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REVIEW: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (and giveaway)

Dear Ms. Kearsley,

It’s no secret that I love your books. The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden made my Best of 2010 and Best of 2011 lists, respectively, so it’s probably past time that I let one of my DA colleagues have a chance to review you. But when I heard that Mariana was being re-released in the US, I couldn’t resist pulling it out of my TBR.

Marianna Susanna KearsleyMariana opens with a prologue in which our narrator, Julia Barrett, sees a grey stone house that she immediately realizes is “her” house. Since she’s five at the time and passes it while her family is traveling home, her parents don’t pay much attention. She sees the house, Greyweathers, twice more in her 20s, and it has the same effect. So a few years later, when she receives an unexpectedly large inheritance and Greyweathers is on the market, she buys it. Julia has never known why she is so certain the house and she belong together, but after she moves in she finds herself experiencing the life of Mariana Farr, who moved from London to Greyweathers in the 1660s and lived there with her uncle’s family to escape the plague after her mother succumbed. At first frightened that she is losing her mind, Julia seeks advice from her brother, Tom, a vicar who suggests that she might well be the reincarnation of Mariana and thus carries the latter’s memories and experiences.

Julia moves between her new life in Greyweathers and the village of Exbury, and Mariana’s life in 1665. She quickly makes friends with Vivien Wells, the owner of the village pub, as well as Vivien’s good friend (who may be more than that), Ian Sumner. Julia becomes more and more drawn to living Mariana’s life, and she experiences Mariana’s growing romance with Richard de Mornay of Crofton Hall. It makes her wonder if her attraction to his contemporary relative, Geoffrey de Mornay, the current handsome and wealthy owner of the Hall, is because he is the reincarnation of Richard. Meanwhile, Mariana and Richard’s growing and intense love for each other is fraught with danger, both because of her uncle’s plans for her and from intrigues in the larger political sphere.

There are some similarities between Mariana and The Rose Garden, even though they were published more than fifteen years apart. Like the newer novel, Mariana features a narrator who travels back and forth to an exciting, dangerous time. Like Eva in The Rose Garden and even Carrie in The Winter Sea to an extent, Julia gets caught up in the earlier era and its inhabitants to the point that she sometimes feels more attached to them than to friends and family in the present day.

But there are important differences as well. In Mariana, Julia isn’t herself in the past, but rather inhabits the body of a long-dead woman. She cannot insert herself into that world. She experiences whatever Mariana went through without the ability to change events, and some of those experiences are deeply sad. And unlike Eva, Julia seems really to enjoy her life in Greyweathers and the village of Exbury. She wants to find her own happiness and contentment in the present day. She grows attached to Vivien, Ian, and the other residents of the village, and she has a strong bond with her brother, Tom. Sure, she wonders if Geoffrey is the reincarnation of Richard, but I got the impression that was because she was somewhat attracted to Geoffrey, not because she was trying to recreate Mariana’s life.

I enjoyed the reincarnation storyline. It’s not how I envision reincarnation to work (hey, I’m Hindu, I had the Official Version drilled into me early), but I liked the way it was presented in the book, and it made sense as a device. It also means that the reader looks for Mariana/Julia’s partner in the present day. Geoffrey seems like a reasonable candidate, but for much of the book the romance doesn’t seem quite there. Julia’s relationships with Tom and her new friends seem at least as important if not more. I really didn’t know how you would resolve the loose ends, but the last pages rewarded me immensely. I cannot say more for fear of spoilers, but readers, if you’re a peek-at-the-end type, don’t do it. Just don’t. I promise you, though, that you will believe it is a worthy successor to the love Mariana and Richard shared in their era.

I really enjoyed the various relationships in the novel. Julia has strong relationships with women in the present as well as in the past, and her relationship with her brother Tom is a pleasure to read. I get tired of stories in which the hero and heroine only have eyes and ears for each other. And Julia has a real career, one that brings her a great deal of fulfillment. Even when she is immersed in the past, her professional obligations are always part of her consciousness.

The historical context, as always, is first-rate. You evoke the tone and rhythm of earlier speech without using dialect, and you demarcate the different eras’ worldviews subtly, through language and characterization. The writing isn’t quite as polished as in your later books, but there is a directness and emotional immediacy in the reading which more than makes up for it.

And oh, that ending. It’s why I read romance. Grade: A-

~ Sunita

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If you are interested in this book, Sourcebooks is giving away 5 print copies and 5 digital copies.  Please fill out the form and you’ll be entered to win one of the ten copies:

Updated with winners. The names are truncated to protect their email addresses but they have all been contacted:

  • brandym
  • Arkie
  • gtaiel
  • beax0
  • Lkohl
  • kathe
  • keira
  • jneptu
  • regolds
  • books4

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

36 Comments

  1. Mo
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 12:15:04

    I have never read Kearsley, but honestly, this review makes me want to run out and buy this book.

  2. Merrian
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 12:35:08

    I have The Rose Garden in my enormous TBR – I am collecting books like squirrels do nuts for the winter as a bulwark against that moment when I might run of things to read. The feel of these stories when I read reviews of the importance of connection and community. I am looking forward to reading them.

  3. Laura P
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 12:53:22

    I have read The Winter Sea and loved it!
    Mariana and The Rose Garden are both on my TBR list.

  4. BethP
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 13:03:22

    I’ve read both Winter Sea and Rose Garden. After reading the synopsis and reviews on Amazon regarding Mariana I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest in the book, especially since I had just read the time travelling book The Rose Garden last week. However Sunita’s comment about reincarnation [” It’s not how I envision reincarnation to work. (hey, I’m Hindu, I had the Official Version drilled into me early)”] made me laugh and sealed the deal for me. If I am not lucky enough to win a copy, I’ll be on the Amazon site buying it.

  5. JacquiC
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 13:08:38

    @Merrian: couldn’t help laughing at your description of your TBR list. I seem to be approaching books with the same attitude as you do — instead of actually working my way through the list, I keep adding new ones that people rave about as if there may come a time sometime in the foreseeable when I’ll have a block of ten days to binge on reading. Which is not likely to happen until my kids leave home in ten years…

    The Winter Sea is on my kindle, buried under the other books that I’ve “squirrelled” away recently. And I’m trying to resist the temptation now to add both The Rose Garden and Mariana…

  6. Christine Rimmer
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 13:16:44

    Sunita, I have the same response to Kearsley’s books. They are so…stately and deeply textured. And yet, at the same time, so very alive! I love them. I will get this one, too. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  7. Jeannie Lin
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 13:28:14

    I’ve been a fan since reading Winter Sea and I’ll definitely pick up this one too. I was blown away by the different timelines used to tell one story in The Time Traveller’s Wife by Niffenegger until I discovered Kearsley. Every one of her books is as good as, if not better, than TTW. The story craft is to die for.

  8. Maili
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 13:35:10

    I remember enjoying Mariana a lot years ago, but for the life of mine, I can’t remember the ending. Does this make a good excuse to re-read it? I’m thinking yes. :D Great review, thanks.

  9. Michelle
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 13:52:37

    Lovely review.

  10. Sunita
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 14:48:59

    Thanks, everyone! I had a great time writing the review, although it was so hard not to give away spoilers. That’s why there’s less detail about the plot and romance than usual.

    I wouldn’t want to read The Rose Garden and Mariana back to back, but the differences are substantial, especially in terms of the major characters and the romance. Rose Garden (and Eva) have an undertone of melancholy that isn’t present in Mariana. And Mariana has a more focused storyline; the narrative is less complicated and more direct. I like them both, and as I was reading I could definitely see areas of overlap, so I wanted to address those, but I really see them as distinct.

  11. Keira Soleore
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 15:32:59

    Sunita, good review here. I haven’t read Kearsley before, but from my recent past experience, if you’re recommending, I’m reading.

  12. Lynnd
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 15:33:39

    @Merrian: I have been doing th same thing with my TBR pile. I keep thinking that a spreadsheet with a list of the books I want would be a better way of doing things, but that would mean that I’d actually have to sit down and create one which just takes more time. I really enjoyed Winter Sea and have the Rose Garden in my TBR pile. Marianna will either make it to my TBR pile or to that spreadsheet.

  13. Susan
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 16:33:25

    I’m almost ashamed to admit that, although I have several Kearsley books in my TBR pile, I haven’t read any of them yet. Everyone says such good things about them that I guess I really need to rectify that ASAP.

    When I first started reading this review, there were elements that reminded me of the old Anya Seton classic, Green Darkness, that I read when I was a girl.

  14. Katherine
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 16:44:54

    Oh yes pleasee! I remember reading this in paperback, which I have long since given away. I am so excited that this is being reissued in digital format!

  15. Darlynne
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 17:03:21

    I own and loved both books, each so wonderfully atmospheric. Ms. Kearsley’s writing and stories make me not care that time travelers don’t notice that everyone smells and no one, no matter how attractive, was possessed of good teeth lo those many years ago. Your review of Mariana reminded me quite strongly of Daphne DuMaurier and Anya Seton. Thanks!

  16. Janine
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 18:06:40

    I haven’t read Kearsley yet, and I really want to. Which one do you think I should start with?

  17. Mary
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 18:51:20

    I’m so excited to read your review! I’ve read two of Kearsley’s novels: The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden. Loved them both.

  18. Eilis Flynn
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 18:57:22

    In preparation for Mariana, I checked out the first chapter on Amazon a while ago…superb beginning!

  19. maria
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 19:48:45

    I only skip to the end if a book really starts to make my eyes roll which doesn’t sound like the case here. I’ll put this and the others on my wish list. Sounds delightful.

  20. peggy h
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 19:59:30

    I’ve been on a Susanna Kearsley glomming excursion since reading Winter Sea last year, and haven’t had any regrets yet. I would say Winter Sea is probably my favorite (though maybe it’s because “you don’t forget your first!”) but I loved Rose Garden and Mariana too. Also enjoyed Every Secret Thing (that was a little different–not really a time-slip book, though there is still a past mystery to unravel) and The Shadowy Horses. I have to admit I seem to have forgotten some aspects of Season of Storms already–and I just read that late last year! But I still overall have warm fuzzies about all her books. I’m hoping her other backlist titles become available in e-versions too! I know there are a few more that I haven’t found in e-book formats.

  21. Susan/DC
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 20:24:50

    I’m another fan of Susanna Kearsley. She took a break from writing for a few years, and I did the happy dance when she began publishing again. Like peggy h, I recommend “Every Secret Thing”, which she wrote as Emma Cole. It’s a mystery much more than a romance, but it’s very good nonetheless.

    As for “Mariana”, I want her to write a sequel for the other guy, as I have a soft spot in my heart for him.

  22. Kaetrin
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 20:39:27

    I listened to the Rose Garden recently and I have The Winter Sea (actually I have a copy of the UK release Sophia’s Secret, but I understand they are the same but for the titles) on my TBR. I’ve actually had my eye on this one to, so it’s nice to see such a positive review. Thx! :)

  23. Kaetrin
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 20:44:05

    I meant to add that the Rose Garden had me in tears within the first 10 minutes so I definitely know what you mean by a melancholy feel! As much as I enjoy a good melancholy book, it will be nice to read/listen to another Kearsley story which is happier in tone.

  24. Sunita
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 21:12:27

    @Janine: The three I’ve read are all different. The Winter Sea is my emotional favorite. The Rose Garden is complex and intricate, with less of a full-on romance feel, and more of a novel with romantic elements (the RITA nomination is in the right category, IMO). Mariana is the earliest and the roughest, but it has a straightforwardness about the narrative, character arcs, and relationships that I find really compelling. You really can’t go wrong, just read whichever appeals to you the most.

    @Susan/DC: I think you recommended Every Secret Thing to me once before. It’s in my TBR at last.

    @Kaetrin: Yes, it is gut-wrenching. The balance between melancholy and hopefulness is beautifully done.

    @peggy h: I have the same reaction to TWS, and I also read it first, so maybe that’s it! Or maybe she just writes really great books and we’re basically throwing darts to pick our favorite. :)

  25. Brian
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 21:12:59

    Sunita, thanks for the review. I liked both The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden a lot so I’ll be adding this one to my TBR.

  26. Alison Stuart
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 23:20:57

    This book was a deserved winner of the now defunct Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize. It is a keeper that has been sitting on my bookshelves and as a writer of seventeenth century period stories, it is an A+ in my book. So pleased it is getting a second lease of life.

  27. Jane Lovering
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 03:01:53

    I have Mariana on my keeper shelf, and second everything Sunita says – fabulous book. I also had the good fortune to meet Susanna Kearsley when she spoke at an RNA Conference and found her to be a lovely, funny lady, which makes me even more determined to read all her output!

  28. Kate Hewitt
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 03:06:25

    I just read The Rose Garden and Mariana back to back and loved them both. The evocation of time and place is really, really compelling. My only very tiny quibble is the portrayal of a modern-day vicar; my husband is a vicar and it isn’t quite like that. Vicars are not assigned curates, for example; they hire them themselves. But a very small point! I thought the books were marvelous.

  29. Keishon
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 07:43:42

    Just wanted to say, excellent review! I already have this one and am looking forward to reading it one day. Thanks.

  30. Rosario
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 08:56:26

    @Sunita:

    Thanks, everyone! I had a great time writing the review, although it was so hard not to give away spoilers. That’s why there’s less detail about the plot and romance than usual.

    You did brilliantly to give away nothing. I was wondering when I started reading the review how you’d manage it, but you definitely did! I had to resort to white-ing out spoilers in my own review, since the spoilerific element was the one thing I wasn’t crazy about in the whole book.

    I loved Mariana, but there are other Kearsleys I love even more. My three favourites are probably The Winter Sea, Season of Storms and The Shadowy Horses. The latter was the first I ever read, and it’s still top favourite. It’s a book I know is not perfect, but I love it anyway. I don’t give A+ grades away very easily (under 25 in the almost 10 years since I started the blog), but this was one of them.

  31. Elizabeth56
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 09:57:12

    I did enjoy Rose Garden; on the other hand, I have never been able to enjoy Gabaldon’s books, though I have tried more than one. Making these present-into-past books work well is not easy, and obviously, what works for some of us does nto for others.The later 17th c. is not used very often, so this is an interesting time to explore.

  32. Brussel Sprout
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 10:35:05

    loved Winter Sea and am crossing my fingers for a digital copy of Mariana. Susanna Kearsley is a terrific writer.

  33. Marguerite Kaye
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 10:59:09

    I read The Winter Sea after a review here – though it took me a while to realise that I had to buy it as Sophia’s Secret! I was an instant convert to Kearsley’s work and immediately hoovered up Marianna, which I also loved. One minor point (which my mum, who was converted at the same time as me, agreed with!) – I was utterly convinced that Julia’s brother Tom, the vicar, was gay! So when he and the landlady got together, I was really shocked. I don’t know if I read the Rose Garden too soon after, but I was a tiny bit disapponted in it. I will be tracking down the Emma Cole books now though.

  34. Krista
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 12:06:29

    Kearsley’s books have been on my keeper shelf ever since I first read Mariana (too many years ago to count!). So glad to see this reissue, with such a beautiful new cover. Thanks for the great review!

  35. Little Lamb Lost
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 01:02:32

    I am deeply curious about this book. Enjoyed reading about it.

  36. xenu01
    Sep 07, 2012 @ 01:34:13

    I know this is a million years later but I just want to say I have loved this book to pieces twice now (and I’m on my way to needing a third copy!). I read it for the first time more than ten years ago and it’s been comfort reading through more moves and life upheaval than I care to remember. Wonderful book. <3

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