List It or Skip It? My Recent Reads

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Here’s a quick rundown of some of the books I’ve read from spring to fall, and a recommendation on whether you should add them to your must-read list or not even bother. (Goodreads Reading Challenge progress: I’ve completed 49 of the 55 books I pledged to read this year!)

List It…

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware: Ware has quickly become one of my favorite thriller writers, and this latest slow-burn thriller didn’t let me down; my only complaint is that it had a similar premise to In a Dark, Dark Wood (old friends get together and something terrible happens) but wasn’t as well executed as that earlier novel.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak: What happens when a British family is placed under quarantine for the Christmas holiday? You’ll have to read this engaging, funny, lyrical novel to find out. Spoiler: It involves two unexpected guests and innumerable shocks and surprises, most of them not so full of cheer.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy: A parent’s nightmare comes to life: two couples’ kids go missing during a cruise-ship excursion and are subsequently kidnapped. Though some details feel overly dramatic and frankly unbelievable, the book is a page-turner that will keep readers hungry for more.

The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard: This literary novel combines storytelling with interviews and “news” articles, all centered around a tattoo machine that writes on a person’s arm the one thing about themselves they’re too scared to admit—or is it all one big hoax, a self-fulfilling prophecy? The suspense keeps us reading, but the downside is that we never find out for sure.

Skip It…

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: Despite this book’s hype and the author’s clear grasp of the writing craft, I felt no connection to the characters: a rather lecherous aging wanna-be rockstar, plus all his high-school friends, and a kleptomaniac woman trying to figure out her life.

The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer: In her first novel for adults, the Twilight creator seems to have hit a new low; when the narrator isn’t droning on about guns and tactical plans, she’s mooning over a totally predictable crush. And somehow Meyer’s writing manages to be even more atrocious than ever, with cliches and bad metaphors galore.

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson: Having just reread Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in anticipation of the upcoming movie, I had high hopes for this fictionalized account of an unexplained period in Christie’s life when she went missing. Unfortunately, the book was hard to get through, with a stilted voice and dull scenes.

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Book Review: THE END OF NIGHT

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download.jpegI saw The End of Night for the first time on our recent family trip. We had just hiked the Hermit’s Rest Trail on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, then took a shuttle bus back to the parking area to get out of the rain. In the gift shop, I noticed the book’s cover—all indigo sky and swirled starlight—and wished we’d planned for another night at the canyon so we could experience its darkness; instead, a four-hour drive to Boulder City loomed ahead. Next to the book were signs about light pollution, a term I’d heard of but didn’t really know anything about. I took a picture of the book so I’d remember to buy it eventually, once I finished the (literally) hundreds of other books on my to-read list.

But this book niggled at me. Walking home from the train station, I’d look up at the sky and think, I see a star! Then realize it was just a plane. There’s surely light pollution here, I thought, along with all the regular pollution in New York City. I found myself researching the logistics of a 2018 trip to Sark, an island off the coast of Normandy that I knew had been designated the world’s first dark sky island (no cars, no trucks, lighting designed to minimize light pollution, which is technically defined as excessive artificial light that taints the darkness of the sky, trespasses where it doesn’t belong or isn’t needed, or causes glare and visual discomfort). Within two weeks of our return home, I ordered The End of Night.

In my opinion, the book successfully achieves the goal of nonfiction: with every chapter, I learned something new, and the author relays his information in a way that feels like a story, with a cast of characters (experts, scientists, the author as narrator) I cared to hear from and a setting that ranged from Las Vegas to the desert to, yes, even Sark. In each place, author Paul Bogard searches for a truly dark sky, or talks to someone who can shed light (ha, ha) on some big related questions: How much artificial light (think security lights, gas station lights, street lights) do we need? Is there really a correlation between light and safety? How are night-shift workers affected by artificial light? How does darkness protect species, the planet? And, maybe most important, how can we ever know darkness if we don’t experience it?

Bogard, an associate professor of English and a dark sky enthusiast, tackles these issues and more in his well-researched book. It often reads like poetry rather than nonfiction; even the fact-heavy portions kept me engaged and interested. Bogard’s writing moved me, both in its skillful wielding of language and the weightiness of its content. Plus, I also really enjoyed the book’s cleverness: I only realized partway through that the chapters are numbered backward from 9 to 1 to correspond with the Bartle scale of darkness (9 = brightest sky, like that over Vegas or NYC; 1 = darkest sky, which can be found in the U.S. in only two remaining locations).

The more of this book that I read, the more I wanted to read, and the more I wanted to know how I could help protect the night sky—an important endeavor that not enough people are aware of. I’d really encourage you to check out this book if you’re looking for a good, meaningful read; I promise it will change the way you look at the world around you.

I’ll leave you with one of the many passages I starred while reading The End of Night:

“In the mythology of countless cultures, the hero is called one a journey that must include an experience of a dark time or dark place. For the Greek hero Perseus that meant venturing to kill the Gorgon, Medusa, but many different stories have the same message about the value of experience darkness. Are we to imagine that these heroes—heroes we were to model ourselves after—felt no fear? I bet Perseus was scared, and that the same was true of other real heroes in other cultures. Because if he wasn’t, why would I believe his story? Why would I follow his lead? What would I learn about real life, my life, this life now—a lift that has plenty of fear? With all our lights we push away our fear, and by pushing away our fear, we are a little less alive.”

Book Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

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The Yellow Birds sets its tone right from the start—a gritty description of the landscape in Al Tafar, Iraq; raw dialogue purposefully at odds with an elevated, poetic prose; soldier John Bartle’s funamental questions about his role, the war, and how to survive, both in battle and also after the war has ended. In the first pages, Powers reveals the protagonist’s primary conflict: He makes it home alive and celebrated, but his friend Murph died overseas, despite Bartle’s promise to Murph’s mother that he would protect her son. Continue reading