Hello my book-loving friends!
I can't believe I've been leading our discussions for two months already. And be warned, I'm having so much fun I might not give it up. You could be stuck with me.
When it comes to this month's author, I have to admit that she's a favorite of mine. I respect her as an author (I don't know anyone more prolific that Sarah Jio) and I'm terribly fond of her as a person. I've gotten to know her a bit over the last year and I have to say she's every bit as lovely and generous as she appears online. So of course it was a no-brainer for us to select her latest novel, BLACKBERRY WINTER. I knew I'd enjoy the book but I didn't expect it to grab me by the throat the way it did. I had so many personal connections right away: my godmother is named Vera, I'm a mother of little boys, and I'm a writer as well. You could say she had me at hello.
1. VERA. I just finished writing a novel set in 1930's Depression-era USA so the time period is quite fresh in my mind. I could instantly appreciate the dire circumstances that Vera finds herself in: a single mother trying to fend for herself during one of the worse economic periods in our history. And I'm fascinated by the little bits of mystery and foreshadowing that Sarah sprinkled into her first chapter. So I'd like to hear what you think the significance of Vera's bracelet and Daniel's absent father are. How do you think those two elements will play into the story later on?
2. CLAIRE. I love how her story is immediately connected to Vera by the late season snowstorm. And then her boss calls her to assign a feature story about the phenomenon known as a blackberry winter. "Think about it," he says. "Two snowstorms, sharing one calendar date, separated by nearly a century? If you don't call that feature-worthy, I don't know what is, Claire." So much is set up in this chapter: a recent accident that left Claire wounded, hints of trouble in her marriage, and a connection to a woman who faced her own life-altering snowstorm in 1933. Any guesses as to what happened to Claire? The source of her phantom pains? Why her husband was out of bed so early that morning? Or how writing about the blackberry winter will alter her life?
3. VERA. As if she doesn't have enough to worry about with Daniel, her lecherous landlord, and her financial predicament, poor Vera isn't even safe at work. The wealthy Mr. Edwards has a thing for chambermaids and it appears as though he takes a fancy to Vera right away. And I can't help but wonder why she's so alone. Where her family is. Why Daniel's father isn't around. And then…THEN…she leaves work, traipses through a snowstorm only to find that her son has been abducted in the middle of the night. And there's no small amount of guilt there as well. She left him. She had to. But I know that choice will plague her for the remainder of the story. So for this chapter, I'm wondering what you would have done in her situation? Would you have taken Daniel to work only to loose your job and your only way of providing for him? Or would you have taken a calculated risk that he'd sleep through the night and be there waiting for you? (Side note: my husband is sitting here and I just ran this scenario by him. All he could do was shake his head and whistle–we have a 3 year old and I think the very idea choked him up) But it's your turn: what would you have done under those same circumstances?
4. CLAIRE. She's in therapy, her husband is having lunch with his ex girlfriend, and her favorite cafe bears a striking resemblance to the saloon beneath Vera's apartment. The plot thickens! In all of this, a line at the end of the chapter jumped out at me: "I clutched my belly, feeling the familiar ache, and closed my eyes tightly." Claire's reaction to learning of Daniel's abduction is fascinating to me. An accident. Phantom pains. Why do you think Clair has such a strong, immediate connection to the disappearance of a 3 year old boy? She could have been just as easily enthralled by the news that an English royal was due to visit Seattle during that first blackberry winter. But she didn't. Claire fell for Vera and Daniel instead. Why?
Golly I love a good mystery! Must be all those years that I curled up with Agatha Christie as a teen (Murder on the Orient Express is still one of my favorite novels). The problem is that I often spend my energy trying to solve the puzzle instead of being captured by the story. So I resolve not to do that this time. I'll relax, sit back, and be present with these characters. How about you? Will you join me this month as we get to know Vera and Claire? I hope you will!