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.


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!


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)


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

Exclusive Teasers from The Shadow Prince by Bree Despain

The-Shadow-Prince-by-Bree-Despain-Paperback-BannerExclusive Teasers from The Shadow Prince by Bree DespainThe Shadow Prince by Bree Despain
Published: April 14, 2015
Format: Paperback (512 pages)



I loved The Shadow Prince when I read it last year, and I’m so happy to be on the blog tour for the paperback release!  The Shadow Prince is like Percy Jackson for YA.  It’s a Greek mythology retelling of Persephone and Hades with a feminist twist and swoon-worthy romance.  If you haven’t read it yet, check out these exclusive teaser quotes from the book!


Check back next week for more teasers and a giveaway!  What do you think of the new cover?

About Bree Despain

Bree Despain

Bree Despain is the author of the Dark Divine trilogy and the upcoming Into The Dark trilogy. Bree rediscovered her childhood love for creating stories when she took a semester off college to write and direct plays for at-risk, inner-city teens from Philadelphia and New York. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband, two young sons, and her beloved TiVo.


Book Review: Stray by Elissa Sussman

Book Review: Stray by Elissa SussmanStray by Elissa Sussman
Series: Four Sisters #1
Published: October 7, 2014
Format: eARC (384 pages)
Genres: Fairy Tale, Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.

When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.

But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.

After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?
3 Stars

After reading the acknowledgements by the author, I could see the Into the Woods inspiration.  Stray follows the sappy fairy tale stereotype and gives it a darker undertone especially about it’s control towards women. If you kept Cinderella almost the same but made it slightly darker with forbidden magic you might have something like Stray.

This fairy tale was all about controlling women and how they aren’t valued in this world even though they are technically powerful.  I know it was supposed to be a satire but sometimes it was difficult to read about the extreme rules for them all towards the goal of getting married.  The girls act ridiculous and when one of them eats before going to a ball I couldn’t get the image of Scarlet O’Hara reluctantly stuffing her face and wondering why you have to be so ridiculous just to catch a husband.

The world building just wasn’t very strong.  While I liked the plot, it felt hard to imagine the world because it was a little confusing.  The biggest problem for me, though, was the question of why these girls would even put up with all these crazy restrictions or where they came from in the first place.  That thought pulled me out of the story a lot because it was never really answered very well.

The writing was ok for the most part.  A few cheesy lines here and there with the cliche “breath she didn’t know she was holding.”  I’m so glad she figured it out in time or she might have died.  And my favorite “Suddenly” was in there more than I prefer. But it had some good writing too.  Just not terribly consistent.  I liked the characters and their relationships. The villain gives speeches about having fun with the poor, powerless protagonist and it made me roll my eyes.

I didn’t like the beginning.  It throws me into an action scene right away but I’m not sure why I should care yet.  I’m not a fan of when authors do that.

And to be very, very nitpicky – she doesn’t use the term “artless” like I’m used to Jane Austen using it and it irked me.

Overall, it was a different take on fairy tales that had an interesting plot but the world building wasn’t my favorite.

Content Rating: Medium, for some violence.  The language was pretty mild if there was any.  It’s been a while since I read it so I don’t remember for sure.

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, Harper Collins, 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 Elissa Sussman

Elissa Sussman

Elissa Sussman is a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater.

Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt, Basil.

Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini TaylorDreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3
Published: April 8, 2014
Format: eBook (613 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.  At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?
4 Stars

Spoiler free even if you haven’t read the first book in this series. 

Dreams of Gods & Monsters was an epic and beautiful finale to one of my new favorite fantasy series.  The romance made my heart melt.  There was a Star Wars joke about using a Tauntaun to keep warm which I loved.  There was more of the blunt, honest humor that I laugh out loud at.  Behold my favorite joke ever.

Razgut paused as though he were thinking up a reply, and then he farted. Squinching up his face, he did so with effort. The reward was slight in resonance but grand in aroma, and the emperor was not amused.

– Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods & Monsters pg 367

I’m certainly amused by Razgut.  Speaking of Razgut, I kind of wondered when he was going to say “my preeeciousssssss” because he totally reminded me of Gollum.  He was pitiful, ugly, scheming and for reasons I don’t understand I kind of liked him and felt sorry for him.

The book before this one, Days of Blood & Starlight, was very dark.  Dreams of Gods & Monsters did a good job showing that no matter how dark things get, love and mercy matter.

But all he could think, in answer to that, was what Karou had said earlier, about the darkness we do in the name of the dead, and whether it’s what they would want for us.

-Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods & Monsters pg 264

The writing is beautiful and just sucks you right into the story.

She’d spoken of their happiness as though it were an undeniable fact, no matter what happened— apart from everything else and not subject to it. It was a new idea for him, that happiness wasn’t a mystical place to be reached or won— some bright terrain beyond the boundary of misery, a paradise waiting for them to find it— but something to carry doggedly with you through everything, as humble and ordinary as your gear and supplies. Food, weapons, happiness.

-Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods & Monsters pg 413

As much as I loved this book, I wish it had ended 100 pages sooner than it did.  Not because I thought the book was too long but because I felt like the final subplot that took up those last pages was unnecessary.  The final subplot goes into the epic territory of Where This World Came From.  Honestly, I don’t like knowing that much detail because I feel part of the beauty of an amazing fantasy is leaving a little left unanswered especially about the origins of a fantasy world.  For example, J.K. Rowling describes a hidden world of witches and wizards but she never attempts in the narrative to explain where the first witch and wizard came from.  I think if she had, it would lose a lot of it’s magic.  Laini Taylor literally answers all the questions and to be fair she did foreshadow this plot in the previous books so it is nice that she didn’t just abandon it.  But I felt like the story would have worked much better without that final subplot because I felt like the plot really dragged through those last 100 pages.

Overall, it was a very satisfying conclusion to my favorite series but I was not a fan of that final subplot about the origins of the world because I felt it was unnecessary.

Content Rating: Medium, for a few suggestive scenes and some language.

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

About Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor

Hi there! I'm a writer of fantasy books for young people, but my books can be enjoyed by adults as well. My 'Dreamdark' books, Blackbringer (2007) and Silksinger (2009) are about faeries -- not dainty little flowery things, but warrior-faeries who battle devils. My first young adult book, Lips Touch, is a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award! It's creepy, sensual supernatural romance. . . about kissing. I am also an artist with a licensed gift product line called "Laini's Ladies."

Book Review: Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

Book Review: Life After Theft by Aprilynne PikeLife After Theft by Aprilynne Pike
Published: April 1, 2013
Format: eBook (352 pages)
Genres: Retelling, Supernatural, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

Moving to a new high school sucks. Especially a rich-kid private school. With uniforms. But nothing is worse than finding out the first girl you meet is dead. And a klepto.

No one can see or hear Kimberlee except Jeff, so--in hopes of bringing an end to the snarkiest haunting in history--he agrees to help her complete her "unfinished business."

Clash meets sass in this uproarious modern-day retelling of Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel.
3 Stars

Without it saying so in the summary that Life After Theft was a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I would have never known.  It was a very loose retelling since instead of saving people’s life, the main character Jeff is returning people’s stuff.  The setting did a great job of being updated and contemporary, but I didn’t think this was a great retelling.  The stickers with red flowers on them that Jeff put on the stuff he was returning was really the only tie-in to The Scarlet Pimpernel that I could see.  It was more like Mean Girls meets the 1990’s film Ghost Dad that starred Bill Cosby (yes I watched that show all the time as a kid).  I compare it to Mean Girls because these girls in the book were awful to each.  Just awful.  And the reason when we finally find out didn’t really justify to mean the extreme hate these girls had.  I can’t even remember what it was.

The voice of the main character Jeff was very well written and fun to read.  He was snarky and funny.  The plot was a little bland and didn’t move along that fast, but the characters were interesting enough that it kept me turning the pages.  I was also curious about why these girls seemed to hate each other so much and that kept me reading as well even though I didn’t really like the reason when I found out.

Overall, it was a quick, fun read with interesting characters but not that great as a retelling.

Content Rating: Medium, for swearing, crude language, teen sex (that fades to black), and teen drinking.  It was actually quite a lot of content and it bothered me a little.

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

About Aprilynne Pike

Aprilynne Pike

Aprilynne Pike is the critically acclaimed, internationally and #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Wings series. She has been spinning stories since she was a child with a hyper-active imagination. At the age of twenty she received her BA in Creative Writing from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. Since then she has worked as a waitress, a restaurant manager, a slush-pile reader, an editor, a childbirth educator, and a doula.

When not writing, Aprilynne can usually be found out running; she also enjoys singing, acting, and (of course!) reading books about magic and kissing. Aprilynne lives in Arizona with her husband and four kids; she is enjoying the sunshine.