A Race to Splendor
The cover of this one caught my attention immediately. That is a gorgeous dress. Like, seriously. gorgeous. And then, Laura's Reviews hosted Ciji Ware for a guest post and giveaway, and I realized I had to read A Race to Splendor. (Happily, I won the giveaway!)
This is one of those involving stories that just keeps evolving. Every time you think you have something figured out, there's a new twist: either a character reveals a little more of their personal secrets, or the plot shifts on you, or you just suddenly realize you'd been reading it all wrong. I loved getting to know Amelia as she struggled to overcome the massive curveballs and setbacks life hurled in her way following graduation from architecture and engineering school in Paris. A full-fledged architect, Amelia faces not only the 'normal' struggles of a being a woman in a man's world, but this is San Fransisco in 1906. The Earthquake and Fire that destroyed much of the city - and also gave it new life. Then too, there's the small detail of her father gambling away her rightful inheritance - the Bay View Hotel - and her ongoing 'battle' with the new owner JD Thayer. It's a complicated story, but Ware has detailed it beautifully.
This is the kind of historical fiction that gives historical fiction a good name: very researched, very detailed. Ware didn't just skim the surface, she got down into the heart of the history - researching and writing not just the aftermath of the Earthquake, but also the 'inner-workings' of San Fransisco: the corruption, the day-to-day struggles, the people. I absolutely loved the characters. Every one was well-developed and real. They read like living people, with secrets and pasts and a mix of good and bad - some with more bad, some with more good. They're flawed, but they're human. Their relationships feel authentic and believable, taking what could have been a dull, dusty novel and making it a living story. If this is the way Ware's novels always read, I'm definitely going to be looking for more of them.
Book provided by my personal library.