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Are you ready for this month’s Pre-Reads? April was such a joy to go through! Almost 30 19th century inspired titles were dug up for both fiction AND non-fiction. -So rare! Below are sixteen of the most highly reviewed titles from a completion of Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, Baker and Taylor Amazon. The summaries and reviews are taken directly from these sources. All titles debuted this month. Be sure to check your local library (digital or otherwise) or bookstore and request your favorite if it is not on the shelf. I have yet to read any of these, but some certainly look good! What will you be reading next? Leave your choices in the comment section. Happy April and Happy Reading!

 

Fiction

Image result for called to justiceCalled to Justice by Edith Maxwell

Midwife Rose Carroll and her beau, David Dodge, enjoy the 1888 Independence Day fireworks at a farm outside Amesbury, Mass. Only later do they discover that the explosions masked the gunshots that took the life of 17-year-old mill worker Hannah Breed, who earlier in the day confessed to Rose that she was pregnant. Mill supervisor Lester Colby is all too eager to pin the blame on African-born Akwasi Ayensu, a Society of Friends member who owns a local furniture-making and carpentry shop, but Rose sets out to prove her friend Akwasi’s innocence and does so in between checking on her pregnant patients and delivering their babies. And just when she’s on the verge of identifying the killer, she finds herself at the wrong end of a gun barrel.

Image result for a fever of the bloodA Fever of the Blood by Oscar de Muriel

New Year’s Day, 1889. In Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum, a patient escapes as a nurse lays dying. Leading the manhunt are legendary local Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray and Londoner-in-exile Inspector Ian Frey. Before the murder, the suspect was heard in whispered conversation with a fellow patient—a girl who had been mute for years. What made her suddenly break her silence? And why won’t she talk again? Could the rumours about black magic be more than superstition? McGray and Frey track a devious psychopath far beyond their jurisdiction, through the worst blizzard in living memory, into the shadow of Pendle Hill—home of the Lancashire witches—where unimaginable danger awaits.

Image result for the girl betweenThe Girl Between by Lisa Stromme

Johanne Lien has grown up living a simple life with her family in Åsgårdstrand, Norway. Now that she’s working as a maid for an admiral’s family, Johanne thinks her carefree summers are over. She doesn’t yet know that an infamous artist will lead her down a path of scorching chaos. The admiral’s daughter has become obsessed with the painter, a man years older with a dark reputation. When a forbidden affair beings, and Johanne is asked to hide more than just secrets, she must decide whether to take the risk…Seen through the eyes of a young maid who finds herself drawn ever deeper into the intense relationship between her mistress and the painter, The Girl Between explores how one of the most famous paintings of all time may have been inspired by an intoxicating love affair.

Image result for the half wivesThe Half Wives by Stacia Pelletier

The dreaded yet celebrated anniversary of Henry and Marilyn Plageman’s son Jack’s birth…and death.Dead 14 years on May 22, 1897, Jack would have been 16 if he had lived. Traditionally, on the morning of May 22, Lucy, Henry’s lover of 10 years, helps him plant new flowers at Jack’s gravesite and then leaves before unsuspecting Marilyn arrives to mourn. This particular day, the normally well-orchestrated schedule collapses, soon to be followed by the tenuous relationships that have been precipitated by grief. Pelletier expertly fills in the back story—introspection and memories mingle smoothly with the present. Henry, Marilyn, and Lucy relate their stories in the second person, a point of view that serves to distance them from their own lives, as if they are not living but merely being observed. Henry once had a life with a warm, loving wife and beloved son…u ntil that sunlit afternoon when Jack was napping and he and Marilyn made love. Marilyn can no longer bear intimacy with Henry. Her life was once filled to the brim with love…until loss and guilt stepped in. Lucy met a broken Henry and fell in love. She thought he might leave Marilyn, not understanding that he was inextricably bound to her…until she saw them together at the cemetery. Blue, Henry and Lucy’s 8-year-old daughter, loves her absentee father deeply, but her impulsive action in the cemetery on this calamitous Saturday brings relationships to a wrenching conclusion.

Image result for the lost orderThe Lost Order by Steve Berry

While on assignment for the Smithsonian in rural Arkansas, Malone becomes entangled with the “most powerful subversive organization in the history of the United States.” Founded in 1854, the Knights of the Golden Circle have allegedly been guarding billions in stolen gold and silver for more than a century. But the treasure can only be found by locating a series of invaluable artifacts that are encrypted with a seemingly unbreakable code. Malone’s quest becomes deadly when he discovers links to a conspiracy by the ambitious present-day speaker of the house, who wants to radically change the political power structure of the country.

Image result for the secret of gaslight laneThe Secrets of Gaslight Lane by M.R.C. Kasasian

Personal detective Sidney Grice and his ward and assistant, Miss March Middleton  delves into grisly murders old and fresh in Victorian London. Miss Charity Goodsmile is recently bereaved of her father, whose throat was slit in his bed. The late Mr. Nathan Mortlock became sole heir to the Garstang fortune and the grim house known as Gethsemane after his family and nearly all their servants were brutally murdered more than a decade ago. On both occasions, the house was locked as securely as a fortress. The legacy intrigues Mr. Grice, in the callous manner typical of arrogant genius detectives, and he agrees to look into the case. Miss Middleton and Mr. Grice carry on an exhaustively detailed investigation while their maid continually spouts malapropisms that amuse neither Mr. Grice nor the reader. The pair examine the body and discover that Mr. Mortlock was strangled and tortured before his death. They question a parade of stock characters—a ghoulish undertaker, a dignified butler, a pretty French maid—but the housekeeper drops dead before they learn much from her. They scrutinize the crime scene and visit an insane asylum to question the maid who allegedly murdered the Garstangs all those years ago.

Image result for too deep for wordsToo Deep for Words by Andrea Boeshaar

Carrie Ann Collier has been a newlywed for nineteen blissful days–as blissful as life can be in the midst of war, that is. Soon that war will take a toll she never expected. When her new husband, Peyton, goes missing during battle, she refuses to believe he is dead, and must find a way to move forward with everyday life in the face of fear. As Carrie struggles with how to welcome her estranged sister, Margaret, back into her life, another new arrival appears on her doorstep–her husband’s best friend, and rebel officer, Eli. Wounded and bitter, Eli is nonetheless committed to keeping his promise to Peyton: take care of the Collier women, no matter what. But to Carrie, he’s a painful reminder of her lost love. Then unexpected news makes Carrie wonder if miracles do happen. If Carrie infiltrates the enemy once again, she might find out what really happened to the love of her life. Will Eli be able to keep his promise to keep her safe? Can they forgive each other if promises are broken?

Image result for where the dead lieWhere the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, isn’t one to turn away from the more sordid offerings of 1813 London, but even he’s appalled when the body of 15-year-old Benji Thatcher turns up in the ruins of an abandoned factory. Among the city’s too-numerous-to-count homeless youth, Benji had been tortured, but it seems few are unduly concerned about his abduction and murder. Except Sebastian, who is determined to identify the boy’s killer. His investigation takes him through the highest echelons of Regency-era power, where he must contend with Marquis de Sade-level sadomasochism operating behind a veil of protection that offers it legitimacy.

Non-Fiction

Image result for city on a gridCity on a Grid: How New York became New York by Gerard Koeppel

Historian Koeppel  continues his examinations of New York–centric infrastructure with a look at the story behind the development of New York City’s extraordinary 1811 street grid plan, which “defined the urbanism of a rising city and nation.” Devastated by the 9/11 attacks, Koeppel launched his expert investigation into what made the city special, using a photo from the early 1880s of early Manhattan that showed the grid—“a rectilinear plane of many parallel streets crossed at right angles”—in the midst of the newly developing Upper East Side neighborhood now known as Carnegie Hill. Koeppel is fascinated by the history of old New York; Manhattan’s grid, conceived by city planner Casimir Goerck and French designer Joseph François Mangin, came to make it both a “congested place” and an “orderly place of energy and industry.” Mangin’s plan met stout resistance from city commissioners and faced several challenges, but without any political alternative, it survived, sparking an influx of population and commerce. Koeppel’s bold commentary on the constant evolution of Gotham may stir controversy in some quarters, but he unabashedly celebrates the metropolis that has never learned what it means to grow old or stale.

Image result for man's better angels book coverMan’s Better Angels: Romantic reformers and the coming of the Civil War by Philip F. Gura

In this absorbing and lucid study, Gura, a professor of American literature and culture at UNC–Chapel Hill, examines the reform movement in the quarter century before the outbreak of the Civil War. Focusing on both well-known figures, such as Henry David Thoreau and Horace Greeley, and less familiar ones, such as Mary Gove Nichols and William B. Greene, Gura depicts these individuals as struggling to make sense of the drastic economic and social changes that were reshaping the U.S. in this era, particularly the Panic of 1837. In Gura’s view, these intellectuals contributed to “the bankruptcy of an American liberalism” in the mid-19th century, as they attributed even nationwide financial crises to the moral failures of individuals rather than structures and institutions. This failure to distinguish between personal and societal agency rendered these well-intentioned people’s writings incapable of contributing to the resolution of their nation’s problems, and also resulted in John Brown’s tragic raid on Harpers Ferry. Reformist intellectuals believed so deeply in the power of a single person to produce social change that they were willing to give moral and financial support to Brown’s bloody and futile crusade.

Image result for late victorian holocaustsLate Victorian Holocausts: El Nino famines and the making of the Third World by Mike Davis

Examining a series of El Niño-induced droughts and the famines that they spawned around the globe in the last third of the 19th century, Mike Davis discloses the intimate, baleful relationship between imperial arrogance and natural incident that combined to produce some of the worst tragedies in human history. Late Victorian Holocausts focuses on three zones of drought and subsequent famine: India, Northern China; and Northeastern Brazil. All were affected by the same global climatic factors that caused massive crop failures, and all experienced brutal famines that decimated local populations. But the effects of drought were magnified in each case because of singularly destructive policies promulgated by different ruling elites.

Image result for lincoln's lieutenantsLincolns Lieutenants: The high command of the Army of the Potomac by Stephen W. Sears

In this exhaustive study, historian Sears  does for the Army of the Potomac what Douglas Southall Freeman did for the Army of Northern Virginia in Lee’s Lieutenants. Drawing on a wide array of primary and secondary sources, the author provides a group biography of the commanders of the army based in Washington, DC. Sears shows the extent to which politicians, officials, and reporters meddled with commanders in the field. These same officers, not above backbiting and infighting, often wrote glowing reports of their actions which were published by newspaper editors who were eager for information. Meanwhile, scathing critiques of other officers made their way to sympathetic ears in Washington and to other papers. The author shows how generals, such as George McClellan, used their authority and influence to promote friends while opponents found themselves relegated to less desirable commands. This book is exclusively about the Army of the Potomac. Operations in other theatres are only mentioned to provide context, such as Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Vicksburg during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Image result for the midnight assassinThe Midnight Assassin: 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.

Image result for the naturalistThe Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, a life time of exploration and the triumph of American natural history by Darrin Lunde

No U.S. president is more popularly associated with nature and wildlife than is Theodore Roosevelt—prodigious hunter, tireless adventurer, and ardent conservationist. We think of him as a larger-than-life original, yet in The Naturalist, Darrin Lunde has firmly situated Roosevelt’s indomitable curiosity about the natural world in the tradition of museum naturalism.  As a child, Roosevelt actively modeled himself on the men (including John James Audubon and Spencer F. Baird) who pioneered this key branch of biology by developing a taxonomy of the natural world—basing their work on the experiential study of nature. The impact that these scientists and their trailblazing methods had on Roosevelt shaped not only his audacious personality but his entire career, informing his work as a statesman and ultimately affecting generations of Americans’ relationship to this country’s wilderness.

Image result for ties that boundTies that Bound: Founding First Ladies and slaves by Marie Jenkins Schwartz

Schwartz addresses the rare mention of the integral roles of domestic slaves and their mistresses in the biographies of America’s founders. Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson and daughter Polly, and Dolley Madison managed endless household business as well as their staffs of domestic slaves. Schwartz explains the paradox that slavery was central to upholding the status of social and political elites who championed equality and liberty. This book details the attitudes of these Virginian slave mistresses toward slavery in general, and their domestic servants in particular (some of whom were their own half relatives), and outlines the complicated issues regarding emancipation. Schwartz outlines day-to-day household activities of mistresses and bound servants that supported the lavish lifestyle of three presidents. She addresses the complex and tense interrelationships that defined the drama of slaveholding: privileged whites did not regard black slaves as equal beings, and considered themselves kind masters who feared sabotage, insurrection, and worse. Slaves pretended to return their treatment with thankfulness, caring, and loyalty, but sometimes challenged authority by feigning illness, injury, forgetfulness, or taking flight.

Image result for the zoo the wild and wonderful tale of the founding of london zooThe Zoo: The Wild and wonderful tale of the founding of the London Zoo, 1826-1851 by Isobel Charman

British writer, researcher, director, and producer Charman tells the story of the beginning of the London Zoo through the eyes of seven key people. During the early 1800s, little was known about how to keep wild animals healthy during captivity. Few other zoos existed, and knowledge was infrequently exchanged. At the time, no other zoos had a primarily scientific purpose. Sadly, this meant that many animals kept in the zoo died. Charman introduces readers to a host of animals, only to deliver news of their death and subsequent dissection and preservation shortly thereafter. However, the author succeeds in meeting her intention: reflecting upon the scientific knowledge of the time and giving readers a strong sense of the frustrations and challenges involved with scientific discovery. Among the seven profiled are ornithologist John Gould, architect Decimus Burton, and naturalist Charles Darwin. While all of the primary characters are real, Charman uses creative text and careful research to reimagine aspects of their personalities.

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