Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: Winter Garden & Giveaway

Summary: Can a woman ever really know herself if she doesn’t know her mother?

From the author of the smash-hit bestseller Firefly Lane and True Colors comes a powerful, heartbreaking novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between the present and the past

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are. -- St. Martin's Press

I can't explain why I have never read a book by Kristin Hannah prior to picking up WINTER GARDEN. I've seen lots of fantastic reviews out there for her books, but for some strange reason I just haven't... until now. I guess with all the hype surrounding the paperback release of the novel, I decided that now is the perfect time. And I'm sure glad I did. If Ms. Hannah's other books are anywhere near as good as WINTER GARDEN, then I'm going to be adding them all to my wishlist!

WINTER GARDEN is a fantastic story about three women, a mother and two daughters, who finally get to know each other after their husband/father dies. While both Meredith and Nina adored their father, they never felt as if their mother loved them. As young children, both girls were constantly trying to get her approval yet were met over and over again with Anya's cold demeanor. The only time their mother showed any warmth was when she shared with them Russian fairy tales in the dark. As their father lay dying, he asks that Meredith take care of her mother and that Nina ask to hear the entire fairy tale.

I really enjoyed WINTER GARDEN very much, and I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this novel! Everything just came together to me from the characters, to the story (as well as the story within the story), and even to the feeling I was left with after I finished the book. It was a wonderful read -- one that left me often times sad and frustrated for the characters, but also one that left me with a feeling of hope. I can't say that I always found WINTER GARDEN to be an easy read because it was clear that all three women were experiencing varying levels of pain and grief; however, it was a beautiful story about family dynamics, love, misunderstandings and sacrifice.

I definitely liked how the author portrayed Meredith, Nina and Anya; and I thought they were very well developed -- complex and flawed, yet likable (most of the time.) However, one of the things that I most enjoyed about this book was the "story within the story" aspect. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not always a big fan of books which have a fictional story being told within the scope of the larger story, but I thought Ms. Hannah pulled it off in WINTER GARDEN. When Anya began telling the fairy tale, I prepared myself that I might have to skim over those sections. But that certainly wasn't the case! I absolutely loved how the fairy tale began taking on more and more of a role in the story -- eventually blending fiction with reality. And to be honest, I was so caught up in fairy tale that, like Meredith and Nina, I couldn't wait to hear what was going to happen next.

WINTER GARDEN would make a marvelous book club selection, especially for groups who love women's fiction (or books about dysfunctional families.) There are just so many things to discuss within the pages of this novel including mother/daughter relationships, family dynamics, sibling relationships, love, marriage, guilt, grief, sacrifice, the strength of women, forgiveness, and healing. There is a terrific discussion guide available which touches upon these topics and quite a few more while also offering ways to enhance your meeting like recipe ideas. Warning: There are spoilers in the guide. In addition, Ms. Hannah enjoys calling into meetings to discuss her books -- you can request a date and time here.

I highly recommend WINTER GARDEN! It was an entertaining book that also touched my heart, and it's one that shouldn't be missed.

Thanks to The Book Report Network for sending me a copy of this novel.

Giveaway alert: I have one copy of the paperback edition of WINTER GARDEN to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Monday, January 17th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!


Beth F said...

This sounds great. I seem to be attracted to books about mother-daughter relationships these day. Thanks for the giveaway.

Veens said...

Sounds fantastic. I am wondering why I never heard of this author before. This sounds so good.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've been skittish about reading one of her books. My book club read True Colors (I think) on a month when I couldn't participate, and they all gave it the thumbs down. It seems like it is chick lit attempting to be serious, but I could be all wrong about that. A dozen people have said that Firefly Lane is like their favorite book ever. One where you cry alot.

Journey2Goal said...

I have her book Firefly Lane that I can't wait to read!

Anonymous said...

This does sound good. I have my first Kristin Hannah book next to read on my TBR list and I'm really looking forward to it.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I picked this one up on the strength of another review -- this one does seem really wonderful. And like Beth F I am into mother-daughter relationships lately, perhaps because my own mother has been ill.


The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

Kristin Hannah is awesome! I loooved Firefly Lane.. Not so much True Colors.

BookHounds said...

No need to enter me, I just posted this at win a book!


bermudaonion said...

I've heard a lot about Hannah's work, but have never read it either. This sounds fantastic, but it's probably not the book for me right now.

Shelly B said...

I have this one on my shelf, but just haven't taken the time to read it...guess I need to!

Nancye said...

This aounds like a great book! Thanks for the chance!