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Mary Smathers
In This Land of Plenty

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

A Family Saga through California’s Rich History… When twenty-something Nicole Sinclair stumbles on DNA reports that document an ancestry far different from her father’s narrative of a white, northern European background, she enlists the help of her great grandmother to investigate their roots. As she and Great Gram ignore her father’s protests and search for documents in the attic of a historic San Francisco Victorian, the family’s actual history unfolds. \tTheir true Californio ancestors include a Spanish soldier in the Portola expedition to explore Alta California, a captured Ohlone native and a girl whose family walks with the De Anza settlers eighteen hundred miles from Sinaloa to the San Francisco Bay. Nicole slowly unravels the mysteries of her 250-year family tree, from California’s native inhabitants and its earliest European colonizers through the generations to the Gold Rush. \tHow does her origin story unfold after the arrival of those Spanish explorers? Can she and Great Gram find evidence of their true family tree and use it to protect the old house from being sold off? Can Nicole find common ground and reconcile with her father in the process? In This Land of Plenty’s family saga introduces the diverse cast of characters and complex social issues that populate California’s rich history while drawing a direct line to today’s residents.
Smathers’s richly detailed debut explores history and diversity through the family tree of a woman in California. Nicole Sinclair’s mother passed away, and Nicole takes a DNA test in hopes of discovering genetic reasons for her early death. Instead of diseases, she finds diversity: her DNA links her to ancestors originating from the Iberian Peninsula, Mexico, the Western U.S., Africa, Ireland, France, England, and Germany. This goes against the all-white history her father always claimed, forcing Nicole to wonder whether her father really knew his family background or purposefully elected to believe only the parts he desired. The answers Nicole finds on her journey for the truth change her life.

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.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A

Dr. Christine Sleeter, Professor Emerita Multi-Cultural Education, Cal State Mon

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!



Dr. Mike Matthews, Superintendent Manhattan Beach USD, former AP US History teac

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! 


Larry Habegger, Executive Editor, Travelers' Tales

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.