Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Title: Blackberry Winter
Author: Sarah Jio

Genre: Fiction (Dual Narrative / Historical / 1933 / Contemporary / 2003 / Missing Child / Seattle / Marriage / Motherhood / Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Plume (9/25/2012)
Source: NetGalley / She Reads Blog Network

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A freak Seattle snowstorm in 1933 and 2010 connect two women, each facing their own intense tragedy.
Reading Challenges: E-books, Historical Fiction, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: I have no strong feelings one way or the other.

I'm reminded of...: Keith Cronin, Sarah McCoy, Emily Jeanne Miller, Camille Noe Pagán

First line: An icy wind seeped through the floorboards and I shivered, pulling my gray wool sweater tighter around myself.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if this is your genre -- it's getting lots of love from bloggers I know.

Why did I get this book?: I'd heard a lot of raves for Jio's The Violets of March and was curious about this one.

Review: If I didn't have to read this book for review, I would have stopped 60 pages in and we would have parted friends. This book is just not my thing -- not my genre, or my writing style, or my plot -- so it didn't work for me, but I don't think that should be a knock against this book.

The blackberry winter of the title refers to spring snowstorms that hit now and then. In 1933, a May snowstorm brings Seattle to a halt. Vera Ray, single mother, maid in Seattle's most glamorous hotel, leaves her three-year old son for the night to complete her shift. Upon returning home, her son is gone -- missing -- but despite her efforts, the police believe he's simply a runaway who will return when he's hungry. In 2010, Claire, a features reporter for a Seattle newspaper, struggles to deal with her depression following a tragic accident as her marriage unravels. A freak May snowstorm leads her to discover the mystery of Vera's missing son, and she becomes consumed with finding out what really happened.

Both Vera and Claire are women grappling with tragedy -- Vera's more immediately, Claire's lingering and festering -- as well as their place next to Seattle's rich elite. Vera's lover -- the father of her son -- is a Seattle scion and Claire's husband is the handsome, charming heir of a Seattle newspaper dynasty. Unsurprisingly, they're connected, and depending on your enthusiasm for solving mysteries, you may or may not guess early on the 'twist'. (I guessed, but I was feeling a little surly.)

There's a love triangle, familial drama, social commentary, improbable coincidences, lots of armchair travel around Seattle, a great need for grownups to use their big kid words and just have a bloody conversation, very brisk storytelling (no maudlin dwelling, happily!), beloved heroines and villain-y villains.

The emotions are big and easy to understand and the resolution just as obvious, but in some ways, that's what is great about this book. You go into it knowing what you're going to get, and Jio's writing is fast and full enough to suck one in. I read this in a day and a half -- it's not breakneck but there is a sense of momentum, questions the reader needs answered -- and Jio's skill is in creating that tension without a ton of lead up. We're plunged into the drama, both Vera's and Claire's, and whatever quibbles I had about the characters and their life choices, Jio doesn't let passivity move the story along.

Seattle lovers, and those who like place as character should get this, as Jio's juxtaposition of Seattle -- 1933 and 2010 -- was wonderful and interesting. Perhaps my favorite part of the story -- it made me wish I could tour the city this weekend and check out the sites she mentioned.

Comments

  1. I generally enjoy time shifting novels and this one does sound like it would be something I'd like. I have a couple of Jio's books already on my shelves so I should try them to see if I like her style.

    It's too bad this one didn't work for you.

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    Replies
    1. In this case, the dual narratives worked and while I think the historical one was stronger, both were good. It was a bit too blunt in terms of emotions for my tastes but at the same time, as I think back on the book, it's generally favorable!

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  2. My copy hasn't come yet and I'm anxious to try Jio's work. Sorry you didn't love it.

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    Replies
    1. I think it's me and my mood the last few weeks, which is a bit persnickety, as bloggers I love and agree with four and five starred this one! It was good -- just not my speed -- if that makes sense.

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  3. This doesn't sound like my thing particularly either. Mysteries aren't my favorite, and I tend to prefer them not to be incredibly obvious when I do read them. Also, all of those doings about Seattle sound like they might go too far more to care. Blah blah rich and fancy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, you have to be in the mood for that kind of story -- monied fantasies vs ordinary people -- and sometimes, I want that kind of escapism. Jio balances it with some real loss so it's not all saccharine wish fulfillment, which I appreciated.

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  4. I'm a big fan of both split narratives and setting as a character, so you've intrigued me with your review even though it was only okay for you. I was intrigued by Jio's first novel too, but I never got around to reading it. I thin I'll pick this up though.

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    Replies
    1. Carrie -- lots of people are loving this one so if it's drawing you, give it a try. It was just a bit too fluffy for my mood at the moment.

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  5. I felt the same way, for the most part. My review posted today as well.

    This was my third Jio book and they are all sort of written with the same formula in mind. I think she is a great storyteller and I always get sucked in even though the endings are pat and the plot is predictable. I am hoping she does something a little different with her next book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes, I crave a formulaic book -- it's why I go thru bouts of devouring cozy mysteries -- and it's always hard when I have to review something I'm not in the mood for -- and what Jio does well, she does really well.

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  6. I have read elsewhere that the story line is pretty predictable, but I am still interested in this one because of the time period and place. I still think I would enjoy it, despite it's small flaws. I do appreciate the honest review today, though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually don't think the predictability takes anything away from the story -- in some ways, books in which you can sense the arc is very reassuring. The specifics can shake out, but knowing just what you're getting is good, and in this case, Jio doesn't disappoint.

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  7. Sorry this one didn't work for you; I've heard great things about Jio's writing. I have another of her books on the shelf....Bungalow something. Can't recall. But others seem to like this one, though some have said its a bit predictable.

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    Replies
    1. And like I said, the predictability isn't actually a bad thing -- it's nice in some ways. This might have been a stellar read for me at a different time, but I just wasn't feeling it these last few weeks.

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  8. I like the cover, but it's interesting that there are no actual blackberries on it! You said you didn't enjoy it but you've been very fair, it's a great review. The structure sounds good, predictable plots that manage to use the predictability to good effect is always a plus. That said, even though I've read similar-sounding books I'm not sure it would be for me either, despite earlier thoughts to the contrary.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Charlie -- I try v hard to be fair in my reviews since this is all about personal taste really! I think Jio does her genre well -- you know what you're getting here and you're getting something done well. Others have loved it, too, so I know it's just me and my mood that makes me less than swoony about it at the moment!

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  9. I've read amazing reviews for her previous book. This is a new one for me.

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    Replies
    1. I can understand why -- she's a great writer.

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