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Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a story of love and longing – but like all love stories, it’s complicated…

Four working-class Vancouver sisters, still reeling from the impact of World War I and the pandemic that stole their only brother, are scraping by but attempting to make the most of the 1920s.

Morag is pregnant; she loves her husband. Georgina can’t bear hers and dreams of getting an education. Harriet-Jean, still at home with her opium-addicted mother, is in love with a woman. Isla’s pregnant too – and in love with her sister’s husband.

Only one other soul knows about Isla’s pregnancy and it isn’t the father. When Isla resorts to a back-alley abortion and nearly dies, Llewellyn becomes hellbent on revenge, but against whom and to what end? What will it change for Isla and her sisters? For women? And where can revenge lead for a man like Llew, a police detective tangled up in running rum to Prohibition America? 

Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is immersed in the complex political and social realities of the 1920s and, not so ironically, of the 2020s: love, sex, desire, police corruption, abortion, addiction, and women wanting more. Much more. 

Both elegant and witty, with a compelling cast of characters, this novel is a tender account of love that cannot be acknowledged, of loss and regret, risk and defiance, abiding friendship, and the powerful bonds of chosen family.

• Janet Somerville's review in the Toronto Star: Four of the latest and best historical fiction books: richly imagined, thoroughly researched, told by gifted storytellers. "Tenderly written and emotionally true."

My Life in Books with Red Szell, Accessible Media Inc. A wonderful podcast! 


• Jessica Rose's Literary Review of Canada review: "Although fictional characters, the McKenzies represent the untold stories of countless real-life women desperate to shed strict gender-based expectations."


• Jessica Brockmole's review, Historical Novel Society: "Higdon writes an emotionally searing novel..."


• Rohan Maitzen's Quill & Quire review: "evocative and provocative..."

• Alison Manley's Miramichi Reader review: "fresh and timeless..."

• Kerry Clare at Pickle Me This: "A truly brilliant literary (and feminist) achievement, and just a wonderful read."

• Christine Gordon Manley's funny and wonderful review, Edwards Bookclub Reviews: "While the plotline of this book could rival any Netflix suspense series... Higdon wishes for the reader to spend more time getting to know the sisters...."

• An interview with Matt Rainnie CBC PEI Mainstreet


• The Power of Place: Some of my favourite books for 49th Shelf

• Karen McCue's Staff Pick at McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, Michigan: " and riveting with great dialogue and the smart brand of funny."

• CBC Books – 11 Canadian books to read for Remembrance Day


• 49th Shelf – Editors' Picks: 10 Books for a Glorious Fall of Reading

• CBC Books – 74 works of Canadian fiction to read in fall 2023

• 49th Shelf – Most Anticipated: Our 2023 Fall Fiction Preview

55 books by past CBC Literary Prizes winners and finalists that
came out in 2023


Advance praise for Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue

In her latest book, award-winning author Christine Higdon looks to the 1920s for her achingly beautiful story of sisterhood―those bound by blood and those bound by their shared predicament of living and loving in the absence of agency. Ever a consummate wordsmith, Higdon’s elegant dispatch from the front lines of the battle for gender equality tells a tale as relevant and essential today as it was a century ago. Endlessly evocative and gorgeously rendered, an exquisite novel destined to be called a classic.

 Bobbi French, author of The Good Women of Safe Harbour

Christine Higdon is a brilliant storyteller. Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a joy and a privilege to read; undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in years.

Donna Morrissey, author of the bestselling memoir Pluck

I would read anything Christine Higdon writes, but Gin, Turpentine, Pennyroyal, Rue is a particular gem. Set in Vancouver in the 1920s during Prohibition, this gripping novel implicates the reader in the lives of four very different sisters, each with their secrets and passions. It is impossible not to root for the McKenzie sisters as they fight for justice and forge their own identities, demanding the right to love and learn freely, despite the subjugation under which they live. It’s also impossible not to appreciate the craft and beauty with which Higdon conjures Vancouver of a century ago, a city and a natural landscape both eerily familiar and utterly different than that of Vancouver today. And finally, it’s impossible not to be struck by the parallels with our own time, where women are once again (and still, and relentlessly) grappling with laws that limit choice and human agency.

Rachel Rose, author of The Octopus Has Three Hearts

'Why are women so angry?' asks the unloved husband of one of the remarkable McKenzie sisters. Christine Higdon answers this essential question with a tale both brutal and beautiful, delving deep into the mysteries of sisterhood, loneliness and love. This novel had me, heart and mind, from the opening line to the last.    

― Alissa York, author of Far Cry

On bookshelves now!

Available at your local independent bookstore, the publisher (ECW), the library, and the usual online suspects...

And check out the audiobook beautifully read by @thisemmalove!

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