Kate Winthrop is the only daughter of a high society shipping magnate and her parents have her life completely planned out, including an advantageous marriage that will produce an heir to the family empire. However, Kate is her own woman. She is a feminist ahead of her time and wants nothing to do with her parents’ antiquated ideas. Her true passion is photography and she intends on becoming a staff photographer for one of San Francisco’s leading newspapers. She also knows her other passion is for women.
Giuliana Russo is a hard-working immigrant from Sicily. When her brother dies, she is forced to find a way to support herself as well as send money home to her family. When she hears of a position available as a servant in one of the grand mansions on Nob Hill, she is quick to apply and relieved when she is hired.
Despite her parents’ disdain, Kate and Giuliana become fast friends. As their friendship begins to blossom into something more, a devastating earthquake hits San Francisco. Fire sweeps through the city for three days and nights. People are left without food, fresh water, and shelter. With her camera in tow, Kate and Giuliana navigate the city, documenting the total and shocking destruction.
Amidst this disaster, can Kate and Giuliana keep each other alive and find the courage to pursue a life together?
Kate and Giuliana are characters that I was rooting for from the very first pages of the book. They are both strong and resilient. They don’t want or expect to be taken care of and they each recognize that they live in a society that discounts their worth due to their sex.
Kate is well aware that it’s her class and wealth that let her pursue her career in photography, but she uses her privilege to highlight the very institutions that oppress women and immigrants. I admired her single mindedness which was made even more appealing by her generosity and compassion. Her immediate connection with Giuliana made perfect sense to me as they are so similar in their determination and independence. I never doubted that Kate could achieve her professional goals, but it was hard for me to see how she might break away from her parents to pursue a relationship with Giuliana.
Giuliana is the picture of quiet dignity. She knows she is not part of the wealthy upper class, but she holds her head high and refuses to allow herself to be diminished by a society that discounts immigrants. She is nervous about her growing attraction for Kate. She has never been exposed or heard of a loving relationship between two women. Part of her trepidation is over how it might affect Kate and Kate’s position in society and her family. I enjoyed watching Giuliana become more comfortable with her feelings and become a more active participant in the narrative.
The Writing Style
The point of view changes between Kate’s and Giuliana’s throughout the book, but Jae does it in a fluid manner. I enjoyed this because Kate and Giuliana come from completely different worlds. If the story had just been told from Kate’s perspective, I would have missed out on Giuliana’s observations on class and culture as seen through the eyes of a first-generation immigrant.
The book’s pacing is perfect. There is a wonderful sense of urgency running through the narrative. The earthquake is more than just one event. It is the catalyst that sets off three days of mass destruction. I felt like I could hear the buildings collapse, see the flames consuming the city and smell the smoke in the air. Jae brings those three days to life by interspersing large scale scenes of destruction with quiet, personal moments between Kate and Giuliana. The love story was never eclipsed by the catastrophic events surrounding our two main characters.
The historical detail Jae brings to this story is amazing. The research she did adds some great details that you’re not going to find in the standard retelling of these events. I learned so many finer points about the aftermath of the earthquake that I couldn’t help but randomly reference them at the oddest times. Me: “Did you know that the fires sparked by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake caused a massive and deadly cattle stampede through the city?” Cashier: “Will that be debit or credit?”
Jae also created a very vivid and diverse cast of side characters. Kate’s parents are the quintessential wealthy, upper-class snobs who are out of touch with everything that doesn’t affect their gilded lives. There is a female doctor, Dr. Lucy Sharpe, who takes Kate and Giuliana under her wing and inadvertently becomes their lesbian mentor. The best was meeting some of the other Sicilian immigrants living in the Market District. Their comradery and compassion are in striking contrast to the characters who inhabit Kate’s well-to-do world.
There weren’t any cons for me.
You don’t have to be a historical romance aficionado to get swept up in this novel. It is a lovely book for readers who enjoy romance but want a little something extra to change things up. I thought the time and events chronicled in this book were riveting and added to the romance. With any book written by Jae, you know you are guaranteed an entertaining and captivating reading experience. This is no different.
Excerpt from Shaken to The Core by Jae
Kate sat at her dressing table, in front of the oval mirror with its golden frame. She was wearing only a sleeveless chemise, a pair of drawers, and black silk stockings. Her honey-blonde hair hung down her back.
Frozen, Giuliana paused in the doorway, her had still clutching the doorknob. What did you expect? Of course Kate had to undress before she could put on her evening gown. But Giuliana couldn’t tear her gaze away from Kate’s slender back, her sleek arms, and the waves of hair cascading past her shoulders.
What was so special about that? She’d seen half-dressed women before. On washday, the women in the boardinghouse sometimes helped each other, and they often took off their dresses so they could give them a good scrubbing too, doing the laundry in the backyard in just their drawers and chemises.
Admittedly, none of her neighbors were as beautiful as Kate.
Kate’s gaze met her in the mirror.
Flushing bright pink, equally visible in the looking glass, Giuliana hastily entered and closed the door behind her.
Kate turned. “Did my mother order you upstairs to help me get dressed?”
Giuliana nodded and tried to find an inconspicuous point to direct her gaze. Finally, she decided that the crown of Kate’s head should be safe enough.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9783955336622
- Publisher: Ylva Publishing
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