May I recommend you a book or sixteen? Come read along with me!
As you long time readers know, the last Wednesday of the month is reserved for Pre-Reads. Books that were published or rereleased (as in the case of non-fiction)during the current month. I highlight a total of sixteen of the most highly reviewed fiction and non-fiction titles that pertain to the 19th century in some capacity. All summaries and reviews are directly taken from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Review, and Amazon. As all these books are hot off the press, I have not read any, but I certainly want to! Thus, I am unable to recommend a single title over another. The absolutely highest rated book on the list is Lilli de Jong. . . I am only mildly interested. I’m far more curious about River of Teeth. . Do let me know in the commnets which books strike your fancy?
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
In 1876, professor Edward Cope takes a group of students to the unforgiving American West to hunt for dinosaur fossils, and they make a tremendous discovery.William Jason Tertullius Johnson, son of a shipbuilder and beneficiary of his father’s largess, isn’t doing very well at Yale when he makes a bet with his archrival (because every young man has one): accompany “the bone professor” Othniel Marsh to the West to dig for dinosaur fossils or pony up $1,000, but Marsh will only let Johnson join if he has a skill they can use. They need a photographer, so Johnson throws himself into the grueling task of learning photography, eventually becoming proficient. When Marsh and the team leave without him, he hitches a ride with another celebrated paleontologist, Marsh’s bitter rival, Edward Cope. Despite warnings about Indian activity, into the Judith badlands they go. It’s a harrowing trip: they weather everything from stampeding buffalo to back-breaking work, but it proves to be worth it after they discover the teeth of what looks to be a giant dinosaur, and it could be the discovery of the century if they can only get them back home safely. When the team gets separated while transporting the bones, Johnson finds himself in Deadwood and must find a way to get the bones home—and stay alive doing it.
Fool’s Gold by Caro Peacock
Set in 1841, Peacock’s winning eighth Liberty Lane mystery (after 2015’s Friends in High Places) finds the forthright, intelligent, and remarkably ladylike private investigator honeymooning with her husband, Robert Carmichael, on a yacht off the Greek island of Cephalonia, where Lord Byron’s brief stay is still bright in the islanders’ memories. The couple is invited to the villa of a mysterious Englishman, Matthew Vickery, whose household includes breathtakingly handsome 17-year-old Georgios, who is said to be Lord Byron’s illegitimate son. The undercurrents of sexual tension and strife are not lost on Liberty. The next morning a guest at the house is discovered missing and is presumed to have drowned. Was it an accident, suicide, or something even more sinister? The Carmichaels return to London, followed shortly by Vickery and Georgios (now called George). Vickery approaches Liberty to look into some threatening notes that he has received. This sets the intricate plot in full, glorious motion.
The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
DEBUT Josette Dupre thought it was bad that she crashed the airship she had taken control of during battle. It became worse: she was lauded as a hero and handed the Corps’s newest command, the chasseur Mistral. Saddled with a “revolutionary new design,” aka an untested death machine, and a crew who find it hard to believe a woman is capable of being in charge, Josette really does not need an ensign to monitor her. The young, powdered, and perfumed Lord Bernat, who had been commissioned by his family into the military, now must scrutinize Josette’s every action for deficiency. Bernat and Josette verbally spar and cross swords, but the reality of war steps in when the enemy makes a move that threatens the Mistral and the rest of the Corps.
The Hidden Thread by Liz Trenow
The Hidden Thread is a breathtaking novel about the intricate craft of silk and the heartbreak of forbidden love. When Anna Butterfield’s mother dies, she’s sent to live with her uncle, a silk merchant in London, to make a good match and provide for her father and sister. There, she meets Henri, a French immigrant and apprentice hoping to become a master weaver. But Henri, born into a lower class, becomes embroiled in the silk riots that break out as weavers protest for a fair wage. New York Times bestselling author Liz Trenow weaves a luminous tale of class struggle and star-crossed love.
Isadora by Amelia Gray
In 1913, the restless world sat on the brink of unimaginable suffering. But for one woman, the darkness of a new era had already made itself at home. Isadora Duncan would come to be known as the mother of modern dance, but in the spring of 1913 she was a grieving mother, after a freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children. The accident cracked Isadora’s life in two: on one side, the brilliant young talent who captivated audiences the world over; on the other, a heartbroken mother spinning dangerously on the edge of sanity. Isadora is a shocking and visceral portrait of an artist and woman drawn to the brink of destruction by the cruelty of life. In her breakout novel, Amelia Gray offers a relentless portrayal of a legendary artist churning through prewar Europe. Isadora seeks to obliterate the mannered portrait of a dancer and to introduce the reader to a woman who lived and loved without limits, even in the darkest days of her life.
Lilli De Jong by Janet Benton
A young Quaker woman struggles to keep her out-of-wedlock child in 1880s Pennsylvania. At the book’s opening, Lilli de Jong is a former schoolteacher committing her story to paper from the confines of a Philadelphia charity for unwed mothers. Amid descriptions of life in the haven along with stirring encounters with other ostracized girls there, Lilli’s own history unfolds. Abandoned by her fiancé, relieved of her job, and banned from Meeting due to misconduct of her father’s, Lilli is forced to conceal her pregnancy and flee her home in Germantown. She plans to give her baby up for adoption three weeks after birth, since seeking employment, acceptance, and even shelter as an unwed woman with a child is nearly impossible. Soon Lilli bears a little girl and finds she cannot part with her.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
DEBUT Winslow Houndstooth is assembling a crack team made up of a sharpshooter, a con woman, a demolitions expert, and an assassin. But don’t call it a caper he’s plotting; he’s running a legitimate operation, employed by the federal government, to take care of a wild hippo problem in southern Louisiana. It seems that in this alternate version of late 19th-century U.S. history, the government imported hippos to America to use as a food source. Ranchers raised them, riding some of the smarter breeds like horses. But an unscrupulous riverboat entrepreneur named Travers has allowed hundreds of feral hippos to threaten commerce on the Mississippi. Houndstooth has a job to do, and some scores to settle, but his crew all have their own agendas as well. VERDICT
A Stranger at Fellsworth by Sarah E. Ladd
In the third installment of her Regency-era Treasures of Surrey series, Ladd returns to the Fellsworth School in the English countryside to introduce Annabelle Thorley. Despite her father’s poor business dealings, Annabelle has lived a life of privilege and protection. After the deaths of her parents, Annabelle’s brother, Thomas, is ill prepared to salvage the family fortune and take care of his younger sister. Annabelle’s betrothal to a wealthy older man becomes Thomas’s plan B. After a physical altercation with Thomas, Annabelle flees to the London home of their estranged uncle, the superintendent at Fellsworth School in the outskirts of the city. Widower and single father Owen Locke, a gamekeeper whose daughter attends Fellsworth, has accompanied his employer to visit Thomas in London. After observing Annabelle’s distress at her brother’s behavior, Owen agrees to arrange safe transportation to Fellsworth for Annabelle. However, keeping Annabelle safe soon proves more difficult than anyone anticipated.
And the Spirit Moved Them: The lost radical history of America’s first feminists by Helen Lakelly Hunt and Cornel West
“Let me suggest, then, that the opening Chapter go farther back than 1848. . . . From the time of the first Convention on Women—in New York 1837—the battle began.” — Lucretia Mott, to Elizabeth Cady Stanton
A decade prior to the Seneca Falls Convention, black and white women joined together at the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention in the first instance of political organizing by American women, for American women. United by their determination to reshape a society that told women to ignore the mechanisms of power, these pioneers converged abolitionism and women’s rights. Incited by “holy indignation,” they believed it was their God-given duty to challenge both slavery and patriarchy. Although the convention was written out of history largely for both its religious and interracial character, these women created a blueprint for an intersectional feminism that was centuries ahead of its time.
Cattle Kingdom: The hidden history of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton
The open range cattle era lasted barely a quarter-century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired legends, such as that icon of rugged individualism, the cowboy. Yet this extraordinary time and its import have remained unexamined for decades. Cattle Kingdom reveals the truth of how the West rose and fell, and how its legacy defines us today. The tale takes us from dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boomtowns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. We venture from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakota Badlands to the Chicago stockyards. We meet a diverse array of players—from the expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president Teddy Roosevelt. Knowlton shows us how they and others like them could achieve so many outsized feats: killing millions of bison in a decade, building the first opera house on the open range, driving cattle by the thousand, and much more.
Food in American Gilded Age by Helen Zoe Veit
In this book, excerpts from a wide range of sources—from period cookbooks to advice manuals to dietary studies—reveal how eating and cooking differed between classes and regions at a time when technology and industrialization were transforming what and how people ate. Most of all, the sources show how strongly the fabled glitz of wealthy Americans in the Gilded Age contrasted with the lives of most Americans. Featuring a variety of sources as well as accessible essays putting those sources into context, this book provides a remarkable portrait of food in a singular era in American history.
The Miracle Cure: The creation of antibiotics and the birth of modern medicine by William Rosen
Former publisher and editor Rosen (The Third Horseman) tackles a dazzling chapter of modern medical history in this chronicle of the discoveries that opened the age of antibiotics and gave humankind its first effective tool to fight back in an “eons-long war” with infectious disease. It was a breathtaking leap of innovation. Rosen deftly recounts the early work of such pioneers as Louis Pasteur, who established the germ theory; Robert Koch, who linked a microorganism to a single disease; Paul Ehrlich, producer of the world’s first synthetic chemotherapeutic agent; Gerhard Domagk, whose lab found the first successful antibacterial drug; and Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin. Rosen posits that 19th- and 20th-century scientists’ most enduring contributions might have been institutional, in the forms of biological laboratory development and massive corporate funding from such giants as Merck, Pfizer, and Squibb that fueled the revolution in medicine. “Every triumphal discovery” in the dawning age of antibiotics, Rosen eloquently notes, “has been followed, sometimes in a matter of months, by a reminder that the enemy in this particular war may lose individual battles, but that the war against it is essentially eternal.”
Mountain Man: John Colter, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the call of the American West by David Weston Marshall
Historian Marshall offers an overview of the life of John Colter (1774–1813), who is described as the first mountain man. As a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804–06, Colter crossed the Louisiana Territory. After two years, when the Corps of Discovery reached the Mississippi River, Colter decided to travel back into the lands of the Upper Missouri to trap furs. Many adventurers would follow him. Colter left no written records so reconstructing his life is a challenge; Marshall relies upon written records from other such well-known frontiersmen as Jedediah Smith. The book’s five chapters depict elements of a mountain man’s life, for example clothing, pack essentials, and interactions with Native tribes. The author also includes a chapter about Colter’s 1807–08 routes along with the information he provided to adventurer William Clark, who prepared an up-to-date map of the West. Marshall’s text includes quotes from a variety of primary sources, which is a highlight. Notes and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources will interest those readers who wish to do additional research.
The Notorious Reno Gang: The wild story of the West’s first brotherhood of thieves, assassins, and train robbers by Rachel Dickinson
Evocative prose and rich historical context add depth and broad appeal to this captivating account of the men behind the first-ever robbery of a moving train, their wave of crimes in the 1860s, and their deaths at the hands of vigilantes. Many readers will be unfamiliar with the Reno brothers, but the mark they made on the small community of Seymour, Ind., is significant, Dickinson writes: “Like a boa constrictor, in the mid-19th century the Reno Gang encircled the town and squeezed tighter and tighter for several years until the gang’s activities seemed to threaten the very future of the community.”
Tom Jeffords: Friend of the Chochise by Doug Hocking
The first full-length biography of the Western legend Tom Jeffords, immortalized by Jimmy Stewart in 1950’s Broken Arrow. This book tells the true story of a man who headed West drawn by the lure of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1858; made a life for himself over a decade as he scouted for the army, prospected, became a business man; then learned the Apache language and rode alone into Cochise’s camp in order to negotiate peaceful passage for his stagecoach company. In his search for the real story of Jeffords, Cochise, and the parts they played in mid-nineteenth century American history and politics, author Doug Hocking reveals that while the myths surrounding those events may have clouded the truth a bit, Jeffords was almost as brave and impressive as the legend had it.
Wanted: The outlaw lives of Billy the Kid and Ned Kelly by Robert M. Utley
The oft-told exploits of Billy the Kid and Ned Kelly survive vividly in the public imaginations of their respective countries, the United States and Australia. But the outlaws’ reputations are so weighted with legend and myth, the truth of their lives has become obscure. In this adventure-filled double biography, Robert M. Utley reveals the true stories and parallel courses of the two notorious contemporaries who lived by the gun, were executed while still in their twenties, and remain compelling figures in the folklore of their homelands. Robert M. Utley draws sharp, insightful portraits of first Billy, then Ned, and compares their lives and legacies. He recounts the adventurous exploits of Billy, a fun-loving, expert sharpshooter who excelled at escape and lived on the run after indictment for his role in the Lincoln Country War. Bush-raised Ned, the son of an Irish convict father and Irish mother, was a man whose outrage against British colonial authority inspired him to steal cattle and sheep, kill three policemen, and rob banks for the benefit of impoverished Irish sympathizers. Utley recounts the exploits of the notorious young men with accuracy and appeal. He discovers their profound differences, despite their shared fates, and illuminates the worlds in which they lived on opposite sides of the globe.