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A Woman Reading by Candlelight by Peter Ilsted, c. 1907

Tis the last Wednesday of the month and we now arrive at our scheduled Pre-Reads post. Below you will find a list of eight fiction and eight non-fiction titles that pertain to 19th century. I have searched many a review and synopsis, and list is the cream of the crop. All the highly rated book summaries are taken verbatim from Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, Baker and Taylor or Amazon. These titles are all newly published, soon to be published, or in the case of some of the non-fiction, reprinted. Non-fiction is a difficult genre to amass for these posts, since many of the books I come across are highly scholarly in nature and may not always appeal to the general 19th century enthusiast. This month, however, I discovered, not one, but TWO Steampunk Fashion books. A first, since I started compiling the Pre-Reads. So I hope you all enjoy the suggestions! I have not read any of these titles, so I cannot personally recommend one book over the other. Now, have a gander. . .

Fiction

Friends in High Places by Caro Peacock

On Sept. 1, 1840, Liberty, a private investigator who has done sleuthing work for high-up government officials, receives a summons from Lady Marguerite Blessington to Gore House, her London mansion. Monsieur Lesparre, one of the plotters involved in a recent failed coup attempt by Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, Prince Louis, has taken refuge at Gore House. Lesparre seeks to return to France to provide evidence that will help Prince Louis, but the French government isn’t eager for him to do so. Lady Blessington, alarmed by some odd incidents that suggest an attempt to abduct her secret guest, asks Liberty to make arrangements to smuggle him out of England. The discovery of a corpse at Gore House and the subsequent murder investigation considerably complicate Liberty’s efforts.

Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey by Lillian Marek

From sensible, sheltered girl
Safe in the embrace of her loving family, Lady EmilyTremaine longs to feel more intensely alive. Surely the magic and mystery of Assyria and the fabled ruins of Nineveh will bring about the transformation she seeks.

To the woman his heart desires
Scarred by his past and estranged from his noble grandfather, French adventurer Lucien Chambertin desires neither a home nor the chains of emotional attachment. He seeks only to explore the far reaches of the world. But he did not know the world contained the likes of Lady Emily-whose curiosity and sense of wonder match his own.

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig

Portugal, December 1807. Jack Reid, the British agent known as the Moonflower (formerly the French agent known as the Moonflower), has been stationed in Portugal and is awaiting his new contact. He does not expect to be paired with a woman—especially not the legendary Pink Carnation.

All of Portugal believes that the royal family departed for Brazil just before the French troops marched into Lisbon. Only the English government knows that mad seventy-three-year-old Queen Maria was spirited away by a group of loyalists determined to rally a resistance. But as the French garrison scours the countryside, it’s only a matter of time before she’s found and taken.

It’s up to Jane to find her first and ensure her safety. But she has no knowledge of Portugal or the language. Though she is loath to admit it, she needs the Moonflower. Operating alone has taught her to respect her own limitations. But she knows better than to show weakness around the Moonflower—an agent with a reputation for brilliance, a tendency toward insubordination, and a history of going rogue.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

Rachel begins the story as the headstrong daughter of a French merchant, whose Jewish ancestors came to the New World in pursuit of religious freedom and found refuge under the protection of the King of Denmark, a champion of civil rights who also outlawed slavery on the island. Rachel grows up with her best friend Jestine, the beautiful daughter of her family’s servant, Adelle, but upon adulthood, their paths separate. Rachel, caught up in the expectations set for her as a member of the small community, marries Isaac Petit, a widower nearly 30 years her senior with three small children, in order to help her father’s business interests. She puts away her dreams of moving to Paris and accepts the role of dutiful wife, producing more children and becoming distant from Jestine, who faces her own challenges finding her place in society. When Rachel’s husband dies and his nephew arrives to oversee the family business, Rachel is swept into an encompassing love that violates the community’s moral code and isolates her family—but produces a son, Camille, whose peculiar way of seeing foretells his role as a leader of French Impressionism.

No Comfort for the Lost: A mystery of old San Francisco by Nancy Herriman

On the morning of February 12, 1867, in San Francisco, approximately 30 Chinese laborers were attacked by a gang of predominantly Irish workers. Several Chinese were severely injured and their shanties burned. From this historical detail, Herriman weaves an intriguing mystery that introduces Cecelia Davies, a British-born nurse, and Det. Nicholas Greaves, a Civil War veteran. Celia had immigrated to California with her Irish husband, Patrick, who has since disappeared, presumed lost at sea. Having a half-Chinese niece, Celia has always maintained a soft place in her heart for the Chinese prostitutes, whom she serves tirelessly in her clinic. When the body of a pregnant Chinese girl is pulled from the bay, Greaves is determined to find her killer, even if no one else is interested in solving the murder.

Sophie and Sibyl by Patricia Duncker

The eponymous Sibyl is none other than George Eliot, who manages to interfere in the romance and subsequent marriage between the fictional Maximilian Duncker, younger brother in the German publishing firm translating her works, and the beautiful young Countess Sophie von Hahn. We’re led to believe that Sophie became the model for the heroine in Eliot’s last novel, Daniel Deronda. But while most Victorian heroines, including Eliot’s, are thwarted in their ambitions, the lovely Sophie has it all: she is rich, brilliant, headstrong, lucky at roulette, and a devoted mother.

Tremaine’s True Love by Grace Burrowes

When Tremaine St. Michael visits Nicholas, Earl of Bellefonte, he insists that he can only spare a few days away from his business matters. But his stay extends as he becomes enthralled with Lady Nita Haddonfield, the earl’s sister. Nita is pleasantly surprised that a gentleman such as Tremaine is willing to assist her with providing medical services to some of the area’s poorest residents. Though Tremaine and Nita are quick to act on their attraction with very little courtship, she’s less willing than he is to tie the knot, concerned that marriage will hamper her cherished independence.

Two Bronze Pennies by Chris Nickson

Set in 1890, a newly and happily married Harper, who worries that his loss of hearing in one ear may become permanent, is enjoying Christmas Eve with his wife, Annabelle, when he learns that a corpse has been found in a Jewish neighborhood of Leeds. The victim, Abraham Levy, was stabbed multiple times, his body arranged to make the sign of a cross, and his eyes covered with two bronze pennies. The timing of the crime and the staging of the body make local anti-Semites the logical suspects

Non-Fiction

At Home with the Soanes: Upstairs, downstairs in 19th century London by Susan Palmer

A look at the day-to-day life once lived inside the home of celebrated British architect John Soane, now a museum that attracts 100,000 visitors a year. The product of many years’ research by Susan Palmer, archivist to Sir John Soane’s Museum,At Home with the Soanes paints a detailed picture of the social and domestic life at Nos 12 & 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, in the early 19th century—how the buildings were heated, the servants’ daily duties, what meals were cooked, wines purchased and teas drunk—even the fate of the family’s pet dog. Family life with two children—in many ways as difficult as modern offspring—is brought vividly to life and the below-stairs relationships of the servants are poignantly recorded. The evening social whirl of visits to theaters and supper parties is chronicled, and the description of seaside holidays on the Kentish coast, when Margate was in vogue, portrays the social niceties of promenades and dances. Originally published in 1997,At Home with the Soanes has been updated to include the latest discoveries that have come to light during restoration of the house and redesigned to include more than 100 illustrations, mostly in color, from the extensive Museum archive, including photographs of the newly-recreated “lost” private apartments.

Book-Men, Book Clubs and the Romantic Literary Sphere by Ina Ferris

This book re-reads the tangled relations of book culture and literary culture in the early nineteenth century by restoring to view the figure of the bookman and the effaced history of his book clubs. As outliers inserting themselves into the matrix of literary production rather than remaining within that of reception, both provoked debate by producing, writing, and circulating books in ways that expanded fundamental points of literary orientation in lateral directions not coincident with those of the literary sphere. Deploying a wide range of historical, archival and literary materials, the study combines the history and geography of books, cultural theory, and literary history to make visible a bookish array of alternative networks, genres, and locations obscured by the literary sphere in establishing its authority as arbiter of the modern book.

Fair Mile Hospital: A Victorian Asylum by Ian Wheeler

Fair Mile was more than just a psychiatric hospital; it was an example of a nationwide network of “pauper lunatic asylums,” born of responsible Victorian legislation and compassion for the disadvantaged. It was a secure home to many of its patients and staff, and the community within its walls became an integral part of Cholsey, touching almost every household in the area. Drawing on county records, first-hand accounts, and archive photographs, Fair Mile Hospital describes the ethos of the Victorian asylum builders and the development of the facility that treated thousands of patients over four generations. Relating changes in practice and personnel, and the difficulties of two world wars, this is a unique account of a hospital that did its utmost for those in its care.

A Settler’s Year: Pioneer life through the seasons by Kathleen Ernst and Lyod Heath

ASettler’s Year provides a rare colorful glimpse into the hard and hearty lives of the early immigrants dreaming of, searching for, and creating new homes in the upper Midwest, a history captured in photographs taken by Loyd Heath at the Old World Wisconsin living history museum and poignant essays by historian and top-selling historical fiction author Kathleen Ernst.

Steampunk and Cosplay Fashion Design and Illustration: More than 50 ideas for learning to design your own Neo-Victorian costumes and accessories by Samantha R. Crossland

Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration is designed to appeal to both fashion enthusiasts and steampunk cosplay fans alike. Whether your dream is to become a fashion designer, or you simply want to combine your artistic skills with a love for steampunk fashion and culture, the tips, tricks, tools, and step-by-step projects in this book provide you with everything you need to learn to design and draw an assortment of cosplay outfits. Beginning with a brief introduction to drawing techniques and fashion basics, this valuable resource provides a quick guide to figure proportions, basic anatomy, and a glossary of common fashion terms. Additionally you will learn how to render various textures, including fabric, brass, leather, wood, and more. You’ll discover how to render typical steampunk characters, along with their fascinating and outlandish accessories, including brass spectacles, goggles, canes, boots, and more. After working through the step-by-step projects you will find templates at the back of the book to help you get started on your own original fashion designs. With comprehensive instruction, a plethora of artist tips and tricks, and beautiful artwork to inspire,Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration is the perfect resource for budding fashion designers and seasoned artists alike.

Steampunk Fashion: The ultimate sourcebook to the modern Victorian Style by Evelyn Kriete and Ruth La Ferla

Steampunk fashion springs from the inspiration of the past, but blossoms today in trendy stores and cutting-edge haute couture. While many of Steampunk’s most dramatic incarnations can be found on Fashion Week runways, it can also be found in ample supply among casual everyday street wear. Steampunk Fashion is the design sourcebook for the Steampunk fashion aesthetic. Inside you’ll meet the trendsetters who are influencing what we love to wear: the designers, artists, writers and photographers behind the new flowering of neo-vintage style. The author takes you on a wide-ranging journey through the culture behind the trend—the books, art, films and images that are driving Steampunk fashion. Learn the “rules” of Steampunk style. Understand how diverse outfits can be grouped together into basic thematic categories—from gadgeteers, explorers and aristocrats to officers, scientists or ragamuffins. Discover the personal style that fits you best, and add a bit of Steampunk fashion to your wardrobe! Four do-it-yourself tutorials show you how to craft your own apparel, with projects for making a tailcoat, cravat, ruffle shrug or overskirt.

Those Pullman Blues: An oral history of the African-American railroad attendant by David P. Perata 

The first oral history centering on the unique experiences of black porters and railroad attendants during the railroad’s heyday is by turns dramatic, inspiring, comic, and heartwrenching. First person accounts document both the glamour of the railroad era and the bitter realities of being a black worker on a white railroad.

The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, murder and insanity in the Victorian West by Carole Haber

On November 3, 1870, on a San Francisco ferry, Laura Fair shot a bullet into the heart of her married lover, A. P. Crittenden. Throughout her two murder trials, Fair’s lawyers, supported by expert testimony from physicians, claimed that the shooting was the result of temporary insanity caused by a severely painful menstrual cycle. The first jury disregarded such testimony, choosing instead to focus on Fair’s disreputable character. In the second trial, however, an effective defense built on contemporary medical beliefs and gendered stereotypes led to a verdict that shocked Americans across the country. In this rousing history, Carole Haber probes changing ideas about morality and immorality, masculinity and femininity, love and marriage, health and disease, and mental illness to show that all these concepts were reinvented in the Victorian West.

 

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