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.

October Book Series — Young Adult Book Reviews

The author's Self Portrait

The author’s Self Portrait

Guest authoring this post is my 12 (almost 13) year old son. He also took of all of the photos posted as well. He loves scary books as much as I do and he was happy to share some of his newly finished spooky finds – some mystery, thriller and horror novels. My son is a Creative Writing student at a local performing arts middle school, very happy to practice his writing skills. He told me that I definitely should add that these are only about half of the books he read so far this month.

Ten By Gretchen McNeil (2012) This is an unnervingly realistic story following a teenage girl, Meg, who goes to a party on a small island. A violent storm hits and the teens settle in to watch a movie. When they find a DVD labeled, “Do Not Watch,” they watch it, to see a creepy video with a person in a mask threatening to kill THEM! They think it’s a prank, and then people start dying. Who is the killer, and who will survive…?

Undead By Kristy McKay (2012) Zombie movie meets humor novel. In this comedic take on a zombie thriller a teenage girl, a rebel, a nerd, and a glamour queen all trapped in snowy British town full of zombies. The teens struggle to survive the zombies…and there irritation with each other. Full of great jokes and scenes, this will have you laughing from page 3 on. The plot keeps you guessing and it is nice to read about murderous zombies without being scared to death. Like one of the characters jokes, “wait, wait, we don’t need to run from these guys. They can only shuffle. We can get away by walking briskly.”

Better hope this was not a zombie escape.

Better hope this was not a zombie escape.

The Vanishing Season by Jody Lynn Anderson (2014) When a girl from Chicago moves to sleepy town in northern Illinois she expects every thing to be boring. Then a wave of mysterious murders of teenage girls riles up the town. The county is sealed off from the rest of the state in an attempt to keep the town’s girls safe (and the murderer in!) Alternating chapters are introduced by the ghost of one of the girls. Keep’s you guessing until the very end…maybe even longer.

Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks (2013) Toni is being bullied by Chloe, the meanest, most popular girl in school. Toni reaches out to Chloe’s boyfriend asking for help, but the boyfriend refuses. A creepy Goth girl befriends Toni and convinces her to do a spell on the boyfriend but it rebounds back on the girls because the boyfriend was not the real bully. So of course, the girls do more spells, than more, things spiral out of control, and a killing spell is conjured.

The Haunting Hour by R.L. Stine This is a collection of ten short stories which are more entertaining than scary, with the topics that range from dragons to zombies. The book jacket promises I “will be haunted for life,” but personally they were barely at all scary, maybe because I am reading much scarier books this month. The creepiest story is about a babysitter that forces the kids to make voodoo doll cookies that the kids don’t take seriously enough and they end up hurting their neighbors.

Monster, Scavenger Hunt, and Die Softly all by Christopher Pike

Monster (1992) This is an old story* where a girl named Angela’s best friend bursts into a party and kills two people claiming they were secretly alien monsters. Angela knows that it is crazy for her friend to do this and she begins to investigate. What she discovers is horrifying. (Not for children under 12!!)

Scavenger Hunt (1989) When Carl joins his best friend’s team for a special end-of-the-school-year scavenger hunt, he feels happy to be included with the cool kids. But, then the clues for the hunt lead them astray and things start getting weird. Carl wonders if they are following the clues to the right place. And what will they find at the end of the hunt?

Die Softly (1991) A geeky boy from the school AV club tries to gain popularity by taking pictures of some cheerleaders in the locker room. What he ends up taking pictures of is a possible murder of one of the girls. He sets out to find out what really happened in the photos, and risks ending up dead.

What lies behind this door... Torture chamber? Mad scientist library? Dentist's office?

What lies behind this door… Torture chamber? Mad scientist laboratory? Dentist’s office?

A note from the author’s mother:

*By “old story” my son means the books are set in the 1990’s.

It was thrilling to pick a book and have my almost-teenage son not only love it, but ask me to help him find more by the author. (It is a rare occurrence when he will admit anything I like is cool.)

I was very excited to find these three books at the Thrift Shop since Christopher Pike’s books from the early 90’s are largely out of print. Christopher Pike was an absolute favorite writer of mine when I was in middle school. My best friend Danielle and I read all of his horror novels (our favorites were Slumber Party and Gimme a Kiss) and would talk about them for hours. To this day, she and I still bond by sharing books we loved with each other.

Sunset at cemetery.

Sunset at cemetery.