Caught in the UNDERTOW–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for a dystopian YA novel that is eerily applicable to today’s mad, mad world. UNDERTOW, released today by Michael Buckley is a bit haunting in content, only because it brings the nastiest elements of our present society into sharp focus.

imageAbout the book:
Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.

Action, suspense, and romance whirlpool dangerously in this cinematic saga, a blend of District 9 and The Outsiders.

My Review:
Lyric learned the biggest secret of her life three years ago: her mother isn’t human. She is one of several ocean-dwelling races (a daughter of Sirena) who sent 20 operatives into the human world to learn about life on the surface. Her mother, Summer, met her (human) father and they married, had Lyric, and enjoyed a rather normal daily life as low-income people living in Coney Island. Lyric’s father is an upstanding police officer, and had been able to mask his wife’s lack of documentation over the years. Lyric had no reason to suspect anything was unusual about her heritage until the night the Alpha arrived.

The Alpha are Summer’s kin, and there’s 30,000 of them quarantined in a shanty town on the beach at Coney Island. Lyric’s entire neighborhood, now dubbed “The Zone”, has been placed on lock-down to keep the Alpha from branching out. This means Summer cannot leave Coney Island either as she has no birth certificate or social security card. The book opens with the forced integration of Lyric’s high school.

Lyric knows she needs to keep her head down at school and in public. All of Summer’s associates, the other 19 operatives and their families, have been “disappeared” to secret government labs for testing, and calling their house into scrutiny could lead to Lyric and her parents being captured. Summer spends her days and nights searching the video feeds of the refugees to find her parents so they can reunite, if possible.

The forced integration is intense and harkens back to the 60s and 70s inclusion of Blacks into “white” schools. Expect riots. Lyric and her BFF Bex are hard-pressed to make their way into school without being caught in the mobs. Plus, lots of kids in this impoverished school are more than happy to lash out at the Alpha, but Summer has told Lyric how deadly they can be. The bullying is extreme and fights are sure to have lethal consequences. Trying to stop one such altercation, Lyric finds herself square in the new principal’s spotlight, only Principal Doyle isn’t just the new guy in charge. It seems he’s got serious insider info regarding Lyric’s family. They strike a deal that Lyric acts as a tutor to the Alpha prime’s son, Prince Fathom, and Doyle won’t ‘out’ Summer’s Alpha status.

Thing is, humans seen as sympathetic to, or in the company of, Alpha have been killed by local anti-Alpha vigilantes. The chance of discovery gets ever higher as Prince Fathom and Lyric spend more time together–causing Doyle to sweeten his offer: he has bona fide paperwork for Summer that will enable her family to leave The Zone.

There is a love spark here, between Lyric and Prince Fathom, but it’s on the down low for the first half of the book. I think the bigger part of the story is the politicization of this refugee community. The governer of NY (a blatant parody of Michelle Bachmann which I appreciated) is a hardline conservative positioned against integration, and is on the school steps attempting to bodily block Alpha entry–the National Guard is out in full force, and present in the school and classrooms. Vigilantes are everywhere, attempting to incite riot.

There are so many parallels to today’s society in this novel one could discuss the themes in the context of racism, classism, undocumented status, homophobia, vigilante justice, and xenophobia, among others. The plot itself is not terribly original–Lyric must overcome her own issues and fight the spreading violence that is overtaking The Zone to save herself and her family. The characterization is unique, however, and the love interest thing is not the major focus. Sure, Lyric develops an affection for Fathom, and it’s reciprocated, but there are a million and one other things happening here, and that’s absolutely cool.

I really dug the action, and the world-building within this tiny slice of Americana. I’ve been to Coney Island, and could easily imagine the devastation of the community around it, all filtered through Lyric’s eyes. The Alpha are an amazing collection of beings, each of which has a specific role within their society. Learning that they are not the biggest problem facing humanity is rather a refreshing twist. Lyric’s migraines are a part of who she is, and the benefit of them was only revealed late. She’s able to channel some of that physiological malady into powering an Alpha weapon, but killing others may be beyond Lyric’s pacifist ideals. Well, until her existence is treatened… The short time-frame for mastery was thin on believability, but I was able to overcome it. I loved the gritty descriptions, and the secondary characters are fantastic–from Bex’s miserable abusive step-father to Lyric’s nosy racist neighbor.

The book ends with a temporary end to hostilites, though the resolution is not complete. Lyric has a lot more work to do to fix her family and her world. This is series I know my kids will love, and I’m anxious for the sequel.

Interested? You can find UNDERTOW on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
New York Times bestselling author Michael Buckley was born in Akron, Ohio. He tried his hand as a stand-up comic and lead singer for a punk rock back before attending Ohio University. After graduating with honors he moved to New York City to be an intern on the Late Show with David Letterman which led to stints developing programming for Discovery Networks, MTV, MTV Animation and Klasky Csupo (producers of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats). Today he lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, Alison, and their son Finn.

You can find Michael on his website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!


Dragonfly (Dragonfly #1)
Release Date: 06/06/13
Summary from Goodreads:
Falling in love changes everything…

Three bad things I learned this year:
-People you trust lie, even parents.
-That hot guy, the one who’s totally into you, he might not be the one.
-Things are not always how they appear.

Three good things I learned this year:
-Best friends are always there for you, even when they’re far away.
-That other hot guy, the one who remembers your birthday, he just might be the one.
-Oh, and things are not always how they appear.

Anna Sanders expected an anonymous (and uneventful) senior year until she crossed paths with rich-and-sexy Jack Kyser and his twin sister Lucy.

Pulling Anna into their extravagant lifestyle on the Gulf Coast, Lucy pushed Anna outside her comfort zone, and Jack showed her feelings she’d never experienced… Until he mysteriously withdrew.

Anna turned to her internship at the city paper and to her old attraction for Julian, a handsome local artist and rising star, for distraction. But both led to her discovery of a decades-old secret closely guarded by the twins’ distant, single father.

A secret that could permanently change all their lives.

Undertow, Book #2 is OUT NOW!!!

Soon we were back in the Jeep headed southeast toward home. The top was off, but the crisp fall air didn’t wreak as much havoc with my curls as in the summertime. I was starting to relax until we turned toward the beach road instead of town. I looked over at him.

His eyes were on the road. “Want to look at the water?”

“Sure,” I said, studying his profile, the wind pushing his hair around his face.

He parked in the same lot as the first time we came here after that first dance. With the engine off, the sound of the breakers crashing and the hiss of the surf were loud and close. The salty ocean-smell was strong.

“I’m going to miss this,” he said under his breath, sliding his hands from the wheel to his lap. “Sometimes at night, I leave all the windows open so I can hear it.”

I nodded. “It always helps me relax.”

His eyes moved to me, and he held out his hand. I put mine in it, and he pulled gently. For a half-second, I hesitated. Then I crossed the space between us, letting him pull me onto his lap facing him in a straddle.

His warm hands found the skin under my sweater and his mouth was on my neck just as fast. My whole body was instantly burning, and I tried to calm my flying heart. But it was pointless. I was gone.

“Do friends make out?” I managed to say, eyes closed.

“Good friends,” he said against my skin before slipping a hand behind my neck and pulling my mouth to his.

The hand on my back traveled higher, loosening my bra, and I slid my fingers into his hair as he caressed me. I was moving, kissing him deeply, my heart pounding as the pressure built low in my stomach.

The feelings were so intense, so good, I didn’t care what was coming. I didn’t care if I cried tomorrow or all week. I broke away to gasp for air, and his hands moved to my hair, pulling my ear to his mouth.

Get it today—only 99 cents!

Undertow (Dragonfly #2)
Release Date: 07/18/13
Summary from Goodreads:
Falling in love will pull you under…

Bill Kyser has a plan to take the sandy farms of his hometown and turn them into a world-class tourist destination–and become a billionaire in the process.
Alexandra “Lexy” LaSalle has a plan to change her life by becoming a world-famous artist.
Meg Weaver has a plan to hold onto Bill no matter what she has to do.

Three friends, three dreams.
One fatal decision will change all their lives forever.

In Dragonfly, Bill Kyser gave Anna the three journals that held the story behind the powerful developer’s seclusion and the damaged lives of his family members.

Anna hoped to find a way for Julian to know the truth, but as she digs deeper into the tragic events of the past, she realizes silence could be the only option.

Now she’s in an alliance with the man she formerly feared. And if Julian finds out what she knows, she could lose for good the boy she’s starting to love.

Leigh Talbert Moore is the author of the popular young adult romantic comedy The Truth About Faking, its companion The Truth About Letting Go, and the mature YA/new adult romantic suspense novel Rouge, a Quarter Finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
She is an award-winning journalist and editor, who has also worked in marketing and public relations for many years. Her writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the southeast and Midwest U.S., and she runs the popular writing-craft blog That’s Write.
A southern ex-pat and beach bum, she currently lives with her husband, two young children, and one grumpy cat in the Midwest.

Connect online:

1 Signed print set of Dragonfly and Watercolor
(US only)
1 signed copy of Watercolor (US only)
2  ebooks of WC and a $5 Amazon gift card! (INT)

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Caught in the UNDERTOW

Undertow (Dragonfly, #2)What can a person confide in wholeheartedly, without censure? A private journal.

Through it a reader sees the author’s bold hopes, petty machinations, and outright manipulations in stark relief.

I’ve just completed reading an advance copy of UNDERTOW, book two in the Dragonfly Series by Leigh T. Moore, and it wasn’t what I expected.

I’ve rambled before about expectations and how it’s nice to upset them. Mix things up. Make bold moves.

Well, UNDERTOW is a very bold move.

It moved the Dragonfly Series right out of YA and squarely into women’s fiction.

How could that be? you ask—firmly reminding me that the protagonist, Anna, is a high school senior.

99% of the time a high school age main character = YA, right?

Sure. I’d lay money on the table with those odds, but UNDERTOW isn’t actually about Anna—it’s about big plans, bigger lies and life-changing secrets.

This tale is really an intimate look at a troubled marriage written from three points of view, and the speakers are old journals. The voyeur in me was intrigued, but as you can guess, it was raw.

Yes, Anna is the reader, but she is a prop in the scheme.

We pick up the story with Anna being on her own after Christmas reading the three journals given her by Bill Kyser, Jack and Lucy’s father, at the end of DRAGONFLY. She begins with Meg’s journal—all shiny and bright with hope over her impending wedding to Bill—a marriage she secured by an ‘oops’ pregnancy (PSA: Don’t try this at home!) She assures Bill she’ll be able to manage housekeeping while he overloads on college coursework to get his foothold in business. See, Bill wants to develop the Alabama gulf coast. It’s his big dream, and Meg wants a comfortable life—with Bill. Now.

Yes. It is a setup for doom, kids.

Meg’s journal is anguish. Missing her husband as he works long, long hours, doubles up on classes to finish school in 2.5 years instead of 4. She tries to be happy, and fails—particularly wanting to have more babies to fill her days when their first boy goes off to school. Along the way she confides in Lexi/Alex LaSalle—her BFF. (For those who need to catch up, Lexi/Alex is also mother to Julian, Anna’s good friend who wants more.) Completely against Bill’s express wishes Meg tries for a second OOPS! And she succeeds, in both getting pregnant and completely alienating Bill. Especially problematic with twins, Jack and Lucy, on the way.

Bright, shiny Meg knows she’s wrong, but she is as selfish as any. Eventually Bill thaws, but things are never the way they were—yet Meg is finally realizing all of her dreams. Big house, beautiful family, and suddenly Lexi/Alex is pregnant—no Daddy to be found. Still she’s excited to have her friend join the Mommy club. Her journal ends with the revelation that Julian is not entirely fatherless—really.

Lexi/Alex’s journal is a study in naïveté. She embarks on her college studies in art and is promptly picked up by the resident scumbag painting instructor as his freshman plaything. Broken from that experience she moves to Atlanta to work in commercial art, but is worn by the long work days and inspiration-crushing competition. So, when Bill Kyser asks her to become the creative consultant for his real estate development company, she agrees to return home. She jumps into the job with both feet, working tirelessly with Bill on the interior and exterior concepts of the projects.

Surely nothing can go wrong spending countless hours with your best friend’s husband.


In truth it isn’t sordid, only sad. Sad that relationships change and people grow past their first love. Sad that decisions made in the half-aware high school world can affect so many loved ones later.

Bill Kyser’s journal is regret, plain and simple. Regret that his girlfriend is pregnant. Regret that he’s getting married following high school graduation. Regret that he has no time to be a father. Regret that he can’t realize his dream fast enough to be the husband and father he always wanted to be. And, eventually it is regret that he can no longer connect with the wife he never knew. He tries—and is blindsided by Meg’s ‘accidental’ pregnancy. Again.

To Bill this deceit is unforgivable. And, along the way he’s realized that he has serious feelings for Lexi/Alex. The kind he’d set all his big plans aside for, in fact. One quick tryst, and he’s ready to separate—not that Lexi/Alex will let him abandon Meg. She’d run first, to his great regret.

The climax comes three times in this story. Through all three points-of-view we experience Meg’s discovery of Bill and Lexi/Alex’s betrayal. It is cutting and acute and ends with a rash and final act that guarantees no happiness for the survivors.


Because time has passed. Nearly twenty years.

And Anna is now recruited to help bridge the chasm between Bill and Lexi/Alex. But what can she do? And, how will she keep these dark secrets inside when Julian is ready to move out of The Friend Zone?

UNDERTOW reveals much about life.

The danger of an undertow is how it can swiftly and silently take you under and steal your life away. One misstep and BAM!! your life is forever changed/altered/over, as you knew it.

Reading the close first-person accounts in UNDERTOW is not simply slowing for a peek at a wreck on the highway. It is understanding that a wreck is going to happen. It is watching the cars line up and begin their travels, hearing the songs playing on their radios, checking the texts the drivers won’t ignore, and then seeing each and every driver’s careful maneuvers collapse into a fiery catastrophe.

So, not really a beach read. And, not really YA, IMHO. There are some sexual references/situations, naturally, but (to me) its themes are out of the realm of what most teens would gravitate toward.

For the record–This advice is for MALES AND FEMALES alike: Do not get pregnant to ‘trap’ a partner or ‘save’ a marriage. Ever. This is the exact WORST thing to do—it complicates a relationship in a thousand different ways that you cannot predict and that may not be overcome. Having a baby is a life-altering event for, if no one else, the mother. Do so with eyes wide open.
(This is my final PSA for the week.)

Is UNDERTOW at good story? Yes. In fact: YES! says it better. If it wasn’t written so close-to-the-bone we’d never feel it so deeply. Truly, there are so many people in this world who start out exactly like Bill and Meg and end up a broken couple. Probably someone you know, or did know back in high school…maybe even you?

For me, UNDERTOW is a lesson in “How not to structure a relationship.” Because, as Bill Kyser puts it to Anna, “The truth is always the right thing.”

I’ve given up more details about this story than usual—mainly because it is so unexpected.

What I didn’t expect in the reading? That I’d be eagerly awaiting the next installment—WATERCOLORS later this year—wherein Anna and Julian attempt a relationship. Guess that one will be more YA.

Other series books that had a raw, gut-wrenching, second novel? Diana Gabaldon’s DRAGONFLY IN AMBER from the OUTLANDER series—which is also told in flashback. And Suzanne Collins’ CATCHING FIRE is another prime example.

So, yeah. UNDERTOW is intense. It steals your breath away. It will be available July 18th and I’d set it on your TBR if you’re into TBR’s that is…

Perhaps WATERCOLORS will be as gentle as the name sounds…but, honestly, I wouldn’t expect it. Looks like Ms. Moore’s going to tear my heart out again.

It’s okay, I can take it. 🙂


Leigh T Moore knows how to spin a yarn. I learned this when I read The Truth About Letting Go.

Now she’s launching a YA/New Adult contemporary mystery series–of which DRAGONFLY is the first novel-length installment.

Anna, a transplant to the Florida gulf coast, is beginning her senior year without her best friend, but she’s adjusting well. She just got hired at the local paper as an aide which will undoubtedly bolster her college applications. The gorgeous Julian is showing a romantic interest in her, and she makes friends with twin transfers, Lucy and Jack Kyser–whose father is a wealthy real estate tycoon.

Jack and Anna are drawn to each other–and this attraction is a problem for both Jack’s father and Julian. Jack can’t decide if he should pursue Anna, or not, and Julian is ever-present trying to scoop Anna up.

Tension builds when Lucy, distraught over the machinations of her father’s influence on her social life, ends up in the hospital after mixing pills and booze. And the trouble with alcohol doesn’t stop there.

Through it all, Anna strives to hold together her tenuous friendships and excel in her newspaper job. Her big assignment has her chasing down interviews with the key players who developed their small gulf town into a folk arts mecca, including Julian’s mother and Mr. Kyser, both of whom are reticent to participate, but when Anna uncovers the secret Mr. Kyser’s been hiding, it might just tear their community apart.

DRAGONFLY is a romance/mystery with some heat appropriate for older teens and those who like YA fiction. It’s a quick read with plenty of misdirection.

Looking forward to the release of the sequel, UNDERTOW, in July.