Winter Street (2014) and Winter Stroll (2015) by Elin Hilderbrand

If you would prefer to skip the mall this Black Friday, consider curling up with a Christmas-themed family drama instead. I would recommend the two novels that make up author Elin Hilderbrand’s Christmas series. Winter Street and Winter Stroll follow the many members of the Quinn family of Nantucket as they celebrate Christmas 2013, and then Christmas 2014 in the sequel, while handling a series of familial triumphs and tragedies.

In Winter Street, we meet Kelley Quinn, the patriarch of the family and owner of a Nantucket bed and breakfast The Winter Street Inn and the many members of his family, including his first and second wives, his four children, his children-in-law, and grandchildren. The Quinns are typical in their modern-day dysfunction: adult children still living at home, tension between the first and second wives, heartbreak and divorce wounding some of the family members. Despite these obstacles, we find them attempting to celebrate Christmas with as much good cheer as they can muster. The story introduces a series of surprising events which threaten to unravel the holiday celebrations and create unwelcome tension between the family members. Hilderbrand is an author who excels at telling stories that are both realistic and compelling, and this book is no exception. She brings to this short novel a depiction of the feelings that holidays invoke in many of us, namely the strong desire to come together and share memories and traditions even if we must set aside disappointment and sadness to do so. She wonderfully captures the family’s refusal to cast the holiday cheer aside completely. Instead, the Quinns find ways to adjust expectations and celebrate in both traditional and nontraditional ways. The family comes together to sing carols, drink (a lot) of cocktails, exchange gifts by the fire, and — most importantly — determinedly celebrate what they do have to be thankful for.

Winter Stroll picks up exactly one year after Winter Street ended. In this novel we find that some of the burgeoning relationships started last year between the characters have flourished, while others have faltered. Despite a year of setbacks for the family, the Quinn clan has gathered once again to celebrate the holidays at the Winter Street Inn. Everyone is determined that family celebrations, even if they are not as jolly as they could be, are essential for the mental well-being of all. They gather on Nantucket for the festivities and the crises this season has in store.

Although they touch on serious topics, these two tales are ultimately uplifting Christmas stories, touching in their humanity and welcome in their realism. They are not populated with angels or miracles or even a theme of “forgiveness of all those who have sinned against us.” Instead, we meet and come to know a family that is attempting to come together in the spirit of the season with as much optimism as they can manage. They are celebrating the true spirit of the holiday by giving their family members love, support, and acceptance — despite their flaws and misdeeds — and by having hope that the new year will bring happiness and peace.

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Our family’s Black Friday tradition: putting up our Christmas Tree.

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