Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum
by James Delbourgo (Harvard University Press)
This imperfect 18th-century hero made his way around the globe gathering all sorts of artifacts—from the grotesque (a shoe made out of human skin) to the delightful (beautiful corals and crystals). Thankfully, Hans Sloane had the good sense to make sure his treasures were put to good use. In 1748, with some royal help, he founded the first free national museum. Today, his artifacts are a small portion of the British Museum, but they, and Sloane himself, were its foundational building block.
The mighty endnotes, bibliography and index will attest to a meticulous attention to detail. Sloane’s great impact and even greater complications demand that thorough documentation. (He owned slaves and had questionable methods for removing precious items from Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean.) Thankfully, responsible biographers, like respected museums, acknowledge both the good and the bad for a fascinating, and fair, historical record. —John Hogan
On sale July 31
The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women
by Elizabeth Norton (Pegasus Books)
This social history is far more engrossing, and charming, than its prosaic title suggests. Tales of regular women living in 16th-century England—a royal wet nurse, a young widow who inherited her husband’s business, poor mothers who used communal ovens to bake bread—contrast with the likes of Elizabeth Barton, Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth.
The era was difficult for almost all of them, in wildly different ways; poverty presented one set of challenges, while money and a modicum of power created different ones. A misogynist society dictated by religious mores created countless heartbreaking tales. Yet by uncovering all the tiny, painstaking day-to-day details of these varied existences, Norton has constructed something inspiring. —JH
On sale July 4
Jane Austen at Home
Lucy Worsley (St. Martin’s Press)
Historian Lucy Worsley, a TV presenter for BBC history shows, is clearly a Janeite; she almost certainly was once that girl who carted around treasured copies of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, battered and torn from endless rereadings. Her new biography of Jane, timed to the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death, is served well by that passion.
Now the chief curator for Royal Historic Palaces, Worsley analyzes Jane through places, primarily the novelist’s various homes. As most fans already know, Jane’s life wasn’t all gowns and ballrooms; literary success didn’t save her from financial instability. Some, however, might be surprised that the novelist had marriage proposals yet chose to be single.
This very readable journey, which draws wonderful, intimate connections between Austen’s life and work, would also make the ultimate companion book for Austen’s devotees looking to make pilgrimages to holy sites like Steventon Parsonage, Godmersham Park and Chawton House.
On sale July 11
Love, Madness, and Scandal: The Life of Frances Coke Villiers, Viscountess Purbeck
by Johanna Lutheran (Oxford University Press)
Much like Tudor times, the early Stuart period also wasn’t easy for women—at least not for unconventional, spirited ones like Frances Coke Villiers, an aristocrat best remembered for her sex scandal. Kidnapped, forced to marry a lunatic and then convicted of adultery, Frances received a lot of abuse, especially from her brother-in-law, the Duke of Buckingham, a real “favorite” of King James I. But through it all, she refused to cast aside her lover or illegitimate son.
Since she wasn’t the literary type, most of this academic volume references the writings of others, including her enemies. Even so, her noble, defiant character emerges: a woman who refused to be silently obedient. She fought her husband’s greedy brother and the law. In the end, they won—but she did fight.
On sale August 1
The Wildling Sisters
by Eve Chase (Putnam)
In the summer of 1959, 15-year-old Margot and her sisters, beautiful Flora, outspoken Pam and little Dot, are all shipped off to Applecote Manor, their aunt and uncle’s place in the Cotswolds. However, the unsolved disappearance of their cousin Audrey five years earlier makes the countryside house a tragic, suspicious place, and “strange Margot” wants answers.
Fifty years later, desperate for a fresh start, Jessie and her family, including an angry teen stepdaughter, flee London and the memory of the stepkid’s saintly dead mom. They buy a fixer-upper named Applecote, still haunted by a dark past.
The different time periods play off each other well, upending expectations and planting surprises. However, it’s the author’s insights that’ll really hook readers, especially about the Wilde girls.
Stories about sisters are often reductive, portraying siblings as either idealized soul mates or cutthroat competitors. This suspenseful mystery with shades of gothic horror also captures the ineffable, beautiful, totally annoying sisterly bond: first loves, allies and, yes, also rivals; the ones you’ll always identify with and judge yourself against. All that and some lovely writing—palpable physical metaphors for that hormonal teen summer heat—make this one wildly enjoyable.
On sale July 25
One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858
by Rosemary Ashton (Yale University Press)
In a season of record breaking heatwaves, the foul stench from the sewage-filled Thames was so bad curtains at parliament had to be soaked in chloride of lime to block it out. Yet drama just as consequential was playing out in the lives of three of the city’s greatest men: Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin and Benjamin Disraeli.
The personal disasters and professional crises this trio faced during those months would change everything. A microhistory that immerses readers in a single Victorian summer without, thankfully, inflicting its smell.
On sale July 18
Downton Abbey Coloring Book
by Gwen Burns (Sizzle Press)
This modern trend still surprises us. Yes, there are now coloring books for adults. If anything, the Crawleys are late to this party. The Official Poldark Coloring Book, The Official Outlander Coloring Book and Pride and Prejudice: A Coloring Classic have all been out for some time. Now Lady Mary and Edith and the rest—even Sybil and Matthew (RIP!)—are available for a meditative, soothing creative outlet. Setting off the beautiful black-and-white illustrations are well-chosen quotes from the show—some heartwarming, some acidic, all amusing: “You’ll find there’s never a dull moment in this house.” On sale now