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  4.0 out of 5 stars I know, I know, this cheesy 80’s cover just reeks of bodice ripping romance doesn’t it? Wrong, and boy am I glad I took a chance – especially with no reviews anywhere nor much in the way of plot description. I would consider this a genre-bender book, too much history for mainline romance readers but perhaps a tad bit too much romance for those wanting a *serious* historical novel. Me, I love a good romance as well as stories set in old California so I waded right in.

Taylor recounts the history of migration to California by putting two fictional families into real historical settings. The first family is the Morrisons who are members of the Latter Day Saints and join with Sam Brannan to make the journey via ship. Ezra is the matriarch of the family and under pressure to take a second wife makes a shocking choice. His grown daughter Susannah is high spirited and immediately finds herself attracted to the charismatic Brannan – will she succumb to her desires and sleep with the married Brannan? Will he take her for his second wife?

Brannan quickly sets out to make himself a wealthy man, as well as attempting to find proper land to start the “New Eden” that was directly by their church leaders – but his heart still burns for Susannah. The second family are Sean and Mary McKay who lose their farm and decide to head West via Wagon train to start a new life with their two teenage daughters. They eventually hook up with the ill-fated Donner party.

I really like the way the author used alternating *books* to switch the story between the two families – it really helped when there were periods on-ship and/or crossing the prairies where not much action took place and the reader might lose interest. Nicely done. I also liked the inclusion of Sam Brannan, while I’ve heard mention of him in other novels of this period I didn’t know how great a role he played in California’s history – from starting the first newspaper to being the man (that comes in book two) who ran through the streets of San Francisco shouting the discovery of gold. I also liked seeing what I assume is a realistic look at the inner workings and mindset of members of the LDS in that period.

All in all a pretty good read. Yes it’s a romance but what sex there is is fairly few and far between and for an 80’s romance the prose doesn’t turn anything near an awful shade of purple. The ending got a tad bit overdone and trite in the HEA department, and perhaps Susannah was allowed more freedom than would really have happened (boy her Duenna sure disappeared quick when she hitched up with he whom I shall not name), but those are minor nits. With the characters she’s developed as well as the upcoming gold rush, the roaring gold camps, the wild growth of San Francisco as well as the return of the embittered prodigal son all promise for a jolly good sequel in Sands of Gold.  And believe it or not that cover is even cheesier. Worse yet, I’m letting Wolf Hall languish on the table and diving right into the sequel.