My book club selected Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau as our July read, and it did not disappoint. This is my introduction to this author and I’m already on the hunt for her other books. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, characters, mystery, and intrigue. Bilyeau crafted Coney Island as a character and it was exciting to see it take on a life of its own. Blending summer love, murder, and family drama into one cohesive story could have felt choppy and disconnected. Instead, it was masterfully written and flowed effortlessly.
Back of the book:
The year is 1911 when the twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s playground.
The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.
But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.
Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal, and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamor of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder.
Extravagant, intoxicating, and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class, and dangerous obsession.
Readers first encounter Peggy Batternberg working as an assistant at the Moonrise Bookstore. Initially, I thought that she was your typical young woman of modest means. She works at a bookstore, she dresses in simple fashions, and gives no inclination that she comes from one of the wealthiest families in America. However, we soon learn that she is an heiress to a mining fortune about to spend her summer at the extravagant Oriental Hotel on Coney Island. Unlike many of the upper-class people her family associates with, Peggy doesn’t need wealth to feel complete or live the life she desperately wants.
The Batternbergs arrive at The Oriental Hotel, one of three magnificent hotels, on Coney Island. Bilyeau’s descriptions of the island, the grand hotels, and the amusement parks is perfection. Her writing transports us to 1911 and provides a glimpse into another world. She did a brilliant job contrasting the amusement parks and hotels, as well as the patrons of each. The dichotomy between the two, echoed the gap between all of those who ventured to the island – the rich, the poor, the immigrants, the swells, sports and anyone that could afford the fare from the boroughs to the island.
Peggy is a naïve young woman when she arrives on the island, but we see her develop a level of awareness in a relatively short time. In the span of a few days she witnesses death and discrimination, which leaves her disillusioned with society. Conversely, we see her resolve to leave Coney Island better than she found it. Peggy challenges the police, her family, and social roles to save a man most wouldn’t think twice about. This is what I loved most about her character. Her drive and willpower to change something when all the cards were stacked against her made her a sympathetic and engaging protagonist.
One critique I have about Dreamland is that I would have liked the investigation into the murdered women to begin sooner. It would have added extra time to really see Peggy’s growth and maybe provide a little more redemption for her sister, Lydia. This doesn’t dampen my thoughts on Peggy or my overall impression of the book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone searching for an escape or fans of historical fiction. I enjoyed Dreamland, its characters, and Coney Island. This is a successful book club selection and I can’t wait to discuss and see what others thought. Enjoy the photos throughout my review of Coney Island and attractions from the story.
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