Set in a small Wisconsin town where everybody has known everybody forever, Totally Buzzed is a murder mystery with a lot of spunk, a lot of humor--and a few flaws. Protagonist Buzz Miller, who narrates most of the story, is a retired cop who discovers a body beneath her parents' farmhouse and gets pulled in on the murder investigation with one of her three sisters in tow. Buzz herself is a kick in the pants, and her earthy, no-nonsense narration and humorous descriptions of her neighbors and relatives are worth the read in themselves.
The intriguing storyline offers up enough twists and new developments to keep a reader's attention, beginning with Buzz's foray under the house to retrieve an ugly floor-lamp with a cowboy-boot base, and dragging out instead a cowboy boot attached to a body. The local crime-solving team of Buzz, her best-buddy the Sheriff, and her bumbling and loudmouthed sister Mag uncover developments that include illegal importation of plants, international drug smuggling, thoroughbred horses, and more murders--not to mention the (sometimes bizarre) shenanigans of the hometown folks while the investigation unfolds.
The crime gets solved, some romance advances, and I enjoyed getting to know Buzz (and her dogs, and the hometown folks)... I will say, at the same time, that a few aspects of the writing chafed at me. While Buzz's narrative voice is slangy and down-home and enjoyably illustrative of her character, some of the dialogue (including hers) is oddly stilted. The character whose narrative voice uses "ain't" and "ass" suddenly speaks more formally when she's speaking aloud within the story, using words like "cannot" and "does not" which no informal speaker uses in un-contracted forms. If this seems like a petty complaint, I mention it because the stiff usage in dialogue repeatedly jolted me out of the moment--particularly from Buzz, whose narrative style proves she ain't that kinda talker.
Some of the physical humor is rather too vaudevillean for my taste--too many instances of people's faces ending up in other people's plates, for example--but no doubt that's a matter of personal preference. I did enjoy the character quirks, descriptions, and humorous dialogue.
Buzz's detective instincts include a gift from her Irish heritage--visions to which her mother refers as "The Sheeny," and which illuminate scenes like the murder of the woman whose body was stowed beneath the house. I'm down with the idea of the visions themselves, but given their inclusion in the story, I was puzzled (and irritated) by the fact that Buzz didn't put them to use at all in the course of the investigation. She describes the vision itself in detail, but none of the information she might have gleaned from it is put to use as she tackles the mystery, which leaves me wondering why it's included in the story at all. It's not the only loose end in the book--there are a number of times when I wanted to holler for the characters' attention to prompt them to ask the obvious question or pursue a line of inquiry... But then, they did manage in the end to solve the thing without my help. ;)
Totally Buzzed is billed as the first in the "Miller Sisters Mystery" series, and I expect that as the author continues with the series, she may find a more comfortable balance between the storytelling and the "home-folks exposition," which tended at times to slow down the telling over-much. The initial scene featuring the discovery of the body and the launch of the investigation took a full fifth of the book, and I was ready for the story to get going already. Having said that, I enjoyed the Miller Sisters well enough that I'll be reading the next installment to find out!
Karen Syed’s “Lost and Found” is a thoroughly enjoyable contemporary romance about a pair of characters who are flawed enough to feel real—and endearing. Allison and Will have both suffered some emotional scarring, along with some long-established defensive behaviors that threaten at times to derail the beckoning possibility of a romantic relationship between them. For reasons other than romance [Intrigued? You’ll have to read!] they find themselves married before they’ve worked out all the kinks of one another’s personal quirks, and their somewhat bumbling side-by-side journey to deliverance from their respective pasts makes for a compelling read.
Whether or not they realized it about themselves, Allison and Will have been just as lost as the stray animals at Allison’s shelter (among whom we meet Stubby the tail-less ferret and Tippy the three-legged raccoon). If they don’t get in their own way too much, they could managed to be “rescued”—but Allison’s hard-headed tendency to leap to conclusions and make Assumptions, combined with Will’s blundering attempts at understanding the mysterious Race of Women (his orphaned young niece, as well as Allison herself), make for a rough ride for the pair of them.
Their rough ride, however, is a remarkably smooth read—Syed’s writing has an effortless-feeling flow to it, the characters’ dialogue is both witty and natural, and the story twinkles with bright moments of humor. The “adult” scenes in the book flow as naturally as the rest (another mark of a skilled writer, given how many times I’ve found myself cringing at clumsily-depicted or overblown sex scenes in a romance novel), and I’m pleased all around to have FOUND an author whose other books I’m now looking forward to reading.
“Betrayed” is a book by a writer with an agenda—but it doesn’t read like an agenda, a manifesto, or indeed, anything but a novel. A pair of teenagers (American Austen, and Rico, whose family is in the country illegally) end up taking on some of the big bad guys in the circles surrounding immigration issues. While it may sound like a stretch for teenagers to get involved in such heavy matters, the story unfolds naturally enough to be fairly believable.
Following some rumblings in their hometown, Rico and his family decide to return to Mexico to apply for legal U.S. citizenship because it’s “the right thing to do.” When Austin visits his friend across the border, Rico’s cousin introduces them in person to the very real individual faces of desperation—the driving force behind illegal border-crossing, which topic has been causing waves in political circles around Austen’s dad.
Through the medium of the boys’ experiences, Morton puts human faces on issues which we’re more accustomed to hearing as political rhetoric and soundbytes. His book would be a great way to introduce these matters to young readers, in a compassionate context which acknowledges the difficulties of a world where matters aren’t black-and-white, and even the “right thing to do” isn’t always a clear choice.
Morton is even -handed in his writing, presenting political viewpoints without resorting to rhetoric, incorporating characters’ religious beliefs without preaching, and integrating explanations without slowing the storytelling (as in his reference to “the primaries—the political version of playoffs”). Young readers unfamiliar with politics, immigration, or international and humanitarian issues would find enough information in the story to follow it with ease—and come away from their reading with better understanding. This book is definitely going on the digital shelf I stock for my own young adult reader.
In his crime thriller “Haunting Injustice,” Mickey Mills intermingles Mystery with the Mystical, putting a team of paranormal investigators to work with a police force in untangling a series of crimes.
The stage is set with line from partway through the first chapter (which should, perhaps, have opened the book itself): “Chance McKenzie went to prison for life, which turned out to be about three months.” Chance has been questionably convicted of his own wife’s murder, and as “chance” would have it, ends up incarcerated with her cousin, who shanks him in the prison yard. Dead or no, Chance isn’t finished insisting on his innocence.
A spooked prosecutor, though skeptical of his own eerie experiences, calls in a college friend who specializes in paranormal investigation. Some of the book’s most stimulating aspects and entertaining conversations center on its various characters’ experiences of the paranormal, beliefs or prejudices regarding the paranormal, and even the attempts at “translating” paranormal activity or sensitivity to skeptics. As the chief investigator says of his psychic: “He’s a sensitive, a true medium, and if you don’t know what that means, just relate it to that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when your ex-wife walks in the room.”
I’ll share up front the single characteristic of the book which I disliked, and that’s the lack of contracted words in dialogue. It seems like a petty complaint, but people talk using words like “it’s” and “they’re” and “I’ll”—and the uncontracted lines of dialogue repeatedly jolted me out of the moment as I read. Aside from this admittedly minor objection, I found this book to be a thoroughly enjoyable read—the characters engaging, the mystery intriguing, the blurred boundaries between “normal” and paranormal absorbing. All in all, it’s a highly worthwhile read!