a measure of relatedness between two antigenic substances

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn - Jo Baker

I honestly think this book would have been better if it didn’t have any connection to P&P. I say this, not because P&P is one of my favorite books, but because I can’t see how Longbourn really benefited from Austen’s characters or setting. The servants could have been working in any house. It might have helped if the author was not obligated to include events and characterizations from the original work, none of which enhanced the story.

Also it might have been more interesting written from James’ point of view rather than Sarah’s. Frankly, Sarah was a hard character to like. I think she was meant to be plucky but innocent; instead she comes off as whiny, mulish and naive. We also have to hear a lot about her everyday work, which means endless details about laundry and chamber pots.

Things do start to pick up in the later third of the book, but the more interesting storylines (e.g. James’ parentage) are not expanded, which is a shame.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes

The protagonist and narrator of The Sense of an Ending is Tony Webster, a man who "just doesn’t get it," as you are told over and over again. But it seems that Tony’s problem is more cluelessness than faulty memory. He just isn’t a very discerning man - extremely self-absorbed, but not introspective enough to understand his own motivations, much less anyone else’s.

On balance Tony’s story isn’t all that interesting - just an account of an ordinary, rather selfish man who led an ordinary and unexciting life. Throughout the book he struggles to remember a time when he dated a girl named Veronica and his life was maybe a little less ordinary. And in the end he figures a few things out. It’s not a satisfying ending. Obviously, there's more to the story but you never find out what that is. In fact you aren’t exactly sure what Tony "thinks" he’s discovered or what he understands about himself and Veronica (or about her mother, or Adrian, or Adrian’s son).

But I’m OK with the ambiguity because I don’t think the point is to find out the exact truth. It’s about getting to know the characters and piecing together the underlying story.


That's one of the central problems of history, isn't it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.

I give this 3.5 stars because it's beautifully written.


Parasite by Mira Grant

Parasite - Mira Grant

The science was a little screwy, but the book was pretty entertaining…. as in just suspend all belief and go along for the ride.


Others have commented on the predictability of the story and I agree, but I was mostly interested in seeing how the author would handle the bio-engineered tapeworms. The "revelations" by creator, Dr. Cale, were understandably vague in terms of how the DNA from disparate species could be successfully combined. I mean, exactly what part of the human genome is responsible for intelligence and how would that transfer to a tapeworm brain (assuming they have or could develop one) or enable such a parasite to take over in a human that’s essentially brain dead? Even more curious is the how the worm could migrate from one location to another in the body without causing major damage. Or alternatively, how it could replicate itself (asexually or not) yet end up with just a single parasite in the desired location.


The book was a little slow at the start and could have been pruned by a third or more, but overall it's a decent medical thriller. I do wish it weren’t the beginning of yet another series, with yet another set of cliffhanger endings. Not that there’s any mystery about where the story’s going - it’s all right in the book blurb.


But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives... and will do anything to get them.


Humans vs. worms – who will survive?


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

If I had read this book in high school instead of The Pearl or The Red Pony, I would not have wasted a good part of my adult life avoiding Steinbeck...


I felt emotionally drained after reading this. The pace is deceptively slow, but the tension is there from the opening chapter and it builds dramatically to the inevitable climax. Steinbeck wastes no words in this book. We learn about the characters solely through their conversations and interactions with each other. The scenes are staged as in a play, and the point at which the reader is dropped into the story is a crucial one... just before the final act, just before everything flies apart.


This is a sad and unforgettable story. Your heart will ache for George and Lennie, and for those others who envied their bond of friendship and yearned for the same dream.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear

To like this book I think you have to like Maisie, and I really don't.


The “mystery” itself takes a backseat in this book. The bulk of the story describes Maisie’s history - how she rose from humble beginnings, got educated at Cambridge, and finally opened her own investigative agency. But it read more like a catalog of events... first she did this, then she did that. The author writes as if the reader’s sympathy is a given, but I couldn’t get a satisfactory sense of her personality and never became invested in her as a character.


The books were recommended to my by a dear friend, so I may try the next in the series before giving up completely.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

Burial Rites is based on the real-life events surrounding the execution of convicted murderer Agnes Magnusdottir in Iceland in 1830. In the Author’s Notes at the end of the book, Hannah Kent explains that her interpretation is the result of many years of research, including review of local records, histories and publications.


The story is atmospheric and compelling. You can feel the cold and darkness seep into you. The stoicism and uprightness of the family who houses Agnes and the priest who is tasked with redeeming her soul are described without sentimentality, effectively underlining the implacability of her conviction and execution. There's never any question of Agnes’ fate, but you will want to read the book in one sitting to find out the "truth" of her relationship with the victims and what happened on the night of the murders.


Of course, truth is rarely simple or clear-cut, is it?


Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

This book had me at the glow-in-the-dark cover!


A very entertaining read, chock-full of lovable geeks and quirky bibliophiles. I’m glad the puzzle was solved ultimately, not by the Google tech-machine, but by the ingenuity and heart of the main character. Extra points for the typography discussion.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline


This was a fun book. Maybe the 80's nostalgia was a little over-the-top, but I'm a geek at heart and came of age in that era, so I found the pop culture references entertaining.


The audiobook narration by Wil Wheaton easily earns an additional star.

The Never List by Koethi Zan

The Never List - Koethi Zan


 Yawn. So-so thriller, poorly executed.


Delirium  - Lauren Oliver


I've tried The Hunger Games, Uglies, Divergent, and now Delirium. I think it's safe to conclude that dystopian YA fiction may not be my thing...

The Dinner

The Dinner - Herman Koch, Sam Garrett


A repulsive book filled with repulsive characters.


Blackout - Connie Willis


So far, so good.... I'll review when I've finished the companion book, All Clear.

Notorious Nineteen

Notorious Nineteen  - Janet Evanovich


I enjoyed this one more than the previous installment. No, Stephanie hasn't gotten any more competent. And she still hasn't chosen between Morelli and Ranger. But it was light and entertaining, which is all a "fluff" read really needs to be.

The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil - W. Somerset Maugham


The Painted Veil is a fascinating character study, simply presented and wonderfully concise (at a little over 200 pages). It is the story of pretty, selfish, vacuous Kitty Fane, who marries a man she doesn't love and suffers the consequences.

Kitty’s husband is Dr. Walter Fane, a bacteriologist posted in Hong Kong. He is a researcher and a highly intelligent man, but shy and socially inept. His love for Kitty is an overwhelming passion that drives him to overlook her flaws and marry her against his better judgment.

In Hong Kong, Kitty has an affair with Charles Townsend, assistant colonial secretary and a married man. When Walter finds out, he presents her with a shocking ultimatum – either Townsend must agree to divorce his wife and marry Kitty, or Kitty must accompany Walter to the interior of China (Mei-tan-fu) where a cholera epidemic is raging. Of course, Walter has already sized-up Townsend and knows he will never sacrifice his career. But poor, silly Kitty is taken completely by surprise.

In Mei-tan-fu, Walter works day and night among the dying villagers, struggling to control the epidemic. Kitty is desperately unhappy, alone and frightened by Walter’s distance and coldness. She is convinced that he brought her there hoping she would contract cholera and die. She doesn’t see that Walter is just as miserable and probably doesn’t care what happens to either of them.

But Kitty is not entirely alone. With the help of the British consul, and the French nuns who care for the orphans and the sick, Kitty begins to grow as a person and to discover some interesting things about her husband and herself.

The parting words to Kitty from the Mother Superior, capture a central theme of the book:

Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty; the only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding.

It explains why Walter drives himself but reaps no satisfaction from his good work, and why Kitty’s progress is only incremental in the end. Love of duty has no place for selfishness or self-regard. Contentment comes when you are at peace with yourself and your circumstances.


NOS4A2 - Joe Hill


To be fair I don't read horror very often, so familiar plot lines and references to well-known stories that may be enjoyable to fans are completely lost on me. The author, Joe Hill, is apparently the son of Stephen King, which seems to be one reason why this book is getting so much attention. To me, it was far too long (by at least 300 pages) and didn't really deliver much in the end. Bing, the sidekick who dies before the finale, was infinitely more creepy than the supernatural Manx, and the whole story had a kind of comic book feel that made the "horror" seem more silly than terrifying. The book also lost points for crude language and tasteless humor.

I originally gave this 2-stars because the opening and premise were interesting, but after all I can't bring myself to give it more than 1-star.

The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four - David Timson,  Arthur Conan Doyle


Another great adventure - murder by poison dart, a hidden treasure, and one of the criminals actually has a wooden leg! A triumph for Holmes and a romance for Dr. Watson. This book was better constructed than A Study in Scarlet, with the "explanation" limited to a chapter near the end which was better integrated into the main story.

David Timson's expert reading brings it all to life, making this a truly 4-star experience.