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Blackberry Winter - Sarah Jio Sarah Jio must’ve hit some sort of publishing lottery, as she’ll soon release her fourth book in two years and I hear that there’s two more in the pipeline. I waffled a little about how to rate this one because I ultimately did enjoy reading it quite a bit, despite the fact that it sometimes felt a little too cliché.

Claire is a reporter in modern-day Seattle. She suffered a miscarriage due to an accident she had while jogging and it’s put a great deal of strain on her marriage to Ethan. The city wakes up one May morning to several inches of snow of the ground – an unusual event anywhere, but especially Seattle – and Claire finds herself assigned to write about a similar snowstorm that took place on the same day in 1933. While trying to find an interesting angle for the story, Claire stumbles upon the unsolved disappearance of three-year old Daniel Ray. His mother Vera returned from her night shift as a hotel maid to find him gone, but her lack of social status meant the police were quick to dismiss it as a runaway.

The narration bounces back and forth between the two snowstorms. In the present, Claire tries to find out what happened to Vera and her son while worrying about Ethan’s lunch dates with his ex and suppressing her feelings for the overly helpful coffee shop owner down the street. Eighty years earlier, Vera’s world collapses as she is consumed by grief and memories of the brief love affair that rendered her a poor single mother.

Jio’s prose is quite lovely, thoughtful and compelling. Unfortunately, her story is largely formulaic. This has many of the same elements of Violets…and many other romantic historical mysteries aimed at the ladies. The dashing gentleman who resents his family’s wealth, insists that money can’t make you happy, and falls for a woman despite her poverty. There’s the contemporary woman whose life is crumbling, who becomes fixated on an event that took place in the time of her grandmother while ignoring the source of love and support right below her nose. The parallels between the two stories, connected by the octogenarians whose memories of their toddler years are shockingly crisp except when it matters the most. The well-placed letter, photograph, scrap of paper that fills in the gaps.

This book is structured so much like Violets that a few protagonists manage to make the leap as very minor characters. Take that how you will.

I like Sarah Jio’s writing and I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a light, quick read that’s well-crafted. Her mystery-unraveling relies a little too heavily on coincidences, but I still couldn’t wait to find out what happened. I just worry that she may be falling into the Kate Morton trap, where her books ultimately resemble some sort of literary Mad Libs in which different characters try to solve a vaguely different mystery set across a slightly different chasm of time.