San Francisco in 1915 is a "city of dreams," a place of great possibilities, and the site of the great Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Three young women come to the city to find a better life: (1) 17-year-old Thais, very poor but proud and determined to bring about a better world. She has lost everything including her beloved sister to a horrible death she witnessed. But she holds onto her principles and convictions and even the betrayal of the man she loves does not stop her. (2) 23-year-old Ellie, the wayward daughter of a Midwest preacher, who wants to be good but finds she loves to be bad. Perhaps the most tragic figure, she comes to San Francisco hoping for a fresh start but can't quite seem to achieve it. (3) Lastly, there is Garnet. At 35, she considers herself a spinster. Raised in Vancouver to be a lady, her parents never understood the shy girl and embarrassed by her sometimes odd behavior, they isolated and rejected her. She stole the family jewels and escaped to San Francisco, wanting her own life. But never having learned to live, she becomes a recluse, her only companion a cat. They all end up at the home of dear Mrs. Carter, a widow who is willing to take in girls who need a hand.
Crenshaw masterfully weaves these three stories together all the while immersing you in San Francisco's life and culture as the nation is on the brink of war with Germany. You will feel like you lived that year, I promise. There is so much research poured into the pages of this novel, but done in such an alluring way, it’s captivating. I just can't say enough good about it, though I will warn you, it has its melancholy side.
I haven't said much about the heroes, but they are certainly part of the story: three complex men with their own dreams and their own stories. How they come to know these women is fascinating.
It's a story of life's choices, of those who live courageously and those who live as cowards. A story of those who show kindness and those who do not. Those who would use others and those who would give. Those who choose love, though it is a difficult path, and those who choose a lesser life. I couldn't help mourn over Ellie's terrible choices you know she will one day regret, but I celebrated those of Thais and Garnet. It made me want to start over again, to try and do better. To think a romance author can so move a reader to bring about that kind of emotion tells you just how good Nadine Crenshaw is. I highly recommend this one.