Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014-01-07
Genres: Biographical, Fiction, General, Historical, Romance
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
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A sweeping historical novel based on the extraordinary life and times of Belle Cora, the daughter of a New York merchant who went on to become a millworker, a prostitute, a notorious madam, a murderess, and eventually one of San Francisco's richest and most revered dowagers. Some people remember her as Arabella Godwin, others as Harriet Knowles, and still more as Frances Andersen or other names too numerous to list. But let there be no confusion, this is the legendary story of Belle Cora (1828-1919), who survived by her wits and made a fortune off the greed and lust of men. Orphaned at age nine, Belle and her brother, Lewis, are sent to live with their devoutly religious aunt and uncle in rural upstate New York. Nothing can prepare her for the cruelty of her watchful, jealous cousin Agnes, who would become a lifelong rival and enemy. Yet there, Belle also meets the love of her life, Jeptha Talbot. As she blossoms into a true beauty, however, two horrendous events separate her from Jeptha and Lewis. Heartbroken, Belle flees the countryside and finds work in a mill, where she is exposed to the looser morals of hard luck women and begins to harden into the powerful, cunning woman she will become. Soon Belle finds herself in New York, where life takes a dark but alluring turn as she succumbs to the indulgent lifestyle of a highly sought-after prostitute to the city's wealthiest men. But beneath the silk and taffeta layers, she harbors a deep longing to be reunited with Jeptha, now a respected preacher. The road back to him will take her on a treacherous journey from the town houses of Manhattan to the dusty streets of San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush. It's a road of good intentions, but paved with secrets and lies on which the conniving, sometimes ruthless Belle must transform herself again and again to get what she wants. This is the spellbinding story of the devious exploits of a singular woman ahead of her time. Be prepared to be swept away by Belle Cora.
I received this book for free from Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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I saw the cover for Belle Cora months ago – I believe it was with the initial buzz going around on the book blogs. I was fascinated and I can’t really explain why. Every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet and decide that I want to read some epic life story and usually I zone in on the most innocuous of things. The corset on the cover of Belle Cora, the roses on the cover of Leila Meacham’s Roses, the word Eden in Steinbeck’s East of Eden (I’m not comparing books, just epic journeys dealing with someone’s life). Next thing you know, I’m obsessed and, in spite of knowing, usually, that the little thing I’m fixed on may not make up for the entire book, I still dive in the first chance I get.
Now, with Phillip Margulies story, thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. I was promised the tale of an epic life and I was given that. Arabella Godwin not only lives in the pages of Belle Cora, but she leaps off them quite often. She is larger than life, but she had to be – considering the life she led in the story. And, as Belle Cora was loosely based on some real historical figures, well… as you can imagine, I was caught up in the story fairly quickly.
As all of these stories go, there’s usually heartbreak of some sort. From Arabella’s riches to rags story through her years as a self-supporting woman until the end…when her family is left instructions that will allow her story to be finally free, I was caught. I loved Arabella’s strength, and her ability to make some really tough choices. I grieved for the things that life threw her way and caused her to be put in that place, of course, but I love seeing a woman rise above it all and make something of her life.
Belle Cora has a little bit of something but it’s tastefully lacking in what you might think it might contain in abundance. Margulies knew how to tell his story without resorting to cheap tricks and tasteless sex scenes. As a result, the story is even more powerful because it rises above a profession and, instead, showcases a woman.
Check out these reviews!
- “I was extremely pleased with this novel and recommend it to anyone who likes a good protagonist with an awesome backstory!” – Charming Chelsey’s
- “Long live good girls gone bad! A stunning read and an unforgettable story!” – The Lit Bitch
- “This book was incredibly well written, engrossing and heartwarming/edge of seat intensity that masterfully doesn’t beat you over the head. ” – A Book and a Review