I like to think that I’m not a book snob. Or, at least, not too much of one. If a book can grab my attention and hold it, I’m game. I’ve read the Twilight series (not that I’m above mocking it). I read bodice-rippers when I’m feeling flu-ish. I think Stephen King is brilliant, especially when it comes to describing human relationships and the dynamics of a small town. What I’m saying it, it doesn’t have to be Toni Morrison and F. Scott Fitzgerald for me to say something was a good read.
Sarah Jio’s Violets of March was like that for me. It must have been: I gulped the book down in a single weekend; if I wasn’t reading the book, I found myself thinking about it and looking forward to my next helping. I cared about the characters (some more than others), I wanted to untangle the mystery and see if I had interpreted the clues that were both sprinkled at our feet and chucked at our heads. It was this “both/and” uneven application that baffled me most, I suppose. Jio’s writing had the same issues: when writing the story-within-the-story contained within the diary our protag finds, Jio’s writing is strong, sure of itself and well-controlled. When speaking as the protag, however, or describing our main story, Jio’s writing was at times cringe-worthy and trite. As cliché as the “divorcee-runs-away-to-remote-childhood-home-to-recover” plotline. I didn’t mind the oft-used plotline as much as other readers; I thought the characters were charming enough to make me want to see how this version played out.
For me, it was a good read. Not a great read, but a good one. It could have been great, if Jio had focused more on the story of the mysterious Esther-of-the-diary, or figured out what allowed her to more effectively write those sections (distance? lack of dialogue?) and applied a healthy coat of it over the rest of her story. But for me, it still worked. I wanted to know how much diary-land coincided with current-day Bainbridge Island. It worked enough that I will certainly pick up another Jio book, and enough that I would recommend Violets of March. IF, that is, you’re someone who can go to a B-rate movie and enjoy it for a few hours of entertainment. But if you’re the kind who would nitpick it to death and be disappointed that it wasn’t Oscar-worthy, this might not be the right book for you. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.