When Winter Comes

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

When Winter Comes is a fictionalized account of the Donner Party as they travel to California told by Mrs. Jacob Klein as she reflects back on her experience.  This should have been an emotionally charged read for me but I felt no connection with the characters given the circumstances they found themselves in and the horrifying conditions of freezing and starving in the mountains while trying to figure a way out.
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A different 'take' on the story of the Donner Party's doomed trip west.  Through the eyes of our young narrator, we experience the happy as well as the tragic.  The entire trip was hard, as these journeys were, but there were moments of joy such as their July 4th celebration.  Then we experience the dread they felt when they realized their mistake and spotted the first snows on the mountains.  Our narrator was not at the Donner cabins, so we are spared some of the gory parts of the story although her narrative about the lingering deaths of the youngest and oldest among the travelers is hard to read.  The entire story is told as memory with our character years past the event and writing in a journal.  I enjoyed the book, although like reading a book about the Titanic, regardless how much we wish it could have a different ending, we all know how this story will end.
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The Donner Party story has always fascinated me. What would I do in that situation? When Winter Comes is a glimpse into what may have happened.
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When Winter Comes is my new favorite book. A fictional book written about a very real tragedy.  It was heartbreaking, unimaginable, and triumphant all at once. The main character in this book is a young girl, leaving a sad life behind for new hope in California.  Through a series of circumstances that are no fault of her own, she ends up on the Donner Party’s path of destruction. I’m sure many have heard the story of the Donner Party at some point in their life, but no story I ever heard could have prepared me for this book.   When left with a dwindling supply of food that was running out quickly, with no way to get more, and no end to the winter in sight, what would you do?  When asked to share your food with another family, while meaning it took food away from your own children, what would you do?  While watching your child starve, wasting away to nothing before your very eyes, what would you do? Read this book. You will not be disappointed.
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This was an intriguing, well written and at times horrifying fictional account of the group of settlers who were known as the Donner Party and the terrible ordeal those people endured trying to get to California.  The narrator is a woman who joined the group as a young girl running away from her troubled home in Cincinnati.  She is taken in as an all around helper by a family with a young child and another on the way.  The story of the trip westward unfolds with descriptions of scenery, daily duties, disagreements between individuals traveling in the group and the thinning of the population of the group as the weather gets bad and food becomes scarce.  Eventually every decision becomes a matter of life and death.  The narrator, Mrs. Jacob Klein, remembers everything she endured, and has kept secret from everyone she has met since she was rescued.  An obviously dark story, but one I could not put down, as each choice made by the group put their lives in greater jeopardy.  Strongly recommend.
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In the past I have read stories of the Donner Party, one of the most unfortunate wagon train trips ever to happen. Though this book is fictional and we may never know exactly what happened with so many different exaggerated stories being told by survivors this is based on true harrowing facts. In 1846 on the outskirts of Cincinnati hundreds of wagons gather to make the trip to California among them a brave fifteen year old girl who just knows a new start at life would be better than staying behind in her abusive home life. She hires on as a helpmate to a family with a young child and another on the way. No one who started out on this trip could have foreseen the horror they would endure before journeys end, those who even survived the journey that is. True showing of such human resilience. Mrs. Jacob Klein has a husband,children and warm home in California. She doesn't talk about it and know ones knows what happened to her 13 years ago, not even her husband. She intends to keep it that way and continue living her boring but ordinary life. Her husband gives her a journal for Christmas and she starts recording her past life events for her eyes only, at least for now.
Pub Date 30 Oct 2018 
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kensington Books through NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
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I never thought I'd choose to read a book about the Donner Party but my love of history and historical fiction had me signing up for an ARC of When Winter Comes from NetGalley.  I understand that it is a work a fiction meant to make one think about a moment of American history that in our time has become more of a punchline than the cautionary tale and analysis of human nature and the will to survive that it should be.  No one will ever know exactly what happened because like everyone, the survivors have their own demons, coping methods, and prejudices that skew the retellings but Shannon's descriptive writing puts the reader on that mountain with the pioneers.  I found, at times, that it moved slowly but then so did the journey and other times I was simply loath to read on, knowing what was coming but unsure of how descriptive the crucial passages would be.  When Winter Comes is a good, interesting read even if the main character, as likable as she is, is just a bit blah.
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1846 and the outskirts of Cincinnati are filled with covered wagons...ready to head West to California.  A young girl, running away from her abusive family begs to be taken along.  Westward ho the wagons!

Years later, Mrs. Klein is given a journal from her husband. With nothing to write in it, so she thinks, except for her mundane life, she starts filling the journal with her memories of that trip West with the Donner party. She has never told anyone about that journey, not her husband and her family.  It is a secret she has kept to herself.
Although this is a fictional account of that horrific trek across the county, the reality of what actually happened is real enough. Through the telling of the story, I felt as if I too was on this trek.  The people, the description of the landscape and in particular the picture of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range through blizzard after blizzard, sending shock waves throughout my body and mind.  These were brave people, pioneers who without them what would we have today?  Yes, we might take for granted what was forged by hardship, lives given if these courageous souls had never taken that journey.  It is a story that tugs at your heart, a story that not only shows human frailties but what started out in togetherness, ended in tragedy.   For those who enjoy historical fiction, this is highly recommended.

My thanks to Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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​The Donner party is seeing a revival, this is the second book in the last two months that I have read that has been about this fateful tale. If you enjoy historical fiction about westward expansion, I definitely recommend this book. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the wagon train and survival, but that's where its similarities to Little House on the Prairie end. 

I absolutely loved the heart behind this story. The author's voice is incredible and she weaves a tale that is incredible and tragic. Intense details transport you to the devastating, wintry landscape. Characters fully form in your imagination and become people with whom you feel you can engage. The way in which the main character tells the tale is unique and insightful. Her point-of-view was refreshing, neither self-pitying or boastful, just honest and real with a hint of darkness. Good historical fiction begs you to read more about the events it details, and this story definitely has made me want to check out every resource available to read about this devastating and grisly adventure.
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When Winter Comes was a good read. I am giving it three and a half stars. It is definitely worth a read.
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A historical fiction novel of the Donner Party.  A survivor recounts the harrowing experience as we also see her life through her eyes today.  Descriptions of place and the characters themselves will draw you in as a reader.  Well written and would highly recommend to historical fiction readers.
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Narrated by an unnamed member of the fated Donner party, When Winter Comes uses shifting narratives to tell the narrator's story, starting as a teen runaway in Cincinnati, Ohio who fled a household of abuse and addiction, to join the Donner Party as a caregiver to Louis Keseberg's family. The story goes through the party's initial departure and struggles through their journey, the internal conflicts and eventual split, and the fate that befell everyone. The emphasis is not on what we all know about the Donner Party; we get a painful look at the suffering everyone endured, and the hard feelings that remained until the bitter end. Narratives move between the past and present, where the narrator is a married woman of some means, who we only come to know as "Mrs. Klein". 

Good character development and a more human take on a shocking part of American history make this a good add to collections.
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A 15 year old girl joins the Donner party for the trek out west.  Running from her home, she joins the Keseberg family as a maid and nanny.  The journey starts out smoothly, the group is well provisioned and merry.  However, when they decide to take a shortcut, their fortunes change.  They are forced to create their own path up steep mountains, exhausting their animals and slowing their pace.  The once merry party turns on one another as their rations dwindle, and then Indian attacks kill off most of their animals.  At the final pass to California, a snow storm strands the party in the mountains, forcing them to camp out and wait for rescue.  One by one they begin to die.

I thought this was a fascinating and well paced book.  The characters were multi-dimensional and well created.  I did not think that the alternating point of view - the girl as an older married woman - added much to the book.  The woman in the older point of view  seemed very detached and one-dimensional.  Despite this criticism, I enjoyed this book and would read more from this author.  Overall, 4 out of 5 stars.
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"Hunger is an evil thing!"
This story discusses the ill failed journey of the Donner party and their journey to the West to the camp before winter.
In 1846 on the outskirts of Cincinnatti wagons lined up by the hundreds to head west to California and ended up taking a short cut through the Sierra mountains hoping to avoid the treacherous snowfall that's fast approaching. 
To keep memories or tell the truth -- now that's the ultimate decision here.
"California is the land of brave souls who adventured her and lost souls who washed up here."
But is everyone who wonders lost?
Should Mrs Klein finally tell her story - a tale of tragedy, despair, heartache, and unthinkable choices that propelled her to find inner strength, courage, and prosperity.
Would money and fame be worth it to reveal her truths?
A beautifully put together novel with all the makings of a winner!
Love this!
Thank you to VA Shannon, the publisher, NetGalley, and Aldiko for this amazing ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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I enjoyed the beginning of this book. Mrs. Klein receives a journal as a present from her husband. She writes about journeying to California with the Donner party. For the historical information given, I thought the author did a good job. The book, however, dragged on for me and did not build a connection for me with the characters. So for facts 3.5 stars and readability 2 stars. Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC..
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Mrs. Jacob Klein’s husband of thirteen years has gifted her a journal, promising to never ask what she writes in it. In the privacy of those journal pages, she writes about how her experience as a fifteen-year-old young woman as part of the ill-fated Donner Party.

Through the whole novel, we never learn her real name. I didn’t connect with this main character at all. From the start, I couldn’t like her. She came across as secretive, manipulative, and selfish. So, for me, there wasn’t as much if an emotional impact.

As it is, there is an underlying sense of dread through the book. Having read about the Donner Party, it made the fictional telling difficult to read at times as I read the squabbling between the members of the party. And all of the sudden, our narrator is faced with cannibalism, and although she described the battle with starvation previously, this choice comes literally out of nowhere.

This is not a book I would recommend for the faint of heart. It is grim and serious and does not shy away from the terrible details of what happened.

I was given a free copy through NetGalley for reviewing purposes.
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When Winter Comes by V.A. Shannon is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-October.

Startled at learning of the fates of two men who had saved the Donner Party and angry towards the litany of articles written by so-called survivors, Mrs Klein begins a journal, assured in the truth of what really happened. From there, the story bops between the journal (where she starts to see signs of unrest, misdirection, suspicious of others cutting corners, scaling down of cargo and provisions, before devolving into starvation and madness as party members die) and the present day where Mrs Klein living in plenty among a diverse community, but socializing with simple-minded neighbors.
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--I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are purely my own and not influenced in any way.--
I really thought before I read this that I knew a lot about the Donner Party, but this has proven to me that I did not, in fact, even kind of understand the sheer desperation that the party faced on their ill-fated journey. Our main narrator was created for the sake of the story, and she's kind of an obnoxious main character, but let's face it, you're probably not reading for the characters but rather the journey. The story really humanizes the people involved in the real life trek and reminds us that these were actual people who had to make terrible decisions in order to survive. This is one of the first books I've read where you just FEEL the cold and the hopelessness of the situation (and Shannon does a great job showing how this happened and was doomed from the beginning). While we'll probably never know the exact circumstances beyond tales from the people who lived it and the stories from the rescuers and there were a few liberties taken with the timeframe to make it more reader friendly, it made me really research the trials and tribulations of the Donner Party. I also really appreciate that the cannibalism was REALLY not the focus of the story and it is, in fact, barely mentioned. The only thing preventing five stars was the slight Deus ex machina in the end and that the diary format didn't really work to frame the story for me. Other than that, I'd highly recommend it.
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I have in the past read stories about the Donner party, and the horrific end to these people, but the author puts faces to theses travelers. All the while reading this it made me think of what we really take for granted.
At the very beginning we see that Mrs. Klein is in California, but we travel in her shoes, from the beginning of this book as a fifteen-year-old in Cincinnati Ohio and how she ends up on the wagon train, to her being married, a school teacher, a mom and wife.
Just like the old whispered game of telephone, how a story gets twisted, and how you know the actual facts, having been there, and how frustrating it must have been to see the truth twisted.
This book became a page-turner, and knowing part of the ending still kept me interested, and I was surely not disappointed.

I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Kensington Books, and was not required to give a positive review.
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This is a very gripping, fictional account about the Donner party. The author dug deep into their desperation and sorrow. This is not an easy book to read, but the author did an excellent job of putting the readers on that trail with the doomed wagon train.
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