Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Three-For-One Night with Liz Coley

Don't you find, dear readers, that sometimes living gets in the way of even the most carefully laid plans?  But when loved ones call, we must always be available to answer.

I guess that's my excuse for not posting reviews these last couple of weeks.  In that case, get ready for a three-for-one moment.  That's right!  Today's post includes not just one but three reviews - one for each of the first three books in Liz Coley's Young Adult series about the greatest teen-aged heroine of our time.

Or at least that's probably the way Tor Maddox sees it.

So get ready to enjoy a three-for-all with the first book in the series TOR MADDOX:  UNLEASHED.

When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action?

Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.

My Review:
Let me start by saying that I typically steer away from the YA genre.  The angst-ridden, besotted, silly fluff just doesn't do it for someone who is used to reading hard mysteries and thrillers.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find our heroine, Tor Maddox, to be a sharp thinking teen beyond her years - and the fact that she is a ballet dancer rather endeared her to this former pointe shoe clad girl.

So Tor, full name Torrance - yes, after the Southern California beach known for gnarly waves - is fifteen going on sixteen, who actually thinks like a woman going on thirty and is addicted to the news.  She has her nose to the grindstone at Poway High and surfs the news feeds for information in her off time where she stumbles across a blog supposedly about U.S. government secrets.  Her first instinct is to ignore the latest post about man's best friend soon to become enemy numero uno, but then strange things start to happen.

And her chocolate lab, Cocoa, becomes a target.

So when a strange and deadly flu virus makes the jump from canine to human, Tor is the right girl to piece the puzzle together as mandatory visits to the veterinarian lead her to do the unthinkable in order to save Cocoa's life - placing her in the sights of government officials and earning her a meeting with one of CNN's top journalists.

But it all goes horribly wrong.

In order to know more, you will have to read the book - and I highly recommend you do.

Yes, there are moments that are utterly ridiculous for a sixteen-year-old to accomplish - but hey, isn't it every teenager's dream to best the adults and save the world?  Tor uses her reasoning skills along with her physical skills to move the story along in a way that you forget you are dealing with a bunch of teenagers and simply allows the reader to enjoy a good story.

Plotting and pacing are excellent, the story opening with a layer of suspicion as Tor reads the most recent secret blog post.  The novel is told in first person and properly maintains Tor's POV throughout without devolving into more than just a basic level of telling to provide necessary backstory to our characters.  Once that is over, showing instead of telling moves along quickly as we follow the events as Tor experiences them, involving some hilarious moments when she is faced with her first government official meeting.  I don't remember a single issue with editing, so thumbs up from me.

Content Warning:   Except for perhaps one swear word and some sad moments involving canine companions, there is virtually nothing objectionable in this novel.

Teens of all ages will love living large and dangerous through Tor's antics.  Adults will enjoy the smart moments where Tor more than adequately puts the grey matter to the test.  Overall, this outing earns a well-deserved five stars from me.

Tor's adventures continue in this second book in the series.

Life has been way too quiet for Tor Maddox since her fifteen minutes of CNN fame. Then agent-in-training Rick Turner reappears with what sounds like a simple assignment—to embed herself as his eyes and ears in her own high school. When she agrees to keep tabs on high school state swim champ Hamilton Parker for the Feds, she is plunged into the deep end of a sinister plot. Knowing that freedom, justice, and lives are at stake again, Tor jumps in feet first, but has she gotten in over her head this time?

When observe and report becomes kiss and tell, Tor’s first mission may blow up in her face.

My Review:
We're back at it with Tor in this second installment.  Along with turning sixteen comes that coveted little piece of plastic that screams FREEDOM like William Wallace never could.  You remember, don't you?

A driver's license!

But Tor's first outing behind the wheel without her parents ends in a multiple mishap she could never have foreseen - and brings hunky college boy and junior government agent, Rick Turner, striding back into her life to save her road privileges.  This time, he needs her sharp-thinking skills to assist him.

Oh boy, oh boy - Tor's first, real, live, government agent-type assignment.  To get close to a fellow student in her high school.

Boring!  But hey, this is Tor Maddox we're talking about.  The girl who thinks on her feet (and in her size eight pointe shoes).  The girl who finds trouble where none could possibly be found.  The girl who can't help but get everyone around her in trouble when they try to help, much to her parents' chagrin.

Tor's second adventure involves an issue straight off of the news screens - illegal immigration.  No matter which side of the fence you're on, this is not an issue with a straight black or white answer.  I have friends that immigrated here and spent years and thousands of dollars to do it in the legal manner.  Then I know several people who were brought here by their parents when they were young and had no say in the matter, living life along the periphery with children now of their own - and living in fear of what will happen to their legal children if they are discovered as being here illegally.  But then terrorists are known to use illegal immigration routes and team with coyotes, whose interests end with the money, to infiltrate the U.S. in order to wreak havoc.  It can be an emotionally charged issue, one Tor finds herself facing when the grandfather of her dancing nemesis is shipped back to Mexico and in Tor's pursuits, finds herself crawling through a tunnel underneath the border.

The story is again exciting and we get to see more of the interactions of high school life without it becoming too much of an angst-ridden hormonal mess.  Tor inserts herself into the lives of the swim team, specifically Hamilton, in order to discover what it is Hamilton's dad has in play concerning what's happening across the border.  In the process, her best friend Sasha's dance legs are ripped out from beneath him - quite literally - and he ends up spending most of this book in the hospital, which was a disappointment for me because he provided some necessary breaths of humor in book one.  Tor's brother, Rody, continues to show how capable he is in trying to keep his sister out of trouble while doing a lot of CYA for her with the parents.  And sparks continue to fly between Tor and Rick - which is a little difficult for me at times since he's twenty-one and she's barely sixteen.  At least this problem is addressed and dealt with early on in the book, though the connection these two have made the ending rather nice.  Just when you thought it was over, surprise!

Plotting and pacing are again handled well.  We follow along with Tor during her adventures, keeping the story moving along in showing mode instead of resorting to telling, which can be difficult to do in first person narration.  There's a little more teen angst here than in the first one, but the more mature subject matter of dealing with illegal immigration kept it from devolving into fluff.  I did find the characters of Hamilton and his dad to be a little extreme, falling into the caricature of bigoted redneck as very one-dimensional.  Maybe I just haven't been exposed to such an extreme in real life, but it felt to me a bit overwrought with no balance or redeeming qualities.  Only one or two minor editing errors revealed in this one.

Content Warning:  There are a few more and varied cuss words in this second outing, but probably much less than anything teens already hear in school.  There's the whole lying to parents thing and using one's siblings and friends for CYA that rubs me a little the wrong way - then again, I'm a parent. :-)  A potential relationship between a twenty-something and teenager is probably many girls' dreams, but it isn't gratuitous.

Overall, another smart read for teens and adults.  I give this one four stars.

Tor's investigations and adventures continue in this third book in the Tor Maddox series.

Eight leotards and a ball gown—that’s what Tor Maddox packed for her summer ballet intensive in New York. Pity she never arrived. Kidnapped once by the good guys and once by the bad ones, Tor finds herself involved in a high seas adventure featuring princesses and pirates, a wedding ring, and the guy she thought she’d never be allowed to see again, junior man-in-black Rick Turner.

Tor's employee ID promises, "Your Fantasy Starts Here." It couldn't be more mistaken.

Grab a flotation device, and welcome aboard for more shenanigans, villainy, and romance.

My Review:
In a remarkable twist of events, Tor is on her way to spending the summer in an intensive course with the Joffrey Ballet in New York City.

Oh, how I envy her!

The only problem?  She is intercepted by none other than Agent Hunky to join him on a secret assignment aboard a cruise ship when his co-agent is injured in an accident.  So now she's not only a sixteen year-old going undercover, but no one knows where she's gone.

And this time she has to share cozy accommodations with the man who shares the beat of her heart.

So while pretending to be a young newlywed couple hired to entertain cruise guests, Tor and Rick are charged with protecting a pair of royalty so they can safely arrive at their island destination for their planned nuptials.

I must admit, this third book was the least enjoyable for me.  It was very difficult to stretch my imagination to where a sixteen year-old could pass herself off as twenty-three.  The "mission" was never made clear to Tor, much less the reading audience.  Rick continued to keep her in the dark for no real reason, and their tasks aboard the cruise ship really didn't warrant the need for Rick to have taken Tor away from her Joffrey experience.  There was no clear motivation for anything that happened, which muddied the waters of what might have been worked into a somewhat interesting story.  It seemed the only real purpose here was to satisfy the budding romantic arc between these two characters.

Which kinda creeped me out - I mean, again we have a twenty-one year-old MAN playing house with a sixteen year-old GIRL.  Things went waaay too far in this outing for my comfort.  Yes, Tor is a bit more smart and savvy than your average teenager, but she's still that - a teenager.

Speaking of which, the royal engaged couple most times acted more like teenagers than adults.  Odd.  There was way to much angst in this third novel of the series, with Rick being so wishy-washy at times I thought HE was the girl, not some extremely intelligent government agent.  There was no mystery to solve here.  No smart and sassy characters.  No intelligent plot.  The ending was almost an exact replica of the end of the second novel.  Same dance, change locations.  I was quite disappointed.

The other thing that bothered me with this one was the fact that time after time, throughout all three novels, Tor uses her brother, Rody, and those closest to her to do her dirty work - mainly lie to her parents.  However, never once does Tor pay the price for her deceptions and manipulations.  By this third book, she's coming across as not a very nice young lady to use her brother like this and to constantly get him into trouble.  Rody is the one who suffers from Tor's manipulations and lies.  Tor never does.

With the plot so convoluted and muddy, this made for slow and/or uneven pacing.  POV was still first person with Tor.  Mostly showing instead of telling allowed me to follow along as the story unfolded.  It just wasn't the story I'd come to expect in this series.  Will those who enjoy the romance genre find it a good read?  Possibly.  Editing errors were kept to a minimum, but there were once again a few more in this novel than the previous two.

Content Warning:  Stronger language is a bit more prevalent throughout this third novel, as well as the age factor and these two characters sharing close quarters.  I'm probably showing my age (and the fact that I'm a parent) here, but it was enough to make me uncomfortable - and I've read and written some pretty uncomfortable things in my arsenal.  There's also a lot more moral ambiguity in this novel, which makes it questionable for younger teens.  Like I always say, know your kids before they read this book.

But for once again having a mostly well edited novel, solid first person POV throughout, and for showing instead of telling, I'll give this third outing three stars.

Take advantage of the TOR MADDOX series by picking them up at Amazon (one, two, and three) and Barnes & Noble (one, two, and three).

Author Bio:
Liz Coley writes fiction for teens and for the teen in you.

"Pretty Girl-13" from HarperCollins US and UK is available in eleven international translations and audiobook."There are secrets you can't even tell yourself."

Her first published work was science fiction short stories, published in Cosmos magazine and several anthologies. Self-published YA novel "Out of Xibalba" features a contemporary teenager thrown back to ancient Mayan times. "The story starts when the world ends."

Her latest "Tor Maddox" teen series, including short story prequel DISARMED, as well as UNLEASHED (1), EMBEDDED (2), and MISTAKEN (3) represents the lighter side of Liz.

Liz lives in Ohio, where she is surrounded by a fantastic community of writers, beaten regularly by better tennis players, uplifted by her choir, supported by her husband, teased by her teenaged daughter, cheered from afar by her two older sons, and adorned with hair by her cats Tiger, Pippin, and Merry.

Liz invites you to follow her @LizColeyBooks on Twitter and Instagram, like LizColeyBooks on Facebook, and explore her website at lizcoley.com, where you can watch the book trailer, download editing tips, and read her confessional blog postings "Scenes from a Life."

Liz loves reading aloud.

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