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By Harrison Fisher

2014 is coming to a close! Some of us will look back and shudder; others of us will look forward with glee. As for me, I look for books. This is the last monthly Pre-Reads of the year!

All sixteen titles of fiction and non-fiction have been painstakingly and specifically chosen with care. All the fiction comes highly rated from Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review and/or Amazon. The non-fiction is a bit more tricky, but also thoughtfully considered. These books are newly or soon to be published, and thus I have not read any of them. In modern parlance, it means I cannot give you a personal recommendation as I have not read any of them. But there are quite of few I do want to read! The Downton Abbey books look particularly fascinating!

So if one of your new year’s resolutions is to read more 19th century related books than you are in luck and take a gander below! Which ones are you most interested in?

FICTION

Petticoat Detective by Margaret Brownley

First of the Undercover Ladies series set in frontier Kansas in 1883. Former Texas Ranger Tom Colton’s mission to clear the name of his recently deceased brother forces him to the door of the local brothel. Seeking to talk with the prostitute his brother allegedly planned to marry, he instead is paired up with Amy, who is actually an undercover Pinkerton operative named Jennifer Layne on the trail of a notorious bandit. With Amy’s true identity unknown, Tom finds his attraction to this “prostitute” confusing and alarming. As their parallel investigations cross and eventually collide, Jennifer struggles with her own feelings for Tom and the increasing fear that her evidence will incriminate his brother.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

Abigail Foster is the practical daughter. She fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry, and the one man she thought might marry her seems to have fallen for her younger, prettier sister.

Facing financial ruin, Abigail and her father search for more affordable lodgings, until a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll’s house left mid-play…

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem acquainted with the manor’s past, the only information they offer is a stern warning: Beware trespassers drawn by rumors that Pembrooke Park contains a secret room filled with treasure.

This catches Abigail’s attention. Hoping to restore her family’s finances–and her dowry–Abigail looks for this supposed treasure. But eerie sounds at night and footprints in the dust reveal she isn’t the only one secretly searching the house.

Then Abigail begins receiving anonymous letters, containing clues about the hidden room and startling discoveries about the past.

As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund

1859
Presque Isle, Michigan

What Is the Secret That Could Shipwreck Both of Their Lives?

All Emma Chambers ever wanted was a home, but when her steamboat sinks just outside Presque Isle, she’s left destitute and with no place to stay.

An unlikely solution arises when the lighthouse keeper arrives in town. He’s just lost his wife and is having a difficult time caring for his child. So a traveling preacher gets the idea that the keeper and Emma might be the answer to each other’s dilemma. After a hasty marriage, she finds herself heading to the lighthouse with this handsome but quiet stranger. Nothing in her aimless life, though, has prepared her for parenting a rambunctious toddler, as well as managing a household.

Emma soon suspects Patrick may be hiding something from her, and then she hears a disturbing rumor about the circumstances surrounding his late wife’s death. It seems as if her wish for a home and family of her own could end up leading her once more into turbulent waters.

A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings

When Union nurse Abigail Stuart befriends a gravely injured Confederate soldier named Jeremiah Calhoun, she learns about his sister’s illness and his Missouri horse farm. Realizing that he is dying, Jeremiah proposes to Abigail, ensuring that his sister will be cared for and that Abigail, who fled a troubled home life, will have a place to go to after the war. Reluctantly, Abigail accepts his proposal, and as a widow heads to Missouri to keep her part of the bargain. Just as she begins to forge a relationship with her husband’s family, the real Jeremiah, wounded from the war, returns home. He’s shocked to see a stranger who claims to be his wife, and Abigail is equally taken aback.

Memory of Flames by Armand Cabasson

Set in 1814, Cabasson’s exceptional third Napoleonic Murders whodunit (after Wolf Hunt) finds Bonaparte’s depleted forces reeling as the allies advance on Paris. Against that dramatic backdrop, the emperor’s self-important older brother, Joseph, believes that royalists plan to murder key members of the team charged with defending the city. The first victim, Colonel Berle, was working at home on a proposal for Joseph to “transform the mound at Montmartre into an impregnable redoubt.” Besides torturing and mutilating Berle, his assassin left behind a royalist emblem, a “white rosette with a medallion in the middle decorated with a fleur-de-lis in the shape of an arrowhead crossed with a sword” known as the Swords of the King. Joseph orders Lt. Col. Quentin Margont to infiltrate the royalist movement and identify the killer as well as discover the plotters’ broader schemes.

Family Plot by Sheri Cobb South

John Pickett, a Bow Street Runner, accompanies a London magistrate to Scotland to verify the identity of Angus Kirkbride’s stepdaughter, Elspeth. Elspeth has been found barely conscious on the same beach from which she vanished 15 years earlier. Unbeknownst to Pickett, Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, and her two nephews were the discoverers of Elspeth, and Julia, desiring to travel incognito, has registered as Mrs. Pickett at the local inn. The detecting duo work out a plan, each secretly pleased to see the other, despite the great chasm between their social rankings.

Trouble in Texas by Thom Nicholson

There’s trouble in Texas. John Whyte, late colonel Union Cavalry Corps, is Alan Pinkerton’s newest detective and he’s more than ready to answer the call for help from his friend and former commander, General Phil Sheridan. Some unreconstructed rebels are intimidating and driving out of Texas the Union tax collectors. In addition, murderous outlaws who have no regard for human life are robbing nearly every Union Army payroll shipment. Are the two seemingly separate problems somehow connected? If so, why? John Whyte is going to find out, and if trouble comes his way because of it, then let the lead start to fly.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

the story of Vanessa Stephens, her troubled sister Virginia (Woolf), and the circle of writers and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group through Vanessa’s diary entries, letters, and telegrams. Indicative of the women’s relationship, the story begins with a thank-you note and invitation dated 1912 from Virginia to her beloved sister and comes full circle with a response three days later from Vanessa returning familial love yet emphasizing their estrangement. In between, their lives revolve around their homes in London’s Bloomsbury section, which quickly becomes the gathering place for a thriving, incestuous artistic and literary community. Parmar focuses on the loving, complicated, and competitive relationship between Vanessa and Virginia. Both gifted artists, the siblings differ in their interpersonal connections. Vanessa is courted by and eventually marries Clive Bell, while Virginia, adored and admired by men and women alike, is “rapidly heading toward spinsterhood.” Virginia’s jealousy of Clive and Vanessa’s union eventually sabotages both the couple’s marriage and her bond with Vanessa.

NON-FICTION

Downton Abbey: Rules for the household staff by Carson

The household staff of Downton Abbey carries out their duties with effortless dignity, finesse and pride. Yet how do they know how exactly to lay the table, when to leave the room to give Lord and Lady Grantham their privacy, how to care for Lady Mary’s furs and which uniform to wear when? This recently recovered and fascinating staff handbook answers all of these questions and more.

Covering all the main positions of the Downton household—footman, lady’s maid, housekeeper, groundsman and more—and with a general introduction for new members of staff from Carson the Butler, this book tells you everything you need to know about working below stairs in the grand estate of Downton Abbey.

Dining at Downton: Traditions of the table from the unofficial guide to Downton Abbey by Elizabeth Fellow

You’re curled up on the sofa, reading happily as you bask in the late morning sunshine.

The door to the drawing room opens, and in walks the family butler, James. He carries silver tray, bearing a large sealed envelope.

“An invitation from Downton Abbey M’Lady”

He sets the tray down on the table and you immediately recognize the Grantham seal.

An invitation to dine with the Crawleys.

Your heart is racing, but you don’t let your excitement show; you’re much too refined for that!

“Thank you, James. That will be all.”

The moment he leaves the room, you tear the envelope open.

The card is dated 13th July 1924. Dinner is at 8PM, naturally, and there’s no way you won’t be there. You knew you were going before you even read the details!

You’re eager to see for yourself if all the stories you have heard about the grandeur of Downton life are true!

You close your book and hurriedly write a reply. The rest of the day is to be spent on preparation!

What should you wear? Should you get your hair done?

What will they be talking about at dinner? What if the conversation comes round to something you nothing about?!

And what about table etiquette?

For a moment you’re consumed with anxiety… But then you laugh to yourself as you pick back up the book you’ve been reading…

Could it really be coincidence that you’re holding the newest book in the Downton Life Series, by bestselling author Elizabeth Fellows?

With “Dining at Downton: Traditions of the Table From The Unofficial Guide to Downton Abbey” at your disposal, you’ve got nothing to worry about!

In this book you will learn:

* The Etiquette of the Downton era, so that you can truly dine with class!
* The High Fashion of the Crawleys and their ilk
* The Fascinating History of the 1920’s Downton food
* The important Social Aspects of Dining – Business, Politics, and Manoeuvring Through the Changing of Times
* Mouth-watering recipes like Potato Blinis with Red Cavier, Russian Borscht, Palestine Soup, Trout with Almonds, and so many more!
* Hearty vegetable dishes like Polish Red Cabbage and Asparagus Moulds!
* Sweet and Savoury side dishes such as Redcurrant Jelly, Horseradish Sauce, Cherry Compôte…
* Desserts straight out of your Dreams! (Summer Pudding, Strawberry Soufflé…)
* An assortment of High Class Cocktails! (Hedgerow Hangover, anyone?)
* And so much more!

Whether you’ve really got an invitation to The Abbey, or just want to bring the lavish experience of a Crawley dinner into your own home, this book is your indispensable guide to dining in Downton style!

The Golden Age of Pantomime: Slapstick, spectacle, and subversion in Victorian England by Jeffrey Richards

Queen Victoria and her family loved the pantomime, so did her subjects of all classes.
The English Pantomime is one of the most popular, least analysed of all theatrical forms. It’s been the festive mainstay of the English stage since the eighteenth century, and it has survived by its ability to evolve. This continual evolution is traced by Jeffrey Richards in the first history of panto through its ‘Golden Age’ in Victorian England. He explores the spectacle, the slapstick, and the talent for subversion that nineteenth-century pantomime had – and still has in different ways. His story, told with panache and enjoyment, is peopled with remarkable actors, managers, producers and punters , across the country from Drury Lane to Blackpool.

Fanny Seward: A life by Trudy Krisher

On April 14, 1865, the night of President Lincoln’s assassination, Booth’s conspirator Lewis Powell attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward in his home just blocks from Ford’s Theatre. The attack, which left Seward and his son seriously wounded, is recounted in poignant detail in Fanny Seward’s diary. Fanny, the beloved only daughter of Seward, was a keen observer, and her diary entries from 1858 to 1866 are the foundation of Krisher’s vivid portrait of the young girl who was an eyewitness to one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.

Fanny offers intimate observations on the politicians, generals, and artists of the time. She tells of attending dinner parties, visiting troops, and going to the theater, often alongside President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary. Through Fanny’s writings, Krisher not only skillfully brings to life the events and activities of a progressive political family but also illuminates the day-to-day drama of the war. Giving readers a previously unseen glimpse into the era, Fanny Seward: A Life broadens our understanding of Civil War America.

On April 14, 1865, the night of President Lincoln’s assassination, Booth’s conspirator Lewis Powell attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward in his home just blocks from Ford’s Theatre. The attack, which left Seward and his son seriously wounded, is recounted in poignant detail in Fanny Seward’s diary. Fanny, the beloved only daughter of Seward, was a keen observer, and her diary entries from 1858 to 1866 are the foundation of Krisher’s vivid portrait of the young girl who was an eyewitness to one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.

Fanny offers intimate observations on the politicians, generals, and artists of the time. She tells of attending dinner parties, visiting troops, and going to the theater, often alongside President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary.

Prussian Princesses: The sisters of Kaiser Wilhelm II by Jon van der Kiste

Kaiser Friedrich III and his consort Victoria, Princess Royal of Great Britain, had six children who lived to maturity, the eldest being Kaiser Wilhelm II. The three younger sisters, Victoria, Sophie and Margaret, were particularly supportive of their mother during her widowhood and remained close throughout their lives. Like their parents, they would know much sorrow as adults. Victoria’s romance with Alexander of Battenberg, Prince of Bulgaria, was thwarted by Bismarck for political reasons and she married twice, firstly to a minor German prince and secondly to a young Russian adventurer who left her to die in poverty. Sophie married the future King Constantine of Greece, whose ill-starred reign saw them forced to leave their throne not once but twice, both dying in exile. Margaret married a prince of Hesse-Cassel, both became members of the Nazi party, and she lived to see her family and house become victims of theft on a major scale at the hands of occupying forces at the end of the Second World War. Using previously unpublished sources, this is the first biography to tell the lives of all three princesses.

Life in the Victorian Kitchen: Culinary secrets and servants stories’ by Karen Foy

Have you ever wondered what life was like for domestic servants, the etiquette involved during upper class banquets, or simply wished for a glimpse of day-to-day life in the Victorian kitchen?
During the nineteenth century,the kitchen was a place where culinary worlds collided, bridging the gap between social classes.

From the rural cottage to the well-staffed country house, Karen Foy takes readers on an entertaining and informative journey through a lost culinary world, uncovering the customs and traditions surrounding some of Britain’s best loved dishes.

Discover nineteenth century tips, techniques, stories and superstitions. Try your hand at foretelling the future using an egg or test recipes for everything from apple wine to sheep’s head pie. Step into the world of the Victorian kitchen…

Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron: The War of 1812 and the forging of the American Navy by Ronald Utt

The War of 1812 is typically noted for a handful of events: the burning of the White House, the rise of the Star Spangled Banner, and the battle of New Orleans. But in fact the greatest consequence of that distant conflict was the birth of the U.S. Navy. During the War of 1812, America’s tiny fleet took on the mightiest naval power on earth, besting the British in a string of victories that stunned both nations.

In his new book, Ships of Oak and Guns of Iron: The War of 1812 and the Birth of the American Navy, author Dr. Ronald Utt not only sheds new light on the naval battles of the War of 1812 and how they gave birth to our nation’s great navy, but tells the story of the War of 1812 through the portraits of famous American war heroes. From the cunning Stephen Decatur to the fierce David Porter, Ships of Oak and Guns of Iron relates how thousands of American men and boys gave better than they got against the British Navy. The great age of fighting sail is as rich in heroic drama as any epoch.

Lucy Stone: An unapologetic life by Sally G. McMillen

In the rotunda of the nation’s Capital a statue pays homage to three famous nineteenth-century American women suffragists: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. “Historically,” the inscription beneath the marble statue notes, “these three stand unique and peerless.” In fact, the statue has a glaring omission: Lucy Stone. A pivotal leader in the fight for both abolition and gender equality, her achievements marked the beginning of the women’s rights movement and helped to lay the groundwork for the eventual winning of women’s suffrage. Yet, today most Americans have never heard of Lucy Stone.
Sally McMillen sets out to address this significant historical oversight in this engaging biography. Exploring her extraordinary life and the role she played in crafting a more just society, McMillen restores Lucy Stone to her rightful place at the center of the nineteenth-century women’s rights movement. Raised in a middle-class Massachusetts farm family, Stone became convinced at an early age that education was key to women’s independence and selfhood, and went on to attend the Oberlin Collegiate Institute. When she graduated in 1847 as one of the first women in the US to earn a college degree, she was drawn into the public sector as an activist and quickly became one of the most famous orators of her day. Lecturing on anti-slavery and women’s rights, she was instrumental in organizing and speaking at several annual national woman’s rights conventions throughout the 1850s. She played a critical role in the organization and leadership of the American Equal Rights Association during the Civil War, and, in 1869, cofounded the American Woman Suffrage Association, one of two national women’s rights organizations that fought for women’s right to vote. Encompassing Stone’s marriage to Henry Blackwell and the birth of their daughter Alice, as well as her significant friendships with Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and others, McMillen’s biography paints a complete picture of Stone’s influential and eminently important life and work.
Self-effacing until the end of her life, Stone did not relish the limelight the way Elizabeth Cady Stanton did, nor did she gain the many followers whom Susan B. Anthony attracted through her extensive travels and years of dedicated work. Yet her contributions to the woman’s rights movement were no less significant or revolutionary than those of her more widely lauded peers. In this accessible, readable, and historically-grounded work, Lucy Stone is finally given the standing she deserves.

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