Review: Ensnared by A.G. Howard

Review: Ensnared by A.G. HowardEnsnared by A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered #3
Published by Amulet Books on January 6, 2015
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
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After surviving a disastrous battle at prom, Alyssa has embraced her madness and gained perspective. She’s determined to rescue her two worlds and the people and netherlings she loves. Even if it means challenging Queen Red to a final battle of wills and wiles . . . and even if the only way to Wonderland, now that the rabbit hole is closed, is through the looking-glass world—-a parallel dimension filled with mutated and sadistic netherling outcasts.

In the final installment of the Splintered trilogy, Alyssa and her dad journey into the heart of magic and mayhem in search of her mom and to set right all that’s gone wrong. Together with Jeb and Morpheus, they must salvage Wonderland from the decay and destruction that has ensnared it. But even if everyone succeeds and comes out alive, can they all truly have their happily ever after?

Fair Warning: If you haven’t read the Splintered trilogy, this review does contain mild (or major, depending on how you feel about it) spoilers. Don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled. You have been warned!

I had an epic love/hate relationship with this book – and it hurts me to even say that, considering how much I LOVED Splintered and Unhinged! But, unfortunately, Ensnared didn’t hold my attention the way the first two books in this trilogy did, though that epic epilogue definitely made up for a lot of the other things that bothered me!

First of all, I was 68 pages into Ensnared before I realized that I’d read Unhinged so long ago, I’d forgotten EVERYTHING that happened, so I skimmed through Splintered (I remembered almost all of it, but the refresher helped) and then I had to COMPLETELY re-read Unhinged (again, except for two things I remembered vividly and several things that came back to me as I read, I had forgotten EVERYTHING). The re-read was nice because it reminded me how much I loved Splintered (which, I discovered, is my favorite book in the trilogy).

From Splintered to Ensnared, there’s no doubt that Alyssa has grown and changed. She’s embraced her Netherling side and she’s accepted that Wonderland will always be a part of her. But there was something off about her in this book. She was still fierce and determined, but not as fierce as she was in the other two books. She doubts herself a lot and her conflicted feelings over her human side versus her Netherling side and her feeling for Jeb versus Morpheus really started to consume her. And, sadly, the constant back-and-forth became incredibly tedious. In Unhinged, I LIKED these conflicting feelings. A lot of Alyssa’s character growth came out of her reasoning through these conflicted feelings. But in Ensnared, they consumed her. Ultimately, Alyssa came to terms with these conflicted feelings and there was resolution. But by then, the back-and-fourth had almost completely annoyed me beyond caring.

I will never not be Team Morpheus. He was brilliant in this book! He’s grown so much since Splintered, it’s ridiculous. He’ll always be a cunning, master manipulater and a sweet-talker, but he’s learning to balance that with honestly. In Unhinged, sometimes it was hard to determine when his words and actions were sincere and when he was manipulating a person or situation to his advantage. But in Ensnared, I could always tell the difference. I have to admit, though, seeing him weakened and semi-powerless in the beginning was REALLY weird and difficult, since we very rarely see him in such a vulnerable state.

My dislike for Jeb was STRONG in this book. He had moments in Splintered and Unhinged where he redeemed himself but he had VERY few moments like that in Ensnared and most of them were near the end. I couldn’t stand his attitude or the way he treated Alyssa or any of it. I know he’s been through hell, but he was so cold, distant and disrespectful. I grudgingly admit that he had some intriguing character developments throughout the book, though.

I’m really conflicted regarding the love triangle resolution. It sort of felt like a cop-out, but I also don’t think it could have ended any other way, considering the circumstances. The set-up for this ending was hinted at pretty early on (possibly even during Unhinged), so it didn’t really come as a surprise. It sort of felt like there was a lack of closure for the one ship, but maybe we’ll get that closure in Untamed.

Alyssa’s dad was pretty a pretty tough guy. There were so many revelations and character developments with him, it was pretty amazing to see. He really kept a level head through a lot of crazy things. On the flip-side, I think those scenes and revelations dealing with him and his background took up too big a chunk of this book. Yes, they were important and relevant, but they could have been shortened/condensed. Since this was the final book in the trilogy, I really wanted more of Alyssa, Morpheus and Jeb (reluctantly) and more of Wonderland and the future, etc.

I really hate to say this, but this is my least favorite book in the trilogy. The characters were all SO out of character. The tone of the book was VERY different from the first two. And it was a pretty slow read, both in plot and in pacing. Things really didn’t pick up until somewhere within the last 100 pages or so. And my absolute favorite part was the epilogue. Honestly, before that, I was going to give this book three stars, but the epilogue bumped it up to 3.5.

Overall, despite not enjoying Ensnared as much as I’d hoped to, it was still a fun read and I love that I now have closure with these characters. This is still also one of my absolute favorite trilogies, Anita is still one of my absolute favorite authors and these are still some of my absolute favorite characters (Well, except Jeb). Morpheus was my first ever book boyfriend, so he and this trilogy will forever hold a special place in my heart.

I definitely recommend Ensnared for fans of the trilogy. I seem to be in the minority when it comes to my feelings on this book. So chances are, if you loved the first two, you’ll love this one! And, if nothing else, it’s nice to see how the story ends for all the characters. Finally, if you’re interested in reading Untamed, reading all three books in the trilogy is a must, from what I can tell, unless you want Untamed to spoil the ending of Ensnared!


Review: Unhinged by A.G. Howard

I received this book for free from a blogger in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Unhinged by A.G. HowardUnhinged by A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered #2
Published by Amulet Books on January 7, 2014
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: a blogger
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Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she's always dreamed of.

That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.

As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.

If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.

Words can’t begin to describe how amazing this book was. I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this review without fangirling and flailing. It was… epic. But that doesn’t even do it justice. First of all, I said it in my review of Splintered but I’ll say it again here: A.G. Howard is an amazing writer. Her writing is beautiful, vivid and descriptive. I can picture everything as though I’m there, living out the story with Alyssa, Morpheus and Jeb.

Going from Splintered to Unhinged, Alyssa really grew as a character. She’s so reluctant to embrace her Netherling heritage, yet she embraces her magic more so than she ever has before. She’s split between her loyalty to Wonderland and her loyalty to those in her human life. And ultimately, this is her undoing. Honestly, I made this observation near the very beginning of the book. I never realized how right I would be until almost the very end! In addition to being torn between her human side and Netherling side, Alyssa was torn between Jeb and Morpheus. She placed most of her love and loyalty with Jeb, of course, but she started to soften towards Morpheus.

Morpheus was so frustrating in this book! I am still 100% Team Morpheus – I’ll NEVER waiver on that – but he did some really conniving things this time around. He’s cunning; a master manipulative and a sweet-talker. He always has ulterior motives to everything he does. But I’ve never believed he would ever intentionally hurt Alyssa, nor would he let anything happen to her. Deep down, I know he loves her and wants to protect her, even if he has a funny way of showing it. And I mean, come on! His physical description (Brandon Lee as The Crow meets David Bowie as Jareth)… SWOON! And that accent of his? *Flails!!!* If this needs any further explanation, then just go watch The Crow and Labyrinth. Enough said.

Jeb… Oy! Where to begin? Like I said, I’m 100% Team Morpheus. But there were several moments in Unhinged where I felt terrible for Jeb! And then there were other moments where I just wanted to smack him over the head. He’s a hot-head and he gets way too jealous way too easily. He acts like he doesn’t trust Alyssa. I mean, I get it if he doesn’t trust Morpheus! But if he loves Alyssa as much as he says he does, shouldn’t he trust her more?!? Deep down, I know Jeb has good intentions and a good heart. He just needs to grow up and mature a little bit.

I do, however, love the banter between Jeb and Morpheus! I said it in my review of Splintered, but I’ll say it again: their banter reminds me of Xander and Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Anyone agree?? It’s hysterical!

Alyssa’s dad was sooooo frustrating in Uhinged! I just wanted him to trust Alyssa! I get that he went through a lot with Alyssa’s mom, but he let that color his judgement and he refused to trust his daughter, refused to let her explain. He just jumped to conclusions and got angry. He and Jeb are a lot alike in that sense. And then there’s Alison (Alyssa’s mom). I had a lot of trouble trusting Alison. I kept waiting for her to betray everyone to get what she wanted. I didn’t trust her at all. Honestly, I’m still not sure I completely trust her.

The revelations about Alison and Alyssa’s dad were MIND-BLOWING! It was like a puzzle, and all the pieces fell into place. It made me feel so bad for everyone involved, but so many things finally made sense. Even certain things with Morpheus and the way he treated Alyssa finally made sense!

The ending was… I can’t even. I seriously can’t even. I’m dying. I’m flailing. THAT EVIL CLIFFHANGER WAS EVIL! My mind is exploding and my brain is DOA. Seriously, Major Book Hangover! I NEED Ensnared (Book #3) ASAP! I can’t wait a year to find out what happens next! I can’t!

Overall (if you couldn’t already tell from my review), Unhinged was amazing. That ending broke me. And I can’t wait for Ensnared!!!


Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Review: Splintered by A.G. HowardSplintered by A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered #1
Published by Amulet Books on January 1, 2013
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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(From Amazon) 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.

This book was so amazing in so many ways, I don’t even know where to begin. The writing was beautiful, vivid and descriptive, the characters came alive, and the plot intrigued me from the very beginning. I’ve always loved Alice and Wonderland, and this was a captivating tale, set in the world of Wonderland, with a dark twist on the beloved children’s story. The references to The Crow and Labyrinth won my heart.

My favorite part of the story was Morpheus. I can’t help it – I’m totally fangirling over him! Basically, he’s Brandon Lee as The Crow + Jareth from Labyrinth + a Dark Angel + Captain Jack Sparrow + The Phantom of The Opera. So… any more questions? I pretty much swooned over him the entire book, so I’m not going to say anything else, or my review will be 100% Morpheus-focused.

While I’m sort of on the subject, I really loved the character names in this book. Persephone, Morpheus, Aphrodite, Adonis. I’m a big fan of Greek Mythology – well, mythology in general, to be honest – so I loved this. Howard did a great job twisting the names of the Wonderland characters, as well, to make them fit this darker, scarier version of a place only a child could have dreamed up. Rabid White? Herman Hattington? Chessie? All great twists on classic characters, and the logic behind the Lewis Carroll version vs what Alyssa sees (as explained on page 104) is great.

“What happens in Wonderland stays in Wonderland” = New Favorite saying. (Pg 140)
“Thirty sprites touched your naked body?” = Dying of laughter. (Pg 187)
“I am a man in every way that counts!” = Dying of laughter again. (Pg 250)

Other favorite quotes:
“…Tranquility amid the madness…” (Pg 211)
“I’m beginning to enjoy the Madness.” (Pg 212)

As for Jeb… I know a lot of people loved him, and don’t get me wrong, I do, too. But there were a few instances when he kind of annoyed me, like when he took Taelor’s word over Alyssa’s and when he demanded she not trust Morpheus, but he trusted Gossamer. These things just rubbed me the wrong way, and kind of reminded me of Jay from The Body Finder series, and I wasn’t his biggest fan. But Jeb had some redeeming qualities. First of all, he’s worthy of some swooning, too! And he really put his life on the line for Alyssa several times throughout the book. I nearly cried a few times.

This is a random thought, but did anyone else think the bickering between Jeb and Morpheus was reminiscent of Xander and Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Was it just me?

There were some great twists and revelations in the last 100 pages or so, some things I had started to figure out, and some that came as a complete shock. There was a lot of screaming and crying, to be honest… And the last paragraph was just.. sweet and romantic and tear-inducing.

Overall, if you couldn’t tell already, I adored this book so, so much. I have no clue how I’m going to make it January for the next book!