The backstory: I've never read Elin Hilderbrand, and I was in the mood for a Christmas book, so I started her Winter Street series when it was available at the library.
The basics: The Winter Street series is centered on the Quinn family, who own the Winter Street Inn, a bed and breakfast on Nantucket island. When the first book begins, patriarch Kelly and his second wife, Mitzi, run the inn, while two of Kelly's adult children, Ava, who is a music teacher, and Kevin, a bartender, also live at the inn. His third child, Patrick, lives in Boston with his wife and kids. Kelly and Mitzi's son Bart is a Marine in Afghanistan. Kelly's first wife, Margaret, is a famous evening newscaster in New York City.
My thoughts: Fun fact: Elin Hilderbrand is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. I learned this while listening to Winter Street, which I listened to a lot of as I drove to and from Iowa City for a meeting this month. I'm embarrassed to admit I don't think of more commercial authors as workshop students, so this was a good reminder to not be so presumptuous.
Winter Street takes place on Dec. 23, 24 & 25. It opens with a bang that helps orient the reader to the large cast of characters quite quickly. Different family members take turns narrating the chapters, but the audiobook features only one narrator (a good decision, I think.) I appreciated the time to get to know each of them, and it added more interest to their interactions with one another. I found the book's climax to tie up too many of the storylines into one scene a bit much. It felt contrived and made these interesting characters seem more like characters than actual people. It was the equivalent of a defendant spontaneously confessing on the witness stand in court: it might make for good drama, but it happens so rarely, it's hard to believe it. I often find that audiobooks can end abruptly, as I mostly listen while driving, so I'm not aware when the end is coming. Winter Street gives audio listeners a clue, as music starts to play. The ending felt so shockingly abrupt, it needs the music.
Despite not particularly liking Winter Street, mostly because of the ending, I started Winter Stroll soon thereafter. It made me realize there was a lot of Winter Street I did enjoy. Winter Stroll opens on Friday, December 4th and spans the weekend of Nantucket's famous winter stroll weekend. I appreciated that it didn't cover the same days of Christmas as Winter Street. Because I was already familiar with the characters, I welcomed the chance to jump right back in. It was exciting to see Hilderbrand slowly reveal what had happened to people in the twelve months in between novels. I always appreciate when series have an appropriate time jump between books (or tv episodes.) I also appreciated that more of the minor characters had the chance to narrate. Some characters who were mentioned in the first book appear here.
The verdict: I enjoyed Winter Stroll more than Winter Street, but I will look forward to the next book in this series next Christmas. If you're looking for a family saga set over a few days in December, and you don't mind some realistic drama intervening with a little romance, try the Winter Street series. They're quick reads that feel both light and dark, just as Christmas itself is often as bitter as it is sweet. At this stressful time of year for me, I appreciate the escapist quality of this series, but I also like that it's not completely escapist. It's a nice balance of reality, romance, drama, and family.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 6 hours 51 minutes (272 pages)
Publication date: October 14, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 6 hours 58 minutes (272 pages)
Publication date: October 13, 2015
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Winter Street (Kindle edition) and Winter Stroll from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
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