Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware

A Race to Splendor
By: Ciji Ware

Published: April 2011
Published By: Sourcebooks Incorporated 
Format Read: Trade Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Amelia Hunter Bradshaw returns to San Francisco in the wake of her beloved grandfather’s death, to learn that her drunkard father has lost their family hotel (her inheritance) in a poker game. As an educated and modern woman, Amelia isn’t prepared to let her precious Bay View Hotel go without a fight, even if that means taking the new owner J.D. Thayer and his conniving partner Ezra Kemp to court. Unfortunately during that time period, an unwed woman’s finances were under the control of her father and she would lose her case. Left nearly penniless, she turns to her former schoolmate Julia Morgan for a job within her architectural firm. However as fate would have it Amelia and nemesis J.D. Thayer would be thrown together again after the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fire in April of 1906. When Julia Morgan’s firm takes on the reconstruction of both the Fairmont Hotel and the Bay View, Amelia is put in charge of her former home. It is a race to splendor as the two women compete to be the first hotel on Nob Hill to open their doors on the first anniversary of the quake. Can Amelia and J.D. set aside their differences and work together amidst the ramped corruption in the “City by the Bay”?

The Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco 1906 after the earthquake and fire

I purchased this book a few years ago, but unfortunately it kept getting pushed back in my pile for other more pressing reads. I am glad that I finally took the chance to pick it up, as I really enjoyed reading Ciji Ware’s A Race to Splendor.

Julia Morgan.

I always appreciate a book that encourages me to do research on the subject at hand. In this case there were several things that caught my attention. First of which was the San Francisco earthquake and the fires that came in its wake. I’m sure the historic photos taken of the “City by the Bay” after the disaster didn’t even begin to shine a light on the devastation that occurred. Although Amelia’s story was a work of fiction there were several characters who were based on real people. Two of those such people included Julia Morgan and Donaldina Cameron. Julia Morgan was the first licensed woman architect in California and did indeed re-build the famous Fairmount Hotel. Meanwhile Donaldina Cameron was a human rights activist who rescued thousands of woman from indentured servitude in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

"She began to regard the very earth beneath her feet as unreliable and the sky a hot blanket that might soon smother them all" Pg. 95
The story moved along at a good pace and the competition between the two hotels, combined with the corruption and danger brought a lot of excitement. Ware’s descriptions of the devastation were reminiscent of a city that had been bombed. The opulence of the hotels and the wealth of the main characters added to the splendor (pun intended).

Donaldina Cameron

Another aspect of the story that I appreciated was how the author didn’t let the romance take away from the fact that Amelia was a strong, independent modern woman who was determined to forge her own path and career in a world still very much in the control of men.

I would recommend A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware to fans of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy reading about trailblazing and independent women. 

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