I’ve had a stressful summer. I taught an extra summer course and it didn’t leave me a lot of time to prepare for Fall. When work is really stressful, I need my TV and reading time to be entertaining and engaging, but not overly stressful (The Fall, I’m looking at you — so good, but so stressful to watch!). Those of you not prone to anxiety might not know what I’m talking about, those of you who are are nodding your heads right now.
Sometimes I’ll just re-read old favorites during times like these, but I think it’s good to have a good go-to author who writes prolifically and on whom you can depend to have written something you’ll enjoy. For me, this usually means romance novels. Victoria Holt is my go-to when I’m in the mood for straight up historical romance, but Susanna Kearsley has been one of my favorites in recent years because she tends to write modern romance with a historical and paranormal twist.
So far, my favorite of Kearsley’s books have been in the Slains series. Each of the three I’m mentioning below is related, but not in a linear series of events. There is some overlap with characters and shared setting, but mostly they stand alone (which I really like).
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
This was the first of Kearsley’s books that I ever read. It was recommended to me after I read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe and I understand why. It has the same “time slip” quality, but I found The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane a great deal less cozy than The Winter Sea, which for me is one of the top qualities I look for in my stress-free reading.
Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.
Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.
Though this is billed as “Slains #2” it’s the odd one out of the three for me. It’s good, don’t get me wrong! I just found the tone to be slightly different than that of The Winter Sea or The Shadowy Horses, which likely has to do with the Russian influences that aren’t present in the other two. It is similar to The Winter Sea in structure though, as it shifts between Nicola (in the present) and Anna (in the past). Kearsley is great at working the time slip angle, so this is effective.
Verity Grey abandons her comfortable job at the British Museum to seek adventure on an archaeological dig in the wilds of Scotland. But when she arrives on site, she discovers that the excavation is being led by a discredited and eccentric old man who has forsaken scientific evidence. Instead, the entire team is following the word of a local boy who claims that he saw a ghostly Roman soldier in the fields.
As she becomes entangled in a subtle web of treachery and danger, Verity begins to believe that there is a Roman sentinel haunting the site. And he’s there to do more than guard the bodies of his fallen comrades.
This is probably my favorite of the three. Instead of the time slip concept, this is more of a ghost story with some psychic influences. I enjoy stories about archaeology though, so that might be the source of my preference. It’s also closely related to The Winter Sea in that it shares some of the more prominent side characters.
Each book is a nice length and pace and has a mystery to solve, but the danger isn’t intense or threatening, so much as entertaining. I found the characters in each to be likable and attractive, which I enjoy in a romance novel. As for the romance, there are some steamy moments, but these are definitely books that lean more towards emotional romance than sexy scene after scene.
The bottom line is that there are times I like to read a book I know will end well. I want to know that in a couple hundred pages, everything is going to be okay and that all loose ends will be tied. Is this real life? No, but I think we all need to know where to go for a great escape.
Allison Carr Waechter is starting up her collection of witchy reads for October. If you’ve got something you think she should add to the list, holler.