Book Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

Book Review: Splintered by A. G. HowardSplintered by A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered #1
Published: January 1, 2013
Format: eBook (371 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence.

Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
2 Stars

Splintered starts out as an awesome retelling of Alice in Wonderland with a gothic twist. Alyssa, the main character, goes on a journey fixing what Alice broke in Wonderland, which I thought was a clever idea. The middle suffered from way too much info-dumping. The end never quite recovered from that loss of momentum from the slow middle.  The story turned into a shaky quest to get this thing so she could get that thing then the other thing and I easily got lost which made me stop caring about the story.  I sadly didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.

beware-spoilers

I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 1)

What an opening line! It’s so cool! This girl, Alyssa, is slightly crazy but so relatable and likable that I kind of over looked it.  She kills bugs as a way to deal with hearing their voices and then makes beautiful/creepy art out of them.  It’s such a strange but fascinating way to deal with the struggles she has.  The fact that she does her best to deal with them instead of ignoring them is what makes her so easy for me to like.

I tapped the bee hard enough to stun it. Then I whisked the flowers out of the water and pressed them between the pages of a spiral notebook, to silence their chattering petals.

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 4)

Chattering petals.  I just love that.

When Alyssa does go to Wonderland, she meets some flower zombies (which is an awesome idea all by itself) and then tries to fix all the things that Alice ruined in Wonderland to fix a curse that has plagued her family (who are descendants of Alice) ever since.  What a cool way to retell Alice in Wonderland! She soaks the ocean of tears up with a sponge and defeats a creepy gothic version of the walrus.  Oh. My. Gosh. I am so on board with this.  I’m having the best time!

Until….

Alyssa goes to Morpheus’ house.  He’s the “grown-up” caterpillar meaning he’s a moth/human thing of some sort.  So cool.  But at Morpheus’ house we run into the major issue I had with this book.  What started as a journey to fix a curse is getting twisted into a story about Alyssa getting crowned Queen because she’s actually a descendant of the Red Queen (and so not cursed but a half-breed, solving that problem nicely).  We obviously don’t know that at this point in the book (which was almost exactly in the middle), but to foreshadow such a big shift like that takes a lot of info-dumping.  Buckets and buckets of tedious, boring information.  It took so much setting up to have the twist at the end that *gasp* Alyssa is the new Red Queen (!) that I had lost interest by that point.  I kept getting impatient with the middle of the book waiting for things to happen again.  Some of the info-dumping was about things I had already guessed, like her mother was not really insane. Duh.  It’s hard to keep interested in a story when 30 pages of it goes something like this:

“After Queen Red was exiled to the wilds, she was never seen again. Her stepsister, Grenadine, married the king and became Queen— a woman so forgetful, she could never handle wearing the crown. And now her king wants to give her two.” Morpheus drags a glittering diamond tiara from the bag. “I’ve a spy stationed in the Red castle. When the White Court came to me with news of Ivory’s fate some weeks ago, I sent word for my contact to steal the jabberlock box. I’m harboring Ivory here, along with her crown, to keep them safe from Grenadine and King Red. If they control both the Red and White portals, good luck ever getting home.” He tucks the tiara away again. “All this will be ameliorated once Alyssa finds the vorpal sword. It’s the most powerful weapon in Wonderland. I can use it to force them to grant Ivory’s freedom. Her portal will be open to you then.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 201)

It’s too much all at once.  I want to experience events as much as possible and be told about past events as little as possible.  One instance of info-dumping isn’t so bad.  It happens sometimes in stories.  But so many stories like this were told right in a row that it slowed the story down.  We get info-dumps about her boyfriend’s past issues and info-dumps about how Alyssa has looked extremely different the entire time she was in Wonderland.  Say what.  I’m baffled that this guy would keep Alyssa’s altered appearance to himself.  For what reason does he do this exactly? No guy would mention it that late in the game if they had even noticed a change in her appearance at all.  But because he decided to keep it to himself, we get another glorious info-dump.

“You’ve been like this the whole time. I noticed it when we first stepped out of the rabbit hole. I thought your makeup had smeared. But then, after the ocean, you still had it. I didn’t make the connection until I saw Morpheus without his mask a few minutes ago.” Jeb pauses, looking like he might be sick. His thumbs rub the edges of the black designs. “They don’t wipe away. And the glitter all over your skin? That’s not salt residue. You’re starting to look like my fairy sketches, for real.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 188)

The theme of insanity was well done and one of my favorite things about the book.  I enjoyed the quotes that came up about sense and logic and how relative those terms really are.  When Alyssa goes to a dinner where they have to hunt down and kill what had, at first, seemed like a dead and roasted bird, I love how Morpheous explains that just because it looks insane, doesn’t mean that it is.

“You understand the logic behind the illogical, Alyssa. It’s in your nature to find tranquility amid the madness. And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re giving our food a fighting chance.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 211)

I don’t mind sensuality when it adds something to the story.  When two characters are falling in love, it works.  I felt like there was a lot of pointless sensuality in Splintered.  The vomit inducing sensuality didn’t add anything to the story besides my vomit.

Then she turns to Jeb. “Elfin knight, do you wish for pleasure on your quest? I can provide it, if you so desire.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 145)

Gag.

The romance.  Jeb draws pictures of Alyssa all the time but he has a girlfriend. Ok. All Alyssa can think is, “He’s going on a dangerous adventure with me and he almost kissed me. Clearly he likes someone else.” Ok. I just really didn’t get it.  Then they make-out some more.  End romance.

I wished I had liked the ending, but it was even more confusing than the romance.  Stuff happens and Jeb loses his head. Literally.  It was one of those things where it’s so crazy that the only way to fix it is with magic.  Alyssa fixes this problem by going back in time and making it so Jeb doesn’t come this time and therefore doesn’t lost his head.  Weird magical time jumps should not just magically fix things.  But maybe that’s just me.

Then we get to a possessed toy graveyard and by this point I’m just really sad.  I’m really sad for all the toys I’ve ever thrown away and I’m really sad that there are now characters that weren’t in the original Alice in Wonderland.  I don’t really get why these spider/woman things are even in the story other than stopping Alyssa from getting the latest thing.  I think it’s a sword right now.  I’m also really sad that the love I had for the first quarter of the book is gone.  I wish the rest of the book could have been that awesome.

When I finished, I don’t I understand why this book is a series.  The ending seemed pretty wrapped up.  For some reason, Alyssa is a queen in Wonderland but decides to go home.  Seems like a lot of work to go through to become queen if all she gets out of it is going home.  Maybe she couldn’t find the ruby slippers.  I don’t know.  Morpheous got eaten by a pig but I don’t really care that much.  To be honest, there’s nothing that is pulling me into the next book.  I love retellings and while I liked some things about this gothic rendition that was inspired by Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland, it just didn’t click with me liked I hoped it would.

Content Rating: Medium, for sensuality some of which seemed unnecessary and a few make-out scenes that were a little too graphic for my taste.  Mild language.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About A.G. Howard

A G Howard

A.G. Howard was inspired to write SPLINTERED while working at a school library. Her pastimes are reading, rollerblading, gardening, and family vacations which often include impromptu side trips to 18th century graveyards or condemned schoolhouses to appease her overactive muse.

SPLINTERED & UNHINGED, books 1 & 2 of her urbanized /gothic Alice in Wonderland series, are now available from Amulet Books. Book 3, ENSNARED, launches 2015.

Author photo by pamlaryphotography.com

Book Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black

Book Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly BlackZombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black
Published: September 21, 2010
Format: eBook (432 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Short Stories, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?
2 Stars

Reading Zombies vs. Unicorns taught me that short stories and I don’t get along. At all.  Or maybe reading too many short stories in a row is bad for my mental health.  It took me a long time to get the characters and the world straight in my mind (and that applies when I read anything) so by the time I’ve finally figured it out for each of these the story was over! Because they were short!  It was very frustrating and made me feel like I wasn’t making much progress.  It took me an insane 6 weeks (!) to read all these short stories even counting the fact that I skipped or skimmed most of the zombie stories.  Lesson learned – I will take short stories one at a time and then move on to something longer.  Never again will I read so many in a row.  I think my brain melted.

That being said, I did enjoy seeing some of my favorite authors do interesting things with the short story format.  Short stories have the ability to be a little more edgy since they don’t last too long.  Something that would tire you in a novel is fascinating in a short story.  I loved the unique mythologies and origin stories that the authors came up with for the zombies and unicorns.

Here’s my thoughts on a few of the short stories that stood out to me.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix was a zombie story that had a setup similar to Twilight.  This boy loves this other boy but he also wants to eat him. I didn’t finish this one because I found it too vulgar and gross for my taste with a cheesy villain on top.

I adored Purity Test by Naomi Novik.  It played on the stereotypes of unicorn stories.  The unicorn was male and snarky yet pretty and had a modern New York accent. It just got better and funnier from there with fun pop culture references which I love!  10 points to this short story for the Harry Potter reference!

Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson was the only zombie story I liked in this entire collection.  It was hilarious and unexpected.  THAT was definitely an origin story for zombies that I have never heard before.

My favorite story in the entire bunch was The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn By Diana Peterfreund.  I think it was perfect for this collection because it had a zombie element to it because the unicorns were dangerous.

Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare was probably the most boring and unmemorable story of the bunch.  There was a castle somewhere in the story. Maybe. That’s all I remember.

There was commentary at the beginning of each story between Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier “arguing” about which team was better. I found every thing that Justine (Team Zombie) said to be tedious and annoying.  I didn’t connect with her humor at all.

 Overall, this was a fun collection of unique spins on zombies and unicorns but you might find yourself skipping the other stories if you are more partial to one team or the other. I was Team Unicorn, you could say, and I didn’t enjoy most of the zombie stories.  Also, I might have enjoyed these stories more if I had taken breaks from it instead of reading them all in a row.

Content Rating: High, for strong language, violence (some of which was kind of disturbing) and one mention of partial nudity.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Holly Black

Holly Black

Holly Black is a best-selling author of contemporary fantasy novels for kids, teens, and adults. She is the author of the Modern Faerie Tale series (Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside), The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), and The Good Neighbors graphic novels (with Ted Naifeh) The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction, and The Curse Worker series (White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart). She is also the co-editor of three anthologies, Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier), and Welcome to Bordertown (with Ellen Kushner). Her most recent works are the middle grade novel, Doll Bones, and the dark fantasy stand-alone, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana PeterfreundAmong the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #0.5
Published: June 4, 2012
Format: eBook (60 pages)
Genres: Dystopian, Novella, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
Before Kai joined the Cloud Fleet, he wandered… AMONG THE NAMELESS STARS

Four years before the events of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, the servant Kai left the North Estate, the only home he’d ever known, and Elliot North, the only girl he ever loved, in search of a better life. But the journey was not an easy one.

Featuring narrow escapes, thrilling boat races and at least one deadly volcanic wasteland.
2 Stars

Among the Nameless Stars was a prequel novella for one of my favorite novels, For Darkness Shows the Stars.  The writing in this novella didn’t seem to be the same quality that I loved in the novel.  The story was ok but not terribly interesting.  I feel like if there’s going to be a prequel it should be about something mind-blowing or amazing and the simple plot about the boat race was not enough to keep my attention.  I just didn’t see the point of this novella.  I didn’t get any new insights into the story.  It fills in details about Kai but I already knew where the plot was going.  It might be that it’s just been too long since I’ve read For Darkness Shows the Stars that made it feel like I didn’t learn anything new or interesting.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of this prequel, you should definitely still check out For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Content RatingMild, for very brief non-graphic mentions of abuse.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Diana Peterfreund

diana peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund has published eight novels for adults and teens, including the four-book Secret Society Girl series (Bantam Dell), the “killer unicorn novels” Rampant and Ascendant (Harper Teen), and For Darkness Shows the Stars, a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In addition, she’s written several critically acclaimed short stories and a variety of non-fiction essays about popular children’s literature. Diana lives in Washington D.C., with her family.

WebsiteBlogTwitterGoodreads

Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie WhippleHouse of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
Published: April 15, 2014
Format: eARC (352 pages)
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

 
Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.
2 Stars

My biggest thought about the House of Ivy & Sorrow is that it could have been more.  The voice was there, but it didn’t come out as much as it could have.  The conflict definitely needed more to it.  Even with a twist, the conflict came with an explanation already just based on how the world works and it made it hard for me to stay connected to the story.  I almost didn’t finish this one because about a third of the way through I didn’t feel like I would learn anything new about the conflict.  To be honest, I didn’t learn anything new about the conflict at the end.  It came out like I thought it would.  But the way it was resolved was interesting.  I liked that the resolution came from the girls and their friendship.  Girl power!

I liked the magic and the characters in this book.  The idea of magic coming from places was creative.  The character Nana was one of my favorites.  She had the strongest personality in the book and I enjoyed reading about her.  The love interest seemed a little boring at first, but he came with an interesting twist of his own.  The romance was a little cheesy for my taste, but it was still cute for the most part.

I didn’t enjoy the writing.  There were a few cliche moments, but luckily it didn’t go to the extreme or I would have definitely chucked this book across the room.  The dialogue was interesting, but I found that the main character said “No” a lot, in big long strings, when things didn’t go her way.  Maybe it’s a little much to expect someone to realistically be eloquent in moments of stress.  I don’t know.

I was disappointed, to say the least, when I found out the villain’s motivation.  I think this goes along with the weak conflict.  The villain and conflict just needed to be turned up a notch and it would have been awesome! And then the villain had to go and be all tacky. He was cheesy enough to make me cringe a little.  If only he had a mustache to twirl….

Overall, the magic and characters were good but without a strong conflict or interesting villain motivation this book just didn’t keep my interest.

Content Rating: Mild, for a few brief kissing scenes and pain used for magic that is mildly disturbing (e.g. pulling out fingernails and teeth etc.)

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, HarperTeen, in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review. 

About Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple, sadly, does not have any cool mutations like her characters. Unless you count the ability to watch anime and Korean dramas for hours on end. Or her uncanny knack for sushi consumption.

She grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook Thai curry, Pho, and “real” ramen.

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Published: 1887
Format: eBook (108 pages)
Genres: Classic, Mystery
Source: Purchased

 
A Study in Scarlet is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time and they become flat-mates at the famous 221B Baker Street. In A Study in Scarlet Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities.
2 Stars

I loved the writing in A Study in Scarlet.  The dialogue was catchy and natural.  I found the book surprisingly easy to read especially considering how old it is.  The thing that really stands out in this book and the thing that has made it last for so long are the characters.  Sherlock is very cheerful, eccentric, sarcastic, loves to be flattered, and is bluntly honest.  And of course the thing that makes his character so fun to watch on TV in the modern adaptation – his cocky genius.  I couldn’t hate this guy if I tried.  I loved seeing these two iconic characters meet (Sherlock and Watson) to set the stage for the rest of the Sherlock Holmes series.

The first half of this book was a fascinating mystery.  I was glued to the story, turning pages, dying to know what happens next.  Then we get to Part 2.  The second half of the book was the longest, most drawn out and boring flashback I have ever read.  We find out the solution to the mystery at the end of Part 1.  Part 2 goes into why he did it.  Apparently Mr. Doyle doesn’t believe in recapping what happened.  We get to live it.  If we’re going to live through it, at least make it interesting.  It was not at all interesting because almost nothing happens for most of Part 2.  I skimmed a lot of it.  It also felt very disjointed to go from a mystery in London to the American West.  It felt like I was reading two different stories that had nothing to do with each other.  Part 2 is only tied in to Part 1 by the very end.

Portrayal of Mormons

I have to say as a Mormon, reading Part 2 of this story was a little difficult for me since Mormons are not painted in a good light for this part of the story.  But let’s start with this hilarious quote first.

In the central portion of the great North American Continent there lies an arid and repulsive desert…

– Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet p. 63

Repulsive!  Arid! My home this is! Yoda and I are highly offended.  Okay not really.  But he kept describing the whole state of Utah like it was entirely covered in the Salt Flats where everything was covered in “alkali dust” and used words like “barren”, “misery”, “despair,” and my personal favorite “gloomy.”  The whole thing just made me laugh.  While it is true that the west side of the Great Salt Lake is all those things, the pioneers settled on the EAST side of the lake which was your more run-of-the-mill desert with snakes and cacti and stuff.  And regular desert dirt that almost nothing can grow in thank you very much.  I mean if you’re going to insult my state at least get it right. :)

The thing I struggled with the most was the portrayal of Mormonism as a cult.  And when I say cult I mean a group forcing people to do things by threats or brain-washing.  Mormons believe the point in life is to make choices.  There is a point in the story where Mormon pioneers find a starving, wandering man and his daughter and say they can join them only if they become Mormon.  Brigham Young (or any Mormon) would NEVER force anyone to be Mormon. Not cool Mr. Conan Doyle.  I did some research and in Mr. Doyle’s defense, he believed these things to be true at the time.  Still – forcing people to do things is against our religion and always has been.

The murderer’s motive was based on their hatred of  the practice of plural marriage (or polygamy).  While Mormons did practice it, it was portrayed in the book that if you didn’t get married to more than one person you were kicked out (and then hunted down by a secret band of murderers.  Say what??  That most definitely didn’t happen).  Not everyone practiced plural marriage.  Many early Mormons were monogamous and were in fine standing with the church.  I won’t go into tons of detail in this review, but if you’re interested the official Mormon (also known as Latter-Day Saints or LDS) website has more information on plural marriage and Mormonism.  It’s an interesting article that talks about the trials the people who lived it faced, how long it was practiced and more.  And just to be thorough Mormons don’t practice polygamy today and haven’t since 1890.

Overall, I adored the first half of the novel and meeting the most iconic characters in literature, but I found the second half to be boring and the anti-Mormonism made me uncomfortable.  I would give the first half of the novel 4 stars and the second half like 1/2 a star.

Content Rating: None.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle was born the third of ten siblings on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was born in England of Irish descent, and his mother, born Mary Foley, was Irish. They were married in 1855.