“Stunning. . . Oliveira writes with feeling.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“[An] engrossing story. . . that feels utterly timely.”
—People, “The Best New Books”
New York, 1879: An epic blizzard descends on Albany, devastating the city. When the snow finally settles, two newly orphaned girls are missing. Determined not to give up hope, Dr. Mary Sutter, a former Civil War surgeon, searches for the two sisters. When what happened to them is finally revealed, Dr. Sutter must fight the most powerful of Albany's citizens, risking personal and public danger as she seeks to protect the fragile, putting at risk loves and lives in her quest to right unimaginable wrongs.
As contemporary as it is historic, Winter Sisters is part gripping thriller, part family saga, and ultimately a story of trauma and resilience that explores the tremendous good and unspeakable evil of which humans are capable.
Oliveira (My Name Is Mary Sutter) reunites readers with doctor Mary Sutter in this galvanic tale set in the winter of 1879. After a deadly blizzard engulfs the northeastern U.S., Mary, a former Civil War surgeon turned practicing doctor in Albany, N.Y., sets out to find two missing girls whose parents died in the storm. Mary is resolute in her mission to find the girls, and even after Albany police give up their official search, she perseveres. Meanwhile, Mary's mother, Amelia, and niece, Elizabeth, return from Paris, where Elizabeth had gone to study violin. Upon returning to a devastated Albany, Elizabeth mourns the loss of the missing children, who are now presumed dead, along with her dream of becoming a professional musician, which seems out of reach after her training abroad ended poorly. When the shocking fate of the girls is suddenly revealed, Elizabeth, seeing an opportunity to help others recover from the horrible discovery, takes out her violin. Mary approaches the matter as a doctor, collecting evidence with the help of her family to understand what happened to the girls. Their dramatic investigation culminates in a courtroom battle that shakes the entire city. Oliveira's beautiful, expertly researched novel showcases the lives of women overcoming societal constraints and living fearlessly.
Second book in Mary Sutter series
Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira is the second book in the Mary Sutter series. In Albany, New York in March of 1879 the O’Donnell family heads out. David to the lumber district, Bonnie to her millinery shop and the girls (Claire and Emma) to the grammar school. That afternoon a horrible blizzard strikes the area. After the storm, David and Bonnie are both found dead. Claire and Emma were released from school after the storm, but they never made it home. Dr. Mary Sutter and her husband, William search for the girls, but they are unable to locate them. Mary routinely visits the police station, but Captain Arthur Mantel urges her to give up her quest. If the girls have not been found by now, they are presumed dead. Mary is not about to give up that easily. What happened to the O’Donnell girls?
While the Winter Sisters is the second book in the series, it can be read alone. My Name is Mary Sutter is summarized early in the Winter Sisters along with the history (backstory) of each main character. I like that the main character is a female doctor (such a rarity in that time period). I found the pace to be lethargic which can be attributed to the abundant details and the authors formal (and descriptive) writing style. The author’s descriptions help readers visualize the scenes. However, she needs to find a balance between not enough and too much. I was amazed to find that the age of consent (for relations) for “women” was ten in New York (how sad and disturbing) in 1879. The author included some fascinating historical information into the story which helped capture the era. The attitude towards women by many men (but not all) was accurately portrayed. The mystery was simple and easily solved before the answers are revealed. Winter Sisters contains foul language as well as vivid descriptions of violence and child rape (described in graphic detail from a medical viewpoint by Dr. Sutter). I read Winter Sisters, but I could not get into the story (it failed to hold my attention). The ending wraps up all the storylines neatly and happily.