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Pre-Reads are here! Which means it is the last Wednesday of the month! What a blur of activity I’ve had this February! According to my calendar I had literally 25 days worth of appointments and play dates scheduled! So it’s nice to eek out some time for our much beloved book post!

 

Below are eight fiction titles and eight non-fiction titles of recently published, soon to be published, or re-released (in the case of non-fiction) books coming out this month. The titles are highly reviewed via Amazon, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, Library Journal, and Baker and Taylor’s website. Non-fiction, as its nature, is harder to find reviews for, but nevertheless I have combed through many sources to bring you readers all sixteen of these 19th century inspired titles. I try to present a well-rounded collection and not lean to heavily in one sub-genre or topic. In other words, there should be something for everyone! Due to their recent publication dates, I have not had the pleasure of reading any of these myself so I will be unable to assist you with a personal Reader’s Advisory pitch. Look for yourself and see if anything strikes your fancy. Which ones will you place on hold at your local library or bookstore? If you have read any of them already, do you agree with the review and recommend the title? Let us all know!

Fiction

The Cigar Factory: A novel of Charleston by Michele Moore and Pat Conroy

It’s 1917, and Charleston is enjoying a boom. Jobs are expanding even for women, and they can earn $10 a week making cigars, double that for war work. The book opens as Brigid, after graduating from high school, goes to work beside her aunt Cassie in the cigar factory. It’s piecework, 10 grueling hours a day for six days a week in a sealed building (drafts dry the leaf), the air dense with dust and chemicals. Everyone coughs. They are two working women leading marginal lives. Brigid and Cassie are white, and few readers will be surprised when a new cast of characters appears. Meliah Amey and Binah are black, so they work in the basement preparing the tobacco. Conditions are worse; pay is $4 a week. Over 30 years the players age, suffer, love, and—once the New Deal and CIO arrive—prosper, if modestly.

A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan

A superb historical fiction focusing on the period 1832–1861, from Lincoln’s early years as a tireless circuit-riding lawyer and Illinois state legislator to his election as the 16th president. Lincoln’s fictional friend here is Cage Weatherby, a struggling poet who first meets Lincoln on a bloody battleground during the Black Hawk War of 1832. They become unlikely close friends, and Cage soon realizes that Lincoln is “a man who desperately wanted to be better than the world would ever possibly let him be.” Cage knows his friend to be a brilliant lawyer and an astute politician, as well as a homespun raconteur and a neophyte in romance who does not understand women, stumbling from one pratfall to another. The two men are close confidantes, but a surprising murder trial, a stunning development in a courtroom, an astonishing betrayal, and Cage’s painfully emphatic argument that Lincoln should not marry ambitious and vindictive Mary Todd strain their relationship.

Georgia: A novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp

American artist Georgia O’Keeffe blazes across the pages in Tripp’s tour de force about this indomitable woman, whose life was both supported and stymied by the love of her life, photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz. The author manages to get inside O’Keeffe’s mind to such an extent that readers experience her transformation from a somewhat shy Texan art teacher who decided to throw away the rules to create her own art to the accomplished, strong-willed woman who held to her artistic vision; they will feel the passion that infused her work and love life that emboldened her canvases. Especially eye-opening is the way Stieglitz’s nude photographs of O’Keeffe not only amazed and scandalized the art world, but shadowed the perception of her paintings and her identity, a consequence that haunted her most of her life until she made New Mexico her permanent home and reinvented herself as a solitary artist of the Western landscape.

Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron

This latest delightful Jane Austen whodunit (after Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas) finds the author and sometime sleuth in London on the eve of her 40th birthday tending to her convalescing brother, Henry. A diversion arrives with HRH the Prince Regent’s invitation to tour his private library, but the serenity of the bookish setting is shattered by Jane’s discovery of a poisoned soldier choking out the words “Waterloo map.” Col. Ewan MacFarland was a hero of that recent battle, and Jane soon finds the map tucked within a library shelf. That sends her on the hunt for MacFarland’s killer and the provenance of the sketch, a pursuit that reunites her with dashing painter Raphael West and threatens to put them both in mortal danger.

Nelly Dean: A return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case

A masterly reimagining of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights by casting Nelly Dean, the housekeeper, as the central character, with Heathcliff and Cathy in peripheral roles. Nelly grows up with the Earnshaw children, practically a member of the family, until the master brings home young Heathcliff, pushing Nelly onto the path of dedicated servant to the only family she has ever wanted. Like Brontë’s novel, Nelly’s story is full of passion, violence, betrayal, revenge, and especially suffering as she endures the thoughtless cruelty of the gentry she serves. To see the familiar characters of this classic through the eyes of Nelly, who knows all their fears and faults so well, is an eye-opening experience. But is she a reliable narrator, given prejudices engendered by her callous treatment at the hands of those she loves?

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

In 1882 Paris, the soprano known as Lilliet Berne is a celebrated opera star with an unforgettable but vulnerable voice. When a stranger offers her the chance to originate a new opera’s leading role, she discovers that the work retells her scandalous hidden history. As she attempts to discover which of four individuals from her past revealed her secrets, she recalls the circus troupe in which she first performed, her days as a servant to France’s Empress Eugénie, and her time as a prostitute.

A Sweet Misfortune by Maggie Brendan

Rachel Matthews isn’t one to rely on others to take care of her. Destitute and alone, she still wants to make her own way and her own money–even if she’s forced into the life of a dance hall girl. Horrified by her circumstances, Rachel’s brother sends a friend–the widely admired cattle baron John McIntyre–to rescue her, then sets off to earn enough money to buy back the family ranch. But when months pass without her brother’s return, Rachel isn’t sure she can take one more day in John McIntyre’s home–especially once she discovers that he’s the one who holds the deed to her family’s ranch.

An Undisturbed Peace by Mary Glickman

During the late 1820s, Abrahan Bento Sassaporta Naggar, better known as Abe, is a plucky, young Jewish bondsman working for his authoritarian Uncle Isadore at a trading post in Greensboro, N.C. Abe has immigrated to America to escape the anti-Semitic persecution he faced in London. While on his sales route into the foothills, he meets and falls in unrequited love with a mysterious older Cherokee woman named Marian, known as Dark Water among the tribe. After learning of a runaway slave named Jacob with a family connection to Marian, Abe journeys to Echota, the capital city of the Cherokee Nation, to meet him. In this tale of three ordinary, eminently relatable people, the author adeptly sets Abe’s story against the backdrop of Andrew Jackson’s shameful, greedy relocation of the Cherokees and the land grab of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The well-intentioned Abe makes two trips to Washington, D.C., and pleads the Cherokees’ cause in the halls of government, but to little avail.

Non-Fiction

A Black Family’s Journey: From slums to establishment by Hilary J. Dawson

A Black Family’s Journey follows the Lafferty family through a turbulent period in Canadian history. Over three generations, the Lafferty family played roles in pivotal events, including the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the U.S., women’s winning the right to vote, Toronto’s expansion from a pioneer outpost to a modern economy, and the development of the black community of Buxton, Ontario.

Canada in the nineteenth century was no haven from prejudice, and the stories of William, his children, and his children’s children offer firsthand accounts of black Ontarians responding to racism with a mix of assimilation, solidarity, and the pursuit of personal excellence. The record they left behind is a rare and detailed account of changing racial and class dynamics in Ontario from the 1830s to the mid-twentieth century.

Blood on the Marias: The Baker Massacre by Paul R. Wylie

On the morning of January 23, 1870, troops of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry attacked a Piegan Indian village on the Marias River in Montana Territory, killing many more than the army’s count of 173, most of them women, children, and old men. The village was afflicted with smallpox. Worse, it was the wrong encampment. Intended as a retaliation against Mountain Chief’s renegade band, the massacre sparked public outrage when news sources revealed that the battalion had attacked Heavy Runner’s innocent village—and that guides had told its inebriated commander, Major Eugene Baker, he was on the wrong trail, but he struck anyway. Remembered as one of the most heinous incidents of the Indian Wars, the Baker Massacre has often been overshadowed by the better-known Battle of the Little Bighorn and has never received full treatment until now.

Constance Fenimore Woolson: A portrait of a lady novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux

Born in 1840 to a distinguished family—her mother’s family founded Cooperstown, N.Y., and her granduncle was the novelist James Fenimore Cooper—Woolson was a bookish, serious, observant child. Haunted by financial insecurity and depression as an adult, she led a peripatetic life in the U.S. and Europe, eventually settling down in Venice. All the while, Woolson sought to find a balance between society’s expectations for women and her own creative fire and drive, a dichotomy she never reconciled completely. Her lonely, ambiguous death at the age of 53—falling from the window of her Venetian palazzo, in an apparent suicide—is perhaps the most vivid reminder of the painful choices she had to make.

The Early American Daguerreotype: Cross-currents in art and technology by Sarah Kate Gillespie

The daguerreotype, invented in France, came to America in 1839. By 1851, this early photographic method had been improved by American daguerreotypists to such a degree that it was often referred to as “the American process.” The daguerreotype — now perhaps mostly associated with stiffly posed portraits of serious-visaged nineteenth-century personages — was an extremely detailed photographic image, produced though a complicated process involving a copper plate, light-sensitive chemicals, and mercury fumes. It was something wholly and remarkably new: a product of science and innovative technology that resulted in a visual object. It was a hybrid, with roots in both fine art and science, and it interacted in reciprocally formative ways with fine art, science, and technology.

Gillespie maps the evolution of the daguerreotype, as medium and as profession, from its introduction to the ascendancy of the “American process,” tracing its relationship to other fields and the professionalization of those fields. She does so by recounting the activities of a series of American daguerreotypists, including fine artists, scientists, and mechanical tinkerers. She describes, for example, experiments undertaken by Samuel F. B. Morse as he made the transition from artist to inventor; how artists made use of the daguerreotype, both borrowing conventions from fine art and establishing new ones for a new medium; the use of the daguerreotype in various sciences, particularly astronomy; and technological innovators who drew on their work in the mechanical arts.

The Mistletoe Haunting: Legend of Minster Lovell by David Slattery-Christy

A Mistletoe Bride is murdered on Christmas Eve, 1893. Her ghost haunts the family stately home, Willow Manor, until her remains are discovered and the truth revealed. Set in the present day and Victorian England, the tragic young bride can at last share her story and put right the terrible injustice that destroyed her family and those she loved. The city of Oxford’s Randolph Hotel, and the village of Minster Lovell, the site of the stately home, are the locations for this heart wrenching story of deceit, love and betrayal. The Mistletoe Bride, a local legend, was popularized in a poem by Thomas Haynes Bailey in 1884, and then set to music to become the popular song: The Mistletoe Bough!

Sedan 1870: The eclipse of France by Douglas Fermer

The Franco-Prussian War was a turning point in the history of nineteenth-century Europe, and the Battle of Sedan was the pivotal event in that war.

For the Germans their overwhelming victory symbolized the birth of their nation, forged in steel and tempered in the blood of the common enemy. For the French it was a defeat more complete and humiliating than Waterloo.

Douglas Fermer’s fresh study of this traumatic moment in European history reconsiders how the mutual fear and insecurity of two rival nations tempted their governments to seek a solution to domestic tensions by waging war against each other. His compelling narrative shows how war came about, and how the dramatic campaign of summer 1870 culminated in a momentous clash of arms at Sedan. He gives fascinating insights into the personalities and aims of the politicians and generals involved, but focuses too on the experiences of ordinary soldiers and civilians.

Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas by Gregg Cantrell

This book goes beyond the traditional interpretation of Austin as the man who spearheaded American Manifest Destiny, portraying Austin as a borderlands figure who could navigate the complex cultural landscape of 1820s Texas, then a portion of Mexico. His command of the Spanish language, respect for the Mexican people, and ability to navigate the shoals of Mexican politics made him the perfect advocate for his colonists and often for all of Texas. Yet when conflicts between Anglo colonists and Mexican authorities turned violent, Austin’s accomodationist stance became outdated. Overshadowed by the military hero Sam Houston, he died at the age of forty-three, just six months after Texas independence. Decades after his death, Austin’s reputation was resurrected and he became known as the “Father of Texas.” More than just an icon, Stephen F. Austin emerges from these pages as a shrewd, complicated, and sometimes conflicted figure.

Their Lives, Their Wills: Women in the Borderlands 1750-1846 by Amy M. Porter and Nancy E. Baker

In 1815, in the Spanish settlement of San Antonio de Béxar, a dying widow named María Concepción de Estrada recorded her last will and testament. Estrada used her will to record her debts and credits, specify her property, leave her belongings to her children, make requests for her funeral arrangements, and secure her religious salvation.
Wills like Estrada’s reveal much about women’s lives in the late Spanish and Mexican colonial communities of Santa Fe, El Paso, San Antonio, Saltillo, and San Esteban de Nueva Tlaxcala in present-day northern Mexico. Using last wills and testaments as main sources, Amy M. Porter explores the ways in which these documents reveal details about religion, family, economics, and material culture. In addition, the wills speak loudly to the difficulties of frontier life, in which widowhood and child mortality were commonplace. Most importantly, information in the wills helps to explain the workings of the patriarchal system of Spanish and Mexican borderland communities, showing that gender role divisions were fluid in some respects. Supplemented by censuses, inventories, court cases, and travelers’ accounts, women’s wills paint a more complete picture of life in the borderlands than the previously male-dominated historiography of the region.
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