I always love when a book takes me somewhere I don’t expect to go. Eliza Waite by Ashley Sweeney was just such a novel. I was happy to receive a copy at no charge for my honest review.
About Eliza Waite:
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.
About the Author:
Ashley Sweeney is a graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., the Stanford Publishing Course, and City University in Seattle, Wash., where she earned a Masters of Education degree. As a seasoned journalist, teacher, and community activist, Sweeney served as a VISTA volunteer in the late 1970s and continues community service today as a member of Soroptimist International, one of the largest women’s advocacy organizations in the world.
While juggling a large household complete with four children, various pets, and all the chaos that accompanies a life dedicated to raising a family, Sweeney found an outlet as a humor columnist and features editor for The Lynden Tribune in Lynden, Washington, where she garnered numerous awards for her writing over the span of a decade. Sweeney also taught English, Journalism, English as Second Language, and GED prep at both the high school and community college levels. She now lives in La Conner, Washington and writes for the hometown newspaper, The La Conner Weekly News.
Eliza Waite is her first novel.
This was a unique and powerful book – only my second 5 star read for the year. The novel follows the life of Eliza Waite, from an unhappy childhood through an arranged marriage to the loss of her husband and child. Eliza then lives alone in what remains of her settlement where her only solace is her weekly baking from recipes she has collected through the years. Eliza is also a voracious reader – she always had been and she longed to see more of the world but couldn’t imagine leaving the place where her son rested.
One day Eliza injures herself and she manages to get herself to the mainland where the owner of the local store cares for her until she is able to go back to her solitary existence but while living in the shop she developed a relationship of sorts with the owner’s nephew and it starts Eliza to thinking that perhaps it’s time to reenter the world and to perhaps even marry again. But she isn’t sure she is ready and she had doubts about the man.
Life doesn’t bring Eliza and easy answers so she heads off on her own to the Klondike with dreams of opening a bakery. Something all her own with no one telling her what to do. It is there that Eliza truly comes into her own with the support of an unlikely circle of friends. It is not easy in Alaska but it leads her to a life of fulfillment she never could have imagined.
This was one really good book. I haven’t encountered a protagonist like Eliza in quite a while. She is not always likable but she is always compelling. The detail as to the time and period is so well woven into the narrative that you don’t realize how much you are learning as you read. It was one of those books where I felt I was there walking in Eliza’s shadow as the descriptions were so vivid. The inclusion of recipes from the day was a big bonus for someone like me who loves to bake. I’m keeping this book for another read as I know I’ll pick up additional details on a second go through that will only make the story better. Eliza Waite is a remarkable story and a character you won’t long forget.
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My other Five Star Review for 2016: