Though slightly overwritten, this is an engaging, painstakingly researched narrative. Once Nicole teams up with her great-grandmother to explore the family’s history and look for related documents, the discoveries blossom. Secrets from the past are revealed, and the settling of California is frankly appraised from the vantage points of its first inhabitants. Nicole eventually learns about her Californio ancestors, who include Diego, a Spanish soldier, and Tar, a captured Ohlone native. Each of the novel’s engrossing, and at times painful, narratives could be a standalone story.
Extensive research and the use of various languages combine to lend a sense of authenticity. The novel visits various time periods to recount chronicles of Nicole’s ancestors, whose lives are well developed. Maps are included to help readers visualize some of the characters' journeys. Different eras are woven together seamlessly, and the powerful history in the novel sets the backdrop for lively and lovable characters. This is an invitation to not just accept but cherish the value and beauty of diversity. In this ambitious work, Smathers imparts the wisdom of studying the past in order to move more fully and sincerely into the future.
Takeaway: This intriguing mix of history with a contemporary story of discovery and acceptance will powerfully move readers looking for narratives of the American melting pot.
Great for fans of James A. Michener, Scott O’Dell.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mary Smathers’ debut novel, In This Land of Plenty. And I can’t think of a better way to learn history than through such a readable and well-researched story populated with juicy characters set into a well-paced plot. Smathers knows history well and tells historical stories well. She also shows how, despite huge differences in our backgrounds, we are all part of the same story. I can’t wait for her second novel!
Great story! Mary Smathers ties the different California eras and different lives together beautifully, and her storytelling brilliantly brings to life periods of California history that most of us are only fairly familiar with. We all visit the California Missions, and we know some of the good and bad behind the missions, but her tales go so much deeper. The timing of her book is perfect, as we are living in the midst of a time when we are more ready than ever to face some of our shameful history. Ms. Smathers’ research and writing captivated me, I found myself caring for several of the characters, and it was impossible for me to put her book down. Really, really good!
In this epic tale, Mary Smathers captures the grand sweep of California history from the arrival of the Spanish to 21st-century Silicon Valley through the bloodline of a single family. Secrets interweave with ambition, passion, betrayal, and upheaval as we follow the trail of Spanish, Franciscan, Mexican, and Californio settlement of a land that housed native peoples for thousands of years. Who are the saints, who the sinners, and the question of how we repair ourselves pulses throughout this story. You’ll ache for some of these people, loathe others, and be left with much to ponder on the complexities of love, culture, and family. And then you’ll want to read a sequel.