Fangirl Friday: Susanna Kearsley

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley showed up on my iBooks bookshelf recently. I had forgotten that I pre-ordered it in April after Diana Gabaldon mentioned it on her Facebook page. After reading it, I was just so impressed, I wanted to know more about this writer, whose research skills has impressed the research queen herself, Diana Gabaldon. The two authors appeared together on April 6, 2015, at The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Come with me through the jump and I'll tell you a bit about the fabulous Susanna Kearsley, including mini-reviews of her books.

Ms. Kearsley is a former museum curator, who decided to follow her dream of writing a novel on a dare from her sister. She left the museum to write, and her second novel, Mariana, won the prestigious Catherine Cookson Literary Prize in 1993. She is a Canadian writer who lives near Lake Ontario, east of Toronto.  

A few months back, I was lucky enough to attend a wine and cheese with Ms. Kearsley sponsored by The Blue Heron, a lovely independent bookshop in Uxbridge, Ontario. She spoke mainly of her most recent novel, A Desperate Fortune, and read a lengthy except. She also touched on a common element in her books - dual story lines which take place hundreds of years apart. She spoke of the "huh" moment, which inspires her storytelling. It's the moment she learns something she didn't know about. In this case, it came out of research she was doing for The Firebird, released in 2013. I took advantage of the opportunity to pick up a couple of her earlier books, The Firebird and The Rose Garden, which Susanna was kind enough to autograph for me.

“My father said, we do not always get the things we want...”  
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 amoung the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his ister 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 find the road that will lead her safely home.
A Desperate Fortune is a story within a story. The modern day heroine is a lead character like none other I’ve read – Sara Thomas is a high-intelligent computer programmer who has just quit her job because she doesn’t want to work as part of a team. She suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), which causes her to have difficulties with social interactions. She prefers to work by herself in a quiet setting. She travels to France, after accepting a position to decipher and translate a three-hundred year old diary. Her challenges with AS are demonstrated in the book, along with her unique talents and gifts. She has a remarkable ability to intensely focus on the task at hand, which is key to breaking the code and solving the mystery. Eventually, she begins to form relationships with the  people she meets in France, especially a rather attractive monsieur and his charming son, n’est pas?

After Sara discovers the cipher and begins to translate the book, she gets to know Mary Dundas. Mary has spent the past several years with her aunt and uncle, having been left by her father after the death of her mother. She is overjoyed when her older brother arrives to collect her, but rather than bring her home, he asks for her help and she travels to Paris to pose as the sister of a wanted man in hiding. To survive, Mary must trade her naivete for guile and rely on her innate intelligence and wit. After their ruse is discovered, they go on the run with an elderly maid and a mysterious, stoic Highlander.

A Desperate Fortune goes both and forth from the present to the past seamlessly. Mary’s challenges include abandonment and disappointment, yet she doesn’t let it lead to bitterness. She is surprisingly resourceful, and her storytelling talents while on the road are a delight to her listeners and the reader alike. She does not complain about the long, hard ordeal, and the severe Hugh MacPherson grows to admire and love her. Sara feels isolated and awkward in social situations but finds acceptance and love with Luc Sabran and his son, Noah. These women share a common theme - the search for home and a sense of belonging.

Ms. Kearsley is to be commended for bringing attention to a little-understood disorder. She has shown a compassionate understanding of AS and its symptoms. Her lead character demonstrates that people with this disorder can lead successful, productive and happy lives. 

I'm not the only Saucy Wench who has taken a shine to Susanna Kearsley. Here's what Wench Angela has to say about The Winter Sea.

The Winter Sea had been on my To Be Read list for quite some time and I finally found the perfect time to read it. I've always loved a good historical fiction story and delving into the past has always fascinated me.

The Winter Sea revolves around author Carrie McClelland, who is trying to write a novel around the failed attempt for James Stewart to be landed in Scotland in 1708 from France. The hope being that Scotland would rally around him and he would regain his crown. However treachery abounds. Can Carrie solve what really happened?

When Carrie arrives at Slains Castle in Scotland, she finds that her novel almost has a mind of its own. Suddenly she is telling the story from her own ancestor Sophia Paterson's viewpoint. There seems to be little Carrie can do to stop this occurring. Carrie is initially unsure if her novel is her own words or her ancestor's story coming to her via ancestral memory. All Carrie can do is write the memories down as they come to her. As more evidence emerges, it is clear that Carrie is telling a true story as opposed to a work of fiction. The story gathers pace as Kearsley pulls all the threads together and I found myself riveted about what would be revealed next.

While I did enjoy the back and forth from past and present, I did find myself more intrigued by the past, as the story was divulged piece by piece. When Sophia has to make a very difficult decision, I found myself admiring her strength and belief in doing the right thing. We have to remember this is 1708 and a very different time to be a woman compared to the age we live in now. The book also nearly made me cry on two occasions and those who know me well know I'm not much of a crier. If you love historical fiction, with some romance thrown in, then I recommend you give The Winter Sea a try.

Thanks Angela, that sounds fascinating - I'm definitely adding The Winter Sea to my reading list. Remember those two books I picked up at the book signing? The Rose Garden is set in Cornwall, and features a young woman, Eva Ward, who returns to a favorite childhood place after the death of her sister. She not only has to confront the ghosts of her past, but actual ghosts. Some of them are attractive pirates. I think that's the only bait I have to dangle. The other novel, The Firebird, tells the story of Nicola Marter, a young woman with a special gift. When she touches an object, she sees glimpses of the lives of those who have owned it before. When she touches a small wooden carving, she discovers a mystery from the past involving a Scottish girl named Anna and Russia's Empress Catherine. With the help of another sensitive, Rob McMorran, she travels across Europe and eventually to St. Petersburg.

I've loved everything I've ever read by Susanna Kearsley. She embodies many of the qualities I regard most highly in an author: she is intelligent, curious, thoughtful, and an excellent and thorough researcher; she is well educated yet always has a thirst for knowledge. If you haven't yet discovered Susanna Kearsley, I highly recommend you pick up one of her novels. As for A Desperate Fortune, I rate it Five Lips for Awesomesauce! (I think that's the first time I've given something top marks.)

Have you read any Susanna Kearsley books, Saucy Reader? What's your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. I'm so happy that you're reading Susanna Kearsley! I discovered her a few years ago and quickly read everything else she has published in the U.S. I've enjoyed all of them, although the more recent ones, I believe, are the best. The character, Rob, from The Firebird, is a young boy in The Shadowy Horses. That's another of my favorites, which you may not have read yet.

  2. Ooh! That's good to know. Thanks for the tip, Karen.

  3. Great post Donna. I'm looking forward to read some more of Susanna Kearsley's books.


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