Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware

As an engineer, one of my pet peeves has been the lack of books, movies, and TV shows with engineers as characters, let alone a woman engineer. I was more than a little excited to read A Race to Splendor in which the main character is a female architect in San Francisco in 1906 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. I love reading about strong women characters, and an added bonus is having the strong woman as an engineer/architect.

Amelia Bradshaw has worked hard. As a thirty-year old woman in 1906, she has received her bachelor’s degree in engineering at UC Berkley and her degree in architecture from L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. After receiving her degree in architecture, she returned home to San Francisco, only to discover that her father has gambled away her and her mother’s inheritance, the grand Bay View Hotel. J.D. Thayer, the scoundrel son of a respected San Francisco family is now the proud owner of the hotel. Amelia is devastated. She takes J.D. to court, only to discover, as a woman, she has no rights and is left with nothing. Amelia takes a job at Julia Morgan’s (the first female architect in California) firm to support herself, her mother, and her aunt. Tragedy strikes when the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fire takes place.

Afterwards Amelia finds herself working hard with Julia Morgan’s firm to not only restore the famous Fairmont Hotel, but also to help J.D. rebuild the Bay View Hotel. After a misunderstanding with Julia, Amelia finds herself helping J.D. in a race to build the Bay View by the first anniversary of the quake before the Fairmont Hotel can open.

I loved A Race to Splendor. Ciji Ware’s storytelling was fantastic. Just when you think things are going well, a new wrench gets thrown into the mix. I read this book pretty quickly as I was always wondering what would happen next. The earthquake and fire description were riveting. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies, San Francisco starring Clark Gable.
Speaking of Clark Gable and his bad boy appeal, J.D. is a man made in the same mold. J.D. is the bad boy you want to hate, but love any way. He has a single minded dedication to make something of himself, but he doesn’t think of the costs to other people. While he appears to be a bad guy at the beginning of the novel, Amelia is able to peel back the layers to discover an inner depth to J.D. I was annoyed that Amelia worked for him after he stole her grandfather’s hotel from her, but I can also see that if your family hotel has to be redesigned that you would want to be the one to do it!

I love Ciji Ware’s mantra that she wonders what women were doing at that point in history. I loved that Amelia Bradshaw is a strong woman character and that she interacts with the real Julia Morgan. I think it is more than great to have a woman character that was an engineer/architect, especially at that point in history. It’s still hard work for a woman to be on a construction site as an engineer (I am one and have had the experience!). I loved reading about Amelia and Julia taking charge at the construction sites and getting work done. It was great!

I could talk about this book forever, but overall, I think it is a great historical fiction novel. It has great action, the San Francisco Earthquake, romance, and the best for me – a woman engineer/architect. This month is the 105th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake; do you really need another reason to read this book?

For a great guest blog by author Ciji Ware and a chance to win a copy of this book, please check out this link.

A Race to Splendor is my eighth item for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!


  1. This one does sounds good. I'm planning on reading at some point. Great review.

  2. I have read such positive stuff about this book. I am trying to find the earlier one but this one also goes to my TBR.

  3. This sounds like an unusual story. Love to read it.

  4. I read it and feel much the same as you did! The setting for me was fantastic as well as the casting of a woman engineer at the turn of the century.

  5. I have this in my stacks of books and hope to read it soon. I have seen so many great reviews for it. It sounds like a winner.

  6. When I think of turn of the century America, I think of strong women--because women were striving for emancipation, entering the professions, and making their mark in all facets of society which includes employment, recreation, clubs and associations.

    Ciji Ware's novel, "A Race to Splendor" taps into this transition by giving us an equally strong heroine to match the dawn of the new century. I'm so looking forward to reading this book because the heroine is a pioneer--a pathbreaker as so many real life strong women were in turn of the century America.

  7. I'm so glad I found your daughter is finishing her first year in a college engineering program and I'd like to give this to her for some summer reading :)
    I love historical fiction, so I would like this too I'm sure :)

  8. TheBookGirl - I think your daughter would really enjoy this book! Its really nice to read about women trailblazers in the profession.

  9. I keep forgetting I want to get my hands on this one! Thanks for the reminder :)