical fiction writer, who wants to tell the story of James Stewart, whose throne was stolen from him and his Jacobite supporters, especially Nathaniel Hooke. She’s been attempting to write in France at the palace of St Germain where Stewart lived in exile, but finds no inspiration there. On a chance visit to her agent in Scotland, she stumbles upon Slains Castle, and hears the voices of her characters finally come to life. As she writes, she discovers many details are history, with not a shred of fiction.

We are also given access to the story she is writing, and the chapters frequently alter between past and present. The story she writes is of Sophia, who finds herself in the household of the Countess of Errol, a staunch Jacobite. This is the story that really stole the show though I hadn’t expected it to. Sophia is not an active player in the Jacobite uprisings, merely a passive observer for the most part, but her story is both joyful and tragic, enchanting and haunting. I ripped through these pages as I cannot recall having done in months.

The romance is told beautifully. There are no sex scenes (they merely fade to black) and I think perhaps that is the most appealing aspect of the entire novel. It allowed the romance itself to take center stage and truly be felt by the reader. Though I could not tell you much about the truth of these events as the author has written them, I was impressed by the afterword (which I always read!) and it seemed to me that she had done very thorough research and perhaps even included a couple of the locals of Cruden Bay in Carrie’s story.

The writing was superb, even if the Doric speech was almost untranslatable to my eyes. But it is Scotland and it lent the story a great deal of authenticity.

I will definitely be checking out Kearsley’s other works in the future (I’ve been eyeing The Firebird for awhile) and would heartily recommend this to fans of historical romance and certainly to fans of Outlander and Diana Gabaldon.
Profile Image for Meghan.
92 reviews
March 19, 2012
I went along with it thinking it wasn't TOO terrible. But the ending was just bad. I can't understand/relate to a husband and wife who would just abandon their baby to another family like that. Sure, sure, it was "all the family she'd ever known", but she's TWO. She never should have been given to them in the FIRST place, but hells sakes, get your kid! Not to mention, I can't relate to this in the circumstances in MY day and age, back then there would be a HUGE difference her growing up in her foster family of servants vs her being raised by her real family who are related to dukes and earls and have favor with the Queen. You are depriving her of all opportunity AND knowing her own LOVING family, for what? Ridiculous. It really bothered me and made me clutch my own baby tighter as I read it.

Also, I can enjoy a good history lesson, but the way she droned on and on about the history of the region was hard to read. SHOW me. Don't TELL me. Don't list facts to me for pages on end with no reference to any real characters in the book.

Although, I fear this stems from Ms. Kearsley not being too gifted of a writer. There were several conversations that took place that instead of actually having any dialogue she would just write about what a "dance" it was, and how many "twists and turns" the conversation took. Once again, SHOW me, don't TELL me. Or when the main character receives a letter from her love, I was looking forward to her getting some privacy to read it and instead the author just says that it 'comforted her every night when she read it' (paraphrasing). Seriously??

Yeah. Not so good. Unless you like dry history lessons and lack of substance when it comes to actual writing.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Hannah.
796 reviews
February 22, 2013
Re-read 2/22/13
Just as excellent the second time around.
Now to dive into The Firebird :D

Original Review
From the onset of Susanna Kearsley's, The Winter Sea, fate clearly plays a large part in the destiny of writer Carrie McClelland, as well as the novel she is researching on the unsuccessful Jacobite uprising of 1708. A detour to Slains Castle on the rugged west coast of Scotland solidifies Carrie's desire to move her base of operations there. After meeting with her agent and good friend, Jane, Carrie finds and settles into her new digs at a cottage in Cruden Bay - a cottage with a magnificant view of Slains Castle in the distance.

Immediately, vivid and strange, half-remembered dreams of another woman haunt her sleep, and make her computer keyboard keys fly with reams of storyline that these dreams produce. Carrie slowly submerges herself in the story of her ancestor, Sophia Paterson; a woman who was initially no more then a name in Carrie's family tree.

As the days go by, and the dreams intensify, Carrie comes to realize that Sophia's story is no longer a figment of her writer's imagination, but a real echo of Sophia's life in 1708 Scotland. In addition, Carrie's own life begins to mirror Sophia's.

The Winter Sea is a solid, historically replete novel featuring everything I've come to expect and admire from writer Susanna Kearsley:
- Realistic characters you grow to like and relate to.
- An intriguing storyline that maintains it's voice and consistancy throughout.
- An understated love story without gratuitous sex or cheesy dialog.
- A well researched historical novel that teaches and informs the reader without overwhelming them with dry facts and boring details.

Kearsley's got a real talent for writing, and I don't mind admitting she has become one of my favorite new writers with a skill on par with the likes of Mary Stewart or Daphne duMaurier IMO.

A solid 5 star book.

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,739 reviews14.1k followers
February 7, 2012
I have been hearing about this books for months in different groups I belong to, everyone who has read it saying they have absolutely loved it. Finally read it and loved it too. Such an interesting mix of history, genealogy, present and past, and romance, as I read I became totally immersed in both stories.
Wonderful characters and I appreciated the fact that the author included a postscript detailing exactly which characters and what part of the story was actually historical fact.
21 reviews4 followers
January 20, 2012
History has all but forgotten...In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.


Or at least, it's severely misleading. The book does seem meticulously researched, and I have no doubt that the attempted coup d'etat actually happened, but it's not what this book is about.

What this book actually is about: young women taking long walks on the cliffs and beaches of Scotland and getting romantically involved with men who have "strength of character."

576 pages, and practically nothing else happens. Oh, but the young women (one in 1708, one in modern day) make lots of friends, especially those of the equine and canine persuasion.

Um. I'm not very good at organization. Let me try again.

The Winter Sea is divided into two parts, which it flip-flops between for the entire story. One half is devoted to the woman who lived during King James' time and his invasion. The other concentrates upon the female historical fiction writer who makes her way to Slains, the exact castle where her female protagonist (a real figure, in the book) used to live, starts writing her story, and realizes that it might be more historically accurate than she thought.

The point is, notwithstanding the "channeling" done by the modern-day writer, there's not much plot in her part of the story, which takes at least a measly 200 pages out of the total 576. No tension, beyond some pointless little endeavor at not letting everyone know she's chosen this brother and not the other one. (Seriously. What if his utterly friendly father finds out she's dating his son? The horrors!) All she does with her magic medium abilities is write her historically accurate book and help her father with figuring out their genealogical roots.

There's this little blurb on the cover, actually:

When she can no longer tell the difference between today and centuries ago, he's the only one who can reveal the secrets of time...

It sounds dramatic, but it means absolutely nothing.

And as for her ancestress' story, nothing much happens there either. Sophia does feminine, nice things and, at most, bumps into a tiny piece of tension once while all the dying and blood happens far away. I never thought she experienced any true hardship nor that there was any true danger threatening her, though they kept talking about the Duke of Hamilton.

I would not recommend this book to anyone who wants action in their historical fiction. But it does an excellent job of setting up the atmosphere of Scotland. All dreary winds and cliffs, for those who like that kind of thing.
Profile Image for Limonessa.
300 reviews507 followers
August 10, 2011
Historical fiction is not usually my genre. I picked up this book because I thought it would also contain a paranormal element. Well, it does not - or very slightly so -, but I loved it nonetheless.
Whoever compared it to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander in their reviews is seriously misleading readers, because this book has basically very little to do with it and it does not deal with time travel at all.

The narrative technique was very good. The story is told by a writer, Carrie McClelland, who travels to Cruden Bay, Scotland, to do some research for her upcoming novel. There, while she writes, she starts experiencing flashbacks that she thinks are part of her writing process and therefore figments of her imagination, but that in fact turn out to be the real happenings of the period. The theory presented for the explanation of such phenomenon is what the author calls a genetic memory. Sophia is in reality Carrie's ancestor and the narration switches back and forth between present and past, creating two plots that come woven together in the end.

The story is a compelling, lyrical and heartbreaking love story. It is a bit heavy on the historical references but they're fundamental to the economy of the story and it might help if you're interested in that particular period. I was always fascinated by Scottish history and got my good dose of it with the above mentioned and neverending Outlander series but, being this a previous rising, I got to fill in the gaps of what came before.
As I said i am not a big fan of historical fiction but this book got me hooked till the last bittersweet page.

I was a bit conflicted about the ending though and I'd like to have somebody else's opinion about it:

All in all a great and satisfying read I'd strongly recommend for those interested in this genre.
I will, without a doubt, read other books by this author in the future.
Profile Image for Ann Aguirre.
Author 90 books6,634 followers
July 31, 2011
This is such a beautiful book. I've never seen dual storylines intertwined with such facility and elegance. Usually, when the author take this approach, one will be more appealing than the other, but both stories were fascinating.

The historical detail was meticulous; the writing is lyrical and evocative. The characters feel real.

This book made me cry. I would recommend it for readers of Diana Gabaldon. Yes, it's that good.
Profile Image for Britany.
968 reviews417 followers
February 4, 2016
Listened to this one on audio for a challenge as the narrator won an Audie award for solo female narration. I found the narrator boring and distracting, but I was determined to finish this book.

The story itself is rich in history and mystery, set against a gorgeous background. Parallel storylines cross paths from early 1700's the Jacobite uprising to present day author finding her characters' voices. Handsome men, castles, and a Scottish lilt to top it off-- what's not to love? The characters were interesting, and I found myself wanting more from the present day story line rather than the one from the past. It all comes together in a "too-neat" bow, and I'm happy to have finished my first Kearsley read. Looking forward to more.
Profile Image for aarya.
1,248 reviews
July 11, 2020
I would like to file a lawsuit and claim damages from the author/publisher for RIPPING MY HEART OUT AND BREAKING ME INTO TINY LITTLE PIECES.

It’s 3:40 am and I cannot believe I started reading this at 11 pm with the intention of sampling a chapter before bed. Goodbye, any semblance of a normal sleeping schedule for the next few days.

The ending. WHYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!! ANNA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Profile Image for Angie.
645 reviews997 followers
January 5, 2011
I've seen Susanna Kearsley's name pop up hither and yon around the blogosphere for going on a year now. I added her name to my list of authors to check out awhile back and I've spent the intervening time idly wondered whether the enticing comparisons to the likes of Mary Stewart had some merit. Not long ago I decided THE WINTER SEA would be the perfect maiden voyage with Kearsley. Published a couple of years ago in the UK, the U.S. edition was slated to come out December 1st and I added it to my Christmas list in the hopes it might find its way inside my stocking this year. Happily, I was not disappointed and I have my mother to thank for that--another die-hard Mary Stewart fan herself. So I picked it up the night after Christmas and settled in to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it quickly became crystal clear to me why people love her work. THE WINTER SEA is the perfectly captivating kind of historical fiction that casts its spell over you from page one and doesn't let go until all is eloquently said and done.

Carrie McClelland is a famous writer of historical fiction. She works best in isolation and frequently travels to the destinations featured in her novels to absorb the local flavor and engage in primary research for the events, history, and people that make up her stories. After an extended period in France, frustrated with the lack of progress she's making on her current manuscript, Carrie agrees to take a break to attend the blessing of her agent's newborn baby in Scotland. On her way up the coast, she stumbles across the ruins of a beautiful castle as she stops to ask for directions. Something about the place seems to call to her. She longs to stay but convinces herself to continue on to her friend's house. Little does she know she'll be returning to Cruden Bay very soon indeed as Castle Slains plays a pivotal role in her chosen tale set during the oft-overlooked Jacobite rebellion of 1708. On the advice of her agent, and the ethereal tugs she continues to feel herself, Carrie rents a tiny cottage on the coast and settles in to let the muse have her way with her. But the closer she delves into the history of Slains, the deeper she is drawn into the lives of its long-dead inhabitants. The characters of her story begin to take on a life of their own and Carrie is no longer sure what is fact and what is fiction as she rushes to get down all the images and conversations bombarding her on a daily basis.

What a beautiful and engrossing story! I'm awfully fond of historical fiction set during any of the Jacobite rebellions. Ever since reading Jennifer Roberson's excellent Lady of the Glen several years ago, I've found the time period and subject matter fascinating, if incredibly bittersweet. This story is no exception. The narrative alternates between the present day and the events leading up to and following the failed rebellion in 1708. Though the story and characters in the past start out as Carrie's own creation, she uses one of her own ancestors as her heroine, and in doing so unwittingly forges a bridge of shared memory between them. The results are unexpected and truly riveting. I never knew for sure which way the chips would fall and whether or not the novel as a whole would cross over into a supernatural/time travel extravaganza a la Outlander or if there would be a less outlandish explanation for the unfathomable link between these two women. I won't spill the beans here, but will say that I was very pleased (and relieved) at the outcome and heartily approve of the deft manner in which Ms. Kearsley handled both the slightly fantastical element to her story as well as the two primary relationships flourishing therein. I initially thought I would get bored with the ancestor Sophia's story, as I was immediately so caught up in Carrie's present-day tale. But that worry quickly fled as I eagerly looked forward to each switch of narration to find out how my other people were faring. Carrie's growing relationship with a very endearing local history lecturer had me at hello and Sophia's perilous and earnest attachment to a young Scottish soldier had me on the edge of my seat. In retrospect, I do wish we'd gotten a more extended resolution for Carrie and her suitor, but overall I closed the book extremely satisfied with the way the relationships concluded. THE WINTER SEA will appeal in spades to fans of Mary Stewart and Diana Gabaldon. And, not to annoy any Outlander fans out there but I, for one, infinitely prefer Kearsley's reserved and resonant touch to the the rampant floridity of Gabaldon's epic. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Nastja .
225 reviews1,395 followers
January 4, 2022
Писательница приезжает в Шотландию, сразу знакомится с идеальным мужиком, (у него есть спойлер – собака), генетическая память надиктовывает ей бестселлер, а твист в конце оказывается хэппи-эндом.

Расчлененка, ангст, мертвые дети, психологические травмы, абьюз, газлайтинг и кровавый понос: пойдем, Алеша, нам здесь не рады.
Profile Image for TL .
1,826 reviews35 followers
June 23, 2019
Narrator did an amazing job :)

Once again, in awe of this author's ability to throw me into her world and forget my life exists for awhile *happy sigh*

Original review:

The writing is so gorgeous and haunting, it didn't take me long to get swept into both the past and present. I admired Sophia's growth over the course of the story. She lived through a uncertain time and had to make tough decisions at times. At times, she had to make tough choices... my heart ached for her and everyone around her.

The Duchess, Moray, Colonel Graeme, Kirsty... everyone felt so alive on the page. It seemed I could just turn my head and find them not too far from me, in the library, the kitchen, on the grounds... I respected them all for their dedication and bravery for what they believed in.

The present time was no less compelling. I enjoyed meeting Jane (even though she was a tad nosy for my taste) and her family, Graham, Stuart, Jimmy... fell in love with all of them :).

Walking with Carrie (so to speak) on her journey was a treat... as more pieces of the puzzle were uncovered and sometimes surprising things came to light, it became very hard to step aside from this book back into reality.

The one part had me tearing up and wanting to hug a certain person, even more so when she

And when

A hint at the end regarding Graham and his family had me thinking... if it's what I thought before *points above* and what I'm thinking now ... it could be possible :) I entertained another theory for a few seconds but that one part doesn't seem as likely but who knows?

Highly recommend this:) Happy reading!
Profile Image for Laura.
752 reviews270 followers
September 10, 2016
4.5 stars. This is a classic case of the right book finding the right time. I know I've picked this book up several times with the intent to read it and it just didn't look all that compelling. Nothing really grabbed me about it beyond the cover, I didn't really know much about that historical period, and I'm not really a person who reads romance novels regularly. I'd read a kind of heavy, dark book though and needed something light. A friend recommended something short that was perfect. I enjoyed it, but wanted something still on the light side but longer. She suggested this one and this book finally found its time.

This book has two parallel storylines. One is in the present, and the other is in the early 18th century, both in Scotland, by the sea.

Reasons to read this book:

-This is an escape read, you'll be immersed quickly.
-You won't wanna put the book down.
-Both storylines are equally appealing, and you'll really care about the characters.
-It's all about relationships. Relationships of all kinds.
-If you're into genealogy, you'll love this book.
-Both male leads are hard to resist. :)
-If you've always wanted to write a book, this is great, because she really gets you into the mind of an author as she's creating a story that takes off in her mind.
-The audio narration by Rosalyn Landor was very well done. She got the Scottish accents almost too perfect, they were a bit hard to understand at times, but mainly this was one character with a minor role who had a very deep accent. The others were easy to understand. She did a great job of changing from female to male voices! At times, it was hard to believe a woman read the whole book.

I know this is a book I will never forget. If you can get through this book without crying, you may not be totally human! I really enjoyed it, and thanks to everyone who encouraged me to read this. Perfect book, exactly what I needed. Proof that we should be able to go to the library or bookstore and get a prescription in literary form. This was it for me!

Profile Image for UniquelyMoi ~ BlithelyBookish.
1,166 reviews1,600 followers
February 18, 2022
Okay, THIS book... I couldn't put it down. I took it with me everywhere I went so I could keep reading if I had the chance.

I'm really loving Susanna Kearsley's way of telling a story. The characters are solid, compelling people whose stories need to be told, especially because so many of them are true historical figures whose lives are interwoven with fictional characters from the present.

Being an avid family history lass, I love learning about people from the past. Not just names and dates and places, but their lives, too. I want to know about their trials and their triumphs and the things that made them laugh, cry, live, and love. The Winter Sea fed both my addictions; reading and genealogy... brilliantly!

Diving in to book 2 as soon as I finish this review!

Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,866 reviews370 followers
June 13, 2022
3.5 stars

I picked up this novel because the author will be a key note guest at a writers conference that I'm attending in August and I wanted to sample her writing. I was pulled in from the very first pages, very intrigued by this story of a young writer, Carrie, who names her main character after one of her ancestors, Sophia Paterson, and writes of her life in Scotland in the early 1700s. But the writing flows so easily that she feels like she's channeling Sophia and gets a bit freaked out when she will write scenes and only later confirm their accuracy through research. At the same time, Carrie is getting to know her kind landlord and his two sons. Much like Sophia in her fiction, Carrie must negotiate her way diplomatically. When it becomes obvious that both of the sons are courting her, will she be able to choose one brother over the other without causing family ructions?

When I went to my library catalogue to choose a Kearsley novel, I noted that all of the titles that the library possesses are in use, some with long waiting lists. That's generally a good sign, although popular books are not always necessarily to my liking. I do, however, understand her appeal, as she skillfully alternates between the past and the present, renders Scots speech clearly, without being annoying, and mirrors the lives of the two women main characters without getting too matchy-matchy.

Fans of Outlander and Diana Gabaldon would no doubt also enjoy this book, with its romances, past and present. I confess that I much prefer The Winter Sea to that series. The writing is much more to my taste and the editing is much better, so thus far I have found no egregious bird errors! (An eternal complaint of mine regarding Gabaldon, who doesn't seem to realize that Scotland and North America have different bird life.) Indeed, if Ms. Kearsley has made any historical errors, I wouldn't know, but as she is a former museum curator, I would expect her to be professionally accurate. Having worked briefly in the museum environment myself, I have witnessed how much the staff enjoy research and connecting people to history. (Indeed, in her afterword, the author specifies where she deviated from the official record and why.)

Despite being a reluctant romance reader, I found this book easy to read and very engaging. The suspension of disbelief required by the fictional author's “genetic memory" of her ancestor may be a large ask of some readers (it sounded ridiculous when I attempted to describe it to a cousin), but it flowed naturally on the page and was never labelled as paranormal. It was just a thing that happened. I'll admit to crying at a couple of junctures, but so much of Scots history is sad that it's difficult to avoid sad situations.

Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book490 followers
September 5, 2018
4.5 I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a long time stars.

Reading Susanna Kearsley is such fun. I find that I both want to read faster so that I can see what will happen and read slower so that I can stay in this story and this world just a little bit longer. She sifts in just the right amount of romance, mystery and history to make a perfect cake, and she is one of the few writers who can keep me as interested in the modern-day story she is telling as the historical one. I typically find myself just wanting to get back to the past, but with Kearsley I am happy to follow the present as well.

This story begins with Carrie McClelland, who is writing a historical novel set in 1708 and dealing with the failed attempt to put James Stewart back on the throne in Scotland. The novel is meant to be about Nathaniel Hooke, an Irishman who is in the thick of the action at the time, but when Carrie decides to include a character named after her own ancestor, Sophia Paterson, she seems to lose control of the story to the events of the past.

The dynamics of writing a historical novel is something Kearsley obviously knows everything about, the research she does is meticulous and adds complete credence to her tale, and her handling of characters and dialogue is both charming and believable. I had determined to read all of her books after finding my first encounter with her so enjoyable--this book has convinced me that I made a great decision.
Profile Image for Renee.
1,032 reviews172 followers
August 2, 2017
Loved this book! Susanna Kearsley writes compelling, deeply romantic stories that make history come alive. Sophia and John are now one of my favorite couples, and I was glad to see their story continued in The Firebird. I've discovered that I especially enjoy an historic story told as a modern-day person discovers it by traveling to the spot where the history took place. If someone could make that happen, I'd sign up for those tours!

Susanna's writing style reminds me of what I loved best about author Mary Stewart. The historical aspects are handled in a Lauren Willig meets Diana Gabaldon sort of way---yet the stories maintain a unique feel and flare all their own.

I had claimed that I was saving this authors' books and reading through them slowly. Alas, my will-power did not withstand the test. I've read and adored
The Rose Garden, The Winter Sea, and The Firebird. I've read and thoroughly enjoyed Mariana, The Shadowy Horses, and Season of Storms. Now all I have left is Every Secret Thing. How long til I crack the cover? . . . I'll let you know!
Profile Image for Lillian ☁ Cloud 9 Books ☁.
573 reviews333 followers
July 14, 2017
***** 5 Stars *****

"For if there was no winter, we could never hope for spring."

I'm speechless. I didn't think I'd end up enjoying this book, but I became obsessed with the romance and history.

Carrie is a talented author working on her next novel. As she's traveling around, she feels an odd pull towards the ruins of Slains Castle. A pull so strong, she stops everything to focus on its past.

Throughout her research, she receives unexplainable memories and dreams about the past.... Sophie's past. Reality gets blurred and deep secrets are revealed.

This book involves two stories. Two stories that I found to be equally addicting. I couldn't put this down. I've shed actual tears reading this. It's full of romance and heartbreak. Susanna Kearsley proves that you can have a wonderful romantic story without containing dirty sex scenes. I can't wait to read her other books!

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Profile Image for Olivia (Stories For Coffee).
594 reviews5,605 followers
March 13, 2020
DNF - page 88

I just could not get into this historical fiction. The story was dry, the character’s novel that she was writing that we got glimpses into were much to be desired, and there’s a reason why this sat on my shelf for like 5 years. It just did not interest me.
Profile Image for Christina White.
260 reviews103 followers
January 23, 2013
This is the story about an author named Carrie, who writes historical fiction novels. She travels to Scotland to research Slains Castle for her newest novel and to spend some time with her editor who lives there. While she is there the characters of her book come alive in her memory. She is actually remembering the life of her ancestor, Sophie Paterson and her marriage to John Murray. While writing her book she meets a man named Graham and a romance starts. "The Winter Sea" jumps back and forth from the story Carrie is writing to Carrie's life in the present as she writes the story. I enjoyed reading about Carrie's romance, but reading the parts that were Carrie's book bored me. In the end it turns out that Graham is actually a descendant of Sophie Patterson as well. Carrie and Graham are kissing cousins! Cool.... I guess?

A photograph of Slains Castle:
slains castle

Character Casting:

Carrie: Sandra Bullock
sandra bullock1

Graham: Jeffrey Dean Morgan
gerald butler1

Sophie: Kristen Dunst
kristen dunst

John Murray: Henry Cavill
Henry Cavill
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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