All the Family Gathers While Papa Reads
Before November completely falls away with the last of the autumn leaves, I want to make sure the Pre-Reads are posted. Now that Thanksgiving and, the mayhem that is Black Friday, is behind us here in the United States, we can refocus a little bit and calm down for a few days before the holiday frenzy breaks out in full force. This month I had a rather difficult time narrowing down titles to share with you. All the fiction is highly rated from various sources including but not limited to Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, and Amazon. The non-fiction is a bit more evasive, but I managed to find some titles that were actually reviewed, as opposed to just summarized. I made a conscious point to include the requisite Christmas suggestions, since Pre-Reads will not show itself again until after the festivities. Back to my plight of editing book titles; over 60 titles that pertain to the 19th century that were recently published were narrowed to eight per section. EIGHT books, people! Do you understand how tough that is?! I try to make sure different sub-genres are represented. I do not want to show favoritism, especially for books I have not personally read. On that same note, don’t assume just because the book is on the list, that I am dying to read it (although, those titles are certainly on here!) nor even if it is a book I THINK I will love, doesn’t mean I actually will. Don’t be discouraged, every book on here more than one person really, really loved! So that’s promising! Maybe you will love these literary nuggets as well. If you are partial to a particular sub-genre that you do not feel is getting enough representation, please let me know! Culling and selecting books is what I do (hence, that whole Librarian-job-thing). Below I included mysteries, romance, steampunk, holiday fare (naturally), biographies, memoirs, academic, arts and humanities, social science (read: Society), and the peculiar (gotta love those!).
Get ready to be thankful to a whole crop of authors sharing their amazing stories!
Far as the Eye Can See by Robert Bausch
Two time lines merge in Bausch’s latest novel: in 1876 Bobby Hale and a mixed-race woman named Diana, aka Ink, struggle to survive in the beautiful but unforgiving lands of Montana and the Dakota territories. The unlikely pair—Bobby shot Ink and nursed her back to health—are on the run from her warrior husband, the U.S. Army, and Native Americans. Flashback to 1869: at various turns a trapper, a scout, and a wagon-train leader, Civil War vet Bobby meets a number of folks—soldiers, settlers, native peoples—in his journey of survival and self-redemption. Bobby faces life and death judgments through both time lines.
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
Early in Barron’s enchanting 12th Jane Austen mystery (after 2011’s Jane and the Canterbury Tale), Jane receives a letter dated Dec. 25, 1814, from Elizabeth Chute, the wife of a prominent member of Parliament, inviting her and her family to come stay for a few days at the Vyne. Jane is pleased to leave Steventon Parsonage “to join the Christmas gaieties at one of the first houses in the neighborhood,” even if Mary, the wife of her brother James, complains that it’s a “great, old, draughty place.” On the Feast of St. Stephan, Lt. John Gage arrives at the Vyne from Ghent, bearing the signed peace treaty that has ended the War of 1812. The next day, Gage breaks his neck after falling from his horse, and the treaty disappears. Vivid characters propel the subtle plot to its surprising conclusion.
Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornread by Mary Jane Hathaway
Lucy Crawford’s family is so far in debt that she worries they may lose their Mississippi antebellum home as her curator’s salary cannot support the Crawfords’ lavish spending. To make ends meet, she agrees to rent out part of the mansion to the Free Clinic of Tupelo, but heading the business is a young doctor who was her childhood love, Jeremiah (Jem) Chevy. Lucy had broken off their relationship a decade earlier because of her family’s objections. She feels guilty for breaking Jem’s heart, and he is determined to never let it happen again. Could they possibly have a second chance at love?
A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas
Set in Civil War-era Kansas, Dallas’s holiday novel relates the stories of the young wives and mothers who would become the grandmothers of the characters from the author’s Persian Pickle Club. Will Spooner joins the Kansas Volunteers to fight for the Union, leaving his wife, Eliza, and their two children to run the farm. Eliza takes comfort in her quilting and decides to make Will a patriotic quilt. As the war continues, Eliza and her friends await news of their husbands and help one another make ends meet. Whether offering shelter to a widow or a slave, Eliza and her quilting circle friends find the strength to do what is right. When the stars and stripes quilt makes its way back to Eliza in a very unexpected way, she’ll have an even bigger decision to make.
The Ripper’s Wife by Brandy Purdy
A dark recreation of London’s autumn of 1888, when Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel. The novel begins as an affected and slightly overdone love story between the young, beautiful, and well-traveled American Florie Chandler and the English cotton merchant James Maybrick. However, their happy Liverpool home is not what it appears: Florie is friendless, regarded as opportunistic and fraudulent; the servants are in collusion, maliciously controlling the home and the children; and James is an adulterous arsenic addict and secret psychopath with a vicious, hair-trigger temper. When James discovers that Florie has a lover, he becomes the legendary Ripper, trolling for victims and murdering by “proxy” in order not to kill Florie, his children’s mother. Raging with jealously and delusions, James descends deeper into madness. The violent beatings James give Florie are disturbing, calling forth a time when physical abuse was winked at and used to make women “behave.” Ill and remorseful, James confesses to Florie through his diary.
Until the Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead by Thomas S. Russell
The heart wants what the heart wants, even when the terrors of the high seas threaten to tear love asunder in this latest seafaring yarn by Russell (Take, Burn or Destroy, 2013, etc.). Master and Commander Charles Hayden of the Royal British Navy is simply not a character meant for repose, but the challenges he faces in this fourth outing are as emotionally nerve-wracking as they are physically dangerous. Once again, Hayden commands the frigate HMS Themis on the eve of the Napoleonic Wars, but by now, his men have full faith and confidence in his ability to lead. Hayden, however, is still mourning the loss of his bride-to-be, Henrietta Carthew, to another man, making him a dismal soul as the book begins. The Themis is patrolling the Caribbean to counter French forces in the West Indies when the fates throw not one but two conundrums in Hayden’s path. First, the crew rescues two stranded Spanish sailors, Don Miguel and Don Angel Campillo, a suspicious pair of brothers whose origins and agenda are suspect. Shortly after, the ship stumbles across a crippled slave ship, forcing Hayden to choose between the prize money owed for towing the cargo back to Barbados versus his strong feelings about the inhumanity of the trade.
A Virtuous Death by Christine Trent
he cards say murder in Queen Victoria’s court. Undertaker Violet Harper’s help with several past mysteries (Stolen Remains, 2014, etc.) has made her a favorite of the queen. Now Victoria has called upon her to attend a tarot reading by her favorite outdoor servant, John Brown, who claims the cards reveal a dangerous plot against someone in Buckingham Palace that only Violet can thwart. Violet’s American husband, Samuel, is in Wales promoting Alfred Nobel’s wondrous new invention, dynamite, to mine owners when he witnesses a massacre of innocents in a mine dispute. Samuel’s absence gives Violet, a guest of the queen, plenty of time to uncover the supposed palace plot. When several highborn ladies are found dead in mysterious circumstances, Violet discovers some tiny marks on their bodies, along with small pieces of odd-smelling cloth in two of their mouths. No believer in spirits, she’s certain that Brown’s séances are rigged but knows she must continue her investigation . The newly widowed husbands are prime suspects. So is a palace footman who’s an adherent of Karl Marx. Meanwhile, the free-spirited Princess Louise and her friends have gotten embroiled with a group fighting to repeal an unfair law that punishes prostitutes but not their clients. Any number of people learning of her involvement might have marked her for death. As she uncovers more information, Violet is attacked and narrowly escapes her own demise.
What the Lady Wants: A novel of Marshal Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen
Rosen’s second paean to the Second City (after Dollface, 2013) is a fictional biography of the “Merchant Prince” Marshall Field, told from the point of view of his mistress.Delia “Dell” Spencer, daughter of Franklin Spencer, one of Chicago’s wealthiest purveyors of dry goods, seems destined to love her father’s rival Marshall “Marsh” Field, founder of the iconic (and now defunct) department store that bore his name. The couple first meets at a ball celebrating the opening of Chicago’s equally iconic Palmer House, when Dell is 17 and Marsh, 37. That very night, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroys the entire city, including Spencer’s and Field’s stores, the Spencer mansion and the Palmer House. By being the first to reopen, Marsh forever captures the hearts and wallets of Chicagoans. Five years later, Dell makes what her social set considers a sterling marriage to wealthy Arthur Caton. Dell hopes for more of her husband’s attention while gradually realizing the unmistakable (and at times not very convincing) appeal of Marsh, whose Prairie Avenue mansion’s backyard abuts the Caton abode. When Arthur sinks into depression and alcoholism after his best friend Paxton marries, Dell realizes that he prefers men, and she and Arthur enter into a threesome of sorts with Marsh. With Arthur’s consent Marshall and Dell conceive a child, but thanks to a push down a staircase from Marshall’s vindictive wife, Nannie, Dell loses both the child and her ability to have children.
Eiffel by Eiffel by Philippe Couperie Eiffel
Gustave Eiffel was the man behind the landmark that became the symbol par excellence of Paris, and so the dominant image of France around the world. However, the work of Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) is not limited to the tower that bears his name. From 1856, when he was commissioned to design a railway bridge in Bordeaux (his first large-scale metal construction), he imposed his style all around the world. The bridge across the Douro in Portugal, the Garabit viaduct, the church in Manila, the Manaus Municipal Market in Brazil, and even the framework of the Statue of Liberty are just some of his more than 300 masterpieces. Then, disaster struck in 1892, when a report directly linked him to the Panama scandal that had come to light three years before. This was the start of a nightmare that would ultimately turn out to be completely unjustified. Deeply wounded, Eiffel withdrew, cloaking himself in his pride. His eldest daughter stuck by him, not only offering support, but also building up a remarkable collection of memorabilia and documents, a precious legacy which she left to her nephew Philippe Coupérie-Eiffel. For the first time, to mark the 90th anniversary of his famous ancestor’s death, Coupérie-Eiffel has updated this treasure trove and offers us the chance to get to know the great architect and family man through a wide range of previously unpublished archives. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal, whose lock gates Eiffel designed and patented.
The Heathen School: A story of hope betrayal in the early Republic by John Demos
The astonishing story of a unique missionary project—and the America it embodied—from award-winning historian John Demos.
Near the start of the nineteenth century, as the newly established United States looked outward toward the wider world, a group of eminent Protestant ministers formed a grand scheme for gathering the rest of mankind into the redemptive fold of Christianity and “civilization.” Its core element was a special school for “heathen youth” drawn from all parts of the earth, including the Pacific Islands, China, India, and, increasingly, the native nations of North America. If all went well, graduates would return to join similar projects in their respective homelands. For some years, the school prospered, indeed became quite famous. However, when two Cherokee students courted and married local women, public resolve—and fundamental ideals—were put to a severe test.
Iron Horses: America’s race to bring the railroads West by Walter R. Borneman
After the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, the rest of the United States was up for grabs, and the race was on. The prize: a better, shorter, less snowy route through the American Southwest, linking Los Angeles to Chicago. In IRON HORSES, Borneman recounts the rivalries, contested routes, political posturing, and business dealings that unfolded as an increasing number of lines pushed their way across the country.
Borneman brings to life the legendary robber barons behind it all and also captures the herculean efforts required to construct these roads — the laborers who did the back-breaking work, the brakemen who ran atop moving cars, the tracklayers crushed and killed by runaway trains. From backroom deals in Washington, DC, to armed robberies of trains in the wild deserts, from cattle cars to streamliners and Super Chiefs, all the great incidents and innovations of a mighty American era are made vivid in IRON HORSES.
Ladies of the Manor: How wives and daughters really lived in Country House Society over a century ago by Pamela Horn
In the world of the late Victorian and Edwardian country house, the mistress and her daughters had many social duties and responsibilities to carry out both in their home community and in London, where they spent the Season and where the girls officially entered Society by being presented at Court.
Pamela Horn’s book examines the lives of these ladies from their childhood and marriage to their role as a ‘Lady Bountiful’. It covers their leisure pursuits, sporting activities, country house weekends, and much more besides, up to the life-transforming years of the First World War.
Life in the Victorian Asylum: The world of 19th century mental health care by Mark Stevens
Life in the Victorian Asylum reconstructs the lost world of the nineteenth century public asylums. This fresh take on the history of mental health reveals why county asylums were built, the sort of people they housed and the treatments they received, as well as the enduring legacy of these remarkable institutions.
Mark Stevens, the best-selling author of Broadmoor Revealed, is a professional archivist and expert on asylum records. In this book, he delves into Victorian mental health archives to recreate the experience of entering an asylum and being treated there, perhaps for a lifetime.
The Rag Race: How Jews sewed their way to success in American and the British Empire by Adam Mendelsohn
The majority of Jewish immigrants who made their way to the United States between 1820 and 1924 arrived nearly penniless; yet today their descendants stand out as exceptionally successful. How can we explain their dramatic economic ascent? Have Jews been successful because of cultural factors distinct to them as a group, or because of the particular circumstances that they encountered in America?
The Rag Race argues that the Jews who flocked to the United States during the age of mass migration were aided appreciably by their association with a particular corner of the American economy: the rag trade. From humble beginnings, Jews rode the coattails of the clothing trade from the margins of economic life to a position of unusual promise and prominence, shaping both their societal status and the clothing industry as a whole.
Comparing the history of Jewish participation within the clothing trade in the United States with that of Jews in the same business in England, The Rag Race demonstrates that differences within the garment industry on either side of the Atlantic contributed to a very real divergence in social and economic outcomes for Jews in each setting.
The Steampunk User’s Manual: An illustrated practical and whimsical to creating retro-futuristic dreams by Deserina Boskovich
Sf author VanderMeer’s first comprehensive work on steampunk, The Steampunk Bible, focused on the subgenre’s culture, from its history and technology to the art, fashion, and music that is associated with the category. This new volume, with coauthor Boskovich (contributor to The Steampunk Bible), covers the same variety but this time emphasizes the creative aspect of the field by providing ample information for the DIY crowd. Detailed plans for producing many of the artifacts identified with steampunk are generously illustrated with colorful, voluminous photos of resourceful art and paraphernalia. Five chapters offer directions and advice for the aspiring steampunk artist, fashion designer, musician and performer, and/or potential author. Each section provides examples of professional work and guidance on how to enhance your flair for the genus.
The Tattooed Lady: A history by Amelia Klem Osterud
Living in a time when it was scandalous even to show a bit of ankle, a small number of courageous women covered their bodies in tattoos and traveled the country, performing nearly nude on carnival stages. These gutsy women spun amazing stories for captivated audiences about abductions and forced tattooing at the hands of savages, but little has been shared of their real lives. Though they spawned a cultural movement—almost a quarter of Americans now have tattoos—these women have largely faded into history. The Tattooed Lady uncovers the true stories behind these women, bringing them out of the sideshow realm and into their working class realities. Combining thorough research with more than a hundred historical photos, this updated second edition explores tattoo origins, women’s history, circus lore, and includes even more personal and professional details from modern tattooed ladies.