Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport: Book Review & Interiew

Interview Questions for Olivia Newport

How did The Pursuit of Lucy Banning get started?Historical District until a friend of mine became a docent at the Glessner House Museum on Prairie Avenue. This house preserves the flavor of Chicago’s gilded age when the neighborhood was full of wealthy powerhouses of industry. As soon as my friend began his training, he saw the potential for the setting of a story. He is not a fiction write, but he knew my interests. It did not take us long to cook up story ideas about a daughter of a privileged family who engaged with the changing social climate of her time.

Your book is layered with historical detail. Tell us about your research process.
My docent friend, Stephen Reginald, is a history buff. He spits out the most interesting details sometimes, and before I know it, I am digging too. We both scoured the archives of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times for headlines and language of the era. I looked for true events that serve as hooks in the stories. The Internet turns up all sorts of obscure books and historical accounts. One of my favorites was a first person travelogue written by someone who visited the world’s fair in 1893. Stephen’s work at the Glessner House Museum opened a portal into diaries and museum pieces that helped me faithfully recreate the story’s setting.

What impact did your research have on you personally?
One of the most fun research pieces I uncovered was a guide to caring for young children published in 1894. The prevailing expert advice was not to play with a baby before he or she was four months old, preferably six! I love giving a copy of this book to new mothers. On the other end of the spectrum was heartbreaking information about the desperate needs of orphans during that time period. We may think we have more sophisticated system for addressing certain social issues, but we have a long way to go.

How do you see yourself in Lucy Banning’s story?
I certainly have never been the daughter of a privileged family! However, Lucy Banning and I do share an infatuation with red velvet cake. More seriously, Lucy is looking for genuine meaning in her life, even if it means taking risks. I’d like to think I would do the same thing.

While you were writing the book, do you think it mattered that you grew up near Chicago?
Even as an adult, I’ve lived in the Chicago area for several stretches, and several siblings and their children live there. (Go Cubs!) When I was a child, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry was a wide-eyed experience for me. As a young mother, I took my kids there. I think of it as the Museum of Wonder and Curiosity. Then I discovered that the building itself was part of the 1893 world’s fair, the backdrop for my series. Little did I know I would grow up to write about events that took place in a building that held so much fascination for me.

Will we know what happens to Lucy Banning after the end of the book?
Charlotte Farrow is a secondary character in The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, and she will have her own full story next. The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow will release in January. After that comes Sarah Cummings, who is introduced during Charlotte’s story. Lucy Banning and her family appear in all three books. Even though the main characters will change, readers can follow the next several years of Lucy’s life.

Is any part of you sorry to be finished writing The Pursuit of Lucy Banning?
Yes! I’ve been living with Lucy for three years now. I feel I know her well. Lucy has a part in the two stories to follow, and these are still in the editorial pipeline so I’ll have opportunities to visit with her again over the next few months. Beyond that, I have a picture of what happened in her life and know that she found happiness and meaning. And that brings me pleasure.
When you’re working on a project, how do you keep the immensity of it from getting you down?
Writing a book does seen scary! I break things down. I don’t set out to write a novel. Rather, I set out to complete the next task that may become a part of the novel. The task may be working out a knot in the plot, or writing the next scene, or beefing up research. I focus on doing the next thing that needs doing.

How do you choose between ideas you’d like to write about?
That’s a great question, because I always have more ideas than time to write about them. I’ve had fun with the Avenue of Dreams series, which begins with The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, because I discovered a place I did not know about. That surprise factor launched my imagination. I’m sure I’ll be looking for the same experience in the future and be eager to pass it on to readers.

If you have a favorite Bible verse, what is it and why have you chosen it specifically?
The opening to the Gospel of John is one of my favorite passages. When I read it, the description of God's immense gift to us rolls over me like an ocean wave. John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" I love the insight that we see God's glory--and that it changes everything for the way that we live. 
About the book:  This is a story of love, wealth & secrets as historic Chicago prepares for 1893 World’s Fair
Lucy Banning may live on the exclusive Prairie Avenue among Chicago's rich and famous, but her heart lies elsewhere. Expected to marry an up-and-coming banker from a respected family, Lucy fears she will be forced to abandon her charity work--and the classes she is secretly taking at the newly opened University of Chicago. When she meets an unconventional young architect who is working on plans for the upcoming 1893 World's Fair, Lucy imagines a life lived on her own terms. Can she break away from her family's expectations? And will she ever be loved for who she truly is?
Readers will love being swept away into a world of mansions, secrets, and romance as they follow Lucy through the streets of the Windy City during one of the most exciting times in the city's history. From opulent upper-class homes to the well-worn rooms of an orphanage, Olivia Newport breathes life and romance into the pages of history--and everyone is invited.
My Thoughts:  I found this to be an interesting story presenting the contrasts of privileged and poverty classes in the late 1890s in Chicago.  During this period in American history, women were usually cared for, sheltered¸ and protected but with no voting or business rights and privileges.  If not from privileged circumstances, life could be very hard.

We see in The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, the contrast between Lucy and Charlotte.  We also see that Lucy is a lady ahead of her time and who resorts to deceiving everyone in her family and acquaintance to pursue her dreams and ideas. 

Charlotte on the other hand is a lady of mystery and in great need.  She is a servant in the home of Lucy and her family.  Charlotte, too, has to resort to deceit to hide circumstances in her life that would prevent her employment to continue.

Daniel is the long-time family friend who is also the finance of Lucy.  We meet Will who is a talented architect and friend of Lucy's brother.  Do you sense the beginning of a romantic triangle?

Author, Olivia Newport, describes the extensive wardrobe of Lucy beautifully and gives a glimpse into the life of formal meals, parties, beautiful dresses, frequent changes of clothes during the day and evening depending on the activity, extensive settings of fine china, and dining of the privileged class.  She also lets us look into life in the orphanages of the time - an institution that served to provide shelter and sustenance for destitute children of the time. Contrasts.

I recommend this book as a good read with good visualization of the period in which it is set, fine character development, and a somewhat surprise ending to the plot.

“Available May 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”
ISBN: 978-0-8007-2038-4 Publisher:  Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group
I received a complimentary copy in order to provide an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.  I was not required to render a positive review.

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