This is a very enjoyable work of historical fiction which however reads like 2 separate books! Both of which I hasten to add I enjoyed.
Eliza Waite, the eponymous heroine of the tale is a strong and resourceful character. Considered big and clumsy and even unattractive she makes her way in life the best she is able with the few skills she has and the ones she hasn't already got she learns or adapts to.
The first part of the book tells of her time living mostly alone on a remote island off Washington in the late 19th century. Recently widowed she is loath to mourn the death of a man she never loved, but when fate saw fit to take her beloved only son as well it's hardly surprising she becomes almost unhinged in her grief and decides to remain on this virtually uninhabited isle and forge a living surviving the best way she can. I think I liked this part of the book best, with its air of pioneering and survivalist minimalism in a natural environment
Eliza loves to bake and cook, even when ingredients are at a premium she adapts the recipes she collects and makes tasty and delicious baked goods, sharing many of her recipes with the reader in the pages of this book.
She also reminisces about her earlier life and the events which ended up bringing her here, she certainly didn't have much going for her before she wed.
But time passes, albeit slowly and she eventually makes a break from solitude and escapes the island to make her way to Alaska, part of the Gold Rush phenomenon and thus begins part 2 of the story.
Eliza carves her own way by opening a bakery and cafe for the miners and fortune hunters. Skagway is a lawless and pretty uncivilised town which turns her ideas of what is considred acceptable in society on its head and she finally feels she has found her place in the world, making friends and discovering her own niche. But her past is about to come and haunt her and turn her new found peace of mind on it's head.
A few bits of the book jarred with me a little, the ahemm, unorthodox medical treatment offered by the towns doctor alarmed me, the train of coincidences which led Eliza here I found pretty darned unlikely. Though overall she's a likeable woman, the underdog you want to protect from those darned kicks, who I was rooting for and the story fair rattles along and draws you in right from the beginning.
A competently written, entertaining and enjoyable read, for lovers of historical fiction. Elizas remarkable and fascinating story kept me engrossed throughout.