Again, I’m blown away by Kristin Hannah’s ability to create such evocative novels, time after time. Both, The Nightingale and The Great Alone were five-star reads for me and I decided it was high time to make my way through her popular backlist books. Winter Garden has been sitting on my TBR for nearly three years, but thanks to my library and The Beat the Backlist Challenge, I found time to cross this one off my list.
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.
After sitting on my review of Winter Garden overnight, I decided to drop my rating down to four stars, simply due to the first half of the book. Rarely does it take me over a week to finish a novel. No matter how much time I spent with this one, I still felt like I wasn’t making progress. However, I couldn’t be more grateful I stuck with this one. I knew from experience it takes me a little while to get into Kristin Hannah’s books, at least for me, and this was no exception.
I was mostly impressed by the dialogue in this story, which is usually my least favorite part of any book I read. I couldn’t believe how well the author was able to make the characters’ personalities shine through in their conversations. She was able to convey unspoken feelings through words left unsaid. In a book, I can’t imagine how challenging that must have been to write, yet it seemed effortless in this story.
Each character had their own distinct voice and I loved being able to watch their relationships with one another unfold. It was refreshing to dig deep into the reasons each character behaved the way they did. Readers are able to see how the characters’ past hurts or traumas shaped them, as we uncover more about them layer by layer. Kristen Hannah was able to make three entirely different women relatable to me. With each of their parts, they represent a whole woman.
At first, I wasn’t particularly enjoying the story within the story, but as I made it further, it ended up being the most exciting aspect of reading! I’ve read many World War II books and still they all capture something in my heart each time. I loved being able to catch similarities between this book and The Bronze Horseman. It built on my understanding of Leningrad in the 1940s and provided a new perspective on a horrible time in history.
The ending of this book was everything. I shed tears and felt the full weight of the sadness the author hoped to convey. By the end, I was so grateful I made it through the slow beginning for the unexpected twist and heartwrenching ending. It was everything I have come to expect and love from Kristen Hannah. My heart was shattered and put back together again. I can’t wait to make my way to Firefly Lane next!