Book Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

by Jenn (eating bender) on February 7, 2013

Whenever I fall in love with a new book, I immediately Google the author to read their backstory. It sort of follows along with my obsession with learning where book ideas come from – I love hearing about the author’s “big break,” learning whether they’ve written any other books and discovering what they have planned for the future. The latest search began after reading Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio. I was very inspired by her bio and I think you will be, too. Her professional story includes magazine writing, health and fitness blogging and, of course, publishing novels, with four books under her belt and more on the way. There is also a love of food thrown into the mix, which she now pairs with books in blog posts that I practically want to devour.

And doesn’t a book with a title like Blackberry Winter just feel like it’s waiting to be plucked off the shelf? After reading rave reviews from Gina and Jenna, I knew I had to add it to my list. I then proceeded to finish it in less than 24 hours.

blackberry winter

In Short

This novel tells the stories of two women living in different eras – one in 1933 and one in present day (2010). Both live in Seattle, and both experience an unforeseen snowstorm in May as the book opens, a cold weather phenomenon known as a “blackberry winter.” In 1933, a single mom named Vera Ray tucks her young son Daniel into bed before leaving to work the night shift at a hotel. When she returns, she discovers not only the snowstorm, but also that her son has disappeared. She runs back out into the storm to search for him, but the only trace she can find is his teddy bear in an icy street – the snow has covered up the tracks of both her son and the person who took him.

In 2010, Claire Aldridge is a reporter for the Seattle Herald who is assigned to cover their own blackberry winter and its twin from 1933. As she begins to research what happened last time, she learns about an unsolved abduction and works to find out what really happened. As the mystery begins to unravel, Claire realizes that she is connected to Vera, albeit in a very unexpected way. Read this book if you enjoy a suspenseful plot that will keep you guessing from start to finish. It explores the power of the relationship between mother and son, as well as a determination in both women – Vera and Claire – to seek justice on Daniel’s behalf.

The Details

One of the great things about this novel is that it’s a little bit of everything – there is mystery, of course, but also historical fiction and romance. Sarah Jio creates a vivid picture of both 1933 and 2010 Seattle through her descriptions of the town, its buildings and its citizens. She also paints a heartbreaking image of Vera and what she had to go through as a single mom living in the Depression era. She couldn’t find someone to watch her son while she went to work, and so she was forced to leave Daniel alone in order to be able to provide for him and put food on the table.

After Daniel’s disappearance, Vera must also deal with the constraints of her time – the fact that a woman’s word was rarely taken over a man’s by police, for example. Xenophobia also plays a role when the townspeople accuse a man Vera thought she knew of a horrible crime, leading her to believe she no longer can know who to trust. As the clock continues to tick, Vera becomes increasingly desperate and resorts to measures she could never have endured otherwise, all for the sake of her son. It begs the question, how far would any mom go to protect her child, or to find that child if he or she went missing?

It can be hard to get the dual storyline told just right, especially when the stories take place in different years, but I thought Sarah Jio did an excellent job of not only creating an instant tie between Vera and Claire through Claire’s role as a reporter, but also demonstrating the effect of that bond as the novel progresses. Every new detail Claire discovers about Vera’s mystery causes her to take a step back and evaluate some of the issues going on in her own life, a trend that continues through the novels various twists and surprises.

At the same time, the book isn’t overly dramatic – sure, it’s a lucky coincidence that two unrelated women living decades apart are ultimately connected in some way, but the reader should expect that going in because otherwise the author would not have included both characters in the first place. I didn’t find it to be too predictable – if anything, my predictions were often wrong!

In the end, this book leaves the reader with a lot of questions. First and foremost is the one I mentioned above – how far would any mother (or father, for that matter) go to save a child? What would you be willing to do if it meant earning money to care for that child? How strong do the ties of family go? At what cost are family secrets kept, and who are they really protecting?

If the answers to any of these questions intrigue you, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Blackberry Winter. I look forward to reading more from Sarah Jio in the near future!

Have you read Blackberry Winter? If so, what did you think?



1 Cara (Twinthusiast) February 7, 2013 at 10:40 am

I really enjoyed it – thanks for the book! It was a quick read, and although the story wrapped up pretty darn neatly, I really liked all the elements she wove together. I checked out Jio’s website – turns out her agent used to be one of our peeps at K&W! Elisabeth left shortly after I arrived, but it’s still fun for me to see her projects. I requested The Violets of March (Jio’s first book, I think) from the library and will let you know if I like it :) Also, did you see Jio’s Books and Bites facebook page? Seems right up your alley.
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2 Jenn (eating bender) February 14, 2013 at 11:14 am

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And how cool that her agent used to work at K&W. Can’t wait to hear what you think of her other books. As you noticed, I found her Books and Bites Facebook page and am now addicted. :)

3 a farmer in the dell February 7, 2013 at 12:34 pm

going to grab this book today! thanks for the review!
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4 Jenn (eating bender) February 14, 2013 at 11:14 am

So glad to hear that – let me know what you think!

5 Gina @ Health, Love, and Chocolate February 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm

We seem to have the exact same tastes in books because this one is in that same “need to read” pile with The Paris Wife. It really is a shame that textbooks take up a majority of my free reading time. Good to know you enjoyed this one though, I’ve heard really good things about it!
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6 Jenn (eating bender) February 14, 2013 at 11:16 am

I love that we have the same taste in books! If only there could always be time carved into every day called “novel-reading hour(s)” – that would be amazing!

7 joelle (on a pink typewriter) February 8, 2013 at 11:43 am

As you know, I loved this book! Loved hearing your take on it.

8 Jenn (eating bender) February 14, 2013 at 11:18 am

Thanks, Joelle!

9 Emily February 8, 2013 at 8:16 pm

JUST finished this book… and I really liked it! I like history and lived in Seattle so I especially enjoyed it!
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10 Jenn (eating bender) February 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

Awesome!! I think it’s so cool that you lived in Seattle – this book made me want to visit for sure!

11 Dinesh February 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I’m book reader and lover. So far I’ve read lot of brilliant novels but frankly speaking never manage to finish “Blackberry Winter”. I truly thank you for making my attention on that book and I’m looking forward to read it. Thanks.
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12 Jenn (eating bender) February 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

So glad to hear that, Dinesh!

13 Sakil March 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

An amazing review of Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio! I truly enjoyed reading about such good book. I’ll definitely check out that book after finishing my current reading of Silas Marner by George Eliot and I’m also sharing about Eliot in my blog time by, if you got time please check out. Thanks.
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