Five Star, Feb 2004, 26.95, 348 pp.
In 1886 Claire Chadwick raises her teenage daughter Joanna by herself in Westport, Missouri. Claire barely keeps food on the table working as a waitress at the Westport Café, but though her boss Axel Kohl kindly allows her to take leftovers home; he also wants to marry her. When another café employee Randy Plank buys a ticket to take the train to Los Angeles, Claire decides to take advantage of the price war between the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific to do likewise.
On the trek west, Axel has joined the travelers as well as Claire's neighbor Warren Stanfield, his ailing wife and their four children. Also on the train are the Olive sisters, Peach and Blanche. Each one of these individuals and others like banker Harry Graham hopes to take advantage of the Southern California boom to start over knowing that their previous lives have been busts.
This is an interesting historical tale that showcases the late nineteenth century boom and bust in Southern California through solid characterizations. Though the action is limited, the pictorial story line vividly provides insight as a fully developed ensemble cast with Claire being the prime player enables the audience to feel and see what is going on. Readers who appreciate a strong look back in time will want to join Dee Marvine's picturesque ride to a bygone era.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner