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: The Ship of Brides
Author: Jojo Moyes
Summary: Three very different young women join 600 war brides on a flight carrier ship after WWII ends leaving from Australia to take the brides to their British husbands. Along the 6 week journey, the young women get to know each other and themselves as they see exotic locations and move very far away from home.
Why I Am Recommending: Although this was a slow starting book, I was glad I stuck around to finish it. Jojo Moyes creates three really interesting characters from very different backgrounds and gives each of them a sense of vulnerability as they experience this unusual journey together. I am always up for a WWII period book, but this was an aspect of WWII that I have not read about in the many novels I have completed to date. It certainly seems like a different world, but it was great to get immersed in the story once the character development was done. The end is fast-paced and page turning, which will be the carrot I dangle in front of anyone who decides to read this book…keep going and you will be happy you did!
Title: The Truth According to Us
Author: Annie Barrows
Published: June 2015
Summary: Layla is a spoiled girl looking to prove to her dad her ability to make it on her own when she is set up as a writer for the Federal Workers’ Project. Her assignment is to chronicle the history and present of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. While in Macedonia, she boards with the Romeyn family where she begins to learn some of the secrets of this quirky family. Told from the perspective of Layla, the oldest Romeyn, Jottie, and the youngest, Willa.
Why I Am Recommending: Great historical fiction story that is well-written with a touch of mystery, a touch of romance, and a heavy dose of family drama. I grew attached to each of the narrators and especially loved each of their portrayals of the Romeyn patriarch, Felix, who plays a central role in each of their lives. Each brings a unique perspective, Willa the child-like innocence, Layla, the naiveté of a young woman on her own for the first time, and Jottie, someone resigned to the cards life has dealt her. When I read this book I felt transported to the slow-paced, old fashioned town. I felt like I was drinking sweet tea on the porch listening to someone tell a story in a slow, southern drawl.
Title: The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Published: June 2007
Summary: This story is told in flashbacks as Grace explains her life as a servant in an aristocratic home to a movie director who wants to make a movie about Grace’s life. Grace worked as a servant for the Hartford’s since she was a kid. Having grown up with the family her life naturally becomes entwined in their life, but when a young poet shoots himself at one of their parties, Grace is pulled deeper and deeper into that family’s secrets.
Why I Am Recommending: If you mourn the loss of Downton Abbey, this may help serve as salve to your wound. Although this book is a commitment (nearly 500 pages), it never felt long to me as I was enjoying the twists and turns of the story. Partially a mystery, it will keep you hanging on to the very end. Morton writes beautifully and I have added her other novels to my TBR list. This is a slam dunk for any Downton fans.
Author: Georgette Heyer
Summary: In the style of authors like Jane Austen, this is the story of Arabella who is sent to London to stay with her Godmother in the hopes of finding a suitor. She finds herself continually running into Mr. Beaumaris, London’s most eligible bachelor.
Why I Am Recommending: I recommend this for anyone who enjoys the regency era romances like those of Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the like. This book caught me off guard and I found that I really enjoyed this sweet little story. I was nervous for a copy-cat style of writing, but quickly lost that concern when I started reading. This is a wholesum and romantic novel that will help ease the void left by a finite selection of classic novels.
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Published: June 1992
Summary: Claire Randall is reacquainting herself with her husband after the war in 1945 in a Scottish town in the Highlands, when she is transported to 1743. Coming to terms with this unlikely scenario and trying to survive, Claire must throw herself into the times until she can find a way back home.
Why I Am Recommending: I like this book because of its epic story telling. Although this is a romance novel in many ways, I also appreciate the quality of writing and the attention to historical details. When I read this book, I had a giddiness and sense of warmth come over me every time I dove back into Claire’s world. There is an intense romance that measures up to the epic nature of this book. This is the first in a series that currently has 9 books, nevermind the novellas that go with it. I have only read the one, but will likely try out another one when I have time to commit to the next 800+ page installment.