Tag Archives: The Violets of March

An Interview with Sarah Jio

This is an interview with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah Jio, whose new book was released on November 26. Joseph Arellano

Sarah Jio

Q: There are actors who are called method actors. They like to put themselves inside the skin of the characters they play. For example, if a method actor is hired to portray a boxer, he or she will take boxing lessons and box with professionals. I tend to think of you as a method writer, one who inhabits a world before she writes about it. With this in mind, could you tell us about how you prepared to write the novel Morning Glory, which is set on a houseboat in Seattle?

A: Renting a houseboat for four months while writing this novel was the single greatest thing I could have done to put me in the right headspace to capture the essence of the floating home community. I got to soak up little details that I would have never known had I not experienced them – like how a houseboat sways ever so gently on a windy day or how a pair of Mallard ducks waddle up to the doorstep on Saturday morning and gaze in to the French doors. I will forever treasure that time on Seattle’s Lake Union writing this book.

Morning Glory 2

Q: Would you briefly summarize the plot of Morning Glory, your latest release?

A: Here is what is written on the book jacket: “New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio imagines life on Boat Street, a floating community on Seattle’s Lake Union – home to people of artistic spirit who for decades protect the dark secret of one startling night in 1959.

“Fleeting an East Coast life marred by tragedy, Ada Santorini takes up residence on houseboat number seven on Boat Street. She discovers a trunk left behind by Penny Wentworth, a young newlywed who lived on the boat half a century earlier. Ada longs to know her predecessor’s fate, but little suspects that Penny’s mysterious past and her own clouded future are destined to converge.”

Q: In your novels, women who lived at different times (and who never met) are brought together by unique circumstances. Generally the woman who lives in current times is called upon to resolve a mystery involving a woman who lived 50, 70 or 80 years before her time. It has struck me that in this way each character gets to live twice; it’s a form of time travel. Is there an experience in your life or in your family that prompted you to write about this type of situation? Did you personally solve a mystery involving someone who preceded you?

A: I just smiled reading this question, because, yes – I love the concept of time travel, and I find it so heartbreaking that it isn’t really possible (someday?). I suppose the reason I tend to like to write books in this way is it gives me a chance to look back to the past. I feel incredibly romantic about my grandparent’s generation, and I’ve often thought that I should have been born in 1920, so I could have been a young woman in the 1940s.

Q: In Morning Glory a character states, “I know I may always ache for the past… but I want to be a bird now. I want to flap my wings through the rainstorms. I want to start my day with the earnestness of the morning glory….” Do you find yourself being both past and present oriented?

A: Absolutely, and I remember writing that passage. While I write fiction, yes, there is a lot of my heart and my own personal journey in all of my stories. It is impossible to separate the author from her characters. While they are not always me, I get to create them, and I get to choose favorites. And I often turn to my protagonists as I think about the important elements of life, or big things I’m working through.

Q: One thing I found in common among The Violets of March, Blackberry Winter and Morning Glory is that while your story conclusions are logical, they are unpredictable. Is this something that you strive for – to keep the reader guessing until the last page, or is this simply how the stories play out in the writing process?

A: Yes, I love to be sneaky like that – surprising readers with a conclusion that they didn’t see coming, or some surprising reveal at the end. Because isn’t that true of life? Often it is unpredictable and unchartered. Even the best laid plans have hiccups or surprise endings. And I love carrying this through in my books.

Q: Did anyone in our family or background use the phrase, “True love lives on….” (used by Esther Wilson in The Violets of March)?

A: No, I have never had that uttered to me by a loved one, but I believe it, and I cling to it.

Q: There are characters in your novels that are less than nice and honorable; but in general your stories tend to restore our faith in the best of human nature. Does this reflect a view on your part that while life can be mean and nasty, the better angels of our nature win out? In other words, do we see Sarah Jio’s basic optimism play out in your work?

A: Yes, we are flawed creatures – and that comes out in my books, for sure. At the end of the day, I am an optimist. We get one life, and only so many trips around the sun, and I believe in love and happy endings and beautiful sunsets that make you smile.

Q: Will most of your stories be set in the Seattle area?

A: Not all, but most. My heart is here and will always be. I naturally gravitate to setting my stories in the Northwest, but I’m interested in other locations too, so perhaps I’ll be switching things up in the next few books.

Q: I consider it as a positive that when I read Blackberry Winter, I was reminded of Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet since the two novels share a similar stage – Seattle past and present – and a journey of personal discovery. I loved both books. Have you met Ford and would you agree that the two novels are bookend-like in scope and theme?

A: I own Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (it is on my nightstand!). I have not met Jamie Ford, but enjoy following him on Facebook and Twitter and I think we’d have a lot to talk about over coffee (and anyone who is not following him on Twitter should – he’s hilarious). Readers have mentioned a similar connection in our books, and it’s a huge compliment to me, for sure.

Note: Before becoming a full-time author, Sarah Jio was the Health and Fitness writer-blogger for Glamour magazine.

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/an-interview-with-sarah-jio-author-of-morning-glory/

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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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Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

How to Eat a Cupcake: A Novel by Meg Donohue  (Harper, $13.99, 320 pages)

cupcake

This debut novel by Meg Donohue is set in San Francisco (the author’s home), and tells the tale of the young Annie Quintana who dreams of opening a bakery specializing in fine cupcakes.   Her dream is set to come true because the wealthy Julia St. Clair is willing to fund the business.   The problem is that Julia was once Annie’s best and worst friend (Annie’s mom having worked as a housekeeper for the St. Clairs).

Donohue paints The City as a place where folks engage in massive quantities of eating and drinking, and she does a great job of making various locations – including the largely Hispanic Mission District – come to life.   It’s likely that a number of male readers will, however, find this tale to be a bit too sweet in the telling for their taste.   But female readers may willingly be caught up in the knotty struggles of X chromosomal relationships.   How to Eat a Cupcake winds up being a type of psychological mystery in which the reader wants to find out what happens at the end.

cupcake-back-cover

Donohue displays a gift for dialogue in the debut and a certain sense of stylistic charm, but it’s hoped that she stretches herself a bit more in her next release.   (Perhaps her next novel will be set in Clovis?)

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Beautifully written and quietly wise…”   Sarah Jio, author of The Violets of March and The Bungalow.

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Coming Attractions (2012)

Here’s a sampling of new and upcoming books that might well wind up on the to-be-read stack.

The Bungalow: A Novel by Sarah Jio (Plume; December 27, 2011)

We loved The Violets of March by Sarah Jio and thought it was one of the best debut novels of 2011.   Now Jio returns with a quite different type of story set in Bora Bora during World War II.   Wrote reader Laura Bolin on Amazon: “The Bungalow was an old black and white movie straight out of my grandparent’s generation.   I was swept away by Jio’s vivid descriptions and I loved every minute of it.”

Tuesday Night Miracles: A Novel by Kris Radish (Bantam Dell; January 3, 2012)

An entertaining story about an almost-retired counselor who tries to help a group of four women – all of whom have serious pending matters with the legal system – manage their anger issues in court-ordered group counseling sessions.   The women will have to graduate from the group in order to return  to their normal lives.   Oh, and they don’t like each other at all – which means that the counselor is going to have to take some drastic (and perhaps even professionally unethical) actions in order to get them to a kinder and gentler place.

Gun Games: A Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow; January 3, 2012)

Faye Kellerman once again showcases Peter Decker of the Los Angeles Police Department and Rina Lazarus, likely the most popular husband and wife team in modern crime fiction.   A series of shocking adolescent suicides at an elite L. A. private school is at the heart of this thriller.   As if this isn’t enough, there’s  also the fact that Decker and Lazarus have brought a very troubled teenager into their home: Gabriel Whitman, the son of a psychopath.

The Confession: A Novel by Charles Todd (Wm. Morrow; January 12, 2012)

An historical crime novel, continuing Charles Todd’s World War I veteran, and yet still highly effective Scotland Yard Inspector, Ian Rutledge.   Rutledge struggles with a startling and dangerous case that reaches far back into the past when a false confession by a man who was not who he claimed to be resulted in a brutal murder.

Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir by Doron Weber (Simon & Schuster; February 7, 2012)

Not to be confused with Anne Lamott’s novel Imperfect Birds, this is a moving memoir about a boy born with a defective heart – located on the right side of his chest – who weathers major heart surgeries before being hit with a highly unique, perhaps untreatable disease.   Those who years ago read Death Be Not Proud may be drawn to this account.

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (Wm. Morrow; February 7, 2012)

Kate’s an ambitious – if self-damaging – reporter who goes undercover.   She enters a drug and alcohol rehab clinic to find out what’s happening with the popular and troubled young actress Amber Shepard.   “Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way…”

The Lola Quartet: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled Books; May 15, 2012)

We gave a highly recommended rating to Mandel’s 2010 novel The Singer’s Gun, which was as gutsy as it was unique and engaging.   Her third novel examines “questions of identity, the deep pull of family, the difficulties of being the person one wants to be, the un-reliability of memory, and the unforeseen ways a small and innocent action can have disastrous consequences.”   It’s bound to be worth the price of admission.

Joseph Arellano

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It Was A (Very) Good Year

The Year-End Literary Review

In my opinion, this was a good to very good year to be a reader; not as good as 2010 in terms of its offerings, and hopefully not as good as what’s to come in 2012.   Let’s look at some of the highlights and lowlights of 2011.

The rise (and fall?) of the e-reader

The e-book readers offered by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony began to finally take off in terms of general acceptance.   Even a Luddite such as I am picked up a Nook Color tablet, as the issue of glare seemed to have been resolved with the fine screen manufactured by LG.   But just as e-readers were taking flight, the reading public received some very disturbing year-end news (“…rising e-book prices causing sticker shock.”).

It seems that publishers are about to kill their golden goose by raising the prices on e-books to levels that will match or exceed the print versions.   Yes, it appears to be a replay of what happened with the recording industry…  Music CDs first appeared with reasonable prices of $9.99 and then shot up to double that and more; and the industry then wondered what happened to their sales figures.   Duh.

Fine biographies

It was a good time for biographies, the two most notable being Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Robert Redford by Michael Feeney Callan.   Both were examples of treating famous people as more than living legends – turning them into three-dimensional figures with true strengths and weaknesses.   Callan’s book is such a fascinating portrait of the actor that you’ll want to see every film mentioned in it.

Intriguing debuts

It’s always fun to discover new writers at the start of their career, and both Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett and The Violets of March by Sarah Jio were engaging life and love-affirming debut novels.   Kudos!

Mixed memories

It was a mixed front when it came to personal memoirs.   Christina Haag produced a singular New York Times Bestseller with Come to the Edge: A Love Story, her entertainingly nostalgic account of the five years she spent as the girlfriend of John F. Kennedy, Jr.   If you’ve missed this one, it will be released in trade paper form in January – with a cover that’s sure to capture the female reader’s eye!   (Some will remember that JFK, Jr. was once named “The Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine.)

A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates might have been a groundbreaking account of what happens to a wife after her husband dies suddenly.   But it was preceded four years earlier by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.   Oates’s account unfortunately read like a note-for-note  cover of Didion’s earlier account.   Oates and Didion are, no doubt, two of our best writers but only one of them could assemble a uniquely first tragic memoir.

A troubling trend

2011 was the year in which a few fictional works were introduced that I wound up calling “plotless novels.”   These were books whose plots generally centered around an ensemble cast of characters, occupying only a few days in time; time in which nothing noteworthy seemed to occur.   Reading one of these novels is like, paraphrasing Jerry Seinfeld, perusing “a story about nothing.”   A few misguided or mischievous critics made them popular by praising them as being clever.   Well, they were clever in getting a few unfortunate readers to pay money for a book without a beginning, middle or ending.

Hurry up, already

Another parallel troubling trend had to do with novels that took 90 or 100 pages to get to the beginning of the story.   Any story that takes that long to get started is, trust me, not going to end well.

Good and very good, but not necessarily great

While there were some good and very good works to read this year, it’s hard to think of standouts like we had in 2009 (Her Fearful Symmetry by Anne Niffenegger) or 2010 (American Music by Jane Mendelsohn, Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott, The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris).   One novel that did receive plenty of attention was The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, which the average reader seemed to find either brilliant or meandering and tedious.   One hundred and sixty-eight readers posted their reviews on Amazon and these love it or hate it views balanced out to an average 3-star (of 5) rating.

Give me someone to love

Some were troubled by Eugenides’ novel because of the lack of likeable characters, a critique to which I can relate.   If an author does not give me a single character that I can identify with, trying to finish a novel seems pointless.   Why invest the time reading a story if you simply don’t care what happens to the characters the writer’s created?

In summary

This year was filled with unrealized potential.   Let’s hope for a bit more excitement in the publishing world in 2012!

Joseph Arellano

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Helplessly Hoping

The Best of Me: A Novel by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing; $25.99; 304 pages).

The Violets of March: A Novel by Sarah Jio (Plume; $15.00; 304 pages)

“He shouldn’t have come back home.   He didn’t belong here, he’d never belong here.”

I had never read a story by Sacramento native Nicholas Sparks, so I had high hopes for The Best of Me, his latest novel that I downloaded as a Nook Book on my Nook Color e-reader.   It starts off very promisingly, a tale of forbidden romance between the well-bred Amanda Collier and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Dawson Cole.   Amanda and Dawson grew up in the town of Oriental, North Carolina and societal pressures kept them apart.   Now it’s decades later and both of them are drawn back to Oriental to attend the funeral of Tuck, a man who was a father-figure of sorts for both of them.

Amanda has married a relatively-successful dentist and she’s a mother, but she’s never lost the feelings she had for Dawson.   Dawson, who has pined for Amanda his entire life, has remained single, working on oil rigs and living in a double-wide trailer outside of New Orleans.   The question raised by this story is, “Will Amanda and Dawson finally get together, even if it is late in the day in their lives (Dawson is 42); if so, what will it cost them to change their lives competely?”

Sparks writes in a calm, polite and seemingly timeless fashion, at least through the first four-fifths of the book.   But it’s when the reader gets to that last fifth – in sight of the finish line – that the story falls apart like a child’s sand castle on a beach hit by a high tide.   The ending is nothing less than trite, predictable and tacky; some serious readers are going to find it so bad that they may feel personally insulted.

The Best of Me starts off like a major motion picture but ends like a poor-quality “made for TV” film broadcast at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday.   If you love hokey corn packaged as romance literature, you may like this one.   For me, one Nicholas Sparks book is far more than enough.

Fortunately, The Violets of March, the debut novel from Sarah Jio is a fine antidote to having one’s hopes dashed by reading something as predictable as The Best of Me.   Jio has written a story about a young woman who has it all, a fine marriage and a successful writer’s life in Manhattan, when it all falls apart.   Emily Wilson’s husband suddenly leaves her for a younger model, and so she departs for some much needed rest and recuperation at her aunt’s home on Brainbridge Island in Washington State (a ferry ride from Seattle).   Once there, she finds a diary that was written by her lost maternal grandmother Esther, a woman who died under mysterious circumstances at a time when the love of her life had broken her heart.   (Esther, like Amanda Colllier, was married to a man that she did not actually love – a man who served as a substitute for her true love.)

All of her life Emily has been told that she looks exactly like her grandmother Esther, and she comes to find that there are some similarities in their lives.   Thus, Emily becomes determined to find out exactly what happened to this woman who she never met.   This is not an easy task, as no one in her mother’s family is willing to talk about what happened in the early 1940s.   Readers raised in families that pride themselves on keeping their secrets deeply buried will identify with this unique story.

Kudos to Jio for fashioning a satisfying ending in which everything comes together, made all the more satisfying due to its lack of predictability.   Jio does not rush events nor does she paste on a false-feeling ending to “…an unsolved family mystery and an unfinished love affair.”

The motto of Emily Wilson’s grandmother Esther was, “True love lives on.”   So does good writing and with The Violets of March, Sarah Jio shows that she’s a writer to watch.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of The Violets of March was provided by the publisher.   The reviewer paid, unfortunately, for the Nook Book edition of The Best of Me.   (Spark’s novel is sometimes entertaining while one’s reading it, but the elements of the story simply don’t add up or ring true.   In retrospect, there are simply too many improbable and implausible events which precede the groaningly awful ending.)  

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Coming Up Next…

Reviews of The Best of Me: A Novel by Nicholas Sparks, and The Violets of March: A Novel by Sarah Jio.

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