Thursday, October 4, 2012

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

I've been eagerly awaiting Sarah Jio's latest paperback, Blackberry Winter.  I gobbled it right down.  What I like about Ms. Jio's novels are the settings--mostly around Seattle or the islands off the coast of Washington State, and her mix of the past and present to find answers to mysteries that have colored people's lives for decades.  Her two previous novels Violets in March and The Bungalow are just as enjoyable as Blackberry Winter.  I'm a fan and will continue to read anything she publishes.

If you are someone who loves a really great, hard to figure out mystery, these aren't for you.  It's fairly easy to solve the unanswered questions.  In this novel, Vera Ray is a very young unwed mother, struggling to provide for her 3 year old son, Daniel.  She's dirt poor in 1933 and must leave him alone at night in their apartment while she works as a chambermaid at the ritzy hotel in Seattle.  It's the Depression, and Vera struggles to eat and pay rent.  Her landlord is threatening to evict her and she has no money and no where to go.  After working one night, she steps out in to a freak winter snow storm in early May.  It's called a Blackberry Winter, and is very rare.  As she finally gets home, frost-bitten feet and chilled to the bone, she finds Daniel missing.  Hysterical, she runs outside, searching for him everywhere.  She only finds his teddy bear, dropped in the snow.  The police don't really care about the case and say he's run away.  Vera, in shock, stays with a friend, but quickly returns to her apartment to find new tenants live there.  She has no job, no where to go, no money, and her child is missing.  What happens to Vera?

Vera's story really is so sad.  She just can't win.  Claire Aldridge Kensington is a present day reporter in Seattle for her husband's newspaper.  She's recovering from a horrible accident that cost her something very precious.  It's been a year, and she can't get her life together.  Her marriage is falling apart.  And then a freak snow storm hits, exactly 80 years to the day of the last Blackberry Winter storm in 1933.  Her editor gives her the assignment to write about the storm.  Feeling like a huge loser, she begins to check into the storm, and finds out about Daniel going missing, and it peaks her interest.  Through Claire's painful research, she begins to find the answers to Vera's torment and Daniel's disappearance all those years ago.  

It's a great read; the characters are easy to connect to, and Vera just tugs at your heart strings.  I felt Ms. Jio really did a great job making Vera's desperate situation very clear and very believable.  Claire has more in common with Vera than she realizes, but by the end of the novel, she finds peace and acceptance because of what Vera went through, and does solve the mystery of Daniel.  

Rating:  4/5 for just sheer enjoyable reading and a clever story.  It's easy to figure out the "mystery" but I loved reading it all the same.  Perfect for Moms, Grandmas, and traveling!

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