The Gilly Salt Sisters

By Tiffany Baker

(Grand Central, $24.99, 372 paes)

Who is this author?

Tiffany Baker hit the debut jackpot in 2009 with her novel, “The Little Giant of Aberdeen County,” which I described in my Hartford Courant review as being an Alice Hoffman-ish tale about “a very large woman with special powers, a very small but wizardly gardener and a very quiet woman who kept a fateful secret.” The book got enthusiastic reviews and became a best-seller.

Now Baker, who has a Ph. D in Victorian Literature and lives in San Francisco with her husband and children, is back. Her second novel, “The Gilly Salt Sisters,” also is garnering good reviews and no doubt will please her old fans and make her some new ones.

What is this book about?

This West Coast author turns to the East Coast in her new novel, which is set in a fictitious small town on Cape Cod. Here on Salt Creek farm live two very different sisters, one of dark temperament and one of light: quiet and secretive Jo, who is devoted to the practical but sometimes mystical workings of the farm, and Claire, who has the advantages of being beautiful and popular and doesn’t want to spend her life trapped in a salt marsh.  The farm itself proves to have a dark – you might say, unsavory — history that entangles the sisters, whom the townspeople fear just might be witches. (Townspeople can be like that, you know.)

Things get even more complicated when the town’s Prince Charming, wealthy Whit Turner, falls first for Jo, but winds up with Claire, who becomes estranged from the family for many years. When circumstances force her back to the farm, the past rises up in a swirl of new and old connections and controversies, and the sisters must confront each other and probe the secrets of the mysterious salt, and by so doing change their lives.

Why you’ll like it:

Baker serves up a tale seasoned with plenty of magical realism, a la Hoffman, but her characters come across as real people. “The Giant” proved she has the ability to blend dark humor with a poignant love story, and this novel promises the same delicious blend. It opens with the Gilly sisters tossing a handful of salt into the annual town bonfire and watching for the color that will prophecy what kind of fortune, good or ill, awaits the town that year: blue for prosperity, red for love, yellow for change or black for something dreadful on the way.  (No wonder there are rumors of witchery!) How this divination plays out will keep readers interested.

What others are saying:

“A heartfelt tale of family relationships, small-town drama, and new opportunities. Jo and Claire are well-drawn, finely crafted characters, and Baker adeptly describes the fractious and multilayered relationship the sisters have with one another. The imagery of Cape Cod is gorgeously rendered, leaving the reader with a fully immersive picture of the insular village. Loyal readers of Anita Shreve, Maeve Binchy, and Alice Hoffman should enjoy this poignant, lush, and well-written tale of family secrets, revenge, forgiveness, and connections not easily severed,” says Booklist.

“Fans of Baker’s acclaimed “The Little Giant of Aberdeen County” won’t be disappointed with this quirky, complex, and original tale. It is also sure to enchant readers who enjoy Alice Hoffman and other authors of magical realism.” (Nancy Fontaine, Library Journal )

“Tiffany Baker’s novel has grit and polish and some salt of its own. It’s a beautifully written tale about the resourceful and determined connection of women. The Gilly Salt sisters are a brackish bunch — definitely my kind of people,” says Brunonia Barry, author of “The Lace Reader” and “The Map of True Places.”

When is it available?

It’s salted away on the shelves of the Downtown Hartford Public Library and at the Mark Twain branch library.

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