Gifford’s mournful but very readable romance achieves surprising emotional depths. A writer to watch.


On a distant Scottish island, a mermaid myth, a vengeful maid’s observations, a minister’s breakdown and a haunted woman’s psychological barriers combine in a gloomily impassioned gothic exploration of belonging.

A cluster of dark events in two interconnected eras drives English novelist Gifford’s debut, set on the Hebridean island of Harris, a place of weather-beaten beauty where a contemporary couple, Ruth and Michael, is restoring the old manse, hoping to turn it into a bed and breakfast. But the shocking discovery of a child’s remains under the floorboards—with what seems to be a tail and no legs—delays work and provokes nameless anxiety in Ruth, who's been high-strung anyway since her mother's drowning/possible suicide when she was a child and is even more so now that she's pregnant. Folk tales of seal people persist in these islands, and Ruth begins to research them, uncovering the journals of Victorian minister Alexander Ferguson, who lived in the manse in 1860. Gifford spreads the narration of her occasionally oppressive story across various characters: Ruth, Ferguson, and his maid, Moira—a local woman whose family was decimated by the brutal clearance of the land and who dreams of killing the aristocratic landowner. Though top-heavy with suffering, the misery is mitigated by the author’s love of place, shining through in her lyrical descriptions of landscape and season, and her empathy for Ferguson’s and Ruth’s struggles, which lends resonance to their parallel resolutions.

Gifford’s mournful but very readable romance achieves surprising emotional depths. A writer to watch.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04334-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Brimming with warmth and vitality, this new novel by the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) is a paean to the power of female courage. The butterflies are four smart and lovely Dominican sisters growing up during Trujillo's despotic regime. While her parents try desperately to cling to their imagined island of security in a swelling sea of fear and intimidation, Minerva Mirabal—the sharpest and boldest of the daughters, born with a fierce will to fight injustice—jumps headfirst into the revolutionary tide. Her sisters come upon their courage more gradually, through a passionate, protective love of family or through the sheer impossibility of closing their eyes to the horrors around them. Together, their bravery and determination meld into a seemingly insurmountable force, making Trujillo, for all his power, appear a puny adversary. Alvarez writes beautifully, whether creating the ten-year-old Maria Teresa's charming diary entries or describing Minerva's trip home after her first unsettling confrontation with Trujillo: ``As the road darkened, the beams of our headlights filled with hundreds of blinded moths. Where they hit the windshield, they left blurry marks, until it seemed like I was looking at the world through a curtain of tears.'' If the Mirabal sisters are iron-winged butterflies, their men—father and husbands—often resemble those blinded moths, feeble and fallible. Still, the women view them with kind, forgiving eyes, and though there's no question of which sex is being celebrated here, a sweet and accepting spirit toward frailty, if not human cruelty, prevails. This is not Garc°a M†rquez or Allende territory (no green hair or floating bodies); Alvarez's voice is her own, grounded in realism yet alive with the magic of everyday human beings who summon extraordinary courage and determination to fight for their beliefs. As mesmerizing as the Mirabal sisters themselves. (First printing of 40,000; $40,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56512-038-8

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...


Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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