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Picnic on the Ouse By William Kay Blacklock

The halls of Academia beckon but the lingering touch of summer begs you to stay. You all know that feeling; it is trying to squeeze in the last pleasure read before some dreaded textbook review is assigned. Trouble is narrowing down the mile long selection from you “To-Read” pile. You know the one. It threatens to over take your home or topple over in the leaning tower of Pisa sort of way; which is sure to end like the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Perhaps, a guiding hand can help you with your choices. Below I have listed newly published or soon-to be published titles of both the fiction and non-fiction variety set in or about the 19th century. I have not read any of these, so I cannot be sure it is a “good book” (which, by the way, is different for everyone.)

FICTION

The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai

Beginning in 1999 and retreating backward in time to 1900, it chronicles a century in the life of Laurelfield, an estate near Lake Michigan, north of Chicago. The author opens with the ghost story of Violet Devohr, who allegedly killed herself in the attic. Now Zee, Violet’s great-granddaughter, is slowly going mad herself. The book takes off in subsequent chapters, and we see how Violet’s ghost—or maybe the house itself—affected its inhabitants, many of whom visited for extended periods when Laurelfield served as an artists’ colony from the 1930s to the 1950s. Slowly, readers get more clues about the mystery at the book’s core, understanding the characters’ interconnections.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

Prudencia Prim, a self-assured, erudite young woman, leaves academe behind and takes a job as a personal librarian in a remote village in France. Her academic prowess makes her a bit overqualified for this “no experience required” position, but the charming and enigmatic town of San Irenoe de Arnois is hard to resist and her employer, “the man in the wingchair,” is equally charming and enigmatic, albeit curmudgeonly. Could Mr. Darcy really exist? Miss Prim is intrigued but irritated by his questioning of her reading taste. The townspeople have a curious approach to modern life: at once very old world and startlingly progressive. Schooling is haphazard, but the children who sit at the feet of Miss Prim’s employer are intelligent, multilingual, and possess admirable grasps of the classics and philosophy. How can one town be so preciously idyllic? As she proceeds with the work of organizing her employer’s books, the women of the village begin to gently nudge Miss Prim from her rigid view of life into one that might even include love.

Blood on the Water by Anne Perry

Bestseller Perry’s 20th William Monk Victorian historical (after 2013’s Blind Justice) opens with a powerful scene. Monk, commander of the Thames River Police, witnesses an explosion aboard a pleasure boat, which rapidly sinks. Despite his heroic efforts to save lives, almost 200 are lost in the tragedy, which the detective quickly concludes wasn’t an accident. To Monk’s dismay, the authorities take the case away from his force and assign it to the London Metropolitan Police. An Egyptian man, Habib Beshara, is charged with planting the bomb that caused the deadly explosion, though his motive is far from clear. Monk has misgivings about Beshara’s guilt, but with the case reassigned and a culprit identified, he can investigate only at risk to his career.

Hell with the Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey

A deadly tornado’s impact on a small town in Oklahoma dominates this story set in 1916. Once the storm has passed, the Tuckers and their neighbors must take inventory, give thanks or grieve, and rebuild. Not until later in the book will it become known that one victim, the much-reviled Jubal Beldon, was stabbed to death before the tornado tossed his body around. As the matriarchal Alafair investigates—in her usual roundabout fashion—she learns about other families’ secrets. By watching her neighbors’ reaction to Jubal’s death she is able to figure out who killed the man. Now, morally, Alafair has to wrestle with what to do with this knowledge. At the same time, another Beldon brother threatens to cause more turmoil, leaving a young deputy with a tough choice.

A Moment in Time by Tracie Peterson

Alice Chesterfield never imagined that the murder of her father and the attack on her could ever lead to a better life than the one she had in Colorado. But when Alice’s attacker returns, she seeks safety and refuge on a Texas ranch. There Alice meets and falls in love with Robert Barnett, who is already engaged. While Alice hides her feelings, Robert struggles with his waning love for his fiancée. Meanwhile, Alice discovers that the previous existence she experienced with her father in Colorado was a sham: her mother and brother, long thought dead, are alive. Disillusioned, Alice must trust God to help her find peace.

No Job for a Lady by Carol Mccleary

Set in 1886, McCleary’s solid fourth Nellie Bly mystery (after 2012’s The Formula for Murder) takes the real-life newspaper reporter from El Paso, Tex., to Teotihuacán, Mexico, on her maiden voyage outside the United States. The independent Nellie is furious that her editor has refused to let her take on a foreign correspondent assignment because it was too dangerous for a woman, so she’s decided to freelance on her own. While she has no particular story in mind, run-ins with such characters as Roger Watkins, with whom Nellie ends up chastely sharing a train compartment, and Harry “Sundance” Longabaugh, a frisky, gun-toting cowboy, guarantee that her journey will produce no shortage of newsworthy adventures.

Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. Taylor

Set in her native city of Scranton, Penn., during the early part of the 20th century. When Daisy, the oldest daughter of miner Owen Morgan and his housemaid wife Grace, dies in a fireworks accident, her parents are devastated: Grace’s melancholy becomes so overwhelming that she conjures up the creepy, destructive figment she calls Grief; Owen has a violent drunken quarrel with Grace, moves out to live above a tavern, and leaves their church. Meanwhile, the Morgans’ eight-year-old daughter, Violet, is weighed down by her guilt and starts cutting school with older boy Stanley Adamski. While Owen seeks a way to reconcile with his wife and family after losing a hand in a mining accident and moving in with a compassionate widow, the tormented Grace battles her inner demons. Taylor’s novel, which is based on a family story, dramatically culminates with the arrival of evangelist Billy Sunday and a powerful blizzard that rocks Scranton.

What Lies Beneath by Sarah Rayne

“Ella Haywood was in the delicatessen counter queue at the supermarket when she heard the news that ripped open her life and brought her childhood nightmares gibbering back.” More than 50 years in the past, Ella and her friends Clementine Poulter and Veronica Campion dared each other to enter the cordoned-off village of Priors Bramley, which was to be the subject of a government experiment to test a new chemical compound, Geranos. While in the village, and with the clock counting down to the dropping of Geranos from a plane, the trio encountered a strangely disfigured man, whom they end up pushing to his death out of fear. The so-called Poisoned Village is finally being reopened, leading to Ella’s fears that her past misdeeds will be uncovered. But beyond the familiar storyline, Rayne adds flashbacks to 1912, providing a back story that eventually links up with the main one, and, in the process, creates a truly memorable and scary villain.

NON-FICTION

Absent Through Want of Boots: Diary of a Victorian School in Leicestershire by Robert Elverstone

Following the 1870 Forster Elementary Education Act, Albert Road Board School in Leicestershire opened on September 2, 1878 with an average role of 500 children. Drawn from the first-hand accounts of the headmasters in the school log books, this book details the diseases and ailments suffered; the struggle of local families to feed and clothe their children, especially during difficult times of strike and war; the introduction of vaccinations and the school health inspector; the arrival of the telephone and electric lighting; and comments about the curriculum, staff, and leisure activities. Sometimes humorous and sometimes sad, everyday life is captured here: from accounts of overcrowded classrooms and corporal punishment, to squabbles about tending the classroom fires. This book captures the reality of life at this Victorian school and is a must for local and family historians alike.

Dangerous Days on the Victorian Railways: Feuds, frauds, robberies, and riots by Terry Deary

Facing feuds and frauds, robberies and riots and the disasters of dangerous drivers, deadly designers and sleepy signalmen, Victorians risked more than just delays when stepping on a steam train. Victorian inventors certainly didn’t lack steam, but squabbling over who deserved the title of ‘The Father of the Locomotive’ and busy enjoying their fame and fortune, safety on the rails was not their priority. Brakes were seen as a needless luxury (until a steamer started to slide downhill towards disaster) and boilers had an inconvenient tendency to overheat and explode, and in turn, blow up anyone in reach. Four years after a mysterious murderer left only his victim’s crushed hat and walking stick on board a first class carriage, the nation trembled at the trains once more. Poorly timed repairs caused a locomotive to derail and crash into the shallow River Beult, killing ten passengers and injuring 40 more. The infamous Staplehurst disaster is said to have traumatised passenger Charles Dickens, threatening to expose his affair with the young Nell Ternan, and altering his health and writing for the rest of his life. Often recognised as having revolutionised travel and industrial Britain, Victorian railways were perilous. Few other histories honour the lives of the people killed or injured by the diseases and disasters which accounted for thousands of deaths. The victims of the Victorian railways had names, lives and families, and they deserve to be remembered…

Health and Wellness in 19th century America by John Waller

Health and Wellness in 19th-Century America covers a period of dramatic change in the United States by examining our changing understanding of the nature of the disease burden, the increasing size of the nation, and our conceptions of sickness and health. With topics ranging from the unsanitary tenements of New York’s Five Points, the field hospitals of the Civil War, and to the laboratories of Johns Hopkins Medical School, author John C. Waller reveals a complex picture of tradition, discovery, innovation, and occasional spectacular success.

This book draws upon an extensive literature to document sickness and wellness in environments like rural homesteads, urban East-coast slums, and the hastily built cities of the West. It provides a fascinating historical examination of a century in which Americans made giant strides in understanding disease yet also clung to traditional methods and ideas, charting how U.S. medical science gradually transformed from being a backwater to a world leader in the field.

How to be Victorian: A dawn to dusk guide to Victorian life by Ruth Goodman

Drawing on her own adventures living in re-created Victorian conditions, Goodman serves as our bustling and fanciful guide to nineteenth-century life. Proceeding from daybreak to bedtime, this charming, illustrative work celebrates the ordinary lives of the most perennially fascinating era of British history. From waking up to the rapping of a “knocker-upper man” on the window pane to lacing into a corset after a round of calisthenics, from slipping opium to the little ones to finally retiring to the bedroom for the ideal combination of “love, consideration, control and pleasure,” the weird, wonderful, and somewhat gruesome intricacies of Victorian life are vividly rendered here.

The Quack’s Daughter: A true story about the private life of a Victorian college girl by Greta Nettleton

Raised in the gritty Mississippi River town of Davenport, Iowa, Cora Keck could have walked straight out of a Susan Glaspell story. When Cora was sent to Vassar College in the fall of 1884, she was a typical unmotivated, newly rich party girl. Her improbable educational opportunity at “the first great educational institution for womankind” turned into an enthralling journey of self-discovery as she struggled to meet the high standards in Vassar’s School of Music while trying to shed her reputation as the daughter of a notorious quack and self-made millionaire: Mrs. Dr. Rebecca J. Keck, second only to Lydia Pinkham as America’s most successful self-made female patent medicine entrepreneur of the time.

Victorian Murderesses: A true history of thirteen respectable French and English women accused of unspeakable crimes by Mary S. Hartman

This riveting combination of true crime and social history examines a dozen cases from the 1800s involving thirteen French and English women charged with murder. Each incident was a cause célèbre, and this mixture of scandal and scholarship offers illuminating details of backgrounds, deeds, and trials.
“The real delight is that historian Mary S. Hartman does more than reconstruct twelve famous trials. She has written a piece on the social history of nineteenth-century women from an illuminating perspective: their favorite murders

The Victorian Sex Guide: Desire and deviance in the 19th century by Fern Riddell

An exciting factual romp through sexual desire, practices and deviance in the Victorian era. The Victorian Guide to Sex will reveal advice and ideas on sexuality from the Victorian period. Drawing on both satirical and real life events from the period, it explores every facet of sexuality that the Victorians encountered.

Reproducing original advertisements and letters, with extracts taken from memoirs, legal cases, newspaper advice columns, and collections held in the Museum of London and the British Museum, this book lifts the veil from historical sexual attitudes.

A Year in the Victorian Kitchen by Amelia Horne

With the discovery of a Victorian-era personal archive from her great-great grandmother, Caroline Suter, a cook at Arundel Castle, the author embarks on a culinary journey using her great-great grandmother’s personal recipes and notes plus her vast collection of clippings from a popular period weekly newspaper, The Table by Mrs. A. B. Marshall, considered as indispensable to English housewives and cooks as Mrs. Beeton. Author Amelia Horne takes up where her great-great grandmother left off in bringing modern readers a fascinating compilation about the seasonal workings and sensory delights of the Victorian kitchen and guides us on how to adapt and modify Victorian culinary know-how for the 21st century.

**All fiction reviews/summaries are from Library Journal or Publisher’s Weekly. All non-fiction reviews/summaries are taken straight from Amazon.**

 

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