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Sweet Solitude by Edmund Lair Leighton, 1919

The Pre-Reads are in bloom! For this particular post I read over 1,000 reviews (1,111 to be exact. I carefully tended to each one, weeding out books which I did not think would suit the readership of 19th Century Modern. I was assisted by Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, Baker and Taylor, and Amazon to narrow down the choices. I plucked eight fiction and eight non-fiction highly reviewed newly published (or soon to be published) 19th century inspired titles. Titles which represented a gamut of sub-genre from steampunk to biographies. I present this bouquet just for you, dear readers. I hope you enjoy the selection.

Fiction

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

A late-19th-century circus attraction of its title, is startling, full of wonders, and built around the bizarre; furthermore, it has compassion for human difference at its heart. The teenage Church sisters, sword-swallower Belle and her sickly twin, Odile, are left alone when their mother dies in a fire that destroys her business, Coney Island’s Church of Marvels. After the tragedy, Belle disappears with no explanation other than an enigmatic letter. Meanwhile, cesspit cleaner Sylvan Threadgill saves a baby he finds half-buried in the soil of a privy, and a young woman known only as Alphie awakens as she is being committed to a brutal insane asylum. Odile seeks Belle, Sylvan hunts for the mother of the child, and Alphie fights fiercely for her freedom; along the way, their disparate stories begin to converge. Alphie and Belle meet, for example, while a mysterious Mrs. Bloodworth figures in all of their journeys. As they encounter one another, the secrets each one hides are revealed.

The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod

Alex Pendlebury saw the world with her adored adventurer father, receiving psychic empathy training as he schemed on behalf of the British Empire. Sent back home at 15 to her stuffy, aristocratic Pendlebury relatives, Alex found purpose as a Reader in the queen’s newly organized Psychic Service but never heard from her father again. As the novel opens, Alex is called to investigate a suspicious death in Harley Street, only to discover the dead body is all that remains of her long-lost father. Moments later, as the head of the Psychic Service, Lord Richard Desmond, escorts Alex from the scene, he is killed by assassins wielding the newest in deadly 19th-century technology: silent yet powerful air guns. Alex throws herself into pursuing the truth behind these two murders with help from her effervescent and slightly unhinged cousin (on her mother’s side), James, and her new driver, the stalwart Lt. Brook, who always appears right where he’s about to be needed. The emotional charge of these relationships adds resonance to a thrilling tale. As she penetrates the darkness at the heart of England’s ruling class—her class—Alex also learns how many secrets the Psychic Service is keeping, even from its own agents.

House of Hawthrone by Erika Robuck

Imagine the marriage of painter Sophy Peabody to the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though not wealthy, Sophy’s family is known in New England’s artistic circles. Through her older sister, Elizabeth, a publisher, she meets introverted Nathaniel and immediately feels a connection. He understands her artistic temperament; Sophy herself is renowned for her art, but creating it causes her to suffer excruciating migraines. The two find themselves in a long courtship, with Nathaniel reluctant to marry Sophy due to financial constraints. Family tensions and money problems continue to plague the couple through their marriage, though their love keeps the relationship afloat. Sophy ultimately sacrifices her artistic career to raise a family and support Nathaniel in his writing. Nathaniel goes on to make his name as an author, taking government jobs along the way that eventually land the family in Europe while America prepares for Civil War. Other prominent names pepper the narrative (Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, et al), as friends of the Hawthornes who influence their lives and work.

The Map Makers Children by Sarah McCoy

A journey into the past that reveals the hidden depths of the lives of two very different women separated by more than 150 years. Sarah Brown, one of the children of abolitionist John Brown, survives deadly dysentery only to learn that she will be barren from complications of the illness. Despite the devastating diagnosis, Sarah is determined to give meaning to her life. She assists in drawing maps for the runaway slaves her father is harboring in their Plattsburgh, N.Y., home. In present-day West Virginia, Eden and her husband, Jack, have left their life in Washington, D.C., behind to get a new start after Eden has a series of miscarriages. But Eden’s depression over her loss and seeming inability to conceive has left her doubting the stability of her marriage. When Jack leaves on a business trip, Eden is forced to deal with the puppy he bought her as she adjusts to life in the small town and seeks to uncover the history behind her house.

Rocheforts by Christian Laborie

From the rise of industrialism through the bitter dregs of World War II, a ruthless patriarch strives to restore his family to social and economic eminence. In the wee hours, a cloaked man delivers a mysterious child to the mother superior of a Parisian orphanage, saving one life but perhaps jeopardizing another. This rather gothic opening—riddled with dark alcoves along narrow avenues under an icy moon—foreshadows not only the web of lies that will constrain this orphan’s life, but also the web of family ties that Anselme Rochefort weaves to bind and ultimately estrange his children. (And that orphan will return to trouble the Rochefort empire.) The son of the powerfully connected and financially savvy Charles-Honoré Rochefort, Anselme nearly bankrupts the family textile business after his father’s death. Determined to prove his worth—but equally determined to indulge in his vices—Anselme sets out, coldbloodedly, to rebuild the family’s reputati on and fortune. A marriage of convenience to the beautiful, wealthy, orphaned, and pregnant Eleanor Letellier infuses Anselme with much-needed capital and offers Eleanor social sanctuary. A broken heart, however, drives Eleanor to take her own life soon after the birth of her daughter, Catherine. Ever practical, Anselme quickly remarries, encouraging his second wealthy bride, Elisabeth Langlade, to raise Catherine as her own. Fifteen years and four children later, Elisabeth dotes on Catherine, Anselme ignores her, and, desperate for love, Catherine falls into the arms of a penniless man Anselme could never consider as a son-in-law. This is a world in which the highborn have the power to determine which families’ reputations are sterling enough to participate in economies both social and financial. Arranging the warp and weft of his children’s lives proves difficult for Anselme, however, particularly as his younger son, Sebastian, is drawn into the free love of political radicals and his favorite daughter, 9-year-old Faustine, falls in love with a farmer’s adopted son. The old world of convention collides with a new world of experimentation with calamitous consequences.

Valley of the Shadow by Ralph Peters and George Skoch

In the Valley of the Shadow, they wrote their names in blood.
From a daring Confederate raid that nearly seized Washington, D.C., to a stunning reversal on the bloody fields of Cedar Creek, the summer and autumn of 1864 witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of our Civil War–in mighty battles now all but forgotten.
The desperate struggle for mastery of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, breadbasket of the Confederacy and the South’s key invasion route into the North, pitted a remarkable cast of heroes in blue and gray against each other: runty, rough-hewn Phillip Sheridan, a Union general with an uncanny gift for inspiring soldiers, and Jubal Early, his Confederate counterpart, stubborn, raw-mouthed and deadly; the dashing Yankee boy-general, George Armstrong Custer, and the brilliant, courageous John Brown Gordon, a charismatic Georgian who lived one of the era’s greatest love stories.
From hungry, hard-bitten Rebel privates to a pair of Union officers destined to become presidents, from a neglected hero who saved our nation’s capital and went on to write one of his century’s greatest novels, to doomed Confederate leaders of incomparable valor,

When the Song of the Angels is Stilled by A.S. Croyle

Before Sherlock Holmes meets John Watson, the young detective solves crimes with a bright lady friend in this delectable “before Watson” novel. Holmes is a loner college student at Oxford in 1874 when he’s bitten by a dog visiting the campus with its owner, Priscilla “Poppy” Stamford. Guilt over the dog bite forces Poppy and her suitor, Victor Trevor, to take an interest in Sherlock’s welfare, and a friendship forms between the three. Though studying nursing, Poppy is keen to become a doctor, but England’s medical schools aren’t yet open to females. Medical training, Poppy says, is “a door still closed to me. Universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and medical schools were largely bastions of male privilege.” Her feminist sensibilities are conveyed in language appropriate to the era, and Poppy makes quite a fine narrator—and heroine. Her sharp mind draws Sherlock’s attention, and soon they and a few friends are sleuthing toge ther. A serial killer known as the Angel Maker is somehow acquiring and murdering illegitimate babies, their tiny bodies thrown into the River Thames like trash. While Poppy’s compassion has her yearning to solve the case, Sherlock’s intellect and curiosity compel him—and perhaps his affection for Poppy.

Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander

Gifted horsewoman Maggie Linden precludes the financial ruin of her family’s estate in the difficult postbellum epoch by agreeing to her ailing father’s plea and marrying the stranger who can rescue their inheritance. Cullen McGrath may have cash and charm, but he has a past—plus, he’s Irish, something the Nashville elites find unacceptable. And Maggie’s determination to race her favorite thoroughbred mare clashes with Cullen’s desire to avoid racing at all costs. What is behind his reluctance, and can Maggie trust him with her heart? The unlikely couple must find a way to overcome their own prejudices and unite, heart and mind, as hateful outside forces threaten their home and happiness.

Non-Fiction

The Color Factor: The economics of African-American well-being in the Nineteenth- Century South by Howard Bodenhorn

Despite the many advances that the United States has made in racial equality over the past half century, numerous events within the past several years have proven prejudice to be alive and well in modern-day America. In one such example, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina dismissed one of her principal advisors in 2013 when his membership in the ultra-conservative Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) came to light. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2001 the CCC website included a message that read “God is the one who divided mankind into different races…. Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God.” This episode reveals America’s continuing struggle with race, racial integration, and race mixing-a problem that has plagued the United States since its earliest days as a nation.

The Color Factor: The Economics of African-American Well-Being in the Nineteenth-Century South demonstrates that the emergent twenty-first-century recognition of race mixing and the relative advantages of light-skinned, mixed-race people represent a re-emergence of one salient feature of race in America that dates to its founding. Economist Howard Bodenhorn presents the first full-length study of the ways in which skin color intersected with policy, society, and economy in the nineteenth-century South. With empirical and statistical rigor, the investigation confirms that individuals of mixed race experienced advantages over African Americans in multiple dimensions – in occupations, family formation and family size, wealth, health, and access to freedom, among other criteria.

Daniel Boone: The pioneer of Kentucky by John S.C. Abbott

Daniel Boone is regarded as the first real American folk hero. Without his cunning bravery, settlement west of the Appalachians may not have been made possible for years. Boone’s Wilderness Road, which is still used today, helped bridge the Cumberland Gap, granting access to the state of Kentucky from Pennsylvania.

Thanks to the writing of John S. C. Abbot, the life and genius of Boone can truly be appreciated through Daniel Boone: The Pioneer of Kentucky. Find out just how Boone crafted his Wilderness Trail, what he did to make it happen, and how he overcame the struggles of life in late eighteenth century America.

Hell Before Breakfast: America’s first war correspondents, making history and headlines, from the battlefields of the Civil War to the far reaches Ottoman Empire by Robert H. Patton

Acclaimed historian Patton focuses on the war correspondent persona and the band of bold adventurers who earned their keep on the frontlines in this detailed salute. A first correspondent whose actions provided the template for all who followed, The Times of London’s William H. Russell, respected battle, an appreciation that found him in the thick of the bloodiest clashes including the Battle of Bull Run, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian war, and the Russo-Turkish war. In a no-frills, straightforward narrative, Patton describes the backgrounds of the early pioneers, John Russell Young, George Smalley, Holt White, and Henry Villard, who embraced armed conflict and its horrors, while feeding their dramatic observations to The New York Herald and The New York Tribune. The American publications dueled with each other, such as when Smalley opposed sending untried reporters into the battlefield, instead preferring two experienced correspondents dispatched to each army’s headquarters. Some excitement is generated with the sections of the wild and brilliant career of American painter-war correspondent Frank Millet, who bravely covered the 1877 war in the Ottoman Empire. Patton’s tribute to these battlefield scribes revives an understanding of why these men mattered.

Henry Howard: Louisiana’s master architect by Robert S. Brantley, Victor Mcgee, and Jan White Brantley

Few nineteenth-century architects ventured far from the pattern-book styles of their time. One architect not constrained by tradition was the Irish-born American Henry Howard, who started as a carpenter and stair builder in 1836 New York and arrived in New Orleans the following year, soon establishing a reputation for distinctive designs that blended American and European trends. His career gained momentum as he went on to design an extraordinarily diverse portfolio of magnificent residences and civic buildings in New Orleans and its environs.

Henry Howard is a lavishly produced clothbound volume featuring hundreds of contemporary and archival images and a comprehensive analysis of his built work. The first book to examine the forty-year career of the architect, Henry Howard establishes a clear lineage of his aesthetic contributions to the urban and rural environments of the South.

Housekeeper’s Tale: The women who really ran the English Country houses by Tessa Boase

Working as a housekeeper was one of the most prestigious jobs a nineteenth and early twentieth century woman could want – and also one of the toughest. A far cry from the Downton Abbey fiction, the real life Mrs. Hughes was up against capricious mistresses, low pay, no job security and grueling physical labor. Until now, her story has never been told. The Housekeeper’s Tale reveals the personal sacrifices, bitter disputes and driving ambition that shaped these women’s careers. Delving into secret diaries, unpublished letters and the neglected service archives of our stately homes, Tessa Boase tells the extraordinary stories of five working women who ran some of Britain’s most prominent households.

There is Dorothy Doar, Regency housekeeper for the obscenely wealthy 1st Duke and Duchess of Sutherland at Trentham Hall, Staffordshire. There is Sarah Wells, a deaf and elderly Victorian in charge of Uppark, West Sussex. Ellen Penketh is Edwardian cook-housekeeper at the sociable but impecunious Erddig Hall in the Welsh borders. Hannah Mackenzie runs Wrest Park in Bedfordshire Britain’s first country-house war hospital, bankrolled by playwright J. M. Barrie. And there is Grace Higgens, cook-housekeeper to the Bloomsbury set at Charleston farmhouse in East Sussex for half a century an era defined by the Second World War.

John Quincy Adams: American visionary by Fred Kaplan

In this elegant study, Kaplan portrays our sixth president as a deeply literary man, devout husband, orator, diplomat and teacher who had grand plans for the country’s future, including the building of national infrastructure and the abolition of slavery. Indeed, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) was concerned about America’s loss of innocence in its rapid expansion and growing distance from its foundational ideals. A prodigious, gifted writer, he worried about “the internal health of the nation,” with the squabbling between the Republicans and Federalists during the contested presidential elections, the addition of slave states to the union and the War of 1812, which had revealed the country’s evolution into “a parcel of petty tribes at perpetual war with one another.” Like his father, Quincy Adams was Harvard-educated, a lawyer and inculcated to answering the call of his country, despite his own wishes. For example, he was appointed to diplomatic posts (his first training being next to his father in Paris from the age of 10) at The Hague and St. Petersburg. Yet the wandering life suited this restless intellect, and he even rejected a Supreme Court nomination since he fashioned himself a man of action and, moreover, was the only ex-president to serve in Congress (from his home state of Massachusetts). A loyal, loving husband to foreign-born, French-speaking Louisa, he lost all but one son during his lifetime. He was also tainted by the hint of a “corrupt bargain” in trading electoral votes for elevating Henry Clay to secretary of state, and he was hounded out of the presidency by his political opponents led by Andrew Jackson. However, his argument in defense of the Amistad prisoners before the Supreme Court in 1841 was a powerful plea for the cause of justice.

Paris Along the Nile: Architecture in Cairo during the Belle Époque by Cynthia Myntti

Cairo, ‘Mother of the World’: its vividly diverse neighborhoods and building styles reveal its cosmopolitan energy and reflect the myriad of economic, political, and cultural forces that have shaped the city over the centuries. So impressed was Khedive Ismail after a visit to Haussman’s ‘new’ Paris in 1867 that he decided to build a modern city along the same architectural lines and aesthetics, and brought European architects to Cairo to initiate Egypt’s most dynamic building period since medieval times. The stunning buildings of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Cairo remain, but they are neglected, threatened by pollution, and are being pulled down for concrete highrises and parking lots.Paris along the Nile captures in 200 black-and-white photographs the architectural jewels of ‘modern’ Cairo.

Queen Victoria: A life of contradictions by Matthew Dennison

A judicious but lively biography of the highly un-Victorian Queen Victoria (1819-1901). Stubborn, hotblooded, and autocratic” is a solid description. Early-19th-century education emphasized the importance of “regulating the passions, securing morality, and establishing a sound religion.” This, not the queen’s temperament, defined the Victorian era. “As it happened, only Albert ever persuaded Victoria to regulate her passionate temper, in lessons that were painful to teacher and student,” writes the author. “After his death, there would be signs of backsliding.” Taking the throne at the age of 18, she dismissed her domineering mother (her father was long dead); however, she was certainly not a feminist and remained highly susceptible to the men in her life. Britain’s constitutional monarch was supposed to be above politics, but Victoria made no secret of her affection for some leaders (Melbourne, Disraeli) and dislike of others (Peel, Gladstone). Above all, she cherished her husband, Albert, a minor German prince whom she loved at first sight and to whom she happily submitted. As a foreigner, Albert was never admired in Britain, but unlike the case with Victoria, his approval among historians has risen steadily, and Dennison concurs. His death in 1861 devastated the queen. Mourning obsessively, she went into seclusion for a decade, which greatly diminished her popularity. Although she lacked charisma and disliked public appearances, sheer longevity converted her final decades into an apotheosis of Britain’s glory. At her death after a 63-year reign, everyone understood that a significant era had passed.

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