Monday, February 26, 2018

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

It feels like I haven't read a solid historical novel for a long time.  I'm pretty sure it's only been a few months, but as I was reading Winter Sisters I said out loud to myself "I am so happy reading this novel!".  I have no shame in admitting I talk to myself, especially when reading.  

I read My Name is Mary Sutter years ago, and loved it. Civil War novels always have a huge pull for me, and Mary Sutter is such a compelling character it's hard not to love her.  When I saw this was a sequel of sorts to Mary Sutter, I just had to read it.  

It's 1879, Albany, New York.  Mary, now Dr. Mary Stipp, lives and works with her husband Dr. William Stipp, along with her mother Amelia and niece Elizabeth.  They have a successful clinic run out of their spacious home, and have a good life in Albany.  The Civil War has not left them, however, and they are forever changed by what they witnessed as doctors treating soldiers.  But life is pretty good, and they are happy.  Close family friends the O'Donnell's have two lovely little girls, Emma and Claire. 

A bizarre, horrific blizzard descends upon the city, catching everyone unawares, and through terrible circumstances, Bonnie and David O'Donnell are killed during the blizzard.  The two girls, stuck at school, survive the blizzard with their schoolmates, but are left behind on the school steps once the blizzard ends and everyone goes home.  They disappear into thin air.  

The Stipps, frantic about the O'Donnell family, discover the sad news about Bonnie and David, and are very concerned when the girls don't turn up anywhere. Mary and family go to the police, and take it upon themselves to search everywhere they can think of to find the girls.  The police aren't very helpful, claiming the girls are probably dead.  Six long weeks go by, with no sign of the girls.  The melting snow and ice in the Hudson River causes a massive flood in Albany, and in a night of chaos, the girls are found and brought to the Stipps.  Where were they, and what happened to them?

What happened to Emma and Claire sets off a huge newspaper war in Albany; a magnifying glass is put to Mary's practice and her decision to give healthcare to prostitutes; and Elizabeth's new romance with the son of a prominent lumber baron is put into jeopardy.  Traumatized by their ordeal, both girls are in danger of never recovering, especially when some folks don't believe their tale.  

While it is a fact that women didn't have very many rights or privileges in 1879, it still got me pretty steamed to read about some of the nasty rumors and treatment of Mary, Emma, and Claire.  Albany-a city that looks shiny and bright, but has an underbelly that runs on corruption, bribes, and prostitution. Men have all the power, money, and, sadly the law on their side.  

I so enjoyed this book.  Robin Oliveira is a solid writer, and her attention to historical detail makes the book so interesting, but never bogged down.  Of course the medical aspect was a big draw for me, and I definitely had a hard time putting the book down in the last half.  As a matter of fact, I stayed up way past my bedtime last night to finish the last few pages, I was so anxious to find out what happened.  

A huge thank you to Viking/Penguin for a review copy.  

This novel will be on sale Tuesday, February 27th in the U.S. in hardcover, ebook, and audio. You do not have to read My Name is Mary Sutter to read this novel.  

Rating:  5/6 for a novel that addresses female sexuality, abuse, the power of men, money, and the strength of family at a time when women didn't have many options.  Mary is a great example of a brilliant, respectful woman who still is treated with distrust and ridicule even after proving herself over and over.  A powerful statement on the ability of rumor and false news to damage lives. 

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