Summer is famous for light reading lists; leisure reading that may be easily interrupted to entertain friends, or play on the beach. Those juicy gossip books, the best seller list, or heck even taking a stab at your current to read list again will do. While, I cannot say with any certainty the titles below are light reads, they are all fiction novels set in the 19th century (and a few not, just for good measure.) As always, most of these are not currently in stores or libraries. These list are for those “eager beavers” who do not mind requesting books ahead of time. As a librarian, I prefer requests or reviews, it is your library after all.
Butch Cassidy: The lost years by William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone
Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died in Bolivia in 1908. Johnstone and his nephew flesh out a variant theory in which the Kid dies, but Cassidy, as Jim Strickland, shows up in west Texas a few years later. A dying man wills him his ranch if he will kill three rustlers. Strickland promptly dispatches the rustler’s and hires on men to run a respectable ranch. But when a railroad worker dies because of company negligence and officials renege on their responsibility to the widow, Strickland’s sympathies kick in. With his new Wild Bunch, he robs several trains, taking care of the widow, then he pays for a new church. Of course, he’s romancing the pastor’s daughter, Daisy Hatfield, and the question becomes, Will Strickland’s deeds catch up with him?
Sarah, the gardener’s daughter, is treated like family on the Duke of Trent’s estate. So when the duchess goes missing, Sarah is elevated from housemaid to daughter Esme’s companion while the four sons search for their mother. After hiring a detective, heir Simon, Esme, and Sarah head to London for the season, where Simon will seek a wife, even though he loves Sarah in spite of her social status. At the head of the pack of debutantes is Simon’s neighbor Georgina, and her family is pushing for the match. But Simon is torn between marrying someone of his own class or someone who holds his heart. Meanwhile all avenues to discovering who kidnapped the Duchess of Trent and whether she is alive or dead seem blocked.
His Clockwork Canary by Beth Ciotta
In the second book, after Her Sky Cowboy, in Ciotta’s fantastic steampunk Glorious Victorious Darcys series, Willie G. is the Clockwork Canary, a young, popular writer for the London Informer, a trendy Victorian tabloid. On the hunt for a good story, he has finagled his way into accompanying inventor Simon Darcy on his quest for a time-travel engine. Simon needs to find the carefully hidden object to win the Jubilee Sceince Committee Award and restore his family fortune. But Willie G. is actually Wilhelmina Goodenough, a time-tracking Freak with a kaleidoscope eyes; the same Wilhelmina who broke off elopement plans with Simon 12 years earlier. They’ve both changed a lot since, but eventually Simon sees through the disguise that has fooled everyone else, and they discover that their ardor has not died. Together they search for the engine, navigating the complex, often deadly, societal maze formed when time-traveling hippies landed in Queen Victoria’s England, and an oxymoronic Peace War took place.
How to Tame Your Duke by Juliana Gray
After her father and brother-in-law are assassinated, Princess Emilie of Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof and her two sisters flee to England. Upon arriving, their uncle, the Duke of Olympia, convinces the young women that their future safely rests on disguising themselves as young gentlemen. All of which explains exactly why Emile finds herself dressed up in suit and whispers, playing the role of Tobias Grimsby, the newest tutor to Lord Frederick Silverton. Ever since returning home from an ill-fated adventure in India that left him disfigures and disillusioned, Freddie’s father, the Duke of Ashland, refuses to receive visitors, attend social functions, or set foot outside his estate in Yorkshire. Once Freddie finishes his studies and sets off for Oxford, the duke is determined to live out the rest of his days in solitude. At least, that was the plan–until the duke meets Freddie’s latest tutor.
I Am Venus by Barbara Mujica
The novel follows the seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velazquez’s career from his humble beginnings as an apprentice painter to his arrival at the royal court and steady ascension as the king’s “pet painter.” Examination of Velazquez’s paintings illuminates the corruption and censorship that surrounded the royal court during the Inquisition. But while the timeline of Velazquez drives the plot, it is the everyday players surrounding him who step into the foreground of the story. The exploration of their daily lives, with a particular focus on Velazquez’s wife and her ladies in waiting, paints a picture that is deliciously contradictory to the prefect representation demanded of Velazquez by the royal court. Narrated by the mysterious model who posed for Velazquez’s risqué nude portrait, the Rokeyby Venus, the revelation of whose identity makes for a satisfying conclusion to this worthwhile read.
A Most Peculiar Circumstance by Jen Turano
Whenever fearless suffragist Arabella Beckett goes, trouble follows, because in 1880 “proper” ladies are not supposed to fight for the vote or carry a pistol. Arabella would rather protect herself than rely on a man, thank you very much. But when she ends up in a small-town jail with Miss James, a young woman she’s saved from kidnapping and prostitution, she has no choice but to allow herself and her new friend to be sprung by Theodore Wilder; a famous private eye sent by her family. Wilder is tall, strong, handsome, intelligent, and the most pig-headed chauvinist Arabella has ever met. In all of his travels, Theodore has never come across a woman like Arabella. He’s both annoyed and fascinated by her self-sufficient manner. In fact, if she were a man, he’d admire her quick wit and heroic endeavors. But she’s most definitely a woman, and she doesn’t know her place, something he intends to remedy.
In July 1840, magistrate Stephen Godwit, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, visits Liberty’s office in London to discuss a case that came before his court. He fears that young Jack Picton, a trade unionist and political agitator, has been unjustly accused of murdering governess Mary Marsh. Liberty finds that the sleepy little town of Cheltenham is really a hotbed of vice. The poor residents of the town will do just about anything to avoid being sent to the horrible workhouse.
Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein’s Diary by Barry Grant
The story so far: Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous consulting detective, long presumed dead, was unfrozen from a glacier in the modern day; with his new sidekick James Wilson. Holmes continues to solve crimes who mindboggling nature only he can penetrate. This time out, the apparent murder of an animal rights activist leads Holmes and Wilson into a devilishly complex plot involving a widely disliked media mogul and a scientist whose research is either cutting edge or certifiably insane, depending on your point of view.
*All the synopsis are verbatim from Booklist Magazine.