The Pre-Reads are here! As the last Wednesday of the month, it is time to reveal 16 new and up-coming titles that are 19th century in nature. The books may be historical fiction, biographies, non-fiction, or even steampunk. All titles below are newly published or not yet published. Consequently, I have not read any of the titles listed below so I cannot recommend any particular one. Likewise, I am not paid to endorse any of these titles. The fiction titles have been reviewed by Library Journal, Kirkus Review, Publisher’s Weekly and the synopsizes are taken directly from the Baker and Taylor website. If the summary is pithy, I have copied from Amazon. If you have no idea what I just said, it is quite okay. The bottom line is . . . books! Lots of them! Set during our favorite time period! Take a gander below and let me know which one(s) you plan on pestering your local librarian to purchase.
The Vintner’s Daughter by Kristen Harnisch
Loire Valley, 1895. When seventeen-year-old Sara Thibault’s father is killed in a mudslide, her mother sells their vineyard to a rival family whose eldest son marries Sara’s sister, Lydia. But a violent tragedy compels Sara and her sister to flee to New York, forcing Sara to put aside her dream to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker. Meanwhile, Philippe Lemieux has arrived in California with the ambition of owning the largest vineyard in Napa by 1900. When he receives word of his brother’s death in France, he resolves to bring the killer to justice. Sara has travelled to California in hopes of making her own way in the winemaking world. When she encounters Philippe in a Napa vineyard, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Sara knows he is the one man who could return her family’s vineyard to her, or send her straight to the guillotine.
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig
In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.
Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.
Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.
The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy by Jacopo Della Quericia
In his fiction debut, della Quercia imaginatively steampunks a worldwide conspiracy confronting President William Howard Taft, a crisis that threatens the U.S.Curiously, Taft is “the single greatest underground boxing champion the world would never know of.” That avocation is facilitated by Nellie Taft’s willingness to run her husband’s administration; a look-alike automaton; and an 800-foot-plus flying machine, Airship One, capable of a fun trip across the pond so Taft can box four London toughs in one night. In a plot bracketed by Lincoln’s assassination and the sinking of the Titanic, Taft and company cope with a sinister superweapon fueled by cesium hydroxide, clues to which are incorporated in a pocket watch, “unlike any machine in history,” given to Lincoln by a Russian ambassador. The watch is brought to Taft by a worried Robert Lincoln, Abraham’s son. More characters are yanked from history, including Tesla (he gets good press), Edison (he doesn’t), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Machiavellian J.P. Morgan, and diabolical King Leopold II of Belgium, ravager of the Congo. Taft’s the most appealing character, 350 pounds of bon homme, passionately in love with Nellie, loyal to those who serve him, including the Cuban cigar–smoking Wilkie, Secret Service chief and bane of Nellie’s existence. There’s a Marx Brothers reference amplified by a Groucho-ism; an attack at the White House; an invasion of Yale’s Skull and Bones, “the greatest secret of the society: its lack of any particularly meaningful secrets”; an Airship One trip to meet Kurtz in the heart of darkness; and a rock-’em, sock-’em shootout aboard the Titanic.
A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks
Gwen Marcey is a forensic artist, single mother, and cancer survivor. When she accepts an assignment to reconstruct the remains of recently unearthed victims of the Mountain Meadows Massacrean incident in 1857 in which more than 100 men and women were killed by Mormon settlers in Utahshe gets entangled in a present-day murder mystery. One of the visitors to the historic site is killed, and a security guard also turns up dead. Positive that her own life is in danger, Gwen sets out to help the police and the FBI track down the killers. A good friend, her ex-husband, and her unruly teenage daughter all play their parts in Gwen’s quest for answers.
The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb by Nicholas Rinaldi
Celebrated showman P.T. Barnum finds and hires five-year-old Charlie Stratton, a little person whom Barnum rechristens with the stage name General Tom Thumb. Tom performs with other members of the exotic troupe at Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. The “precocious” and “full of mischief” boy impersonates world figures, dances and sings, and tells jokes, making him rich and famous. The diminutive star and his parents embark on a three-year European tour in search of international acclaim. Much later, on the eve of the American Civil War, Tom and Barnum witness firsthand the shocking horrors of the First Battle of Bull Run. Burned out and lonely, Tom falls in love with and woos fellow performer Lavinia “Vinny” Warren (32 inches in height to Tom’s 35), and Barnum, always the showman, arranges an extravagant wedding for them. The Lincolns host a White House reception for the celebrated newlyweds after which the patriotic Tom serves as a secret military courier during their honeymoon tour through New England and Canada. While on the road, Tom carries out his dangerous messenger duties while Vinny, ruminating between performances held in different cities, longs to start a family. As the war winds down, Tom and Vinny must overcome the darker challenges they encounter.
The Clever Mill Horse by Jodi Lew-Smith
in the early 19th century, a young woman fights to patent her flax-milling machine.Ella Kenyon’s grandfather has a dying wish: that she finish designing and engineering the flax-milling device the two of them have struggled to develop. Finishing it represents not only the culmination of their work but the potential to remove herself and her family from the control of her abusive father, Amherst. But Ella is met with all manner of obstacles. The device works but imperfectly and impracticably. To patent the machine, she needs to trust the wealthy Mr. Emerston, who she knows is liable to steal her design. And perhaps more pressing, she must reconfigure her sense of self as aspects of her past—her real mother, her connection to her grandfather’s Native American assistant, Pete—come to light. While patenting a milling device may seem like dull territory for fiction, Lew-Smith’s greatest strength, among many, is ensuring that the plot is dramatic without being exaggerated, intricate without being convoluted. Allegiances shift and mutate, and characters show capacity for change and regret. Most arresting of these is Ella’s flawed and fascinating aunt Lucille, a woman who’d previously been only cold and distant to Ella but who has now taken a sudden interest in her success. When the need to patent the machine forces Ella to travel to Washington City, capital of the new nation, her cadre of friends and family help her get there, but it’s Ella who takes center stage. She’s headstrong and brilliant, unafraid of a scuffle and capable of tenderness beneath her rough exterior. While still more obstacles meet her on the journey—an exhilarating fire in the Pine Barrens, a kidnapping and torturing in Philadelphia—Ella remains steadfast in her determination to see her grandfather’s wish to its conclusion and, most importantly, to never become the victim.
Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches by Cherie Priest
What if Lizzie Borden actually did kill her father and stepmother with an axe, but she had a really good reason? Lizzie and her sister, Emma, still live in Fall River, MA, ostracized despite Lizzie’s acquittal years earlier. The townspeople don’t know that Lizzie might be their only defense against ocean creatures who can possess their souls and change their bodies. This clever premise combines genuine horror and a legendary historical character for an entertaining read. As in the best horror, the exact nature of the threat is left a little vague, allowing the reader’s imagination to fill in the details.
De Potter’s Grand Tour by Joanna Scott
A dilettante, scholar manqué and artifact collector who may or may not be a member of the Belgian aristocracy reinvents himself in late-19th-century New York, embarking on a career as an international tour guide with the assistance of his devoted American wife.Arriving in New York in the 1870s, Armand de Potter is an ambitious immigrant who tries his hand at various business schemes before taking a position as a French teacher in an upstate girls school, where he impresses all with his erudition and patrician bearing. There, he meets his future wife, the genteel and competent Amy, whom he rechristens Aimée. The two found De Potter Tours, escorting wealthy American and British tourists to exotic locales, arranging all facets of the experience to minimize inconvenience for the travelers and enlightening them on the finer points of history and the former glories of fallen empires. Meanwhile, Armand seeks out looted antiquities and struggles to be recognized as a scholar and important collector by the academic establishment. His yearning for the approval and respect of high society, and his great fear of being exposed as an intellectual fraud, or worse, have tragic consequences.
Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The First Kansas Colored, the Civil War’s First African American Combat Unit by Ian Michael Spurgeon, Ph.D.
It was 1862, the second year of the Civil War, though Kansans and Missourians had been fighting over slavery for almost a decade. For the 250 Union soldiers facing down rebel irregulars on Enoch Toothman’s farm near Butler, Missouri, this was no battle over abstract principles. These were men of the First Kansas Colored Infantry, and they were fighting for their own freedom and that of their families. They belonged to the first black regiment raised in a northern state, and the first black unit to see combat during the Civil War. Soldiers in the Army of Freedom is the first published account of this largely forgotten regiment and, in particular, its contribution to Union victory in the trans-Mississippi theater of the Civil War. As such, it restores the First Kansas Colored Infantry to its rightful place in American history.
Composed primarily of former slaves, the First Kansas Colored saw major combat in Missouri, Indian Territory, and Arkansas. Ian Michael Spurgeon draws upon a wealth of little-known sources—including soldiers’ pension applications—to chart the intersection of race and military service, and to reveal the regiment’s role in countering white prejudices by defying stereotypes. Despite naysayers’ bigoted predictions—and a merciless slaughter at the Battle of Poison Spring—these black soldiers proved themselves as capable as their white counterparts, and so helped shape the evolving attitudes of leading politicians, such as Kansas senator James Henry Lane and President Abraham Lincoln.
Saint Katherine: The life of Katherine Drexel by Cordelia Frances Biddle
When Katharine Drexel was born in 1858, her grandfather, financier Francis Martin Drexel, had a fortune so vast he was able to provide a loan of sixty million dollars to the Union’s cause during the Civil War. Her uncle and mentor, Anthony, established Drexel University to provide instruction to the working class regardless of race, religion, or gender. Her stepmother was Emma Bouvier whose brother, John, became the great-grandfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Katharine Drexel’s family were American royalty. As a Philadelphia socialite, “Kitty,” as she was often called, adored formal balls and teas, rowing regattas, and sailing races. She was beautiful, intelligent, and high-spirited. But when her stepmother died in 1883, and her father two years later, a sense of desolation nearly overwhelmed her. She was twenty-seven and in possession of a staggering inheritance. Approached for aid by the Catholic Indian Missions, she surprised her family by giving generously of money and time. It was during this period of acute self-examination that she journeyed to Rome for a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. With characteristic energy and fervor, she detailed the plight of the Native Americans, and begged for additional missionaries to serve them. His reply astonished her. “Why not, my child, yourself become a missionary?”
Children and Youth During the Gilded Age and Progressive Era by James Marten
In the decades after the Civil War, urbanization, industrialization, and immigration marked the start of the Gilded Age, a period of rapid economic growth but also social upheaval. Reformers responded to the social and economic chaos with a “search for order,” as famously described by historian Robert Wiebe. Most reformers agreed that one of the nation’s top priorities should be its children and youth, who, they believed, suffered more from the disorder plaguing the rapidly growing nation than any other group.
Little Author in the Big Woods: A biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Many girls in elementary and middle school fall in love with the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. What they don’t always realize is that Wilder’s books are autobiographical. This narrative biography describes more of the details of the young Laura’s real life as a young pioneer homesteading with her family on many adventurous journeys. This biography, complete with charming illustrations, points out the differences between the fictional series as well as the many similarities. It’s a fascinating story of a much-celebrated writer.
Manifest Destinations: Cities and Tourists of the 19th century American West by Dr. J. Philip Gruen
Tourists started visiting the American West in sizable numbers after the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads were completed in 1869. Contemporary travel brochures and guidebooks of the 1870s sold tourists on the spectacular scenery of the West, and depicted its cities as extensions of the natural landscape—as well as places where efficient business operations and architectural grandeur prevailed—all now easily accessible thanks to the relative comfort of transcontinental rail travel. Yet as people flocked to western cities, it was the everyday life that captured their interest—the new technologies, incessant clatter, and all the upheaval of modern metropolises.
In Manifest Destinations, J. Philip Gruen examines the ways in which tourists experienced Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco between 1869 and 1893, a period of rapid urbanization and accelerated modernity. Gruen pays particular attention to the contrast between the way these cities were promoted and the way visitors actually experienced them.
Guidebooks made Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco seem like picturesque environments sprinkled with civilized buildings and refined people. But Gruen’s research in diaries, letters, and traveler narratives shows that tourists were interested—as tourists usually are—in the unexpected encounters that characterize city life. Visitors relished the cities’ unfamiliar storefronts and advertising, public transit systems, ethnic diversity, and multiple dwellings in all their urban messiness. They thrust themselves into the noise, danger, and cacophony. Western cities did not always live up to the marketing strategies of guidebooks, but the western cities’ fast pace and many novelties held extraordinary appeal to visitors from the East Coast and abroad.
After Lincoln: How the North won the Civil War and lost the peace by A.J. Lannguth
With Lincoln’s assassination, his “team of rivals,” in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s phrase, was left adrift. President Andrew Johnson, a former slave owner from Tennessee, was challenged by Northern Congressmen, Radical Republicans led by Thaddeus Stephens and Charles Sumner, who wanted to punish the defeated South. When Johnson’s policies placated the rebels at the expense of the black freed men, radicals in the House impeached him for trying to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Johnson was saved from removal by one vote in the Senate trial, presided over by Salmon Chase. Even William Seward, Lincoln’s closest ally in his cabinet, seemed to waver.
By the 1868 election, united Republicans nominated Ulysses Grant, Lincoln’s winning Union general. The night of his victory, Grant lamented to his wife, “I’m afraid I’m elected.” His attempts to reconcile Southerners with the Union and to quash the rising Ku Klux Klan were undercut by post-war greed and corruption during his two terms.
Reconstruction died unofficially in 1887 when Republican Rutherford Hayes joined with the Democrats in a deal that removed the last federal troops from South Carolina and Louisiana. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill with protections first proposed in 1872 by the Radical Senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner.
Morgan: American Financier by Jean Strouse
History has remembered him as a complex and contradictory figure, part robber baron and part patron saint. J. Pierpont Morgan earned his reputation as “the Napoleon of Wall Street” by reorganizing the nation’s railroads and creating industrial giants such as General Electric and U.S. Steel. At a time when the country had no Federal Reserve system, he appointed himself a one-man central bank. He had two wives, three yachts, four children, six houses, mistresses, and one of the finest art collections in America. In this extraordinary book, drawing extensively on new material, award-winning biographer Jean Strouse vividly portrays the financial colossus, the avid patron of the arts, and the entirely human character behind all the myths.
American Queen: The rise and fall of Kate Chase Sprague–Civil War “Belle of the North” and Gilded Age woman of scandal by John Oller
Had People magazine been around during the Civil War and after, Kate Chase would have made its “Most Beautiful” and “Most Intriguing” lists every year.
Kate Chase, the charismatic daughter of Abraham Lincoln’s treasury secretary, enjoyed unprecedented political power for a woman. As her widowed father’s hostess, she set up a rival “court” against Mary Lincoln in hopes of making her father president and herself his First Lady. To facilitate that goal, she married one of the richest men in the country, the handsome “boy governor” of Rhode Island, in the social event of the Civil War. But when William Sprague turned out to be less of a prince as a husband, she found comfort in the arms of a powerful married senator. The ensuing scandal ended her virtual royalty, leaving her a social outcast who died in poverty. Yet in her final years she would find both greater authenticity and the inner peace that had always eluded her.