Tag Archives: The Moody Blues

A Winter’s Tale

Blackberry Winter: A Novel by Sarah Jio (Plume, $15.00, 286 pages)

The nights are colder now/ Maybe I should close the door/ And anyway the snow has covered all your footsteps/ And I can follow you no more…  “A Winter’s Tale,” The Moody Blues (Mike Batt/Tim Rice)

If you read and loved the novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, there’s a very good chance that you will feel the same way about Sarah Jio’s new novel, Blackberry Winter.   Like Ford’s bestseller, Blackberry Winter is set in Seattle and involves current-day characters looking back at things that happened decades earlier.   And it just so happens that a hotel serves as a key stage prop in both of these imaginative tales.

Blackberry Winter begins in May of 1933 when the City of Seattle is hit with an unexpected winter snow storm.   Vera Ray, a hard-working and nearly destitute mother, leaves her three-year-old son Daniel alone in their hardscrabble apartment as she heads for a night shift of cleaning rooms at the Olympic Hotel.   When she returns the next morning, the apartment is empty.   The only thing she finds, in a mad search for Daniel, is his abandoned teddy bear – found in the snow behind the apartment complex.   She will never see her son again.

Flash forward to today’s Seattle, where Claire Aldridge is working for the Seattle Herald as a reporter writing feature stories.   A late-season snow storm has hit the Emerald City in May.   Claire’s editor wants her to write a 5,000 word article about the similarities between this “Blackberry Winter” storm and the one that hit in ’33.   Claire, who is recovering from the loss of a child of her own, has just one week to complete the assignment.   The timeframe may not be acceptable; however, Claire is married to the newspaper publisher’s son, so she’s likely to be given some leeway on this otherwise strict deadline.

Claire spends each morning at a locally run coffee shop, not realizing that in 1933 the space was used as a Prohibition-era tavern and the floors above it were occupied as apartments.   Vera Ray and her son lived in one of those apartments.   As Claire proceeds to investigate the story of the boy’s disappearance – and it comes to dominate her life for the next few days – she finds that she and the late Vera Ray may have more than a few things in common.   She also discovers that Vera – who supposedly drowned not long after her son’s abduction – may have been murdered.

The death of the lower class (and supposedly scandalous) Vera Ray has been a closed case for decades and Claire may be the only person with the connections to re-open it.   But the more she follows the clues, the more she becomes aware that someone at the top of Seattle’s social circle wants the case to remain closed.   Will Claire press forward to find the truth for Vera Ray and Daniel even if it threatens her career?

Jio writes in such an engrossing style (as she did in her fist novel The Violets of March) that you may rush through the story in a single day, as this reader did.   As with her initial book, Jio leads us to a conclusion that, while fully unexpected, is completely logical.   Yes, there are villains in this story but Jio does her best to restore our faith in the best of human nature.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics Books site: http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-blackberry-winter-by-sarah/ .

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Question

“Why do we never get an answer, when we’re knocking at the door?”   Question, The Moody Blues

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt (Liveright Publishing Company, $27.95, 309 pages)

From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll (Plume Reprint, $17.00, 448 pages)

“Could it be… that the world exists precisely because it is, on the whole, better than nothing?”

Reading Tim Holt’s extended treatise on life and the universe is the equivalent of listening to a classic philosophical album by The Moody Blues – one hears numerous questions about being and existence but receives no answers.   All in all, Why Does the Earth Exist? is an entertaining read but it’s far too clever by half; one gets the impression that Holt is trying to dazzle the reader with his brilliance – supposed or real – as he all too often gets off track.   Holt never answers the question raised in the book’s title, and much time is wasted on diversions such as mathematical formulas and the rules of formal logic.

The writer seems to be at his most engaging while pondering deep thoughts after nights of imbibing far too much alcohol at the world’s glamorous hotspots.   As such, he comes off as a tamer, more intellectual version of the Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary); one whose entertainment value (unlike the late Thompson’s) runs thin very, very quickly.   Another flaw with Why concerns Holt’s unwillingness to acknowledge that much of the interest in time, and the birth and death of our 13.7 billion year old universe, relates to our personal fears of death and non-existence.   Occasionally, he grudgingly concedes the point:  “Our mild anxiety about the precariousness of being…  might yield to cosmic terror when we realize that the whole show is a mere ontological soap bubble that could pop into nothingness at any moment, without the slightest warning.”   “The life of the universe, like each of our lives, may be a mere interlude between two nothings.”

“…philosophy is a terribly difficult subject, and sorting out the hardest questions in the finite time of a human life is asking a lot.”   (Emphasis in the original)

This book’s recommended only for those few selected – if perhaps strange – individuals who felt they didn’t take enough tough philosophy classes in college.   And if you want to cover the majority of the same ground – from Einstein to modern physics, time travel and more – and get even deeper into the weeds of existence, existentialism and science – a better choice would be From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll (2010).   Carroll offers less entertainment value, and fewer side trips than Holt but he delivers more content that actually helps us understand “how we came to exist” and where our existence (our world and our universe) is headed.

From Eternity to Here is well recommended, although it has the feel of a very serious college textbook.   The universe itself is a terribly difficult subject, one not for the timid, weak or lazy.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of Why Does the World Exist? was provided by the publisher.   From Eternity to Here was purchased by the reviewer.

Note:  Tim Holt was raised as a Catholic.   Undoubtedly, some will find that he spends far too much energy on religion in this work, while others will decide that he’s not said enough about God.   What cannot be denied is that he gives full space to the arguments (and views) of all of the great modern and ancient existentialist philosophers – a matter that some will find pleasing, and others extremely painful.

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