Thursday, December 30

The Aloha Quilt - Jennifer Chiaverini

Bonnie Markham has had a grim year - in the throes of an unpleasant divorce from a man she knew not nearly as well as she thought, she's also lost the quilting supplies shop she dreamed of and which was the financial and occupational centre of her life. When an old friend from college contacts her, it seems too good to be true - Claire needs her help, and her Elm Creek Quilts experience, setting up a quilter's retreat in Hawaii.
As well as learning an entirely new approach to quilting, Bonnie finds herself relaxing in the welcoming environment of America's fiftieth state - she knows little of Hawaii's history or culture, but is keen to learn, particularly after she strikes up a friendship with the brother of one of the Aloha Quilt camp's staff. But Bonnie's ex-husband hasn't finished with her yet, and he threatens not only her future but that of Elm Creek Quilts itself. Can Bonnie make a new life for herself, free of him?
Of course she can, but the journey to that point was very enjoyable and beautifully balanced. As I've written in my last few Elm creek reviews, I've been a little less involved in the last few novels, in part because of over-immersion in Chaiverini's world. In The Aloha Quilt I felt as engaged and interested as I was at the beginning.
Throughout the series the characters have been well crafted, well rounded and believable, with histories and flaws. The dialogue rings true and, with rare exceptions, actions aspring from believable motivations. There were several differences with The Aloha Quilts, though - all positive.
The first was the shift in focus - Sylvia appears as a secondary character, with most of the focus on Bonnie, a middle-aged divorcee used to putting the needs of her children and her husband ahead of her own. With the former now grown and the latter no longer her concern, Bonnie at the beginning of the book is pale and listless, with neither drive nor spirit. The novel traces her growth into a professional, with strength and attitude, a new man, a new home, and ownership of herself for the first time in her life. Threaded through this triumphant narrative is (of what I'm sure is only a hint) a history of the islands, culture and people of Hawai'i.
Events in her friend Claire's life, specifically her marriage, cause a rift that, though over-reactive, is believable in light of Bonnie's experiences. What I particularly liked, though, was Bonnie's dawning awareness of the role her own assumptions, preoccupations and lack of listening contributed to a situation that Claire would have found distressing and traumatic anyway.
There are romantic elements here, and there's certainly a happy ending, but The Aloha Quilt is only a romance in the sense that it deals with the lives of women. I think it's my favourite so far of this strong and engaging series that, until the final (for me, fourteenth for the series) chapter comes in to my branch. - Alex

The Elm Creek Quilt series:
1. The Quilter's Apprentice
2. Round Robin
3. The Cross-Country Quilters
The Runaway Quilt
5. The Quilter's Legacy
The Master Quilter
7. The Sugar Camp Quilt
8. The Christmas Quilt
9. Circle of Quilters
10. The Quilter's Homecoming
11. The New Year's Quilt
12. The Winding Ways Quilt
13. The Quilter's Kitchen

14. The Lost Quilter
15. A Quilter's Holiday
16. The Aloha Quilt

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