A Historical Page-Turner for Women’s History Month: The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks

22 Mar

I’ve always had a penchant for reading historical fiction and it’s especially more appealing when the story focuses on New Jersey history and prominent Garden State figures such as Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks is a compelling and riveting new historical novel about America’s most notorious kidnapping through the eyes of the woman who found herself at the heart of this deadly crime.

Betty Gow, a Scottish immigrant, is hired by the infamous Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to serve as the nanny for their precious little Charles Jr. Betty has recently relocated to New Jersey to begin working for the renowned Lindberghs and has to acclimate herself to their refined and aristocratic lifestyle as well as the upperclass environment. She quickly bonds with the adorable Charles Jr. as well as the other down-to-earth household staff. However, her relationship with the famed Lindberghs is somewhat strained, because Colonel Lindbergh is eccentric and often odd, and Mrs. Lindbergh is kind yet nervous, not allowing her to develop a rapport. They also spend a considerable amount of time traveling, leaving Betty to her own devices. She settles into the palatial Englewood mansion of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s parents as the famous couple awaits the construction of their own lavish estate in the quaint village of Hopewell, NJ. She assumes her duties as nanny with utmost care and compassion and develops a daily routine with her charge involving outdoor playtime, story time, feeding, naps, etc. Far from home and bruised from a love affair gone horribly wrong, Betty finds comfort in caring for Charles Jr. and warms to the attentions of handsome sailor Henrik, also known as Red, whom she meets at a nightclub on a night out with some of the household staff.

Then, tragedy strikes when Charles Jr. is kidnapped from the family home in 1932 under her supposed care and the case makes international headlines. Betty Gow, a formerly obscure young woman, is now known around the world by another name: the Lindbergh Nanny. Suddenly a suspect in the eyes of both the media and the public, she must find the truth about what really happened that night, in order to clear her own name and to find justice for the child she loves.

At this point, the story becomes more of a mystery or whodunit as the local authorities investigate the kidnapping and begin prying into the personal lives of the household staff, including Betty. They believe the kidnapping is an inside job, so past skeletons and dark secrets are unearthed causing tension and suspicion. Even Betty begins digging into matters in an effort to comfort and appease the Lindberghs and her own guilty conscience. The media also becomes quite cruel by printing outlandish gossip and pointing the finger at any number of suspects thus causing a riff in the relationships among the closely-knit household staff. As rumors and gossip spiral out of control, Betty maintains her innocence and becomes a resolute and steadfast witness as well as an honest and admirable individual with sincere convictions.

This was a fascinating and engrossing read, which inspired me to pursue more research about the Lindbergh kidnapping and the people involved after I had finished the book. You can check out The Kidnap Years: The Astonishing True History of the Forgotten Epidemic That Shook Depression-Era America by David Stout for a True Crime exploration of the kidnappings that were frequent during the Great Depression Era. New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial by Mark W. Falzini and James Davidson, part of the Images of America Series, features historic photographs from the investigation and trial.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Information and Digital Services Librarian

A Book with Lots of Hype: Lightlark by Alex Aster

15 Mar

Booktok is a subcommunity of TikTok that is known for tiaras, their loud and proud love of various tropes, and of course, their passion for books. It is a powerful force on social media, used by both readers and authors alike to promote books they love and books they are writing and has pushed quite a few authors into massive popularity.
One such author is Alex Aster.

Before her YA debut, she first published The Emblem Island middle grade duology, but it was the teasers she released for Lightlark that really seized Booktok’s attention and was quickly steeped in controversy upon its release.

On a technical level, Aster can write well, she has good use of authorial voice for things like description and her style overall is easy to read.

The novel itself has quite a few interesting concepts. An island that appears every thousand years to hold a tournament, royals fighting to the death to end curses placed upon them and their land, escaping from said tournament through a secret heist so that the characters might have a chance to live, attempting to seduce a king while a supposed enemy shows romantic interest in the main character, that and many other ideas are presented in this novel.

And that is precisely what also holds this novel back.

While many of these ideas are intriguing in concept, they all lack one main thing. Focus. Many novels have B or even C plots, all of them interconnecting back to the main events and Aster attempts to do the same with these plot threads, but it all becomes more entangled and confusing the further along you read. At one point, one of the mentioned plot threads is implied to have unknown and potentially dangerous consequences and at a later point, yet it is implied that this same plot thread will somehow lift the curses the rulers are afflicted with. It’s a moment that would make most readers raise their eyebrows and wonder why there’s even a tournament in the first place if this heist is all that is needed to lift the curse.

Readers who detest love triangles will find themselves infuriated as this one seems to play out in full, despite Aster prompting on TikTok that she was going for enemies-to-lovers. One has to wonder if Aster was attempting to subvert expectations with this.
The curses are also told to the reader rather than shown to them, the novel simply telling us they’re bad. While Isla’s curse could be disastrous in the future, it doesn’t hold the same weight when the curses that face the others have far more impending consequences. Given what we learn about her later on in the novel, one would think that Aster would have selected that secret to be her curse rather than the one she decided to go with.

Pacing is another issue this book struggles with. Before the novel’s tournament can take place, there’s an event known as the Centennial, which serves as both a celebration and opening act, allowing the rulers to display their skills before they are forced to face in combat. It’s a premise clearly inspired by The Hunger Games and while that in itself is fine, Lightlark lingers on this event with little interaction going on between Isla and the other characters. The only thing that truly keeps any action going on at all is the heist subplot and even that is drawn out longer than necessary. It’s a good twenty-five chapters into the novel before we see her interact with the other characters for more than just a few pages.

The actual tournament itself takes much longer to get to then it should for a book who advertises that its plot is centered around said tournament. Had Aster attempted to put more focus into the tournament part of the plot, a good portion of the preliminaries could have been cut out and condensed into something more streamlined.

Strangest of all is the tournament itself. It is revealed that the event is something else entirely and not a tournament in the sense that most readers would be familiar with. While killing is allowed after The Centennial, there is no fighting between the rulers. Instead they all gather for a series of meetings to discuss which realms deserve to live and which one should ultimately fall. While this in and of itself is a terrifying prospect and one that could work if written well, the reader has instead been misled into thinking they would be reading about a tournament where the rulers must fight to the death to break their curses. Instead they get something akin to a political debate, which would be fine if that was what the book had been advertised as from the beginning.

A sequel is implied to be in the works and while the reception to this book has been met with mixed reception, perhaps Aster and her editors will acknowledge the criticism given and ensure the sequel is more focused and not riddled with the inconsistencies that plagued the first one.

Overall, while there was some potential, Lightlark, in my opinion, fails to deliver to its intended audience and is a frustrating read to those who simply want to get lost in a good fantasy.

What do you think? Does Lightlark live up to the hype? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Written By:
Lauren Lapinski
Information and Digital Services Assistant

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