REVIEW – Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah

My first book review for this year is Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. It is also book number one for my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge. I love the Goodreads page and app! It’s how I keep up with all the books I’ve read or want to read. Each year they have a reading challenge where you agree to try and read a certain number of books. This year I’ve said I will try and read 35 books. Last year I managed 21 out of 35 as sadly I just don’t have as much time to read as I would like.


Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Bring your tissues for the ending of this book.

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard. The other followed a dream and travelled the world to become a famous photo-journalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night.

On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.


Kristin Hannah is a new author for me and was handed on to me by my lovely friend, Jill from That Book, This Day.

Her writing style is very easy to read and I was able to get into the book straight away. Both Meredith and Nina are introduced straight away. Meredith has stayed close to home and worked in the family business, whilst Nina has travelled the world chasing her career.

For the best part of the book I really didn’t like Meredith. I felt that she was stuck in a rut in her life but instead of doing something about it she just kept making excuses. Both Meredith and Nina had built huge walls around themselves. But this is because of the way their mother had kept them at a distance for the whole of their lives.

It is not until their father dies and they begin to learn the haunting tale of their mother, Anya’s early life in war-torn Leningrad that you really begin to warm to their characters.

Not knowing a lot about Russian history, I was horrified at the tale that Anya tells over the course of the book. It is a factually accurate account of life in Leningrad during World War II.

As Anya’s story unfolds, the bond between the sisters and their mother finally grows stronger.

Make sure you have some tissues handy for the ending. I can guarantee you that there will be tears. But I do think you will like Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah.

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Our Kitchen Renovation

In July, 2015 we made the decision to move into a house we owned that had previously been a rental property. The idea behind this was to do some renovations so as we might get a better price for it when we sell it in the future.

Built in 1995, it has decent sized living areas. The rear looks out over a nature reserve and most afternoons we get a cool breeze blow through. The master bedroom has an en suite and is a good size. The only drawback would be that the other bedrooms are on the smaller size although they both have queen beds in them.  There is also a small office which could also be used as a nursery or toy room.

The least redeeming feature of the whole house was the kitchen. It was poorly designed and dated. The appliances were old, dirty and not in great working order. In fact we pulled the range hood out before we moved in as it was caked in oily residue.

Kitchen Renovation

The kitchen as it was.

So we quickly made the decision to put in a new kitchen. Initially we thought that we would be able to do it ourselves as Mr B is a pretty handy bloke. But when we started looking into it we decided it was to big a job for us. I happened to be in Masters (now closed sadly) one day and discovered they had a Kitchen Designer in store. I quickly lined him up to come and do a design and quote for us. Of course he came up with an idea to have an island bench which we would never have thought of.

Next we had to pick colours. I wanted something that was functional and had a more modern edge to it. So it wasn’t hard to pick white cupboards, a light grey granite look bench top and a dark red splash back to add a bit of colour.

We were able to sign up to an interest free deal to pay for it and also timed it nicely to receive $1500 worth of gift cards which came in handy down the track.

Mr B and Master B decided to do the demolition themselves as this would save us about a $1000. This went very smoothly until they pulled the last lot of cupboards out and discovered some fairly substantial water damage in the plasterboard. A few phone calls later and we secured a plasterer to come and replace the plasterboard the next day.

Kitchen Renovation

What was behind the old appliances and cupboards wasn’t good but new plasterboard tidied it right up.

As the install began, I realised that I had not chosen the right sort of range hood. I had picked one out that had a glass surround on it and it was to big for the space. It just looked wrong. So at the eleventh hour I changed my mind and ordered a flush mounted range hood. This also changed the cupboard configuration but I’m so pleased I did as it looks fantastic.

The only other hiccup we had was with our bench tops which were cut and installed by a different company (not Masters) As the bench where the sink is has an odd angle in it, they cut it incorrectly so it didn’t line up properly with the island bench top.

It took a little bit of arguing but I had the original plan which showed that their measurements were wrong. It took about three weeks for it to be re-cut but they got it right the second time at no extra cost to us.

Kitchen Renovation

Our brand new kitchen

All up we spent just on $20,000 but feel that we have added about $30,000 in value to the house as it now has a modern and functional kitchen. We still have the floors to go and some more painting but our renovation is well on track.

I really do love my new kitchen and the layout means that more than one person can be in there at a time which is a bonus for a busy family like ours.

Have you ever renovated a kitchen? Did it go smoothly for you?

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Why I Write

Why I Write


I often get asked Why I Write.  My usual response is ‘Oh it’s just a bit of a hobby.’

But recently I have been thinking, is it a hobby or is it more than that? And why do I write about such personal stuff.

I think the best answer I can give is that I do it in the hope that someone out there who is going through a tough time might read something I have written and go ‘Wow, that’s exactly how I feel.’ and know that they are not alone out there. They may even find something in my writing that will help them find a solution to their problem or make them feel better about their situation.

It’s a bit like reading a really great book and being able to identify with a character really well.  You feel like you know that character because that character could so easily be you.  Sometimes I find myself wishing that I could express how I feel as well as some authors do.

I have always been a writer, even when I was younger. I kept a diary for quite a few years or oftentimes when I was in turmoil I would just write stuff down on a bit of paper. It helped clear my thoughts.

Much of what I have written here has been very personal but writing it down has been very cathartic in some ways. Almost like therapy!

Also, these days many people lead such busy lives and are looking for tips they can implement in their own lives. People want to know how to save money, they want to know how to keep the house clean and organised, they want to know how to raise good kids. So if something I write can help another person then that surely has to be a good thing.

Another big reason for me is that writing and blogging keeps my brain active. I have a slightly higher chance of getting Alzheimers Disease because of my Mum. Every piece of research I’ve ever read suggests that keeping your brain active and learning new skills is an important way of keeping the ‘Big A’ away. Blogging has certainly been a big learning curve for me. There is still lot’s of techy stuff that I’m not sure about, but when I start talking about blogging to someone I realise how much I have learnt.

Do you write or have a hobby? How do you keep your brain active?


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