Those Dual Story-Lines

Midnight RoseI recently finished reading Lucinda Riley’s The Midnight Rose, one of those dual timelines or two intersecting timelines, or (what I prefer) a dual story-line.

This got me to thinking about how many such books I have read lately and why these dual story-lines have become so popular, and can they really be considered historical fiction in the truest sense? And how different are these from the traditional plot/subplot?

For those of you who may be wondering what in the world is a dual story-line–it is two stories told in the same book or a story within a story. The stories usually take place in the same setting but with quite a few years (approximately a hundred seems rather popular) separating the two.

The Lake House by Kate Morton was one of the first books I read this year and I just loved it. This one moved back and forth between an unsolved mystery in Cornwall in the early 1900’s and then to a woman who was visiting her grandfather (in Cornwall) in 2003. This woman stumbled upon an abandoned house which had obviously been a rather magnificent house at one time, and decided to use her journalistic skills to solve the mystery of what had happened there almost a hundred years before.

Then there was The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett. An antique bookseller from North Carolina moves to England and ends up in a familiar quest to prove Shakespeare’s authorship. This book’s dual timeline goes from Hay-on-Wye in 1995 to the time of Shakespeare and is complete with both book and art forgers. Another four star for me.

Two of my favorite authors who write the dual timeline quite well are Susan Meissner and Susanna Kearsley. My most recent reads from these two are: A Fall of Marigolds, (New York in Sept. 1911 and Sept. 2011) and A Desperate Fortune (London and Paris in 1732 and present day).


These type of books are often listed as historical fiction, but I consider true historical fiction a work that is based on actual events and people. Both The Midnight Rose and The Lake House are totally fictional concerning their characters and events. I don’t enjoy them any less for that, and, of course, they are historical in the way they portray the ways people lived, the clothes they wore, the way they talked, used transportation, etc.

What do you think? What makes a book “historical fiction”? And, do you enjoy dual time-lines? Read any good ones lately?









The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea is an historical novel, with a bit of fantasy mixed in. Carolyn McClelland is an author, doing research for a book she is writing which takes place in Scotland in the early 1700’s. The Scots are plotting with the French to put James Stewart, whom they see as their rightful king, on the throne. The English and their queen are quite opposed to this plot.

This is really two stories in one as Kearsley tells McClelland’s story–her writing and her love interest in a certain Scot–and the story McClelland is writing. McClelland’s main character, Sophia, becomes involved with those plotting to bring  James back from his exile in France. It also turns out that Sophia is a real, historical figure; a distant ancestor of the writer, McClelland.

What makes The Winter Sea unique is the way McClelland does her ‘research’. She has the idea of what she wants to do, but until she finds a certain place in Scotland to write, it doesn’t seem to work. Once she finds herself in this place, the characters and their lives come to life in her imagination. People and details that she hasn’t yet found in her research, begin to ‘tell’ her their story. Is there a such thing as ‘genetic memory’, she begins to wonder? If not, how can she know so much about these characters? How have they managed to come so alive for her as she writes?

I enjoyed The Winter Sea for its characters and the way Kearsley intertwined the two stories. Not being very familiar with this time period of English/Scottish history, that part of the story was a little harder to get into; but once I got my characters straight, it made for a fun way to learn some history. Having McClelland connect with her own characters in such an unorthodox way made it a story within a story, and added to the romance and suspense.

Kearsley has been compared to Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Diana Gabaldon. The Winter Sea was a finalist for a RITA award and the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year Award. This book is available at the Union County Libraries.