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The Reader (Claude Monet) by Pierre Auguste Renoir, c. 19th century

Great Scot! It is already the last week of the month?! Where the devil did it all go?? No matter, it is time for the October Pre-Reads. Every month I read hundreds of 19th-century-inspired-book reviews (literally). Garnered from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, Library Journal, Amazon, and Baker and Taylor, I cultivate a list of sixteen titles to share with my Dear Readers. The reviews and summaries, herein, are taken directly from those sources. All these books are recently, soon-to-be-published, or re-released titles. Below are eight highly reviewed novels and eight highly reviewed non-fiction books. I try to present an array of sub-subgenres. However, I have not read any of these titles, so I cannot recommend one over the other. If you have read a title and absolutely hated it, do let us know! Conversely, if you love the book and cannot stop gushing about it, tell us in the comments section! Personally, I have my eye on  Lord Fenton or Art in the Blood . . .  you?


The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, Colin, in Cannes, France, where they’re celebrating the engagement of a childhood friend of hers, Jeremy Sheffield, Duke of Bainbridge. A confirmed bachelor, Jeremy has surprised everyone by falling for wealthy American Amity Wells. Emily doesn’t quite trust Amity’s “studied perfection,” but her doubts are overshadowed when a member of their party is found dead in Jeremy’s hotel suite. The coroner rules it suicide, but Emily suspects murder—and wonders whether Jeremy was the real target. Alexander weaves a compelling story of intrigue among upper-crust fin de siècle society, though the Wells family fails to transcend stereotypes of crass, conniving Americans.

The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland comes this deluxe edition of Gardner’s The Annotated Alice (1960), with updates from Burstein (president emeritus, Lewis Carroll Soc. of North America). This book updates the Definitive Edition (1999), which combined and corrected the aforementioned 1960 edition and More Annotated Alice (1990), bringing together the texts of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and the suppressed “Wasp in a Wig.” Included are Gardner’s introductions to these and the Knight Letter annotations, plus Carroll’s published writings on the books. Also provided are updated selections on Lewis Carroll societies and Alice-related films. The book is richly illustrated with many illustrations in color and black-and-white from Tenniel and Harry Furniss to recent contributions by Iassen Ghiuselev and Iain McCaig. Gardner’s notes, a work of deep love and wide scholarship, range from explanations of references, puns, inside jokes, riddles, and other word play to miniessays on chess problems, subsequent interpretations, and references to Alice. All are insightful without being either pedantic or dogmatic.

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird

In this debut mystery, famed detective Sherlock Holmes and partner Dr. Watson face a villain obsessed with procuring the recently discovered Marseille Nike.Sherlock Holmes receives a perfumed letter, written with disappearing ink, that piques his curiosity. It’s from Mlle. Emmeline La Victoire, alias Cherie Cerise, the “chanteuse extraordinaire” performing at the Chat Noir in Paris. Her young son, Emil, is missing. The Earl of Pellingham is Emil’s father, which coincides with Mycroft Holmes’ investigation into the earl’s affairs, including the deaths of four orphans. Accompanied by Dr. Watson, Sherlock travels to Paris, where they meet not only Mlle. La Victoire but her lover, the unscrupulous French detective Jean Vidocq. He is after information concerning the missing Nike statue. Later that evening, during Emmeline’s performance, a violent attack backstage forces the small group to find safety in the home of artist Henri Toulouse-Latrec, where Sherlock convinces Emmeline th at Emil is hidden safely in England and to return with him to Baker Street. Mycroft will give Emmeline the address where Emil is hidden, provided Sherlock returns to Lancashire, impersonating art expert Fritz Prendergast, whom the earl has never seen, with Watson posing as Prendergast’s attending physician, Dr. Laurel. On the train to Lancashire, Sherlock sees a photograph of the dead children in a folder, and his resolve hardens. As the mystery deepens, MacBird skillfully interweaves fact with fiction while remaining faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original imagining of Sherlock Holmes, especially regarding his idiosyncrasies with both drug addiction and the recklessness he exhibits toward his own life, which could also be viewed as an addiction. She reinterprets his detective skills as being hereditary from the French side of his family, famous for its artists: “Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms,” Sherlock once said. “And so it was for him,” Watson says—”but his artistry went much deeper than that. In my view it was at the very root of his remarkable success as the world’s first consulting detective.”

Buffalo Trial by Jeff Guinn

The story continues the adventures of Cash McLendon, who is now, in 1873, on the run from his past and hunting buffalo with a 20-year-old Bat Masterson. They wind up in Dodge City, Kans., where Bat gets them a gig with Billy Dixon hunting south into Indian Territory at Adobe Walls, which has already been the site of a battle involving Kit Carson. The war chief, Quanah, and visionary tribal mystic, Isatai, are raising a coalition of Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne Dog Soldiers to drive the hide men, as they are called, from their land. After he receives word that the love of his life, Gabrielle Tirrito, is in Mountain View in the Arizona Territory, Cash has even greater motivation for making money by selling buffalo hides. But in order to do so, he will first have to survive the Second Battle of Adobe Walls.

Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

Preparing for Christmas in Cambridge, Massachusetts, church members face challenges aided by faith and friends and inspired by the eponymous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—who, in an alternate storyline, fights despair as he confronts personal tragedy and the Civil War. Christmas is fast approaching, and St. Margaret’s Catholic Church is a hub of activity. The children’s choir, under Sophia’s talented guidance, is practicing its program, which includes “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” the lovely carol based on the poem by Cambridge’s own Longfellow. Sophia is determined to remain optimistic this season, despite her recently broken engagement and the threat of losing her job next spring. After all, these children lift her spirits, and she can always depend on Lucas, the saintly accompanist, to be there for her. Particularly talented are the red-haired siblings, serious Charlotte and precocious Alex, whose father is serving with the National Guard in Afghanistan and whose mother is overwhelmed by the crushing news that her beloved husband is missing, a fact she’s trying to keep secret. Father Ryan loves his calling and his congregants and is doing his best to aid them in their trials even as he navigates his own fractured family. The odd but cheerful, elderly Sister Winifred offers help and reassurance with eerily perfect timing and perception.

Lord Fenton’s Folly by Josi S. Kilpack

When Lord Fenton is forced to marry or face disinheritance, he follows his mother’s advice and weds Alice Stanbridge, a family friend, but their match is full of conflict. Charles Theler, Lord Fenton, has developed foppish ways, gambling heavily and acting the flirt, but when he crosses a line and makes a particularly embarrassing spectacle of himself, his father, the Earl of Chariton, takes initial steps to disinherit him. When his mother steps in on his behalf and convinces the earl to give him one more chance to redeem himself, he is given a number of conditions, one of which is that he must marry. Charles is willing to do anything to maintain his title and position, especially since his ridiculous manner has always been a way to goad his father and possibly earn a speck of his attention, even if it is negative. His father is all about appearances, even if his actions are less than honorable. However, now that Charles has come so close to losing everything, he knows he mus t buckle down and show some respect to his title and responsibilities. He is guided by his mother in choosing a wife, Miss Alice Stanbridge, the daughter of her childhood friend. At first Alice is thrilled by the engagement—she’s held a tendre for Charles since she was a girl—but as she comes to realize he was forced into marriage and did not actually choose her, she is hurt and bewildered, especially since he shows her the same vapid mask he shows the rest of society, and she worries he is as shallow as he appears. When Charles’ mother falls ill, the uncomfortable newlyweds follow her from London to a country estate that shelters many lingering family secrets.

Silver on the Road Laura Gilman

Isobel has an important decision to make on her 16th birthday: stay in the service of the devil, or leave the territory and find a different life. Deciding to continue working for her boss, she doesn’t realize that he will send her on the road to learn her trade. He wants Izzy to be his eyes and ears and his instrument of justice in the region. She will set off on her journey with a strange rider named Gabriel, who has made his own bargain with the devil in return for training Izzy.

Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen

In this intelligently drawn portrait of the complicated, volatile, and fiery man who was Mark Twain, Cullen (The Creation of Eve) explores the complex, tortured relationship between Twain and his secretary Isabel Lyon. Initially meeting over a game of cards years earlier, Lyon is eventually hired on as secretary to Twain’s wife but over time becomes a trusted friend and confidante to the author. Over the course of several years, the relationship between Twain and Lyon turns romantic, much to the chagrin of his daughter, Clara, embittered by her own relationship with a married man. But a month after Lyon marries Twain’s business manager in 1909, he fires the two and embarks on a slanderous campaign against her.


After the Civil War: The heroes, villians, soldiers, and civilians who changed America by James Robertson

Returning to the turbulent days of a nation divided, best-selling author and acclaimed historian James Robertson explores 70 fascinating figures who shaped America during Reconstruction and beyond. Relentless politicians, intrepid fighters, cunning innovators—the times called for bold moves, and this resilient generation would not disappoint. From William Tecumseh Sherman, a fierce leader who would revolutionize modern warfare, to Thomas Nast, whose undefeatable weapon was his stirring cartoons, these are the people who weathered the turmoil to see a nation reborn. Following these extraordinary legends from the battle lines to the White House, from budding metropolises to the wooly west, we re-discover the foundation of this great country.

Custer’s Trials: A life on the frontier of a new America by T.J. Stiles

Stiles, winner of a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for 2009’s The First Tycoon, grounds this spectacular narrative of George Armstrong Custer in skillful research to deliver a satisfying portrait of a complex, controversial military man. The biography centers on the importance of period context in understanding character, incisively showing that Custer lived uncomfortably on a “chronological frontier” of great modern change in the U.S. Though Custer is best known for his fatal “last stand” at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, Stiles recounts how the officer first attracted national attention for his cavalry exploits during the Civil War. Stiles also delves into the role of celebrity in Custer’s life, tracing the ebb and flow of his popularity over more than a decade after the war, as Custer struggled to find a prominent place in the “peacetime” army that the U.S. deployed in the West against Native Americans. Custer’s personal life was tumultuous: he was a womanizer before and during his marriage to Libbie Bacon, and their home life was complicated by the presence of a freed bondswoman as well as persistent rumors that he had taken a captive Cheyenne woman as his “mistress.” Confidently presenting Custer in all his contradictions, Stiles examines the times to make sense of the man—and uses the man to shed light on the times

The Diary of a Cotswold Parson by Francis Witts

The diary of a Cotswold parson, from 1820 to 1852, throws new light on to a fascinating period of English social history. It was just before the railways made travel faster, and we are astonished how well the Reverend F. E. Witts manages to commute from Upper Slaughter to Gloucester on his horse or in his carriage. He is a shrewd observer and notices how the fashionable world behaves as he passes through Cheltenham, and how the building of the town progresses. For the first time we discover that John Forbes the architect of the beautiful Pittville Pump-room was sentenced for fraud to transportation for life, even though it was subsequently commuted to a few years in prison.

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Marie Piu Eatwell

The author offers a meticulous examination of a late Victorian/early Edwardian cause célèbre involving the fifth Duke of Portland, a well-to-do London merchant, and a case of disputed identity. Straightlaced Victorians reveled in the salacious details of this court case, which began when Anna Maria Druce alleged that the deceased duke had led a double life as businessman T.C. Druce, also deceased; she petitioned the court for an exhumation of Druce, convinced that her son was the duke’s legitimate heir. Ten years passed before the case ended in January 1908, ultimately involving 12 judges, 14 hearings, and numerous investigators and witnesses. Eatwell follows the case from beginning to end, providing background on judges, lawyers, evidence (some fraudulent, some circumstantial and problematic), and unreliable witnesses; details the duke and Druce’s similarities (appearance, mannerisms, diet, infirmities, habits); and covers the provocative madness of the trial.

Forgotten Victorian Generals: Studies in the exercise of command and control in the British army, 1837-1901 by Christopher Brice

Many of the British Army’s actions during the Victorian Era are forgotten, misunderstood and misrepresented. Stereotypes of the Victorian officer, soldier and battlefield abound. As the latter half of the twentieth century was one of ‘Imperial Guilt’ it is perhaps unsurprising that many of the ‘heroes’ of the age have been forgotten. This is particularly true of the ‘Generals’. They were lauded in their day but now are unknown. Yet there were many capable individuals exercising high office.

This new work provides some examples of the many interesting and talented officers who exercised command during the Victorian Era. It is hoped that such a work will be of interest to both the casual reader and the student of military history. Much of the military history of this age has been unfairly ignored, and there are many powerful and important lessons to be learnt from the careers of the men included in this book.

Gothic for the Steam Age: An illustrated biography of George Gilbert Scott by Gavin Stamp

George Gilbert Scott was the most prolific and most famous of Victorian architects. For many, however, blinded by prejudice to the merits of Victorian architecture and the Gothic Revival, he was the most notorious. The rehabilitation of his reputation after a century of abuse is symbolised, above all, by the magnificent restoration of one of his best-known buildings (once seriously threatened with demolition), the hotel at St Pancras Station in London. He was the founder of the greatest architectural dynasty in British history, a dynasty which still flourishes in the fourth and fifth generation.

Scott ran the largest architectural office of its time and it produced designs for some seven or eight hundred buildings (estimates vary). Only a limited selection can therefore be illustrated here, but all of his major secular works are represented, whether by old or new photographs, original drawings and prints, along with the best and most significant of his many churches.

The first in what is a long-overdue illustrated biography of Sir Gilbert Scott, Gavin Stamp has trawled tirelessly through the archives, trying to piece together the life of this great Victorian architect. The sheer scale of Scott’s work and the foundations of an architectural empire has amassed a huge portfolio. Within these pages is a celebration of his work.

The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, countesses, and wayward youth, 1880-1941 by Nancy L. Green

The largely untold story of Americans on the Right Bank who outnumbered the Left Bank writers and artists by ten to one turns out to be a fascinating one. These were mostly businessmen, manufacturers’ representatives, and lawyers, but also newly-minted American countesses married to dashing but cash-poor foreigners with impressive titles, though most of the women were spouses of the businessmen. Thanks to Nancy Green’s superb archival research, this new cast of characters emerges with singular vitality. While Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and other writers all appear here, and do so in a new light, the focus is on the men and women who settled into the gilded ghetto of the Right Bank. Green’s story of these overseas Americans is a way of internationalizing American history (it is also a way of questioning the meaning of Americanization” in the 20th century).

Prince of Darkness: The untold story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s first black millionaire by Shane White

A specialist in African-American history pieces together the remarkable career of an antebellum Wall Street broker who was married to a white woman, ambitious, ruthless, successful, and black: in short, “a racist’s nightmare come to life.” An 1875 death notice of Jeremiah G. Hamilton labeled him “The Richest Colored Man in the Country.” Relying almost entirely on newspapers, government files, court records, the public cloud of dust kicked up by Hamilton’s tumultuous financial maneuvering, and his otherwise private life, White (History/Univ. of Sydney; The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons and Speech, 2005, etc.) recovers a surprising amount of information about this amazing wheeler-dealer. The natty, shrill-voiced Hamilton enjoyed fine living—he bought only the best homes, cigars, and lawyers—and serious books. During the course of compiling his $2 million fortune, he was at various times sentenced to death in absentia in Haiti for his role in a counterfeiting scheme, banned from coverage by New York insurance companies, and blackballed by the stock exchange. He exploited the financial chaos amid the ashes of the city’s Great Fire of 1835 and smartly used the Bankruptcy Act to recover from the 1837 panic. In a largely unregulated Wall Street, with gambling and speculation rife, the ethically challenged Hamilton beat his slippery white adversaries at their own game—and they resented him for it. Combative (in old age, he fought off a Broadway pickpocket), endlessly litigious (he once sued Cornelius Vanderbilt), Hamilton understood the importance of the press and manipulating public opinion. White expertly mines the era’s penny press for stories and characters—William Thompson, junk shop and brothel owner, Thomas Downing, oyster-house proprietor, himself book worthy—that help explain the era’s racial climate and Hamilton’s notoriety as assessed by the likes of John Russwurm, publisher of New York’s first African-American paper, the Herald’s race-baiting James Gordon Bennett, and Hamilton’s ally, the Sun’s Benjamin Day. Superb scholarship and a sprightly style recover an unaccountably overlooked life in our history.