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review 2020-02-13 14:42
Dreamland
Dreamland - Nancy Bilyeau

Peggy Batternburg has been graced with being part of one of America's richest families in New York's gilded age. However, Peggy would gladly give up her family's perks to continue her position at the Moonrise Bookstore. When Peggy is unceremoniously taken from the bookstore by the family patriarch, her Uncle David, she is told that the family is summering at the Oriental Hotel and her presence is needed to secure the engagement of her sister Lydia to Henry Taul, notorious playboy and someone who Peggy would rather forget.  After arriving to the Oriental, Peggy visits Coney Island and the Dreamland park where she finds artwork by Stefan.  Peggy is enraptured with both the artwork and artist.  While Peggy is busy with Stefan, a string of murders seems to follow the couple around.  When Stefan is suspected, Peggy does everything within her power to find the real killer.


I am a fan of all of Nancy Bilyeau's previous books and I couldn't wait to dive into the world and characters of Dreamland.  From the ominous prologue, I was hooked into the mystery of the story.  When Peggy enters the scene, I knew that this young woman would be the one to figure everything out.  Peggy goes against the grain, especially when it comes to her family's wishes.  She is inquisitive, insightful and willing to look deeper into prejudice and bias, especially within herself. I loved the setting of 1911 New York.  Through the writing, the Gilded Age came to life-from the richness of the Oriental Hotel to the atmosphere of Coney Island.  There was a lot of care taken to recreate Coney Island and Dreamland, especially when it came to the people of Dreamland.  Even though we only meet most of the characters of Dreamland briefly, each of is fully realized with a rich background and story.  Stefan's story is teased out slowly and through him we see the plight that many immigrants went through at the time.  Though Stefan is treated unfairly and accused for simply being from his homeland, he does not lose hope or place blame. The mystery is engaging and complex as Peggy begins to realize that every murder can be traced back to her.  Rich with historical detail, excitement, suspense, romance and mystery, Dreamland is an engaging read in a world that I did not want to leave. 

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review 2020-01-08 11:51
A wild ride for lovers of historical fiction, amusement parks, and great female protagonists
Dreamland - Nancy Bilyeau

I thank NetGalley and the publisher for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for the launch of this book and for providing me an ARC copy of it, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I recently read and reviewed Bilyeau’s novel The Blue and loved it so much that I did not hesitate when I got an invitation to read her new novel and join the blog tour. Like the previous one, this book also successfully combines history with intrigue, adventures, mystery, a fantastic cast of characters, and a heroine who is trying to find her own way amid a society in turmoil due to changes in the status-quo and to international historical events.

As the description explains, the novel is set in New York and Coney Island in the summer of 1911. Peggy Batternberg, the protagonist (the author explains that she was inspired by the historical figure of Peggy Guggenheim when she created her main character), belongs to the upper class, although as she observes, her family is only a couple of generations away from very humble origins as immigrants, and they would not have figured among the very select of society a few years earlier. They are also Jewish (not very religious), and although their money protects them from the worst of prejudice and antisemitism, that does not mean it does not exist, as the novel exposes time and again. She is trying to lead her own life as a modern woman, but her family’s power and influence, and society’s double standards of morality for men and women make it difficult for her to break completely free, and she ends up having to leave her job at a bookstore and spend the summer holiday at a posh hotel near Coney Island. Of course, although the hotel is very close to the three amusement parks, including the Dreamland of the title, the clientele of both are separated by the chasm of money and social class.

Peggy is a fascinating character. She is very young, determined, and contradictory at times. She is strong but naïve, passionate and rushed, headstrong and totally unrealistic. She tries to be practical and become independent from her family, but she acknowledges that much of what she does is only possible because she has the support of her family, and she does not have to rely solely on her salary, like her colleagues at work. She lost her father when she was young, and she is aware of the kind of hypocritical behaviour the males of her family engage in, but no matter how she struggles against it, she is still trapped by the morality of the period. Following some fairly traumatic experiences with men of her own class (and the male sense of entitlement —especially of men of a certain class— runs through the novel as a theme, and unfortunately recent events only prove that things haven’t changed as much as we might like to think), it is unsurprising that she feels attracted to an artist, a futurist painter, a foreigner, and somebody who is genuinely interested in her as a person, and not as a rich heiress. I am not a fan of love at first-sight (or insta-love) stories, but considering what we know of the character and of her circumstances, it is easy to understand the attraction, and let’s say that I was quite reconciled to it by the end of the story. The character is forced to question herself and her motives more than once throughout the novel, and she does grow and develop as a result.

The story is told, almost in its entirety, in the first person, from Peggy’s point of view, but there are many other characters that create a rich tapestry of both, the wealthy upper-class society of the era (there are some real historical characters that make brief guest appearances as well), and also the working class, the underclass, and the artists working at the fair. The author paints a clear picture of the Batternberg family, its power structure, the differences between male and female roles within the dynasty, and it makes for a sobering and absorbing read, especially because over the course of the story, Peggy discovers things are even worse than she thought, and the web of deceit, secrets, and false appearances is woven thick. The fact that this people of loose morals look down upon hardworking individuals without a second thought is highlighted by the murders that take place in close proximity to the hotel, and how nobody (other than Peggy) seems to care about the victims or their relatives, only about preventing anything from disturbing the elegant guests. By contrast, some of the lower-class characters, that have the most to lose if things go wrong, go out of their way to help, even at a serious personal cost.

I must admit to being quite taken by some of the secondary characters that appear in the story, and in many cases I’d love to know more about them (the whole of Lilliput scene is amazing; Madame Kschessinska is very intriguing; the police detective; Stefan, of course; and what to say about Ben, Peggy’s cousin, a real puzzle), but I agree with many of the reviewers and Lydia, Peggy’s sister, is a favourite of mine as well. She knows her own mind, she is supportive of her sister, and she grows in strength and maturity through the story. With her like with most things and characters in the story, appearances can be deceptive.

The historical background is well achieved, and I loved the descriptions of Coney Island, the seaside hotels, the fast trains, the clothes, the incubators, the art, the buildings… It felt as if I was peering into that era, and even experiencing the heat, tasting the food, and joining in the rides. The descriptions don’t overwhelm the story but help create a realistic setting and increase our understanding of what the period and the place were like. This is a work of fiction, and although some characters and events are recreated, the novel does not claim to historical accuracy (in fact, Dreamland was no longer functioning in the summer of 1911), but I have no doubt that it will encourage readers to learn more about the period and about Coney Island.

As for the mystery side of things… There are red-herrings; there is misdirection, and several suspects, as it pertains to the genre. There is a fair amount of action, surprises, scares, and Peggy’s turn as an amateur detective is fraught with risk. Although she is neither experienced not particularly skilled as an investigator, she makes up for it with her determination, persistence, and a good nose for choosing her collaborators. This part of the story is the one that requires a greater suspension of disbelief, but the novel is not intended to be a police procedural, and the intrigue fits well into the overall story arc and will keep readers turning the pages at good speed.

I have already talked about the issue of gender and gender politics that is explored in the novel. Although things were moving and women were fighting for the vote, it was not easy, and if it was hard for privileged women to have a say on how their lives should be run, for working-class women it could get positively dangerous, when not lethal. The author also explores the issue of migration, the suspicion towards foreigners (despite the melting-pot mythos of the United States society), the prejudice of society and authorities towards newcomers, and this is also linked to international politics (and, of course, we readers know that the situation was about to get much worse and it would result in World War I). These subjects are well integrated into the fabric of the novel, elevating it beyond the typical historical adventure romp, and they make comparisons to current historical events unavoidable.

The writing style is compelling, with beautiful descriptions combined with a great skill in making us feel and experience the events first-hand, and a good pace, alternating between action and more contemplative scenes, without ever stalling the flow.

I’ve read some reviews that complain about the ending being somewhat rushed and sudden. It speaks to the skill of the author the fact that we don’t want the story to end, and although there are elements of it that I think could have been further developed, overall I enjoyed the ending, especially because it isn’t a conventional one.

In sum, I enjoyed the wild ride that is Dreamland. I wish I could have visited the real one, but lacking that opportunity, this is a close and satisfying second best. I congratulate the author for this great novel, and I look forward to the next.

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review 2018-12-22 05:19
Subject worth reading about
Dreamland Burning - Jennifer Latham

I noticed a large trend in these kinds of books where it’s half in the present, and half in the past. It’s not a trend I particularly like as I adore historical fiction and mixing it with things happening in present day takes away the historical aspect, but I gave this book a chance. This one grabbed my attention because of the subject which interests me. I have not heard of the Tulsa Race Riot until I grabbed this book. It was an eye opener, and definitely something that can’t be ignored or forgotten.

 

The switch between Rowan and William is seamless and flows throughout the novel. Rowan attempts to figure out the mystery behind the skeleton while William’s story not only gives you the background information but also gives you the sense and the climate on how it was for African Americans back in those times. The historical aspects of the book is well written and gives you a good general idea.

 

At first, William doesn’t seem that all a likable character. As the plot progresses though, you change your mind as his behavior and outlook changes to something much  more favorable. Rowan’s side of the story is interesting too. She’s been pretty much sheltered in a good, privileged life who is also suddenly awakened by recent events affecting herself and others around her. She’s a well written character as well, but I’d have to say I prefer reading William’s side of the story more as I found Rowan’s point of view dragged in a few areas of the story.

 

The plot overall is well done and interesting. The mystery and historical elements of the story also keeps the plot engaging and it’s a good educational read.  Definitely something to read more into and a good subject to write about.

 

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review 2018-03-07 00:00
Dreamland Burning
Dreamland Burning - Jennifer Latham 3.5 Stars

An historical fiction /mystery story loosely based on on the time of The Tulsa Rasce Riots of 1921. At the heart of this novel is a mystery and it was interesting and entertaining reading.

Seventeen year old Ronan Chase finds a skeleton on her family property and has no idea that investigating the brutal century old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present and herself.

A fast paced read where two stories are told in two different time frames which worked really well for me. I didn't know anything about this time in history and while I leaned only a little in this novel it has sparked my interest to read more and I think that is why I enjoy historical fiction books.
I probably would have rated this one a little higher but some of the story and the characters felt just a little contrived. However an enjoyable and entertaining read and a book that informed me of an event in history that I knew nothing about.
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review 2017-12-18 09:52
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen Review
Dreamland - Sarah Dessen

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen is about a girl who gets caught up in all the wrong people, places, time and things. After her older sister leaves, Caitlyn takes on the responsibility of being "the golden daughter", trying to become the apple of her parents' lives. Everything is good for a while.

 

Until it isn't any more. . . . .

 

In my honest opinion, this book had a lot of open-ends, leaving a lot of things unresolved. as I wish they were. The general story line was a good one, I just feel like it could've been attacked from a better angle and with honestly, more realistic characters.

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