Book Review: The Four Winds

Though Hannah describes life in the Depression with beautiful-but-heart-breaking detail, I was unsatisfied with the ending. This is my least favorite of Kristin Hannah’s books, and I’ve read a lot of them.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

I looked forward to reading this book so much that I almost bought a copy instead of waiting to borrow it from my grandmother, but it ended up being my least favorite of Kristin Hannah’s books.

Description

Texas, 1921. Too tall and too old to marry, Elsa Wolcott can’t resist Rafe Martinelli’s attention, but when their unsanctioned relationship ruins her reputation, she has only one respectable option: marriage to Rafe, a man she barely knows.

She grows to love the Martinelli’s farm, and gradually earns the respect of her in-laws, but the Great Depression changes everything. With millions out of work, the drought’s constant barrage of dust storms jeopardize both the farm and Elsa’s marriage. Elsa must make an impossible choice: leave the land she loves or head west in search of a better life for her children.

Characters

Elsa begins the story insecure about her appearance and value, and much of the story revolves around her trying to earn love. She proves herself a hard-working woman who perseveres through trials the modern millennial couldn’t comprehend. After facing numerous rejections, she strives to hold on to her daughter’s affection, but Loreda’s teenage years have pushed them farther apart.

Loreda is a typical small-town girl who dreams of more. Like most teenaged girls, she blames her mother for everything from her father’s unhappiness to the drought. When the family’s dire circumstances push her past bitterness into desperation, she finds she and her mother have more in common than she’d thought.

Plot

The plot centers on the family’s struggle to farm during the drought, descent into poverty, and eventual migration to California in search of a better life. Unfortunately, instead of a land flowing with milk and honey, California offers them only poverty and discrimination.

Mostly, I enjoyed the plot. However, I hated the ending. I’ll describe my thoughts on it below, but if you don’t want spoilers, skip to the next section.


SPOILERS


The book’s main storylines are Elsa learning that she is loveable and Loreda learning to value her mother. However, Elsa doesn’t feel valuable until Jack falls in love with her. In a book that intentionally emphasizes the role of women in the Depression, I hate that Elsa needs a man to show her love. A better ending would have been shown her learning to value herself as she fought for her children’s well-being, especially since the conflict revolves around her relationship with her daughter. Finding satisfaction in her daughter’s love would have been much more satisfying than some man’s sexual attraction.

Loreda’s storyline is better completed. After seeing her mother lead the workers’ strike, she finally learns to respect her mother’s strength and realizes she possesses that same fortitude within herself. However, the ending rings hollow. Loreda goes to college, like her mother wanted, but I feel like she would have done that anyway. Her newfound respect for her mother, if not her mother’s lifestyle, didn’t change her behavior. If Hannah had made Loreda more resistant to schooling throughout the book, this transformation would have been more effective.


SPOILERS END


Writing Style

In her typical brilliance, Hannah describes life in the Depression with heart-wrenching detail, almost too much detail. Reading her prose is like experiencing the hardships of the Depression first hand—not pleasant. I could almost taste the dust in my mouth. Reading it during a road trip through the desert probably didn’t help.

Miscellaneous

I never figured out why the novel is titled The Four Winds, other than the dust storms’ prominence. Still, it left me wondering, which four?

Conclusion

Though Hannah describes life in the Depression with beautiful-but-heart-breaking detail, I was unsatisfied with the ending. Such well-rounded characters deserved more thematically consistent endings to their emotional journeys. If you are curious about life during the 1930s, this book will bring those difficult years to life, but don’t count on the ending being worthy of a standing ovation.


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The Four Winds

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Book Review: Home Front

I read this book eight years after it was published and fifteen years after it was set, but I still feel its themes are relevant today.

Home Front by Kristin Hannah

I read this book eight years after it was published and fifteen years after it was set. For me, the most interesting part was reflecting on how much has changed in American culture since then.

Cover Description

“Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life—children, careers, bills, chores—even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a soldier she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a batter of his own—for everything that matters to his family.”

Characters

So many books aim for a “strong female lead” by putting breasts on a masculine character, but Jolene has a refreshingly feminine strength. As a mother, her number one priority is her daughters. She takes on a great emotional toll to spare them pain, and she sacrifices her personal preferences to keep the family running. She is strong, yet vulnerable, feeling intense emotions even as she perseveres through her trials. Jolene is three-dimensional, a shining example resilience.

Including Michael’s perspective prevents the reader from picking sides in their marital disputes. He is flawed, and his struggle with being Mr. Mom resonates with anyone who has ever worked with children. My one critique is that by the end of the book, he seemed too perfect. I have serious doubts that a man would be so persistent given Jolene’s repeated refusal of reconciliation.

Would I have said that had I read the book in 2012 when it was published? Has my opinion of people declined so much? I’m not sure. It seems to me the more “connected” we are through technology, the shorter our attention spans, and the less effort we are willing to put into our relationships. Jolene and Michael’s marriage is an example of love as a choice, of the extensive hard work needed to last until death do us part. Call me a cynic, but I don’t see that kind of love very often in times where a minor disagreement will lead to “unfriending.” Reading this book makes be think we could all use a dose of the past.

Plot

The story falls into two parts: Jolene’s deployment and her adjustment to coming home. Interspersed are Michael’s struggles as a functionally single parent. The central conflict is Jolene being deployed to Iraq, and Michael’s lack of support for her. For me, it was interesting to reflect on what dominated the headlines back then compared fills our screens now.

Overall, the plot is well-paced, somewhat predictable, but that isn’t a bad thing in a character-driven novel. I enjoyed watching Jolene and Michael grow as individuals and as a couple.

Writing Style

Hannah’s descriptions are evocative without being too high-brow. She has a talent for showing the passage of time via small things—flowers blooming, weather patterns, characters growing accustomed to their new surroundings. Her prose is clear and easy to read without lacking substance.

Miscellaneous

I read this book long after it was published, but I still found it relevant. The themes of reconciliation, supporting your spouse despite disagreements, love as a choice, and coming home both mentally and physically are as pertinent today as they were in 2012.

The story draws attention to mental health in a relatable way that is both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because we have made great strides in PTSD research and management since this book was set. Discouraging because so much stigma still surrounds mental health, even though increased isolation and false-faced social media have led to an even greater need to destroy that stigma.

Conclusion

As usual, you can’t go wrong with a book by Kristin Hannah. With her characteristic clear and beautiful writing style, Hannah explores the intimate landscape of human relationships. The themes of this moving story continue to speak to the heart.



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Book Review: True Colors

I haven’t yet read a book by Kristin Hannah that I didn’t love.

True Colors by Kristin Hannah

I have yet to read a book by Kristin Hannah that I didn’t love. My favorites remain The Great Alone and The Nightingale, but this was a worthwhile read.

Back Cover Description

The Grey sisters had only each other when their mother died years ago. Their stern, unyielding father gave them almost no attention. Winona, the oldest, needs her father’s approval most of all. An overweight dreamer, she never felt at home on the sprawling horse ranch that had been in her family for three generations. Aurora, the middle, is the peacemaker. Vivi Ann, the youngest, is the undisputed star of the family. Everything comes easily to Vivi Ann, love most of all.

A terrible crime will shatter their family and tear their beloved town apart. Accused is Vivi Ann’s new husband, an outsider. For the first time, the sisters will be pitted against each other.

Characters

Each of the Grey sisters embodies common family roles—the misfit, the peacemaker, the little princess—but the struggles in their personal lives prevents the books from falling into clichés. A former lawyer herself, Hannah often includes lawyer characters. I liked Winona, especially since so many books are filled with skinny beauties. Winona’s bull-like personality gives her the strength through the entire book, but her sisters balance her out, and her admission of her own mistakes at the end is authentic. Once again, Hannah has done an incredible job creating relatable characters with depth and personality.

Plot

The plot begins with a bit of a love triangle, then switches to the crime, then takes a decade-long break and returns to the crime. A lot of set-up, but it comes together in the end. The author leads the reader through one link in the chain at a time. While exploring the darker side of the criminal justice system, the story centers around themes of family, prejudice and reconciliation.

Writing Style

Hannah has a gift for describing the passage of time without boring the reader. She can span months in a single paragraph. Instead of saying “and then summer came,” she describes which flowers come into bloom, what chores the townsfolk do, and what weather plagues the city. This maintains the magic of the story while still allowing us to fast-forward through time.

Other

The cover image is similar Between Sisters, though I like the sharp contrast between the horse silhouette and the background. The horse relates to the plot and symbolizes one character, so works well for the cover.

You can tell the author is writing what she knows when she describes the setting, and that she has a great deal of affection for the Pacific Northwest. Much like her depiction of Alaska in The Great Alone, her descriptions of the ranch made me want to pack my bags and hop on the next flight there. That’s the highest compliment I can give a book’s setting.

Conclusion

Another excellent book by Kristin Hannah, well worth the price to buy and the time to read. If you are deciding between True Colors and Between Sisters, I’ll say that I liked Between Sisters, but they are similar. The Great Alone and The Nightingale are still my favorites by Kristina Hannah, but True Colors earns its place on the shelf.  



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True Colors

Other books by Kristin Hannah I enjoyed

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Winter Garden


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Book Review: Between Sisters

I have yet to read a book by Kristin Hannah that I didn’t love. This one is no exception.

Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah

Back Cover Description

“Meghann Dontess is a woman haunted by heartbreak. Twenty-five years ago she was forced to make a terrible choice, one that cost her everything, including the love of her sister, Claire. Now, Meghann is a hotshot divorce attorney who doesn’t believe in intimacy–until she meets the one man who can change her mind.

Claire Cavenaugh has fallen in love for the first time in her life. As her wedding day approaches, she prepares to face her harsh, judgmental older sister and their self-absorbed mother. It is the first time they have been together in more than two decades. Over the course of a hot Pacific Northwest summer, these three women who believe they have nothing in common will try to become what they never were: a family.”

Characters

A former lawyer herself, Kristin Hannah includes lawyer characters in many of her books. Meghann is a believable character who uses the sword of her own bitterness to slice through other people’s marriages. Claire, a single mom, is more practical, until she falls in love at first sight. Her practical nature sides with her sister, but the little princess in her can’t help leaping at her chance for true love.

Kristin Hannah has a gift for creating nuanced characters with thorough backstories. Though the backstories impact they way each character behaves, she doesn’t waste time with endless explanations and flashbacks. The backstories emerge naturally, when relevant.

Plot

The overarching plot is the sisters’ reconciliation, riding on the themes of love and second chances. A disaster in Meghann’s work and Claire’s wedding bring the siblings together, but the forge that fuses them solid is an unrelated medical even that occurs in the latter half of the book. I wish the author had included more foreshadowing for this, but I will admit that it raised the stakes and made the story more interesting.

Writing Style

As I mentioned earlier, Hannah doesn’t waste time on endless explanations of why the characters act the way they do, she drops natural hints along the way that make her characters feel like real people. Her prose is as polished and pressed as a lawyer’s suit, beautiful in its precision.

Other

The cover is nearly identical to True Colors, and I don’t like the beach. A more appropriate setting would be the woods, as Claire runs a resort near the mountains. The colors are vibrant, but a bit too intense, as if screaming “this book’s for women.”

Conclusion

I have yet to read a book by Kristin Hannah that I didn’t love. This one is no exception. My favorites remain The Great Alone and The Nightingale, but Between Sisters is perfect for a book club, well worth the money to buy and the time to read.


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Between Sisters by Kristin Hannah

Other books by Kristin Hannah I have read and enjoyed

(still working on writing the reviews)

The Nightingale


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