San Francisco, 1906. Amelia Bradshaw returns home from her architectural studies in Paris only to find her beloved grandfather dead and the family's grand hotel on Nob Hill lost by her drunken fool of a father during a game of cards. Amelia loses her legal battle with the winner of the card game, J.D. Thayer, and takes employment with her mentor, architect Julia Morgan. And just who is Julia Morgan do you ask? You can read about her on the net, but her most famous project is the little house that Julia built for William Randolph Hearst.
The big earthquake hits and events take a bit of a turn for Amelia. What wasn't destroyed in the earthquake burned during the subsequent fires and that includes her beloved Bay View Hotel. Julia's firm is hired to restore the Fairmont Hotel, as well as the Bay View and the race is on to restore both hotels to their full splendor so that they can reopen on the first anniversary of the disaster. Despite their past differences, Amelia and J.D. work together towards the common goal of restoring the Bay View, but they are beset from all sides by corrupt government, graft, shady labor organizations and other evil baddies who want the hotel for their own. And what about her father? Is it possible he had the poker hand of a lifetime and won it all back the moment the earth shook? If so, can she find the missing cards and wrest ownership of the Bay View away from J.D. Thayer? Will Amelia and J.D. ever stop dancing around each other and realize there's some serious chemistry there?
I'm not telling. Despite a few quibbles towards the end, I really did enjoy this a lot and blew through it quite quickly. The architectural details and building challenges might bore some readers, but I found them fascinating. I really liked the character of Amelia, she was strong, intelligent and assertive without that annoying I Am Woman Hear Me Roar attitude you can get from some heroines. How nice that she could intelligently assert her independence and make wise choices in the face of danger instead of stupidly rushing out in the middle of night, thus requiring constant rescue by the hero :)
I found it very refreshing to learn that men found Amelia attractive without heaving bosoms or ripped bodices, as well as seeing the conflicts between the pair without the done to death trope of instant passion and loathing anytime a pair is in a room together. Another big thumbs up to Ms. Ware for writing well-rounded baddies and showing us why they're bad instead of telling us with snarling lips, stinking breath and feral smiles. As for the quibbles? IMHO things fell apart just a tad at the end, when all of a sudden it's time for the book to end and several pages of exposition are needed to wrap up the loose ends. Still, I enjoyed this overall and one I would heartily recommend to others, especially those interested in San Francisco history.