Sarah Jio

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

 

Blackberry Winter tells the story of two women. Vera is a poor woman living in Seattle in 1933, and she kisses her 3-year old son before leaving for work one night. When she gets out the next morning, there’s a surprise May-time snowstorm and she rushes home, only to discover that her son Daniel is missing. Claire is a modern-day woman, a reporter at a Seattle newspaper. Her boss picks her to cover the freak springtime snowstorm happening outside, she learns about a little boy gone missing in a similar snowstorm 80 years ago. Vowing to find out what happened to that little boy, she discovers that her and Vera have an unexpected connection.

This was a quick, cozy story with a tragic note about it. The chapters alternate between Vera and Claire’s points of view, and each woman has a bit of a sad story to tell. While the mystery of the missing child was enough to keep me reading (well, and all the descriptions of warm coffee shops and pretty snowstorms), I never really connected to either Claire or Vera. It might because I’m not a parent and while the whole missing-child thing is really sad, it didn’t really break my heart. Also, Vera wasn’t really a likable character. She was sweet, but she was one of those frustrating characters who kind of martyr themselves and hence cause their own problems. Because of this, the story seemed a bit forced.

 I prefer Sarah Jio writing about romance and lost loves WAY more, such as in The Bungalow. If you’re going to try one of her novels, start there.

Sarah Says: 2.5 stars

 

 

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The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

 

The Bungalow is Sarah Jio’s second novel and I have to say, I loved it a lot more than her first, The Violets of March. TVoM was a good book, but I realized that as time went on I kind of forgot about it. I’m happy to say that I think The Bungalow will remain much more vivid in my head.

I’ve sat here for over half an hour trying to come up with a good summary of the book, but nothing I come up with is as good as the description on the back of the book, so here it is:

A sweeping saga of long-lost love, a mysterious painting, an unspeakable tragedy and the beach bungalow at the center of it all …

In the summer of 1942, newly engaged Anne Calloway sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.

A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne’s determination to discover the truth about the twin losses–of life, and of love–that have haunted her for seventy years.”

 

That sums it up pretty good. I liked Anne – she’s just reaching adulthood in the 1940’s, back when women still had not a lot of choices in their own lives. She’s engaged to Gerard, a perfectly handsome, rich young man who she’s been matched with since she was just a child. He’s nice and all, but she also feels that lack of romance and passion that she longs for. Her deciding to go join the Army nurses is her way of getting a little adventure in her life before settling down to a perfectly normal, boring life of being a housewife and having children.

As is obvious from the description, she’s unfaithful to her fiance when she falls in love with Westry for but some reason, it didn’t bug me as much as it usually would. Sarah Jio does a good job at making Gerard seem indifferent about their relationship, and I was rooting for Anne to leave him before she even left for Bora-Bora. And then she comes to this beautiful, exotic island and she slowly falls for Westry and their love is all romantic and sweet and transcendent. You guys know how much I loathe cheating in books, so the fact that I was able to still like the characters and really enjoy the book says something about the author’s impressive story-telling abilities.

There were some secondary characters as well, that were all vivid, unique, and added to the story rather well, whether you liked them or not. For instance I HATE her friend Kitty, but she was essential to the story. I also liked Maxine, Anne’s housemaid and friend. And of course the imagery was just beautiful – it’s no wonder I read this in one sitting. For example, here’s an excerpt from the first page:

“He was there, of course – in uniform, shyly smiling at me as the waves fell into the shore. I could hear them – their violent crash, followed by the fizz of a million bubbles kissing the sand. Closing my eyes tighter, I found him again, standing there amid the fog of sleep was the lifting, too quickly. Don’t go, my heart pleaded. Stay. Please stay. And he obediently appeared again with that beckoning grin, those arms outstretched to me. I felt the familiar flutter in my heart, the longing. And then, in an instant, he was gone.”

I was IMMEDIATELY sucked into the story just after reading that. And I was a little sad when I finished the book. This will be one of those books I re-read when I’m in a sappy, romantic mood.

Anyways, this was a beautiful afternoon read, and Sarah Jio’s next novel, Blackberry Winter, is on my automatic to-buy list when it comes out in September.

 

Sarah Says: 4 stars

 

 

>The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

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Okay, where to start? This is a lovely debut novel by Sarah Jio, and one of the poll winners for June’s read. I really enjoyed it.

The Violets of March centers on Emily. An author with a severe case of writer’s block and now newly divorced, Emily decides to spend some time healing at her great-aunt Bee’s house on Bainbridge Island, WA. As she uses the peace and sound of the sea to clear her mind, she stumbles upon a secret diary from 1943. The diary tells the story of Esther, and Emily is sucked into the story as she notices more similarities between the diary and her own life. I really can’t say much about Esther’s story, because I don’t want to spoil anything.

There were so many things I liked about this novel. I loved the double story-line; while getting to know Emily, I also got to read Esther’s story. And I have to say that the writing is beautiful and mystery of the plot stays with you even when you put the book down. I love books that take place on cozy islands, and this is no different. The sounds of the sea, the descriptions of gardens, of friendly neighbors and small local shops… it’s all so idyllic.

Emily is a great main character. Besides her being sweet and honest with herself, I noticed that she’s also a foodie – the book goes into detail about food when mentioned, and Emily always admits to unabashedly digging in. It’s such a small detail, but I really liked that about her. I really liked the secondary characters too – when I’m a little old lady, I want to be spunky like Bee and her friend Evelyn.

The only thing about this novel that I wasn’t crazy about was Emily’s romantic interests. Once on Bainbridge Island, she’s asked out a bit and I never really warmed up to the man that she found herself attracted to. And while I really like a bit of romance in books (I’m a sap), Emily did just get divorced before she comes to the island. It all happened a bit too fast for my taste.

Anyways, this is a great novel and probably perfect for some pretty, mysterious beach-reading. I’m really glad that it’s one of the novels that won the June poll 🙂

Sarah Says: 4 stars

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