Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review: The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe

I love historical novels, so it was a delight to be offered the chance to review a Gothic romantic suspense novel, set in a spooky old New England house, complete with a decrepit lighthouse. However, I couldn't post a review of this one without making the following disclaimer. Patty G. Henderson and I are both members of the online Sisters in Crime (Guppies) chapter and occasionally interact on the chapter's email list. That said, the following is, in my opinion, a fair and honest review of The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe.

From the first page I was caught up in the desperation of her heroine. Patty G. Henderson excels in writing great characters. Constance Beechum is a penniless young woman teetering on the brink of suicide after being dismissed from her job. The arrival of a letter from her uncle is the call to adventure that saves her from herself. He has arranged a job for her.

Elizabeth Gerard, the dying matriarch of the family, is in need of a nurse. Accepting the job plunges Constance into the shady world of the Gerard family. It is no secret that the Gerard brothers want their mother dead. They view Constance as an impediment to their inheritance and plot to get her out of the house. Constance must confront their open hostility to her presence in the household, cope with unwelcome advances from both the Gerard brothers, and try to make Elizabeth’s last days easier. The job is complicated by her attraction to Elizabeth’s mysterious tenant, George Kane.

Patty G. Henderson has well honed skill as a storyteller. Her pacing kept me turning pages. The plot turns on dark, sometimes sinister, secrets. The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe captures the mood of the dark brooding family and its decaying fortunes very well. The only place where Henderson fails is that in 1812 one could not send a telegram. Fortunately, the error occurred near the end of the book and did not stop me from enjoying an overall excellent read.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Historical: Kentucky's Confederate Legislature

At the onset of the Civil War, Kentucky’s elected government was Union in its sympathies. Many citizens of the state, particularly those in the Bluegrass Region, were equally resolute in their support of the Confederacy. Even though Southern support was most common in the Bluegrass, hostilities in the North/South debate were not as clearly drawn as regional differences appear on the surface. The debate had raged for years in almost every household. When war came, brothers, and, sometimes, fathers and sons met on the battlefield. There was, however, enough support for the Confederacy to lead to the creation of a shadow government in Kentucky.

On October 29, 1861, representatives from 68 counties traveled to Russellville, Kentucky for the express purpose of planning a Confederate Government for the state. At the month long session, delegates voted for secession, created a new state seal, set Bowling Green as their state capital, and elected General George W. Johnson governor.

President Jefferson Davis had some reservations about circumventing the duly elected Kentucky Legislature in forming the new government. Copperhead members of the Knights of the Golden Circle convinced Davis that thousands of Kentuckians were ready to rise up and join the Southern cause once the state was part of the Confederacy. Hungry for troops from his home state, Davis put aside his ethical reservations. Kentucky’s Confederate government was recognized, and Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861.

Kentucky is represented by the center star on the Confederate Flag, giving the state the unique position of being both a Northern and Southern state at the same time.

There was great hope that the shadow government would be able to funnel troops and money to the Confederacy. Those hopes were consistently crushed. The Confederate State of Kentucky had little impact on the war effort either in or outside Kentucky. General Johnson had to withdraw from Bowling Green in 1862. The Confederate government left with him, traveling with the Army of Tennessee until Johnson’s death at the Battle of Shiloh. They made one attempt to reenter the state, but were driven out permanently with the Confederate loss at the Battle of Perryville.

Our shadow government existed only for the duration of the war. Its legacy continues in the history of the commonwealth. Historical markers in Russellville and Bowling Green remind travelers of Kentucky’s two state governments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kentucky's Nineteenth Century Secret Societies

I have decided to start a new feature in my blog discussing Kentucky's Secret Societies. Anyone who has followed me knows a little about the Knights of the Golden Circle, who figure prominently in CIRCLE OF DISHONOR. The KGC was just one of the many organizations active at that time.The Nineteenth Century was home to a plethora of Secret and Semi-secret Societies. These societies rose in membership and power in Kentucky as the political structure of the state divided and rushed headlong into Civil War.

No state was more divided, more pivotal, or more ill equipped to deal with war than Kentucky. That fact is perhaps best demonstrated by the formation of Kentucky’s shadow legislature, which formed for the express purpose of keeping a Confederate government in Kentucky during the Civil War.

Secret Societies were not all related to the hostilities that threatened to dissolve the United States into two nations. The Nineteenth Century was a time of rapid growth in these types of organizations in Europe and the Americas. Many scholars attribute the spread to the repressive nature of the Victorian Age combined with the rapid social changes forced by industrialization. The world was changing. Immigration, secessionism, industrialization, and social reform placed pressure on every community. Kentucky was ill prepared for change as it shifted from its former place as a western frontier state and struggled with its new identity as a hinge pin in the conflict between slave and free states.

Whatever the problem facing Kentuckians, for good or evil, a society formed to fill the gap. Most were benevolent organizations taking on the monumental task of improving conditions in their communities. Some were church or community outreach societies where members banded together to perform charitable work, often anonymously, within their community. The level of secrecy each organization kept varied by the wishes of organizers or the needs of members.

Kentucky harbored societies with far ranging goals. Men and women organized to explore the occult, engage in acts of evil, and gain mystic power. There were societies planning overthrow the government, establish a new world order, and defend white supremacy. Kentuckians also banned together to fight slavery, protect homes and families, maintain peace, and above all survive the long, bloody war that touched every life in the nation. The history of these societies play a part in the history of every county. Together they tell us a great deal about where we came from and who we are as Kentuckians.

Secret societies divided along the lines of color, creed, political affiliation, opinion on social ills, and ethnic origin. To understand why they had such an enormous growth in the 1800's, we must look at them through these lenses. We must consider their successes and failures, the impact on the time, and why some of them no longer exist. If the feature is successful, we may also take a look at those that remain and the changes that have taken place within their ranks to keep them active today. I invite you to step back in time with me as I explore this aspect of Kentucky's past.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Book Review: Appalachian Justice

My Review of Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

Appalachian Justice is a powerful story. It is Billy May Platte’s story, told mostly in her voice, and filled with the beauty and hardship of her mountain home. Her voice is strong enough to give the story rich texture, but to an ear unaccustomed to the Appalachian mountain dialect it might be difficult to follow. This book is not an easy read, but I encourage readers to make the effort. The characters alone make it a worthwhile story.

Aside from the Appalachian dialect, which will seem like another language to some readers, the book poses other challenges to the reader. Perspective shifts are frequent and sometimes last only a paragraph, and Clayton employs abrupt changes of time and place. Appalachian Justice travels regularly between 2010 and 1975, sometimes going back to the end of World War II. It is often violent. The book slices open the harsh realities of child abuse, rape, prejudice, suicide, and the closed lipped silence of those who know the truth. It is a critical story of home and finding our way there.

Melinda Clayton also does an excellent job bringing even minor characters alive on the page. Her main characters have astonishing depth. The honesty of her protagonist lingers in the mind long after the book is finished, as does the venom of her tobacco spitting antagonist. Clayton has created a villain that makes cold chills run down the spine. Rarely have I seen a character that could get under my skin like this one. Therein lays another one of the difficulties of the book. Appalachian Justice grabbed me by the emotions and did not let go. It took me back to my own childhood, growing up in Eastern Kentucky and reminded me of painful truths about being lesbian in a rural community.

The mountain twang of Clayton’s protagonist rises off the page like the notes of a dulcimer, wrapping the reader in crisp mountain air. Billy May’s story is essentially a love story, but it is also a story of courage and compassion, loss and redemption, and of an impoverished mountain town searching for its lost soul. Appalachian Justice pries into the dark recesses of small town life in a way that is uncomfortably personal. I could easily follow Billy May’s speech, but didn’t always like where her words took me.