Friday, April 15, 2011

A Race To Splendor by Ciji Ware

The year is 1906.  Amelia Bradshaw has just returned to her beloved San Francisco from Paris, where she is one of the first women to become an architect.  But her return is hardly a happy one.  Her beloved grandfather has died.  Even though he left her the family fortune built with one of San Francisco's most prominent hotels, disaster is waiting.

Her father gambles away the family hotel in a drunken all night gambling spree.  Although the will states that it is Amelia and not he who holds legal title, and although California has recently passed laws giving women the right to control their own property, laws must be interpreted in courts by judges.  Amelia is unlucky enough to draw a judge adamantly opposed to the new freedoms given to women and he awards the hotel to her father's poker opponent. 

Left destitute, Amelia joins the first female architectural firm, headed by one of her college friends and mentors.  But worse is waiting.  Within a month, the great earthquake of San Francisco occurs.  The city is almost destroyed.  Amelia survives and now must do her part to make her way in the world and to help rebuild the city she loves, and the hotel she has lost to a charming scoundrel.

Ciji Ware is acknowledged as one of the best historical fiction authors, and she does not disappoint in A Race to Splendor.  Meticulously researched, she transports the reader to turn of the century San Francisco and makes them feel the devastation and the pioneering spirit that rebuilt the city.  The characters are sympathetic and the romance between Amelia and her rival is believable.  The world seems to be in another cycle of devastating earthquakes the last few years, and Ware makes the reader feel the devastation in a new light, not only the few minutes of terror, but the aftermath of months of privation and the strength needed to rebuild.  This book is recommended for readers interested in historical fiction and the start of women professional lives. 

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