Winter Garden

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wow, what a surprise this book turned out to be! I have been a fan of Kristin Hannah's work ever since a couple years ago when I alternated reading Angel Falls with writing a research paper for an entire Saturday. I finished the book that day as well as my research paper. Since then I've read 5 other books by her and loved most of them. Including that first one, Winter Garden was the 7th book I've read by Ms. Hannah.

I was initially disappointed. In fact, for the first half of the book I found myself bored, trudging through only because I had loved the author's previous works. Winter Garden started out in 1972 when sisters, Meredith and Nina, tried putting on a play at Christmastime to gain their mother's attention. Something happened to anger their mother and from that moment, the girls stopped trying to earn their mother's love. After that the book fast forwards to 2001. Meredith is the responsible sister, staying home and caring for the family apple orchard. Nina is a world traveling photographer who rarely visits home. Their relationship with their mother continued to be strained over the years, and their only connection was through their mutual love for their father.

The father becomes ill, and upon his deathbed, he asks the girls to have their mother finish telling them the fairy tale she has always told. The furthest their relationship ever went with their mother was when she used to tell them a fairy tale about a peasant girl falling in love with a prince. However, she never finished this fairy tale, and after that fated incident in 1972, rarely even told the beginning of the tale. Meredith and Nina then spend many moments after their father's death arguing about what to do to care for their mother and whether or not they should force her to tell them the rest of the fairy tale.

Ok. This is for about 200 pages and at this point I very seriously considered stopping and making this book a DNF (did not finish). I thought "who cares about the fairy tale??" I didn't care for the characters, couldn't relate to them, and thought they were unbelievably boring and contrived. I didn't think the beginning of the fairy tale was intriguing. I even looked at the reviews on amazon to see what everyone else said. But while a sporadic few said it was a waste, the majority said that despite the very slow beginning, it was extremely well worth the rest of the read. So I pushed on.

Well, as it turns out, I didn't have to push myself much past that point anyway because it immediately started to pick up. At that point, Meredith's and Nina's cold, seemingly heartless mother starts to very slowly open up. And she does tell the rest of her tale. Meredith and Nina soon realize that the tale is more than just that.

What follows is a story about a time in history -- the siege in Leningrad during WWII. I don't know much about history so I really didn't know anything about this. And as with any historic fictional accounts, I now want to go and learn more about it. But back to Winter Garden, the story told was heart wrenching. The characters in the "fairy tale" were much more genuine and I felt I was right there alongside them during their sorrows. The amount of hardship the characters went through at that time is unbelievable. This part of the book became very intense and is so different from anything of Hannah's that I have read before. I cried, almost sobbed (except that my husband was sitting next to me looking at me like I was a weirdo) through much of the second part. And in this, Kristin Hannah was able to prove to me, again, how emotionally charged her writing can be.

Since closing the book, I have continued to think about the characters (of the supposed fairy tale) in my mind. And in reading this, I was often reminded of a multi-generational memoir I reviewed in September of 2009, Bending Toward the Sun, in which a mother's tragic past affects her relationship with her children. (Definitely read this if you havent!) While I didn't think there was anything that could happen that would make me think differently of the mother's character (Winter Garden) or excuse her disdain for her children, I was surprisingly wrong. Winter Garden proved to be an intense, affecting read about the relationships between a mother and her children, and how this can be impacted by events of the past. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to fans of women's fiction or of this author. If you read this and get at all discouraged in the beginning, just keep reading because it picks up and is another great Kristin Hannah read!


Juju at Tales of said...

Great review :)

Trisha said...

Good for you for sticking with it! I probably would have put it down and then finished it slowly over months. I rarely give up on a book, but I can really make it draw out for some time.

Missy B. said...

I am famous for giving up on books when they are slow and not interesting, so I am glad for your honest review! I am next in line on PBS to receive this book. Knowing what I know ahead of time, I will definitely stick with this story! Thanks for your review!

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Thanks for sharing, Jenny. Yes, there were moments when I thought this story was slow, but like you, I stuck it out and felt totally renewed by what happened in the second half of the book.

Glad you enjoyed it!

Diane said...

Jenny, thanks for your great review. I did not like Hannah's last book but plan to listen to the audio of this one sometime.

Maria the Bookworm said...

Awesome review! I've never read anything by this author, but I'll have to now :)

MarceJ said...

What a great review, thanks for being real and honest.

Firefly Lane was my first by her and I loved it so I want to try another, I will give Winter Garden a go.

Booksnyc said...

I loved Firefly Lane and just won Winter Garden in a contest - I am really looking forward it!

Thanks for the heads up about the first 200 pgs - now I will know to plow through it.

Jenny said...

Juju -- thanks!

Trish -- I came really close to putting it down, hehe, but I was afraid of making it draw out like you said.

Missy -- I hope you enjoy it too!!

Laurel -- I know, it totally turned the book around for me!

Diane -- I'm glad you want to read this one still. Have you read any of her others?

Maria -- You should definitely read Firefly Lane or Magic Hour by the same author! Those are two of my favorites.

Marce J -- Firefly Lane was great! I also loved Magic Hour.

Booksync -- yes, stick with it! Hope you enjoy it!

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

I have never tried anything by this author, and this does sound like something I'd enjoy. I'm glad you managed to stick out the slow parts!

Juju at Tales of said...

Thanks for stopping by!
I always love your feedback.
Your blog is gorgeous btw :)

Cindy said...

I have this one in my tbr! I became a follower!

Jenny said...

Stephanie -- I really like her books!

Juju -- of course! I love your blog! And thanks for the compliment. =)

Cindy -- thanks! I hope you enjoy it!

Cat said...

Hi Jenny - returning your visit and discovering what a lovely blog you have. looks as though we have similar reading tastes so delighted to become a follower.
I have read some of Hannah's books but not this one so I'll remember your advice when I do and not give up on it.

Jenny said...

Cat -- thanks! Look forward to your reviews too!

Jennifer said...

I think that's really great that you have such a wonderful relationship with this author: you've read so much of her that out of loyalty you stuck through the book with the faith that it would be as wonderful as everything. I just love it when I find an author that makes me feel that way: where I can depend on him/her to provide beautiful stories for me to gobble up. I'll definitely look into reading this. Although it has a slow start, it sounds worthwhile.

Jennifer @

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