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The first Pre-Reads of the year has finally arrived! Are you finished with reading all the books from last month? Is your New Year’s Resolution to read every 19th-century inspired tome published in 2016?? You’re in luck! The list below will get you started. All sixteen titles were gleaned from Amazon, Baker and Taylor, Kirkus Review, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly. They were selected for being highly reviewed. I aim to cultivate a well rounded collection, however this months leans a little heavily in Slavery for the Non-Fiction group. Since these titles are hitting shelves this month, I have not had the pleasure to read them for myself. Thus, I cannot give you a Book Talk on the topic, per se. The summaries and reviews are directly taken from the publications listed above. Which books, Dear Readers, are you adding to your 2016 To-Read-List?

Fiction

Beyond the Silence by Tracie Peterson

Lillian Porter has always wanted to fulfill her mother’s dream of going west, so when she hears about a nanny position in Angels Camp, California, she defies her grandfather and takes a chance on a new future. But she quickly wonders if she made the right choice. There are rumors in town that her new employer, Woodward Colton, caused the death of his wife. This accusation doesn’t match the man Lillian comes to know–and Mrs. Goodman, Woody’s long-time housekeeper, is decisively on Woody’s side–but many in town stay far away from Lillian because of her association with the Colton family.

Lillian’s six-year-old charge, Jimmy, was there when his mother died, and he hasn’t spoken a word since. Gently, Lillian tries to coax him out of his shell, hoping he’ll one day feel safe enough to tell her the truth about what happened. But the Colton olive farm is no longer a safe place. Lillian encounters suspicious characters on their land and mysterious damage done to the farm. Will Mrs. Goodman and Jimmy be able to speak what they know in time to save Lillian from tragedy?

The Luzren Photograph by William Bayer

In the present, performance artist Tess Berenson has just moved into an Oakland, Calif., apartment that was previously occupied by a professional dominatrix, Chantal Desforges. Tess, who realizes she met Chantal at a kickboxing class, is hit hard when she learns the woman was murdered. In 1912, a strange man displays an obsessive interest in Lou Andreas-Salomé, a prominent intellectual, who numbers both Nietzsche and Rilke among her romantic conquests and who has come to Vienna to study with Freud. Her pursuer became interested in Lou after learning of the eponymous photo, taken in 1882, in which she posed with two men—one of them Nietzsche—harnessed to a cart as if they were animals. Extracts from the unpublished memoirs of Maj. Ernst Fleckstein, a Nazi fixer, who crosses paths with Lou in the 1930s, add another layer to the puzzle.

My American Duchess by Eloisa James

In 1803, American heiress Merry has already broken two engagements. She is relieved by a proposal from English aristocrat Cedric before meeting his attractive twin, the Duke of Trent, without realizing Trent’s identity or rank. Trent, admiring her straightforwardness, instantly desires to marry her himself. Too late, Trent discovers Merry is already engaged to his brother—and he learns that Cedric only wants Merry for her money. Merry, meanwhile, is beginning to realize that she and the fashionable, hidebound Cedric are less suited to each other than she believed. The resulting triangular conflict escalates before resolving abruptly into a country idyll focusing on the slow and awkward development of Trent and Merry’s relationship. Afraid he’s incapable of romantic love, Trent doubts his emotions until he is forced to confront his hypocrisy

My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen

Proper lady Ivy Carlisle plays Professor Higgins to merchant sailor Jack Elliot’s Eliza. Jack needs to enter high society as John Weldon Elliot, the new Earl of Stansworth. He’s the old earl’s legitimate grandson, newly reinstated into the family at the earl’s dying request, but he knows nothing about being a gentleman. While Jack wants to reject the title and high society, he wants a better life for his sister, Sophia, and their mother, so he needs Ivy to teach him how to speak properly, dress, and carry himself. Despite a reputation for circumspect behavior, Ivy is no demure Regency debutante. Her independent streak comes in handy when someone tries to kill Jack, as well as when they face the challenges of setting up a halfway house for prostitutes. Her desire to make a difference infuses the story with excitement and action. Despite social restrictions, Ivy, Jack, and Sophia forge strong friendships and figure out ways to do good with the power and money behind Jack’s title, while avoiding the endless cycle of vapid gossip, petty jealousies, and idle pursuits.

Sherlock Holmes, the Missing Years: Timbuktu by Vasudev Murthy

This book opens in classic fashion with the arrival of a client at 221B Baker Street. Antonio Rozzi, an Italian scholar who has come into possession of half of an ancient map, desires to match it with the missing half. Doing so, Rozzi believes, will lead to a treasure of immense value, as suggested by an accompanying letter on parchment signed Marco Polo. This challenge sets Holmes and Watson on a chase that takes them first to Venice and then the Vatican. The intrepid pair later cross the Sahara Desert in a camel caravan, mingle with members of the Arab and Tuareg peoples, and visit fabled cities before reaching their goal of Timbuktu, where they learn a surprising secret.

Undaunted Hope by Jody Hedlund

Tessa Taylor arrives in 1870s Upper Peninsula, Michigan, planning to serve as a new teacher to the town. Much to her dismay, however, she immediately learns that there was a mistake, that the town had requested a male teacher. Percival Updegraff, superintendent and chief mine clerk, says she can stay through winter since they won’t be able to locate a new teacher before then, and Tessa can’t help but say she is in his debt. Little does she know that Percival will indeed keep track of all that she owes him.

Determined to become indispensable, Tessa throws herself into teaching, and soon the children of the widowed lighthouse keeper have decided she’s the right match for their grieving father. Their uncle and assistant light keeper, Alex Bjorklund, has his own feelings for Tessa. As the two brothers begin competing for her hand, Tessa increasingly feels that someone is tracking her every move, and she may not be able to escape the trap that has been laid for her.

Winter by Christopher Nicholson

Thomas Hardy fans will be engrossed by Nicholson’s fictional account of the true story of Hardy’s infatuation, at age 84, with a married 18-year-old amateur actress, Gertie Bugler, playing Tess in the local Corn Exchange production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. This disconcerting tale is told from three alternating standpoints: Hardy’s, Gertie’s, and that of Hardy’s second wife, Florence. Although the women’s narratives are credible and entertaining, Hardy’s perspective dominates and captivates through its slow rhythms, antiquated vocabulary, and above all its third-person style featuring natural imagery, meandering syntax, and melancholy observations. In classic Hardy fashion, the novel begins with a rural landscape, zeroes in on the silhouette of an old man walking with his dog, and then reveals that the dog is named Wessex and the old man is the great novelist. Even before Florence has her say, the strains on their marriage are evident, what with Hardy preoccupied by work, memories, and increasingly by Gertie. Hardy invites Gertie to tea when Florence is away, watches Gertie’s performance from backstage, keeps a lock of her hair, and imagines eloping. Gertie, meanwhile, imagines a London stage career, while Florence imagines widowhood.

A Worthy Heart by Susan Anne Mason

In the second installment of Mason’s Courage to Dream series, Maggie and Gabe Montgomery leave Ireland to visit their older brother Ryland and his family in New York. The expectation is that their sojourn will be brief, but Maggie is in no hurry to return to their hometown, Cork, where everyone seems to know her business. Adam O’Leary, Ryland’s black sheep brother-in-law, returns from prison hoping to redeem his reputation and make amends with his family. Though Adam fails to meet his father’s expectations, he quickly garners Maggie’s attention. Gabe is similarly besotted with Aurora Hastings, a young woman who is more interested in becoming a nurse than seeking the fortuitous marriage her father has in mind for her

Non-Fiction

Eternity Street: Violence and justice in frontier Los Angeles by John Mack Faragher

Eternity Street investigates the most lethal place on the planet during the mid-19th century: Los Angeles. The author provides a concise and edifying history of the California territory, beginning with the Spanish missionaries who tapped the expertise of converted mission Indians as their workforce. Their promise was to secularize the land and return it to the Indians; of course, that never happened. The rich landowners hired the Indians because they were the only ones capable of making the land productive. It was a time of rapid social change, with Indian workers and migrants from the south coming into the town to work. This change increased incidents of violence: Indian against Indian and incoming Mexicans against Californios. As Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and the Americans fought to annex California after the Mexican-Ame rican War, more migrants arrived, mostly Southerners accustomed to the brutalities of slavery. In the absence of a legitimate justice system, vigilance committees grew up based on codes of honor and vengeance. The Los Angeles Common Council accepted corrupt and ineffective law enforcement rather than hire more deputies and raise taxes to support them. The first deportation of undocumented immigrants occurred in 1840, and there were strict regulations against Indians and an abundance of men who were angry, volatile, and homicidal. Justice was parochial, dealing with the values and interests of groups, not the community. Vigilantism was an institutional feature encouraged by the press and condoned by authorities. Threading through this midcentury mayhem is the career of Judge Benjamin Hayes, whose strength of character and attempts to diffuse mob justice provided a small ray of hope

Gateway to Freedom: The hidden history of the Underground Railroad by Eric Foner

Gateway to Freedom traces the convoluted trail known as the Underground Railroad in the roiling decades before the Civil War. Drawing on rich archival sources, including the papers of Sydney Howard Gay, a prominent New York abolitionist who scrupulously documented his cases, Foner uncovers the tireless, dangerous work of a handful of determined abolitionists and the quests of thousands of black men, women and children to achieve freedom. Slaves risked their lives to escape primarily due to physical violence, fear of being sold or broken promises of manumission. Many headed to Philadelphia, where Quakers and freed blacks hid them, gave them money and sent them on their way North. In Canada, Foner writes, they found “greater safety and more civil and political rights&8 212;including serving on juries, testifying in court, and voting—than what existed in most of the United States.” Although a “pervasive antislavery atmosphere” prevailed in Syracuse, the atmosphere in New York City was far different. In the 18th century, slave auctions regularly had taken place at a Wall Street market, and ownership of slaves by New Yorkers was common. Even by the mid-19th century, New York was called ” ‘a poor neglected city’ when it came to abolitionism”; pro-Southern businessmen eagerly upheld fugitive slave laws, cooperating with slave owners intent on retrieving their human property. “You don’t know, you can’t…,” wrote Gay to a Boston abolitionist, “just what my position is….You are surrounded by a people growing in anti-slavery; I by a people who hate it.”

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and R.J. Ellis

Harriet Jacobs was born a slave in the American South and went on to write one of the most extraordinary slave narratives. First published pseudonymously in 1861,Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl describes Jacobs’s treatment at the hands of her owners, her eventual escape to the North, and her perilous existence evading recapture as a fugitive slave. To save herself from sexual assault and protect her children she is forced to hide for seven years in a tiny attic space, suffering terrible psychological and physical pain.

Written to expose the appalling treatment of slaves in the South and the racism of the free North, and to advance the abolitionist cause, Incidents is notable for its careful construction and literary effects. Jacobs’s story of self-emancipation and a growing feminist consciousness is the tale of an individual and a searing indictment of slavery’s inhumanity.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: The illustrated version by Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Famous orator and former slave Frederick Douglass wrote the The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, an 1845 memoir and treatise on the abolition of slavery. In describing the facts of his life in clear and consise prose, he fueled the abolitionist movement of the early nineteenth century in the United States.

In this seminal work, Douglass details the cruelty of slave holders, how slaves were supposed to behave in the presence of their masters, the fear that kept many slaves where they were, and the punishments received by any slave who dared to tell the truth about their treatment. He learned to read and write while still a slave but also suffered at the hands of whites. He was starved, worked the fields until he collapsed, was beaten for collapsing, was jailed for two years after planning an escape attempt, and nearly lost his left eye in an attack while he was an apprentice in a shipyard.

Douglass succeeded in escaping to the North and finding his own freedom but kept many details of his journey a secret to protect those who helped him and, hopefully, allow others to escape.

Augmented by large sidebars written by soldiers, statesmen, and abolitionists from the antebellum period, as well as pieces by well-known historians and prominent African-Americans, and some new pieces by current historians and writers, this richly illustrated edition of this classic American autobiography sheds new light on Douglass’s famous text for a new generation of readers.

Paradise Now: The story of American Utopianism by Chris Jennings

Jennings demonstrates how “no moment in history or place on the globe has been more crowded with utopian longing and utopian experimentation than the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century.” The many communes established during this time had much in common as they prepared for the second coming. The looming millennium egged on the leaders of these movements, who sought not a place but a time of peace, equality, and abundance. The Shakers, Owenites, Fourierists, Icarians, and Perfectionists attracted scores of people who gave up their lives to join others in search of “the dream of utopia.” All bought large tracts of land, promoted collective ownership, and adhered to a structured workday. The author proffers a number of plausible reasons for the rise of these groups. The Industrial Revolution was eliminating the single artisan, and the arrival of factories fed the economic inequality that condemned people to filthy urban environments. Each group built a small, working prototype community, and each based their group on farm, school, and home, with education and feminine equality paramount. Members came from a broad swath of the population, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dana at the Fourierist Brook Farm. Although they either over- or understressed individuals, none of the groups could grasp the complexity or variety of human desire. Their aims were admirable, but they suffered from a lack of basic agricultural success. The Shakers and Perfectionists succeeded due to their marketable inventions, including clothespins, bear traps, and cutlery. They may have been similar in many ways, but the differences were marked—e.g., Robert Owen worked to shape men to an ideal, while Charles Fourier demanded that institutions adapt to humans. Jennings proves an able guide to these groups, who “proceeded from the assumption that humankind is somehow meant to live in utopia.”

Tempest-Tossed: The spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker by Susan Campbell

Tempest-Tossed is the first full biography of the passionate, fascinating youngest daughter of the “Fabulous Beecher” family—one of America’s most high-powered families of the nineteenth century. Older sister Harriet Beecher Stowe was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Brother Henry Ward Beecher was one of America’s most influential ministers, and sister Catherine Beecher wrote pivotal works on women’s rights and educational reform. And then there was Isabella Beecher Hooker—“a curiously modern nineteenth-century figure.” She was a leader in the suffrage movement, and a mover and shaker in Hartford’s storied Nook Farm neighborhood and salon. But there is more to the story—to Isabella’s character—than that.

Isabella was an ardent Spiritualist. In daily life, she could be off-putting, perplexing, tenacious, charming. Many found her daunting to get to know and stay on comfortable terms with. Her “wild streak” was especially unfavorable in the eyes of Hartford society at the time, which valued restraint and duty. In her latest book, Susan Campbell brings her own unique blend of empathy and unbridled humor to the story of Harriet’s younger half-sister. Tempest Tossed reveals Isabella’s evolution from orthodox Calvinist daughter, wife, and mother, to one of the most influential players in the movement for women’s suffrage, where this unforgettable woman finally gets her proper due.

Victorian Imagery and Design: The essential reference by Carol Belanger Grafton

Richly detailed, authentic, and engrossing, this compendium draws upon Dover’s archives to present a pictorial survey of the Victorian world. Sources include historical periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly, The Illustrated London News, and Punch as well as printers’ and trade catalogs, architectural graphics, and patterns for fabric and wall decoration by William Morris, Christopher Dresser, and other designers. Hundreds of color and black-and-white images offer glimpses of social history from the great book illustrators of the era as well as ordinary and extraordinary everyday objects, including displays of glassware, furniture, needlework, and stained glass windows from the famous Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.
Detailed bibliographical information concerning every source ― including biographical details of each artist ― makes this collection a vital reference tool as well as a stunning compendium of Victorian graphic and pictorial art and illustration. Students of graphic art, typography, and illustration as well as graphic designers and advertising professionals will prize this remarkable resource.

Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde was shaped by the women he knew by Eleanor Fitzsimmons

A lively debut biography of the flamboyant Irish writer. Journalist Fitzsimons takes a fresh perspective on the defiant, often outrageous playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), focusing on the women who loved and supported him. Drawing on rich archival sources, 19th-century newspapers, and journals, memoirs, and biographies, Fitzsimons creates sharply drawn portraits of a colorful cast of characters. Some of these women— notably, the elegant actress Lillie Langtry and the legendary Sarah Bernhardt—proved to be creative inspirations, but others played minor, if entertaining, roles in Wilde’s life. As Langtry’s escort, 25-year-old Wilde became “one of the most talked-about men” in London. As for Bernhardt, Wilde “somewhat modeled himself” on her, a friend remarked. During his American tour in 1882, lecturing to mostly female audiences wearing “knee britches, black silk stockings, and shoes with glittering buckles” and sporting a sunflower in the lap el of his velvet coat, he so delighted his listeners that they showered him with rose petals. In Boston, he was feted by activist Julia Ward Howe, whose guests included Isabella Stewart Gardner; and in New York, by writer Kate Field, who hosted a gathering for him—as she had done for Dickens, George Eliot, and Mark Twain. Surely the most flamboyant woman in Wilde’s life was his eccentric mother, Jane, who doted on him. “There is one thing in the world worth living for, and that is sin,” Jane once said. And surely the woman he most hurt was his gentle, compassionate wife, Constance.

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