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Editorial Reviews

in Kristin Hannah’s Winter Garden, we find three women — a mother and two daughters by blood, but strangers in their hearts — reeling from the loss of the man who held their fragile family together. Emptiness pervades this story — hollowing out what is left of the Whitson family and creeping into the space between narrator Susan Erickson’s words.

Anya and her daughters Meredith and Nina have already lost their husband and father to death — and risk losing each other to pride. Evan Whitson knew of this risk, and on his deathbed asked his wife to tell their daughters her “fairy tale” from start to finish. And so we find the Whitson women gathered in the dark at their family home, Belye Nochi, night after night.

Meredith is the older daughter who stayed home to take care of the family business, and her marriage is falling apart. Younger sister Nina, meanwhile, has traveled the globe as a renowned photographer, but refuses to marry the love of her life. Neither sister has much of a relationship with the other — much less with their cold and distant mother, Anya, whose mysterious past in Russia haunts them all.

Erickson’s Anya is resolute, her Nina bold, and her Meredith lost. Effortlessly, it seems, Erickson captures in one moment the decades of sorrow in Anya’s voice and in the next the ready spirit in Nina’s. Always we hear the sheer exhaustion in Meredith’s. Erickson’s voice is at times empty and full, icy and warm, sharp and soft. Throughout the book all three women are alternately devastated with loss, isolated by bitterness, and joyous for the love of family, and Erickson lets us hear it all with her honest and gentle delivery.

Winter Garden is a story best listened to — it is after all a testament to the power of storytelling. What Meredith and Nina hear in their mother’s story will cause them to face their grief head on and just might make them a family once again. —Sarah Evans Hogeboom

Publisher's Summary

From the author of the smash-hit best-seller 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 fails 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.

©2010 Kristin Hannah (P)2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

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I thought I made a mistake

After listening to another work by this author that was just outstanding (The Nightingale), I grabbed this one without much research. I thought for the first several hours that I made a mistake. The story starts so slowly and initially felt almost a bit like an immature romance novel trying to masquerade as literature. But then the story came to life much further in than I had anticipated and it became all-consuming. It did a complete 180 and morphed into one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful stories I've ever read. So if you have the patience to suffer through a somewhat monotonous buildup, the effort will pay off in the end. I eventually felt like my entire day became about when I could get back to it. I longed for the story when I wasn't listening. It's a beautiful and emotional story that will make your heart break over and over but it will also come around to an ending that is a precious treasure.

A word of warning: since becoming a mother, stories where children suffer have become exponentially more upsetting to me and this story had some elements that were so far over that line of discomfort that there were times I wanted to stop. I wouldn't recommend this to a new mother or someone struggling with PPD or someone who was in mourning. The story comes around to a beautiful place but it trudges through some of the most painful hardships to get there. Ultimately I'm glad I stuck through it but my daughter is about to turn 2 and if I'd tried to listen to this in my earlier, super-hormonal, new mom days, I don't think I could have finished it. Don't forego it completely, just wait until you can handle it if you're feeling emotionally delicate.

121 of 122 people found this review helpful

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A journey of discovery

"Winter Garden" has to one of my most favorite books by Kristin Hannah. The book is about 3 women and their journey of discovery of who they are, of family history, of sacrifices made, of sisterhood and family secrets.

The book opens up when sisters Meredith and Nina are putting on a family play of a ‘fairy tale’ their mother Anya often tells them at night – of a Russian Prince and peasant girl. The acting out of this play angers Anya and the play is stopped. This is when they, as sisters become distant with each other and believe their cold, distant mother doesn’t love them. Fast forward to current day – when the 2 sisters; Meredith, the nurturer who runs the family apple orchard but living in a troubled marriage - Nina, prize-winning and world-renowned photojournalist, someone who avoids coming home and committing to a relationship, and Anya, their mother. They are forced to deal with their father’s death and promises each has made to him on his death bed. These promises force the 3 women to open up about their lives to each other and discover who they are as women and what they want. As Anya finally tells the full fairy tale of the prince and peasant girl - Meredith and Nina discover who their mother really is, of her strength, endurance and regrets.

There are moments in this books that are sad, heartbreaking, yet captivating – I so enjoyed the story within a story although not always a happy or feel good type of read. I did feel the beginning of the book was a little slow to take off but well worth hanging in there - so I would give the book more of a 4 1/2 stars. There were some surprises and some parts that were very predictable. This actually was an audiobook which was narrated by Susan Ericksen. I felt she did an excellent job and made the book very enjoyable to listen to, her Irish and Russian accents were right on for me.

49 of 51 people found this review helpful

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My parents made me promise I’d read this. For the first few pages, I couldn’t tell why they were so enthusiastic about this book, but then, whoosh! The story took off and I was carried away. Like my 83 year old parents, I love, love, loved it!

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Excellent writing, excellent narrating.

Powerful story. I listened to the audio of this, very well done. It is not an easy story to listen to, but beautiful all the same. The way Kristin Hannah tells the story both in the present day and back to Stalin's time works seamlessly. In the telling of the story love and redemption eventually are born. But before that great pain and loss. Sometimes almost too unbearable to hear. Recommend the listen.

36 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Terri
  • Corona, CA, USA
  • 02-28-10

Best of 100

I have downloaded over 100 Audible titles and this has proven to be the absolute best for story and narration. Susan Ericksen did a phenomenal job on this narration and the story moved me beyond belief.
Excellent! Excellent!
Thank you.

42 of 45 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Gut wrenching....but well done.

It's actually 2 stories ....the mother's tale of Stalin's Russia/ Siege of Leningrad and the daughters' tale of being raised by this survivor....both were very interesting. I was drawn into the history and learned so much about Soviet Russia. The truth of it is very hard and sad, making it a difficult read at times. I must mention the narration. This is the first book I have purchased with truly EXCELLENT narration! I can't stress enough what a difference this made to the overall enjoyment of this book. Every emotion, every character and every accent was delivered with the obvious gift of an actress. I will never purchase another book again without rave reviews for the narration. What a difference! Bravo!

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • Lisa
  • West Milford, NJ, USA
  • 06-19-10

All I can say is, "Wow!"

A little slow to start, but once it got rolling, I was hooked. A story within a story, spellbinding and captivating. Enjoyed it so much I listened to the last 40 minutes three times! Well written and totally would recommend!

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Vicki
  • Montpelier, VA, United States
  • 07-25-10

Slow to start and unbelievable characters

In the end I am glad that I decided to finish the book. The Mother's story is extremely interesting and well told although the ending is ridiculous.

However, getting to that point was like enduring Spring allergy fog. I just wanted to go to sleep and skip over the self-inflicted and over-dramatized pain of these women. The two daughters are obnoxious, self-absorbed and, well, silly characters. I never liked them and, frankly, they were hardly necessary to the good part of the story.
While, I know the story is fiction, I do expect my fiction to have some sense of reality. There is no way that a father (especially one portrayed as being as insightful as this one was) would have let that kind of animosity build up between a mother and daughters knowing that he knew why. The author tried to portray the father as the hero of all 3 women when I think he was the root cause of all of their problems. One long conversation with the daughters and half of that book would have been unnecessary.
I read True Colors and liked it but I'm not sure I will read any others by this author.
I really enjoyed the narrator.

36 of 41 people found this review helpful

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Sweeps you back to the Siege of Lenengrag

Was surprised by the depth here. We are told of the siege of Lenengrad in heartbreaking detail, much of which I'm ashamed to say I was ignorant of. Sad, story but is uplifting too as each character works out their life and family dynamics. Only a talented author like Kristin Hannah can pull this off. Loved this book and do enjoy this author. Great narration, the accents done are super. This book caused me to read up on the siege of Lenengrad, a sign of a good book indeed.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Painfully Slow

It's possible to start reading this book with Part 2. Part 1 consists of: two Type A-personality daughters trying to reconnect with their semi-estranged, non-nurturing, cold, hostile, non-loving, PTSD-suffering Russian mother. That's about it. This needs about one or two paragraphs, not 12-14 chapters, or whatever the count actually is, and the author rambles on and on at an agonizingly slow, watching-paint-dry pace.

The narration was fine, but you have to like middle European dialect, the guttural "ell" sounds or your ears will burn and you will soon be fed up with the "fairy tales" and hostile utterances from - up until the end - the Mom from hell.

Bring on the violins, this one was painfully slow and incredibly dull.

I usually like Kristin Hannah's work but this was just over the top in schmaltzy sentimentality.

46 of 56 people found this review helpful

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  • Susanna
  • 12-27-11

Winter Garden

I chose this audibook after reading many good reviews about the novel. It tells the story about the relationship between two sisters and their mother who has always been very cold and distant to them. When the father (who was the strengh of the family) dies, following a promise that the 3 women made to him, the mother explains to her daughers the truth of her earlier life in Leningrad during the war. This story helps the daughters understand their mother better and changes completety their relationship. For me the story is an example of how important it is to talk about emotions and feelings to the people you love, and how misunderstandings can spoil relationships. I would recommend this book as I really enjoyed it.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful