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Family drama and tragedy does not seem to end. After enduring one of the saddest Christmases of my life, I am ready for bibliotherapy. Luckily for all of us, today is the last Wednesday of the year–in other words, the last Pre-Reads of 2015. Finally! Below are sixteen carefully researched titles that are debuting (or newly reprinted) this month. They are broken into two categories; fiction and non-fiction, eight titles in each group. All books have been highly reviewed and their summaries are directly taken from Amazon, Baker and Taylor, Kirkus Review, Library Journal, or Publisher’s Weekly. I tried to make sure all the titles were representative of various 19th century-inspired sub-genres. This is how I ensure the post doesn’t turn into a list of Regency Romance reviews (There are other wonderful websites and blogs that cater specifically to this readership, if Regency Romance is your thing). Non-fiction is always tricky, because most are scholarly tomes for history graduates and PhDs in Victorian Studies (yes, there is such a discipline! Can you believe it?! Squeee!). I try to gather non-fiction titles that are a bit more accessible to the general public. Being a Librarian, this is by far my favorite planned post of the month. Just a note, however, I have not read any of these books, so I cannot recommend one over the other, nor give my opinion on the matter. However, I’ve jotted down a few to add to my ever-growing “To Read List.” How about you?

 

Fiction

The Baker’s Tale: Ruby Spriggs and the legacy of Charles Dickens by Thomas Hauser

Expanded on a Dickensian anecdote of the sweet, simple tale of Ruby Spriggs, an orphan who finds refuge and then love in mid-19th-century London. Though Dickens himself only appears in the copy of Oliver Twist that Ruby reads with her beloved, Edwin Chatfield, his influence is felt in this novel’s lofty, moralizing championship of the poor and downtrodden, and the unsparing description of the now-infamous working conditions in the English coal mines. While the caricatured villainy of Edwin’s employer Alexander Murd, who sends Ruby alone and broken-hearted to America, is as unlikely as the coincidence that eventually reunites the grieving lovers, the story endears through the generosity of the several benefactors who aid and support the central pair. These include the euphoniously named Octavius Joy, the American bookseller Abraham Hart, and the humble baker Antonio, who tells their story.

The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

Jacob “Trace” Tracy and Boz, his African American partner, are looking for jobs to tide them over until they get hired for their usual work of guiding wagon trains West. Wealthy Miss Fairweather of St. Louis employs them for what looks like an easy task: retrieving a box from a nearby town. Miss Fairweather didn’t choose the duo by chance. She wants Trace for his ability to see the spirit world, a talent he has possessed (and hidden) since he was injured on the battlefield at Antietam. This first trip entangles Trace and Boz with the interests of a man of unusual talents and evil intent named Mereck, and even as Trace continues to take jobs for Miss Fairweather, Mereck’s attentions grow more dangerous.

For You Were Strangers by D.M. Pirrone

Hanley, a Chicago police detective in 1872, investigates the murder of lawyer Ebenezer Champion, a former captain in the Union army, whose potentially explosive memoirs and legal papers are missing. Meanwhile, Rivka’s long-missing brother, Aaron, his mulatto wife, Ada, and their son, Nat, turn up at her home after racist night riders burn their house in southern Illinois. Fearing that Aaron’s enemies have followed him to Chicago, Rivka turns to Hanley for help. Flashbacks to the struggles of Dorcas Whittier, the daughter of a Tennessee plantation owner, during the final year of the Civil War add color to this complex tale of hidden identities and motives.

The Lady’s Command by Stephanie Laurens

In Laurens’s Adventurers Quartet opener, newlyweds Capt. Declan Fergus Frobisher and Lady Edwina Delbraith navigate through expectations of marriage and their new social roles in Regency-era England. When Declan is called to command a military mission to West Africa, Edwina, eager to chart a new course for herself, insists on staying by her husband’s side. Intent on creating a strong, equal partnership with her Declan, and driven by her passion for adventure, she hatches a plan that makes her a key player in Declan’s mission. Edwina is a formidable protagonist: dignified, elegant, loyal to her husband, intelligent, and strong-willed. Declan is a proven leader at sea, but when it comes to matters of the heart, he is at his wife’s command.

The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

Sophie Dupont is a woman with an uncertain future. After her relationship with the feckless Wesley Overtree ends with a note that he’s sailed to Italy, Sophie realizes she is with child. Devastated yet hopeful he will return, she is surprised by the arrival of Wesley’s younger brother, Capt. Stephen Overtree. Known to his men as Captain Black for his moods and brusque manner, Stephen demands a marriage of convenience to save Sophie from scandal. Now married to a man she doubts she can ever love, Sophie secretly wishes for Wesley. However, as time passes, Sophie finds herself more in love with the enigmatic captain. Stephen is then deployed with his regiment to battle Napoleon, and Wesley returns, determined to have Sophie back.

Riot Most Uncouth by Daniel Friedman

In 1807, Byron is a student at Cambridge, but his attitude toward his studies couldn’t be more cavalier. Instead of spending any time learning, the irreverent Byron, who regards himself as the world’s greatest poet, indulges his appetite for alcohol and women, while keeping a pet bear he’s named the Professor in his rooms. When Miss Felicity Whippleby is slaughtered near Trinity College, her blood drained from her body, Byron decides that his gifts extend to detection. His efforts soon conflict with those of two professional sleuths, each apparently hired by the victim’s father. The killer strikes again, and the nature of the crimes reminds the poet of the legends of vampires his father used to recount.

The Rising by Ian Tregillis

Tregillis’s splendid sequel to The Mechanical is a vivid alternate history tale filled with action sequences, fascinating characters, and great worldbuilding. Jax, a Clakker (clockwork automaton) who has gained free will, is now hobbled and on the run, hoping to find the possibly mythical land ruled by a Clakker known as Queen Mab. Its rumored location is deep in the French Canadian wilderness. Meanwhile, exiled French spymaster Berenice escapes the Dutch and becomes a fugitive, and Hugo Longchamp, the foul-mouthed guard captain in Marseilles-in-the-West in tiny New France (located in what we call Canada), prepares for the inevitable attack by the Dutch and their army of enslaved Clakkers. As their adventures intersect, these unlikely heroes work to find a way to free Clakkers from their magical obligations and to save what remains of France (in Europe) from the Dutch Empire.

Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

In 1898 Sophie Van Rijn is a dedicated nine-year volunteer for the Weather Bureau with dreams of working in a climate observatory in her hometown of New Holland in the Hudson River Valley. But with surly Quentin Vandermark’s sudden arrival at the Dierenpark estate, along with his son and bodyguards, Sophie’s weather station and the beautiful mansion she loves are in jeopardy. Quentin is furious with Sophie for turning his home into a tourist attraction and bans her from the formerly unused mansion, only for her to return day after day. Baffled by Sophie’s unending cheerfulness, Quentin is drawn to Sophie and is challenged by her to think beyond his belief that if he “can’t see it or touch it, it doesn’t exist.” Although Quentin is harsh and often cruel with his household staff, Sophie and his son ultimately teach him to allow his heart to love again.

Non-Fiction

Barnstorming the Prairies: How aerial vision shaped the Midwest by Jason Weems

To Midwesterners tucked into small towns or farms early in the twentieth century, the landscape of the American heartland reached the horizon—and then imagination had to provide what lay beyond. But when aviation took off and scenes of the Midwest were no longer earthbound, the Midwestern landscape was transformed and with it, Jason Weems suggests in this book, the very idea of the Midwest itself.

Barnstorming the Prairies offers a panoramic vista of the transformative nature and power of the aerial vision that remade the Midwest in the wake of the airplane. This new perspective from above enabled Americans to conceptualize the region as something other than isolated and unchanging, and to see it instead as a dynamic space where people worked to harmonize the core traditions of America’s agrarian character with the more abstract forms of twentieth-century modernity. In the maps and aerial survey photography of the Midwest, as well as the painting, cinema, animation, and suburban landscapes that arose through flight, Weems also finds a different and provocative view of modernity in the making. In representations of the Midwest, from Grant Wood’s iconic images to the Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright to the design of greenbelt suburbs, Weems reveals aerial vision’s fundamental contribution to regional identity—to Midwesternness as we understand it.

Bleeding Blue and Grey: Civil War surgery and the evolution of American medicine by Ira Rutkow

This landmark history charts the practice and progress of American medicine during the Civil War and retells the story of the war through the care given the wounded. It re-creates the often grisly experiences of wounded and sick Civil War soldiers. The book goes into details on the efforts by doctors, nurses, politicians, and others to improve care. Bleeding Blue and Grey highlights the work of volunteers like Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott.

 

Boudoirs to Brothels: The intimate world of Wild West women by Michael Rutter

Come peek between the covers for an intimate look at the lives of Old West. Once “fallen” or widowed, a woman had few options and almost none of them were socially acceptable. Many turned to the red light district to survive.

Illustrated with rare historical photographs, Boudoirs to Brothels: The intimate world of Wild West women takes you inside the dark, dangerous lives of 18 madams and working girls.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Celebrity, memory, and popular history by Joy S. Kasson

A fascinating analysis of the first famous American to erase the boundary between real history and entertainment.

Canada, and Europe. Crowds cheered as cowboys and Indians–and Annie Oakley!–galloped past on spirited horses, sharpshooters exploded glass balls tossed high in the air, and cavalry troops arrived just in time to save a stagecoach from Indian attack. Vivid posters on billboards everywhere made William Cody, the show’s originator and star, a world-renowned figure.
Joy S. Kasson’s important new book traces Cody’s rise from scout to international celebrity, and shows how his image was shaped. Publicity stressed his show’s “authenticity” yet audiences thrilled to its melodrama; fact and fiction converged in a performance that instantly became part of the American tradition.

But how, precisely, did that come about? How, for example, did Cody use his audience’s memories of the Civil War and the Indian wars? He boasted that his show included participants in the recent conflicts it presented theatrically, yet he also claimed it evoked “memories” of America’s bygone greatness. Kasson’s shrewd, engaging study–richly illustrated–in exploring the disappearing boundary between entertainment and public events in American culture, shows us just how we came to imagine our memories.

A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the Css Shenandoah by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes

From October 1864 to November 1865, the officers of the CSS Shenandoah carried the Confederacy and the conflict of the Civil War around the globe through extreme weather, alien surroundings, and the people they encountered. Her officers were the descendants of Deep South plantation aristocracy and Old Dominion first families: a nephew of Robert E. Lee, a grandnephew of founder George Mason, and descendants of one of George Washington’s generals and of an aid to Washington. One was even an uncle of a young Theodore Roosevelt and another was son-in-law to Raphael Semmes. Shenandoah’s mission — commerce raiding (guerre de course) — was a central component of U.S. naval and maritime heritage, a profitable business, and a watery form of guerrilla warfare. These Americans stood in defense of their country as they understood it, pursuing a difficult and dangerous mission in which they succeeded spectacularly after it no longer mattered. This is a biography of a ship and a cruise, and a microcosm of the Confederate-American experience.”

A Paradise of Blood: The Creek War of 1813-1814 by Howard T. Weir, III

The War for an Idyllic Wilderness That Brought Andrew Jackson to National Prominence, Transformed the South, and Changed America Forever.
In 1811, a portion of the Creek Indians who inhabited a vast area across Georgia, Alabama, and parts of Florida and Mississippi, interpreted an earth tremor as a sign that they had to return to their traditional way of life. What was an internal Indian dispute soon became engulfed in the greater War of 1812 to become perhaps the most consequential campaign of that conflict. At immediate stake in what became known as the Creek War of 181314 was whether the Creeks and their inconstant British and Spanish allies or the young United States would control millions of acres of highly fertile Native American land. The conflict’s larger issue was whether the Indian nations of the lower American Souththe Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasawwould be able to remain in their ancestral homes.

Victorians in Camera: The world of 19th century studio photography by Robert Pols

‘The making of a lifelike picture was something to be wondered at.
It was an adventure, it was an expense, and it was often something of an ordeal…’

Victorians in Camera explores the world of nineteenth century photography from the subjects’ point of view. What did people want from their portraits? Where did they go to have them made and did the Victorians really never smile? What did they do with the finished product, whether a formal daguerreotype or cheery snapshot?

From a wealth of contemporary evidence – in both words and pictures – Robert Pols reveals the story behind Victorian photography – from trickery to photographic fashions. Discover the social history behind nineteenth century photographs and how to trace hidden stories within your own family album.

Ware’s Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase by J. Redding Ware and John Simpson

Acutely aware of the changes affecting English at the end of the Victorian era, writer and journalist J. Redding Ware set out to record words and turns of phrase from all walks of life, from the curses in common use by sailors to the rhyming slang of the street and the jargon of the theater dandies. In doing so, he extended the lifespan of words like “air-hole,” “lally-gagging,” and “bow-wow mutton.”
First published in 1909 and reproduced here with a new introduction by Oxford English Dictionary former editor John Simpson,The Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase 1909 reflects the rich history of unofficial English. Many of the expressions are obsolete; one is not likely to have the misfortune of encountering a “parlour jumper.” Order a “shant of bivvy” at the pub and you’ll be met with a blank stare. But some of the entries reveal the origins of expressions still in use today, such as calling someone a “bad egg” to indicate that they are dishonest or of ill-repute. While showing the significant influence of American English on Victorian slang, the Dictionary also demonstrates how impressively innovative its speakers were. A treasure trove of everyday language of the nineteenth century, this book has much to offer in terms of insight into the intriguing history of English and will be of interest to anyone with a passion for words.

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