Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Title: Blackberry Winter
Author: Sarah Jio
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source: personal purchase via Kindle

Plot Summary from Goodreads

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...

My Review:

I saw this book here and there around the blogosphere, but when someone told me "you'll like this if you like Jodi-Picoult-esque novels", I was sold.  You can get me to read the back of a deodarent stick if you tell me it reads like a Jodi Picoult novel.

I can see why Jio's book is compared to JP.  At its core is a mysterious and moving story, as Claire searches for the long-missing Daniel, and deals with her personal losses at the same time.  The story itself is what kept me turning the pages.  I wanted to know what happened to Daniel, I wanted to know what happened in Claire's past and whether she would reconcile with it, and I wanted to know where Vera went.  Jio always has a new mystery for you to uncover, and that's the best aspect of this book.  Plus, the mother/son relationship between Vera and Daniel is awesome.  Maybe I'm just a sucker because I have a son, but by the end, I was getting teary every time I learned more about them.  What can I say, motherhood turned me into a sap.  I AM NOT ASHAMED.

I do wish that the writing were stronger, though.  While there were a few unpredictable twists at the end, for the most part, Jio has a tendency to make the answers to her mysteries a bit too obvious.  And as a reader, I don't like to feel like I'm being hand-held through the plot.  I figured out one of the big "reveals" before I hit the 10% mark of the novel.  There are just too many blatant hints about how certain people will become significant to the plot, and with a little more creative wordcrafting, that could have been avoided.

Also, the writing itself (especially the dialogue) feels clunky and stilted at times.  It's clear that Jio skips out on certain details or emotional embellishments when she's trying to lead you towards the next clue in the mystery.  For example, at one point Claire and a companion are searching a house, and stumble across a broken window and some missing items.  Clearly a burglary.  But they oddly ignore it and move onto the next room in the house (where they, TA-DA, end up finding the next clue).  This felt strange, and illustrates how the author spent too much time only focusing on the important details, rather than fleshing out the full story.

Overall: an intriguing story that will tug at your heart-strings, for sure.  Despite my caveats about the way it was written, I don't regret jumping into this story at all.  I just wish the writing style made the plot shine a bit more.

Have you read this (or other) Sarah Jio novel(s)?  Thoughts, dear readers?


  1. I like JP sometimes, but not always... I like the image "blackberry winter" conjures in my head, though... Hmmm... Something to ponder. Quick read?

  2. Yes, quick--I read it in a few days. Worth a shot :)

  3. I'm on the hold list for this one from my library... I liked the idea of a cold case sort of mystery. I'm glad to know not to expect the writing to be spectacular, though. But it sounds entertaining with lots of little mysteries and that sounds fun.

  4. Yes, the story itself makes it worth a read. And FWIW, many of the other reviews I'm seeing on Goodreads did not find it as predictable as I did.

  5. I read this, and I enjoyed it. I don't think I found it as predictable as you did. I never figured out one of the big "ta-da's" until it was almost revealed. I liked her book "The Violets of March" better. I read that one first, and "Blackberry Winter" after that.

  6. Thanks for the rec Jess. I do want to try one of her other books, but I wasn't sure what to start with.


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