Friday, May 22, 2015

What I Read in December Part II . . .

What I Read in December Part II . . .

Calico PalaceCalico Palace by Gwen Bristow-- Historical Fiction/Romance

Kendra Logan travels with her mother on board the ship Cynthia around Cape Horn to a place called California. There they will join Kendra's stepfather Colonel Taine in a place called San Francisco. No one has ever heard of San Francisco in 1847 and Kendra does not relish going there, for she is not wanted. The crew members are all kind, especially Loren Shields. San Francisco is a muddy, uncivilized place but Kendra enjoys creating meals for her family and friends and the company of Ted Parks, the errand "boy" from Chase and Fenway. When gold is discovered near Sutter's Fort, Ted decides to try his luck. Kendra won't let him leave without her and despite the hardships, is determined to make the best of it. Her traveling companions include the the ex-sailor Hiram Boyd, a kind man nicknamed Pocket and a woman known as Marny, a gambling hostess from Honolulu. Marny's partner Delbert, two bodyguards known as "The Blackbeards" and their girlfriends round out the party. Kendra is shocked but intrigued by the beguiling Marny, obviously a woman with different morals than Kendra has been brought up with. For better or for worse, in the gold fields of California, the traveling companions become trusted friends. When Kendra's life takes an unexpected turn, her friends are there for her every step of the way. As San Francisco grows and changes, Kendra does too.

This book is a follow-up to Jubilee Trail. I recommend reading that one first. This book follows that one in time sequence, telling the story of how San Francisco came to be a city thanks to the gold rush. The characters are merely inserted into the history of San Francisco. The story is very slow to start and I didn't really get into it until a quarter of the way through. It just wasn't compelling enough to grab my attention. The plot starts and stops a lot as the author stops to explain the history of California. I found myself skimming parts of the book because there was too much history. I know a little bit about the gold rush and have seen demonstrations of panning for gold on TV. I wanted to know more about the characters and what was happening with them. Also, the history bits got repetitive after awhile. The story is not as compelling as Jubilee Trail for that reason. It does pick up a lot about 3/4 of the way through and I had a hard time putting it down.

This author has a formula to her romantic plots so I wasn't entirely surprised at the turns Kendra's story took but I thought the author tried too hard to insert romance where it didn't fit. There are some really odd pairings at the end of the book just randomly tossed in. They aren't developed enough to be believable. Though the romances are clean and technically kisses only, it IS set in the wild west. There's frank talk of who is going to bed with whom; frequent mentions of Blossom, a notorious Madame and her flower garden girls; gambling; drinking; unmarried couples being together and other things that go on in the wild west. There's also a lot of ethnic and racial stereotypes that while accurate for the time, bothered me to read. That sort of thing doesn't usually bother me in a period novel but there was a lot of it here and unnecessary at times too. I also felt like there was a pre-women's-liberation agenda going on in the author's head that she tried to push. There were far too many women interested in domesticity. That got boring fast.

The characters are almost shadow copies of those in Jubilee Trail, but not quite as lifelike. These characters are more stereotypes. The only character I really cared for was Marny. I loved her independent spirit and how she had the guts to leave her comfortable life and go after what she wanted. Though she chafes at the label of "Woman of easy virtue with heart of gold" she really does fit that stereotype. I especially loved how educated she was and how she used it to her advantage when she wanted to. I really felt for her during her ups and downs and wanted her to be happy. While I did want her to find someone who loved her and cared about her, I also wanted her to remain independent. I'm torn on how I feel about the outcome of her story. The only other character I liked was Pocket. He's so sweet and kind, plus he ends up working in the library! He's a true blue friend, one I would want by my side when the going got rough. He was the most supportive of the supporting characters.

Kendra could have been a great character but the decisions she makes turn her into exactly the sort of person she can't stand. I see why she made some of the choices she did and probably I would have too if I were her, but I didn't like the choices she made because they seemed out of character. She's supposed to grow and change but her growth isn't really all that visible. She just randomly realizes things at the end and her story is rushed to the inevitable conclusion. This is the author's fault for including too much history and not weaving her characters completely into the history of San Francisco.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.