All Other Nights (W.W. Norton, $14.95), by Dara Horn, sweeps the reader into a dramatic world of intrigue, sacrifice, and devotion—a world of Jewish spies during the Civil War. The story begins with Jacob Rappaport, the son of a New York businessman, who runs away to join the army. He is ordered to infiltrate the enemy in order to stop a murderous plot against the President. Jacob’s success leads to another, even more dangerous mission. He encounters triumph and peril while meeting a richly drawn cast of characters from both North and South: female spies, flamboyant actors, cunning military chiefs, and Judah Benjamin, the first Jewish Senator and Secretary of the Confederacy. This novel is the perfect blend of suspense, history, and romance.
Henry David Thoreau is the Woodsburner (Anchor, $15.95) in John Pipkin’s debut novel. Inspired by an actual event from1844, the story follows the lives of four men forever affected by the fire. Over the course of a week, the incident provokes each man to make a life-changing decision. One of them, Thoreau, is inspired to live alone at Walden Pond, reaffirming his decision to maintain a self-sufficient life. Pipkin uses the fire to dramatize the sense of rugged individualism of the era, along with the intense debate over the spiritual and material sides of life then raging in the area around Concord, Massachusetts.
England in 1837 was on the cusp of huge changes. In his lyrical first novel, The Quickening Maze (Penguin, $15), short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Adam Foulds examines the shifts from traditional faith, handcrafting, and village life to an as-yet-uncertain industrial future. He focuses on the closed society of High Beach mental asylum, which counts among its inmates John Clare, the once-renowned “peasant poet” who is now out of fashion, and the young Alfred Tennyson, a promising writer about to embark on In Memoriam, the masterpiece that Queen Victoria would keep at her bedside. Foulds takes readers inside the poets’ minds as well as into the consciousness of other patients, the distracted doctor hoping to make a fortune with a new mechanical woodcarver, and the doctor’s daughter, smitten with Tennyson. Weaving fictional with historical characters and events, Foulds has created a rich tapestry of voices and visions.