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.
Winter Sisters is a propulsive new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Robin Oliveira is the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You. She holds a BA in Russian and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow. She received an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is also a registered nurse, specializing in critical care. She lives in Seattle, Washington.
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Excerpted from "Winter Sisters"
Copyright © 2018 Robin Oliveira.
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Reading Group Guide
A disastrous blizzard blasts the city of Albany, New York, in 1879, and in its chaotic wake, two newly orphaned girls, Emma and Claire O’Donnell, go missing. In the following days, Dr. Mary Stipp and her husband, William, physicians and friends of the O’Donnell family, try in vain to locate the children. Initially, the police offer to search for the girls, but after six weeks of Mary’s relentless queries, they give up.
The city faces another disaster when the frozen river thaws, causing devastating floods, and when Mary and William return home from treating flood victims, Emma and Claire are waiting for them. The tale they tell is dramatic—a man has been holding them captive in a basement—but the story told by Emma’s body is all too clear to Mary. The ten-year-old has been raped. As the Sutters struggle to unravel the truth behind the girls’ trauma, a prime suspect emerges, and Albany prepares for a sensational trial. Emma, who at ten is at the legal age of sexual consent, must face down those who consider her survival as proof against her. Winter Sisters is a complex and suspenseful historical novel that is both a captivating story and a commentary on the laws that have, for far too long, oppressed and endangered women.
1. Agency, the ability to act on one’s own accord and determine one’s own life, was not something most nineteenth-century women or girls possessed. Not medically, not legally, not professionally, not in their public lives, and many not in their private lives. What degree of agency are the various women characters in Winter Sisters able to seize for themselves? To what dangers—emotional, physical, social—are they then subjected as a result? How does this theme of agency play out in Elizabeth’s subplot? In Viola’s?
2. Mary drugs Emma and Claire in order to examine them. Is this another violation of Emma and Claire’s agency or is it an act of compassion that protects them from further violation? Did Mary have a choice? What would have happened, do you think, if she hadn’t drugged them?
3. Child trafficking around the globe remains a contemporary and enormous problem. That problem is portrayed in Winter Sisters in an historical context. Does the historical lens magnify, minimize, distort, or clarify this monumental global crisis?
4. The reprehensible actions of the antagonist are portrayed in a way that leaves no doubt as to what occurred. Are the details of the crime sensationalized in any way? Did the author focus on the crime’s emotional repercussions enough? How did the novel’s realism affect you?
5. How do you feel about Harley’s escape from judgment? Do men today walk away from similar crimes unscathed?
6. The trial questions in Winter Sisters were pulled from nineteenth-century rape trial transcripts, which record the prosecutorial and defense techniques of inflicting shame, intimidation, blame, and the questioning of reputation and veracity. Does the trial in Winter Sisters seem contemporary or not? How much or little has changed around the prosecution of the crime or the way its victims are treated?
7. What psychological circumstances are at play in the story that might allow for Emma to overcome her trauma? What characters’ actions help, and which hurt her recovery? How does Emma save herself?
8. Describe how the “good” men in the novel underpin, and do not overwhelm, the actions of the women in their lives. In what ways are the gender roles flipped in Winter Sisters? How pivotal is Mary’s role? Jakob’s?
9. Why do you think William, and not Amelia, took Emma to climb the cliff in Cape Cod? Was that the right decision?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this book in one day. LOVED IT! It had me gripped at pg 1. I read My Name is Mary Sutter when it released and loved the characters. I loved them again in this new novel. I can only hope that the author gives us the pleasure of reading about their future the next book.
The first book I have read by this author. Brings to life the end of the nineteenth century in upstate New York. Highlights the Albany area and living there now got a kick out of what is familiar. The power of men and the need for more equality for women is unfortunately still relevant today. Storytelling has a great flow. I have become a believer of this authors talent.
Very compelling read
The story brings together 3 families, tied by blood and friendship and their long journey on the path to healing after the blizzard in April 1879, and the disappearance of two young sisters, Emma and Claire O’Donnell, ages 10 and 7. Mary Sutter-Stipps is a physician, having met her husband, an orthopedist, during the war. Her mother, and niece Elizabeth are in Paris, as Elizabeth is studying violin at the Conservatory there. Circumstances brought Mary and Bonnie O’Donnell together – the friendship has become a familial one, she delivered the girls Emma and Claire, and invested in Bonnie’s business. But that morning was different –if starting similarly. A light and unexpected snowfall turned brutal: whiteout conditions, people stranded at work and schools, and the expected deaths. While not being discovered amongst the dead, unlike their parents, Emma and Claire were still, missing. “Emma, take good care of your sister.” And she had. What follows is a tremendous journey of hopelessness and hope: the girls were held against their will, Emma never forgetting her desire to leave, taking on the abuse with little to no complaint – she feared Claire would be abused and hurt if she didn’t. When the snow melt started to threaten the city, the one holding and caring for the girls came back to secure them, Emma took a chance and the two ran off. Discovered by a policeman and returned to the Sutter-Stips home, the real story begins to take form as we understand the depth of Emma’s injuries, the measured attempts of Mary and the others to understand the events of their disappearance and capture, and most of all, to discover just who had taken and used them so poorly. Oliveira takes multiple story threads: the refusal of Elizabeth on her return from Paris to play her violin again, the overbearing mill owner, the incompetent and corrupt police, the mill owner’s son with a newly minted law degree from Harvard and a desire to practice criminal defense, the unwillingness of Mary Sutter to leave prostitutes, without access to basic medical care, without treatment and the increasingly scatological news stories that pack innuendo and shocking allegations in single sentences. Above it all – there is both the concern for Emma and Claire and their recovery after being held for 6 weeks, and the upcoming spectre of a trial – one that will put the foreman of the lumberyard on trial for kidnapping and rape. Rape being a particularly difficult charge to prove at the best of times, but with Emma, at 10, being over the age of consent, makes the questions, the prosecution and defense approach and strategies particularly horrific. Throughout it all, Oliveira never loses the sense of the girls as people desperately in need of time to heal and recover their trust. From facing impossible odds, to taking responsibility for her sister’s welfare, to using her limited life-experience to explain what happened, Emma is as solid as a sandcastle at the beach: appearing solid yet crumbling with small shocks and starts. It is only time, patience and the quiet solidity of Mary and William that give her the ability to start to feel safe and secure. One day, I’m going to write a violin concerto and call it Number One Hundred Thirteen, and Elizabeth will play it” One hundred twelve days since they were taken, that day (113) marked the first day she wasn’t scared when she awoke. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweis for purpose of hones
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings The second in a series and this book picks up years after book one ends. Dr. Mary Sutter has moved back to Albany and is in a good place in life when a blizzard hits the city and lifelong friends of her have been found dead and their daughters are now missing. She is determined to find them and after a natural disaster tides will turn and this story goes a little dark. I enjoyed this book leaps and bounds more than the first book. I am completely on the fence as to if you should start with book one or skip on to this one. I was glad that I had the background information on Mary Sutter, but I could have absolutely enjoyed this one without the knowledge of the first book. I loved Mary Sutter so much more in this book. She was a fierce female and having to deal with the low expectations of females at the time and her high expectations of her self - I just loved her so much more in this book. I applauded her so much in this book!
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.
I love historical fiction. This book is slow reading and I am having to force myself to keep reading it since I paid so much for the download. I about 1/3 of the way through and I just hope it gets better. Nothing griping about it just kind of blah.
“It’s either hide forever or see forever. He wanted to say, You need to choose. He wanted to say, Follow me, I’ll show you.” --Thoughts from Dr. William Stipp Winter Sisters is the poignant story of two young girls and their struggle to survive after being caught in a snow storm and disappearing. In March of 1879 a raging blizzard hit Albany, New York leaving Emma and Claire O’Donnell stranded outside their school. The young girls, seven and ten years old, were picked up by a stranger offering to help them make it home. Little did the girls know that they were not headed home nor would they ever see their parents again. The O’Donnell sisters’ story sadly unfolds as Mary Sutter Stipp and her husband, William, begin their search for the lost girls. The story of their kidnapping and subsequent time in captivity is one of absolute horror for any parent to imagine. The details are disclosed as the novel tells the tale of the girl’s release and their life following these difficult events. Three families’ lives are entwined in this novel; the Sutter-Stipps, the Van der Veers, and the O’Donnells. The weaving of their stories and the complexities engages the reader from the very beginning of the novel. This book will appeal to readers of historical fiction. It is a very deep and not very happy story. The historical detail is interesting and the characters are extremely complex. I enjoyed meeting characters from Ms. Oliveira’s previous novel, My Name is Mary Sutter. In spite of the subject, the novel is an excellent, well told story. The subject is handled with honesty and dignity. I highly recommend the book. This ARC copy was received from Viking and Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review. The above thoughts and opinions are wholly my own.
There is no doubt that Winter Sisters will be one of my best read books of 2018. The history of the time pulled me in and held on to my attention the entire book. I was intrigued by the role of women and how Mary Sutter was able to be a doctor in a time with that just didn’t happen. It was interesting to see how the men treated her and how she reacted to their treatment. Mary Sutter is a strong, unbelievably strong, character that comes from a time when women were expected to be at home raising the children, cooking dinner, and being a wife and made a career for herself in a male job. The mystery aspect of the story was not hard to figure out but I found it interesting to see how the culprit would be brought down. I knew that some of the other characters were working to bring to them down and I was hoping they would be successful. I was appalled at some of the laws that made it difficult to find the justice that was desperately needed. Some of those who were enforcing those laws were equally horrific and I had hoped that would get what they deserved in the end also. Winter Sisters is a wonderful, easy to read, enjoyable historical mystery fiction. I could not stop reading and felt that I was invested in the outcome. This is the first book by Robin Oliveira but I am definitely adding her to my must-read authors list.
Praying for you & your family, There is always another way with God