by Robin Oliveira
Series: Mary Sutter #2
Published by: Penguin Random House
Genres: Historical, Mystery
From the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter comes a rich and compelling historical novel about the disappearance of two young girls after a cataclysmic blizzard, and what happens when their fate is discovered
New York, 1879: After an epic snow storm ravages the city of Albany, Dr. Mary Sutter, a former Civil War surgeon, begins a search for two little girls, the daughters of close friends killed by the storm who have vanished without a trace.
Mary's mother and niece Elizabeth, who has been studying violin in Paris, return to Albany upon learning of the girls' disappearance--but Elizabeth has another reason for wanting to come home, one she is not willing to reveal. Despite resistance from the community, who believe the girls to be dead, the family persists in their efforts to find the two sisters. When what happened to them is revealed, the uproar that ensues tears apart families, reputations, and even the social fabric of the city, exposing dark secrets about some of the most powerful of its citizens, and putting fragile loves and lives at great risk.
Please welcome Sophia Rose to Caffeinated as she takes us to Albany, New York in 1879 for a historical fiction wrapped in mystery. Come check out Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira.
Sophia Rose’s Review
Albany, New York of 1879, an apocryphal unexpected blizzard, missing sisters, and an unspeakable act is set in motion.
Winter Sisters is the follow-up tale to My Name Is Mary Sutter. The events take place fourteen years after the end of the previous book. I had not read book one but did just fine starting with Winter Sisters. That said, this one would no doubt be spoiler-ish for My Name Is Mary Sutter as it recaps some of the past to set up for the events of Winter Sisters. I still plan to go back to Mary Sutter’s earlier story because I want to know and feel that one after this one.
So, Winter Sisters!
Wooboy, this was something. It is historical fiction and it is a mystery. It paints a vivid picture of the times and the people of Albany, New York. The author’s love for her hometown and her research shine through in this one. She brought this place to life, warts and all.
The story has an ominous tone as it slowly sets up for what is to come (be patient at the beginning). As a reader, my interest was given a gentle tug at first that grew and grew until I was gripped tight in this story. I don’t think I even breathed a few times near the end as I waited to see the culmination of all that had come before. It’s not heart-pounding danger and action, though there are moments of that, but just the build of a plot to its climax point that was deftly achieved.
The main plot centers around the disappearance of two young girls during a blizzard and then eventually what happened to them later during the spring thaw of the river and the subsequent flood. There are other plots circling around the central mystery. Mary’s ongoing fight for women’s health issues, Elizabeth’s private crisis over her musical talent, the Van Der Veer’s home situation, and more. They weave together quite well and the transitions were gentle between so I was not taken out of the story.
The mystery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I loved how the historical setting and societal norms play a strong role. The author shows how things were thought about and handled back then from Mary’s reception by a misogynist police captain to the reaction of the city’s privileged, to the light shone on the lowly world of the prostitutes, to a woman’s lot in general from privileged wealth, and to children in that day. The real eyeopener for me was the take on medicine, mental health, and criminal law regarding the elements around the mystery. Let’s just say we have come far since then. Though, I know there are parallels of needed reform still in modern times. I’m deliberately being cagey about the plot because there are some real shockers and I don’t want to ruin it for potential readers.
The characters are vivid and colorful but are drawn with humanity in its strengths, weaknesses, good and terrible evil. The narrative shifts about from an unknown omniscient narrator to specific characters thoughts.
Mary is a central figure though she shares the limelight with others. I can’t address how far she has come since the earlier part of her story in book one, but I imagine existing fans will be delighted to encounter a middle-aged Mary and how she has stayed true to herself. She is a female doctor with high intelligence, drive, and unapologetic. She earns respect, but also fear wherever she goes. People, like the police chief, the head surgeon at the city hospital, and Gerrit Van der Veer bristle and try to dominate her when she inadvertently holds up a mirror where they see their weakness and inferiority in the face of her spirit, heroism, and drive. Mary is a voice for those who have no voice. She was an amazing character as were those who were close to her for loving her and wanting her just the way she was.
In some books, multiple narrators can feel dizzying and confusing, but for Winter Sisters, it really was a good choice. Getting the different points of view and how they saw the events didn’t diminish or distract but added so many layers. I think it made the story more visceral so I felt the punch of it, but it also gave me a break at times from the harsher and darker element. Elizabeth and Jakob’s courtship was sweet and I loved seeing Mary and William partnering in a more mature relationship.
All in all, I thought Winter Sisters was a fabulous and lush example of historical fiction and mystery blended well. I highly recommend it for those who enjoy strong female leads and American history of the late nineteenth century.Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira transports readers to 1879 Albany, New York and delivers a fictional historical mystery with strong female leads and rich look at the period. Click To Tweet
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