Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau is a historical thriller set on the Brooklyn shore during the gilded age.
Twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg would rather spend her summer working in a Manhattan bookshop rather than socialising with her family and the moneyed elite on the shore. However, it’s 1911 and her late father’s debt means that Peggy needs to tow the line and join the family for the summer as her sister is courted by a wealthy man.
She soon discovers the freedom she has always wanted at Coney Island where she meets and falls in love with a poor pier-side Serbian artist, Stefan, who her family would disapprove of.
The shine of summer starts to dull when the bodies of murdered women start being found and Stefan is being blamed.
Peggy is an ambitious young woman who is born into a time when her talents and drive were tamped down by society instead of encouraged. It’s enjoyable to read a period book with romance that does not just centre on romance or marriage as the end goal, but rather treats the min character as a three-dimensional human being with dreams, needs and wants that are outside of love or money.
I also love this time period and find learning about it so fascinating. It’s wild to think of a time when Brooklyn was the summer playground of the wealthy.
You will enjoy this book if you like:
- Historical mysteries
- Downton Abby
- Amateur female detectives
Excerpt from Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau
“But why do I have to be a part of this?” I demanded. “Henry doesn’t care about me. I would think that my presence would be a deterrent, if anything.”
“It’s his mother, Peggy. She knows about you, and I don’t think she approves of a young woman having any kind of job – I suppose that they are not as progressive in Colorado or Connecticut, where she has a new house – and, I’m so, so sorry, but Henry told me that his mother insists that you join us this summer. She wants to become better acquainted with us all.”
“So Henry and his mother will be at the same hotel as us for the entire time?”
“She’s in Brooklyn now. She’s taking the sea water cure for her legs. Something to do with circulation. I’ve met her twice; I believe she weighs close to three hundred pounds.”
I buried my face in my hands. “Lord, I can’t do this, Lydia. A summer in Brooklyn with Mother – and Henry Taul and his mother? It would be so like hell.”
I didn’t look at her. I waited for the sound of weeping. And waited. It didn’t come.
I opened my eyes to peer at my sister. She wasn’t weeping or trembling, but staring into the mirror, at her own reflection. Her chin was thrust forward, in that angry bulldog stance she used to take as a child.
While I watched her watch herself, I thought about the strange reversal that took place between us. I was once the romance-minded young female, lost in a haze of Charlotte Bronte, and she was a vigorous hoyden, pestering our parents for tennis lessons and archery lessons. Everything changed when Father died. I became a different person, as did Lydia. She became, while not exactly demure, a fashionable creature, tremendously popular among friends in a way that I’d never come close to – not that I cared about that. The only time she defied convention was to refuse a coming out party, every debutante’s dream.
We had quarreled over her engagement to Henry Taul. Not out of jealousy on my part, but my lingering dislike of the man. Every time I tried to sway her from her attachment, it went poorly. In our last argument, she’d snapped at me to never criticize her choice of husband again if I wished to come to the wedding, and I’d retorted that missing the wedding would be a treat, not a punishment.
But nothing could ever destroy the bond between us. It wasn’t built on shared interests or cherished memories. It was a sort of camaraderie; we were like fellow soldiers in the same battalion who’d miraculously managed to survive. I understood her in a way no one else could.
“It’s not just my future at stake,” she said. “It’s the rest of us, too. You know Father died in debt? Uncle David said he’d break the news to you.” This was Mother’s true plan – marrying a daughter to Henry Taul, who upon his father’s death would come into a fortune that rivaled the Batternbergs’.