This is a fascinating story of a young woman who survives tragedy and reinvents herself at the turn of the 20th century. The setting changes from the Missouri social scene, to living a tough life on one of the San Juan Islands, to Skagway Alaska during the Goldrush of 1898. Eliza Waite, as did many women of her time, had very little control over her life living under her fathers roof. It was only after her marriage and the tragic loss of her husband and son that she started to make her own choices on the type of life she wanted to lead. First time author Ashley E. Sweeney paints a historically accurate view of a woman on a journey of self discovery. In a time where the Woman’s Suffrage Movement was just beginning, and only a few states allowed women the right to vote, I was fascinated with the idea of a woman striking out alone amidst unruly and rough men, surviving relatively unscathed, and in fact, building a thriving business. You can tell that the author researched each area and the people who lived there pretty thoroughly. She even starts out each chapter with a recipe for an item that Eliza has baked, or will bake that seems, without my trying to bake one of them, to be a real recipe. The measurements using teacups instead of cups. A touch, that adds charm and realism to the story.
The following synopsis is taken directly from the author’s website ashleyesweeney.com.
Living as an independent woman in the late 19th century, Eliza Waite struggles with societal norms, gender inequalities, and elusive love. After the tragic death of her husband and son on a remote island in Washington’s San Juan Islands, Eliza joins the throng of miners, fortune hunters, business owners, con men, and prostitutes traveling north to the Klondike in the spring of 1898 in search of their personal piece of gold. Eliza arrives in Skagway, Alaska, with less than fifty dollars to her name. With some savvy, and the help of some unsavory characters, Eliza opens a successful bakery on Skagway’s main street, where she befriends a madam at a neighboring bordello. Eliza finds herself juxtaposed between both traditional and untraditional feminine roles, and chooses to turn her back on the past and follow the ideals of the growing women’s suffrage movement. When a man from her past turns up in Skagway, Eliza is unsure if she will be able to conceal her identity and move forward with her new life. Part diary, part recipe file, and part Gold Rush history, Eliza Waite transports readers to the sights, sounds, smells – and tastes – of a raucous and fleeting era of American history.
I loved the every day accuracy of this novel. This was not a book that created a false warmth for the Alaska winter. This book had Eliza, dressed in threadbare clothing freezing as the wind whipped through her clothing, had miners smelling just awful, dirt squishing through toes and sores becoming infected. The contrast on my senses when Eliza was able to buy a new pair of gloves and her fingers were warmed. The smell of cinnamon permeating the air when she was baking, and light flashing from the fireworks helped set the scene in a realistic manner. The good and bad were contrasted so spectacularly, that even though every moment was not fun to read about, it made the end game that much more enjoyable.
As a woman, I enjoyed seeing Eliza come to the realization that life’s experiences may not be easy, but it is better to take on the unknown alone, make her own choices and possibly make her own mistakes. This ultimately led her to a growth and happiness that she otherwise wouldn’t have known.
This book will be released on May 16, 2016. Put this book on your wish list and pick up a copy when it comes out! I was given a pre-release copy by the publisher She Writes Press through NetGalley for my honest review and I thank them for the opportunity.
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Copyright 2016 Deborah Kehoe A Chick Who Reads All Rights Reserved