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In 1906 San Francisco, 15-year-old Vera hovers on the edges of the movers and players. The secret daughter of a mysterious brothel madam, Vera longs for her mother’s affection. Vera’s sharp wit is her only hope–and is key to her survival when the earthquake rips through the city, leaving it burning. Determined to find her missing mother, she assembles a rag-tag group to find a path forward, with both the fires and the crack-down on the city’s corruption closing in.
Vera is a singular character, vivid and memorable. This was fast-paced, character-driven historical fiction with a unique perspective on a major event that shaped San Francisco. I loved it.
Meet Vera Johnson, fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the quiet domestic life of the family paid to raise her.
On the morning of the great quake, Vera’s worlds collide. As the city burns and looters vie with the injured, orphaned, and starving, Vera and her guileless sister, Pie, are cast adrift. Disregarding societal norms and prejudices, Vera begins to imagine a new kind of life. She collaborates with Tan, her former rival, and forges an unlikely family of survivors, navigating through the disaster together.
“A character-driven novel about family, power, and loyalty, (San Francisco Chronicle), Vera brings to life legendary characters—tenor Enrico Caruso, indicted mayor Eugene Schmitz and boss Abe Ruef, tabloid celebrity Alma Spreckels. This “brilliantly conceived and beautifully realized” (Booklist, starred review) tale of improbable outcomes and alliances takes hold from the first page, with remarkable scenes of devastation, renewal, and joy. Vera celebrates the audacious fortitude of its young heroine, who discovers an unexpected strength in unprecedented times.