A Winter of Wonders by actress and model Jennifer O’Neil, is a romanticized tale of small town hardships and spiritual insecurities. When Irene loses her husband, then finds out he raped her daughter, she goes on a rampage and gets arrested for drunk driving and assaulting a police officer. She realizes she needs to escape. Thinking that small-town life will be a haven from the stresses and gossip of city life, Irene and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Chelsea, agree to move in with Irene’s sister, Lauren, and her four-year-old son, Tucker. Unbeknownst to Irene, the town of Centennial has an unusual amount of drama and stresses itself, and Lauren’s Bible study seems to be at the core of it.
Lauren attends a Bible study with four other women that meets in the café where one of the members, Stephanie, works. As the book progresses, the reader realizes that the lives of these women are tangled in more than just a spiritual context. Eleanor, the leader, is married to Ham, the local high school’s basketball coach. Two of Ham’s best players are Trace and Shooter, who are both vying for a college scholarship. Shooter is dating Tonya, a member of the Bible study, and is the father of their son. Trace, Stephanie’s son, starts dating Irene’s daughter Chelsea. Because Chelsea was raped by her stepfather, Irene forces her to take counseling sessions from another member of Lauren’s Bible study, Pam. The stories of these women, thus, are woven together creating a tapestry of intricate characters but also a lot of confusion.
A Winter of Wonders has the potential to be an interesting and entertaining book. Unfortunately, all of the work O’Neill put into creating real-life, intricate characters is diminished greatly by rather flat, sometimes silly, dialogue. Other factors also detract. For example, Lauren’s puzzling thought process and constant witnessing tendencies do not give her extra dimension; they cause her to be an annoying character who stalls the momentum of the story. O’Neill constantly uses clichés that add no depth to her writing. She also throws in haphazard vocabulary that causes the reader to pause and ponder about her word choice instead of concentrating on the essence of the scene itself. The subplot of Shooter and Trace’s basketball dreams of scholarships and pro ball cause the story to be even more unreal, because they are non-relative to the core plot (the crises of the women in the prayer group).
This novel is a book that has some good episodes and is spiritually trustworthy, but overall it pushes the traditional “gossip-ridden small town” story a little too far. Instead of being true-to-life characters with whom the reader can identify, they seem to exist in a subculture of isolated Christians few people can relate to, much less adopt as role models. As a result of this unbalance, readers may find A Winter of Wonders a frustrating read. – Lorelei Carver, Christian Book Previews.com
Book two, A Winter of Wonders, reveals even more of the dynamics between at-odds sisters Lauren and Irene, the troublesome budding romance between Irene’s teenage daughter and basketball star Trace, the hardscrabble times of Trace’s widowed mom Stephanie, and life after breast cancer surgery for Stephanie’s prayer group friend Eleanor.
In this wintry season of the faith journey, there are moments of coldness as well as merciful warmth. While some characters wonder what drama could possibly unfold next, others marvel at the wonders of God’s grace.