Book Review: The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks

The Lindbergh Nanny
Mariah Fredericks

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s hard for me to resist a story about the Lindbergh kidnapping and I enjoyed reading this historical fiction account of Betty Goss, the nanny who took care of the Lindbergh baby and was the last person to see him alive. If you’re not familiar with the kidnapping, here’s a quick summary.

On March 1, 1932, in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, Charlie Lindbergh, toddler son of the famous aviator Charles and his wife Anne, was asleep in his crib when someone climbed a ladder, came through the window to his nursery and kidnapped him. Two months later, a trucker discovered his partially buried body on the side of a nearby road. In September 1934, police arrested a German immigrant carpenter named Bruno Richard Hauptmann and charged him with murder. Hauptman insisted he was innocent, but a jury found him guilty and he was electrocuted in 1936.

Betty came under a great deal of scrutiny because she had left the window to Charlie’s room open on the night of the kidnapping. Police and investigators felt strongly that it was an inside job, that someone had told the kidnapper that the Lindberghs would be home that night and suggested that Betty left the window open to allow access to the room. But Betty wasn’t the only person under suspicion. Police questioned and requestioned many members of the staff who worked for the Lindberghs as well as the Morrows, Anne’s family. Police also investigated Betty’s past, suggested she was connected to the Chicago mafia and were suspicious of her relationship with a young Norwegian sailor.

Fredericks does a good job describing the lives of the super-wealthy Morrows and Lindberghs and the lively, sometimes scandalous relationships between the Morrows’ butler, chauffeur, maids and servers, as well as the Lindbergh’s cook and caretaker. Readers also get a look at what Charles and Anne were like as new parents. Charles insisted on a strict hands-off parenting style and felt that too much affection and attention was a bad thing.

I liked how the author described their lives before the kidnapping, during the investigation and at the trial where Betty was called to testify. I also liked how the author tells the story through Betty’s point of view. In her closing notes about the book, Fredericks talks about her fascination with the Lindbergh kidnapping and her interest in writing about Betty Goss. “When I first started exploring the identity of the actual Lindbergh nurse (the term then preferred over ‘nanny’), I was amazed no one had written her story since it first appeared in the headlines nearly a century ago.”

I was going to give this a 3.5 star rating because at times, I had trouble following parts that described Betty’s movements and thoughts. But the story picked up a great deal during the trial and totally surprised me with a possible explanation of how the kidnapping occurred and who was responsible. Definitely speculative, but we will never know the true story.

There is plenty of information about the kidnapping online and you can start with this Wikipedia account. In addition, if you’d like to read more, check out these two books, the first reviewed by my sister, K (thanks K!).

Their Fifteen Minutes: Biographical Sketches of the Lindbergh Case by Mark W. Falzini

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

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Book Review: The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore

The Second Life of Mirielle West
Amanda Skenandore

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Here’s a book I picked at random and it turned out to be something entirely different from my first impression! Based on the cover, I expected a high-society historical fiction and although it begins in glamorous Hollywood, the story quickly takes a dramatic turn.

In 1926, Mirielle West, the wife of a silent film star, visits her doctor for a burn. During the exam, he notices a pale lesion on her skin. Concerned, he orders tests and soon, Mirielle finds herself in a boxcar headed to the U.S. Marine Hospital 66 in Louisiana, a quarantine facility for lepers. Without notice, she has left behind her husband, Charlie and their two young daughters. Because of the stigma associated with leprosy and to save his career, Charlie tells everyone his wife is visiting a sick aunt. Later, he changes his story: Mirielle has suffered a breakdown and is being treated at a facility. Hollywood gossip magazines run with the second story, citing Mirielle’s unstable behavior after their son’s tragic accident.

Here’s some background: Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease is a long-term, bacterial infection that begins with small lesions and a decreased ability to feel pain. It affects the nerves, skin, eyes and the lining of the nose. Advanced cases lead to disfigurement, loss of extremities and life-threatening complications. The first signs of the disease occurred as far back as 600 BC, but leprosy did not appear in the Americas until European colonization. At first, leprosy was believed to be highly contagious. Those infected were sent to leper colonies and forbidden to leave. At the U.S. Marine Hospital, also known a. s Carville and the only national leprosarium in the United States, patients who snuck out were jailed. Over time, doctors learned that the disease does not spread easily, but there were many uncertainties during Mirielle’s time at Carville. Doctors did not discover effective treatments until the 1940s. Carville operated from 1894 – 2005 and now operates as the National Hansen’s Disease Museum.

Mirielle arrives as a spoiled Hollywood wife who wants nothing to do with the other residents, certain she will leave the colony after a short time. But as her disease progresses, she builds a new life inside the colony. Although she misses her daughters and worries about Charlie’s distant letters, she realizes that all the patients at Carville carry sadness and hurt and long to leave. Sister Verena, the head nurse in charge of the infirmary and clinic, puts Mireille to work, where she excels. She befriends her housemate, Irene, who tells her, “I know it’s hard, baby. Took me months to accept it.” Frank, a longtime patient and World War I veteran, however, views Mirielle warily, especially when she shrinks from his extended hand. Readers sense an attraction, however, and hope they can find each other. Mirielle faces her greatest challenge when she meets Jean, a young girl, but a trouble maker, whose father abandoned her at Carville.

I enjoyed this story, although I felt it was a little long and a bit heavy on the medical descriptions, however, I learned a lot about a disease we rarely think about today. The author is a nurse, so that makes sense too.

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Book Review: Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Clark and Division
Naomi Hirahara

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was interested in reading this crime fiction about the Itos, a Japanese American family that was sent to the Manzanar internment camp in 1942, after the Pearl Harbor bombings. Manzanar was one of ten American concentration camps, where more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, a shameful period of American history. While at Manzanar, the Itos and others lived in cramped barracks surrounded by barbed wire and wondered what they had done to be treated this way.

Source: Wikipedia

In 1943, U.S. government relocated “loyal” Nisei (2nd generation Japanese) to the Midwest and east coasts and the Itos were sent to Chicago. When twenty-year-old Aki and her parents arrive, they expect to meet Aki’s older sister, Rose, who had settled ahead of the family. Instead, they learn that Rose was killed the day before by a subway train at the Clark and Division station. Though the police rule Rose’s death a suicide, Aki refuses to accept that her sister, a beautiful and confident young woman, would take her own life.

Right away, Aki and her parents must plan Rose’s funeral. In addition, although the War Resettlement Authority found them an apartment, they must immediately find jobs to support themselves. Many other Issei (1st generation) and Nisei live in the Clark and Division neighborhood, including people the family knew in Los Angeles and at Manzanar. These connections help the Itos get settled.

Soon, Aki begins her investigation, talking to the police, the coroner, and friends. When she visits Rose’s roommates, she is sure they are hiding something. Can she trust family friend, Roy, who had hoped to marry Rose? Who are the rough-looking men in zoot suits who show up first at Rose’s funeral? Although determined to learn the truth, and emboldened by the memory of her sister’s fearlessness, several of Aki’s decisions endanger herself, her family, and friends. The story is a classic mystery in this sense and raises suspicion in several characters, leading Aki down a few wrong paths. An unexpected romance further complicates Aki’s investigation.

Told through Aki’s voice, readers learn about her family’s hardships, how they were forced to leave their homes and belongings behind, about the Japanese culture and their resettlement in Chicago. I was very interested in this part, which makes the book, in my opinion, more historical fiction than mystery. Through her characters, the author provides a look at Chicago’s multicultural neighborhoods and highlights the unique situations that arise during World War II. Hirahara, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, based her story on thirty years of research of Japanese American history.

I enjoyed reading Clark and Division. As I mentioned, I would describe it as a light mystery and heavier on the history, which was okay with me. I have read a lot of historical fiction set during World War II, but never one about the Japanese American experience.

No playlists today, but here is a song (Kenji by Fort Minor) that I immediately thought of when I began this book:

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Gone with the Wind playlist on Spotify!

Hi Everyone,

One of my Top 25 favorite books is Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Today I’m sharing a Spotify playlist of songs I selected to complement your reading experience! Even if you’re not on Spotify, you can still see the songs I selected. I had fun putting it together and hope you’ll check it out!

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Book Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds
Kristin Hannah

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’ve always liked stories of endurance and standing up for what is right. I also like sagas and historical fiction and The Four Winds checks all these boxes. The story is set in the Texas Panhandle in the 1920s and 30s, during the Great Depression, years of drought and continuous dust storms, and later in California during the great migration west. Throughout these hardships, Elsa Wolcott undergoes a transformation and discovers the strength she needs to protect and provide for her family.

Before this, Elsa has only known a life of seclusion. At fourteen, she contracted rheumatic fever and doctors tell her she has a weak heart. Her father’s prosperous business has ensured that the family lives well, but because of her condition, Elsa’s parents declare her unmarriageable. Besides, who would want a woman like her, overly tall, with thin and colorless hair and so unlike her pretty sisters?

Now, at twenty-five, Elsa knows she must do something to change her life. She takes the advice her Texas ranger grandfather. “Don’t worry about dying, Elsa. Worry about not living. Be brave,” he told her before he died. A period of rebellion leaves Elsa pregnant by an Italian boy named Rafe Martinelli. Upon hearing the news, her parents disown her and she must begin a life with Rafe’s farming family.

One of the reasons I like sagas is because I like reading about how events and the characters change over time, so I’m not going to describe what happens next. But you can be sure that the author includes plenty of developments to keep you interested, especially with the historical backdrop of extreme hardship. Hannah includes themes of the American Dream, perseverance, heroism, love and family countered by the Martinelli’s and other families’ stubbornness about leaving Texas. How can you give up on the land that provided for you?

I liked this book. It’s very readable, but it’s hard not to compare it to The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I don’t think there is any book that better describes the plight of dust bowl farmers and the migration to California during the Great Depression. When The Grapes of Wrath was published, Steinbeck said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” He put heart and soul into expressing his outrage over the treatment of these poor migrant farm workers and he did it with vivid descriptions and powerful characters. It’s a tall order to write another story as powerful as his.

That said, I am fascinated by this period of American history and the resolve of those who lost their farms and traveled west for a better life. I’d call The Four Winds a light version of a similar story.

Click here for a review of The Grapes of Wrath and stay tuned for a post about the Great Depression and the western migration.

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Like Kristin Hannah’s books? Check out this review of The Great Alone.

Book Review: Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Hour of the Witch
Chris Bohjalian

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here’s an excellent historical suspense set in 1662 Boston about twenty-four-year-old Mary Deerfield, who is desperate to get away from a violent marriage. When the court magistrates deny a petition for divorce, Mary must return to her husband. Fearful of more cruelty, Mary plots her escape, while mounting evidence of witchcraft threatens to send her to her death.

I enjoyed reading about this time period in early America and how Puritans used God and the Devil to explain things that happened in their lives. Mary is sure she has been framed, but even she secretly wonders if she is possessed by the Devil. The author also highlights the treatment of women during Puritan times. Although her husband is violent, the odds are against Mary when she petitions for a divorce. From the beginning, readers see that Mary is strong-willed and resourceful. She’s willing to accept being ostracized if her divorce is granted, a difficult future, but better than her marriage.

Ultimately, even though her father and one of the magistrates believe her husband has mistreated her, they support the Puritan rules. The reason? Back then, it was acceptable for a husband to physically discipline his wife if it was to teach her to be a good “helpmeet” and to follow the laws of God. Better to send Mary back to her husband to work things out, they reason.

In addition, readers get a closer look at the harsh punishments for other infractions, such as adultery. Anyone suspected or caught in adultery had to face the stocks and a whipping. The author also shows how, although the Puritans relied on herbal remedies and medicines, they feared that those administering them were witches.

I enjoyed this account of Puritan New England, when the fear of God and the Devil ruled. Truly a page-turner, readers will need to untangle characters’ complicated motives and the mystery of the witchcraft evidence. The reward is a better historical understanding of these early settlers’ lives.

This book is a lot different from the other books I’ve read by Chris Bohjalain. It’s much meatier and more historical, although I’ve only read three others, so I’m not an expert. I read Double Bind a long time ago, so it’s not here on my blog, but you can check out these others, which I thought were very good:

The Flight Attendant
The Guest Room

Have you read Hour of the Witch or any other books by Chris Bohjalian? Leave a comment!

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Book Review: The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

The Family
Naomi Krupitsky

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You know when you pick a book by chance and it turns out to be a great read? That’s what happened to me with The Family. As I browsed books online, I was attracted to the cover and the storyline. I’m a big fan of The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and because I grew up in northern New Jersey, I like reading about places that are familiar to me. But I hadn’t heard of The Family.

Although there’s always a storyline in these movies and shows about getting out of life in the mafia and the dangers that go with leaving, what’s unique about The Family is that all the main characters struggle with the choices they’ve made. They ask themselves two questions: “What would I have done if I hadn’t been pulled into the Family?” and “What control can I take over the life I do lead?” Some, desperate to escape, ask, “How can I get out of this alive?”

The story spans twenty years and begins in 1928 Brooklyn. Readers meet two girlhood friends and next-door neighbors, Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo. Sofia’s father, Joey, is ambitious. Antonia’s father, Carlo, however, is not cut out for the violence.

“By the time Carlo was keeping a shaky-handed, shallow-breathed watch outside of rooms where unspeakable acts of violence were doled out for minor infractions against the Fianzo Family, it was too late for him to extract himself.”

Lives and family dynamics change forever when Carlo disappears and Joey is put in charge of his own faction.

Written from a third-person omniscient point of view, readers enter into each character’s inner thoughts and reasonings. Tension develops in a multitude of ways. Lina Russo, Carlo’s wife is trapped. She hates that the Family takes care of her after Carlo’s disappearance and does all she can to withdraw. And though they don’t know the details of the Family business, Sofia and Antonia understand they are part of a family they can never truly leave. Their tendencies waver between making their own lives and accepting their lot. This is especially true when they marry and have children. One thing they do know is that neither wants to be like their mother.

I really liked the historical aspect of this book. The author shows how Italian immigrants played an important role in building New York at the turn of the century, but they resented the lack of respect they got. She describes how the Italian mafia developed and changed during Prohibition and the Depression and how they took advantage of new opportunities during World War 2. What’s interesting are the conflicting roles the Family plays during this time. For example, during the war, they got into the forgery business, selling new identities to Jews fleeing Europe. So, helping desperate people, but charging them to be safe.

The author also describes the Jewish mafia and introduces Saul Grossman, one of the most interesting characters in the book. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there.

If you’re considering reading The Family, I’d describe it as more literary and introspective than sensational. The theme of choosing an alternate life reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

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Books from the sea

Read and reviewed

Summer is a great time to read books about water and the sea. Take a look at this mix of classic tales, popular fiction and nonfiction:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens to a group of young British schoolboys when their plane is shot down and they land on deserted island in the Pacific?

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The classic Hemingway story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish in eighty-four days

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Light historical fiction and romance written into the history of the Titanic’s voyage, its passengers and the disaster’s aftermath

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
A story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife, who live alone on an island off Western Australia

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Fast-paced, coming-of-age fantasy tale for adults about the mysteries of life, death, nature, the past, and the present

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
A rotating narrative about abuse over time and generations, and its range of effects

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Touching coming-of-age story about an eleven-year-old American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
True survival story of the whaleship Essex, attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale in the Pacific

Read but not reviewed

Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
A classic Melville story about the battle between good and evil

Jaws by Peter Benchley
Gripping suspense novel about a killer shark off a Long Island beach

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ahab takes on a killer whale.  Classic story inspired by the whaleship Essex

Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
Meditations about love, marriage and family written by Charles Lindbergh’s American wife

Old-time classics

The Happy Return by C.S. Forester

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Shōgun by James Clavell

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Do you have any favorite tales about the sea?

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Book Review: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Love and Ruin
Paula McLain

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

You may know that I’m a big Ernest Hemingway fan. I’ve read all his books except To Have and Have Not and many of his short stories. I’m also a little obsessed with the person behind his books, how he started out and his relationships, especially with his four wives. I’d read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain years ago and liked it very much. That’s about Hemingway’s early career and his first marriage to Hadley Richardson. During those years, he wrote The Sun Also Rises, his first novel. Love and Ruin is the story of Hemingway’s marriage to Martha Gellhorn, his third wife. I didn’t know about her, but she was a novelist, travel writer, and a famous and fearless war correspondent, the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day and report on the invasion first-hand. For sixty years, she covered every world conflict that was out there.

Hemingway wrote what may be considered his best book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, while he was married to Gellhorn. Before they were married, they had spent time in Spain reporting on the Spanish Civil War, while Hemingway was married to Pauline Pfeiffer. That’s when their affair began.

Love and Ruin is the story of two very strong egos. It’s about Hemingway’s overwhelming and selfish personality and Gellhorn’s insistence on having her own career, which meant being away from home for long periods of time. Hemingway hated that, felt abandoned and behaved poorly. In this account, Gellhorn was just as stubborn as he was and there was a competitive vibe between them, especially when his books did better than hers. I got the feeling that they both acted selfishly in part to one-up the other. It was obvious to me that Gellhorn was a formidable opponent, not the kind of domestic wife Hemingway really wanted. She was also a trailblazer for women and careers.

I liked Love and Ruin, but I didn’t think it was as good as The Paris Wife. The first half reads more like a history book and I had a harder time getting to know Gellhorn, even though it’s written from her point of view. I liked the parts that helped me see the early seeds of For Whom the Bell Tolls and I learned a lot about Gellhorn’s impressive career. I also learned some new things about Hemingway and his sad decline. McLain did a tremendous amount of research to write Love and Ruin and it shows. Gellhorn burned all her personal papers before she died, so McLain had to piece together what she could about their marriage. I enjoyed the second half of the book, which really dug into the meat of their marital conflicts.

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Check out my review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

Like Hemingway? Me too! Check out my reviews:

The Sun Also Rises

A Farewell to Arms

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Old Man and the Sea

A Moveable Feast

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

“Hills Like White Elephants”

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

Book Review: The Second Mrs. Astor: A Novel of the Titanic by Shana Abé

The Second Mrs. Astor: A Novel of the Titanic
Shana Abé

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For fans of historical fiction, here’s an engaging story about Madeleine Talmadge Force and her brief marriage to Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, America’s (and maybe the world’s) richest man at the time, cut short when they boarded the British passenger liner Titanic. In just two years, Madeleine would become a young bride, a widow and mother to a baby boy.

In 1910, Madeleine Force was only seventeen when John Astor caught her performance as Ophelia in a Junior League summer production of Hamlet. The two were immediately smitten with each other and their courtship began, despite the twenty-nine-year age difference! The world knew all about Astor and the scandal surrounding his divorce from his first wife, Ava. The ever-present press didn’t seem to bother Astor, but Madeleine struggled being in the public eye and felt vulnerable to their gossip.

The couple married in 1911 and, to escape the press, embarked on an extended honeymoon to Europe and Egypt. On their return, they boarded the Titanic in France and braced themselves for the paparazzi in New York. When the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and began to sink, her husband helped Madeleine, now pregnant, climb into a lifeboat with her maid and nurse. Astor stayed back and died when the ship sank.

I enjoyed reading this highly researched story which is loaded with details about the fashions, social lives and opulent lifestyles of the rich, including the more subtle dynamics between these wealthy people. Although the press hounded the newly married couple, high society snubbed them, and they had few close friends. One friend was Margaret Brown, a former shop girl who had become rich from mining investments in Colorado. She was also a passenger on the ship and later known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a reference to her efforts to rescue other passengers. I also liked reading about Madeleine’s family, especially her sister, Katherine, and about Astor’s son, Vincent, who was just one year older than Madeleine. He hated her for marrying his father and blamed his death on Madeleine.

Of course the drama abord the ship was also interesting and now I want to rewatch the movie Titanic, as I know many of the characters in the movie are also in this book!

Although Madeleine and her son were well provided for after her husband’s death, Vincent inherited the bulk of his father’s estate. I enjoyed looking these people up and finding out what happened to them later. Madeleine remarried and divorced two times and had two more children with her second husband, William Karl Dick. She died at age forty-six of a heart condition. You can really go down the rabbit hole researching these people. I liked that the author included websites and other resources in the Acknowledgements section for readers who want to research more. That would be me!

I think the author did a great job describing these people and their relationships to each other. I enjoyed reading their dialogues and the author’s interpretations of their thoughts and emotions. I recommend The Second Mrs. Astor to readers who like historical fiction and stories about a seemingly distant period of time because of how different our world is now.

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