Monday, February 10, 2020

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau, an opulent and dangerous trip to 1911 Coney Island

Peggy Batternberg is an American heiress, the granddaughter of a Jewish immigrant who made his fortune in mining. Tall, dark-haired, and elegant, she knows how to dress for the occasion and move in upper-crust Manhattan society in 1911. All her life, she’s been sheltered within her overprotective family, and her lack of experience with day-to-day practicalities (drawing her own bath, handling money) will make you shake your head. But she has gumption and a desire for self-improvement, which count for a lot.

Sadly for Peggy – but fortunately for readers of her entertaining narrative – she gets dragged away, reluctantly and literally, from her job as shopgirl at the Moonrise Bookstore and installed in Brooklyn’s posh Oriental Hotel on the Atlantic shoreline. Her family will be spending the summer there at the request of her younger sister Lydia’s rich fiancé, Henry Taul, whose mother supposedly wants to get to know them. Since Peggy and Lydia’s late father was a black sheep who died in debt, they need to do their utmost to ensure that Lydia’s marriage happens. Peggy’s past entanglement with Henry is conveniently never mentioned by her relatives.

The Oriental Hotel is close by Coney Island, called America’s Playground, which promises grand amusements and amazing sights, all new experiences for Peggy – one of which involves Stefan Chalakoski, a Serbian immigrant and artist with old world manners that surprise and delight her. He’s a dream of a character, his feelings and experienced worldview subtly expressed through his dialogue and actions. Midway through, Peggy even finds herself drinking Coca-Cola and enjoying it, to her family’s embarrassment. The plot delves into much more than her coming-of-age summer, though.

The prologue, the only part of the novel not in Peggy’s lively voice, depicts a chilling scene – a woman’s beachfront murder – and gets readers noticing the dark undercurrents threaded through her story. Other bodies turn up later, too. Peggy’s cousins Ben and Paul exhibit shifty behavior, and Henry’s preoccupation with Lydia’s youthful purity is worrisome. Themes of class prejudice and police misconduct make themselves known, along with the unbreakable bond of sisterhood. Although unspoken, there’s also some mystery about Peggy’s past romantic history that I couldn’t help wondering about.

The impressive world-building begins on page one, easily conveying the world of Coney Island’s Dreamland park, with its hubbub of activity, brilliantly lit attractions, and popcorn-scented air. This is no sepia-tinted distant past but a sensation-filled present I felt I could step right into. Peggy is a sassy delight who grows in knowledge and confidence, and her transformation from sheltered socialite to take-charge amateur detective is smoothly done. I’d love to meet Peggy again, later on in life, to see the changes she wrought in the world.



Dreamland was published by Endeavour Quill on January 16th in paperback and ebook. Thanks to the publisher for approving my NetGalley access for the tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Giveaway!

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a paperback copy of Dreamland! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on February 16th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Dreamland

10 comments:

  1. So looking forward to reading about Peggy and Lydia and how they navigate life in Dreamland

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    1. Lydia was a great character also - I enjoyed seeing how she reacted to ongoing events over the course of the novel.

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  2. Thank you for the great review, Sarah! I'm so glad you enjoyed Dreamland!

    Amy
    HF Virtual Book Tours

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    1. Thanks for your work on the tour, Amy!

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  3. I am a big fan of Nancy Bilyeau. Plus, having grown up in Coney Island, can't wait to read Dreamland!

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    1. I've only been to Coney Island once and really ought to go back next time I'm in NYC. Hope you'll enjoy the read, too!

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  4. I read this authors early series, but haven't read her latest books.

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    1. I'm the other way around - I've read the three newest ones, and need to go back and read the Tudor series.

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  5. It sounds perfect...

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    1. I gave it a 5 on Goodreads - great entertainment.

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