Becoming Belle by Nuala O'Connor

Becoming Belle

Nuala O'Connor

Becoming Belle is the story Belle’s rapid ascent into the Irish aristocracy, and the people that tried to tear her down. Set against an absorbing portrait of Victorian London, hers is a timeless rags-to-riches story.

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A witty and inherently feminist novel about passion and marriage, based on a true story of an unstoppable woman ahead of her time in Victorian London.

In 1887, Isabel Bilton is the eldest of three daughters of a middle-class military family, growing up in a small garrison town. By 1891 she is the Countess of Clancarty, dubbed "the peasant countess" by the press, and a member of the Irish aristocracy. Becoming Belle is the story of the four years in between, of Belle's rapid ascent and the people that tried to tear her down.

With only her talent, charm, and determination, Isabel moves to London alone at age nineteen, changes her name to Belle, and takes the city by storm, facing unthinkable hardships as she rises to fame. A true bohemian and the star of a dancing double act she performs with her sister, she reigns over The Empire Theatre and The Corinthian Club, where only select society entertains. It is there she falls passionately in love with William, Viscount Dunlo, a young aristocrat. For Belle, her marriage to William is a dream come true, but his ruthless father makes clear he'll stop at nothing to keep her in her place.

Reimagined by a novelist at the height of her powers, Belle is an unforgettable woman. Set against an absorbing portrait of Victorian London, hers is a timeless rags-to-riches story a la Becky Sharpe.

Advance Galley Reviews

Becoming Belle by Nuala O'Connor is the fictionalized story of Isabel Maude Pernice Bilton (1867-1906) whose life led from her home to a life in the London music halls and to eventually the title of Countess. The book accomplishes what I love about historical fiction. It introduces me to a historical character, and it set me on a path to read more about her actual marriage and the laws that applied to it. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

Interesting read. There were several twists and turns to this story. The author made this time in history by the use of various characters and the novelty of entertainment a good read. Liked the story and the different characters! Would give 4 of 5 stars.

While a fascinating and interesting look into the Victorian era, I didn't really find this one to be interesting read. I think that's because the main character was a rather dull woman. It doesn't have much substance over all. I'd say it's a 3 out of 5 star read for me.

Fascinating story that glimpses into Victorian age entertainment and nightlife. Too bad the main character, Isabella, is wholly unlikable and dull. Here is a character driven by her vanities and impulses, which completely turned me off from the story. Add in flowery language and over dramatics and I found myself rolling my eyes at a lot of the book. It drove me to research into what happened to the real life people, although there's not much information on them. 3/5 for a fluffy and quick read, but not much substance.

Isabel Bilton moves from a country garrison town to London to make it on the stage. She is half of the Bilton Sister with her sister Florence and become star performers. Isabel (now Belle) meets William, the Viscount of Dunlo, and the two fall passionately in love. The pair secretly marry inducing the ire of William’s father, the Earl of Clancarty. Belle stays strong against pressure from the William’s father to stay with her love. This is a moving story. It’s too bad the main character is so boring. All this woman seems to do it drink, eat, and perform. I don’t think there’s a thought in her head deeper than what hat she should buy. If I had dinner with the Bilton sisters, I’d have a much better conversation with Florence.

This story was an interesting look at London in the late 1800s. The story was based on a real divorce trial which was clever.

The beginning was great but i couldn’t finish because the file stopped working

This book made me anxious. While I didn’t fall for the characters, I was addicted to the story. I couldn’t put it down until I found out every last detail.

3.75 stars Thank you to Penguin's First to Read and G.P. Putnam and Sons for allowing me to read and review this digital ARC. Publishes August 7, 2018. Set in London in the late 1800's we meet Isobel "Belle" Bilton and her family. As naive as Belle is, she seems to understand early that she wants to be her own woman and become famous. She manages to do that very thing, through a vaude-villian dancing act with her younger sister. However she misses the mark when it comes to men and her private life. She understands that she she is not mother material, but she dreams of being a wife - a rich well-to-do wife, with a handsome title. Once she finally receives the title that she has sought, she finds that it comes with difficulties. There were a few times in this story that I felt like I was rereading the same words over again. Like the story circled back and retold a section for a second time, word for word. There were also a few times that I was just bored with the story, thinking that it was not moving fast enough. The page count of this book was about the average length, but I felt that it went on a bit longer than it should have. When the story was good, it was really pretty good, but it was interrupted too often with either the boring or the duplication. I would give this author a second chance and read another book she has written, due to the bits of positive story telling I did see in this novel.

I would definitely say that the book was not what I expected. That is not to say it was not still enjoyable at times. I never really cared for any of the characters, nor did I connect with them at any point. I found Belle naive to the point of frustration with the character. I also found William despicable and kept hoping he would exit the plot permanently. I appreciate the authors research and post script about the real people involved at the end of the book. Overall the writing was a little ponderous at times. I would say the book was a solid 2.5 overall.

At first I liked Belle, quickly 'like' morphed into strong dislike. Belle is so self absorbed and selfish. One minute she is an independent woman which is fleeting. Belle is an opportunist thus requiring her life to be financed through a man. Belle's mothering needs fine tuning, sad her lack of feelings towards Dory. Her taste in men is something to be desired with the exception of Wertheimer, who demonstrates the true meaning of friend. I enjoyed the authors imagination in crafting this interesting story of a woman gifted with talent but not as much a feminist has she could be with her ability to earn a generous wage. The trial was the high point of story.

The book was different than what I expected. The plot of the story was good as well as the writing. Although, the characters was ok. I think that the main character, Isabel, was a bit naïve. I like the cover because it was lovely. Overall, the book was ok. Thank you First to Read for the advanced copy of this book.

I somewhat enjoyed this book but found the main characters very juvenile in outlook and behavior. I enjoyed the historical setting more than the character story. While Belle worked very hard to be liked and to become famous I did not feel there was enough background to explain why she seemed so popular with people. I was also surprised by the actions of her husband and his family. He especially seemed young and thoughtless and seemed to go along the path of least resistance and there was little development of his character and no real signs of growth as he reached his majority.

Thank you for an advance copy of “Becoming Belle” - written by Nuala O’Connor in exchange for an honest review. If you are looking to be taken along a journey of the making of a true Irish aristocrat back in the late 1800’s. You will find it with “Becoming Belle”. This was clearly an unusual period of time for women. I cannot say that Isabel (Issy) who later becomes “Belle” is what we would today refer to as a feminist. However this is a historical novel at a very auspicious time indeed. The length of the novel could have been shortened by omitting repetitive aspects which were of no substance. The novel begins in the late 1800’s where Isabel Bilton is one of three sisters being the eldest living in Aldershot with her family at a young age. Her family was led by a father in the militia and that mean the “girls” were to follow orders strictly without waiver which in turn leads Isabel to distance herself and embark on her own life. She is determined to pursue her own career dancing in the theater in London which is where she takes leave to and never looks back. Isabel lands on her feet instantly after arriving in London and is granted access to fulfill her dreams of becoming a dancer on stage and she is very well received. Her middle sister was very much a part of her life at home and she too flees to London and they will spend a great portion of their lives together in London as a sister act “The Bilton Sisters” on stage at The Empire. However do not be fooled. Isabel endures much hardship by falling very prematurely for the wrong types of characters which lead to a series of traumatic events. She does appear on the surface to be completely self absorbed and rather childish but is too be expected when we are reminded that she is really a mere child in fact and she is trying to survive the only way she knows how. She navigated her way thru life by continuing her acts when off the stage to gain what she desired and most people fell prey to it. However she does eventually find true love and it is at quite a cost that it befalls upon her. It is not as the fairly she had dreamed of at the onset which is devastating. But she does prove to be a strong women during these times which were indeed auspicious and she endures more than most could bear. Some of the writing was repetitive but I felt that it was to remind us who “Isabel” now “Belle” has truly become and she is no longer that childish “Isabel;” and has finally become a woman. I do find that her treatment of “Wertheimer” and “Baby Dory” to have been wretched but again this is simply my opinion. She had to utilize what were considered resources available to her for that period. She is truly a large personality and thinks of the world as a giant playground which to satisfy her needs but does in the end show us she has a heart. Overall I must say that Nuala created a captivating novel. The reading was fast and easy and I found myself intentionally putting it down because I didn’t want to complete it. I enjoyed being taken along the ride of this women’s incredible journey. I usually do not like historical reads but I did enjoy this one for it’s content was unique. When you shared at then end how young she was when she died it was tragic. Learning also of the other characters true lives after was very interesting. I can also understand and appreciate why she would be have been called a feminist back then. It was an entirely different state of the union. From bohemian to countess was quite an extraordinary accomplishment. In the end. We don’t have to like any of these characters we simply need to read and learn of there tales which makes for good reading which is why I would recommend reading it. “Becoming Belle” gives you an opportunity to learn of the life of Isabel and her time at the Empire Theater, Corinthian Club and her meeting Viscount Dunlo and becoming Countess Clancarty. Thank you for the advance copy.

I usually love reading historical fiction, but I had mixed feelings about this book. I was intrigued that the main character Belle was a real person so I thought this would be a compelling read. During the first few chapters, she seemed like a strong and confident woman and I was excited to see where the author took her character. As I kept reading though, I found Belle to be selfish, naive, and just very unlikable. I also found the writing to be frivolous and felt as if the story kept going on for the sake of going on. I don't think I would recommend this book to someone. However, I am interested to learn more about Belle and her family.

Oh, how naïve is Isabel! How difficult for a young woman to make her way in the 1880's. I so enjoyed this story. Who doesn't want to root for the person with so many challenges facing her? Well written, engaging, a nice weekend read.

I had trouble making up my mind about this novel. The fact that it's based on an actual person elevates it a bit, but Belle starts out as a strong woman set on making her own way and devolves into an ignorant, self-centered female that I just couldn't really find it in me to support. The, at times, florid prose in which the story is written sets the pace for the whole book and, while it works in some instances, it just makes it seem like there were never actual stakes to be had. Was beauty and circumstantial luck all one needed to get ahead in life without ever having to face the consequences of one's actions? I do appreciate what O'Connor was going for and I'm grateful to be introduced to an intriguing character in history, but the execution was a bit lacking with what felt like the authors indecision on exactly what aspect of Belle she wanted to bring forward.

I liked the overall premise for this book, however there were many flaws about her character. She seemed extremely self centered and egocentric. Her priorities were all over the place and she seemed to find value in worthless things. This was not a terrible book, however will not be recommending this to others. It really seemed to drag over the last 100 pages and was extremely repetitive. Thanks for the ARC, First to Read.

I typically love historical fiction; however, I didn't love this book. I could not relate to Belle Bilton. Initially, she seemed like she was a strong young woman going out into the world on her own to follow her dreams. Once she meets Weston it seems like she loses all sense of herself and becomes dependent on everyone around her. Her relationship with her family seemed unbelievable to me; as well as her interactions with her son, Isidor. The scenes with her son made Belle an unlikeable character to me; who is self-centered and takes no responsibility for her actions. I really wanted to like this book; but the lack of consistency in the writing and Belle's character flaws were huge fails that prevented me from being drawn into the story.

Nuala O’Connor travels through the life of Isabel to Becoming Belle in a period of where people may think as wonderful but most trying. Thoughts and Ideals come bursting out in all directions and although Belle finds them not as dreamed of she stays true to her imaginings and pushes through. This character is a true sister and friend and Becoming Belle a true gem of a read. Thank You first to read for this copy!

I quite liked this book. It's an interesting piece of historical fiction, and learning that it's based on real people makes it all the more fascinating. Many of the characters were at least a little unlikable, but to me that makes them more "real" (as opposed to your typical picture-perfect fictional characters). Overall, it's a good book that makes me want to learn more about the real people it was based on.

I liked it overall. O'Connor's simple prose was easy to follow and let the characters and the plot shine. I did find that it dragged in places but that could be because I found Belle a bit tiresome at points, wishing she would act a different way. Alas, it is historical fiction and only so many of Belle's decisions were up to the author. I'd never heard of Belle Bilton but she certainly led an interesting life, using her singing and dancing skills to get ahead and make an advantegous - and happy - marriage of her own determination. I especially liked the friendship between Belle and Werthiemer and the sisterhood of Belle and Flo. I did wish William were a stronger character but he was ever so young. I felt for little Isidor but appreciated the way his story was protrayed. My favorite part was definitely the court case, O'Connor's telling of the testimonies was interesting when it could have gotten tedious. I can imagine how exciting it was to follow that case as it was happening in the 1880s.

My first, and rather petty dislike of this book started with the font. It was just not appealing and difficult to read. Belle is a totally unappealing character. Her behavior was anything but feminist. She took no power and allowed herself to always be a victim. The idea that she basically abandoned her child was just disturbing. The story lingered on, needed a bit more editing. Would not recommend this book. Thanks First to Read for a free copy.

This based on a true story novel tells the story of Belle Bilton. Belle grew up with three sisters in a middle-class military family but dreamed of the stage. In 1887, Belle left her family for London and took to the stage. She was soon joined by her sister, Flo. Together they become the Sisters Bilton act at the Empire Theater and take London by storm. As their fame rises, readers will see how they went from living in a rundown apartment to homes of their own. They also become regular patrons of the Corinthian Club, where Belle meets three men who will be influential in her life: one becomes her protector, one her true love, and one her downfall. Belle marries in 1891 to William Por la Trench, Viscount Dunlo, in secret. When this is discovered, the viscount’s father, the Earl of Clancarty, tries to tear them apart. First, this is by sending William abroad. Then it turns into divorce proceedings, naming Belle and her protector, Isidor Wertheimer as adulterers. Throughout, Belle maintains her career. I have mixed feelings about this novel. The first part I thoroughly enjoyed. Reading about an independent Belle and how she made her way in life was both interesting and demonstrates a good example of a strong, pioneering woman who was well ahead of her time. The second part, after her marriage, was less interesting. I felt the divorce trial and events leading up to it were too drawn out. All said, throughout O’Connor used vivid descriptions to draw readers in and did a good job of evoking the characters’ emotions.

The premise of the story intrigued me greatly, and I read the first quarter to third of the book with interest. However, at a certain point, the text lost me - I found the character of Belle to be fairly flat, and I wished for more depth so I could care about her more.

As I’ve seen in other reviews, the flowery prose seems a little out of place at first, but the story grows into it. I think the writing itself has a role as big as any of the characters in the novel, which adds an interesting characteristic to the bildungsroman. Initially, I had some difficulty connecting to Isabel, if only because she seemed incomplete without Flo - they are presented as two halves of one whole. The dreamy and artistic Isabel and the sensible and reasonable Flo. But as the novel progressed, I found myself more invested in her story. I think there’s something very sympathetic about a rags-to-riches story that’s based on more than luck and beauty - which isn’t to say those aspects didn’t come into play, but as Isabel grew into Belle, I found myself admiring her more and more as she adapted and grew. After having done some research on Belle Bilton outside of the novel, I like her even more. I found an old New York Times article (30 May 1891 - don’t search for it unless you’re ready for some spoilers) that says “Belle Bilton [became] a sort of heroine and became very popular in certain circles… Although almost utterly devoid of talent, she received a salary of $500 per week, played to pack houses nightly, people of the best classes crowding to see her, and drove every evening to the theatre in a handsome brougham, with a coachman and footman on the box.” I think if these aspects would have come out more in the novel - that she may not have been as talented as she was portrayed to be and her real skill was marketing herself (beauty and all) and working the circles she grew popular in - it may have been easier to connect with her in the novel and I certainly would have enjoyed it more than the romantic, whimsical portrayal of a cloyingly beautiful woman who took advantage of an effortless talent with the help of some circumstantial luck. While I wouldn’t say I loved the novel, I didn’t dislike it. The pacing was slow at times but overall it was an interesting take on a cultural figure who, fiction or no, made the best of her circumstances and came out on top. In the way of many novels set in this period, the last three chapters could have each ended the novel.

Look, you guys. I don't know. The feminist in me says that this book does something really interesting that we need to see more often in fiction. The main character, Issy "Belle" Bilton, is deeply unlikeable. Like, sincerely so. It reminds me of the main character from The Girl on The Train, actually, in that there's nothing really redeeming about her. But people are *like* that. Women are not all selfless, giving, genteel folk that can't wait to be good mothers. There are as many "Belle"s out there as there are the former, and it's refreshing to have someone write about a woman like that. But from an execution standpoint, this book lacks. The writing doesn't do the characterization of Belle justice, and the other characters read as two dimensional. Likewise, there's a lot of simple resolution--rarely does Belle come face-to-face with consequences. And that's the real problem: the book lacks stakes. So I'm not sure where I fall on this one. I'm not sure I'd recommend it outright, but I do appreciate what O'Connor was attempting to do.

I love a good Cinderella story as much as the next girl, but I have mixed feelings on this book. I just got the feeling that “Belle” Bilton wasn’t an actual “Cinderella”, but more of a gold-digger. I actually felt more inclined to cheer her sister Flo on. It even took me longer than usual to finish this book because the character of Belle nauseated me.

I usually love Historical Period books.... but this one.... not at all. I couldn't feel any connection to the character, the story dragged on and on with, seemingly, no purpose or relevance.... Definitely not a book I'll re-read. Sorry.

I DNFed this book. The main character was awful, completely self centered, a gold digger, and a simply terrible choice for a story. It was boring and the writing wasn’t my cup of tea. I really had high hopes for this one but I was sorely disappointed.

Unfortunately I wasn't a big fan of this book. I just could not like Belle. For a young woman who left fome to make a name for herself she was just painfully naive and unworldly at times. Her behavior and treatment of those people in her life who were supportive of her or helped make her life easier in some way just annoyed me and she just never seemed to grow up or become a likeable character.

As much as I wanted to, I could not make myself like the main character, Belle. She was decidedly naïve, selfish, impulsive, shallow, and lacked any depth of character. The writing was fairly decent, but did not develop characters enough for me to really connect with them, nor like them or feel bad for them. Sadly, the description of this book did not live up to the experience of reading it. I hate to dislike a book and write negative things about it, but I wouldn't suggest this book to my friends -- unless they tend to like selfish, shallow characters with low moral values, who aren't developed enough to really connect with. Definitely not one of the strong female characters I tend to love. It's a pity because I can devour a good historical novel in a matter of hours. Maybe the author's next book will be better.

I didn't particularly like this book. The writing was at times over the top and cringe-inducing. The chapters are relatively short making for a fast-paced novel, which was appreciated. The characters were unlikeable though. I found Belle, the main character, to be a naïve and selfish woman and not the feminist that the description would have you believe she was. I am also not a fan of the liberties the author took with a certain character to make Belle more sympathetic to the reader. I love reading historical fiction. Especially about people and events whom I would otherwise not have heard of. But this book was a complete miss for me. I am extremely disappointed. 2/5 stars

This book was a good read and the ending left me wanting to know more about these characters. At the end of the book when you learn that this was based on real people and you get a little bit of info on how the real people ended up. That was interesting and sad. I wasn't in love with any of these characters as they are most definitely flawed. And when you sit back and take in the story as a whole you can see why she made some of her more questionable choices even if you may not agree with them.

I couldn’t agree with Glenda Luckie more. This was just a “fluff” story. Let’s through in a self centred , self serving main character. Who just bounces from man to man. No depth of character or plot. Did not get past 100 pages before being totally bored with this book

I’m probably going to be unpopular here, but I was not impressed with anything about this book. It was a story about an airheaded, ditzy female who was also beautiful (wow, there’s something new). I never came to care about any of the characters. I didn’t like the writing style or the story. The most emotion I felt while reading this book was disbelief that the main player was such a shallow twit. It also didn’t help that the story was written with little substance and too much emphasis on fitting in as many odd, British words as they could. By the way, it is obvious the author owns a thesaurus. Next time put it away. Sometimes simpler words make the story better. I honestly don’t like writing negative reviews and really do feel bad this review is so harsh when something was made available to me for free, however I can only give my honest opinion. Unfortunately, I was not the least bit entertained or impressed.

It is a fact that truth can be stranger than fiction. Belle did go out and forge her own life, mostly the way she wanted it but I would not call this feminist fiction. It is somewhat Dickensian except with sex scenes added. It was interesting enough that I read further online about Belle, William and their descendents. One of William’s sons from a second marriage, after Belle died, turned out to be a “ufologist” in the House of Lords.

Isabel Bilton knew from a young age that she wanted to leave her parents and her two sisters in their small town and run away to London where she would dance and become famous. It was the late 1800's and most sensible girls had only marriage and family on their mind but not Isabel. One of her sisters, Flo, follows her to London and together they become the talk of the town - with Isabel the Darling of the Stage. Issy is very naive and falls for one mishap after another. Somehow she always manages to come out on top and while she did not fall to conventionality, she was still dependent on men for fame, love and bailing her out of trouble. She seemed to have little regard for anyone other than herself - including her own child and never took responsibility for her actions. When she did fall in love she let nothing stand in her way, including his family. Interesting story of a woman who could have had it all and didn't mind stepping on a few bodies along the way. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.


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