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The Stroke of Winter

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In the tourist town of Wharton, on the coast of Lake Superior, Tess Bell is renovating her old family home into a bed-and-breakfast during the icy dead of winter…

As the house’s restoration commences, a shuttered art studio is revealed. Inside are paintings Tess’s late grandfather, beloved and celebrated artist Sebastian Bell, hid away for generations. But these appear to be the works of a twisted mind, almost unrecognizable as paintings she and others familiar with his art would expect. The sinister canvases raise disturbing questions for Tess, sparking nightmares and igniting in her an obsession to unearth the truth around their origins.

What evil has been locked away for so many years? The ominous brushstrokes, scratching at the door, and moving shadows begin to pull Tess further and further into the darkness.

300 pages, Kindle Edition

First published November 1, 2022

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About the author

Wendy Webb

9 books2,506 followers
WENDY WEBB's novels are mysteries about long-buried family secrets, set in big, old haunted houses on the Great Lakes.

THE END OF TEMPERANCE DARE (2017, Lake Union) is set in a former tuberculosis sanatorium on Lake Superior, now a renowned retreat for artists and writers. When Eleanor Harper takes the helm as its new director and her first batch of visiting artists arrives, she begins to suspect this isn't going to be the restful retreat she thought it might be.

THE VANISHING (2014, Hyperion) is the story of Julia Bishop, who takes a job as a companion for a famous novelist, who the entire world thinks is dead. When she travels to the novelist's remote estate, she begins to suspect her too-good-to-be-true job offer is exactly that.

THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN (2013, Hyperion) is an Indie bestseller. It's the story of Grace Alban, who returns home after 20 years when her mother dies under questionable circumstances on the very day she (the mother) planned to reveal the truth about a tragedy that occurred during a party at Alban House long ago. A packet of old love letters and a lost manuscript by a famous novelist lead Grace to the haunted truth about what really happened that day.

Wendy's first novel, THE TALE OF HALCYON CRANE (2010, Holt) was an IndieNext Pick, a Great Lakes Great Reads Pick and a Midwest Connections Pick. It won the prestigious Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction in 2011, and was a finalist for Le Livre de Poche's Prix des Lecteurs award in France in 2012.

A longtime journalist, Wendy lives in Minnesota.

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5 stars
3,903 (35%)
4 stars
3,985 (36%)
3 stars
2,239 (20%)
2 stars
581 (5%)
1 star
150 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 839 reviews
Profile Image for Pat.
2,310 reviews428 followers
October 9, 2022
Wonders will never cease, that is the second Amazon first reads books I have read in the month I got it. I also wrote a lovely review for it which I somehow managed to lose 😔! I can’t bring myself to one finger left hand type it all again. The salient points are:
* The first few pages are lame but then the book gets much better
* There is a haunted house but the story is not scary or even creepy
* Rather it is an interesting paranormal mystery which involves…
* A love story - past and present
* there are lots of secrets to be revealed
* I found it very enjoyable to read
* the characters are very likeable
* There is also a very perceptive dog who may or may not be ghostly.
The end!
Profile Image for JaymeO.
408 reviews303 followers
November 16, 2022
Welcome back to Wharton, where restless spirits lurk around every corner of this small coastal town!

Amethyst “Tess” Bell returns to Wharton to renovate her grandparents’ home into a bed and breakfast. She must begin by opening a shuttered door in the house that has been locked for decades. Why did her grandmother shut this part of the house off? When she hears scratching noises coming from inside, Tess begins to get frightened. Secrets behind the door will eventually shed light on her family’s sordid history. With a cute furry sidekick and her new love interest, Wyatt, Tess solves a decades old mystery.

Wendy Webb has long been a favorite author of mine when I want to read a good gothic tale. It seems over time, her books have evolved from compelling mysteries to more of a cozy genre. I really took note of this with her last book, but decided to give this one a shot anyway. Unfortunately, the writing is very simplistic and the characters lack depth. The storyline is a tired plot that became more contrived as the book neared the end. The ending was very rushed, formulaic, and overall disappointing.

The jury is still out on whether I will read her next book! Stay tuned!

2.5/5 stars rounded down
Profile Image for Kimberly .
546 reviews66 followers
November 22, 2022
Very enjoyable.

I am a fan of Wendy Wang and this book did not disappoint. With a story set on the shore of Lake Superior and an old house with a kitchen containing an Aga, there is not much more needed to make me content. The plot was good with just a touch of romance which is fine with me. Great snowy day read!
Profile Image for Diana.
222 reviews20 followers
October 26, 2022
I wonder if I’m allowed to place some blame on Amazon First Reads for dragging down my average rating and making me look like a massive grump (which uh… I am).
This one is probably a 2.5* leaning towards 2, but gets an extra star for readability. At least I didn’t feel like DNF’ing… high bar, I know.
This isn’t a terrible book per se, it’s just mid. I’d say good beach read, but considering the title let’s say good ski trip read!

The Stroke of Winter is a by the numbers haunted house/ ghost story, but one of the least psychologically scary ones you’ll find. Woman moves into old family home, there’s weird noises and vibes, haunting ensues.
It started off very slow but promising - being alone in a big house at night and hearing loud scratching is goosebumps material for sure. Then we have her eerie dreams and the possibility her ancestor was a psychopath, so I thought we’d have something creepy cooking. Unfortunately these were basically the only creepy moments throughout and after that, instead of isolating the main character and making her question her sanity amid all this ghostiness going on, this book went the opposite direction.

Woman gets a magic dog who can of course sense the ghosts, gets a bland boyfriend (within one day too, lucky her) who actually sees what she sees so believes her unequivocally, her neighbour ist a ghostbuster, and to top it all off, she gets the police involved and even they see the ghost!
This is like the opposite of horror 101, no idea what the author was thinking.
The ghosts helpfully also materialise in a way that shows up on camera so everyone knows the woman isn’t crazy, and the resolution to the haunting is the ghostbuster asking the ghosts why they are doing all this haunting which they helpfully answer in a very straightforward way.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the main character’s name, which is because I remember neither her name nor her personality. The only notable thing was her entire family’s names were all ridiculous (Indigo??).

Bonus lol at the notion (sorry to my American friends) that a 100 year old house is super duper old and therefore must be haunted. My hometown still has lived in houses that are almost 1,000 years old. Yep an extra zero! Wendy Webb, imagine the hauntings you could come up with if you ever make it across the pond!
Profile Image for Jonas.
194 reviews13 followers
January 29, 2023
I first discovered Wendy Webb through Amazon First Reads. I selected and read her last two books through this platform and greatly enjoyed them. All of her books are set in the small town of Wharton on Lake Superior. This book is exactly what you would expect. It is part paranormal, part ghost, part horror, and part romance.

The first half was good. The second half really took off for me. I love several things about the story. You don't have to read her other books, but other books and characters are referenced. I love small town stories. I love memorable settings, and Wharton in winter is a wonderland. There is a festival straight out of a Hallmark movie. Tess renovating her grandmother's home into an inn appealed to me, having stayed in and enjoyed bed and breakfasts/inns. Art plays a major part in the storyline. I have read several books (Duma Key, Killing Commendatore) with art central to the story, so that only added to my reading experience.

I love dogs and the dogs in The Stroke of Winter stole my heart. I love Storm! There is so much to his story. The Stroke of Winter is a story about family relations, secrets, and tragedies. Above all, it is a ghost story. The author introduces several new characters and a few of them are ghost hunters. I believe the author purposefully introduced them in the story for its resolution, but also for future stories set in Wharton (or at least I hope so!). A fast and entertaining read. I am a huge fan of shows like The X-Files and Supernatural. If you are too, this book is for you!
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,165 reviews138 followers
October 2, 2022
For my full review, visit me at https://mrsbrownsbooks.wordpress.com/...

I’ve got chills… and they are definitely multiplying! This is the perfect, atmospheric read for these chilly, autumn days and with Halloween and winter fast approaching, this story will have you covered in goose-bumps pretty quickly.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 24 books1,324 followers
October 21, 2022
2022 reads, #50. Oh boy, time for another Amazon Prime Reads book! I've read 13 of these now, and have disliked all 13 of them, so will today's 14th title finally be the one to break the curse? Spoiler alert: ...Er, no. Sorry, Wendy Webb. The problem here is the same one as a whole lot of these other books published by Amazon's own in-house "SEO keywords first, quality second" publishing imprints -- not that the writing itself is bad (it's perfectly serviceable, in the same way a random episode of Law & Order on a Tuesday night is perfectly serviceable), but that Webb has only put together a short story's worth of plot here in her...uh, "cozy horror" novel, I guess you would call it, then padded and padded and padded it out until it finally bloated up large enough to hold together the glue and cardboard covers for a 300-page perfect-bound paperback, thus officially becoming "1 Unit of Content" for Amazon's algorithmic robots to spin their SEO dark magick on. (And how's that whole "creative decisions made by robots" thing working out for you, Amazon? Or shall we ask Netflix how it's been working for them?)

Thus, the story being told here is actually not that bad, about a young woman returning to the quaint Victorian mansion of the quaint Minnesota lake town where she grew up in order to turn it into a bed & breakfast, but then discovers nefarious dealings underfoot in a secret room that's been locked for decades (although like a lot of these kinds of "cozy" stories, I did roll my eyes at the prospect of her grandfather being essentially a hotel-lobby-style small-town Impressionist ripoff painter in the 1950s, an entire century after this stopped being daring or interesting, yet supposedly his work now sells for millions of dollars and hangs in the Museum of Modern Art); and if this had been a Kindle Single for 99 cents that I could've read from start to finish in a single afternoon, that actually would've been kind of a pleasant reading experience, and would've gotten it 3 stars from me or possibly even 4, depending on how Webb would've handled the overlong third-act reveal in her short-story version. But as a 300-page book it was pretty intolerable, and it's easy to tell that every person involved with its production was all just praying the whole time, "Oh God, oh God, please let this stretch out until it's just barely $13.50's worth of book, oh please God." That makes it an unpleasant reading experience when all is said and done, and a book I can't recommend, thus chalking up now my 14th bad review in a row of an Amazon Prime Reads book.

I famously declared I was done with these after the 12th, something like a year ago now, but got tempted into them again starting last month because how can I possibly turn down free books no matter how bad they are, YOU TELL ME PLEASE; and that's exactly what Amazon is counting on, for me to be their 1 Audience Unit to be matched with their 1 Content Unit and for me to spit out a number they can bend, fold and manipulate into convincing me to do it all over again. So throw me into the machine, I guess, Alan Turing; I hereby officially succumb to The Algorithm, and I'm ready for another robot-recommended stinker whenever you are.
Profile Image for Linda Galella.
495 reviews57 followers
October 1, 2022
At first I suspected everyone and then I suspected no one in Wendy Webb’s, “The Stroke of Winter”.

Tess is turning the family house into a B&B but there are a few problems: the furnace doesn’t work, the doors to what needs to be her owner’s suite are shuttered, along with some windows and some critters seem to be trapped in that space.

Wyatt is just the guy to fix all the above. On top of being an handyman extraordinaire, he’s making her heart beat a bit faster, too. He’s a townie, tall, good looking and saying all the right things. Thanks to her next door neighbor, the house troubles might be solved…or not.

Webb is a great storyteller and for this book she accomplishes it by using the two protagonists and the development of their relationship. As Tess and Wyatt get to know each other, the details of this multigenerational mystery are unfolded. Her prose is lyrical and a gentle mix of descriptive and action. Borderline cozy, you won’t be assaulted with foul language, sexual content or violence. The dialogue flows naturally and is age appropriate for the characters.

A well hidden mystery kept me guessing right up to the final pages. There’s just enough paranormal to be creepy but not so much as to say, “yeah, right!”. Good small town feeling with friendly, welcoming neighbors kept me looking for evil in every corner; love that feeling of expectation📚
280 reviews
October 12, 2022
This is one of those books that reads like a bad draft. I have no idea what kind of book the author was trying to write and who the audience is. I’m not interested in horror books so at first I was worried this might go too far in that direction for me but it’s really nothing like that. In fact even calling this a Gothic Romance is a really bad mischaracterization. There’s really a very minimal supernatural element for most of the book, more of a what is that sound or who did that element. Even the very thin romance is described by several different characters as a couple who instantly seem like an old married couple so the romance stage is entirely skipped as they start palling around. Tess is unfortunately a very thin character as far as depth and her ability to center this story. She’s a forty something woman with an adult son who was very recently pining for her ex husband, who left her over a decade ago, and has remarried and obviously moved on with his life. She is into cooking, so much so that we get far too detailed cooking instructions complete with all the steps for different recipes she’s making like stew or a pasta dish. I found these details odd and boring. I don’t think I’ve ever had a book suddenly turn into a cookbook before. There’s a very long overly drawn out section that could have been cut down entirely by taking a picture on a phone and showing someone as we all would do in real modern life.

There’s a mystery element to this book that could have actually made a plot but instead the author chose to go with a hokey supernatural element that involves a ridiculous Ghostbusters idea, but lacking the humor. There are far too many times we are supposed to believe that no one asked or remembered something that would be a big deal, especially in a place described constantly as a small town where everyone knows everyone. In the midst of what is supposed to be tense we get a random snow scene that’s supposed to be romantic and sounds both out of a Hallmark movie and an ad campaign for the area if its real. Maybe there’s an audience out there looking for recipes and cooking tips in the midst of a thin plot and if so you found your book but for those looking for the gothic or the romantic I would recommend looking elsewhere.
October 13, 2022
High school writing skills

"snow coming down in sheets"

This is nonsense, she needs to both take a writing course and read some literature. She also needs an editor.
January 29, 2023
I always enjoy a Wendy Webb novel. This was a fun read, but not as suspenseful as her other Gothic tales.
Tess Bell moves to Wharton to renovate her Grandparents home into a bed and breakfast. Before she can begin, she must tear down a door to a room that has been locked up for decades. She discovers old family secrets and a haunting she must remove from the home.
This is a good read for fans of cozy mysteries.
Profile Image for Tammy.
381 reviews19 followers
October 4, 2022
This book is probably my second prime first reads that I liked since being a member for years.

I am giving this one 5 stars for a few reasons. I think timing played a huge part in this rating.

I started this book last night and wanted to finish it but just couldn't stay awake long enough to finish.

I looked forward to coming home and finishing today. That says a lot for me.

I think the winter kind of weather this week and Halloween this month made for perfect timing.

I liked the writing, kept me interested and had me guessing what was going on up until the end. I don't usually go for paranormal type books but this one kept me entertained.

Would definitely read something by this author again.
Profile Image for Kristi Lamont.
1,610 reviews48 followers
October 5, 2022
Man, I sure do wish I hadn't read this newest book by Wendy Webb. Because if I hadn't?

I'd still have it to read and enjoy.

C'mon, Ms Webb--write and publish some more books right quick-like, OK? You are the only person I know who can make me even possibly consider traveling to Wisconsin in the winter.
Profile Image for Marisa.
137 reviews2 followers
October 17, 2022
Hallmark Channel of a book trying to disguise itself as a thriller. Might be for some, but wasn’t for me- felt slow in the middle, instalove is a trope I hate, everyone is Super Nice Because It’s A Small Town, and the execution of the ending was p lacking.

Got it free on Amazon First Reads.
Profile Image for RedRedtheycallmeRed.
1,707 reviews35 followers
October 8, 2022
This being October, I was hoping for a good ghost story, but this seemed more charming than scary. There are some enjoyable tropes here: food (Tess is a chef), home decor (Tess is opening her home as a B&B), cute dog, near instant boyfriend, small town charm.

There are some vaguely threatening noises, a few unexplainable things that happen, some ghost hunting. It kept my interest, but there weren't any goosebumps.

The final chapter goes back in time to reveal exactly what happened, tying things up nicely.

Profile Image for Natalie.
315 reviews1 follower
October 15, 2022
Nice spooky read

Winter aesthetic was interesting in a scary story, but enjoyable. Thought the entire recipes was a funny touch to the story, it just made me hungry! Overall a very nicely written story.
Profile Image for Nina.
1,541 reviews11 followers
October 14, 2022
Appropriate reading for October, given the haunted house, but it was a bit goofy. A woman moves into her grandparents' old mansion on the shore of Lake Superior in the dead of winter. A room in the house has been locked up and off limits since before she was born (what kid, spending their summers there, would go there for years without ever trying to break into a secret room?). There are all kind of ghostly things happening, but the woman doesn't have any convincing terror. I would be too freaked out to think straight, but she goes on a winter picnic and still sleeps alone in the house. Things really got silly when the local "ghostbusters" analyze the house. Some very nasty secrets about the family eventually come out that should have resulted in the whole family needing some therapy, but she's like, 'ok, now that mystery is solved and the ghosts are out, so let's get back to celebrating the holidays and turning this place into a B&B."

There was a level of unnecessary detail. E.g., rather than just say she made stew for dinner, the ingredients and the entire method of cooking it are given. Any time she cooks, the whole process is described. I also didn't need to know whenever she thought about applying moisturizer.
1,134 reviews84 followers
October 2, 2022
This was a creepy, ghostly story which made me shiver together with the descriptions of the thick snow outside was very atmospheric. The ending was good but I felt it could have been drawn out a little bit longer. Gladly giving this five stars.
Profile Image for Christina McDonald.
Author 10 books2,552 followers
December 6, 2022
A fun, easy, enjoyable ghost story. Rather than being creepy or scary, it's a bit like if Hallmark Channel did a haunted house thriller. There's a love story, past and present, and lots of secrets being unraveled. I really enjoyed it!
October 30, 2022
Hallmark Christmas movie meets RL Stine's Goosebemps. Except Goosebumps was scarier. This was very little about the mystery surrounding the haunted house and more about Tess's life in the small Minnesota town she moved to and meeting her boyfriend Wyatt. Oh, and if you ever needed to know how to cook a basic stew, egg scramble with sausage or pancakes, the writer was kind enough to give long, drawn out step-by-step direcrtions for you!

I was never not once scared reading this book, and while the actual mystery was pretty interesting, there was simply not enough writing around it or its conclusion. It's as if the writer had a lack of imagination and used the Hallmark-esque/recipe aspects of the book as fluff and filler.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
November 16, 2022
My 2nd Wendy Webb read tells the tale of main protagonist Tess Bell and the mysteries that lurk beneath the walls of her paternal family's ancestral home on Lake Superior. Although she intends to turn it into the next great B&B, Tess might have her work cut out with her when she uncovers terrifying paintings that might belong to her artist grandfather. Was he a stalker or a never caught serial killer?

I must say that even with the terrifying synopsis, I felt this was a very light read. With likeable characters and a fast moving plot, it made for a very quick bedtime read. I was a bit iffy on the romance between Tess and another character as it seemed that she was more hung up on her ex-husband for the first portion of the novel. Overall, I quite enjoyed it.

Goodreads review published 16/11/22
Profile Image for debbicat *made of stardust*.
753 reviews113 followers
January 8, 2023
This was a slow, cozy kinda of read. I hate to say that. Not a page turner like I expected. Nothing much happened until about 78%. I like my mysteries to have a bit more thrill. It was just okay. And that is okay.
Profile Image for AMY.
124 reviews7 followers
October 17, 2022
I love the setting! What a wonderful place to live. The first half of the book was great. I was getting pulled into their world. The second half was, in a word, disappointing. The story moves s-l-o-w. The setting and the characters are lovely and enjoyable, but it just took so long to get to the underwhelming resolution.
October 12, 2022
Overall: ☆☆☆ (3.0)
Writing style: ☆☆☆
Entertainment ☆☆☆
Characters ☆☆☆
Plot: ☆☆☆☆

As tess decides to open the sealed door in her family home, she not only unseals a room but family secrets.

She then has to navigate between the veil of the living and the dead to determine what took place behind that door.

The author wrote an intriguing novel, with an interesting plot. I was hooked, needing to know what happened, as I was enjoying the paranormal aspect and wanting to enjoy the creep! 

There were some areas that were less developed than others and felt rushed,  such as the quick relationship development between Tess and Wyatt (but I am not one for romances, so maybe that is me? I'm a cynic). And I felt I needed more from the characters. Some felt very 2d and just needing some life breathed into them.

I will say, Wendy does a decent job of making you begin to doubt some of the characters and if their good intentions are always so pure. Not sure if that was just me, and my lack of trust, or if everyone began to perceive some of the characters as potentially not everything they seemed to be? Or even if that was her intentions?

I do feel bits and pieces were redundant. It would feel like a character would say something, and then a few paragraphs later rephrase that same thing.

Additional drawbacks were with the ending. First, it felt as if the author backed herself into a corner and was unable to paint the whole picture. So ultimately she had to make a last chapter that gave you the answer as to everything that had occurred. Additionally, when an author ends a book with the words "the end",  it really rubs me the wrong way...this is not supposed to be a fairy tale.

Otherwise, a good, quick read for the month of Halloween 🎃
Profile Image for Ranjini Shankar.
846 reviews60 followers
November 9, 2022
This book was very strange and I think it was confused as to what it wanted to be. Is it a thriller? A supernatural mystery? A haunting? A cozy? And because of all the uncertainty the tone varies wildly from chapter to chapter and causes a kind of whiplash I’m not fond of. It goes from providing full on recipes to dark family secrets and none of it feels good.

The story follows Tess who is renovating her family’s house and turning it into a B&B. She feels a malevolent spirit and when she opens up a locked portion of her house she discovers old paintings by her famous artist grandfather. However strange things start taking place and an old family secret is fighting to be revealed.

For a short book, there are far too many chapters where nothing happens. The romance shouldn’t be front and center in this kind of thriller but there are many many many chapters of Tess and Wyatt spending time together and not progressing the plot at all. There are also characters who play no role at all (Jim? Eli?) and everything is revealed at the end in the last few pages when her parents decide to show up. There’s very little investigation and pay off to figuring out the murderer because everyone is dead already. Not worth your time.
Profile Image for Crystal.
723 reviews102 followers
October 13, 2022
This was a nice feel-good cozy mystery. The town of Wharton was so charming and I found myself never wanting to leave.
The mystery of Sebastian Bell and his disturbing paintings created so much intrigue. Couple the creepiness of the paintings with the cold winter setting, and you have a chilling tale that's perfect to read while cuddle up around the fireplace. Just be sure to keep the lights on!
Profile Image for Kimberly.
242 reviews
November 21, 2022
Great Ghostly Read!

Tess starts renovating her parents old house. She begins hearing scratching noises at night but finds nothing. Her neighbor Wyatt helps her open up an old room that has been sealed off and things get spookier. This was a book that held my interest and I finished quickly.
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