Sunday, November 28, 2010

Susanna Kearsley Week: The Winter Sea discussion

In honour of Susanna Kearsley Week Kelly, Marg and Alex discuss The Winter Sea, a book that they all loved!


Marg: When I first read a review of The Winter Sea, I added it to my list thinking I would read it one day. When I finally had read it, I regretted not having done so earlier. It had lots of elements that I love - some gothic elements, set in Scotland, time travel! Kelly and Alex, what prompted you to want to read it?

Kelly: I have to admit that my first reaction to this book was that I probably wouldn’t like it. It just didn’t seem to be my sort of book. I read a few enthusiastic reviews of it, though, including yours Marg, and I thought maybe I should ‘think outside the box.’

Marg: I told you you would like it! lol

Kelly: Well, the first time I brought it home from the library I couldn’t get beyond the first chapter. I think I was just worried I wasn’t going to like it and that point I really wanted to! So, I took it back and got it again about a month later. That time I loved it! It flowed very the beginning. I actually recommended it to a friend and when I was talking to her the other day she said she had just read the first chapter online and loved the book all ready!

Marg: That’s exactly how it was for me! A couple of pages, and I just KNEW I was going to love it. It was just a case of whether that feeling would last to the end of the book. I am trying to think of the right description - maybe like I was thirsty and that this book was the book that could quench my thirst fully!

Kelly: That’s a good way of looking at it! There is just something about Kearsley’s writing that draws you in and makes you feel comfortable. She has a very readable style and can capture characters and setting in such a way that you easily get drawn into the world she is spinning.

Alex: Last year I decided to visit Scotland and I have this habit of taking with me books set in the country I’m visiting. This time I decided to travel with The Winter Sea, especially after reading Marg’s raving review. From the first pages I knew I was going to love it! I remember being in the middle of the story and I was so curious that I decided to make a little break during my visit to the Edinburgh Castle. I just sat in a bench, enjoyed the sun and read a few pages. This is one of my best memories of this trip!

Marg: Alex, I love that you read books set in the countries you are visiting. So awesome! And I am a little bit jealous that you got to go to Scotland so recently. I haven’t been there for years.

Kelly: Well, I have never been to Scotland, so I am jealous period! I think it is great that you have books to tie in with your trips. That would really add to it!

Marg: This book has been published under different titles in the US and the UK - The Winter Sea and Sophia’s Secret. Which one do you think fits the story better?

Kelly: I like The Winter Sea better myself. It might be because I live near the sea, but I really liked the mystery to the title. It is more in keeping with her other books. She tends to find something briefly mentioned in the book, but still important, for her title. Sophia’s Secret is a strange title for her because it reveals more about the plot. It is still mysterious, but maybe The Winter Sea is a more atmospheric title... I might think differently if I had read a copy with the title Sophia’s Secret because I would have connected with the title because I loved the book so much. It is really hard to say.

Alex: I read the UK edition, Sophia’s Secret, and to be honest, I find the name The Winter Sea more poetic and more suitable to this story. The sea is an omnipresent element and when I look at Sophia’s Secret cover, I think of a garden and Spring.

Kelly: Yes, I agree about that, Alex.

Marg: Clean sweep of preferences for The Winter Sea as a title because that is my favoured title as well. I am glad that the new US edition has maintained that as the title, given that the sea was a key element in the story.

Kelly: One of the things I really like about this book is the mixture of different things that are happening in it, but managing to work together. There is a bit of science-fiction, romance, historical fiction, small-town charm, etc. What are your thoughts?

Marg: There is a bit of everything! I love the idea of being drawn to a specific place, like a falling down castle in Scotland, and ending up being in the right place to achieve so much, even if you aren’t sure that that is the right place when you first get there. The town, and the castle in particular, were so important to the storyline, almost to the point of being a character.

One thing that I really loved was the fact that the past storyline revolves around a little known incident during the Jacobite Rebellions. Having read quite a few books about the events around Culloden, I was surprised to find out that there were these other events that are so little known now.

Alex: I think that’s the reason why the story is so wonderful! Susanna Kearsley gets everything perfectly balanced. The Winter Sea will certainly please to someone who enjoys historical fiction, but also to those who are more into romance or even mystery.

Kelly: I liked that it was natural. When you read about everything that is happening in the book, you might think it sounds a bit far-fetched or hard to pull off, but it wasn’t like that at all. When I was trying to describe it to my friend I almost didn’t know what to call it because I didn’t want to limit it in such a way she wouldn’t want to read it.

Marg: By very definition, timeslip novels are really a bit far-fetched, but some are definitely better done than other. Over the years, I have seen various techniques used to facilitate the time travel, from drugs to hypnotism to dreams and more, but the technique that Kearsley chose to use felt very organic.

Kelly: Yes. I just worry that the moment ‘timeslip’ leaves my mouth that someone will not read the book because they are worried it is going to be science-fiction. The funny thing is that I thought this was a romance novel, and it does have romance in it, but if I had heard timeslip from the very beginning I would probably have read this book faster!

Alex: That’s the thing, I was really not into those kind of “timeslip” novels and I avoided them as much as I could. This book not only taught me that I should step out of my comfort zone more often, but that I do like one kind of “timeslip” novels: the ones written by Susanna Kearsley (just read Marianna and it was fantastic!).;-)

Marg: When I read this time slip type of novel, I generally prefer one strand of the story over the other, and I spend my time wishing we could get back to my favourite part. That didn’t happen here because whilst I liked reading about Sophia, I also couldn’t wait to see what happened next for Carrie! I have to ask you both, which strand of the story did you enjoy most? Past or present?

Kelly: That’s a hard one! I was captivated by both storylines, so I am not sure that I could pick a favourite. Sometimes when I read there are parts of a book that I am not so excited about, or characters I am not so interested in learning more about, but everything interested me about this book. There was no disappointment. I found myself savouring every word and I wish that happened more often!

Alex: I’m much like you, Marg, I was cheering up for both girls! I immediately fell in love with Carrie. The first scene when we met her is simply magical and I could perfectly imagine her looking at that impressive fallen castle and being interrupted by a mysterious handsome stranger. She is very down to earth and a very warm person, so it’s impossible not to like her. Sophia is more mysterious, but also quite attaching. For me the answer is easy: Past and Present.

Marg: Kelly, you aren’t a romance fan as such. How did you feel about the romantic aspects of this book?

Kelly: Well, like I say above, I thought this was a romance novel. I didn’t really look into it a lot in the beginning, so that was all I knew about it. When there is romance in a novel it has to be done really well. I need a story to keep my interest. If it is just a bunch of romantic scenes then I am not usually very interested. In this book, it was a story. There was romance involved, but there was so much more offered that it didn’t really seem like a problem for me. I actually found myself liking it, and for me, that takes some really good writing! It is not a very large number of books that are technically romance novels that I can safely say that I loved!

Marg: Our fellow HT’ers Teddy and Ana have not yet read The Winter Sea (to which I say “What are you waiting for?”) What one thing would you both say to them to convince them, and our readers, to pick this up and read it?

Kelly: I would probably say that I have yet to see a negative review of this book, really. I think it is a book that if you take a chance on it, you are pretty much guaranteed to enjoy the experience.

Alex: Kelly is not into romance and I was definitely not into “timeslip” stories and this book became one of our all time favourites. For me, The Winter Sea is one of those beautifully weaved stories who will please to anyone who enjoys the genres mentioned previously.

Marg: Just talking about this book again during this discussion makes me want to put down the book I am reading now and pick this one up for a reread despite the fact that I only rarely reread a book! It is a book I can see myself rereading again and again in the future! And watch out if you ask me for a reading recommendation because there is every chance that this book will be one that I mention!

Kelly: I know! A mark of a favourite book, for me, is that when I finish it I want to start it all over again. There haven’t been a lot of reads like that for me this year, but this is definitely one of the few! I can see myself rereading it, too, but I always say that and then never seem to do so! I plan to buy a copy of it for myself for Christmas, though, so I don’t have to rely on the library.

Alex: Absolutely! Two friends of mine are so curious about this novel after listening to me talking about Carrie and Sophia (oh well and all those yummy heroes of Kearsley’s novels!) that I’m planning to give them a copy of The Winter Sea.

You can actually read the first chapter of this book on her website if you are interested in learning more!


  1. Very interesting discussion! I completely identify with those of you who don't like timeslip and yet love it when Susanna Kearsley does it. My other exception would be Barbara Michaels.

    BTW, is timeslip slightly different from time-travel? I'd never heard of the term before you guys mentioned it, but when I googled it, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference. That would be a shame, because we do need a slightly different term for the sort of thing that happens in The Winter Sea or Marianna and your typical romance novel time-travel, such as A Knight in Shining Armor.

  2. In my mind there is a difference between time travel and time slip, but whethere ther is officially a difference I have no idea. I guess I see time travel as where the person physically is transported to another time and place (thinking Karen Marie Moning for example, or Diana Gabaldon) versus these types of novels where the person glimpses the past but is still rooted in the present.

  3. Hi, Marg - Yes, I agree; I don't know if there is a technical difference, but I think of time-travel as the character actually leaves his time and is transported some way into a another time. The Winter Sea is actually more of a "frame story" or a "story within a story" where some events in the plot are in the present and some events are in the past, but the characters stay in their own time. Makes sense? Hope so.