Cover Image: The Light of Luna Park

The Light of Luna Park

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Member Reviews

What a refreshing piece of historical fiction!  I had no idea that there was an exhibit in Coney Island in the 20s that was actually a facility to treat premature infants.  This was a time before hospitals had the technology to save babies born too early, and a time when many professionals thought it was God’s will that these children not survive.  Visitors to Luna Park at Coney Island would pay an entrance fee to peer at the tiny humans, like a sideshow, while doctors and nurses provided medical care.  

Althea is a nurse at Bellevue hospital who can’t bear to see another premature baby die.  When the doctors do not listen to her requests to send the babies to Dr. Couney at Luna Park, Althea takes matters into her own hands.  This story is told in alternating time lines, the latter involving educating children with special needs in the 1950s.  As a professional in the field, I wanted so much more about Stella’s classroom and her struggle to educate these children in a time when special education was not a priority.  

Although I really enjoyed this book, I am left wanting to know more.  I want to know more about Althea’s husband, and more about Dr. Couney’s background for starters.  Dr. Couney’s training and that of his nurses was teased as a little mysterious, I was waiting for something very interesting to be revealed.  Regardless of these unanswered questions, I would recommend this book, especially to historical fiction fans, special educators, or anyone in the pediatric or obstetric field.
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I enjoyed this dual timeline historical fiction book. The subjects of incubators being used for pre-me babies and the treatment of children with special needs. Both very interesting subjects for me, a mother and a former teacher. Stories were a bit slow moving but it did hold my interest.
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The Light of Luna  Park is  written  by Addison Armstrong. She has written  this novel at the age of 24 and that gives her a long career of writing more interesting and entertaining historical novels.   I  enjoyed this book, though I did not think it was the most sophisticated writing style I have faith she will improve with experience.  

The subject matter of this plot carries the book. Looking at the idea of high infant mortality rates in this  country during the early 20th century.  We look  back to the beginning of neonatal care in hospitals.   To  think that it was pushed forward by a man who set up incubators at Luna Park, Coney Island, NY and on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ.  He was really  using the babies who were premature and could survive if started out in an incubator as a tourist attraction, but amazingly he was really onto a serious scientific sound idea.  He was able to save hundreds of babies.

In this novel, Armstrong takes the idea and creates a nurse who has seen the incubators and has delivered babies prematurely, who are going to die in the hospital.  She decides that even though the babies are on display, the chance of survival might be worth it.  Challenging the doctor she works with in the hospital is risking her career as a nurse, but finally it is one child too many that is left to die.  The doctor and the parents don't believe int he possibility of the incubator.

Althea Anderson is a young woman on her own going to nursing school at Bellevue Hospital.  Life for a woman alone in 1926  is difficult, but one night Althea decides to risk it all for a baby born two months too early.  She decides to save a baby's life against the order of the doctor and the wishes of the father.
It will drastically change the trajectory of her life.  This story line is told along side that of 25 year old Stella Wright,  a young, newly married school teacher.  Her mother has just died and she is having a crisis of faith in her teaching ability.   Working with special needs students that she is not properly trained for, she doubts herself.  She misses her mother and when she goes to close up the apartment she grew up in she begins to uncover a confusing past. 

Althea tells her story as Stella slowly discovers hers.  Stella's husband Jack is there dealing with his own demons following his return from war.   The year is 1950.  Stella and Jack are working to keep their marriage together as they both deal with their secrets.

The writing is a bit stilted but the story  is entertaining and the history is interesting so you will want to keep reading until the end of this novel.
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Courtesy of Netgalley I received the ARC of The Light of Luna Park by Addison Armstrong. This remarkable dual timeline debut historical novel chronicles the use of incubators for preemies in America, beginning in Luna Park, Coney Island, circa 1926, and then the history of education for special needs children, 1950's. The main characters were strong women, searching for answers and willing to take risks in their pursuit of justice. Being a nurse, I especially enjoyed reading about nursing expectations and medical practice in the 1920's. A well researched and inspiring story!
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Thank to for this ARC.

I loved this book. What an amazing story. Told in a dual time line it tells the stories of two women and is based around the incubator babies that were taken care of in Coney Island in the 1920's. I learned so much about the maternity and premie practices at the time as well as special education in the 1950's. The stories are of course intertwined and are well told.

I recommend this book to was a touching read.
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This historical novel alternates between two time periods, both in the last. In 1926, Althea Anderson is finishing her nursing training working in obstetrics in a hospital and lamenting the lack of treatment for premature babies when she finds out that Coney Island’s Luna Park, there is a doctor and nurses caring for free for premature babies in incubators by charging the public to see them. And in 1950, Stella is struggling with her husband’s shell shock from WWII, teaching her special education students with no support from the administration, and her mother’s death, when cleaning out her mother’s apartment makes her question what she really knew about her mother. That sounds like a lot of plot right there, but that is just the set up for the book, and eventually you figure out what the connection is between the two stories.

This was an enjoyable and interesting read. The incubator babies as boardwalk attraction is fascinating and actually true, though surprisingly I learned about it previously from another novel, Florence Adler Swims Forever where the incubators were on the Atlantic City boardwalk (also historically true).

I don’t know if it was just the New York City setting for dual time period historical fiction, but this book reminded me of the vibe of the books of Fiona Davis and Susie Orman Schnall so if you like their books, you’d probably like this one, and vice versa.
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An interesting tale written about the first use of incubators at Luna Park at Coney Island. That small seed births this tale of Althea and Stella. Althea is a nursing student at Bellevue hospital where, at the time, premature babies were not expected live, and nothing was done to give a premature baby a chance to survive. Althea learns of the incubators at Luna Park and at the birth of a premie, she "kidnaps" the baby and takes her to Luna Park in order to save her.
This story is told in two voices: Althea and Stella. After Stella's mom dies, she is looking for answers.
Read to find out the answers to a mother's love.
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The Light of Luna Park is a gorgeous, deeply rendered, emotional novel recommended for book clubs, historical fiction lovers, and those who just appreciate a layered story they can soak down into.

Althea is an early 20th century nurse discouraged by losing a newly delivered, preemie baby, which leads her to do the unthinkable.  Stella is mid century school teacher who longs to give her special needs students the best education she possibly can.  Told through a dual timeline, we learn the many ways Althea’s and Stella’s stories are connected, through a thrilling mystery, and the fascinating world of the Coney Island incubator babies.

One of the best novels I’ve read since Jamie Ford’s Love and Other Consolation Prizes, and one sure to tear, and heal, your heart.

Special bonus: Don’t miss the excellent Discussion Guide at the back of the book, with an interview with debut (!) author Addison Armstrong, her thoughts on the book, and some ready made topics for your next book club.

Get your copy today at - the online bookshop that gives 75% of the book’s profit margin back to independent bookstores.

A big thank you Addison Armstrong, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and NetGalley for providing and Advance Reader Copy in exchange for this honest review.

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A lovely, sentimental and poignant historical fiction about a nurse who gives up everything for the sake of a premature infant.

Told in alternating points of view between Nurse Althea Anderson in New York City, 1926, and Stella Wright, a young married teacher in Poughkeepsie, 1950. The story starts as Althea makes the decision to take a preemie to Luna Park, Coney Island, to be treated by a doctor and his staff who are using incubators and controversial treatments to save lives. In reality, Althea has kidnapped the baby girl whose parents think that she died shortly after birth. That choice changes the entire course of Althea's life.

Stella, whose mother recently died, is newly married to Jack and working as a teacher of children with special needs in an era when they are forced into a damp basement and given only rudimentary materials and minimal effort to educate. When Stella is forced to quit her job, she knows she needs to face the loss of her mother and returns to her childhood home to go through her mother's belongings. Then she finds some odd material in her mother's special memory box. The questions come and Stella must confront everything she thought she knew about herself and her mother.  NO SPOILERS.

I really enjoyed this debut and could relate to both of the characters as they try to navigate a world where women have no voice and have to claw their way out of subjugation in all the big and small ways. The choices Althea made were by no means the right ones even though she felt like she had to do what she did. Sure, the ends may or may not justify the means in utopia, but legally and morally there are some challenges. I found the history of the Coney Island incubators very interesting as I had never heard about that before. I like to think that education, medicine, and nursing have advanced in the treatment of exceptional children, but I know that many who work in health care and special needs education still have to grapple with negative perceptions about the work they do. 

Definitely this was a story about sacrifice and motherhood and Althea represents the extreme of that love in action. Would any of you make those same commitments -- give up everything for a child that was not even biologically yours?  

This would make a great choice for a book club and I'd like to thank NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons for this e-book ARC to read, review, and recommend.
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The Light of Luna Park is an emotional story of resilience, loss, and love. It speaks to the undying love of a mother for her child, as well as variations on the title of Mother. This book would be a great #bookclub selection as there are many pivotal decisions and questionable practices that are good fodder for debate. This is an interesting piece of historical fiction and I enjoyed learning while also enjoying the characters and plot. Afterward I felt driven to learn mkre a knot Luna Park and came across a nice PBS article:

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for the opportunity to read this book. The opinions in this review are entirely my own. 

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This was such an interesting story. I really enjoyed how both perspectives were set during two points in history. It was fascinating to see how far things had come and how far they still had to go.

It was interesting to learn about an aspect of nursing health and how premature babies were cared for back in the 1920s. I enjoyed seeing both Althea and Stella’s stories and how they pushed to fight for what they loved.

I would definitely recommend this one to a fan of historical fiction and generational family stories.
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The Light of Luna Park is a dual time line historical fiction novel. It is the debut novel of Addison Armstrong. The story is alternatively narrated by its two main characters.  The 1920’s is narrated by a nursing student at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. The 1950’s is narrated by a dedicated special education teacher. 

This is a heartwarming and beautiful story of sacrifice, love, conviction and principles. The 1920’s main character Althea couldn’t understand why premature babies under a certain weight were given up on.  She had heard of a special medical treatment located on Coney Island in Luna Park.  She stands up for what she believes is right and investigates the incubators being used in a pavilion at Luna Park. 

This is really the historical story of the very first incubators and how they came to be.  It is the story of a doctor with a vision and the nurses who help him. I was so engrossed in the story that I just kept reading. I had never heard or thought about this story. Once the readers think on how the Obstetricians deemed the under 2.5 pound babies as undesirable is horrifying.  The team at Luna Park learned to feed and care for these tiny humans.  The incubators regulated temperature and air for those deemed to weak to survive. The historical aspects of this story are illuminating and interesting. The characters are vibrant, deep and endearing.  Ms. Armstrong’s writing style is delightful, engrossing and velvety rich and full of good life lessons throughout the story.   She writes from a place of empathy and careful research. The author also makes the reader feel the power of love and family particularly the family we make for ourselves. 

Ms. Armstrong is a clearly gifted writer who is intelligent and a dogged researcher.  I am so pleased with Ms. Armstrong’s story that I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.  Well done!
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Armstrong’s dual-timeline debut packs a powerful emotional punch as it explores which lives are valued by society and how much a mother is willing to sacrifice for her child.

Althea Anderson has found her calling as an obstetrics nurse in New York City’s Bellevue Hospital in 1926. Mere months before her graduation from nursing school, however, Althea witnesses the death of a premature baby, and she’s furious with the doctor who refused to send the infant to Dr. Martin Couney on Coney Island. Dr. Couney has been making headlines with his “incubator babies” at Luna Park, funding his life-saving interventions with the ten cents apiece visitors pay to gawk at the infants. When another baby is born prematurely, Althea steals the child and whisks her away to Luna Park, leaving the parents to believe the child died.

In Poughkeepsie in 1950, Stella Wright struggles to provide an education to her special-needs students. When the school principal plays a nasty trick on her, Stella quits and travels to New York City to clear out her recently deceased mother’s apartment. While there, she struggles with guilt over abandoning her beloved students and uncovers a mystery regarding who her mother really was.

Armstrong stays true to her time periods while making observations that ring true today. Both Althea and Stella are disgusted by what is today termed ableism, but they are constrained by society’s narrow view of women. They both also stand at the forefront of new attitudes and technology that will improve—and save—the lives of millions of future children. While the link between the timelines is easy to guess early on, the emotional investment in the two protagonists will keep readers eagerly turning pages. Recommended for all readers, but especially for those who love someone who doesn’t meet society’s definition of “worthy.”
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Even after downsizing a large home and moving into a smaller apartment, this book was so engaging, exhaustion did not keep me from finishing it quickly. It follows two pioneering women, a mother and daughter. In the 1920’s Althea was training to be a nurse in New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, when she runs afoul of the establishment by secreting a premature baby to a doctor in Coney Island’s Luna Park where a doctor is pioneering the use of incubators for the tiny babies. Meaning to return the baby to the real parents, events make Althea keep the baby as her own and lose her opportunity for a nursing degree and then love. In alternating chapters her story, and that of Stella who becomes her daughter are told. Stella, now a 24-year-old married woman has been hired as a special education teacher in 1950 when just as premature children was deemed disposable, so were mentally and physically handicapped children considered a waste of money to educate. In discovering her past and the true strength of the woman she saw as her mother, she returns to her teaching position to fight for her students’ right to an education.
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THE LIGHT OF LUNA PARK by Addison Armstrong is one of my favorite reads of the year. This debut novel combines historical fiction and mystery to weave a mother-daughter tale filled with secrets and social commentary. Armstrong uses alternating narrators, nurse Althea Anderson beginning in 1926 and teacher Stella Wright in 1950, keeping me engaged and curious about both storylines. The "Incubator Doctor" in the novel is Martin A. Couney whose obituary appeared in The New York Times due to his innovative and unconventional work to save so many babies. I especially liked the first half of the book and kept reading for a few hours just to see what happened to these empathetic characters and their charges – a premature baby and "handicapped" school age children. Although the ending feels a bit rough and unfinished, THE LIGHT OF LUNA PARK is sure to be a popular book group selection since there is much to discuss with themes of sacrifice and standing up for yourself, plus references ranging across subjects like PTSD, women’s careers, single motherhood, domestic abuse, and grief and loss. I am excited to see more titles from Addison Armstrong – she's young, having just graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2020. A short audio excerpt from THE LIGHT OF LUNA PARK is available here:
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Thank you to Netgalley for allowing me read and review an advanced copy. 

The Light Of Luna Park is a historical fiction book based in real events. The chapters go back and forth between Stella as an adult and her mom, when Stella was a baby. 

In the 1920s,Althea is a nurse who helps deliver babies. She watches premature babies die, due to incubators being a new technology that many doctors don't yet believe in. Coney Island has incubators set up for babies but it is seen as showmanship and not something that will help. (I ended up going to Google about this and went into a deep dive of the history). Althea takes a baby to the part of the island known as Luna Park where the babies are given a chance. 
Flashforward to Stella and she is living in the 1950s, trying to figure out what to do about her classroom, as she teaches special education and her students are seen as less than human. She ends up going through her moms possessions and finds a letter from Luna Park. This starts her journey to find out about her mom, her own start in life and what exactly, Luna Park has to do with her. 

This books was beautiful and I loved it. The characters are believable, especially for the time periods. I just wish it had been even longer.
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I love dual timeline stories, and I really enjoyed that about this book. Both storylines were well developed and engaging, which isn't always the case in this genre. I like books with strong female leads, which is found in both Stella and Althea.  Historical details are beautifully woven in. I had never heard of the beginnings of incubators, so I found that interesting. I never would've guessed that this was a debut novel. I'll certainly check out Armstrong's future books.
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Being pregnant right now, I probably found this book more heartwarming than usual as it delves into motherly sacrifice and love. The Light of Luna Park follows 2 timelines and perspectives roughly 25 years apart and, as historical fiction, is fairly formulaic in making the connection between them. It's a very solid debut novel and very easy read - the pacing was well done. I didn't find the character of Stella really likeable and, as I predicted, found myself more invested in Althea's chapters. The romantic relationships of the 2 main characters were a bit meh and I wish there was more time invested on details surrounding the actual incubators/medical innovation instead.
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In 1926 Manhattan, Nurse Althea Anderson is frustrated with doctors seeming uncaring about premature infants dying, particularly after reading about the groundbreaking treatment of a doctor in Coney Island, using incubators. She sneaks infant Margaret to his clinic, fully intending to return the healthy baby to her parents. But learning about the abuse mother Hattie suffers at the hands of her husband, plus a chain reaction of other incidents, delays her intentions.

Twenty-five years later, Stella Wright is mourning her mother and the loss of her own career, when she stumbles upon a box of mementoes in her mother's apartment. She is left questioning everything she ever believed about her mother--except her mother's devotion. Further, she sees parallels between her mother's conviction to do the right thing and her own difficulties with the administration at the school where she teaches.

I loved this book. Althea and Stella are both compelling characters, with stories that will break your heart even as they imbue you with hope. #TheLightofLunaPark #NetGalley
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I really loved this book. I have always been interested in Dr. Couney and his incubator ward, so I loved the historical fiction portrayal of the impacts these incubators had in peoples lives. I really like the dual perspectives and liked Stellas story with her students. I would say a lot of the reveals were relatively obvious, but I really liked the book. It read really quickly and I couldn’t put it down. As a nursing student, I really appreciated such a positive portrayal of nurses. I would definitely recommend if you like historical fiction or know anything about the incubator wards on Coney Island.
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