Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Inspired by female architect Julia Morgan, this is the riveting tale of a race against time to rebuild two luxury hotels after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed 400 city blocks and left 250,000 homeless.
Morgan's fictional protegee Amelia Bradshaw and client J.D. Thayer will sacrifice anything to see the city they love rise from the ashes; in the process, they can't help but lose their hearts.
It's been almost two weeks since I finished A Race to Splendor and I really loved it. I was captivated by the setting of San Francisco amidst the earthquake of 1906 and the rebuilding of the city. The two main characters, Amelia and J.D., have stood the test of time for me. I still think about them and wonder about them and their lives. Both are strong people with an indomitable spirit that makes them survivors. Together, the dynamic of their relationship was intriguing and and kept me reading and reading - I really had trouble putting this book down! In fact, I've been desolate every since I've finished it. I can't stop thinking about it. What happens next - will there be a sequel? Please? Please! She's done it again! Without a doubt, Ciji Ware is one of my favorite authors. The action, dialogue and plotline all move along at a steady pace, never a dull moment and every scene has a reason for being there.
Amelia Bradshaw, newly minted architect has just returned to her hometown of San Francisco from Paris, only to find that her drunkard father has gambled away the hotel she grew up in to no good scoundrel, J.D. Thayer. J.D. has always had his sights on The Bay View Hotel, a little gem of a hotel on Nob Hill. J.D. has his own problems, his rich father hates him, his mother is unhappy and J.D. wants to be a good person, but he is saddled with a reputation as the black sheep of the family. All he needs to do is make enough money to pay off and unshackle himself from the unsavory scalawags he's been associating with. Unfortunately, they are his means to make the money - plus he's already borrowed a ton from them. No one really knows the truth behind J.D.'s reasons for wanting the Bay View, which has become an obsession, and he's certainly not going to let Miss high and mighty Amelia Bradshaw take it away from him! It's his ticket to freedom!
Everyone's plans, whether good or bad, change when the great earthquake hits San Francisco and levels much of the town. With accurate descriptions and a mesmerizing storyline, the story takes on a whole new dimension as we are immersed in the aftermath. Resigning herself to the reality that she'll never get the Bay View back (even though she suspects it's rightfully hers because her father died from the quake with part of a winning poker hand clutched in his fingers) Amelia and J.D. become unlikely partners as she agrees to be the architect to rebuild her grandfather's stately Bay View Hotel. Their relationship is slow in building. It takes a long time for Amelia to trust J.D., but gradually she does and they become true partners in every sense of the word. Still, Amelia has a niggling suspicion that he's keeping things from her. He's juggling all sorts of worries, but his driving force is to get the Bay View built before the other big hotel in town, The Fairmont, beats him to it.
I loved every word of this book. The struggles and ups and downs of the building of the two hotels was exhausting to read about, but fascinating too! I can't even begin to do the book justice with a review except to state it was great and a worthwhile read, especially if you've ever been to San Francisco. I was there a few years ago and adored the city! I loved reading about the descriptions and places and settings - I recognized much and envisioned in my mind Amelia amid the wreckage of the earthquake, Nob Hill, Chinatown, taking the ferry past the Island of Alcatraz across the bay to Oakland. The era comes to life in Ware's evocative storytelling!
A Race to Splendor is a love story but also one of survival and the battle for acceptance - on all kinds of levels. Amelia wants to be recognized for her talents as an architect - and a woman. J.D. wants to be recognized not as a gambler, but as a respectable hotel owner, he longs to redeem himself in his family's eyes (no matter how hypocritical his father is). The plot is absorbing, culminating with an exciting climax that had me on the edge of my seat. I worried, I chewed my lip, I twisted my fingers in anticipation of what happens!
I loved the architectural theme as well, but you don't have to be interested in architecture to appreciate this book. There are too many little details to list of what I loved best about it, but I can say the love scenes are sweetly satisfying and appropriate to the storyline. Though I would have been happier with a little more of them! ;)
A wholehearted recommendation and I'm definitely reading this book again just to savor it slowly, for I read it much too quickly. I consider this historical fiction at it's best. Another winner from Ciji Ware and I'm delighted to say she hasn't lost her touch with her first new novel in ten years! She's better than ever!
P.S.: On a side note, how wonderful that the dress on the cover looks like the one Amelia wears to the opening of the Bay View! I love it when covers match the actual story!