Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

I first discovered Jennifer Chiaverini by sheer chance. I stood in the bookstore looking for a book by Tracy Chevalier and was attracted by the cover of a nearby book, The Quilter's Apprentice. I am not a quilter but at the time I worked with a volunteer quilting group and I enjoyed watching them work and listening to them talk. I read the first three books in the Elm Creek Quilt series and happily shared the series with my mom and the quilters. The books were easy reads, somewhat sweet, but also informative about the art of quilting.

As Chiaverini grew in renown, her books also grew in number. When I picked up The Aloha Quilt I was surprised to learn it is the 16th book in the series!! And it is one of the better ones I have read lately, honestly. Chiavernini's books fall into two categories: contemporary stories about modern day quilters and their socio-personal interactions versus historical stories about the roles quilts have had in important American historical events. While the historical books are very informative, they just don't grab my attention the same way as the contemporary stories do.

When I saw The Aloha Quilt sitting on the new book shelf at the library I picked it up gleefully and immediately began devouring it. It took me less than two days to read (which is not an amazing feat unless you consider it was the last week of summer and both of my kids were at home pestering me and expecting me to help them get ready for school).

The book takes a secondary character from early Elm Creek novels, Bonnie, and gives her a whole book. Bonnie and her husband have recently filed for divorce (a topic explored in another book) and as a way to escape the ensuing difficulties she moves to Hawaii for six months to help her friend Claire set up a quilt retreat. The story revolves not only around Bonnie, Claire, and the questions over divorce later in life, but also spends a good amount of time on Hawaiian culture.

I found Chiaverini's descriptions of Hawaiian quilting and its offshoot history really interesting. She managed to dovetail the state's unique history with detailed information about the applique-style quilting of the region. Knowing only the most tangential information about Hawaii, I enjoyed learning more in the light style Chiaverini has.

Was the book a bit cliché? Yeah, a bit. Did everything work out in the end with a nice ribbon tied around it? Yes. But that's part of why I like the contemporary Elm Creek stories. They're easy on the psyche. All in all, a great end of the summer read.

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