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Friday, November 12, 2021

1 Tiny Baby + 1 Big-Hearted Nurse = A Powerful, Personal Historical Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

1926—As a nurse working in the adrenaline-fueled, male-dominated field of emergency medicine, 24-year-old Althea Anderson is used to taking orders from the doctors, obeying their commands without question. When another premature baby dies at her hospital because a physician determines it to be "God's will" that only the strongest infants survive, Althea can no longer stay quiet. She knows tiny babies are being saved every day at nearby Coney Island. Yes, they're on public display, another lurid attraction to entertain gawking tourists, but the admission fees are used to employ nurses who cuddle and care for the children, giving them a chance to not just survive but also thrive. "Doctor" Martin Couney's medical credentials might be a bit murky, but Althea knows he's working miracles with his boardwalk babies. Althea's superiors scoff when she suggests sending their newest struggling infant to Couney, so she takes matters into her own hands, changing the course of her life—and the baby's—forever.

1950—While Stella Wright isn't sure she wants children of her own, she pours her heart and soul into nurturing the students she teaches in her special education class. School administrators believe the kids aren't worth the effort; Stella is determined to prove them wrong. By day, she battles for their rights while by night, she helps her veteran husband fight the demons that haunt him night after night. When her beloved mother dies, Stella is wracked with grief. A curious letter found among the dead woman's things mystifies Stella, sending her on a puzzling journey into her mother's past. As old secrets are revealed, she learns shocking truths about her mother—and herself.

I read The Light of Luna Park, a debut novel by Addison Armstrong, back in June, but it's appropriate that I'm reviewing it in November as my two preemies were born this month. Both of my sons made sudden arrivals at 29 weeks, weighed less than 3 1/2 pounds, and spent at least a month in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) fighting for their lives. My teensy-tiny babies seemed incapable of living through the night, let alone growing up to be the strong, healthy young men they are now. If they had been born 100 years ago, would their doctor have deemed them worthy of saving? 

Because of my experience with premature birth, I have always found Martin Couney's work fascinating. I've never read a novel about the subject, so I was keen to give Armstrong's a go. The Light of Luna Park features sympathetic characters who are admirable for their kindness, compassion, and bravery. Althea is likable, while I had a harder time with Stella, although she did grow on me as her story progressed. As usual with dual-timeline setups, I enjoyed the past story in this book better than the present one. Still, both are compelling in their own way. Plot-wise, it's obvious from the get-go how the novel's two storylines are going to merge, but that really doesn't make the tale less engrossing. There are a few holes that make the story less believable. On the whole, though, The Light of Luna Park is an engaging, thought-provoking novel that brings to light an interesting piece of history most people probably don't know about. Even though I knew the basics, I still found the novel to be a fascinating, enjoyable read.

(Readalikes: Reminds me of The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards as well as books by Susan Meissner and Diane Chamberlain)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, disturbing subject matter, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Light of Luna Park from the generous folks at Penguin via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!


  1. I can see why you liked this one so much.

  2. How nice to have a personal connection to this book. I am sure your time with babies in the NICU felt overwhelming at the time, and how wonderful that you have 2 strapping boys as a result!

  3. Oh Susan, what an emotional review. Im so happy that your boys were able to grow up and live life.

  4. I wasn't aware of this history, but I love that this book sheds a light on it. Also, what a sweet connection for you with your two sons. I'm happy they are both healthy!

  5. I have read a little bit about the babies on Coney Island and it's amazing just how much medicine has changed in the last 100 years. With your history with preemies I imagine this book was especially thought provoking and heart breaking. Happy birthday to your boys!


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