Back to Kindle Unlimited

February 15, 2015

Well, after bowing out of Kindle Unlimited once my free trial expired, I find that I’ve signed up again. This time, I have no special offers, so I’ll be paying for at least one month of membership.

The reason I’m back? I’m just so damn tired of listening to utterly crappy Librivox recordings! Look, I know the Librivox readers are volunteers and are generously donating their time, etc. etc. I get it. But that doesn’t mean I have to pretend all of the stuff they put out there is of even mediocre quality. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve abandoned due to horrible readers. Ugh.

So, yeah. Kindle Unlimited it is. I figure if I read/listen to at least 5 books a month from there, I’ll be getting my money’s worth.

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Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

February 14, 2015

pain parties work Summary (from the publisher): Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder is a compelling look at a young Sylvia Plath and the life-changing month that would lay the groundwork for her seminal novel, The Bell Jar.

In May of 1953, a twenty-one-year-old Plath arrived in New York City, the guest editor of Mademoiselle’s annual College Issue. She lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended the ballet, went to a Yankee game, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She was supposed to be having the time of her life. But what would follow was, in Plath’s words, twenty-six days of pain, parties, and work, that ultimately changed the course of her life.

Thoughtful and illuminating, featuring line drawings and black-and-white photographs, Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 offers well-researched insights as it introduces us to Sylvia Plath—before she became one of the greatest and most influential poets of the twentieth century.

Liked:

  • It was very interesting to see Plath portrayed as a young woman with a lust for life, which she clearly was. Other biographies and profiles tend to focus on the darkness and speculate about the causes leading to Plath’s suicide, which of course is a valid approach as well. But I appreciated that Winder took a different tack here.
  • Hearing directly from Plath’s fellow editors from that summer was very cool, as firsthand accounts tend to be. Again, the overwhelming opinion from Plath’s peers was that she was just like the rest of them (though clearly more talented even then) without a hint of the darkness that was to come.
  • I loved reading about scenes and people that would appear later in The Bell Jar. It’s always fascinating for me to see how writers transform their real-world experiences into fiction, and it was fun to see some of Plath’s episodes (notably the clothes out the hotel window scene) make it intact from life to the page.

Disliked:

  • There was a bit too much description of fashion, makeup, Mademoiselle magazine content, etc. for my taste. I mean, I’m all for details and authenticity, but the author occasionally went on for pages and pages describing various dresses, lipstick shades, hairstyles, photo captions, and articles that were either not directly related to Plath or only tangentially so. Yeah, tell us about her internship, but don’t describe in excruciating detail how she had to pick up prescription pet medications for her boss’s dog or what she wore to a birthday party on April 4.
  • Plath apparently did not keep a journal during her time in New York. Most of the Sylvia quotes used in this book are from journal entries that predate (sometimes by years) or post-date her sojourn in NYC. This is not the fault of the author, but one of the book descriptions I read was a bit misleading in how Plath’s journals were used.

Rating:

Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder is a very quick, mostly compelling look at how Sylvia Plath lived, worked, and loved in the formative summer of 1953. Some of the information was familiar to me thanks to The Bell Jar and other writings, but much of it was new, making this a good choice for any Plath fan. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

February 5, 2015

one summer bryson Summary (from the publisher): The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record. The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.

All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.

Liked:

  • I never would have singled out the summer of 1927 as a particularly stellar one in American history (aside from Lindbergh, of course), so it was fascinating for me to read everything that was going on (and there was quite a lot). Give Bryson some credit for recognizing that so many big events were happening simultaneous and for presenting them in an understandable way.
  • I had no idea that Herbert Hoover was such a jack of all trades. I’ve never read in-depth about the man, so my only impressions of him stem from the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression (Hoovervilles, etc.). And though Hoover did have his faults, he seems like he was quite intelligent and actually very accomplished. I now want to read a biography about him!
  • Speaking of presidents, the stuff about Coolidge was pretty funny in a WTF kind of way. Again, I just had a very simplistic image of silent, stodgy Cal in my mind. So to read about him dressing up in cowboy garb because he thought he looked good in it or a full Indian headdress for some ceremony or other had me laughing out loud.
  • The stuff about Babe Ruth was probably the most interesting to me. That guy knew how to live it up, didn’t he?!

Disliked:

  • This book got off to an extremely slow start. The opening chapter(s) about aviation were very boring to me, especially since Bryson talked about events that predated 1927 (which went against the very premise of the book). None of the names meant anything to me until he got to Lindbergh, and by then my patience had just about worn through.
  • There seemed to be far less of the trademark Bryson humor in this book than in his other work. Although I did smile or even chuckle now and then at a droll turn of phrase, it didn’t happen nearly as often as usual.
  • Besides the dull opening about aviation, a few of the other topics were boring, too. For example, the Sacco and Vincenzi stuff was a bit odd. It seemed that whenever Bryson’s narrative turned to those two, he tried to paint them as wrongly convicted and unjustly executed. But then in the end, he was like, “Oh, most modern scholars think they probably did it!” Alrighty then.

Rating:

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson was a mixed bag for me. The subjects that piqued my interest did so to the point that I want to pursue them further, but the boring stuff made me want to chuck the book aside for extended periods. The unevenness of the narrative plus the overall lack of humor made this a less than stellar Bryson book for me. But a mediocre Bryson still tops many other authors out there, so I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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12th of Never by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro

January 26, 2015

12th of never Plot summary (from the publisher): It’s finally time! Detective Lindsay Boxer is in labor–while two killers are on the loose.

Lindsay Boxer’s beautiful baby is born! But after only a week at home with her new daughter, Lindsay is forced to return to work to face two of the biggest cases of her career.

A rising star football player for the San Francisco 49ers is the prime suspect in a grisly murder. At the same time, Lindsay is confronted with the strangest story she’s ever heard: An eccentric English professor has been having vivid nightmares about a violent murder and he’s convinced is real. Lindsay doesn’t believe him, but then a shooting is called in-and it fits the professor’s description to the last detail.

Lindsay doesn’t have much time to stop a terrifying future from unfolding. But all the crimes in the world seem like nothing when Lindsay is suddenly faced with the possibility of the most devastating loss of her life.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • This was as short and quick a read as any James Patterson & Co-author book.
  • I liked the name Lindsay chose for her baby (Julie!)

Disliked:

  • The whole purpose of the Women’s Murder Club is to have these women helping each other out on their cases. None of them were even remotely working on the same thing in this book — unless you count Claire having Lindsay’s murder vic’s body stolen from the morgue (and that wasn’t even her fault).
  • Yuki is the most annoying character of the bunch, most likely because Paetro sucks at courtroom “drama.” Either way, I wouldn’t be sad to see Yuki leave the group.
  • What the hell was the point of having Joe’s ex-flame show up, pass on a present, and then leave??? Especially since Lindsay didn’t even mention it to him? What a pointless scene.
  • Speaking of Lindsay, when did she become such a sniveling, whiny loser? Yeah, I get that she was probably “hormonal” right after her pregnancy and she was going through some major emotional trauma with the baby’s cancer misdiagnosis (another WTF in this book), but come on. She was well on her way to becoming weak and unrecognizable even before these events.
  • Rich breaking up with Cindy for some intern was beyond fucking dumb — and was clearly just a very, very thin plot device to allow for the surprise reveal at the end.
  • Speaking of the surprise reveal (which was that the intern was the jailed serial killer’s baby mama and tried to help him escape), what was that all about? So the intern (couldn’t be bothered to remember her name) escapes and is now on the loose, clearly setting up the next installment in this series. Cue eyeroll here.
  • Did Lindsay and Rich even investigate a crime in this book? They interviewed the professor who claimed to see future killings in his dreams and the evidence for the 49ers player’s gf’s murder fell into their laps. But did they actually do any legwork here?
  • So. much. Boxer. family. drama. Half the book is devoted to Lindsay’s personal life, and it’s boring as hell!

Rating:

I know, I know. I have no one to blame but myself for continuing to read this garbage put out by the Patterson & Paetro pairing. But my library keeps setting these books right by the entrance, and I can’t pass them up. At least I’m not paying for them, because 12th of Never is not worth the retail price, whatever that may be. I give this one 1 star out of 5.

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Not Taco Bell Material by Adam Carolla

January 16, 2015

not taco bell Summary (from the publisher): Funnyman Adam Carolla is known for two things: hilarious rants about things that drive him crazy and personal stories about everything from his hardscrabble childhood to his slacker friends to the hypocrisy of Hollywood. He tackled rants in his first book, and now he tells his best stories, debuting some never-before-heard tales as well. Organized by the myriad “dumps” Carolla called home as a child to the flophouse apartments he rented in his twenties, up to the homes he personally renovated after achieving success in Hollywood, the anecdotes here follow Adam’s journey and the hilarious pitfalls along the way.

Adam Carolla started broke and blue collar and has now been on the Hollywood scene for more than fifteen years. Yet he’s still connected to the working-class guy he once was and delivers a raw and edgy, fish-out-of-water take on the world he lives in (but mostly disagrees with), telling all the stories, no matter who he offends–family, friends, or the famous.

Liked:

  • I listened to the audiobook version, which was read by Carolla himself. The performance was great — with much of it clearly ad-libbed to the point where he says many times, “This is not in the printed book, but…” I enjoyed it.
  • At first I thought it was kind of odd to base a memoir on the different houses/apartment you’ve lived in (particularly since Carolla’s abodes were all within, what, 50 miles of each other?) but after further consideration, I guess it makes sense. Residences serve as clear time markers for most of us, making it easy to recall what we were going through at any given time.
  • This book was mostly funny and very entertaining. Obviously your own enjoyment is directly related to how you feel about Carolla, but why would anyone who dislikes him bother reading this? If you’d be riveted by Carolla reading the http://www.allredinsurance.com/ homepage, this is for you.

Disliked:

  • There should have been some kind of “enhanced” audiobook version with extras for those of us who bought this product. We spent money just like the ones who bought the physical book, but didn’t get to see the pictures that came with the printed copies. How about a PDF for us?
  • There were a few too many drinking stories. I know, what can one really expect from a Carolla book, right? But once you hear three or four, you get the gist of what his partying life was like. I would have preferred sacrificing some drinking stories for insight on what it felt like to finally “make it” when Loveline became a hit.

Rating:

It’s an Adam Carolla book, people! If you like his brand of crude humor and over-the-top rants, then get yourself a copy. If not, stay away. I give Not Taco Bell Material 4 stars out of 5.

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Mr. Monk is Open for Business by Hy Conrad

January 10, 2015

monk open for biz Plot summary (from the publisher): Failing to win back his girlfriend in New Jersey, Monk returns to San Francisco where Natalie has set up an office for Monk and Teeger, Consulting Detectives. It’s time to stop bickering and get to work when Lieutenant Amy Devlin comes to them for help.

A disgruntled employee came into work and started shooting, killing three coworkers and leaving a female hostage severely wounded. After spotting the shooter through office windows, the police lost him—leaving Lieutenant Devlin with a real mess on her hands.

Visiting the bedridden survivor, Monk finds her to be helpful, cooperative…and quite charming as well. But the more he and Natalie try to track down the assailant, the more he seems to have disappeared from existence altogether….

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Thank GOD Ellen Morse is gone! I never liked that character at all and thought it was utterly preposterous that Monk would ever be with her. And it looks like this is a permanent thing, since it’s hardly likely that Ellen will forgive Monk for having her brother arrested/convicted of murder.
  • Julie is back in the picture, but not Molly. I don’t mind Julie (even if I think it’s a little too contrived that she wants to work with Monk/Natalie. At least this is a character with bona fide connections to the main cast. The less said about anything resulting from the TV series finale, the better!
  • Competent!Natalie is back, too. I like how much more confident she’s becoming with her own hunches and deductions, and how she’s making significant contributions to the investigations. She’ll never be on equal footing with Monk as a detective (nor should she, given the nature of the characters), but at least her presence has value.

Disliked:

  • It felt like the characters were just going through the motions in this book. I can’t quite put my finger on what was out of place here, but something didn’t click. Maybe it’s that there was no ticking bomb, no sense of urgency to solving the crime(s) quickly? I know there was some heat on Devlin, but that didn’t put enough pressure on Monk/Natalie.
  • The whole Yuki/Ito thing was strange. What was that all about? Was the author trying to set up some problems down the road for Ambrose and Yuki? Or was that just to get to the “puzzle piece” speech that describes M/N as much as A/Y? Either way, I didn’t much care for what Yuki did.
  • Devlin’s on her way out??? Aw, just when I was starting to like her. I guess this will pave the way for Disher and Sharona to come back. I can see it now: Disher will get his old job back and Sharona and Natalie will become BFFs. I guess I don’t mind the Disher part, but how will Sharona fit into the mix?
  • I understood the Noone = No One gimmick the first time I saw the name in print. Being familiar with Odysseus and Polyphemus will do that…!

Rating:

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by Mr. Monk is Open for Business. I mean, the story was fine and didn’t really lag in any places. But it wasn’t exactly gripping, either. Still, it gave me a chance to visit with Monk and Natalie again, which is always nice, so I rate this one 3 stars out of 5.

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Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins

December 27, 2014

Poor Miss Finch Plot summary (from the publisher): Wilkie Collin’s intriguing story about a blind girl, Lucilla Finch, and the identical twins who both fall in love with her, has the exciting complications of his better known novels, but it also overturns conventional expectations.

Using a background of myth and fairy-tale to expand the boundaries of nineteenth century realist fiction, Collins not only takes a blind person as his central character but also explores the idea of blindness and its implications. His sensitive presentation of the difficulties, disappointments, and occasional delights which follow the recovery of sight by someone blind since infancy is still one of the best accounts in fiction of a problem which continues to intrigue philosophers, psychologists, and the general public, as it has done since it was first discussed by Locke and Berkeley in the eighteenth century.

Reaction:

What a strange book this was! I generally like Wilkie Collins (okay, I guess I’ve only ever read his two biggies, The Moonstone and The Woman in White, but still), but thought this one was a disappointment. The setup was wonderful, what with the blind protagonist falling in love and all, but the second act and they payoff were not worth the trouble of plodding through 450 pages.

My biggest problem with the book was Miss Finch’s extreme aversion to certain colors. WTF was that all about? And Oscar just happens to require a medical treatment that turns his face a permanent blue??? (One of the forbidden shades, naturally.) It was just way too far-fetched to seem plausible even in a work of fiction. Granted, I haven’t researched this particular epilepsy treatment, so I don’t know how much of Collins’ novel was based on actual medical practices of the day. Regardless, this part of the book didn’t do much for me.

I expected the twin angle to be something more nefarious than Nugent simply wanting to trade places with Oscar out of love for Miss Finch. I was hoping there would be murder or a complicated scam or something, but that never materialized. Oh, well.

Rating:

Although I stuck with Poor Miss Finch to the bitter end, there wasn’t really any good reason to do so. The characters weren’t compelling, the plot hardly warranted attention, and there was no twist or other kind of satisfying payoff to reward the reader’s patience. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

December 9, 2014

sisterland Plot summary (from the publisher): Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • There’s just something about Sittenfeld’s writing style that I really enjoy. I can’t quite put my finger on it, as she’s not laugh-out-loud funny or particularly deep or anything like that. I guess her prose just sounds very natural to me.
  • The parts about Kate and Vi’s schooldays were the ones I liked best. I think Sittenfeld does teenage angst fairly well.
  • I thought the way Vi and Kate helped find that missing boy was interesting, too. I wouldn’t have minded more examples of how the girls used their “powers” for good, so to speak.

Disliked:

  • Ugh, I absolutely hated the ending! Kate sooo did not deserve to have Jeremy stay with her (why would he even do that??) and have her life go on as usual. Sure, she made a bit thing about having to move away from her roots in St. Louis, but she was going to New York, not Arkansas or something. She should have been kicked to the curb after cheating and having another man’s baby!!!
  • While the book started off fairly well and initially had me turning pages with interest, the momentum petered out rather quickly. Even during the height of the “action” with the earthquake stuff, I was tired of the characters and just ready for the whole thing to be over.
  • Sittenfeld didn’t do stay-at-home dads any favors here. They’re already looked at as MILF bait, and having Hank put the moves on Kate (and father her baby) was kind of like saying, “Hey working women, be careful because your house husband/child caregiver WILL cheat if given the chance!”
  • I had the feeling Vi was supposed to come off as some quirky-yet-loveable type, but the “loveable” part didn’t come through. The character was just annoying from beginning to end.

Rating:

I’ve really liked some of Sittenfeld’s other books and was looking forward to Sisterland as well. But I just couldn’t relate to anything here: not the characters, not the location, not the circumstances, not the feelings and temptations. Still, the writing was strong enough and the author had built up enough goodwill for me to give this 3 stars out of 5.

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Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

December 4, 2014

holidays on ice Summary (from the publisher): David Sedaris’s beloved holiday collection is new again with six more pieces, including a never before published story. Along with such favorites as the diaries of a Macy’s elf and the annals of two very competitive families, are Sedaris’s tales of tardy trick-or-treaters (“Us and Them”); the difficulties of explaining the Easter Bunny to the French (“Jesus Shaves”); what to do when you’ve been locked out in a snowstorm (“Let It Snow”); the puzzling Christmas traditions of other nations (“Six to Eight Black Men”); what Halloween at the medical examiner’s looks like (“The Monster Mash”); and a barnyard secret Santa scheme gone awry (“Cow and Turkey”).

Reaction:

I’ve read (and loved) a few of Sedaris’ other books, so I had high hopes for Holidays on Ice. But this collection of writing — I can’t even call it fiction or nonfiction, because it contains some of both — was a bit odd and threw me for a loop.

The first essay, the one about being a Macy’s elf, got the book started off on the right foot. It felt like classic Sedaris to me, filled with keen observations and wry one-liners. But even that one dragged on and on and overstayed its welcome by quite a bit as he delved into details like kids asking for the best musical instruments for students or wanting their parents to get along for Christmas, etc. Who needs that? The rest of the stories went downhill from there, with the exception, perhaps, of “Six to Eight Black Men” and the very short entry about trying to communicate the meaning of Easter and the Easter Bunny to a French language class filled with students from other nations (inlcuding Turkey).

The stories that I didn’t like were the ones that were way over the top or that pushed the bounds of good taste (which are very flexible for an author like Sedaris, and rightfully so) too far. Specifically, I’m talking about the story where the young Vietnamese woman, due to the language barrier (“watch the baby” is interpreted as “wash the baby”) accidentally puts her half-sibling into a washing machine, causing the infant to die and the story where the competitive neighbors give their children to a pedophile (wtf?) in a wayward attempt to keep up with the Joneses. That’s supposed to be funny? Not to me.

Rating:

While I generally like David Sedaris and will continue to read his work, Holidays on Ice is not a collection that I would recommend to anyone seeking to become familiar with the author. This is not his best stuff (not even close), so IMO there’s no point in wasting time on it. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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“B” is for Burglar by Sue Grafton

November 9, 2014

b is for burglar Plot summary (from the publisher): Although business has been slow lately for P.I. Kinsey Millhone, she’s reluctant to take on the case of locating Beverly Danziger’s sister Elaine Boldt. It’s a small matter that Beverly should be able to handle herself. So why is she enlisting Kinsey’s services? Beverly claims she needs Elaine’s signature on some documents so that she can collect a small inheritance. But the whole affair doesn’t sit well with Kinsey. And if there’s something she’s learned in her line of work, it’s to always follow your instincts…

Kinsey’s hunch proves true when she begins her inquiries into Elaine’s whereabouts and discovers that the attractive widow was last seen in a flashy lynx coat boarding a plane for Boca Raton. But the more Kinsey searches for Elaine the more questions she encounters. Is Elaine’s disappearance tied in to the brutal murder several months ago of one of her bridge partners? And what happened to Elaine’s Persian cat who seems to have also vanished?

Things take a turn for the worse when a stranger vandalizes the home of one of Elaine’s neighbors and another neighbor turns up murdered. With her reputation and career on the line, Kinsey risks all to find a missing woman and a killer who’s waiting in the shadows to strike again…

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Some of the background characters in this book were great. I usually don’t pay much attention to this sort of thing in mysteries, but couldn’t help noticing them here. For example, the old bridge player in Florida (Julia, who became Kinsey’s client when Beverly backed out), the glorious ’80s punk kid, and even the Danzigers with their odd marriage were all fun.
  • Kinsey felt even more relatable as a character in this book than in the previous installment. I really think her best attribute is that she seems like a real person. She worries about her business, she makes mistakes, and she asks logical questions (such as why Beverly Danziger even needed her help in the first place.

Disliked:

  • The mystery took a while to get off the ground. The book was fairly slow going at the beginning, and didn’t pick up until the halfway point (or even later).
  • The “twist” about the true identity of Pat Usher (the woman squatting in Elaine Boldt’s Boca apartment) was kind of anticlimactic. I knew right away that the bruises on her face weren’t from a car accident, but were in fact from plastic surgery (a relative actually used the SAME excuse to her acquaintances), and since the only logical female character Usher could be was Marty Grice, the reveal wasn’t exactly a surprise.
  • I totally could have done without the Kinsey/Jonah budding romance. I guess that’s what Grafton’s target audience wants, though.

Reaction:

Overall, I thought “B” is for Burglar was an okay book. It wasn’t one that makes me want to jump right into the “C” installment, but neither does it make me want to take a considerable break from the series. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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