The title of this young adult novel refers obviously to the earthquake which provides its main conflict—but also obliquely to the effects of the novel’s events on the lives of the three teens followed by the narrative. The story includes moments of high drama and survival (or, in the case of some characters, failure to survive) but its more understated themes deal with human lives and emotions, and the ways in which a person’s outlook can be shaken by encounters with other people.
Listed as a Young Adult novel, Shaken is a teen-friendly read which occasionally forgoes grammatical correctness in favor of teen vernacular, and its author is clearly familiar with the world view and minds of young adults. (Reading the author bio after finishing the novel, it came as no surprise that D.M. Anderson teaches middle school; his writing reveals that he understands both the complexities and the limitations of teenage viewpoints.)
Anderson writes with commendable balance, combining the excitement and drama of an unfolding crisis with the personal moments of character-defining decisions and realizations, and he manages not to be heavy-handed even in moments where a character or situation conveys a “lesson.” His characters illustrate the ways in which media-steeped young people compare real experiences with the impressions and assumptions they’ve taken away from TV and video games, as the young characters themselves use media fictions as reference points while they arrive at realizations about their own lives and about other people.
There’s no “do-over” button in life, as there is in a video game—and yet, people can make new choices rather than let themselves be defined by their pasts, and sometimes there’s even a chance for redemption. If that sounds a little “heavy” for a young adult action story, this is where Anderson’s skill in avoiding heavy-handedness comes so admirably to light. Shaken offers a compelling storyline made richer by its subtle undercurrents.
More than anything, Shaken is an enjoyable read. Its characters (with the exception of a couple nastier folks who fall somewhat short of three-dimensional) are believable and interesting, the story features moments of humor, and the pace of action doesn’t drag even with the inclusion of more introspective moments which could have dragged the plot to a halt in another writer’s hands. If Anderson managed to sneak some teaching-moments into his action tale—well, he is a teacher. Judging by this novel, he’s probably an effective one.
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.
It didn’t take me even twenty pages to fall for Irene Adler. By page twenty I told myself I wouldn’t even care if this book didn’t develop a plot—I’d keep reading it just for the enjoyment of Irene’s self-deprecating humor and her acute and amusing commentary on the people (and the macaw) in her life. Happily, “Assignment: Nepal” isn’t short on plot either—all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Adler, named for “the only woman to outsmart Sherlock Holmes,” is an anthropologist with a taste for adventure who hoped her doctorate would open doors. (“It had opened doors, all right. Classroom doors.”) Her former academic advisor Dr. Herbert--who reminds her of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, but who may not be as scattered as he seems—convinces her to visit a fellow anthropologist and former classmate in Nepal.
Something fishy is going on in Nepal, although Dr. Herbert is less than forthcoming about exactly what he wants her to investigate. Irene is bored enough with academic life--and flush enough from her poker-playing, to take the bait anyway. What follows is an enjoyable travelogue-cum-mystery, involving Nepalese politics and culture, Hindu religious practices, and most of all, people.
The book itself is the collaborative effort of two authors writing under the assumed single name of J.A. Squires, and I hope someday to read an interview about their writing process. To create such a strong narrative voice with two people at the helm is a noteworthy accomplishment indeed. Wherever the lines may have been between the two author’s separate contributions, the result is a seamless product—and (tantalized by the implied promise of the word “series” in reference to this stand-alone book) I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment.
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!