In part because I simply could not find eight pre-published reviews on 19th century non-fiction and partially because it is my birthday month and feel entitled to do whatever I please; this pre-published post is going to be entirely of fiction. Yes, sixteen 19th century fiction titles! Are you not besides yourself with joy?! All blurbs come directly from Publishers Weekly. I have not read any of these titles and thus cannot recommend one over another. However, if any readers wish to give their perspective or reviews, I am beyond curious to hear your comments. . . Are your nibs sharpened, your inkwell full, your quill poised?! Let us get to the list, shall we? . . . . Annnnnnnnd away we gooooo!:
Because Cuba is You by Ramon Chao
The latest from Chao (The Train of Ice and Fire) unfurls through the guise of memory, as a man listens to his grandmother, Dolores, tell stories of her youthful adventures. The daughter of a fortune-teller, Dolores (also known as Lola, Lolita, and Lolina) falls for a much older man of the world, yet after he is imprisoned for witchcraft and quackery, she embarks on a journey that shuttles her from her Galician village to Cuba at the tail end of the 19th century. After a series of odd jobs, she becomes a maid for a Cuban political leader. Lolita/Dolores develops a romance with her boss, and she gets pregnant just as the country gains its independence. After being forced to return home by her employer—to avoid any scandal resulting from the pregnancy—she participates in a ritual that provides her with the gift of ubiquity. Able now to exist in two places at once, Lolita/Dolores fights for political change in both Galicia and Cuba, running with the Independent Association of Colour, anarchists, and Spanish communists.
In Calamity’s Wake by Natalee Caple
On his deathbed, Miette promises her adoptive father that she will seek out her mother, the notorious western legend Calamity Jane. What follows is a dark and thrilling adventure through the American Badlands in the late 19th century, brought to life by exacting prose and a gallery of gothic characters (including a hag claiming to be Miette’s dead father’s love an a woman who begs Miette to find her children’s bones at the bottom of a well). By turns cinematic in its rendering of landscape and heartbreaking in its rich depiction of its young heroine. Interspersed through Miette’s story are minor characters’ perspectives and larger-than-life portraits of Calamity Jane0rendered through colloquial tall tales, dime-novels hyperbole, and something close to genuine biography–that lend a fascinating tone to the book and blur the line between the historic woman and the myth she became. As Miette travels the wild country in search of her mother and herself, an early line in the story continually haunts her journey: “One likes to believe in the goodness of people. But the people you meet on the road, well, sometimes the unseen cannot really see themselves.”
Empress of the Night: A novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak (From Library Journal)–Technically, not 19th century
Polish-born, Canada-based Stachniak continues where she left off with The Winter Palace, an international best seller and Wall Street Journal and Washington Post best book about the early years of Catherine the Great. Here the Russian empress looks back on her ascension to the throne and continued consolidation of power.
His by Christmas by Kaitlin O’Riley
Yvette, who lives at the London home of her older sister, Colette, and Colette’s husband, Lucien. Family friend Lord Jeffrey Eddington, the bastard son of a duke, agrees to watch over Yvette when Lucien and Colette travel to America. Jeffrey is unprepared for his jealousy of William Weatherly, Lord Shelley, Yvette’s suitor and the heir to a dukedom; Jeffrey’s illegitimacy bars him from inheriting his own father’s titles, and he harbors deep affection for Yvette. The young woman’s willingness to wed for the sake of becoming a duchess hints at her immaturity, but she is forced to grow up quickly when her mother becomes ill, and she begins to wonder whether love might outrank title.
Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait by Grace Burrowes
Lady Jenny Windham’s parents and siblings have always smiled indulgently at her little painting hobby, but Jenny takes it seriously, longing to move to Paris and pursue art training. As she’s preparing to leave, she meets Elijah Harrison, Earl of Bernward, a skilled portrait artist. He hopes that painting Jenny’s nephews will boost his career and free him to return to his estranged family The two connect immediately over their shared love of art, but since one is seeking to leave home and the other to return to it, compromises will have to be made.
A Lady Most Lovely by Jennifer Delamere
Tom Poole returns to England after making his fortune in Australian gold mines and falls for Margaret Vaughn, an heiress engaged to another man. Margaret is living a lie: her deceased father left her estate in debt, and her fiancé’s wealth is a fabrication. When she breaks off her engagement, she agrees to borrow money from Tom, though she still think his self-made success is inferior to her heritage. Meanwhile, a man from Tom’s past threatens to destroy his future with Margaret.
Little Bones by Janette Jenkins
In this atmospheric historical novel set in 1899 London, Jenkins (Firefly) evokes the ambiance of a Dickens novel. Fifteen-year-old Jane Stretch is intelligent, hard-working, and a “cripple.” After her family abandons her, she finds work and lodging with a doctor-she will act as his assistant-and his wife, who never leaves their shabby house. Showgirls from the theater seek Mr. Swift’s medical services to remove “obstructions,” also known as “inconveniences.” He provides them a tincture to drink, leaving Jane with them as they miscarry. Without this position, Jane would likely end up as a beggar or in the workhouse, so she does what she is told, never considering the ramifications of her involvement in an illegal activity.
Never Desire a Duke by Lily Dalton
Sophia and Vane Barwick, the Duke and Duchess of Claxton, were happy newlyweds, in love and expecting a baby. Not even two years later, they’re estranged, with Vane on a diplomatic assignment in Vienna and Sophia in London dealing with gossip and spiteful innuendo about Vane’s licentious past. Sophia wants a legal separation–after she gets pregnant again, to replace the child she conceived with Vane but miscarried. Vane, battling his own demons and desperate for Sophia’s love, uses the occasion of a freak snowstorm that raps them in his childhood home to try to win her back.
The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent
The fates of a newly minted lawman, a former prostitute, and the promise of buried gold collide in Kent’s (The Traitor’s Wife) gripping third novel. Set in Texas in the 1870s, the novel alternates between the lives of Lucinda Carter and Nate Cannon, both of whom are starting over but under vastly different circumstances. After years in a Fort Worth brothel, Lucinda makes her escape–along with a pouch full of silver from the stingy landlady–to the remote outpost known as Middle Bayou, where she’s arranged a teaching position while she waits for her mysterious lover. Meanwhile, Nate, an Oklahoma native in his first year as a member of the Texas State Police, is sent to track down two legendary Texas Rangers, Capt. George Deerling and Dr. Tom Goddard, and alert them that William McGill, a killer they’ve been chasing for years, has stuck again. The men form an uneasy trio, with the experienced Rangers unsurprisingly less than ecstatic to be saddled with a greenhorn, though Nate soon proves his worth. In Middle Bayou, Lucinda bides her time, waiting for her lover’s arrival and for him to follow through on his promise of a life made rich with pirates ‘gold hidden near her new home.
Rustication by Charles Palliser
Expelled from Cambridge in disgrace in 1863, 17-year-old Richard Shenstone returns to remote Thurchester and a family hiding in its own secrets. His father has died, tainted by scandal no one will explain; his mother and sister, now penniless, cling to a decaying mansion. Along with lubricious fantasies and opium highs, Richard’s journals chronicle their puzzling behavior. Who is the “Willy” his mother briefly mistakes him for? What is his sister’s real relationship with her wealthy former suitor Davenant Burgoyne, now engaged to another woman? Anonymous letters full of crude sexual taunts and rash of animal mutilations soon begin to plague the district. Evidence implicates Richard in these crimes, and in Burgoyne’s subsequent murder and mutilation. As he discovers the truth, Richard matures from careless rake into a man facing a moral dilemma.
The Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman (from Library Journal)
Said to have been raised by wolves, 18-year-old Bronwyn is taken from 1875 Nevada to Gilded Age New York by a ridiculously rich couple to be polished up and introduced to high society. Alas, her lovers have a way of ending up dead. A follow-up to Zimmerman’s engrossing debut, The Orphanmaster
Season for Scandal by Theresa Romain
Thomas Turner, a nefarious ex-convict, is bent on destroying the marriage and the reputation of Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick, and his wife, Jane. The Ware’s marriage is built upon a shaky foundation–Jane needs her dowry to settle a massive gambling debt–but they secretly harbor deep, heartfelt feelings for each other. They just need to overcome their respective personal problems and mutual feelings of unworthiness. Before they can even begin, Thomas, passing himself off as a distant friend of Jane’s mother, finagles his way into Jane’s good graces. Edmund fears the man will indeed ruin him by way of her, because for all appearances she is beguiled. Meanwhile, the marriage begins to unravel.
Somerset by Leila Meacham
The son of a plantation owner in South Carolina, young Silas Toliver has big plans to join his best friend Jeremy Warwick on a wagon train to the new territory of Texas with his true love, Lettie. The only problem is that his father has died and left him with nothing, so he has no funds to pursue his dream—that is, until a neighboring plantation owner, Mr. Carson Wyndham, offers him an unorthodox deal: he’ll fund Toliver’s trip to Texas, and set him up with a plantation there, if Toliver will marry his daughter, Jessica Wyndham. Jessica helped free a slave and could cause scandal for the family if she stays in South Carolina. After much inner turmoil, Toliver agrees. And so begins a tangled love story, and a curse that follows the Toliver family through multiple generations.
Thoreau at Devil’s Perch by B.B. Oak
One summer day in 1846, Dr. Adam Walker chances to meet Thoreau at the bottom of a cliff near Plumford, Mass., where they come across the body of a black man. After the authorities conclude that the death was an accident–in spite of evidence to the contrary–Thoreau and Adam decide to investigate, along with Adam’s strong willed cousin, artist Julia Bell. Their inquiry takes them from a Boston whorehouse and the home of a righteous preacher to Walden Pond.
White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child; not exactly 19th century
In the prologue, set in 1889 at a London restaurant, Oscar Wilde not only advises Conan Doyle on how to improve the character of Holmes, who so far has appeared only in A Study in Scarlet, but also tells a horrible tale about a mining camp that the aesthete visited during his American tour a few years before. The details of Wilde’s story gradually come out in the main, present-day narrative, in which Pendergast’s protégé, Corrie Swanson, a student at Manhattan’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is undertaking “a large scale study of perimortem trauma on human bones inflicted by a large carnivore.” Her starting point will be Roaring Fork, Colo., where a bear killed and ate 11 miners in 1876. Corrie’s arrival in Roaring Fork coincides with a serious of grisly murders that Pendergast later comes to believe are related to the 19th century bear attacks.
Worthy Brown’s Daughter by Phillip Moargolin
Based loosely on true events, the latest legal thriller from criminal defense attorney turned bestseller Margolin (Lost Lake) follows Matthew Penny, a pistol-bearing lawyer guided by his own moral compass. Portland, Ore., in the 1860s is a nest of conflict: property lawsuits stall the inevitable construction of a railroad, and a black man on trial expects a racist jury. Here, the innocent is Worthy Brown, a freed black man who asks Matthew to rescue his daughter, Roxanne, from Caleb Barbour, a crooked lawyer who illegally holds her in servitude. When Worthy is discovered over Caleb’s dead body, and only he and Matthew know the truth, justice seems unlikely.