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#TuesdayBookBlog #DREAMLAND by Nancy Bilyeau (@EndeavourQuill)(@Tudorscribe)A wild ride for lovers of historical fiction, amusement parks, and great female protagonists #Blogtour

Hi all!

Here I am participating in a blog tour for a book by an author that has featured before on my blog and who’s become a favourite of mine.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeu

DREAMLAND by Nancy Bilyeau

‘Achingly believable’ – Publishers Weekly

‘This fast-paced, engrossing novel from Bilyeau… gives readers an up-close and personal view of New York’s Gilded Age’ – Library Journal

‘Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Dreamland is a rollicking ride.’ – Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls

‘A marvelous book!’ – Ellen Marie Wiseman, bestselling author of What she Left Behind and The Life she was Given

‘Bilyeau is at the height of her talents in the immersive and gripping Dreamland‘ – Heather Webb, USA Today bestselling author

‘Bilyeau’s thrilling novel plunges deep into Dreamland’s maze of pleasure and menace’ – Marlowe Benn, bestselling author of Relative Fortunes

‘Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books’ – Alison Weir

The year is 1911 when 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.

What readers are saying about Dreamland…

If you enjoyed Downton Abbey and want something from that time, set in the US, but with a delicious murder mystery thrown in, you will love this book.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 *s

“I loved everything about this book and I will definitely look for more to read by Bilyeau! I enjoyed the pacing and character development so much and completely got wrapped up in the story.” NetGalley reviewer, 5 *s

“This suspenseful tale has every element of success: murder, deceit, love, corruption, perseverance, obsession, and redemption. A book that will keep you up at night rushing to the end but that will leave you wanting more once you’re finished.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 *s

http://geni.us/Kvfg9z

Here in Goodreads.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47812578-dreamland

Author Nancy Bilyeau. Credit Joshua Kessler

About the author:

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the historical thrillers “The Blue” and “Dreamland” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry.” She is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada.

In “The Blue,” Nancy drew on her own heritage as a Huguenot. She is a direct descendant of Pierre Billiou, a French Huguenot who immigrated to what was then New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1661. Nancy’s ancestor, Isaac, was born on the boat crossing the Atlantic, the St. Jean de Baptiste. Pierre’s stone house still stands and is the third oldest house in New York State.

Nancy, who studied History at the University of Michigan, has worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributor to “Town & Country” and “Mystery Scene Magazine.”

Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in New York City.

https://www.amazon.com/Nancy-Bilyeau/e/B005XPJYDG/

You can read about the story behind this book and what inspired the author to write it in this blog post:

http://nancybilyeau.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-journey-to-writing-my-novel.html

My review:

I thank the publisher, Endeavour Quill, 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 (you can check my review here) 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 nor 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 a 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.

Thanks to the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share if you know anybody who might be interested. Oh, and in case you want to follow the blog tour…

Keep reading and smiling!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview LINCOLN IN THE BARDO: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 by George Saunders (@BloomsburyBooks) #literaryfiction #BookerPrize17 Experimental, challenging, touching and funny at times but not a crowd-pleaser.

Hi all:

I bring you a review that is a follow-up on a series of reviews from last year.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 by George Saunders

WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

A STORY OF LOVE AFTER DEATH


‘A masterpiece’ Zadie Smith

‘Extraordinary’ Daily Mail
‘Breathtaking’ Observer
A tour de force’ The Sunday Times

The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos, and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

https://www.amazon.com/Lincoln-Bardo-WINNER-BOOKER-PRIZE-ebook/dp/B01HI8M1TY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lincoln-Bardo-WINNER-BOOKER-PRIZE-ebook/dp/B01HI8M1TY/

Editorial reviews:

A masterpiece (Zadie Smith New York Times)

Must be one of my favourite novels. What a warm, kindhearted and radical piece of writing. Such delicacy, such serious wit. I love it (Max Porter)

An early contender for 2017’s Man Booker, a highly affecting novel about Abraham Lincoln’s grief at the loss of his young son (Sunday Times 2017-01-01)

The much anticipated long-form debut from the US short-story maestro does not disappoint (Guardian 2017-01-07)

The debut novel by the short-story supremo George Saunders. Set in 1862 in a cemetery in Washington, it has drawn high praise (New Statesman 2017-01-06)

A cacophonous, genre-busting book inspired by the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son (Metro 2017-01-09)

Filled with wit and sadness. It is an immensely powerful work. In the hands of the right imagination, the horror of individual loss can become an extraordinarily humane exploration of the beauty and the value of life, however painful (Guardian 2017-09-21)

An original father-son tale that expertly blends history and fiction (and even the supernatural), Lincoln in the Bardo explores grief, loss, life, death (Buzzfeed Year Ahead in Books)

George Saunders makes you feel as though you are reading fiction for the first time (Khaled Hosseini)

A morally passionate, serious writer … He will be read long after these times have passed (Zadie Smith)

Review

‘It would be an understatement to call this novel an extraordinary tour de force.’ (The Sunday Times)

‘A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.’ (The New York Times)

‘A surreal metaphysical drama about grief and freedom … A father-son narrative that is both hilarious and haunting.’ (The Evening Standard)

Author George Saunders
Author George Saunders

About the author:

George Saunders is the author of nine books, including Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won the inaugural Folio Prize (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short story collection). He has received MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University.

https://www.amazon.com/George-Saunders/e/B000APEZ74/

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

First, in case you have not read the book or anything about it, and wonder what the bardo of the title refers to, it is a Buddhist concept (in Tibetan Buddhism, it seems, and I’ve read that Saunders is a Buddhist) referring to an intermediate state between death and rebirth (between two lives on Earth).

Now that we’ve cleared that out, if you follow my blog, you might remember that I reviewed some of the books that had made the long and the short-list of the Booker Prize. I enjoyed some of them more than others, but I had not read the book that actually won the Prize, and when I saw it come up on NetGalley, I could not resist. I had heard and read a great deal about it, and I felt I had to check it for myself.

This is not a standard novel. It is composed of fragments, divided into chapters, some that appear to contain extracts from a variety of written historical documents (diaries, newspapers, books, memoirs) which provide background to the events, Lincoln’s presidency and the tragic death of his son, Willie, victim to typhoid fever. Other chapters, also fragmented, contain first-person observations by a large variety of characters that ‘live’ at the cemetery where Willie is laid to rest. Call them ghosts, spirits, or whatever you prefer, they seem to have been there for a while, some longer than others, and they interact with each other, while at the same time talking about themselves and taking a keen interested on little Willie Lincoln and his father. We have the spirits of black and white characters, young and old, men and women, well-off citizens and paupers, people who had lead seemingly morally exemplary lives and others who had gone down the wrong path, some who had taken their own lives, others who had died by accident or in bed. There are some actively atoning for their sins while others only seek entertainment. They are a motley crew, and although we hear mostly from three of these characters (Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins, and the Reverend Everly Thomas) and from Willie, they all make important contributions and help create a whole that is more than its parts.

The structure of the novel is puzzling and intriguing, and although it made me think of postmodernism and pastiche, the methodology used to construct the novel is not an attempt at emptying it of meaning or making us reflect upon the artificiality and futility of seeking truth and understanding. The death of a child (even if we are not parents, most of us are close enough to the children of relatives and/or friends to be able to imagine what it must be like) is a terrible tragedy and although there are light moments in the novel, there are touching and moving ones as well. Some of the fragments emphasise the diverse opinions and judgements about Lincoln and his presidency (by the way, although some of these fragments are real documents from the period, others have been created by Saunders, and it is not evident while reading which ones are which), but everybody agrees on the devastating effect the death of his son had over the president. The hopeful ending might feel somewhat surprising but is open to interpretation, like the rest of the text.

There are fragments that will make readers wonder about religious beliefs, others that question the social order, racial ideas, and the Civil War. But I fully understand the puzzlement of many readers who leave negative reviews on this book (and the negative reviews are many) stating that they don’t understand anything, it goes over their heads, and it is not really a novel. Some readers, familiar with Saunders’s short-stories, prefer those to the novel, but as I have not read them, I cannot comment.

Here some examples of the style of writing in the book (in this case, I definitely recommend prospective readers to check inside or get a sample to see if it suits their reading taste).

…only imagine the pain of that, Andrew, to drop one’s precious son into that cold stone like some broken bird & be on your way.

Mr. Collier (shirt clay-stained at the chest from his fall, nose crushed nearly flat) was constantly compelled to float horizontally, like a human compass needle, the top of his head facing in the direction of whichever of his properties he found himself most worried about at the moment.

The money flows out, tens of thousands of men wait, are rearranged to no purpose, march pointlessly over expensive bridges thrown up for the occasion, march back across the same bridges, which are then torn down. And nothing whatsoever is accomplished.

Blame and Guilt are the furies that haunt houses where death takes children like Willie Lincoln; and in this case there was more than enough blame to go around.

The book collects a large number of endorsements and reviews at the end, and I’ve chosen this one by James Marriott, from The Times, for its briefness and accuracy: ‘The book is as weird as it sounds, but it’s also pretty darn good.’

In sum, this is a highly experimental book, for readers who enjoy a challenge and don’t mind a non-linear narrative, who enjoy literary fiction not focused on plot, and are intrigued by new writers and what makes critics tic. It is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding one and I, for one, hope to catch up on some of the author’s previous books.

Thanks to NetGalley, to Bloomsbury and to the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

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