The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore


The Last Days of Night is the story of the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. Which of them actually invented the lightbulb, and who has the legal control to provide electric light to the nation? Is A/C power even safe? This is the argument between alternating current versus direct current, and though it might sound scientific and dry, this fight involves scheming, betrayal, and attempted murder. The story is told from the vantage point of Paul Cravath, Westinghouse’s greenhorn wunderkind lawyer, who’s still wet behind the ears but thrilled to take on the challenge of bringing down Thomas Edison, one of the most powerful men in the country.

While the story is interesting, it reads like a legal thriller. Bottom line, the book is entertaining and, in this particular case, informative, but in actuality most of it is just a series of events. You know the procedure: everything will be revealed in bite-sized pieces and it’s all going to turn out all right in the end. I enjoyed the unexpected twists, the events were exciting, and the research behind the story, especially what Moore manipulated for plot reasons, was very well done. It’s a good story, and one that I wasn’t familiar with. The Last Days of Night is an original legal procedural,  and there’s engaging fiction woven with true events and real people. I was on Wikipedia more than once chasing down my own research questions.

The Last Days of Night is well done; it’s just not my usual type of historical fiction. If you’re at all interested in the history of this story, or would just like to dig into a fun, fast-paced legal thriller, then this is for you. It doesn’t disappoint, and each chapter leaves you wanting to turn to the next page.

Many thanks to the author, Random House, and NetGalley for the copy in exchange for my honest review.

The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

thesparrowThis book is really worth reading. The Janus-like bipolar cover can be confusing, but the words inside will blow your mind.

Here’s a very brief overview to entice you:

In the not-distant future, a young scientist monitoring signals from space discovers music coming from Alpha Centauri. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) organizes the first expedition to the planet of Rakhat, the origin of the music. Father Emilio Sandoz, along with seven of his colleagues, both secular and religious, travel to the planet to investigate the source of the music and make contact with the Singers.

The story is told in alternating time frames between the events of the mission to Rakhat and the subsequent interrogation of Father Sandoz, who is the only member of the expedition to return alive.

I alternated between loving this book and being tempted to bail on it. Here’s why:

What I didn’t like:

The rampant, overt Catholicism, and the nauseatingly saintly, outrageously open-minded, pious characters with tolerance for each other bordering on the saintly. The characters are locked in a spaceship for years together and never really have so much as a spat. When there is catastrophe, no one blames anyone else, no one loses their mind, no one has a breakdown. I find that level of absurd harmony harder to believe than aliens singing songs from Alpha Centauri.

What I really liked:

This book is brilliant in its anthropology and science of discovering a new people. The anthropology bent was interesting; the social framework of the aliens on Rakhat was well-grounded and fascinating. I love reading about possible other worlds, how the inhabitants organize social structure, language, government, and familial relationships. When the structure is well done, as it is in The Sparrow, the book seems believable and possible. If you like books with an anthropological concept, consider these others as well:  Anthropology in Fiction

The first 100 pages are all strictly for set up, so don’t let that deter you or tempt you to bail. The next 200 pages are really interesting, but repetitive. The last 100 pages fly by quickly, and the plot development is frenetic. The last 15 pages will make you read frantically, wide-eyed in disbelief and anguish, and then you’ll need to call your best friend and sob about why you’re in existential turmoil and how you’ll never be the same.

The major question this book offers is the religious cliché “why do bad things happen to good people?”, which is unanswerable. The bad things that happen in The Sparrow are beyond comprehension.

There is a sequel available, Children of God, in which Emilio Sandoz returns to Rakhat, but I’m not quite ready. I need to stare into the middle distance for a while and get my bearings before I read more. But I’ll definitely read more. I can’t look away for long.

Montpelier Parade – Karl Geary


I was intrigued by this short novel when I read the description that it’s about a teenage boy having an affair with an older woman, and it’s written in second person from the boy’s perspective. Is he genuinely in love with her? Is she taking advantage of him? Is he using her? An interesting premise, to be sure.

However, this novel fell flat for me. There are not many characters in this story, but each one was depressing and pathetic. No one evoked any sympathy from me. The main character and the reader’s voice, Sonny, vacillates between two emotions: phlegmatic and confused or aimlessly angry. His lover, the moribund Vera, is suicidal and taciturn. Their conversations, or rather I should say, exchange of words, are terse and sparse. There is no relationship development, only an acquiescence into sex.  Their “relationship” doesn’t even begin until halfway through the book, and then it just seems like a resigned inevitability. Even Sonny’s younger love interest, Sharon, is just desperate for attention. The entire book is just lonely.

I was grasping for meaning, and the only theme I could find was one of existential hopelessness. It’s dark and melancholy, but I still recommend it for readers who enjoy this type of morose psychological novel.

I thank Edelweiss, Karl Geary, and Catapult publishers for this advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry


essex serpent

I’ve been waiting for months for The Essex Serpent to be available in the United States. Too often when I get overly excited about a book and wait so long for it, it doesn’t live up to my expectations, but The Essex Serpent delivered.


Set in the late 19th century, the story follows Cora Seaborne, newly widowed, but not exactly grieving. She is looking forward to a trip to Essex to explore the shorelines and look for fossils, possibly one good enough to make a name for herself at the museums in London. Another enticing motivation for Cora is the resurgence of sightings of the mythical Essex Serpent. It has a power over the small community of Aldwinter:  children go missing, men turn up drowned on the river banks, milk goes sour much too soon, and there’s a portent of something sinister in the air.

The story follows the mystery of the Essex Serpent superficially, but there is much more underlying the current of the relationships of the friends in Cora’s circle. Hearts are captured, inchoate friendships are challenged, and naturalism and religion become difficult to reconcile. The characters are what make this novel so believable. Each person in Cora’s life is multidimensional and complicated, as are their relationships with Cora.

The main characteristic that drew me in to this novel is its sense of place. The descriptions are imaginative, almost mystical. I could smell the salt on the air, feel the dampness at the shore, and see the indigo in the stones gripped by Cora’s friend who is delusional with consumption.

This book is atmospheric, full of dreary Victorian greys and blues. The language is subtle and so nuanced, in fact, that if you read too quickly you may miss something critical. Each character interaction, however trivial, often results in grand ramifications.

There are themes of early social consciousness of homelessness, how fear can drive the public into a frenzy, and how intellectual compatibility can often surpass in importance anything else in a relationship. The writing is delicate, often beautiful, and never heavy-handed. At times, in my assessment, the characters seemed to have too modern of ideals, and were often too accepting of progressive notions, but it did not detract from the story.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a compelling Victorian novel with a gothic feel. 5 stars all the way.


%d bloggers like this: