Book Review: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

 

Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets.

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies of Britain and France into the conflict. The times are complicated, as are the loyalties of many New York merchants who have secretly been trading with the French for years, defying Britain’s colonial laws in a game growing ever more treacherous.

When captured French officers are brought to Long Island to be billeted in private homes on their parole of honour, it upends the lives of the Wilde family—deeply involved in the treasonous trade and already divided by war.

Lydia Wilde, struggling to keep the peace in her fracturing family following her mother’s death, has little time or kindness to spare for her unwanted guests. French-Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran has little desire to be there. But by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum.

Charley doesn’t believe in ghosts. But as she starts to delve into the history of Lydia and her French officer, it becomes clear that the Wilde House holds more than just secrets, and Charley discovers the legend might not have been telling the whole story…or the whole truth.

Belleweather starts slowly, layering modern-day chapters with chapters from Lydia’s and Jean-Philippe’s perspectives. It’s masterfully done, like building a gorgeous home from the foundation upward. The early stages may seem like a lot of getting ready, but as the story builds, the pieces all come together to make an impressive whole.

We’re told from the outset that the Wilde House has a long, tangled history, going back centuries through generations of Wildes, who settled, married, bore and lost children, and over time expanded the original Colonial footprint of the house to include a Victorian wing. We also learn early on that the house may be haunted. When Charley accepts a job as curator for the Wilde House Museum, currently under renovation, one of the first stories she hears is the legend of a doomed love between a Wilde daughter and a French officer staying in the family home as a prisoner during the French and Indian War.

Charley is naturally charmed and intrigued by the tale — but the mission of the museum is supposed to be on Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Wilde. The stuffier members of the board of directors are not crazy about Charley anyway, and they refuse to expand their view of the musem’s purpose to include anything about this mysterious ghost story, despite the fact that over the years it’s become a favorite local legend, so much so that the woods around the museum have become a favorite Halloween destination for people wanting a chance at a ghost sighting.

Charley begins to dig through the old records to discover proof to back up the ghost story, and meanwhile, we hear from Lydia and Jean-Philippe about how they met, what conditions were like for them on the farm, and how family dynamics — especially conflicts with another French officer and Lydia’s brothers — seemed to make any future between the two utterly impossible.

Within the contemporary pieces of the story, we also learn more about Charley’s own family tragedies, including a long estrangement from her grandmother, the loss of her brother, her care for her young adult niece, and naturally, Charley’s own romantic frustrations and dreams. On top of that, there’s a particularly difficult and entitled set of board members to be dealt with, and lots of influential people with demands that can’t be ignored.

To be honest, I had my doubts at the beginning. The start is slow, and particularly in Charley’s chapters, there’s a lot of exposition up front, and tons of minor characters’ names to learn and remember. I was much more captivated by Lydia and Jean-Philippe from the start. Because we’re told the outlines of the ghost story at the beginning, we read about these two characters assuming we know where their story is going and wondering about the how and why — but the way it all comes together is both surprising and carefully built up to. I was very satisfied with the resolution, both of the contemporary and historical pieces of the story,

Overall, I enjoyed Bellewether very much, although I felt that certain of the emotional/family dynamics and complications in Charley’s part of the story were rushed. The storyline with her grandmother, in particular, needed a little more room to breathe and develop in order to have the intended emotional impact, and I thought the niece’s grief and healing was given a rather speedy treatment as well.

Still, as a whole, Bellewether is a great read, and by the second half, I just couldn’t put it down. Susanna Kearsley is a master of emotional, complex stories with historical elements that usually come with some sort of secretive or supernatural mysteries. Bellewether is a stand-alone that makes a great introduction to the author’s style and quality of writing, and for those who already love her works, you won’t be disappointed!

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A note on editions: The cover above belongs to the paperback edition released in Canada in April 2018, which I purchased via Amazon Canada prior to receiving an ARC via NetGalley. The US edition, releasing this coming week (August 7th), has a cover that, while nice, doesn’t match my existing collection of Susanna Kearsley books — and I’m enough of a fan and a completist that I just had to have that gorgeous Canadian cover!

Here’s the US cover:

And here’s a look at some of my other Susanna Kearsley books — which may help explain why I needed that particular cover:

 

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The details:

Title: Bellewether
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: August 7, 2018
Length: 414 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: NetGalley (also purchased)

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Bookish bits & bobs

 

Just a random collection of some bookish thoughts bouncing around my brain this week.

 

 

 

  • Audiobooks. Love ’em. But here’s my issue: Why don’t audiobooks include the acknowledgements or author’s notes at the end? If I’m listening to a book, I want the full experience and full content. I only discovered the lack recently after listening to a couple of historical fiction audiobooks. I ended up browsing through the hardcovers at the library, and saw that the print books includes notes about the historical setting and context. Well, why wasn’t that on the audiobook? It adds to the reading experience, and clearly the author felt it was part of what she wanted readers to know. I don’t understand… and it makes me mad. Not that I’ll stop listening to audiobooks, but it leaves me wondering what I’m missing.

 

  • Book review ratings: I don’t do them. At least, not here on my blog. I play along on Goodreads, but I made the decision way back when to do narrative reviews without any sort of quantitative scale. Lately, though, I’ve started rethinking this. I know when I read reviews on other people’s blogs, I’ll often check the star (or unicorn or banana or teacup) rating first, and then decide if I want to read the whole review. So shouldn’t I expect others to expect the same from me? This is a bigger question than just a few lines and a bullet point, so I’ll be expanding on the topic sometime in the coming week, and would love some input.

 

  • Amazon customer service rocks! I have never had a bad experience once I connect with a service rep, and this week was no different. I bought a Kindle edition of a new release in early April, and started reading it this week. And hated it. By 15%, I just knew I couldn’t continue. And I was mad, because it was past the one-week deadline for returning Kindle content. I thought I’d give it a shot anyway. It’s not the amount spent was going to break me or anything, but if I’m spending money on a book, I don’t want it to end up being something I actively dislike. Anyway… I reached out and ended up in a chat with a lovely and helpful Amazon rep, who arranged to return the book for a refund within the blink of an eye. No quoting policy, no trying to convince me of anything, no telling me I was wrong. Just a very nice “I’m sorry the book didn’t work out for you” and a resolution that made me happy.

 

  • When is a novella a novella? When is it really, instead, a short novel? Is 200 pages the dividing line? 125? I haven’t found a hard and fast rule to go by — I’ve found a lot of notes on word count in novels and novellas, but I’m a reader, not a writer. Do you have any firm ideas on what distinguishes a novella from a novel?

 

  • Oh, the things a book lover will do for the sake of bookish satisfaction. I’m a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s writing, and beside the glory of the stories themselves, I adore the covers of her books.

Well, now she has a new book coming out, Bellewether, and I knew I needed a copy. I preordered it ages ago (the book releases in August), then discovered that the US cover is… well… unappealing. But hey, the Canadian cover is gorgeous and goes with the rest of my books! So I cancelled my US preorder, and got a copy from Amazon Canada instead, which gave me the added bonus of getting the book early, since it released in Canada this month already. And really, which of these would YOU want?

Anyhoo… that’s what’s on my mind today. How about you? What deep bookish thought are bouncing about in your brain?

 

And seriously. What is up with audiobooks and the lack of afterwords and notes? Can someone please make them fix this? Annoyed now.

My next can’t-wait book: Belleweather by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley shared this on Facebook today, and my heart skipped a beat!

This is the Canadian cover — US version still to come — but I’m just head over heels with the gorgeousness of it all. I love Susanna Kearsley’s books, and can’t wait to get my hands on Belleweather!

Here’s the synopsis, as shared on Facebook:

Some houses want to hold their secrets.

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies held by Britain and France into the conflict.

When captured French officers are brought to Long Island to be billeted in private homes, it upends the lives of the Wilde family—deeply fractured by war. Lydia Wilde, struggling to keep the peace in her family, has little time or kindness to spare for her unwanted guests. Jean-Philippe de Sabran—a French Canadian lieutenant—has little desire to be there. But by war’s end, they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that aren’t easily broken.

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island as curator of the Wilde House Museum. Charley doesn’t believe in ghosts. But as she delves into the history of Lydia and her French officer, it becomes clear that the Wilde House holds more than just secrets, and Charley discovers the legend might not tell the whole story . . . or the whole truth.

The book is available now for preorder via Amazon Canada, with a release date of April 24th. Sadly, the US release isn’t until October 2nd, 2018. How will I wait that long?

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For more on books by Susanna Kearsley, check out my reviews of:
A Desperate Fortune
The Firebird

Mariana
Named of the Dragon
Season of Storms
The Shadowy Horses
The Splendour Falls

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Take A Peek Book Review: Named of the Dragon

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Named of the Dragon

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Although it goes against her workaholic nature, literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw lets herself be whisked off to Wales for the Christmas holidays by her star client, flamboyant children’s author Bridget Cooper. She suspects Bridget has ulterior motives, but the lure of South Wales with its castles and myths is irresistible. Perhaps a change of scene will bring relief from the nightmares that have plagued her since the death of her child.

Lyn immerses herself in the peace and quiet of the charming Welsh village, but she soon meets an eccentric young widow who’s concerned her baby son is in danger—and inexplicably thinks Lyn is the child’s protector.

Lyn’s dreams become more and more disturbing as she forms a surprisingly warm friendship with a reclusive, brooding playwright, and is pulled into an ancient world of Arthurian legend and dangerous prophecies. Before she can escape her nightmares, she must uncover the secret of her dreams, which is somehow inextricably located in a time long ago and far away…

My Thoughts:

I’m a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s books, but this one was only a so-so read for me. Named of the Dragon is one of the author’s earlier books (originally published 1998), reissued by Sourcebooks in 2015 with a gorgeous cover to match all the rest of her beautiful volumes. The story itself held my attention, but barely. Set in Wales, it’s the story of a literary agent who agrees to spend Christmas with her top client in order to woo another bestselling author, and ends up getting caught up in a local woman’s domestic crisis. There’s a running theme of Welsh legends and Arthurian symbolism… and no Susanna Kearsley novel would be complete without romance, especially with a brooding, seemingly unreachable and mysterious man.

The Arthurian bits and the dream symbolism struck me as overwrought in this book, and mostly unnecessary to the main focus of the plot. These elements add a hint of the gothic and supernatural, yet come across as densely written and somewhat distracting. Lyn herself did not strike me as a believable character — her professional status seemed unrealistic to me, and the whole setting of the Christmas holiday with her client and her clients’ friends felt a bit forced.

Named of the Dragon is not a bad read in the least, but it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the author’s best works, and perhaps that’s why I experienced it as a letdown.

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The details:

Title: Named of the Dragon
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: Reissued October 6, 2015 (originally published 1998)
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased

Book Review: A Desperate Fortune

Desperate FortuneSusanna Kearsley is back with a new novel, doing what she does best — telling a rich historical tale framed by a parallel contemporary story. In A Desperate Fortune, we follow two compelling stories which share some common themes and complement each other quite nicely.

In the contemporary story, we meet 30-year-old Sara Thomas, a computer programmer with Asperger’s syndrome who relies on Sudoku puzzles to stay calm in challenging situations. Sara dabbles as an amateur code-breaker, and when her cousin Jacqui, a successful publisher, enlists Sara to help an author decode a centuries-old diary written in cipher, Sara is thrust into both an historical mystery and a present-day romance.

Sara’s project is deciphering the diary of Mary Dundas, a young Scottish woman living in France in the 1730s and the daughter of a Jacobite loyalist. Mary’s life is quite ordinary until her long estranged brother draws her into an entirely new life. An important Jacobite ally needs to be hidden, and as part of his false identity, Mary is sent to pose as his sister in order to maintain the subterfuge needed for his escape. Suddenly, Mary is thrust into a world of secrets and danger, as she accompanies the slippery Mr. Thomson and his silent escort, the Highlander Hugh MacPherson, as they flee Paris and try to elude pursuit.

Much of Mary’s story is one of flight, as the small group seems to always be one step ahead of danger, constantly hiding and creating new cover stories to explain who they are and where they’re going. As they travel, Mary entertains the various people met along the way with her imaginative fables and fairy tales. As the author shows us, women of that time were not taken seriously as literary contributors, and yet managed in their own subversive way to create their own form of narratives through fairy tales such as these.

Naturally, Mary and the mysterious MacPherson form a connection, and her initial fear of him grows into something much, much more.

In the present day, as Sara works her way through Mary’s secret diary, she begins to understand more of her own nature and to question the assumptions she’s always held about herself. She’s always believed herself to be incapable of sustaining a relationship, but as she begins to know a kind man named Luc and his eager and adorable son Noah, Sara realizes that more may be possible in her own life than she’d ever dared to dream.

So what did I think of A Desperate Fortune? Let’s start with the positive: Susanna Kearsley is a meticulous researcher, and it’s always startling to read the afterwords to her books and find out how much of her fictional worlds are rooted in documented historical fact. It’s fascinating to find out how the history of King James VIII’s court in exile, Jacobite sympathizers in Spain and Russia, and a major London financial scandal in the 1730s became pieces of the fabric of this fictional creation.

Mary is an interesting and sympathetic character, as is Sara, her modern-day counterpart. I enjoyed the parallels in their stories, as two talented young women claim their own lives and find their own way toward a happiness that had previously seemed unattainable. In both halves of the story, a woman who considered herself unlovable and unremarkable discovers that with the right person, love is not only possible but is life-altering in all the best ways.

Also wonderful is the concept of women using their talents in unconventional ways, with Mary’s storytelling forming a crucial element in her group’s adventures on the road and Sara’s talent for codes and ciphers taking her into new opportunities that she’d never expected.

However… and this is a big “however”: There was something just a little bit dull about large swaths of the story. Mary’s story takes an awfully long time to develop any sense of excitement, and perhaps that’s because the stakes aren’t always clear. Mr. Thomson, whose escape she’s a part of, is not a heroic or admirable character, and his backstory, once explained, is mired in a stock fraud scandal that just isn’t very interesting to read about. Why are King James’s followers so keen on protecting this man and getting him safely to Rome? His importance seems odd (although, apparently, historically accurate — Mr. Thomson is a real historical figure and his role in the scandal is every bit as confused in the historical record as it is in this story). Because Mary’s mission is all rather nebulous, it lacks a certain nobility of mission to make it seem worthwhile. There are exciting moments of risk and outright danger, but it’s not until the romantic elements come more into the foreground of the story that it really becomes compelling and emotionally rich.

Likewise, Sara’s story is interesting, but the pacing feels a bit off. Her Asperger’s seems to come and go as a plot point, and I’d have liked to know more about Sara’s earlier life and challenges up to this point in order to understand the emotional baggage she carries with her. Her love story is sweet, but rather sudden — and yet it’s also fairly predictable. Luc is the only man she interacts with, he lives next door, he’s super attractive, and is a perfect gentleman as well as a lovely father and friend. Of course they’re going to fall in love; it’s sweet, but not particularly surprising.

I feel somewhat disloyal giving A Desperate Fortune anything but an absolutely stellar review. I’m a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s books, and I’ve read almost all of them by now. A few are among my all-time favorite books (The Winter Sea, The Firebird, Mariana), and even the ones that aren’t quite my favorites are still quite good and are books that I’d have no problem recommending.

Given all of that, I’d say that A Desperate Fortune falls among the second-best set of Susanna Kearsley books for me. It lacks the compelling, tragic, dramatic momentum that’s on display so spectacularly in the books I consider her best — and yet, it’s still a really good book that is sure to interest fans of historical fiction, particularly those with an interest in the 1700s and the Jacobites.

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The details:

Title: A Desperate Fortune
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Conteporary/Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

Book Review: Season of Storms

Season of Storms

In the early 1900s, in the elegant, isolated villa Il Piacere, the playwright Galeazzo D’Ascanio lived for Celia Sands. She was his muse and his mistress, his most enduring obsession. And she was the inspiration for his most stunning and original play. But the night before she was to take the stage in the leading role, Celia disappeared. Now, decades later, in a theatre on the grounds of Il Piacere, Alessandro D’Ascanio is preparing to stage the first performance of his grandfather’s masterpiece. A promising young actress – who shares Celia Sands’ name, but not her blood – has agreed to star. She is instantly drawn to the mysteries surrounding the play – and to her compelling, compassionate employer. And even though she knows she should let the past go, in the dark – in her dreams – it comes back.

Sourcebooks Landmark has been reissuing Susanna Kearsley’s older books with new, gorgeous covers, and I wholeheartedly approve. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the beauty of these books:

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But back to Season of Storms. Originally published in 2001, Season of Storms mostly holds up, although (as the author acknowledges in a preface to the new edition), old technology makes certain passages and exchanges feel clunky. Still, the emotions and connections have a timeless quality to them that makes the plot work, more or less, despite the occasional awkwardness. (Remember using someone else’s computer to send an email, then getting the response printed out on a piece of paper courtesy of the computer owner? And don’t even get me started on the whole telephone issue…)

The book is much more about modern-day Celia Sands than her predecessor, whom we know only through her portraits and through the stories that have come down over the years about her mysterious disappearance. Our Celia is a bit of a blank, to be honest. She’s a 20-something aspiring actress, having very limited stage success in tiny roles, supporting herself as a waitress, and realizing that her funds are about to run out, when she’s offered the role of a lifetime, taking on the lead role in the play that the original Celia never got a chance to perform. Off our Celia goes to a lovely Italian villa, with cast members, the director, a few shady characters, and the dreamy grandson of the playwright. Gee, where is this going?

What I liked: Quite a bit, actually. Susanna Kearsley simply excels at creating a feeling of gothic romance among lush and beautiful settings, mixing in a sense of menace and otherworldly threat with the more mundane stories of people finding their way and working through their pains and sorrows. The setting in the Italian countryside evokes a luxurious time gone by, an air of mystery, and a sense of being removed from the real world. The concept of family here is very au courant: Celia’s mother is a self-centered actress with no moral compass. Celia instead was mostly raised by Rupert and Bryan, a gay couple who provided her with stability, love, and responsible role models during her mother’s self-absorbed absences and misadventures. In Season of Storms, family is where you find it — the people, regardless of blood or legality, who take you in and nurture you unconditionally.

What I didn’t like quite so much: This book, at 500+ pages, is slow and long. The first half is mostly the set-up, and it takes far too long to get to the heart of the romance, the mystery, and the adventure. Celia’s character is not well enough defined for us to really care all that much about her. I never felt a connection with her character — I knew about events in her life, but in the current drama, didn’t get a true sense of how she would feel or why. Additionally, her acting chops aren’t really established. Apparently, she’s brilliant on stage, but I found this hard to believe.

But back to the plus side: Once we finally get to the mystery in the latter half of the book, it’s quite good. There’s intrigue, red herrings, and danger. The resolution to certain parts of the mystery were truly a surprise. Also to the good: The secondary characters are all nicely drawn, with interesting lives and quirks, all unique but not too far-fetched, with personalities that stand out, are believable, and quite enjoyable.

Overall, as with all of Susanna Kearsley’s books, I enjoyed Season of Storms and was glad to have read it. It’s not her strongest, and I felt it suffered by the lack of truly interesting people in the two lead romantic roles. Still, for atmospheric romance with a touch of doomed longing, it’s hard to beat a Susanna Kearsley novel. I’d still recommend Marianna or The Winter Sea as better starting points for newbies — but for the author’s fans, Season of Storms is yet another must-read.

If you’re interested in learning more about this author’s works, check out my reviews of some of her other books:
Mariana
The Firebird
Shadowy Horses
The Splendour Falls

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The details:

Title: Season of Storms
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: Originally published 2001; reissued September 2, 2014
Length: 504 pages
Genre: Romantic fiction
Source: Purchased

Thursday Quotables: Season of Storms

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

 

Season of Storms

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley
(first published 2001; reissued 2014)

Venice grew more beautiful at night.

Freed for a few stolen hours from the sunlight that showed every flaw in her fading complexion, she emerge in all her finery, transformed by the darkness that gave back her youth and her mystery. The brilliant stars above became her personal adornments, as did the moon, almost full, that threw its bright reflection in the the thousand murmuring ripples of the canals.

Gone was the city of commerce and trade; in its place was a city of lights, of strolling couples and soft conversations half caught in the shadows; the paddle and splash of a gondola’s oar and the sound of a footfall in darkness, retreating.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Leave your link in the comments — or, if you have a quote to share but not a blog post, you can leave your quote in the comments too!
  • Visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: A Desperate Fortune

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

My most wished-for book this week is:

A Desperate Fortune

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
(to be released April 7, 2015)

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.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.

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.

As soon as a new Susanna Kearsley novel is announced, it pretty much automatically goes to the top of my dying-to-read list. Yes, 2015 is a long way off… but I’ll be eagerly awaiting this one. Gorgeous cover plus a plot full of secrets, Jacobites, and Highlanders? Yes, please.

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays? Come join me for my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. You can find out more here — come play!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: Season of Storms

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

My pick this week is an upcoming reissue of a book by a favorite author:

18509589

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley
(Release date: September 2, 2014)

Synopsis via Goodreads:

In the early 1900s, in the elegant, isolated villa Il Piacere, the playwright Galeazzo D’Ascanio lived for Celia Sands. She was his muse and his mistress, his most enduring obsession. And she was the inspiration for his most stunning and original play. But the night before she was to take the stage in the leading role, Celia disappeared. Now, decades later, in a theatre on the grounds of Il Piacere, Alessandro D’Ascanio is preparing to stage the first performance of his grandfather’s masterpiece. A promising young actress – who shares Celia Sands’ name, but not her blood – has agreed to star. She is instantly drawn to the mysteries surrounding the play – and to her compelling, compassionate employer. And even though she knows she should let the past go, in the dark – in her dreams – it comes back.

Season of Storms was originally published in 2001, but will be reissued this year with a shiny new cover, thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark. I think this is one of the few remaining Susanna Kearsley books that I haven’t read, and with its new cover, will look perfect on my shelf next to all of her other gorgeous books. And lest anyone think I’m shallow and I’m basing this on looks alone… yes, I really do want to read the book!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: The Splendour Falls

Book Review: The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

The Splendour FallsEmily Braden has lost her faith in romantic love and fairy tale endings, but she does love a good story. When her cousin Harry, a renowned historian who tends to be a bit flaky when it comes to reliability, invites her to accompany him on a research trip, she’s hesitant to accept. But clearly, everyone else in her family thinks she needs a bit of excitement, so she reluctantly agrees to meet him in Chinon, France — for a trip that turns out to be the opposite of routine or ordinary.

Centuries earlier, young Queen Isabelle was besieged at the Chinon chateau by enemies of her husband King John, and rumor has it that Isabelle’s treasure is still hidden somewhere within the tunnels under the town. Not only that, but in the more recent history of World War II, a second treasure was supposedly hidden after an ill-fated romance ended in tragedy. Now the myths surrounding both treasures impact Chinon’s townspeople as well as the tourists staying at Emily’s hotel — and an accidental death just may turn out to be a clue in some sinister happenings, all of which tie back to the history of Chinon itself.

The Splendour Falls was originally published in 1995, and was just reissued this month with a beautiful new cover to match the author’s most recent books. I’m a big fan of Susanna Kearsley, and I rank her novels The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden, and The Firebird among my favorite books.

Sadly, while interesting, The Splendour Falls just isn’t in the same league as some of these others. The plot of The Splendour Falls has a meandering feel to it. Things happen, and Emily is carried along by plans and events, but it’s not until quite late in the book that the plot takes on any sense of urgency. At that point, the book shifts gears and becomes a mystery, with danger lurking around every corner and Emily’s life possibly on the line. But until then, we just follow Emily on her travels, as she meets other hotel guests, explores Chinon, and wonders about what’s going on in everyone else’s life.

Emily herself is a bit of a cipher. We know she’s 29, that she’s lost her trust in the permanence of love and marriage after her parents’ divorce, and that she’s afraid of caves and enclosed spaces. What does she do for a living? Well, something with her family’s business, but it’s not clear what (and doesn’t seem important). No career interests or passions are ever mentioned.

There’s a love story in The Splendour Falls, but I didn’t find it convincing in the slightest. We know who Emily’s love interest is because she describes her first sight of him in quite epic tones, but she barely spends any time with the guy and I didn’t get a sense of any true chemistry between the two — certainly no more of a connection than Emily has with any of the other hotel residents whom she befriends.

The Splendour Falls does boast a beautiful sense of place. The town of Chinon is intricately described, so that I felt the narrow, winding streets and dramatic views really lived and breathed in the pages of the book. More than anything, reading The Splendour Falls made me desperately want to book a trip to the Loire Valley, stat!

It’s disappointing when a book by a beloved author doesn’t live up to expectations. In this case, I’m reminding myself that The Splendour Falls is actually from much earlier in the author’s career, and perhaps that’s why it doesn’t have the romantic magic or sweeping grandeur of her later books. I’m still glad to have read it — but for anyone looking for a first experience with Susanna Kearsley’s beautiful writing, I’d recommend starting elsewhere.

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The details:

Title: The Splendour Falls
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: January 14, 2014 (originally published 1995)
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary
Source: Purchased