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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Walk Away West by J.F. Collen takes us on a historical journey back to upper-middle-class New York in the early 1850s. Cornelia Rose is an unusual woman of her time; confident, opinionated, and well-informed about more than just the latest gossip. Newly married to up and coming lawyer, Obadiah Wright, Cornelia starts setting up their life and their burgeoning new family in the city she loves, next to the river and scenery she adores; the Hudson River and the Hudson Valley. Surrounded by her loving family, she is content in the life she is building for herself and her family, even able to put to use the midwifery skills she is trained in. When Obadiah blithely informs her that he has been appointed a Circuit Court Judge in the frontier territory of Salt Lake City, Utah, her life is thrown into chaos. She must leave her family, everything she knows and understands, and travel with her husband to the untamed frontier land of the West. Cornelia Rose is nothing if not loyal but the pain of leaving her parents behind and undertaking a long, arduous, and incredibly dangerous journey across a country only just settled and pacified fills her with fear and trepidation. Cornelia Rose, though, is no shrinking violet and she is determined to make the most of any situation and show her intense loyalty to the man she loves and their children. She undertakes the trek full of determination and courage.
Walk Away West was like a breath of fresh air. As a lover of historical fiction, I was entranced not so much the journey, but by the social constructs and mores of the time. It is so rare to find an author prepared to so thoroughly invest themselves in an era that the reader is transported instantly to that time and place and feels an integral part of everything. Author J.F. Collen paints a picture with words that is both captivating and entrancing. One can truly imagine the beauty of the Hudson Valley at the time through Cornelia Rose’s eyes and the sheer desolation and loneliness of the trip on the Erie Canal. The language, for me, was the key to this tale. The use of the common vernacular of the time and the social mores and constraints, especially on women, sang through the narrative unashamedly. I particularly loved the two sides of Cornelia Rose and her relationship with Obadiah. In many ways, she was a modern, crusading suffragette who did not buy into this idea of a “woman’s place” and the constraints placed on women of the time to hold their tongue and not involve themselves in matters that were beyond their “delicate” minds. Yet, she still longed for the simple, comfortable life of the middle-class, city-dwelling housewife that she saw in her mother. Conflicted and scared, Cornelia Rose still chooses to follow her husband into the unknown with courage and forbearance. This is an absolutely fantastic story and one I can highly recommend. I need to know what happens next, so will definitely be reading the next book in this series. Kudos to the author for generating such a need in this reader.