Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (1994)
I quite enjoyed the story of Julia moving to this small town, buying her house, and getting to know the local people. She worked as a freelance illustrator of children's books, making it easy to uproot her life and move from London to this small village. Mariana's story was also fascinating, though not especially happy. She lived in the 1600s and after her mother died of plague, Mariana was forced to go live with her cruel uncle at his house in Exbury, where things only got worse for her. Julia and Mariana led very different lives in very different times, but I really liked reading about both of them.
The reincarnation aspects might be a bit much for some people but I thought the stories were quite nicely woven together and I was happy to suspend my disbelief and go along with it. (By the way, that's not a spoiler - you know very early on that Julia is supposed to be the reincarnation of Mariana.) Likewise, there was a lot of talk about fate and destiny, concepts that I find a bit ridiculous but again, I'll believe anything for a good story. It seemed like I knew a lot very early on, but there were still twists and surprises, including in the several love stories. Altogether, I thought it was quite well-crafted.
The only thing that bothered me was the character Mrs. Hutherson, who obviously knew the answers that Julia was looking for, but insisted that she find out for herself. This is a pretty common trope in books and movies, but I've always found it irritating. I just don't think that character added anything to the story. Other characters, however, were more interesting and played more important roles. Vivien, owner of the local bar in Exbury, was a welcoming friend to Julia, and Geoff made for a dashing and enigmatic love interest. Even Julia's brother Tom, a vicar, lived nearby and was a source of support when Julia's strange visions started.
Mariana was Kearsley's first novel and although it wasn't perfect, I'd be happy to read more of her books. I first heard about Mariana on Shelf Love, a blog I really enjoy partly because of how many books they discuss that I've never heard of anywhere else. It's a shame that Kearsley doesn't seem very well-known; in fact I bought this as an ebook because it's not available in my library system. A few others are though, including The Winter Sea which my mother just read and highly recommends. I'd definitely like to try this author again, and I think The Winter Sea might be my next choice.