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Belle Cora

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,393 Ratings  ·  413 Reviews
Based loosely on the life of the 19th-century prostitute of the same name, the book is written in the form of a two-volume memoir by one of San Francisco’s richest and most revered dowagers. In it, the heroine tells the story of her moral fall and material rise over the course of the century, carrying her from the farms, mills, drawing rooms (and bedrooms) of New York to t ...more
Hardcover, 608 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Doubleday
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The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. RoseWritten in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana GabaldonA Burnable Book by Bruce HolsingerA King's Ransom by Sharon Kay PenmanThe King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
Historical Fiction 2014
37th out of 396 books — 2,324 voters
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinThe Life We Bury by Allen EskensMercy Snow by Tiffany BakerThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónWild Swans by Jung Chang
2015 Book Suggestions for Book Discussion
16th out of 40 books — 7 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Diane S ☔
Feb 02, 2014 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
An amazing book about an amazing woman and loosely based on a real life 19th century prostitute. How does one go from being a well sought out prostitute to a dowager of stellar reputation on San Francisco's Nob Hill?

In this novel, written as a two part memoir the reader finds out exactly how this happened. Generally I am not a big fan of first person narrations, but in this book it worked wonderfully well. Belle is an amazing woman, of unquestionable strength and her story is engaging and vividl
Feb 14, 2014 Naomi rated it it was amazing
Read my full review:

My rating: My first 10/5 stars for 2014.

My opinion: Good freakin' lord THIS BOOK WAS AWESOME!

If I had ANY faith in Hollywood not to screw it up, this would be a great book made into a movie-even if it was only a Lifetime movie. Alas I don't, so please don't touch it! Also, a complaint...I don't know what numbnut is calling this a chicklit book, so please don't insult it that way.

This book was incredibly well written, engrossing and heartwarming/edge of
Feb 11, 2014 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Wow. It is possible for a 600-page book to be a lightning fast read as well as way too short. Belle Cora is the fictional “autobiography” of a “New York City merchant’s daughter, a farm girl, a millworker, a prostitute, a madam, a killer, a missionary, a spirit medium, a respectable society matron…” I guess you need 600 pages for all of that! Though there really was a San Francisco Madam named Belle Cora, the author says all details are purely fictional, other than the greater historical context ...more
Beth Strand
May 24, 2013 Beth Strand rated it it was amazing
“Belle Cora” is Dazzling!
Phillip Margulies has scored a stunning success with “Belle Cora” the fictionalized account of a woman who was a madam in Gold Rush era California. The story traces Arabella Goodwin from her privileged upbringing in New York through the tragedies that set her life on a course that would place her at the center of the politics and controversies of California’s early days. A grand love story told in a manner to do it justice, Margulies brings Belle and her various and sund
Mar 25, 2016 Cher rated it really liked it
3.5 stars - It was really good.

Sometimes life does not work out the way we planned and we choose paths that would surprise our younger selves. Sometimes first loves do not fade away - "To make life endurable, I had put the part of me that loved Jeptha to sleep, but I had never been able to bring myself to kill it." And sometimes, one meets their arch nemesis at the tender age of 9, and that mortal enemy is in the form of a clever, conniving first cousin - "I was a simpler person than she was. I
Sep 06, 2014 Debbie rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I wanted to like this book but read 75% and gave up because I really didn't care. I did not like the heroine and she herself says "I was a whore in my character, in my instinct to deceive and manipulate..." I grew tired of all her lies and manipulations. She always had to best her antagonist by being an even worse person. Agnes did some horrible things in the beginning but she was a child. This was Belle's character her entire life. The author did not succeed in helping me like her.

I did enjoy t
Jan 03, 2014 Michelle rated it it was amazing
If anything, Belle Cora questions what it means to be bad or good. Through Arabella’s journey from New York City to San Francisco, Mr. Margulies casts doubt on the true meaning of these arbitrary adjectives. At the same time, he raises questions about the oldest profession in the world as he forces readers to see that life from Belle’s up-close perspective. Her initial abhorrence of such a life, followed swiftly by acceptance of its perks, her reluctance to leave that life with its perks, and he ...more
Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}

More rational review later. This was one of the best books I've read this year. You need to read this. I don't care who you are and what you usually like.
Mar 11, 2014 Connie rated it it was ok
Wordy with some very unrealistic character twists; but interesting picture of the late 19th century in America and some very interesting moral philosophy.
Sonja Arlow

Belle Cora is the story of Arabella Godwin. She grew up wealthy with her brothers, their invalid mother and their hardworking father. When her mother dies and her father follows soon after, she and one of her brothers are sent off to live with their aunt and uncle in the country. It's a move that will change her entire life.

The beginning started off very slow and my advise to future readers is to skip the prologue completely – its utterly tedious and does not really add anything to this story.

Kelly Hager
Jan 25, 2014 Kelly Hager rated it it was amazing
This synopsis is incredibly short, and that's probably for the best. I didn't know very much going in, and this has turned into one of my favorite reads of the year. (And yes, I realize that it's not saying very much as we are barely into February, but still. This book is amazing and I can't imagine that it won't be on my best of list at the end of the year.)

This is a long book and it takes time to unfold. Readers should be patient going in, but be aware that it will pay off relatively quickly.

Feb 13, 2014 Carrie rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, 2013, reviewed
I'm amazed how well this story was woven that I couldn't not become a part of as I read. Belle came alive. I truly felt that her life could have happened. It's always amazes me when I come a crossed a book that makes me wonder if a book has based its main character on someone in real life. This book did that I actually looked up all of Belle's names to see if she was person outside of the book. Her life and trails and all that she overcame just pulled me into her story. I became the bystander in ...more
I had originally planned to review Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies closer to its publication date but I decided I couldn’t wait that long. This novel is inspired by a real person and has quite rightly been compared to Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Thackery’s Vanity Fair. Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do if she’s to survive. So, if you like an engrossing story about a smart, good girl gone bad and/or you’re a historical fiction fan, this Civil War era tale may be just the thing to p ...more
Mauoijenn ~ *Mouthy Jenn* ~
Loved it!!! Loved it!!! Loved it!!!
This book read like a really fast race car. I devoured it this morning and literally just finished it. I'm still giddy over it. Written so beautifully I keep checking to make sure the end was really the end and no pages were missed. Excellent book indeed!! :)
Jun 22, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing
After finding this book on the end cap of a library display I thought it sounded familiar and gave it a shot.
Briefly this is a story of a prostitute born in the early 1800s and written as though it is her memoir. It is her familiy history and travels across America from her N.Y.City birth, to Western New York to San Francisco. Phillip Marguilies has based his novel on an actual person with made up details but recounting actual historical events. While Marguilies is a male author I think he did
Heather Fineisen
Apr 05, 2014 Heather Fineisen rated it really liked it
Shelves: must-reads
New York and San Francisco as seen through the eyes of infamous madam Belle Cora in her fictional memoir. A book of biblical proportions, metaphors and drama, this is a committing read but enjoyable. A mini-series with corsets, fans of historical events watered down with blackgaurds and religious zealots and knives in every back will love it. As did I. As did I.
The Lit Bitch
Dec 19, 2013 The Lit Bitch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is truly breathtaking. Arabella’s character is one to be admired for her strength and resilience. This isn’t necessarily a story about a good girl gone bad or a prostitute with a soft spot or any of the those other cliches.

This is the story of a woman who endured many hardships and made the choices she had to, in order to survive. She was unapologetic and real, I absolutely loved her. She was an inspiration.

The novel started out a little slow for me. Her childhood and her struggles as
Apr 28, 2016 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I loved this book of the Madam Belle Cora. It was such a fascinating look at a part of American history with characters that came to life on the page. Belle Cora -- or Arabella Goodwin -- did not have an easy life and yet despite that she defines the modern woman. She picks herself up and makes her own way in the world. Like most of us she loves with all of her heart and experiences losses.

As I closed the cover on this 600-page book, I was wiping away tears. Margulies orchestrated an emotional
Jul 05, 2014 H rated it it was ok
I am in two minds about this book, written as though it is the memoir of Belle Cora, a flamboyant San Francisco madam whose life as the granddaughter of a wealthy Yankee merchant is derailed by a scheming female cousin and a brutal male cousin, ruining her love affair with a local farm boy, and eventually driving her into a life of prostitution. While I enjoyed the sweep of the story, there were several sections I found myself skimming. And though the author is a good writer, I can't help but th ...more
Feb 11, 2014 Jane rated it it was amazing
Excellent historical fiction. I love it when a book is well-written, the characters are complex and feel real, AND I learn something about a place and time that I previously had little familiarity with. I picked this book up from the new fiction shelves at the library based on the cover blurb. Over half of the books that I find this way end up going back unread. I started this one with hope, but much trepidation due to the nature of the main character. I was very quickly sucked in by the story a ...more
May 30, 2014 Leila rated it really liked it
I found this to be a very compelling, interesting, readable book. The story of Belle Cora (or Arabella Godwin/Moody/Cora) was entertaining, informative, and light without being silly or vapid. The author vividly portrays time and place in ways that allow the reader to feel immersed in the story. I enjoyed the sweep- we get to see New York City just as it begins to come into its own, ultra-rural central NY state agricultural life in the late 1830s, and then the gold rush and San Francisco as it m ...more
The Baking Bookworm
** This book review, as well as many more, can also be found on my blog, The Baking Bookworm (

Note: My sincere thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: I was in the mood for a big historical saga with grand characters, back stabbing family members, rich powerful people set in a tumultuous time ... the whole saga enchilada. Belle Cora is a grand historical s
Jan 25, 2014 Catherine rated it liked it
Belle Cora is a big, grand sweeping tale that covers a multitude of themes, many of which could be explored by a reviewer for days. Even a synopsis of this novel could get lengthy (I know, I started one and gave up) but it wouldn't do justice to the work behind this saga by Phillip Margulies. The novel is set in the mid-1800s to early 1900s and is told by Arabella Godwin, a woman who goes from being the daughter of a wealthy man in NYC to the madam of a house of ill repute in San Francisco. In b ...more
Jan 07, 2014 Melinda rated it really liked it
Prostitutes! Gun Fights! Vigilantes! Unitarians! This book has pretty much everything. It tells the story of how an orphaned, but well-off girl named Arabella Godwin became the notorious San Francisco Madam, Belle Cora. At over 600 pages, it might seem intimidating to some readers, but I found it enthralling and very readable.

There was a real Belle Cora in San Francisco in the mid-19th century, and she was a madam. She was the lover of a gambler named Charles Cora, who was executed by The Vigila
Jan 12, 2014 Chelsey rated it really liked it
This book, at almost 600 pages, looked a bit intimidating. However, it has been awhile since I have read a book of this size, and I decided this would be the perfect title to branch out with. This story is loosely based on real events and a real person by the same name, Belle Cora. Our heroine tells her own story as she finds herself traveling from the east coast all the way to the west. Arabella Goodwin, our heroine, was a privileged girl from New York who shares her story with us as she experi ...more
Sep 14, 2013 Ionia rated it really liked it
If I am completely honest, the first couple of chapters of this book bored me. Thankfully, that was soon to change, and the rest of the book was pretty damn fantastic.

This is a book where you can really get a sense of the main character throughout the different stages of her life. You are with her as she learns and grows and becomes more mature as the story progresses.

I laughed a lot throughout this, but also felt a sense of loss, desperation, hope and shed some tears along the way. I am so gr
Anne Broyles
Apr 15, 2014 Anne Broyles rated it liked it
Margulies uses a real-life 19th century San Francisco madam to show western frontier life and history, but most importantly, how one innocent child's experiences might lead to her a life "on the shady side." Belle is a strong heroine and in a slightly Forrest Gump-ish way, lives through pivotal American events between 1828-1861.

Other readers may not feel this way, but I didn't always believe the emotional arc of her reactions and decisions, which got in the way of me identifying with Belle. Neve
Jan 05, 2014 Hannah rated it really liked it
When I finished reading Belle Cora, I wasn't really sure what I thought about it. It hadn't swept me away and, as I mentioned, felt a bit long at times. I knew that I liked it, but I wasn't really sure how I was going to rate it. And yet, I find myself appreciating it all the more as I write this review. I see more depth in it - in the story, in the characters, in the social commentary - than I did when I first closed that last page. It's a book that gets better in my mind the more I think about ...more
May 21, 2014 Jen rated it it was amazing
I was swept off my feet reading this book. I was a bit hesitant at first wondering if a man could get the emotional depth and grand story, but where Margulies falters, the story keeps you moving a long wanting more (like a good book & prostitute should!). This book is about three of my favorite things: historical fiction, San Francisco and a woman who creates her own way. If you are a fan of those three topics, then by all means...enjoy!
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