I was offered the chance to review Sarah Jio's debut novel, The Violets of March, in 2011. I am sooooo very glad I said yes. And I've happily said yes to every one since!
Sarah's latest book is Blackberry Winter. And it might just be my favourite - so far.
In the opening chapter we meet Vera Ray. Times are tough in 1933 and Vera is lucky to have a job cleaning rooms at night at a posh hotel in Seattle. But it also means she is forced to leave her three year old son Daniel alone in their attic rooms. After her shift finishes she races home through a freak snowstorm (it's the 2nd of May!) and finds Daniel's bed empty.....
The book then moves forward almost eighty years and we meet a Seattle newspaper reporter named Claire. It's the second of May and a snowstorm has hit Seattle. Claire is assigned to write a piece for the newspaper on this anomaly. Her research uncovers the story of a missing boy named Daniel.
Jio alternates her narrative between the past and present, revealing a little more each chapter. (which made it hard for me to find a place to stop for the night!)
I slipped easily into the story. Jio sets the scenes and establishes the players effortlessly. I was drawn to both women leads - they are both likable and sympathetic characters. Although there is the mystery of what happened to Daniel, there is much more to the story. Claire's marriage is falling apart and she has yet to deal with a heartbreaking loss in her life. And what of Vera? Daniel was a much loved child - but who was his father?
As Claire investigates further, connections appear between her life and Vera's. I love the serendipity of it all - it makes you think (hope) that maybe, just maybe, there are things beyond our control that happen for a reason.
In Blackberry Winter, Sarah Jio explores the connection between mother and child, love and loss, regret and redemption with emotion and candor.
Emily from The Violets of March makes a cameo appearance in this book as well. I was glad to see how her life has progressed and it was nice to visit Bainbridge Island again.
The title? Blackberry Winter "is old-fashioned weather jargon for a late-season cold snap - think of plunging temperatures and snowfall in May, just when the delicate white flowers are beginning to appear on the blackberry vines."
One of the main characters loves hot chocolate. I think a big steaming mug of cocoa would be the perfect accompaniment for this warm, rich, satisfying book. Settle back in a comfy armchair and enjoy yet another wonderful read from Sarah Jio.
Read an excerpt of Blackberry Winter. Book clubs - a reading group guide is available. (And I'll be waiting for the next book - The Last Camellia, to be published on May 28, 2013.)
You can find Sarah Jio on Facebook and on Twitter.