Named Book of the Year for General Fiction by ForeWord Magazine
From Publishers Weekly
California joined the Union in 1850; just in time for the state's sesquicentennial comes this big, ambitious and well-researched debut, the first in a planned historical trilogy from Santa Ynez valley lawyer Alef. In 1829, a light-skinned daughter is born to a young slave on a Georgia plantation. Rejected by her real mother, baby Mary Ellen is taken into the big house under the tutelage of the plantation owner's childless wife; before dying of cancer, sheen trusts the 13-year-old's future to a friend, Americus Price, leaving her a substantial inheritance and granting her freedom at age18. After years passing for white in a New Orleans convent school,Mary Ellen comes of age, visits Price's Missouri plantation and travels on to Cincinnati, where she encounters the abolitionist John Brown. By 1849, disappointment and trauma in Ohio lead Mary Ellen to seek a fresh start in California. On her way by ship, she nurses the Scotsman Thomas Brand back to health and assists the embittered ex-Manhattanite Colbraith O'Brien. The trio then make their way to San Francisco, where Mary Ellen, Colbraith, Brand and a large cast of minor characters enter the fast-growing town's rough politics and its burgeoning net of business endeavors, from real estate holdings to squabbling fire companies. Will strangers from her past wreck Mary Ellen's new life by revealing her racial heritage? Alef based his key characters on real people: an afterword, timeline and bibliography layout his historical sources. Readers will enjoy keeping track of Mary Ellen's complex life and the intricate dealings among the San Francisco figures she meets. Alef's prose . . . keeps the plot moving, and his settings are effective. This entertaining saga will leave many readers eager for the planned sequels.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Mary Ellen, born a slave in Georgia, is light-skinned and intellectually extraordinary. As a young girl, she is taken under the wing of her childless mistress, who gives her an outstanding education and emancipates her upon adulthood. Belonging nowhere, but financially independent thanks to an inheritance from her white mentor, the young woman strikes out for San Francisco, risking the hazardous Panama crossing to reach a frontier where she can hope for new possibilities. There she passes as a white woman, secretly amassing a financial empire in the burgeoning economy of the Gold Rush, and finding her life intertwined with many of the historical figures who shaped California's history. San Francisco from 1849 to 1853 is a spectacular setting for a big novel, and Alef takes full advantage of the possibilities as he blends history with fiction. The protagonist is loosely based on a real person, Mammy Pleasants. She and the other characters are colorful, the story is engaging, and the presentation is impressive: excellent design, lavish period illustrations, and interesting afterword and time line-even an extensive bibliography. Alef . . . tells a really good story that many teens will enjoy.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Published: Titans of Fortune Publishing on
List price: $9.99
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