‘Sonoma Rose’ packed with suspense

The air is thick with tension as Rosa’s abusive husband John leaves the house, mistrusting of who his wife might entertain in his absence. The guest that does arrives is not Rosa’s childhood sweetheart and former lover, Lars Jorgensen, but his family’s hired hand Elizabeth Nelson, Sylvia’s cousin, who was the main character of “The Quilter’s Homecoming.” When John arrives home to find the Jorgensen’s car outside the house, he delivers a particularly brutal beating to Rosa, injures Elizabeth and tears off to the Jorgensen’s California ranch looking for blood.

The scene is told in slightly more detail than it was when Chiaverini first wrote it for the climax of “The Quilter’s Homecoming.” Although “Sonoma Rose” is the 19th book in the Elm Creek Quilts series, it is a sequel to “The Quilter’s Homecoming.” It’s not necessary to read “The Quilter’s Homecoming” before “Sonoma Rose,” but it won’t hurt either.

The beatings are not new. But Elizabeth finally gives Rosa the courage she needs to flee with her four children, two of which are not her husband’s. To make matters worse John is entangled with the mob, bootlegging liquor during Prohibition and Lars is the one who informed the police of his illegal activities. So when Lars also flees and meets up with Rosa, they do their best to disappear while still seeking medical help for a mysterious disease that plagues the children she had with John and has already claimed the lives of four of her children.

“Sonoma Rose” is a suspenseful page turner that will keep quilters and non-quilters alike enthralled as the makeshift family takes on aliases, starts over in wine country where they encounter more mobsters, corrupt Prohibition agents and a community of wine growers who are trying to figure out how to provide for their family when their livelihood was made illegal overnight. All this while keeping an eye over their shoulders for John, gangsters and the return of her children’s sickness.

Chiaverini’s novel is rich with characters you’ll love, hate and root for to succeed against the odds. You’ll get lost in the rich historical setting packed with carefully researched details.

I’ve read all 19 Elm Creek Quilts novels and this is my favorite to date. I’d recommend it to anyone who appreciates strong female characters, historical fiction or love stories. You’ll find all three in “Sonoma Rose.”

Sonoma Rose” is available at bookstores on February 21, 2012.

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