Updated Review: Splintered (A.G. Howard)

The Deets:
audience: YA
pages: 371
publisher: January 1st 2013 by Amulet Books
ISBN: 9781419704284
genre: retelling
source: eARC from Netgalley

SplinteredThis 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.

I do not usually amend my reviews, but sometimes discussions with others cause me to rethink my original impressions. That is certainly the case with Splintered. After telling two co-workers about the book and describing it to them (they each bought a copy, BTW, because they thought it sounded interesting), I realized that what originally made me complacent about the book didn't have a huge affect when it came time to recommend it to others. So... I thought that warranted an update. (New thoughts are in pink.)

If I could rate a book based solely on its cover, Splintered would have a solid 5 stars. Tell me this cover is not stunning? I dare you to disagree.

I was only mildly interested in the characters in this one. Yes, it was a great retelling of a classic with a new twist-- but that was about it for me. I wasn't really all that impressed with the characters. True, Alyssa wasn't your expected Alice. She actually had a firm control of her purpose; unlike Alice who seemed to bumble around having a grand ol' time in Wonderland. Of course, if you read Splintered, you'll realize Alice's grand adventures really mucked things up a bit. After more thought, I have realized that my lack of connection with the characters is solely due to my own life experiences. I could not relate to Alyssa because I don't have much experience with teens like her. I am extremely empathetic, but I am not emo. I am artistic, but not "artsy." That was really the problem-- I could not relate to her character, so it was hard for me at times.

Which brings me to what I did enjoy about Splintered: the minor characters. The Wunderland that Alyssa experiences is nothing like her ancestor's Wonderland. In fact, the creatures she encounters are down right nightmarish. The White Rabbit that was so cute with his ticking clock is described like some kind of freak-tastic jackalope with rotting flesh and a bad case of the mange. There were others as well that were represented in a brand new way. For that, I thought the story was top notch. It isn't just the minor characters that were so different, either. The entire setting of Wunderland was unique. As far as settings go, this one deserves an A. After talking with the author at a recent convention, (I had to ask how she came up with this story) the setting and certain elements really made sense. She said that she was partially inspired by the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland. Let me say, that made complete sense because you get that vibe from Splintered.

However, the main characters were just bleh for me. I really didn't connect with any of them, nor did I really like them. I guess I couldn't buy into the fairy tale aspect with some of the characters, which made the love triangle not very believable for me. Yes, I know this wasn't meant to be realistic in any way, but the characters just didn't do it for me. They felt flat and one-sided. Sorry. I'm sure many other people will disagree with me on this point. I have thought more on this one and I am still having trouble with Morpheus. I can't put my finger on what exactly gave me trouble with this character, but there is something. I think it might be his extreme shadiness. I just can't figure out if he's the "bad guy" or not. It's worth mentioning though, that if there is a character that so obviously blurs those stereotypical boundaries in a book, he (or she) must be a pretty interesting character. I am curious to see how the storyline with Morpheus develops in the second book, Unhinged.

If you're a fan of retellings, go for it. You'll probably enjoy something in Splintered. If you get giddy over Alice in Wonderland stories, you're probably going to love this one. If you enjoy pretty covers lining your shelves, this one is a must. I still argue that the cover is one of the best I've seen. It's beautiful in person-- the colors just pop.

Review: Orleans (Sherri Smith)

The Deets:
Audience: YA
Pages: 336
Publisher: March 7th 2013 by Putnam Juvenile
ISBN: 9780399252945
genre: dystopian
source: e-ARC from Netgalley

First came the storms.
Then came the Fever.
And the Wall.

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

Move over Tris and Katniss, because Fen de la Guerre is ruling the dystopian scene.

I really hope this is the beginning of a series, because the final page left me breathless. I have to know more about what this future America is like. Sherri Smith did an amazing job creating a world within a world.

The Delta region has been destroyed by hurricanes and left for dead. Survival of the fittest. No one expect the people living in New Orleans to survive the Delta Fever, so when Daniel, an overly optimistic scientist, sneaks across the border to New Orleans he is shocked to find that everything he has been told is a lie.

The Delta is very much alive, and it's terrifying. Blood hunters become the new form of slavery and human trafficking. They are ruthless and they lurk behind every shadow. Poor Fen is O Positive, which means she's a hot commodity to those suffering from Delta Fever. Her blood could give them life, and she is constantly being hunted for it. I don't know about you, but that right there was enough ot make me go "OMG" as I read this book. What an imagination! How terrifying this new America is!

The characters were pretty solid. Daniel was certainly foolish, but he meant well. Fen was fierce. She was determined, and she certainly wasn't going to sit back and accept defeat without a fight. Her quick thinking saved her numerous times throughout Orleans. The villains are many, and you can't limit them to one type of person either. I don't think it gets any worse than a blood hunter, but then I read about the evil woman that ran a blood bank/brothel using innocent orphans. That was pretty awful. Betrayal lurked everywhere.

I have to be honest, though, that I was a little worried when I started reading. Fen is from deep in the Delta and so she speaks with a distinct dialect. It was hard to read at first because my brain was revolting against the lack of subject-verb agreement. Ultimately, however, that distinct voice is what made this book so unique. Fen was very believable-- from her speech patterns down to her love of her hair. It was so real, and my heart ached for her in the end.

In short, this is a must read. No questions about it. It is by far one of the best dystopians I have read in 2013. I really, really, really hope it will be a series because I can't get enough of Orleans!

Review: The Lost Girl (Sangu Mandanna)

The Deets:
Audience: YA
pages: 432
publisher: August 28th 2012 by Balzer + Bray
ISBN: 9780062082312
genre: dystopian? kind of out there on its own
source: ARC that I won from Epicreads.com

The Lost Girl Eva's life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination--an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her "other," if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it's like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this.

Now she must abandon everything and everyone she's ever known--the guardians who raised her, the boy she's forbidden to love--to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.

What Eva finds is a grief-stricken family; parents unsure how to handle this echo they thought they wanted; and Ray, who knew every detail, every contour of Amarra. And when Eva is unexpectedly dealt a fatal blow that will change her existence forever, she is forced to choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva.

I had no expectations going into this book. All I knew was that this was the book chosen for my first virtual book club/read along, and I was hoping it would be worthy of discussion. I quickly found that it surpassed anything that I previously thought. The Lost Girl was great! Hands down, no debate. Fantastic.

It's going to be hard to pinpoint what I loved about this book. Was it the amazing setting? Probably. I've never read a book set in India, so it was interesting. But that's probably not what had me turning the pages for hours. Maybe it was the characters? That could be it. Eva was amazing. Sean made my heart smile. Ray made me seeth with anger. Amarra's parents broke my heart. Ophelia made me cry. And there were so many other characters that had me running an emotional marathon. It's too hard to summarize the complicated relationships in The Lost Girl. Just know that they will grip you and you won't forget them.

But if I had to pick one thing that really spoke to me in The Lost Girl, I would say it was the highly original plot and story line. I am SO glad this was the book for the first read along on my blog! The discussions that stemmed from this story were amazing. The author is certainly talented (and that's such an understatement). There were so many symbols and quotable moments. Everything was poignant and almost philosophical in nature. I love that in a book! One thing that I thought of while reading (and relates so well to another of my favorite YA books) is the idea of 'what is a soul'. If you have read Neil Shusterman's Unwind or UnWholly, then you know this debate. Well, The Lost Girl gives it another spin that sparks a great debate. It's a modern Frankenstein with so much heart! (no pun intended... ok, maybe a little) You could analyze this book for hours!

You need to read The Lost Girl. Your friends need to read The Lost Girl. Then, you need to get your sister/brother/mom/dad/grandma/neighbor's dog to read The Lost Girl so you can all sit and discuss its amazingness.

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