Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review: Blackberry Winter

The song "Blackberry Winter" by Hilary Kole was so powerful and beautiful that it inspired Sarah Jio to write a novel about a late spring snowstorm.

In early May of 1933, a snowstorm covers Seattle in white. After working her usual night shift, just to make ends meet (and barely so), Vera Ray comes home to find her three year-old son, Daniel, missing. She knows he's gone for sure when she finds his favorite teddy bear laying in a fresh pile of snow.

In early May of 2010, there's another snowstorm in Seattle and Claire Aldridge is asked to write an article about it. Looking for an interesting edge to the story, she stumbles upon the case of the missing boy from 1933. While it brings to mind her own tragedy, she feels a need to reunite a mother and her son, no matter how old they may be now. She just doesn't realize how truly connected she and Vera are.

Melissa Amster:

When my older son was almost three years old, he ran off while we were exploring F.A.O. Schwarz in New York City. To say that was the worst moment of my life is an understatement. I still panic just thinking about those few minutes that he was missing. I felt this same panicky feeling for Vera while reading “Blackberry Winter” by Sarah Jio.

I’m one of those people who takes a while to warm up to the idea of reading about something awful happening to a spouse or child. I was cured of my book-phobia about spouse death when I caved and read “P.S. I Love You” by Cecelia Ahern. However, I wasn’t ready to read about bad things happening to children just yet. Even though I knew the premise of “Blackberry Winter,” Sarah Jio’s reputation as an incredible writer got me to crack it open and see what was inside. While I still don’t like the idea of anything bad happening to a child, I was mesmerized by this story and read each and every heartbreaking, yet beautifully written page.

Both Vera and Claire were memorable characters in their own ways, with their individual tragedies. The story played out like Cold Case (excuse the pun, given the season). I used to love that show, so it definitely piqued my interest in that way. I wanted to get to the bottom of Vera’s story and see that there was some level of closure. While I know this is fiction, some pieces of the story seemed to fall into place almost too neatly. It made things feel a bit far-fetched. Still, there were plenty of surprises to keep me on my toes (including the reappearance of some characters from a previous novel). I did want more from Vera’s perspective, which seems to get cut off halfway through the story, even before her part comes to a close. While I felt bad for her, I also felt she acted stupid at times, and a bit reckless. Maybe that’s how women behaved in the 1930’s, during the Great Depression. Still, she was hard to stay angry with when the greater good of finding her child was at stake.

All the supporting characters in the story were interesting and really added to the feel. I enjoyed reading their interactions with Claire and/or Vera. Claire’s friend, Abby, was one of my favorites. She was so kind when other people were being tough on Claire. I also liked the depth of description that Sarah used throughout the story. I could actually feel the cold snow on my feet the way Vera did and could picture the luxury that was at her fingertips, but not hers for the taking.

Fair warning...if you are currently expecting a baby, you may want to hold off on reading this until your baby is born safely. And even if you don’t fall into this category, or whether or not you are a mom to begin with, just have a box of tissues handy. This is a real tearjerker. Sarah does justice to the subject matter as a mom herself, handling it in a sensitive manner. The story was partially inspired by her friend losing her child to illness at a young age.

While Sarah Jio is a remarkable writer and I knew “Blackberry Winter” would be amazing just because she wrote it, I wasn’t prepared for exactly how amazing. This is my favorite of her novels so far, and I have a feeling her next novel, “The Last Camellia,” will allow her reputation to flourish once again, making her a force to be reckoned with.

Amy Bromberg:

As Elin Hilderbrand says it perfectly, in her blurb on the cover of the book, “Sarah Jio’s writing is exquisite and engrossing.” Sarah Jio is an expert at writing in two different time periods, alternating between both. She portrays each time period phenomenally on it’s own, but links both in remarkable ways, like puzzle pieces that align perfectly with each other.

Even though I’m not a mom yet, I could feel the powerful love that Vera had for Daniel, the love that a mother has for her child. As much as I fell in love with Vera, it was heartbreaking to see her struggling to raise her child, on her own, with barely anything. But of course I was cheering her on wanting desperately for her to find her sweet Daniel.

Even though Claire’s life has gone south, there’s something inside of her that wants to break free and grab onto something to help her. It turns out that the “blackberry winter” storm that has plagued the town does exactly that.

I loved how both sets of characters (Claire and Ethan and Vera and Charles) are almost the same but from two different periods. Vera and Claire are not from wealthy families, but Charles and Ethan are.

With each book that Sarah writes, she keeps outdoing herself. Each time I get my hands on a new book by Sarah, I ask myself “how can she top the last one?" Well somehow she always does.

"Blackberry Winter" is an enchanting mystery and love story that grabs the reader’s attention right from the beginning, and keeps it to the very end. I wanted time to stand still so I could read the book in one sitting. I had goose bumps for almost the entire time reading and was captivated by each page. The book has been officially nominated as part of my top 2012 reads…this kind of makes sense because it’s number 27 on the New York Times Bestseller list! All I can say is this would make a phenomenal movie! I promise you will not be disappointed, so grab your copy ASAP!

Thanks to Plume for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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