Tag Archives: Personal Strengths

WHEN THE STARS GO DARK

“Trust issues, attachment trouble, identity problems, feelings of emptiness, isolation, alienation, and despair—cracks in the soul that can’t be mended. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. How anyone with a hole inside them will search on and on, sometimes all their lives, for ways to fill it. Paula McLain, When the Stars Go Dark

San Francisco Detective Anna Hart  knows about tragedy. As a specialist in finding missing persons, she has seen it written on the faces of desperate families for years.  But now, she has personally seen how fast tragedy can rip apart a marriage and destroy one’s center of gravity. The scars of a lonely and isolated childhood in the foster care system have left her bereft of the ability to process her grief. The reader feels her pain but is left in the dark about the facts of the recent cause until nearly the end of the book.

Anna does what many folks do when troubled. They return to a childhood sanctuary where the world seemed safe. She needs a timeout from her grief and to process what caused the emotional wreckage of her splintered marriage. For Anna, that place is Mendocino, California where her last and most caring foster father introduced her to the Mendocino National Forest. A wilderness where she learned survival skills in a world of natural beauty.  A place of escape and solace. A place to think free of the swirl of daily life.

Upon reaching Mendocino, Anna doesn’t find the peace that Dorothy found returning to Kansas and Auntie Em. Your troubles travel with you, old troubles lay waiting for your return, and new ones greet you. She’s learned several of her old high school friends still live in the area. As a matter of fact, one of them, is now the sheriff.

When Anna learns a local teenager, Cameron, is missing, she can’t stop herself from becoming involved in the search.  Diving headlong into the new case, memories of the murder of a childhood friend surface. In an age before the internet and wide-spread cell phone coverage, the investigative team learns of other missing girls.

Was Cameron the victim of a serial killer or an isolated case? Anna’s experiences in locating missing children and her methodology of examining what dynamic made each victim a target clashes with the sheriff’s concept of on the ground crime solving.

The tempo of the plot ricochets through Anna’s past and her present day conflicts. It gets messy and hard to follow at times, creating the author’s purpose of identifying how one’s past can influence one’s present and future. Things seen in retrospect can influence the future for the better.

I had a difficult time giving this book a four star rating at first. Something seemed odd about Anna and the author’s choice to spend so much time in Anna’s childhood and her life in foster care. After reading the author’s notes at the back of the book, I had a better understanding of the mental confusion. Thus, I deliberately chose the opening quote in my review from When the Stars Go Dark.

It could have appeared in the author’s 2003 memoir growing up as an abused foster child, Like Family: Growing Up In Other People’s Houses. I would advise readers to better understand how the author inserted her parts of her personal story into the novel to read the author’s note in the back of the book before start When the Stars Go Dark. Better yet, read the very well written memoir, Like Family to better understand life trapped in a foster care environment.

“Trust issues, attachment trouble, identity problems, feelings of emptiness, isolation, alienation, and despair—cracks in the soul that can’t be mended. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. How anyone with a hole inside them will search on and on, sometimes all their lives, for ways to fill it. Paula McLain, When the Stars Go Dark

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THE RIDE OF HER LIFE

March is Women’s History Month. My choice for 2021 recognition is the life of an ordinary woman who achieved an extraordinary thing.

I received an ARC of The Ride of Her Life, by award winning author, Elizabeth Letts and met Annie Wilkins. This is the true story of a plain and simple 63-year-old woman in poor health who was told she had less than 4 years to live.  Annie Wilkins was the last of her family and unable to work the farm. A kind doctor found her a place to stay at the County Home; a quiet place to wait out her fate. That option didn’t sit well with the hard working, strong willed, and independent Annie.

Ignoring nay-sayers, a poor choice of seasons to start, dead-broke, poor health, inadequate clothing, few food supplies, and without a plan or a map, Annie set on November 5, 1954 from Minot, Maine to fulfill her father’s dream to see California. Her mode of transportation was a retired trotting horse. She reasoned it was better to sit in a saddle and see the world than die of boredom in a rocking chair.

Annie had little formal education and little knowledge of life beyond her Maine farm. Yet she firmly believed in the kindness of strangers and her ability to achieve whatever she set her mind to doing. She did successfully cross into California, just as she started, in the dead-of-winter, on March 25, 1956.

The ride wasn’t always sunshine and roses. She soon learned that  automobiles now ruled the roads, saddle tramps were history, and the United States had wicked weather and elevation challenges. Annie also was relieved to find strangers who were kind and generous outnumbered those who were stinkers and hateful people. She suffered injuries and near frostbite but nothing slowed her down for long.

After her journey, Annie fulfilled another ambition. Using her nickname, Mesannie, she submitted her memoir entitled The Last of the Saddle Tramps to a publisher. Editors polished the crusty edges off her character to suit the readers of the God-fearing era. They transformed Annie into “Doris Day”, and the book was published in 1967.

In 2017, the author, Elizabeth Letts, began a lengthy and exhaustive search for  facts about Annie, before, during and after her journey, that would culminate in her newest work, The Ride of Her life to be published in June of 2021. Where Annie’s book is told from personal experience, Lett’s new book is more a travelogue of the journey using what remains of Annie’s journals, newspapers articles and personal interviews. The book is nicely annotated.

I found the book fascinating, Annie as stubborn as a mule, the towns and communities along the way generous and invested in her journey. And in the end, I know that dumb luck played a part in her success as well. This journey could not be accomplished today. Horse lovers, history buffs, and curious travelers will enjoy the read.

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BOOK OF LOST FRIENDS: historical fiction

Lisa Wingate has followed her bestseller, Before We Were Yours with The Book of Lost Friends.

Lost Friends is written in two converging story lines;  staged first in a poverty riddled Louisiana school room in 1987 and alternates with an intensely emotional story set around a decaying  Louisiana plantation during the Reconstruction period in 1875. It is not a happy story, the Civil War is over and the southern states are in turmoil. But it is an easy read and makes you think about the plight of women and people of color during this lawless period of time in our history.

Louisiana, 1987
“Bennie” Silva, a new college graduate, has accepted a teaching position at a poor rural Louisiana school in exchange for clearing her student debt. She finds the kids mired in poverty and without purpose beyond survival. Most see no purpose to learn about a world that has no interest in them and a different future they can’t even image much less strive to reach.

Bennie discovers a book filled with crumbling newspaper articles written by emancipated slaves and published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate. Each article a desperate plea for help in locating family members ripped apart by the auction block. This discovery becomes the catalyst to encourage Bennie’s students to learn of their own legacy and take pride in the part they play in passing that legacy on to the next generation.

Louisiana, 1875
Hannie Gossett was born a slave. In the years leading up to the Civil War, her Master, hoping to avoid the prospect of losing control of his “slave property” through emancipation,  sent all of Hannie’s extended family west to Texas where he hoped to establish a new plantation. The man overseeing the movement of the slaves sold them off one by one between Louisiana and Texas and absconded with the money. Hannie, at six years old, was the only slave from her family recovered and returned to Louisiana by the Master. She remembers that terrible time and dutifully wears her three blue beads Mama gave each family member so they might recognize each other in a chance meeting in the future.

Every chance there is, Mama says . . .[remember] who’s been carried away from us, and what’s the names of the buyers that took them from the auction block and where’re they gone to. ‘Hardy at Big Creek, to a man name LeBas from Woodville, Het at Jatt carried off by a man name Palmer from Big Woods….’

It’s now 1875. The war is over. Master Gossett is now called Mister Gossett. Missus Gossett remains a feared  cruel tyrant. The Gossett’s son, a chip off his mother’s slimy block, is in serious legal trouble out west and his father has left Louisiana for Texas to rescue him. Their daughter, Lavinia, now a young teenager, is a spoiled hate-filled brat, and much to everyone’s relief, has been shipped off to a boarding school. And Mister Gossett has a not-so-secret on-going relationship with a Creole woman that has produced his much loved mixed-race daughter, Juneau Jane. Talk about an dysfunctional family!

It’s 1875. The slaves have been “liberated” and have become sharecroppers with signed land contracts set to mature in the near future. Hannie is now eighteen-years-old and concerned for her future; distrustful of the Gossetts’ honoring the land contracts.

Mister Gossett, as stated, was en-route to Texas to rescue his son and has not been heard from for over four months. Ol’ Tati, caretaker to all the “stray children”, sends Hannie in the dark of night, disguised as a yard-boy to the big house to find their land contracts before the Missus can destroy them in the Mister’s absence.

Hannie is shocked by what she discovers when she arrives at the big house. Lavinia is home from boarding school and working with her mortal enemy, Juneau Jane, to find their father’s will and business papers! Failing to find them, Lavinia furiously orders a carriage driver to take her and Juneau Jane to see her father’s business partner. Hannie spotting a chance to find out what these two are planning, taking a chance she won’t be recognized in her disguise, drives the two half-sisters for what she believes will be a short drive to the partner’s office.

That’s it! All you are going to get from me. I’ll leave you with a clue to the book’s title.  Hannie, Juneau Jane and Lavinia travel on  a long dangerous and complicated journey. They seek refuge one night in an old building. They find the walls wallpapered with newspapers articles from the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper. Hannie is shocked to learn the articles were written by former slaves looking for lost kin.

NOTE:
The Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper actually published a Lost Friends column beginning in 1877 and continued for over twenty years. The author based Hannie, Lavinia, and Juneau Jane on an article written by a former slave named Caroline Flowers.

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