Walk Away West

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
346 Pages
Reviewed on 08/23/2020
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    Book Review

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.

Cheryl E. Rodriguez

J.F. Collen continues the story of the young high-spirited Cornelia Rose in Walk Away West. Cornelia marries Obadiah Wright. Sailing away into romance, the newlyweds embark on a lavish honeymoon trip. Taking in all the sights and wonders of each destination, the couple beholds “civilization at its finest.” They return home to Sing Sing, NY, and begin their life together. Within a few weeks of their return, Obadiah and Nellie join her family on a trip to West Point. Although happily married, Nellie’s flirtations continue. Obadiah is displeased with her coquetry. Yet, he remains true to her fairytale. Forever Nellie’s “knight in shining armor,” Obadiah often finds himself rescuing Nellie from her own feminine charms. The couple engulfed in happy-ever-after bliss learn to overcome disaster when it strikes, and the responsibilities of parenting and balancing a career. Yet, the voice of adventure calls out, “Go West!” Leaving behind her beloved family and river, Cornelia Rose, Obadiah, and their girls head out into the vastness of the prairie.

J. F. Collen pens this historical tale, Walk Away West, with a passion for adventure. A masterful wordsmith, Collen has an ability to describe the wonders of the time period with historic accuracy. The realism continues with the captivating and often humorous dialogues that resound with dialects and the language of the era. Furthermore, the author's creativity in illustrating the sights and sounds, fear and pain, wonder, and excitement immerse the reader in the setting of the story. Character-driven, the life of the main character, Cornelia Rose, takes center stage. The young protagonist is more than just a pretty face. She is intelligent, well-informed on current events and historical facts, making her a stimulating conversationalist. Her character is honed and shaped by her clever and prestigious husband, motherhood, and the challenges of life. However, there are parts of her demeanor that remain stifled; her flirtations continue to get her into trouble. At times you love her strength and courage, and others, you want to jump into the scene and slap her silly as my mother would say. However, as this leg of her journey comes to an end, you sense there is much more waiting for Cornelia Rose in the West. J.F. Collen’s Walk Away West leaves you desiring more of this adventurous saga.

Lesley Jones

In 1852 New York, newly married midwife Cornelia Rose believes she has the most wonderful existence. Her husband Obadiah is the love of her life. Living in the metropolis of New York with all its new technologies and opulence at her fingertips, life could not be better. So when Obadiah decides they should leave New York and the beauty of the Hudson River and travel to the Wild West where he has been offered an amazing financial opportunity, Cornelia must obey. Their journey along the Erie River towards the Utah territory is treacherous and filled with extraordinary characters and dangerous situations. Cornelia realizes that her midwifery skills are very much needed. But before they reach Utah, Cornelia has to face someone from her past which could threaten her marriage to Obadiah.

Walk Away West by J F Collen is a beautifully written historical novel that transports you immediately into 19th-century New York. The detailed research into this era is evident with the amazing authentic dialogue and references to actual places and people of that time. Cornelia is an inspiring character, with such a sense of adventure and optimism in any given situation, you immediately relate to her. I loved her relationship with her husband Obadiah; they were obviously extremely devoted to each other. The plot moved forward continuously with moments of tension and action coupled with some great pockets of humourous dialogue which made me laugh out loud such as, “‘This shall stick in your throat like a hair in a biscuit". The author has created even minor characters with such detailed personalities, which brought even more interest to the story. I loved the ending as it opens the door to Cornelia's next exciting life experience. I cannot wait for Pioneer Passage; it sounds an equally interesting story. Will Captain Baker make another appearance?