Title: Winter Garden
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: February 2010
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Summary: Meredith and Nina are sisters without much in common. Complete opposites and living on different continents has not fostered a strong relationship between them. But this is not a foreign concept to them as they have dealt with a cold mother who has never shown them affection or love. Luckily, they had their warm and loving father to support them, but when he grows gravely ill it requires them to come together and uphold his requests. One such request is to hear the end of their mother’s fairy tale about a peasant and a prince, which they begin to think may be more than just a fairy tale.
My Thoughts: I actually sort of liked this book, despite my 3 star rating. Kristin Hannah is a great writer, and this book is no exception. This is my 3rd Hannah book and I have come to trust her authorship and the story that lies between the cover of books that hail her name. This book had a slow beginning, although it managed to keep me some-what engaged, and it wasn’t until the last quarter or so of it that I really began to get drawn in. This book is at its best when it is in the fairy tale set in Leningrad. I wasn’t expecting it to be such an emotional read or one that would end up being similar to her most famous book, Nightingale. There were many comparisons to be made with the two stories, but Nightingale is far superior. Parts of Winter Garden seemed to be over done, as if it was a caricature. Nina, Meredith, and their mother were extreme characters that didn’t really seem very realistic. I also found the ending to be hard to believe, however, it didn’t prevent me from responding to the extreme emotionality of it. Overall, this was a solid read despite its flaws. Not Hannah’s best, but certainly a glimpse of her powerhouse abilities.
Book Club Discussion: This was the most universally enjoyed book so far. We have not all agreed on (or finished) all of the other picks. We jived on the peaks and valleys of this book, including what Erin called a “trite” ending. We spent a good deal of time considering how truly similar to Nightingale this story was and reflecting on other Hannah books we have read and enjoyed better. Overall, it was a good pick by Janette. On to the next one…
Next Month’s Pick: To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
Title: Hillbilly Elegy
Author: J.D. Vance
Published: June 2016
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Summary: An account of J.D. growing up in a working class family with roots in Appalachian Kentucky. A part memoir, part sociological observation.
My Thoughts: I have wanted to read this book since it came out last year. I had it at the top of my TBR list for months, but never was able to pull the trigger and read it. I thought it would be a perfect pick for our book club, plus it would force me to finally read it. Non-fiction is very rare for me. This might be the first non-fiction book I have read in over a year, perhaps longer. This book comes with so much hype, much from best-selling lists and media and much from myself. This is almost never a circumstance that bodes well for a book, and I wish I could say that Hillbilly Elegy escaped that fate, but it didn’t. I am glad I read it, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. This book was at its best in the middle 50% when he was relaying his family’s history and his childhood. I was surprised at how much I was able to connect with his story having come from a small, rural town in an area that used to enjoy booming manufacturing and mill work. I found J.D.’s story compelling in and of itself, but also because although he had some great hardships, I found his story to be nothing exceptional. I liked reading about someone who I thought might actually represent a typical person living in his part of the world. Where this book fell short for me, was in the beginning and the end. I didn’t really appreciate his commentary on the world of the working class white. Although he cited research, it felt like he was passing his opinion as fact, which I don’t really enjoy or respect.
Book Club Discussion: This book was not very well-received by my family. My sister Janette couldn’t even read it after reading through the first 50 pages or so. I do agree that the first 50 pages are preachy, but she didn’t push past it to get to his story. Otherwise, Erin, my mom and I were all on the same page. There were some interesting aspects, but it was a bit too big for its britches. We all agreed that it felt soap-boxy to a great degree (this coming from someone who mostly agrees with his point of view) and that it could have been condensed into a shorter read.
Next Month’s Pick: Middlemarch by George Eliot (March & April)
Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: May 2015
Summary: Ove is a 59-year-old curmudgeon who spends his days simply by monitoring the neighborhood for any rule-breakers and generally being dissatisfied with other people. His orderly life is thrown into chaos when a young family moves in next door. This quirky cast of characters and a straggly cat help to disrupt his life and force him to consider how he got there.
My Thoughts: Cutting straight to the chase, as Ove would likely prefer, this was not my favorite book. If it hadn’t been for it being a book club pick, I likely would not have finished reading it. I have to say that I really enjoyed the writing style of Backman and at times really enjoyed this book. There were chapters, which are more like vignettes, where I was overwhelmed with how beautifully written and poignant this book is. Where this novel fell short for me was in the length and redundancy. If there were a few less chapters about his contentious relationship with his neighbor, Rune, or even less devotion to his obsession with Saabs, I think I would have enjoyed this book much more. I can’t exactly recommend this book, but I would encourage someone to read it for themselves and make up their own opinion. I would not call this book a waste of time, just not my favorite.
Book Club Discussion: We were split down the middle in terms of enjoying this book. My sister Janette and I did not love it, but my mom and sister Erin liked it better. None of us, however, would classify this as a home run. Something we all agreed upon was that 59 isn’t really that old. This book continually describes Ove to be an old man and the way Backman describes him, you would think he was in his 80s. Maybe in Sweden they are even more fearful of aging than we are in the U.S.? We talked a bit about the Swedish influences, such as trying to imagine the neighborhood that Ove lives in or the “council” in “white shirts.” I watched the trailer for the Swedish movie made about this book to get some of my questions answered and was able to see the neighborhood set up, which is unlike anything I have ever seen in the U.S. We also enjoyed the many references of IKEA, me especially since my house is mostly furnished by the Swedish company. There were plenty of topics to talk about, so I would recommend its use in a book club.
Happy New Year! It is the time of year for fresh starts and big goals. I love the feeling of the first of the new year when I have all the optimism that this will be the year that I will accomplish all of my goals–who knows, maybe I will this year!
There is one goal that I feel confident will be met this year, completing a book club with my sisters and mom. Each of us are avid readers and whenever we get together, books are always a staple to our conversation. So with this as the background, we decided to gift each other book club picks for Christmas to prepare for our first ever family book club. This year, my sisters, mom and I will make our way through 11 books, and spend time each month on Skype discussing the book. I will post along as we make our way through this delicious list of books. Here are our picks and the months we will be reading them:
January: – Fredrik Backman A Man Called Ove (Erin’s & Janette’s pick)
February: Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance (My pick)
March & April: Middlemarch – George Eliot (Janette’s pick)
May: Winter Garden – Kristin Hannah (Janette’s pick)
June: To The Bright Edge of the World – Eowyn Ivey (Erin’s pick)
July: News of the World – Paulette Jiles (Mom’s pick)
August: Commonwealth – Ann Patchett (Mom’s pick)
September: The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson (Mom’s pick)
October: Women of the Silk – Gail Tsukiyama (Erin’s pick)
November: Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (My pick)
December: Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon (My pick)