*This review originally appeared in The Budget’s Feb. 15, 2017 Local Edition
By Pat Edgar
A real treat awaits area readers from inspirational fiction writer Cathy Liggett. Her new book is “The Sisters of Sugarcreek (Tyndale House Publisher, 2017).
The novel, as the name suggests, is set in Sugarcreek, Ohio, a place the author visited for the first time in 2010 when she and a friend came to speak about Beaded Hope.
This nonprofit organization provides help to a small community of women in South Africa. Liggett had written a novel about the bead workers and a mission team from the United States that visited them.
She and the founder of the charity, Jennifer Davis, made a presentation and held a sale to benefit Beaded Hope at The Sugarcreek First United Church of Christ. During that time they established friendships with the women’s group there and vowed to return. Unknown to those in the hosting group, Liggett also vowed that she would set a novel in Sugarcreek.
As I’m sure any author can attest, the writing, selling and publishing process for any book is rarely easy. Cathy spent nearly six years bringing the project to light. It was, however, time well spent as she captured the sense of community in the village many of us call home.
The novel begins shortly after a fire at Faith Community Church, referred to as “the church on the hill” by many residents. Not only has the fire reduced the building to ashes and rubble, but it has also claimed the lives of two people—volunteer firefighter, Henry Gruber, and church member, Rose Holtz, the owner of the Knit One Quilt Two Cottage. Both are sorely missed by the community.
Henry Gruber left his wife Lydia, a young Amish woman, who moved with him from Pennsylvania eight years previously. Because of her husband’s preference for isolation, she has made few friends even among the members of her church district.
Rose left behind not only the shop, but 27-year-old Jessica, a niece she has raised since the age of eight, and Jessica’s six-year-old son Cole. Jessica has now inherited her aunt’s shop, and she and Cole have left their larger apartment to live above the shop where Jessica grew up. The adjustment is difficult for both of them for many reasons.
In addition to missing his Great Aunt Rose, Cole has just started first grade and had to leave many toys and treasures behind. Since his mother is now running the shop, she seems busy with work both during the day and at night when she works on the books.
Besides mourning the woman who raised her when her parents were killed, Jessica is faced with a job she knows virtually nothing about. Even though she grew up around the fabric, yarn and sewing supplies at the Cottage, she never took an interest in learning the crafts. Now she is faced with customers asking for her advice and the task of ordering merchandise she’s not familiar with.
A handmade wooden bench sits in the middle of the store with the inscription “Friends are like quilts; they never lose their warmth.” That bench has comforted her since childhood, but now as she focuses on it, she wonders if she made a mistake in leaving her job as a dental assistant for this new venture.
Liz Cannon is a frequent visitor to the cottage. She is the type of person who smiles from head to foot with her sparkling eyes, plump rosy cheeks and fun-loving spirit. She buys yarn for her very simple knit- ting projects and checks on her best friend’s niece and great-nephew.
Liz, a widow for the past seven years, has felt adrift ever since the church was destroyed. It was there that she helped the community by cooking good meals for both church fellowship times and those community members who need encouragement. Her small kitchen and the absence of the company of other church women, especially her best friend Rose, have left Liz questioning her purpose.
The story begins when Jessica and Liz are driving the back roads around Sugarcreek looking for the farm where Henry Gruber’s young widow is now living alone. Liz, a local real estate agent, purchased a bundle of shirts from an auction held recently at the Gruber house.
Even though both Liz and Jessica have little or no experience in quilting, they decide to turn the fabric from the shirts into a “Make-in-a-Weekend” quilt to comfort Lydia. Their goal is to leave the gift anonymously during the night in keeping with the code of the “Secret Stitches Society,” a group consisting of Aunt Rose and Liz as an outreach from Faith Community Church.
Jessica has only recently learned about the secret project her aunt was involved in. Apparently, Liz feels that Jessica is the perfect person to carry on Rose’s role in the Secret Stitches Society.
When Lydia discovers the quilt, she doesn’t have the reaction others might expect. She doesn’t feel that she should benefit in any way from her husband’s death so she packages the quilt, along with some other things that didn’t sell at auction, and takes them to Goodwill.
Shortly after that, Liz discovers the quilt at the thrift store and is sure that Lydia has left it in error. When she and Jessica return the quilt to the bewildered Lydia, a friendship — or a sisterhood — begins that helps each of the three women discover what is important to her and how to look forward rather than back.
In addition to sharing the secret of the anonymous gifts, they continue to give, they also share a spirit of gratitude and generosity. Despite the tragedies that have befallen them, they know that “God is good” and want others to experience that sentiment when troubles come.
Rose used to say that the Secret Stitches Society gave more than gifts. They offered “a stitch of hope . . . that could get a person through hard times more easily.”
The Sisters of Sugarcreek is a novel of friendship, but its real message is one of hope and encouragement. This is the perfect book to read when you need some inspiration or are just craving a good story. For those of us in the Sugarcreek area, the bonus is reading about our village and knowing that the sense of community rings true.
Cathy Liggett won the American Fiction Writer’s prestigious Carol Award for her novel, Beaded Hope. In addition to inspirational fiction, the author has also been recognized for her romance novels. She and her husband, Mark, live in Loveland, a suburb of Cincinnati. They have two grown children, a son-in-law, and a pampered boxer mix named Chad.