Following her mother's funeral, and on the verge of her own midlife crisis, widow Anna Larson returns to the home of her youth to sort out her parents' belongings, as well as her own turbulent life. For the first time since childhood, Anna embraces her native heritage, despite the disdain of her vicious mother-in-law. By transforming her old family home on the banks of the Siuslaw River into The Inn at Shining Waters, Anna hopes to create a place of healing—a place where guests experience peace, grace, and new beginnings. Starting with her own family . . .
In this opener for the Inn at Shining Waters series, it's 1959 and Anna Larson, a widow with a spoiled teenage daughter and a nasty mother-in-law, returns to the home where she grew up following her mother's funeral. Her relationships are complex for personal and social reasons: Anna is half Native American, but her late mother turned away from the family heritage, and her mother-in-law is racist and condescending. Back where she started, Anna begins to re-examine her past, her family, and her heritage, aided by assorted locals and the healing Siuslaw River, which, according to native legend, holds stars that make it shine. Carlson (Limelight) has a real gift for propelling a story forward, and she has a nice feel for the Oregon countryside, where she lives. There are problems: mother-in-law Eunice is more caricature than character, and the plotting relies on some significant coincidences (for example, Anna happens to meet a friendly anthropologist while canoeing). But Carlson's many fans will enjoy this one and await the next canoe trip.