Apart from doing patchwork and quilting and reading and collecting patchwork and quilting books and magazines, I also enjoy reading the odd patchwork and quilting cosy mystery. In case you enjoy these too and are looking for inspiration, here are some I have read and enjoyed:
Arlene Sachitano writes the Harriet Truman/Loose Threads series. These are my all time favourites, if I could only have one cosy author’s books on my shelf, this would be them. There are eleven books in the series to date, beginning with Quilt as desired, and hopefully the next one is already in the pipeline! Late thirty-something widow Harriet is a long arm quilter in Foggy Point in up-state Washington and she and her fellow quilting circle friends from the Loose Threads get involved in mysteries and murders on a regular basis. Some of these revolve directly around patchwork and quilting, others don’t, but there is always patchwork and quilting going on in the stories. I enjoy this series for a number of reasons: firstly they are simply written very well, Arlene Sachitano has a good ear for convincing sounding dialogue and description. She just writes well. The series isn’t saccharine: it tackles issues such as domestic violence, animal cruelty and fraud, but without being too heavy; there is an underlying thread of ironic humour that is very effective. Contrary to many cosys, Harriet also doesn’t have an inside-information link to the local police force (such as boyfriend, son-in-law, husband etc.) which, personally, I find very refreshing. It means she is in the dark as to what the police are doing and thinking most of the time, and has to act as a citizen and not as a sort of unpaid detective. Needless to say, this often gets her into trouble, sometimes in the sense of personal physical danger, sometimes just with her conscience. Harriet is feisty, but has her own baggage and flaws: as the series progresses readers gain more insight into her and the other characters all of whom are well developed and act in a logical manner given their characters. Last but not least, Sachitano has nailed it when it comes to descriptions of life in a small town, where within a short period of time all sorts of people know your business. Having grown up in similar rural and village settings, I find that she has that down to a T. Sachitano’s non-quilting fiction books, starring electronics engineer Harley Spring are also worth reading, but don’t miss the opportunity to meet Harriet and her friends.
Another series that I really enjoy is the Quilting Cozy collection by Carol Dean Jones. Set in a small town in the mid-west, the books (10 to date) resolve around Sarah Miller and her friends in Cunningham Village, a retirement community; but there is nothing retiring about Sarah, who is determined to make the most of life, at any age. The books deal with mysteries (of course!) quilting (of course, in fact each book has one of the quilts from the story on the cover) and also with the demands of daily life. Because the protagonists are older than in many cozy mysteries, the challenges they are faced with are different to that of many cozy protagonists: the happiness (or otherwise) of adult children, growing older, romance and second chances, changing communities etc. All these subjects are handled with understanding (the author used to be a geriatric social worker, and is, of course, a quilter too) and an enviable lightness of touch; they never weigh the story down, but serve to round out the characters and their motivations for doing what they do, and sometimes serve to drive the plot along. The characters have developed as the series progresses, and as a reader you feel as if you are getting to know them, as they are getting to know each other. Well worth trying!
Clare O’Donohue writes the Someday Quilts series starring Nell Fitzgerald. These too are well written books, but a less feisty in tone than the Harriet Truman series, partly as the protagonist is younger (mid twenties) and less self assured and partly because the themes in the books are a little tamer and because Nell’s private life has quite a large role. The setting is again a small town (this time in up-state New York) and Nell Fitzgerald lives and works there, in her Grandmothers quilt shop, whilst also attending art school. She is dating Jesse, the local police chief. The stories also progress through time: to date there are five books and two e-novellas in the series. Quilting occurs in the books, but often as a sideline to the main story that isn’t really directly connected with Someday Quilts or Nell. O’Donohues other non-quilt series, the Kate Conway Mysteries are a little more hard hitting and a very good read too.
Charlie Hudson writes the Small Town series staring Helen Crowder. Helen is a widowed retired school teacher and avid quilter who lives in Wallington, Georgia. Her son-in-law is a local policeman. Once again in a small town setting, this series has three books to date, so Hudson is still getting into her stride, and rounding out her characters, but they are fun to read and I hope she writes more. Helen isn’t so much the detective as a person who is good at reading other people and in whom people confide: the information she gains in this way and the insights she has into local goings-on after years of living in the community help her son-in-law in his quest to get the perpetrator. The third book in the series is less a mystery than straight novel, but none the less enjoyable for that.
Earlene Fowler wrote (there haven’t been any additions to this series for more than 6
years) the Benni Harper mystery series. All 15 books have quilting patterns as titles, but as the series moves on, there is less and less quilting in the books, and the mysteries often revolve around other things entirely. Benni is a young widow in California, who grew up on a ranch, but in the first book has moved to town and got a job as a Folk Museum curator, following the death in a car accident of rancher her husband Jack. In the first book she meets the local Police Chief, Gabriel Ortiz, and the sparks fly, giving a good indication of what is likely to happen in the following books… The books centre around the development of Benni and Gabe’s relationship, that is coloured by the huge amount of emotional and cultural baggage that they each carry, and around life in the ranching community in the Central Valley of California. Also featured are the ups-and-downs of the Museum, and of Benni’s friends and family, especially her Grandma Dove. I enjoyed this series, although the later books tend to get a bit repetitive with the rehashing of the relationship dramas between Benni and Gabe. The last book is the weakest in the series, in my opinion, the first seven or so books are the most enjoyable.
Mary Marks writes the Martha Rose quilting series, that features the feisty and sassy 50-something Martha Rose and her quilting friends; the colour-coordinated Lucy and former hippy Birdie, who live in Los Angeles. Martha gets into her first mystery in book one due to her quilting expertise and knowledge, and from there the ball just keeps rolling! Add in not one, but two potential love interests (a policeman and a mysterious biker), a daughter, a cat and a special German Shepherd called Arthur and there is more than enough in the mix to keep one’s interest as a reader! Martha is a fun and down-to-earth character who uses her common sense and her good heart to help her friends and solve the mysteries that they get caught up in, although she doesn’t always get the right end of the stick! There are five books to date, and this enjoyable series just keeps getting better.
More authors to follow, including Marjory Sorrell Rockwell and the Zook sisters.
I also read non-mystery quilting fiction, and in that category I can recommend:
Marie Bostwick wrote the Cobbled Court Quilts series, set in New Bern, Connecticut (another small town: are we seeing a pattern here?). These aren’t mysteries, but books that, using the central link of the Quilt Shop and it’s associated quilt circle, explore issues of twenty-first century life. This is also a series that touches difficult issues: breast cancer, mental disability, domestic violence, financial crises, divorce, mid-life crisis, adoption etc. and explores how the protagonists deal with these issues. Much of the writing is second person from the point of view of the protagonist: often chapters alternate between the characters in the book, so an ‘Ivy’ chapter will be followed by a ‘Gayla’ chapter, then another ‘Ivy’ chapter and so on. Bostwick uses this technique to great effect. There are now six books in the series, as well as one spin-off title, where a character that briefly appears in a Cobbled Court book, but doesn’t live in New Bern, gets a book to herself. This is actually more modern fiction than quilting fiction, but the quilting ties episodes together.
More authors to follow, including Jennifer Chiaverini, Sandra Dallas and Jan Cerney.