ALWAYS by Sarah Jio

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★★

Enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner with her fiancé, Ryan, at one of Seattle’s chicest restaurants, Kailey Crain can’t believe her good fortune: She has a great job as a journalist and is now engaged to a guy who is perfect in nearly every way. As she and Ryan leave the restaurant, Kailey spies a thin, bearded homeless man on the sidewalk. She approaches him to offer up her bag of leftovers, and is stunned when their eyes meet, then stricken to her very core: The man is the love of her life, Cade McAllister.

When Kailey met Cade ten years ago, their attraction was immediate and intense—everything connected and felt right. But it all ended suddenly, leaving Kailey devastated. Now the poor soul on the street is a faded version of her former beloved: His weathered and weary face is as handsome as Kailey remembers, but his mind has suffered in the intervening years. Over the next few weeks, Kailey helps Cade begin to piece his life together, something she initially keeps from Ryan. As she revisits her long-ago relationship, Kailey realizes that she must decide exactly what—and whom—she wants.

Alternating between the past and the present, Always is a beautifully unfolding exploration of a woman faced with an impossible choice, a woman who discovers what she’s willing to save and what she will sacrifice for true love.

This was a nice change of pace from the dark suspense novels I’ve been reading. The story alternates between 1996 and 2008. Kailey in the “present” is engaged to Ryan and has a seemingly perfect life. Leaving a restaurant one evening, Kailey spots a homeless man who happens to be her long-lost love, Cade, missing for the past 12 years. She has to help him, can’t risk letting him slip away again, but doing so with Ryan around will be tricky. Jump back to 1996, and we get the story of how Kailey and Cade fell in love, as well as a nostalgic look at the Seattle music scene of the 1990s.

An intriguing mystery (what really happened to Cade?), a rainy Seattle setting, and second chances. ALWAYS was a feel-good read, though it seemed contrived at times. Things fell into place a bit too neatly, and there were unanswered questions and things that didn’t make sense, especially about Cade’s disappearance. Overall, I liked the book, though not as much as a couple of her previous novels. (I *loved* BLACKBERRY WINTER and GOODNIGHT JUNE.)

Book Review: THE LOOK OF LOVE by Sarah Jio

Publisher: Plume
Released: November 25, 2014
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★★

Born during a Christmas blizzard, Jane Williams receives a rare gift: the ability to see true love. Jane has emerged from an ailing childhood a lonely, hopeless romantic when, on her twenty-ninth birthday, a mysterious greeting card arrives, specifying that Jane must identify the six types of love before the full moon following her thirtieth birthday, or face grave consequences.

When Jane falls for a science writer who doesn’t believe in love, she fears that her fate is sealed. Inspired by the classic song, The Look of Love is utterly enchanting.

Hmm, I’m not sure about this book. It was a good read, though the story and characters didn’t quite grab me like the other books I’ve read by Sarah Jio. The main character, Jane, has the gift of seeing true love, or perhaps it’s a severe optical/neurological problem like her doctor suspects.

Instructions arrive for Jane from a mysterious woman challenging her to identify the six types of love before her next birthday…or else. So, Jane starts observing those close to her, looking for the different types of love, and at the same time she’s falling for a science writer named Cam who’s not exactly open to her gift.

The premise was fun, and I was curious to see the different types of love that Jane saw. The chapters alternated between the characters who Jane was observing, and I was confused a few times trying to keep everyone straight. Some of the relationships seemed a bit forced or rushed, but I guess it was a challenge fitting in all the types of love. Overall, I thought it was a cute story, though sad in a way too. Love is strange. 3 stars.

Book Review: GOODNIGHT JUNE by Sarah Jio

Publisher: Plume
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★½

The New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter imagines the inspiration for Goodnight Moon…

Goodnight Moon is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.

June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.

As a lifelong book lover, GOODNIGHT JUNE really resonated with me. What if the inspiration for the children’s classic GOODNIGHT MOON could be traced to a shabby old bookshop on the verge of closing? Does it matter that the store made a huge impact on the lives of many Seattle children over the past 60 years? Is it worth saving, or have books lost the battle with the internet and online games?

Sarah Jio became a new favorite author of mine after her book BLACKBERRY WINTER blew me away. In GOODNIGHT JUNE, Jio has her trademark dual time periods to tell the story, this time with letters from the 1940s between the bookstore’s owner, Ruby, and Margaret Wise Brown, the author of GOODNIGHT MOON. When Ruby passes, her niece June, a successful banker in New York City, inherits the store. June’s first thought is to sell the property, but reading the letters makes her pause and question what’s truly important in life.

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, and I loved Jio’s fictional account of the inspiration behind Margaret Wise Brown’s most famous story. I also enjoyed watching June’s character grow as her love of Ruby’s bookstore was rekindled. I think some of what happened came together too quickly and neatly, but that really didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I loved the compelling cast of characters and the alluring Seattle setting. I especially enjoyed getting to know more about Margaret Wise Brown and the challenges she faced as a children’s author in the 1940s.

GOODNIGHT JUNE is a poignant story about love, loss, forgiveness, and family. It also speaks to us about the importance of instilling a love of reading in our children, because books expand their minds and open their hearts. What could be more valuable than that?

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.