How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

by Lydia Netzer

(St. Martin’s Press, $25, 352 pages)

Who is this author?                

Midwest born and bred, Lydia Netzer is an emerging author who has already won plaudits for her debut novel, “Shine Shine Shine,” which was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. Married to a mathematician and living in Virginia, when she is not working on a book, Netzer teaches, home-schools her kids and plays guitar in a rock band. Her new novel, “How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky,” is garnering enthusiastic reviews.

What is this book about?

Two scientists, both brilliant, ambitious, tired of being alone and searching for answers to profound questions about God and the universe, find themselves on an emotional and spiritual collision course at the prestigious Toledo Institute of Astronomy. But the scientific truths and theories they are exploring can’t compete with their discovery that their mothers, longtime friends, raised Irene and George separately (and puposefully) to eventually fall in love with each other. George hopes a proof of God’s existence can be found in the heavens; Irene is all about hard science and its delights and disciplines. Brought together in Toledo when Irene’s difficult mother falls down a flight of stairs and dies, Netzer’s characters (and her readers) will learn if their relationship will end not with a whimper but a big bang.

Why you’ll like it:                                 

Are our faults or favors in our stars, can destiny be engineered by well-meaning tinkering, is love a matter of the heart or of the mind? Here is a quirky romance that is buttressed with fascinating if abstruse astronomical lore, made palatable by Netzer’s skills at writing about science for readers who may never have studied such complex material nor even considered it. This is a touching love story and a short course in astronomy, rolled into one twinkling story.

What others are saying:

The New York Times Book Review  says: “antically inventive, often outrageously funny…Netzer excels at comedy, and some of the most savory humor arrives with side characters…Netzer’s fans are likely to be quite entertained by this second charmingly weird novel of hers that grapples with big questions. Is love written in the stars? Where does inspiration come from? Who decides our fates? Netzer’s wise answer: “The most important things are mysteries.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “Netzer’s second novel (after Shine Shine Shine) ties together cosmology, astronomy, and astrology into a dense but absorbing meditation on destiny. After making a career-defining discovery, astrophysicist Irene Sparks is leaving Pittsburgh, Pa., to take a job at the Toledo Institute of Astronomy in her old Ohio hometown. Returning to Toledo means confronting her complex relationship with her recently deceased mother, a lifelong alcoholic who worked as a professional psychic. Most of the staff at TIA is indifferent to Irene’s arrival or outright unwelcoming, but when Irene meets her new colleague, George Dermont, they immediately feel a powerful connection to one another. But what Irene and George don’t know is that 29 years prior, their mothers—both astrology enthusiasts—made a pact to conceive a pair of cosmically ordained soulmates, then separate them so that they can find each other again. The knowledge that they were quite literally made for each other shatters the worldviews for both George (a self-described dreamer with an interest in mythology) and Irene (an empiricist to her core). Although the high-concept astrophysics and philosophy may initially feel daunting, and the story frequently veers from quirky into just plain weird, things pick up speed as well-rounded characters and a few surprising twists are introduced. Whatever their beliefs on fate, readers will root for George and Irene to find their way back to each other.”

Library Journal says:  “At the Toledo Institute of Astronomy, George Dermont is hoping to prove the scientific existence of a Gateway to God. Clear-eyed mathematician Irene Sparks has come to the institute to direct work on its massive superconductor. Imagine their surprise when they fall for each other, then discover that their mothers raised them together and subsequently separated them in an attempt to engineer true love. Just the kind of touchingly offbeat stuff you could expect from the author of Shine Shine Shine, a big debut that was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, and more.”

“Star-crossed lovers usually aren’t, really. More often it’s family or other interested parties that make connection difficult — even when these outsiders mean to do the opposite. That’s certainly the case in Lydia Netzer’s “How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky,” although in this winning second novel, the answer may genuinely lie in the heavens. Irene Sparks and George Dermont were not born to be lovers. They were raised to be — part of a plot dreamed up by their mothers back when the two were girlhood best friends.  Irene is a pragmatist who has avoided intimacy for all of her 29 years. George is a dreamer, an easygoing soul whose visions of gods and goddesses threaten to interfere with his everyday life. Both are damaged, in part because of the falling out between their mothers 23 years before. Both are also astronomers, who meet as adults when an important discovery by Irene brings her to the Toledo Institute of Astronomy, where George had been the rising star. . . . Netzer’s often impressionistic writing swings from science to the flesh in broad, fearless sweeps that incorporate astrophysics, mythology, and characters who are true to themselves, even when those selves are maddening,” says The Boston Globe.

When is it available?       

“The Night Sky” is shining on the shelf at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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