Review — How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

how to tell toledo from the night sky by lydia netzerPublisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publish Date: Out Now
How I got this book: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Lydia Netzer, the award-winning author of Shine Shine Shine, weaves a mind-bending, heart-shattering love story that asks, “Can true love exist if it’s been planned from birth?”

Like a jewel shimmering in a Midwest skyline, the Toledo Institute of Astronomy is the nation’s premier center of astronomical discovery and a beacon of scientific learning for astronomers far and wide. Here, dreamy cosmologist George Dermont mines the stars to prove the existence of God. Here, Irene Sparks, an unsentimental scientist, creates black holes in captivity.

George and Irene are on a collision course with love, destiny and fate. They have everything in common: both are ambitious, both passionate about science, both lonely and yearning for connection. The air seems to hum when they’re together. But George and Irene’s attraction was not written in the stars. In fact their mothers, friends since childhood, raised them separately to become each other’s soulmates.
When that long-secret plan triggers unintended consequences, the two astronomers must discover the truth about their destinies, and unravel the mystery of what Toledo holds for them—together or, perhaps, apart.

Lydia Netzer combines a gift for character and big-hearted storytelling, with a sure hand for science and a vision of a city transformed by its unique celestial position, exploring the conflicts of fate and determinism, and asking how much of life is under our control and what is pre-ordained in the heavens.
*Blurb taken from Goodreads

This is a very weird book. Weird in a good way, but still weird. On the other hand, I usually like weird.

I picked up How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky because, well, Toledo. I’m not just from Ohio, but Toledo is a place I visited fairly often in my teens. Which were also the years when John Denver’s song, “Saturday Night in Toledo Ohio (is like being nowhere at all)” was pretty popular (at least in Ohio).

So while I recognized the real places and landmarks in the story, the idea that Toledo would become a mecca for any kind of science, or have anything like the Toledo Institute of Astronomy as portrayed in the story, both hit my funny bone and twigged my ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ meter a bit more than was perhaps intended.

About the book…the story is about how love can go totally and completely wrong, and also be utterly right, both at the same time. Just not involving the same people.

In the 70s two best friends decide that the best way to avoid all the problems and pitfalls of love is to find one’s soul mate. And that even though they are both going to have to go through life without finding a perfect person, they can set things up so that their children are perfect for each other.

It’s all supposed to be about the science.

What really happens is that George and Irene meet at the aforementioned Toledo Institute of Astronomy, and it’s love at first sight. Or is it?

George has been searching all of his adult life for a female astronomer with brown hair. Why? Because an astrologer told him to. Because of that prophecy, he has philandered his way through the entire female brunette population of TIA to no avail, but demonstrated a total unwillingness to commit. Until Irene.

Irene has resisted relationships all her life. She doesn’t let anyone get close. Her mother was an alcoholic who never seemed to love anything except her bottle, and science was the way that Irene escaped her mother, Toledo, and everything else in life.

Until her mother dies, she inherits her house in Toledo, AND discovers wormholes all around us in a bathtub-sized supercollider. The Toledo Institute of Astronomy welcomes her as their newest and brightest star.

But George breaks down all her barriers, and they let each other into their lives. For the first time, both of them are happy.

Of course, it can’t last. The snake in this garden is George’s mother, who reveals the original plot to make the children soul mates. In her virulent hatred, she unwittingly opens the door on her own past, and where her life, and Irene’s mother’s life, went so completely wrong.

Irene can’t believe in the reality of the love she’s found, because it’s all based on a lie. George starts losing touch with reality, but discovers a wellspring of creativity in its place. Except that might be a lie, too.

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky is happy, sad, strange and sometimes heartbreaking, all at the same time. George and Irene’s relationship is more than a bit crazy, but then, they both start out from pretty crazy opposite sides. And George might really be looney-tunes, in a quite special and peculiar way.

But it was the relationship between their mothers that nearly broke my heart.

The characters in this story don’t seem fully realized. There are definitely a few shortcuts into caricaturization. It’s the concept that sells this, the question of whether two people can be fated for each other, and what happens when they discover their entire lives were pre-ordained.

If you like a little magical realism mixed in with your romance, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky might just float your boat.

I give How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky a B.

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2 thoughts on “Review — How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer”

  1. I’m about 2/3 of the way through this. The characters don’t behave or talk like any human beings I have ever met or seen. I decided it was easier to pretend that they are all members of an alien species. I’ve enjoyed the book much more since then.

    In other words, weird to the point where even a reader like me who loves nerds and quirkiness can’t relate.

  2. The concept was kind of cool. Except, well, Toledo. And even academia isn’t quite as strange as portrayed. But the ending kind of got me in the feels. Not for George and Irene, but for their mothers.

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