Recycled Reviews: A Virtual Visit to Scotland @SusannaKearsley

Both of today’s books are set in Scotland, a country that has long fascinated me.

The Shadowy Horses
by Susanna Kearsley
Audiobook narrated by Sally Armstrong
Oakhill Publishing 2011
(Originally published by Orion, 1997)

Setting: Eyemouth, Scotland
Inspired by Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth, about the Roman Lost Legion.

Verity Gray is an English archeologist who is lured to a dig in Scotland by Adrian, an old boyfriend/colleague. There she learns that eccentric Irishman Peter Quinnell is financing the project. Rumored to be mad, Peter is obsessed with finding the Lost Legion, the Roman Ninth, which marched north into Scotland and disappeared early in the 2nd century AD. She’s especially shocked to learn that Peter picked Rose Hills because a local boy reputed to have second sight had seen a Roman legionaire in the area. Can Robbie’s Sentinel be real? Peter is hard to say no to, and Verity is intrigued by the job  as well as attracted to handsome Scotsman David Fortune. And then there is Robbie, a charming and precocious eight-year-old whose predictions are rarely wrong. I especially love the way the animals react to The Sentinel. The cats hiss and arch their backs while Robbie’s collie gambols by the ghost’s side, jumping up occasionally for a pat.

Last year I read Susanna Kearsley’s The Rose Garden, and fell in love with her writing style. Her prose is lush and unhurried, as she draws you into the world of her characters. The Shadowy Horses is part archeological mystery, part ghost story combined with a lovely romance. It all makes for a very satisfying mix, on that fans of Mary Stewart will enjoy.

I’m so glad I chose the audio version. Armstrong is a marvelous narrator who does a wonderful job, especially with the Scottish accents, which sounded spot on to my American ear. I can still hear her musical cadences even though the audiobook is finished and returned to the library.

* The Shadowy Horses page at Kearsley’s website includes  location photos and insight into what inspired her to write the story.

The Winter Sea
by Susanna Kearsley
Allison & Busby, 2010

Kearsley returns to Scotland for this story within a story set on the rugged coast north of Aberdeen. In the modern story, novelist Carrie McClelland arrives in Cruden Bay, a village near ruined Slains Castle, and knows this is where she has to live to write her book about the abortive 1708 Jacobite invasion.

Carrie’s story is interspersed with scenes from her novel, featuring one of her ancestors, young Sophia Paterson, who comes to Slains in 1708 to live with a kinswoman. There she meets the love of her life, an outlawed Jacobite who serves James III and finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue and danger.

The whole thing becomes eerie when Carrie researches the events of 1708 and discovers that the scenes she has already written are oddly accurate, even down to names of characters she thought she’d made up, but who really existed. Her father suggests it might be a case of genetic memory. Carrie isn’t sure; she just knows this is a story that must be told.

I enjoyed this book, too, though not quite as much as The Shadowy Horses. I liked the fact that it was set in 1708 rather than the more popular 1745 uprising, and the history of Slains Castle is quite interesting. You can check out Kearsley’s location photos at her website.

What country fascinates you?

Originally posted at Flights-a-Fancy 3/6/13

Recycled Review: The Book of Lost Fragrances by @MJRose

The Book of Lost Fragrances
by M.J. Rose
Paranormal Thriller

The intriguing notion at the heart of this book is that an ancient Egyptian fragrance could be the key to unlocking the mysteries of past life.

For generations, the House of L’Etoile in Paris has created exclusive fragrances, but now the business is in trouble. The family patriarch is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and children Robbie and Jac (Jacinth) must find a way to save the company. Jac wants to sell two of their premiere fragrances, but Robbie is certain that if Jac, who has a superior nose, will help him, they can find the lost elusive fragrance of memory. Jac, a skeptic, dismisses his ideas. Robbie has an ulterior motive. A converted Buddhist, he hopes to find the lost frangrance and give it to the Dalai Lama to help the beleaguered Tibetan people. He enlists the help of Griffin North, Jac’s former love.

As a child, Jac suffered from schizophrenic episodes made worse by the scents in her father’s workroom. (Or were they memories of past lives that the young Jac had no way to process?) Since finding psychological help from Dr. Malachai Samuels, a familiar figure in previous books in this series, she has kept her distance from the family business. Then Robbie disappears from the House of L’Etoile, leaving a dead body behind, and Jac and Griffin must work together to find out what happened.

I really enjoyed this book. The main plot about the lost fragrance is quite fascinating and takes the reader from the present day to Ancient Egypt and Revolutionary Paris. The subplot about Chinese attempts to prevent the fragrance from reaching the Dalai Lama complicates matters, as does Malachai Samuels’s attempts to obtain the lost memory tool. In previous books, Malachai has been a suspected villain, even coming under FBI surveillance, but he now seems determined to clear his name.

I found the book fascinating, both for plot and the ambience. MJ Rose was clearly inspired by her research into the history of perfume. The book doesn’t have the happy ending I wanted but it was satisfying nevertheless. I have read the entire series and this is one of the best, along with The Memorist. I’m hoping there will be more.


First posted at Flights-a-Fancy 12/5/12