19th century -- fiction
It’s not her fault they call her Bloody Jack. Well, not exactly, though I suppose in her way she earned it. ‘Twasn’t always like that, though. She came from a nice if poor family in London, Mary did, before the pestilence came and took their lives, and horrible Muck came with his wheelbarrow for their bodies to give to the doctors to cut up. Set out on the curb, crying as a small girl will, old Muck tried to cheer Mary by assuring he’d be back for her before too long.
From the countryside orphanage to the seedy dives of a whaling town to a mining village literally underlain by ghosts, Hannah Tinti’s The Good Thief is a vivid and engaging tale of filching and family.
Gemma Doyle is furious with her mother. They may have the same untamed red hair and deep green eyes, but in Libba Bray’s historical novel A Great and Terrible Beauty they are completely at odds with each other. It’s Gemma’s 16th birthday, and try as she may, she is making no headway whatsoever with getting what she really wants for a present—a ticket back to Merrie Olde England where she can make her debut in society and meet some nice, eligible young men. But her mother won’t budge. Gemma’s to stay with her parents in India. And then something terrible happens. She gets her wish… at a horrifying cost.
What I’m about to say will be blasphemy to many of you. I DIDN’T like…no, actually, I hated Elizabeth’s Gilbert best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love. BUT, before you vow to never again read one of my blog posts, let me quickly assure you that I wholeheartedly embrace her latest epic offering, The Signature of All Things.
Englishman Henry Whittaker was born into a dirt-poor family. By combining an innate entrepreneurial spirit with an equally impressive knowledge of botany, Whittaker succeeds in amassing an early fortune. He and his Dutch-born wife move to Philadelphia where they build an opulent estate, and Henry assumes a position as one of America’s richest men.
In Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden, Hallie Brady arrives in the wilderness near Hightop Mountain in 1750. Nobody white had settled this part of Massachusetts before, and the native people who camped nearby vowed that no man would find happiness west of the mountain. Teenaged, English-born Hallie comes with her not-good-for-much husband and a couple of other families he has duped into following him in circles for days before winding up in the shadow of the mountain just as the November snows are settling in.
The dying days of summer—hot and bright or fog-drenched and rainy—are a suitable time to escape to another century and into the Old World where vampires lurk in musty tombs and sometimes in the candlelight of high society. Michael Sims' collection, Dracula’s Guest, does include Stoker’s title story, but it is also a gathering of kindred pieces that lay out tales both plain and highly-embroidered of the pernicious beings known as vampires. These old school blood-drinkers do not sparkle handsomely in daylight and are decidedly and viciously carnivorous.
Meet Rose Campbell, a pretty, thirteen-year-old girl living in 19th-century Boston. Just orphaned, Rose is taken to live with relatives—rich and kind but fussy aunts who feel very, very sorry for her. They treat her as if she is direly ill and have her half-convinced of it herself. Rose really is drenched in self-pity until she gets a visit from her Uncle Alec.
On a cold, March day in 1806, Abbie and Seth lost their beloved mother to the smallpox epidemic that was ripping through the town of Wiscasset, Maine. Without food or wood for the fire, the children were in terrible trouble. They could hear the bell tolling for the dead—so many times for a man, so many for a woman, so many for a child. But how many for a missing father? In Lea Wait’s Stopping to Home, the only hope the brother and sister have to survive is that someone in that stricken town will take them in, if only for a little while.
The Ojibwa trappers had come to trade with the villagers on Spirit Island, but what they saw caused them to turn their boats around and head for home as quickly as they could. The entire island seemed empty of life. Smallpox, the terrible illness for which the Native Americans had little immunity, had wiped out everyone. Well, almost everyone. Still alive and crawling through the ruins was a baby girl, all alone.
Omakayas, or Little Frog, was soon adopted into another Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island. Her life is as rich and full as that of another beloved book character, Laura Ingalls, and there are many similarities between the stories, including the children’s delight in nature and wild creatures.. Omakayas’ family’s everyday activities and celebrations and tragedies are carefully set down, from season to season. The Birchbark House is foremost a very well-written story with believable, lovable and intriguing characters, including Omakayas’ annoyingly greedy little brother and beautiful but sometimes cold-hearted big sister. Older generations are also well-represented. The grandmother, a gifted healer, shares stories of long-ago, and her dreams are filled with omens of things to come and solutions to real-life problems given by the spirit world.
For those who have followed Charlotte and Thomas Pitt from their awkward yet charming days of courtship in The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry’s recent Dorchester Terrace is a very enjoyable continuation of the series. Thomas has risen far since his days as a regular London policeman. He’s now head of Special Branch, a reward for his brilliant detective work and, probably not incidentally, saving Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot.
But, in class-conscious, 19th-century Britain, family background matters a lot to some people. Thomas, a gamekeeper’s son, often encounters people who question his ability to do his job when they find out who he isn’t. One of those is his immediate predecessor as head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway. In the preceding novel, Victor lost his job to Thomas almost but not quite disgracefully and rather lost his heart to Thomas’ clever and kind wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, born to live in Narraway’s world of privilege, has assisted her husband’s investigations through the years, but now that he is privy to so many state secrets, that will surely change—won’t it?