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It’s April’s time for Pre-Reads! Below is a series of sixteen of newly published or re-released titles coming out this month. Eight are devoted to historical fiction with its many subgenres and eight are non-fiction covering various aspects of the 19th century. All books are highly rated and reviewed. There was quite a selection to choose from in the fiction category. Close to fifty! It made the paring down of the list quite tricky. As a Librarian, I like to present a well rounded collection of titles each month. Even if there are books on the list I have no interest in reading, it might catch the eye of one of you.  As for the non-fiction selection, April proved to be in rare form with many to choices! So thankful! It’s much easier to trim a big list than creating one out of thin air. Since, it is April there are the “requisite” Titanic books. I kept it simple with one choice in each category. My sources, as always, are Baker and Taylor, Kirkus Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Amazon, and Library Journal. Again, I have not read any of these titles personally, so I cannot recommend one over the other. However, I can guarantee I shall be reading The Magnolia Duchess when it comes in! My community’s demographic is not big on 19th century books, so I order very few. Glory Over Everything and The Magnolia Duchess are the only ones from this list I ordered for the library.

Fiction

A Buccaneer at Heart by Stephanie Laurens

The second Adventurers Quartet Regency romance introduces protagonists whose compatibility develops from their matched wits and bravery, making them charming collaborators. Capt. Robert Frobisher is envious of his brother Declan’s happy life as a newlywed and decides that after he has completed the mission Declan began (in The Lady’s Command), he will find himself a wife. Robert is certain that he doesn’t want a woman like Declan’s beloved Edwina, preferring someone less “forceful.” However, on his mission to discover who is behind the disappearance of numerous adults and children, he runs across Aileen Hopkins. Robert’s “inner diplomat” relents to “the buccaneer in him,” and he finds himself drawn to Aileen’s strong will and determination.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

It’s 1851, and 18-year-old house servant Jonah Williams decides to run away from the Williams corn plantation located near Greenville, S.C. Having learned to read and write, Jonah is severely whipped by his master for reading books from the plantation library. From the newspapers, he discovers that freedom lies to the north, and he escapes on foot, guided by the North Star on his eventful journey. He survives by his wits until he arrives at a slaves’ mountaintop “jubilee,” where he meets the zaftig Angel Thomas. After becoming Jonah’s new lover, she wants to leave her master and join his flight despite his reluctance to accept a partner. The spirited interplay between the earthy Angel and cerebral Jonah provides much of the comic relief from the often violent, bleak conditions they encounter. Their harrowing ordeal while forced to work at a high-end brothel in Roanoke, Va., almost derails their mission. Despite being separated several times, Jonah always ends up back in the company of Angel as they push on to New York and Canada. He uses forged papers and an assumed name to live as a free man, while Angel realizes she has fallen in love with him.

Delivering the Truth by Edith Maxwell

Quaker midwife Rose Carroll hears secrets and keeps con­fi­dences as she attends births of the rich and poor alike in an 1888 Massachusetts mill town. When the town’s world-famed car­riage indus­try is threat­ened by the work of an arson­ist, and a car­riage fac­tory owner’s adult son is stabbed to death with Rose’s own knitting needle, she is drawn into solv­ing the mys­tery. Things get dicey after the same owner’s mis­tress is also mur­dered, leav­ing her one-week-old baby with­out a mother. The Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier helps Rose by lending words of advice and support. While strug­gling with being less than the per­fect Friend, Rose draws on her strengths as a counselor and prob­lem solver to bring two mur­der­ers to justice before they destroy the town’s carriage industry and the people who run it.

Forever and Forever: The courtship of Henry Longfellow and Fanny Appleton by Josi S. Kilpack

It’s 1836, and nineteen-year-old Fanny Appleton, a privileged daughter of a wealthy, upper-class Boston industrialist, is touring Europe with her family. Like many girls of her day, she enjoys the fine clothes, food, and company of the elite social circles. But unlike her peers, Fanny is also drawn to education, literature, and more intellectual pursuits. Published author and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is also touring Europe, but under much different circumstances. Recently widowed, he is gathering research for a new publication that he hopes will secure his professorship at Harvard College. Befriended by the Appleton family while visiting Switzerland, Henry is introduced to Fanny and sees in her a kindred spirit, a lover of language and literature and high ideals. He is in love. Fanny, however, is uncertain. He is from a much lower social class and is older than she is. How could such a relationship ever thrive? Could a book of Henry’s poetry, personally delivered, persuade Fanny to believe in a love that lasts forever and forever?

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The captivating story of Jamie Pyke, son of a white slave owner and biracial mother. In the early 19th century, at the age of 13, Jamie, who had been raised white by his grandmother as a member of the plantation owner’s family, learned that his mother was a slave. After shooting his evil father, Marshall, who was going to sell him into slavery, Jamie fled his home in Virginia so that he could continue to live as a free white man in Philadelphia. Nursed back to health by Henry, a black man who lives by scavenging off the land, Jamie finds a job with a silversmith, eventually becoming a successful apprentice. Twenty years later, when Jamie is a thriving businessman, he is afraid to return to the South, believing that he might be captured. But he finds it hard to refuse Henry’s request to search for Henry’s young son, Pan, a valued member of Jamie’s household, who has likely been taken and sold as a slave. The journey south is filled with danger as Jamie meets up with Sukey, a slave who has been protecting Pan. Once Jamie joins Pan and Sukey, the three travel north and face the risks of the Underground Railroad.

The Magnolia Duchess by Beth White

Finding a sailor washed up on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico’s Mobile Bay, Fiona Lanier realizes she knows him. Charlie Kincaid, now a British naval officer, does not remember Fiona or her family who left England to settle in America. Bringing him to her home to recuperate, Fiona hides his true identity. Anti-British sentiment runs high in the newly independent United States, and if Charlie is discovered, he will be hanged as a spy. Fiona and Charlie develop feelings for each other, but their opposing loyalties and family interference seem destined to keep them apart. As the War of 1812 draws to a close, Charlie is captured, and it will take a miracle, along with an unshakable faith in God, to save him.

The Midnight Watch: A novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer

As the Titanic slipped into its icy grave, the SS Californian slept just miles away. So why didn’t the British ship come to her aid? From the muddy streets and dark taverns of Boston to the frigid, murky waters of the North Atlantic, Dyer’s debut novel turns the kaleidoscope, retelling the tale of the unsinkable ship through a new lens. Playing lead detective is veteran journalist John Steadman, who smells trouble when the Californian arrives in Boston Harbor without any rescued bodies and without any desire to speak to the press. The mystery encompasses five sailors: Cyril Evans, the wireless man, tried to warn the Titanic of treacherous ice fields, but he was shut down by the other ship’s own wireless operator. Charlie Groves, the third officer, watched a ship in the distance suddenly go dark. James Gibson, a young apprentice, saw something that looked like Morse code flashing in the night sky. Herbert Stone, the second officer, had the midnight watch, and he saw rockets fi red from a ship in the distance that night. Yet Capt. Lord gave no order to respond. The next morning, Evans discovers that the magnetic detector for the wireless equipment has wound down, delaying the arrival of news that the Titanic has sunk. Alternating chapters between Steadman’s detective work and the officers’ conflicting stories darkens the suspicions. Much of the tension centers on the fraying relationship between Stone and Lord. Obsessed with Melville’s Moby-Dick, Stone longs to play a faithful Starbuck to a noble Capt. Lord’s Ahab. Yet as Lord repeatedly dismisses Stone’s interpretation of events, Stone begins to wonder if the moral compass is skewed, indeed. As Steadman peels back the layers, will he find dishonor, conspiracy, and subterfuge or perhaps simply muddled memories?

The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna White

Seeking escape from the abusive Highlander who plans to marry her, Scottish heiress Rowena Kinnaird finds refuge in the surprising marriage proposal of Brice, Duke of Nottingham. Despite not knowing Rowena very well, the handsome and unusually devout Brice patiently woos her in response to his unmistakable prompting from God. As their relationship develops, each is challenged by fears from without. Can Rowena overcome her battered self-image and fears that her rejected suitor will come after them? And how can Brice, who has been guarding the invaluable Fire Eyes diamonds for his friends, keep his new bride safe as he flushes out the schemers who would kill for the rare jewels?

Non-Fiction

Capital Dames: The Civil War and the women of Washington 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts

With the outbreak of the Civil War, the small, social Southern town of Washington, D.C. found itself caught between warring sides in a four-year battle that would determine the future of the United States.

After the declaration of secession, many fascinating Southern women left the city, leaving their friends—such as Adele Cutts Douglas and Elizabeth Blair Lee—to grapple with questions of safety and sanitation as the capital was transformed into an immense Union army camp and later a hospital. With their husbands, brothers, and fathers marching off to war, either on the battlefield or in the halls of Congress, the women of Washington joined the cause as well. And more women went to the Capital City to enlist as nurses, supply organizers, relief workers, and journalists. Many risked their lives making munitions in a highly flammable arsenal, toiled at the Treasury Department printing greenbacks to finance the war, and plied their needlework skills at The Navy Yard—once the sole province of men—to sew canvas gunpowder bags for the troops.

The Great Baseball Revolt: The rise and fall of the 1890 Players League by Robert B. Ross

The Players League, formed in 1890, was a short-lived professional baseball league controlled and owned in part by the players themselves, a response to the National League’s salary cap and “reserve rule,” which bound players for life to one particular team. Led by John Montgomery Ward, the Players League was a star-studded group that included most of the best players of the National League, who bolted not only to gain control of their wages but also to share ownership of the teams. Lasting only a year, the league impacted both the professional sports and the labor politics of athletes and nonathletes alike. The Great Baseball Revolt is a historic overview of the rise and fall of the Players League, which fielded teams in Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Though it marketed itself as a working-class league, the players were underfunded and had to turn to wealthy capitalists for much of their startup costs, including the new ballparks. It was in this context that the league intersected with the organized labor movement, and in many ways challenged by organized labor to be by and for the people. In its only season, the Players League outdrew the National League in fan attendance. But when the National League overinflated its numbers and profits, the Players League backers pulled out.

The Great Sweepstakes of 1877: A true story of Southern grit, Gilded Age tycoons, and a race that galvanized a nation by Mark Shrager

In 1877 the members of the United States Senate postponed all business for the day so that they might attend a horse race—the iconic, polarizing post-Civil War event at the center of this story. The nation, still recovering from the depredations of the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed, recognized it as a North vs. South encounter, pitting New York’s powerful thoroughbred Tom Ochiltree and New Jersey’s Parole—owned by the ostentatious Northern tycoons Pierre and George Lorrilard—against the already legendary “Kentucky crack,” Ten Broeck—owned by the teetotaling, plain-living Frank Harper and ridden by black jockey and former slave William Walker—representing a former slave state and its Southern values. The race and the colorful cast of characters involved reflected the still seething America during one of the nation’s most difficult and divisive periods. Shrager presents a fascinating and heart-pounding piece of history exposing the racial and economic tensions following the Civil War that culminated in one final race to the end.

The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, scientists, and a theory that changed a continent by Michael F. Robinson

A history of the Hamitic hypothesis, from its origins in the story of Noah’s disgraced son Ham in the book of Genesis to its presence in the Rwandan genocide of recent decades. Robinson explains that the Hamitic hypothesis argues that fair-skinned descendants of Ham long ago invaded Africa, sometimes driving out the black-skinned tribes already there and sometimes ruling over them. While the Bible provided the impetus for the idea, the author shows how the theory evolved over time and how explorers and scientists sought to confirm it. He ranges far and wide in his analysis, recounting Henry Stanley’s sighting of a “white race” in East Africa and the supporting evidence of the linguistic studies of William Jones and the skull studies of Johann Blumenbach. Even architecture played a role, with the discovery of Great Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that at first Europeans did not be lieve could have been built by Bantus. Robinson details the shifts in thinking about race over the centuries; the assumptions of Caucasian superiority that fostered colonization, produced literature such as H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mine, influenced the ideas of Carl Jung, and led to the race laws of Nazi Germany; the scientific evidence and moral outrage that cast the Hamitic hypothesis into disrepute; and the persistence of the Hamitic idea in Africa that made it possible for Hutus and Tutsis to see themselves as racially different during the genocide of 1994. While no longer accepted by scientists, the theory still has adherents among fringe groups as a way of justifying their racist beliefs. To show that the idea lives on, Robinson cites the controversy stirred up by the discovery of a 9,500-year-old seemingly Caucasian skeleton, the Kennewick Man, on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington in 1996, a finding that stirred up the race invasion theories of old.

The Midnight Assassin: Panic, scandal, and the hunt for America’s first serial killer by Skip Hollandsworth

In the late 1800s, the city of Austin, Texas was on the cusp of emerging from an isolated western outpost into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. But beginning in December 1884, Austin was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London’s infamous Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class. At the time the concept of a serial killer was unthinkable, but the murders continued, the killer became more brazen, and the citizens’ panic reached a fever pitch.

Before it was all over, at least a dozen men would be arrested in connection with the murders, and the crimes would expose what a newspaper described as “the most extensive and profound scandal ever known in Austin.” And yes, when Jack the Ripper began his attacks in 1888, London police investigators did wonder if the killer from Austin had crossed the ocean to terrorize their own city.

Solomon D. Butcher: Photographing the American Dream by  John E. Carter

Dugouts and sod houses were the only shelter for homesteaders in the 1870s and ’80s on railroad and government land grants of the Nebraska plains. Twenty years later, there were frame houses, farm machinery, even automobiles and an emerging Main Street here and there. S. D. Butcher, a self-confessed pioneer failure who, happily, was successful at photography, recorded it all. In this vibrant collection of Butcher pictures from the University of Nebraska files, we see, for the most part, family portraits with farm and ranch backgrounds, but there are also schoolchildren, skating parties, rodeos, pretty cowgirls, and pelts nailed to the barn door.

Titanic Lives: On board, destination Canada by Rob Rondeau

Although it was bound for New York, more than 100 passengers aboard the ocean-liner were headed for Canada. Titanic Lives delves into the unique stories of ten of those passengers. Some were rich, like railroad tycoon Charles Melville Hays and a scion of Montreal’s Molson family. Others were not, and would have been lost to history had they not been a part of this unforgettable story.

From the scandalous romance between Montreal’s Quigg Baxter and his French showgirl mistress, to one woman’s search for her toddler and husband as the life boats were being launched from the decks, this book gives its readers a glimpse into the lives of those who took that fateful voyage on the Titanic. You will hear about Paul Chevre, renowned French artist travelling to Montreal to reveal his latest sculpture, and Arthur Peuchen, the wealthy chemist and lumber king whose last-minute decision to board the Titanic turned him into both a hero and a target.

The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th century bookseller’s obsession with a lost masterpiece by Laura Cumming

A true tale that demonstrates the power and seduction of art. Gracefully melding art history and biography, British art critic and editor Cumming traces the life of John Snare, a 19th-century bookseller who became obsessed with a painting he happened to buy at an auction: a portrait, he came to believe, of King Charles I as a young prince, made when he visited Madrid—not by Van Dyck, to whom it was attributed, but, Snare was certain, by the eminent Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). Cumming traces Snare’s efforts to find evidence for his increasingly firm conviction, the furor over public displays of the work, and the effects of his obsession on his career, well-being, and family. Interwoven with chapters following Snare’s adventures is a discerning look at Velázquez, hardly known outside of Spain in the 19th century. “He left so few paintings—not more than 120 over a forty-year career,” Cumming reveals, tha t his art “was rare, unfamiliar, obscure” even to art lovers and critics. Analyzing his technique, themes, and compassion for his subjects, she makes a convincing case that his paintings “are both dazzling and profoundly moving all at once.” Snare, despite “no education, no social standing, no pedigree as a gentleman or an expert on painting,” recognized Velázquez’s greatness. He worked tirelessly to document the portrait’s provenance; poured his savings into mounting exhibitions in London, Edinburgh, and New York; and several times hired lawyers to counter suits contesting his right of ownership. His business went bankrupt, and, leaving his wife and children in England, he fled to America, hoping to earn money from exhibiting his prized possession, which he defiantly refused to sell. After his death, the painting was never again seen.

 

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