7 December 2018

The Winter Series by Elin Hilderbrand

This is the first time we've reviewed an entire series in one post on this blog, but it's probably the only time we've read a full series in the same amount of time as one book. I devoured these four novels. If you're looking for some light, romantic-comedic-dramatic-heartwarming fiction to read over the holidays then keep reading...

If you read this blog regularly (lol) you'll remember this series from our 2017 Holiday Gift Guide where I recommended it as a great potential gift, AND our 2017 Books we Got for Christmas post, because I was also gifted all four of these by my lovely parents last year. I have always loved Elin Hilderbrand fiction and was especially excited she had written a holiday series.

I have to say, this was 'flufflier' than some of her other fiction. For example, I am obsessed with her novel The Love Season (which I reviewed here) and consider it to be a 'heavier' fiction read. There is no world where I would consider any book from this Winter series 'heavy', but, in true Hilderbrand form, they are entertaining, smart, and just plain fun. Sometimes it's nice to cozy up with 1 (or 4) easy books and just crush them without needing to feel sad or scared or think about the content for too long afterwards. 

Hilderbrand and her children on Nantucket

I've gone through and discussed each book individually below. They don't need to be read in a series but why wouldn't you? I grew to really love the characters that way, as intended I'm sure. It's funny because in the foreword to Winter Solstice Hilderbrand wrote how her publishers were really looking for a holiday trilogy but they weren't sure their "queen of the summer beach read" could deliver. In the end, the books took off, and it made natural sense for their to be 4 instead of 3. While I love Hilderbrand's 'summer' fiction, the Winter series was just as fun for me. Now I want to go to Nantucket in the summer and over Christmas so...

I'm writing my conclusion to this post here, in case you're already bored and don't want to read about the individual books: While these were lighter than her other work, and certainly aren't going to win any Pulitzer Prizes, I thought they were a perfect way for me to enter the holiday season. It was so fun to decorate my house, read these, lay on the couch with a blanket and the fire going, you know. I know anyone's mom would love these, I am personally excited to lend them to my own mom. I can confirm from last year that they would indeed make fantastic Christmas gifts and you can easily read them before you have to go back to work in the new year.

Winter Street: The first book in the series is where we meet the Quinn family. Dad (Kelley) owns and runs the Winter Street Inn in Nantucket with his second wife Mitzi (who has recently revealed she's been cheating on him with the inn's Santa Claus for 12 years and finally runs off with him). Kelley has 3 children with his 1st wife Margaret who is a very famous news anchor in NYC. One of their sons Patrick is an investment banker who is facing criminal charges for insider trading, their daughter, Ava, is currently dealing with romantic troubles, their youngest son, Kevin, has got the inn's maid pregnant, and his son with his new wife, Bart, has been deployed to Afghanistan.

My favourite story line in this book is Patrick's. He finds out a few days before Christmas he is being investigated for insider trading regarding a tip he was provided from a pharmaceutical company that one of their new drugs was going to be FDA approved. He invests a ton of his clients' money into it and... womp womp womp... someone notices! I never understand these banking scandals, it's a tale as old as time. If you start acting fishy with stocks people notice. Although, I certainly understand the greed. Everyone on this planet is just looking to get ahead and it's no wonder that powerful people with the ability to cash out, literally right in front of them, often do. I wonder how I'd fare in a similar situation... Patrick has to spend Christmas with his family, his wife and three sons, as well as his siblings and parents, and tell them what he's done and that he likely faces jail time. I can't imagine the guilt. I would have to move to Mexico, start a new life in a surf shack somewhere and completely cut off all ties with my family before I told them I was going to jail.

My least favourite story line was Ava's. She's spending Christmas in a big pout because her long-term boyfriend went to his parent's somewhere else without her and his recently divorced ex-girlfriend is also home for Christmas and she saw she messaged him on Facebook (relatable). She thought he would stay on Nantucket and propose but he's never fully committed blah blah. We all know thais story... When the book starts she's DESPERATELY in love with him but by the end she's fully moved on to a guy who she works with that she's rejected for years, and no longer wants anything to do with her now-ready-to-commit long term boyfriend. I'd be okay with this story line if it happened over a few months but this is really all just in one week.

Hilderbrand does an amazing job of introducing us to all of the characters in this first book. I actually feel like I know them all personally.

Winter Stroll: In the second book the Quinn family learns that the members of Bart's battalion are being held prisoners and they have been considered missing persons for almost a year at this point. Margaret has stepped up and helped her ex-husband financially with the Winter Street Inn since his wife has run off, Patrick has been in jail a full year for insider trading, Kevin is engaged to the inn's maid and they're preparing for their baby's baptism, and Ava has been dating the guy she left her boyfriend for at the end of the last book and everything is hunky dory.

I liked this book better than the first only because I was obsessed with the story line around Patrick's wife Jennifer. She's chosen to stay by his side while he serves his prison sentence and has become wildly addicted to prescription pills. When Patrick first goes to jail one of Jennifer's old friends who was being treated for cancer gave her a few Oxy's and some Ativan just to help her 'take the edge off' initially, and over the course of the book you see her spiral into an addiction where she needs Oxys to get through the day and Ativan to calm herself down before bed. 

What's most interesting is that Jennifer is depicted as the quintessential perfect mother. She's a successful interior designer, avid runner, on the school's parents' committee, etc. and she is the opposite of your stereotypical pill popper (actually, maybe not), but in reading the book you can really see how easy it is. She'll convince herself she'll have one more just to get her through X and then stop, but after that it's just Y and then she's done for good, etc. etc. This was entirely relatable to me because this is exactly how I am with pizza and desserts. I'm 100% confident if I was ever to get addicted to drugs it would be prescription meds and let me tell you, Jennifer really sells them in this book (I'm sure not at all the author's intention, drugs are bad). I was very excited to start the next book to see how this addiction pans out.

Another story line I enjoyed was Mitzi's, Kelley's second wife who ran off last year with the inn's Santa Claus. She spent 12 years cheating on Kelley at Christmases with this Santa and then finally up and leaves to be with him, only to realize he's kind of a dud and she misses Kelley. Of course. The grass is always greener. We've heard this story in reverse a thousand times- men leaving their wives for a stereotypical hot young secretary, etc. I've ranted about this exact phenomenon in my review of Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed- of course the person you get to have a fun affair with is all sparkly during the affair, you don't have to argue with them about money, bitch that they're not helping around the house, watch them give your kids something you just told them they can't have, etc. And then, naturally, the sparkle wears off. You move in together, you start distributing chores, you start mixing finances, it all becomes work again. It's incredible that humans lack the emotional intelligence to understand this beforehand. I think we're all guilty of doing it with something, even if it's not a relationship but a job, a car, a pet, whatever.

Once again, I was super annoyed with Ava. She's been SO happy all year dating Scott, the VP at the school she works at, who she left her long term boyfriend for at the end of the last book, but he's had to play nurse to a slutty teacher who broke her ankle at a pub crawl and Ava is so jealous that she sparks things back up with the old boyfriend, Nathaniel. Ava is a child. While Scott's at the hospital with that teacher she goes on all these romantic drives with Nathaniel where he tells her he still loves her and she tries not to kiss him but then does... like show a LITTLE bit of restraint, make good choices, pull yourself together, you know? When Scott finds out she's been 'spending time' with Nathaniel again he decides to give her space to figure out what she wants... cool.

Winter Storms: In the third book Patrick is out of jail and the family is working through Jennifer's addiction to pills. Kelley and Mitzi are back together, Margaret is preparing for her wedding to her brain surgeon boyfriend Drake, Kevin has started a surf shop style restaurant that's doing increasingly well and Ava is dating both Scott and Nathaniel at once.

Once again, Ava is a whiny little bitch. She really can't decide between the two guys and even meets another guy named Potter while she's on vacation with her mom, to throw that into the mix. Eventually she becomes enraged with jealousy that Scott is also dating someone else (a slutty teacher at their school) and after finding out he's taking the other teacher to Tuscany she impulsively agrees to marry Nathaniel. THEN Nathaniel reveals he's moving off Nantucket so she breaks off that engagement, goes crawling back to Scott and they begin dating exclusively... only to learn that the slutty other teacher is pregnant with Scott's baby. This is so ridiculous it's almost verging on that awful soap opera we all used to watch after school called Passions.

The family also learns that a soldier from Bart's battalion has escaped imprisonment wherever they were being held. He's been rescued and taken back to the US but suffers from amnesia and is unable to tell anyone anything, but it restores the family's hope that Bart is alive.

This was probably the most boring of the books so far, still a fun read, but it didn't have any story lines I was particularly attached to.

Winter Solstice: And at last we're at the final book in the series. This book introduces two new narrators, Eddie (not in the Quinn family so that was annoying) and Bart who is newly released from being held prisoner in active duty in the Middle East- which thank goodness, because at this point in the series I was pretty bored of the old narrators and ready for some new ones. Kelley is dying of brain cancer, Ava has been dating a new beau she met on vacation named Potter but naturally hates his kid blah blah, Kevin and Isabel are cut from this book entirely, Jen and Patrick are poor and trying to figure out how to maintain business and Margaret is retiring from broadcasting.

I really enjoyed Bart's story. I've always been very interested in marines, PTSD, men who feel they owe their country something, etc. When Bart gets home from being held a prisoner for two years, he immediately wants to go back to the marines and this is something I will never understand. If I was held prisoner for even two hours I'd expect a purple heart or whatever those things are and to be supported by the government in full retirement the rest of my life. I'm obviously not cut out for the marines.

Bart meets a girl he really likes on Nantucket and he begins slowly but surely to talk to her about what happened when he was being held prisoner. He talks about the bond with his friends and how it feels to have survived when some of them didn't. I think a lot of people who know ex-marines could benefit Bart's story, as you get a lot of perspectives from the people around him, such as "why can't he just be himself again?" but you also get his perspective in that he's different now forever. Hilderbrand did a great job at explaining this narrative in an approachable way, almost as though one of her relatives shared a similar experience.

Something about the way this series wrapped up didn't feel fully finished. It's not that I wanted a fifth book, but I wanted more of a closing monologue from someone, or a proverbial finale. I enjoy the way it ends ***spoiler alert*** the patriarch of the family dies and it's a really great way to finalize four books of familial drama.  Plus we all really love Kelley at this point, and it's nice that he gets to die knowing his family is happy and taken care of. I will always wonder why Margaret's brain surgeon husband never swept in at the last second to take his tumour out, they never even mention it and it seems like such an obvious plot line, but alas. I bawled my eyes out reading as Margaret said goodbye to Kelley on his deathbed, thanking him for their children and the wonderful years together. I need to die before my husband.

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