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Book Review: An Ordinary Woman - Cecelia Holland

(Forge 2001 $13.95 $19.99 Canada (219 pages) ISBN# 0-312-87417-0 )

by Pat Maynard
-originally published in The Historical Novels Review Magazine of the Historical Novel Society (HNS)

This is the story of Nancy Kelsey, the first American woman in California--and an elemental part of that great state's early history.

In 1841, Nancy, her husband, Ben, and their infant daughter leave their Missouri farm to follow their dream and settle in California. They opt to take the shortest route through the Plains, the Rockies, the Great Western Desert and the Sierra Nevada range, also the most dangerous route due to the hostile climate and Indian threats. Upon reaching 'The Great Sandy River' their party splits up, some deciding to go on to Oregon, which is a known trail, rather than risk the unknown route to California. Nancy, Ben and their daughter remain with the pioneers determined to reach California, leaving her the only woman in the group, and they continue traveling doggedly onward, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles until they eventually reach their destination--only to experience more hardship and heartache in addition to the joy of finally realizing their dream. And once there, the Kelseys go on to play an important role in the rise of California nationalism.

Holland is a master at sweeping her readers into the time period she's writing about and this book is no exception. The Chicago Sun Times says: "Holland packs her pages with action and historical detail. She remains in the front rank of the genre, along with Mary Stewart, Dorothy Dunnett, and the late Mary Renault". I totally agree!


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