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The first Pre-Reads of 2017 are here! With all the excitement of my new pupper and his Instagram account, I am rushing to finish this post on time. The process was made more lengthy (in a pleasant way) because the list of new 19th century books debuting this month was incredibly large; over 20 for non-fiction (almost unheard of) and almost 40 for fiction! Lots of sifting was needed. So you best believe the list below is the crème de la crème of the pile! We are talking superbly reviewed tomes to add to your To Read List. –I do wonder how much the PBS series Victoria is influencing publications, not that I am against it in any way. –More people to share the love with!
Below are sixteen titles, eight fiction, eight non-fiction books pertaining to the 19th century in some way. They come highly reviewed with Kirkus Review, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Amazon, and Baker and Taylor recommendations. Summaries and reviews provided are lifted straight from these sources. Each book was released just this month (for the first time ever, there are not any reprints that I am are of! Astounding!) Likewise, because these publications are hot off the press, I have not personally read any of them, but some are making their way on to my own To Read List. What books are you adding to your list? I would love to hear your preference in the comment section below as well as any reviews after reading them.
Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency of finding both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle…Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it. With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her…
Lower Missouri River, late summer 1835.Two brothers, fur trappers Zebadiah
and Jonathan Creed, are bushwhacked. Jonathan is murdered and Zebadiah left
for dead. Zeb is found by a Quaker doctor and his daughter, who nurse him back to
health and insist he stay with them. But the appeal of a peaceful life cannot quell
Zeb’s burning desire for revenge and he sets out to find the two men who killed
his brother. In recounting his search, Zebadiah Creed spins an exciting tale that leads
readers by steamboat down the Great Mississippi to St. Louis and on to New Orleans, where Zeb finds revenge is never as simple as killing a man, and retribution and redemption are not the same.
In 1870, upon hearing about the death of her brother and his wife, Priscilla Hutchins leaves the comfort of her Cincinnati home and heads west with the single-minded goal of consoling her nephew and niece and rescuing them from what she sees as the horrors of military life, after they are placed under the guardianship of Major Elliot Ryder. Ryder, the Fort Bliss doctor, has his hands full with the hospital, building relationships with the Kickapoo Tribe, learning about the medicinal local fauna, and watching over the two exuberant seven-year-olds. When Priscilla arrives, Major Ryder challenges her intentions and her plans for the twins. Though her intentions are honorable, miscommunications and her own misconceptions put her at odds with the soldiers at the fort.
Taking place in the Dakotas during the decade after the end of the Civil War, the book follows Twain’s eponymous protagonist, now an adult, through a series of misadventures, including a turn as a Pony Express rider, some time spent living among the Lakota Sioux, and a difficult engagement with Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry Regiment, which ultimately met its fate at the Battle of the Greasy Grass. In his telling, Tom Sawyer, who keeps turning up like a bad penny, has long since ceased to be a charming bad boy; he is now a zealot for public hangings and worse. “Anyways, Huck,” he explains, “EVERYTHING’S a hanging offense. Being ALIVE is. Only thing that matters is who’s doing the hanging and who’s being hung.” Becky Thatcher, meanwhile, abandoned by Tom when she was six months pregnant, has become a prostitute. These are not gratuitous turns but extrapolations based on the characters’ limited possibilities in a world defined by brutality.
From the moment in 1791 when Walter meets Mina Stuart, he is captivated. Though he is far beneath her station and has a limp, years of correspondence, occasional parties, and some stolen moments have convinced Walter, a hopeless romantic, that Mina will overlook their financial differences and they will eventually marry. Despite warnings from his family that he is headed for heartbreak, Walter remains steadfast until Mina admits that she has chosen another, shocking him to his core. Only after a year has passed and he meets 26-year-old Charlotte Charpentier, an independent, sensible Frenchwoman, does he begin to hope that he may still have room for love in his life.
Self-sufficient Sarah Bain keeps herself gainfully employed as a photographer, supplementing her socially acceptable income with a little something extra: racy bedroom shots of women who work the streets of London’s Whitechapel district. As several of her clients fall prey to the Ripper, Sarah becomes convinced that there’s a madman on the loose. To help in her investigation, she enlists one of her protégés, an immigrant couple, and a street urchin, a character so ubiquitous in Victorian-set crime fiction that Rowland’s would garner an automatic eye roll if Mick weren’t so charming. Sarah’s actions attract the attention of both the police and shadowy Jack himself, who is hellbent on silencing the woman who could uncover his identity.
Placidia (Dia) Fincher Hockaday shares two days with her new husband, Maj. Gryffth Hockaday, before he leaves to fight in the Civil War. During the second year of his absence, Dia gives birth to a child. The baby’s father, and the infant’s subsequent fate, are at the center of the scandal that opens this first novel. Largely told through letters and diary entries, the narration, initially slow paced, accelerates as the story evolves and the protagonists’ roles in the scandal unfold. Most of the story line is set against the stark realities of wartime survival, except for an awkward middle section that jumps to a future generation of characters trying to unravel the mystery of Dia. Once reoriented to the past, readers will find that, as with all wartime tales, brutality toward women and slaves occurs with depressing frequency.
Cash McLendon, reluctant hero of the epic Indian battle at Adobe Walls, has journeyed to Mountain View in the Arizona Territory with one goal: to convince Gabrielle Tirrito that he’s a changed man and win her back from schoolteacher Joe Saint. As they’re about to depart by stage for their new life in San Francisco, Gabrielle is kidnapped by enforcer Killer Boots, who is working on orders from crooked St. Louis businessman Rupert Douglass. Cash, once married to Douglass’s troubled daughter, fled the city when she died of accidental overdose—and Douglass vowed he’d track Cash down and make him pay. Now McLendon, accompanied by Joe Saint and Major Mulkins, hits the trail in pursuit of Gabrielle and Killer Boots, hoping to make a trade before it’s too late.
Sims presents a concise and well-written account of the factors—both internal and external—that led to Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 publication of “A Study in Scarlet,” the first Sherlock Holmes story. Readers unfamiliar with the circumstances of Conan Doyle’s early years and the influence of one of his medical school professors will be fascinated to learn how much Holmes was based on a real person. Sims lays out the ways in which Edinburgh’s Dr. Joseph Bell used observation and deduction to diagnose patients after only a brief glance, in passages that read as if Dr. Watson was penning them. Sims, who is an expert on Victorian fiction, also presents historical antecedents for fictional detectives, as well as a cogent analysis of the ways in which Conan Doyle was, and was not, influenced by prior writers such as Edgar Allan Poe. He details how Conan Doyle struggled to get published before he hit gold with the creation of Holmes and Watson, who were at one point called Sherrington Hope and Ormond Sacker.
Published during an extraordinarily turbulent time in the history of the United States—just prior to the Civil War and just after John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry—Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) would prove to have a significant impact on the country. Fuller introduces the subject, focusing on a dinner party consisting of four of the most important America intellectuals and abolitionists of the time: Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Charles Loring Brace, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. During the gathering, Brace presented a copy of Darwin’s seminal work. The title would profoundly affect them all, especially because it seemed to support abolitionism and unsettle their personal beliefs. By positing a common ancestor for all living creatures and intimating that all human beings were biologically related, Darwin demonstrated to proponents of slavery that they could no longer justify the institution with the assertion that blacks belonged to a different species than whites. Fuller is a skilled author who expertly describes the setting and the tension of the era. His informative volume reads like a novel.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian investigates women’s power and agency within the early Mormon community. Drawing on a rich trove of diaries and letters, the author follows many Mormon families as they confronted poverty, illness, privations, and persecution in their quest to establish a community where they could practice their faith and enact their social vision. She traces their journeys, beginning in 1835, from Ohio to Illinois, across the muddy flats of Iowa, to Nebraska, and finally, in 1850, to Salt Lake City. Plural marriage set the Latter-day Saints apart from many other sects eager to create an earthly utopia, and it stands as a puzzle that Ulrich can only partially explain. Some biographers accuse Mormon founder Joseph Smith of promoting the practice “to justify illicit relations with vulnerable young women,” and Ulrich concedes, “there is some evidence to support that assumption.” Smith and his successor, Brigham Young, both having multiple wives, defended polygamy as sanctioned by the Bible. Although some found it repugnant, many men took several wives, and women entered freely into those alliances. Some women saw marriage to a church leader as a path “to an elite inner circle.” Not surprisingly, though, polygamy “generated conflict and gossip,” anger and yearning.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Russian Revolution, the last tsarist regimes exiled more than one million prisoners and their families to Siberia. Common criminals, political radicals, prostitutes, and alcoholics arrived desperate and half-starving in a land of harsh weather, grueling work, and pestilential conditions. A place of brutal realities, it was known as “the vast prison without a roof.” In his riveting new history, Daniel Beer takes readers deep inside Siberia, unearthing true-life tales of inhuman punishments and the crimes that occasioned them. Focusing his gaze on the last four tsars (1801 to 1917), Beer sheds light on how the massive penal colony, a project of correction and colonization, became an incubator for the radicalism of revolutionaries who would one day rule Russia.
The story begins with the artist painting with friends on vacation in Austria in the summer of 1914, unaware that war was about to be declared. The following year, he began working in London on his ideas for the murals at the Boston Public Library and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, before spending two years in Boston and exploring other parts of America. While in Florida to paint a portrait of John D. Rockefeller, he produced a group of uniquely Floridian watercolors that are breathtaking arrangements of color, form, and light. In July 1918 he accepted an invitation from the British government to travel to the Somme battlefields as an official war artist. This experience led him to produce a remarkable group of works depicting troop movements, off-duty soldiers relaxing, and the studies for his epic canvas, Gassed. Sargent returned to Boston in 1921 and 1922 to complete his mural projects, and visits to Maine and New Hampshire yielded numerous watercolors.
Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne was a celebrated nineteenth-century Parisian courtesan. She was painted by Manet and inspired Emile Zola, who immortalized her in his scandalous novel Nana. Her rumored affairs with Napoleon III and the future Edward VII kept gossip columns full. But her glamorous existence hid a dark secret: she was no Comtesse. She was born into abject poverty, raised on a squalid Paris backstreet; the lowest of the low. Yet she transformed herself into an enchantress who possessed a small fortune, three mansions, fabulous carriages, and art that drew the envy of connoisseurs across Europe. A consummate show-woman, she ensured that her life—and even her death—remained shrouded in just enough mystery to keep her audience hungry for more. Catherine Hewitt’s biography tells the forgotten story of a remarkable woman who, though her roots were lowly, never stopped aiming high.
British biographer O’Keeffe delivers a richly descriptive, moving, and altogether absorbing take on the consequences of Napoleon’s final defeat. A large cast of onlookers, soldiers, generals, diplomats, and assorted loved ones populates this distinctive book’s pages as O’Keeffe relates how the particular battle struck those who observed, survived, and mopped up after it. He spares readers nothing in his depiction of its sanguinary horrors, which rivaled the American Civil War for modern brutality on the battlefield. The book’s most affecting segment concerns Napoleon in defeat; fatalistic, honorable, even noble in flight and captivity, the deposed emperor could not escape the British naval chase and Britain’s determination to exile him forever to a lonely outpost far from Europe. Astonishingly, the book contains not a single map, despite the difficulty of attempting to understand either one of modern history’s most consequential military battles or its aftermath without seeing how the battle unfolded.
Bickham takes a different approach, presenting an unapologetic picture of both belligerents, their respective negative attitudes toward each other, and their inexorable march to conflict. In alternating chapters, he presents each country’s case for war, the complications involved in declaring war, the offensives, the opposition to the war, the end of the war, and the difficulty in establishing peace. Finally, he presents an excellent discussion of who, if anyone, won the War of 1812. Of especial interest are the two chapters in which Bickham covers the opposition to the war, which was more prevalent in both countries than has been admitted in most previous studies.