Genealogy 3.0

There are multiple connections between the earlier Wilderness series novels and Waverly Place novels. On this page you’ll find notes and this link that takes you to a family tree for the entire Donati worldverse. Always a work in progress, of course. If the link gives you trouble, copy and paste:

On the linked page you can search, use the arrow keys to drag the tree, increase the size of the text. If you see a character with a dotted line above the box, clicking on it will take you to that part of the tree.  The whole thing won’t fit on a screen at once.

To return to and this particular page, you have to use your back button.

Genealogy General Overview

As Martha Kirby Bonner explains to Jack Mezzanotte shortly before Sophie Savard’s wedding, there are three branches of the Bonner family,  corresponding to Nathaniel Bonner’s three alliances:

The Somerville Line

At a young age Nathaniel spends time in Quebec and enters into a relationship with Giselle Somerville which results in the birth of his eldest child, Luc or Luke, whose name changes a number of times over the course of the novels.

The Wolf Clan

Nathaniel’s first wife is  Sings-from-Books of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk, who dies in childbirth at a young age. Hannah is the only child of that marriage who survives into adulthood.

The Middleton Line

Nathaniel’s second and final marriage is to Elizabeth Middleton. Four children of this union survive into adulthood.

Freeman Family Tree

Click for full size.
Click for full size.

Savard Family Tree

Click for full size.
Click for full size.


I’ve had email asking whether any of Curiosity’s descendants are in the new novel. Sophie Savard is Curiosity’s great granddaughter, and Hannah’s granddaughter.  More information about Sophie’s family can be found on her page.

I often flip a coin to decide the fate of any given character. If I had my way, they’ll all still be alive and healthy. Which clearly won’t do. So remember, everybody is gone at this point. It’s a sad but inevitable truth.


Polly Edwards deserves all praise and  credit.


WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS: Discussion Questions

Chock-full of spoilers…

  1. The title of the book comes from a Rumi quote—“The wound is the place where the Light enters.” In the story, who is wounded, and what light are those people finding, or failing to find?
  2. The shipwreck survivors, Catherine Bellegarde in particular, awaken the sleeping physician inside Sophie. Would this have happened on its own, in time? Or did she need something to jolt her from that slumber?
  3. Elise plays many parts in this story. She’s finding her way in a new life and profession and experiencing many things for the first time. How does she change from the beginning of this book to the end? What do you think of her chosen path in medical science?
  4. Rosa and Lia name houses for things that are apparent to the eye: Roses, Weeds, Larks, Doves, and, hilariously, Fish.  But is there a deeper significance in the connection between the names of the houses and their inhabitants?
  5. Rosa and Lia struggle with the choices that have been made for them, most often against their will. Rosa has a growing resentment and contempt for the Catholic Church. How has it changed Lia?
  6. Are the adults in Rosa’s life doing the right thing for her?  How does the fact that Anna and Sophie both lost their parents inform the way they treat her?
  7. Anna struggles with the idea of being pregnant. Why?
  8. What do you imagine was going on in the Griffin household that would make Sam Reason prefer not to board there?
  9. Anna and Jack seem to have settled into a comfortable routine. How is it that these two, who are very different in so many ways, should be on such good terms? Is it as simple as opposites attracting?
  10. Anthony Comstock expended great time and energy on arresting and prosecuting physicians, midwives, and pharmacists, and at one point had an eye on Sophie and Anna. What are his real motivations? What drives him?
  11. Discuss the role of the Catholic Church in addressing the needs of the many thousands of orphaned children who were homeless in Manhattan in the 1880s. Where did the church succeed and where did it fail, and how?
  12. Newspaper clippings are used throughout the book. How do those stories contribute to the various plot lines and the setting?
  13. Men are drawn to Sophie, but she is in mourning and has no interest in a new relationship. Which of the men currently in her life might she be interested in when enough time has passed? Why?
  14. The book ends with a gathering of women, almost a counsel, with Lily as the clan mother of them all. How do you feel that reflects the overall theme of Where the Light Enters specifically, and the greater Wilderness world in general?

Where the Light Enters

where the light entersFollowing from The Gilded Hour, Where the Light Enters  will be released on September 10, 2019 in ebook formats and hardcover, in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia.


I will be giving away ARCs of this novel.  Please check in on my Facebook page for giveaway details.

Critical Reviews

From The Historical Novel Society
Review by Kristen McDermott

This long, absorbing novel is the sequel to Donati’s enthusiastically received The Gilded Hour, a multi-family epic centered on the lives of Anna and Sophie Savard, cousins who attempt to further the cause of medical care for women in post-Civil War New York.  Descended from the extended fictional family that is the subject of Donati’s celebrated Wilderness series, both young women continue their efforts to practice medicine and fight for the welfare of mothers and children.

In the previous novel, they found love and danger while helping a charismatic lawyer-and-detective team solve a series of harrowing child murders. In this novel, the cousins are reunited: Anna married to the kindhearted detective Jack Mezzanotte, and Sophie returning from a honeymoon tragically cut short by her bridegroom’s death from tuberculosis. As Sophie grieves and struggles to make something useful of her husband’s legacy, Anna enlists her aid in attempting to discover the identity of a murderous abortionist before they strike again.

This sprawling tale has a huge cast of intriguing characters; Donati’s clever device of beginning the book with a series of letters, news clippings, and telegrams will help readers who missed the first novel catch up quickly. The cousins’ nemesis, the real-life crusader against vice, Anthony Comstock, returns in this outing as well, and the talented, brilliant women must call on their wide network of loving, activist family members to combat his sinister efforts to oppress women and the poor.

Each character is fully and lovingly realized, and Donati adds a few other point-of-view characters without ever confusing the reader. Her knowledge of 19th century New York is such that walking the kaleidoscopic streets alongside the fascinating Savard cousins feels absolutely real. This is a satisfying family saga as well as an absorbing mystery that readers will hate to see end, but it’s very likely Donati is not finished with the charming Mezzanotte-Savard clan.

From Booklist

starred review Donati’s saga of a New York family in the 1880s, with its exquisitely realized characters, is apt to inspire repeated readings. Taking up the story begun in The Gilded Hour (2015), Donati extends the experiences of the Savard cousins, Anna and Sophie, both physicians, one white and one multiracial, and the diverse individuals who become their family, ratcheting up the the suspense. Anna’s Italian American detective husband investigates the case of a postpartum deceased woman who was left at the door of a hospital and appears to have been drugged and held captive for a lengthy time. Is her death linked to a serial killer thought dead? Time is of the essence when a beloved society matron goes missing; is she another victim?Mourning her beloved Cap, widowed Sophie takes up the responsibilities of administering his estate and founds a medical school for women of color, while also dealing with issues faced by orphaned children. As she brings the sights, sounds, smells, and social mores of 1884 New York into sharp focus, Donati creates a timely tale of the past that illuminates the ongoing struggle for women’s reproductive rights and sheds light on the passionate, centuries-long fight over abortion. — Diana Tixier Herald

From Kirkus

Luring women with the false promise of a safe, albeit illegal, abortion, a serial killer is on the loose in 1880s New York City. In this sequel to The Gilded Hour (2015), Donati returns to a time when female doctors were viewed with surprise if not outright hostility. Cousins Anna and Sophie Savard have earned their professional medical training, both turning to practice primarily on women. Grieving the recent death of her attorney husband, Cap, from tuberculosis, Sophie plans to use her inheritance to establish scholarships and a welcoming home for women pursuing medical studies. Happily married to Jack Mezzanotte, a detective investigating the killings with his partner, Oscar Maroney, Anna is a highly accomplished surgeon, but they have just lost custody of the children they were fostering, children the church wants raised by Catholics. The sprawling Savard family blends multiple ethnicities, including Italian, Mohawk, and African American, and Donati crafts strong female characters who draw upon the wisdom of their ancestors to transcend the slings and arrows of petty racism and sexism. She juxtaposes these women, thriving on the energies of the zeitgeist advancing women’s rights, with the villains, who sink into the muck of dubious morality crusades, such as the anti-contraception and anti-abortion campaigns of Anthony Comstock and the xenophobic orphanage system run by the Roman Catholic Church. Through Sophie’s and Anna’s work, Donati sketches in the historical backdrop of reproductive challenges in late-19th-century America: Women dying in childbirth, women dying to avoid childbirth, women and babies mangled by medical quacks, and children drugged to the point of death just to keep peace in the nursery. The wounds inflicted by the serial killer caused prolonged, severely painful deaths, suggesting not inept but malicious intent. And as the Drs. Savard assist Jack and Oscar in their investigation, another woman goes missing. Detectives, doctors, and dastardly scoundrels abound in this fascinating historical novel.


Excerpt 1: Sophie’s letter home

Excerpt 2: Article from the New York Times regarding the Russo orphans

Excerpt 3: Elise at the New Amsterdam