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Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden (2010)

by Kristin Hannah

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1,167None6,926 (3.95)43
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    Ugly Ways by Tina McElroy Ansa (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Both books feature a mother who pays more attention to her garden than she does to her adult children.

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Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
Beautiful! ( )
  ava-st-claire | Feb 21, 2014 |
3.5, really.... I did not necessarily enjoy the writing, but I did enjoy the story itself... The ending was a bit too fairy-tale and depressed me... ( )
  MargaretArmour | Dec 28, 2013 |
I read this book for my book group. I listened to part of it on CD, then skimmed the rest. If I hadn't taken this approach, I'm sure I would not have gotten through it at all.

Winter Garden is the story of two sisters who are as opposite as only sisters in novels can be. Meredith is a dutiful wife, mother, daughter and businesswoman (not to mention a Julia Roberts look-alike) who is so busy pleasing other people and doing the dishes, she doesn't know what she really wants out of life. Nina is a free-spirited, internationally-renowned photojournalist who is more than happy to leave the people-pleasing to Meredith. Their mother, Anya, is from Russia and has barely spoken to them since their childhoods. She just sits in her "winter garden", wearing inadequate clothing and uttering cryptic statements such as "You don't know cold".

When their too-good-to-be-true father/husband dies, all three women are at a loss. On his deathbed, the father had made Meredith and Nina promise to get to know their mother, so the two daughters coax Anya into telling them her Russian "fairy tales". Of course, it is not really a fairy tale Anya tells them--it is the tragic story of her prior life in Russia. This tale explains everything, including why Anya had always been so indifferent to her daughters.

Despite its grounding in Russian history, Winter Garden seemed to me completely inauthentic. Every Russian cliché--vodka, borscht, even a picture of a troika on the wall-- is (pardon the pun) trotted out. What's worse, the two sisters are unsympathetic characters. For much of story, an omniscient narrator tells the reader, over and over, how Meredith and Nina feel. When the two sisters actually speak to each other, which isn't all that often, they spew jarringly vulgar language at each other.

The male characters --Meredith's and Anya's husbands and Nina's lover--are all long-suffering doormats. No real-life man would put up with any of these unappealing women for as long as these three do.

The tearjerking "story within the story" is more affecting than the modern day narrative. With its heartbreaking details, it makes Meredith's and Nina's first-world problems seem trivial by contrast.

Many readers have like this book, but, unfortunately, I did not. ( )
  akblanchard | Nov 13, 2013 |
Loved this story. A heart wrenching experience, changes a woman's life, and ripples to her children as well. If you enjoy a story about surviving emotional strife, and how people reach out to each other, then this story will touch you too. ( )
  ElisabethZguta | Nov 7, 2013 |
Four stars, five stars, I'm not sure what to rate this. I think it's four and a half stars.

Winter Garden is basically broken into two stories. The "present day" story (that's really 2000/2001) is filled with some seriously frustrating people. It's hard to understand why Meredith responds (or doesn't) to her husband, Jeff, the way she does. It is frustrating to watch her continually hurt him and him continually try to love her. Her younger sister, Nina, is a selfish brat and a journalist. She has that journalist way of standing on the outside observing and making judgments and declarations without jumping in and doing anything. When she finally does, she berates and judges her sister without trying to really understand the situation. Making decisions that will bind Meredith's life while she runs back to Africa again, never available to help. She keeps her loving boyfriend, Danny, who wants to really know her and be with her at arm length, much like her sister with her husband. Both women love their father dearly and have spent their lives trying to love their mother, Anya, who has made them feel nothing but unloved and unwanted. I wondered why they kept trying and stuck around since their father let their mother treat them the way she did and Anya was always so cold.

Thankfully they did keep trying though. When their family suffers a devastating loss Meredith and Nina make promises that start them on a path to learning who their mother really is. And that is where this book transforms from a middle of the road novel to damn near amazing.

The story within the story is everything.

Through Anya's fairytale we come to know her alongside her daughters. We see how it relates to the women's lives and has affected all of them, even through the present. It is so engrossing, haunting, and . . . real. I want to be able to describe the story but I don't want to give anything away as the reveals are as important to the reader as the characters. But it does become clear that it is a heartbreaking story and it pretty much wrecked me. Tears pouring down my face, can't read through them, chest tight, little kid silent before sobbing out loud crying. Much like with Magic Hour, I couldn't stop. Though this was much worse because that book wasn't on the same level of tragic. I'm not a parent and I have no designs on becoming one, so I can't imaging being one and reading this. Those were the parts that affected me the most. If you do nothing but read the fairytale the book is completely worth it. I just know I'm going to be thinking about this for days.

I'm not sure how I feel about the end of the present day story. It is actually something I envisioned happening, but in a totally different way. This is where the book stretched believability and felt slightly manipulative to elicit emotions from the reader. But the result is so bitter, bitter sweet (particularly if you're a glass half empty kind of person like me) it is almost too hard to have a problem with it. Especially since I was already in the throes of strong emotions. Plus, I called it. There were also some questions of continuity for me, and unanswered questions I wish had been given time in the end after possibly trimming some of the fat from the beginning. I would have especially liked to have seen more of their family dynamic in the aftermath of what was learned. Trying to reclaim some of the time and love that was wasted. I did love witnessing the evolution of Anya, Meredith, and Nina's relationship throughout the story. I'll probably continually go back and forth on this ending. I will say the epilogue was pretty heavy-handed and unnecessary.

Still, even with those issues, with the amount of emotion this book ripped from me I don't feel like I can dock it too much.

Fine, Kristin Hannah.

Take them.


Just please stop ripping me to pieces. I'm not sure I can handle any more of your books. ( )
  OstensiblyA1 | Sep 20, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
Resisting the urge to skip ahead so I could find out what happens was a serious problem with this novel. Even though there are a number of stories told in this novel; Meredith's struggles with her marriage, Nina's struggles with love and family, Anya's struggles with her past, and Veronika's story in Russia, everything flows so smoothly.

What starts out as a story of three struggling women turns into a beautiful story... one that literally brough tears to my eyes. I found that this book allowed me to laugh, cry, yell and hurt and a book that does that is a very powerful book.

Overall, this book needs to be read... it deserves a place on anyone's bookshelf! Well done Kristin Hannah, I will be reading many more of your books in the future!
For this reader, it doesn't work.
The Whitson family is rocked by the sudden death of patriarch Evan, a warm, loving man who doted on his two adult daughters, Meredith and Nina, and his reserved Russian wife, Anya. Meredith, who runs the family business, and Nina, a photojournalist whose job takes her to war zones around the world, have never been able to connect with their cold, forbidding mother. When Anya begins to act strangely, Meredith thinks she belongs in a nursing home, but Nina decides to try to fulfill her father's dying wish and get her mother to tell her and Meredith the elaborate fairy tales she used to share with them. Anya is initially reluctant, but once she begins, Nina realizes these tales are actually the story of Anya's life in Stalinist Leningrad. Meredith and Nina decide to attempt to uncover the truth about their mother's tragic past in the hope of understanding her, and themselves.
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Prologue: 1972
To my husband Benjamin: As Always. To my Mother: I wish I had listened to more of your light stories when I had the chance. To my dad and Debbie: Thanks for the trip of a lifetime and memories that will last even longer. And to my beloved Tucker: I am so proud of you; your journey is just beginning.
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On the banks of the mighty Columbia River, in this icy season, when every breath became visable, the orchard called Bele Nochi, was quiet. Dormant apple trees stretched as far as the eye could see.
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The dying wish of a loving father ignites a family drama that brings two sisters and their acid-tongued, Russian-born mother together in a story that reaches back to WWII Leningrad.

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