Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: Blackberry Winter

Summary: In 2011, Sarah Jio burst onto the fiction scene with two sensational novels--The Violets of March and The Bungalow. With Blackberry Winter--taking its title from a late-season, cold-weather phenomenon--Jio continues her rich exploration of the ways personal connections can transcend the boundaries of time.

Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator's.

Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 "blackberry winter" storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways... -- Plume

If you are a frequent read of Booking Mama, then author Sarah Jio is no stranger to you. I have reviewed two of her books, THE VIOLETS OF MARCH (my review) and THE BUNGALOW (my review); and she has also written a fun guest post for my Book Club Exchange feature. I was extremely excited to received her latest novel BLACKBERRY WINTER last week, and I immediately began reading it. In just a few hours, I had finished the novel -- no doubt that I was definitely riveted to the story; and I think it might be my favorite of Ms. Jio's three novels.

BLACKBERRY WINTER is a touching novel about two women who live in very different times yet are tied together in some startling ways. The novel goes back and forth between Vera Ray's story in 1933 and Clair Aldridge's story in 2010; and both women are linked by their stories of love and loss. This novel has elements of a mystery and a love story; however, I thought its real strength was in the character development of Claire.

The novel begins in May 1933 when Vera, a young and single mother, has to leave her three year old son Daniel alone in their apartment while she works the overnight shift as a maid at a glamorous Seattle hotel. When Vera leaves the hotel the next morning, she is startled to see that the city was blanketed in a snow storm (hence the term Blackberry Winter.) She arrives home to find that her son is gone and the only clue is his stuffed animal lying in the snow.

The novel then fast forwards to May 2010 when another huge snow storm unexpectedly hits Seattle, and Claire is tasked to write a human interest story about the 2010 and 1933 Blackberry Winters. Claire was an established newspaper journalist, but the after-effects of a horrific accident one year ago have drastically damaged her career, her marriage and her entire personal life. She's less than thrilled with this assignment about "the weather;" however, during her research, she discovers Vera and Daniel's story and becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about his abduction. This story not only allows Claire to once again become involved in her journalism career, but is also allows her to "feel" again. Throughout Claire's investigation, she discovers many things about herself and her family; and she eventually is able to start the path towards forgiveness and redemption.

I thoroughly enjoyed BLACKBERRY WINTER -- from the story, to the mystery angle, to the writing, to the way the story unfolded. However, I can without a doubt say that my favorite part of this novel was the character of Claire. I thought Ms. Jio did a wonderful job of bringing her to life, and I found that I could relate to her despite not having a lot of things in common. I loved how the author made Claire's pain so genuine, and I immediately became vested in her story. I wanted Claire to find a happiness again and be able to forgive herself; and I was most definitely rooting for her. That's not to say that I agreed with all of Claire's actions, but I was able to understand why she felt the need to do certain things because her character was so real to me.

In addition to Claire's character development, I was very impressed with how the author tied together Vera and Claire's stories. The most obvious way was the "blackberry winter" angle, which I thought was very creative, but I also loved how these two women shared the experience of losing of a child. Furthermore, Claire was able to relate to Vera because both of these women fell in love with men from affluent and influential families; and there was always the question of whether they truly belonged -- whether the families could wholeheartedly accept them despite their more modest backgrounds.

I also appreciated that Ms. Jio did have a mystery of sorts in this novel, and the intrigue definitely kept my interest; however, I will admit that the ending wasn't altogether a surprise for me. I could sense that things were a little too coincidental, and I saw pretty early on the direction the investigation was taking. Ms. Jio did manage to throw in a little twist at the end that might catch some readers by surprise though. Quite honestly, I don't think the predictability affected my enjoyment of the novel one bit because I thought the mystery was secondary to Claire's journey to self-discovery and her path to forgiveness.

Because there are so many relevant themes about love and loss, BLACKBERRY WINTER would make an excellent book club pick. There is a reading guide available with thirteen thought-provoking questions. I've probably touched upon many of the discussion-worthy topics in my review already, but here are some of the recurring themes just in case: grief, self-awareness, mother-child relationships, loss, sacrifice, acceptance, marriage problems, class structure, adultery, deception, secrets, forgiveness, and redemption.

And here's some exciting new: She Reads has selected BLACKBERRY WINTER for their October book club selection. You can read more about the on-line book club and BLACKBERRY WINTER here. There is even a very cool contest for Ms. Jio's books and some other blackberry themed goodies that you can enter! 

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I love it when a story from the past and a story from the present are connected like that. I can't wait for my copy of this book to arrive!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

You all are just blitzing the blogisphere with reviews on this one! :--) I love reading about the diametrically different reactions to Claire!

Stacie said...

The more I see this book, the more I want to read it. I loved how Sarah's Key was told by joining the past and the present. So I am sure I will love this one too.

Serena said...

I like authors who can seamlessly connect stories from two different times.

Beth F said...

I know what you mean about Claire -- and also Vera. Great review.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

can't wait to read this one!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm waiting on mine to arrive too! I haven't read any of her books yet (even though I've wanted to) but I'm disorganized that way. I tend to read what is sitting in front of me.

Marg said...

This is the book of the day as I have been doing my blog hopping this morning (never mind that I should be getting ready for work!).

Alyce said...

It's great to see that you enjoyed this one so much!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

I can't imagine leaving a 3 year-old alone at night! I'm curious about the story now.

Sara Grambusch said...

Okay I'm getting excited to read it after seeing these reviews!