UNHINGED by A.G. Howard

UnhingedAlyssa 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. (Find it on Goodreads.)


Note: this is the sequel to Splintered, which I reviewed here.

After finishing Unhinged, there are a few things about the back-cover copy that strike me as pretty ironic. First off, there’s the fact that Alyssa finds her mom overly protective, when that’s basically Jeb’s defining character trait and she finds no fault in that.

More importantly, there’s the last paragraph. It seems to imply that Alyssa is torn about staying in the human realm versus returning to Wonderland, that she’s concerned about the consequences of staying in her world and what it could mean to the people she loves. When in reality, she spent most of the book refusing to even consider the possibility of leaving.

Wonderland’s in trouble? As rightful queen, she’s the only one who can save it? Not Alyssa’s problem. Sucks to be a Wonderlandian, but she’s going to prom and getting into art school, dang it.

Ultimately, besides Jeb and Alyssa herself, that’s my main frustration with this series–it has so much potential, but it does almost nothing with it. Unhinged is basically a hulking Exhibit A to back that claim up. The whole thing felt like setup for what should’ve been the rest of the book–except there wasn’t any rest of the book, because that’s all there was.

Initially, I was cool with that. It felt like we were going to chill out in the human realm for the first little bit, then go vaulting into Wonderland, where we obviously belonged–typical pacing stuff to ease us up the rollercoaster of plot. Only…that never happened. There was no rollercoaster. There were multiple inciting incidents, catalysts that should’ve propelled the story forward and fostered some plot development. But each time one came her way, instead of choosing to actually do something, Alyssa stuck her head in the sand. Like an ostrich, or a really obstinate five-year-old. Talk about maddening.

Sadly, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t any more impressed with Alyssa this time around. She’s still whiny, and insists on going into excruciating detail both about her feelings and about each and every outfit any character wears. Basically, if you want a passive, static main character, she’s your girl.

On the other hand, Unhinged delved much deeper into Alyssa’s parents, and it was nice to see them fleshed out some. Now that Alyssa’s mom is home again, it’s unsettled the balance Alyssa and her dad had developed when it was just the two of them. I liked that. Really, it seems like the most realistic outcome to me, and it kind of reminded me of the Meggie-Resa dynamic in Cornelia Funke’s Inkspell. Mother and daughter are both used to being Alpha Female around the house, and it takes some adjustment and tension to reconfigure that power balance. It was also nice to learn more about Alyssa’s parents’ past, and to get the promise of more of that.

Once again, Morpheus was Atlas, carrying this series on his winged shoulders. There’s some nice insight into his character, but he’s still the charming, scheming, incredibly grey character he was in the first book. And once again–in the absence of any real plot this time–he kept me reading.

For me, besides Morpheus, the strongest aspect of Splintered was the Wonderland world-building. So I don’t understand why it seemed like a good idea to set Unhinged entirely in the human realm. Honestly, it kind of felt like the author wanted to save the Big Showdown with Queen Red for the end of the series, but she also wanted the series to be a trilogy, so we ended up with a filler middle book. On the plus side, she did have the sense to bring a few of the more notable Wonderland characters over to our world, which spiced things up. It still felt like filler, but filler with that quirky, somewhat warped Wonderland edge to it.

Basically, you could read the back-cover copy and know everything you need to read the third book, Ensnared (set to release in January 2015). It just trots through the same motions over and over again. Wonderland and its problems inevitably seep into her world, and Alyssa inevitably shrugs it off, because she doesn’t want to get involved. Rinse and repeat.

That ending, though. Dang. I have to give major props to the ending. Despite myself and the first two books, I’ll probably end up reading the last book because of it–without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that Alyssa’s safety nets have been removed, and she’ll hopefully have no choice but to step up and finally become a strong protagonist.

Unhinged didn’t bring much of anything new to the table, so I recommend it on the basis of Splintered. If you liked that one, you’ll probably like this one too. If you hated it, you probably wouldn’t read this one anyways.

If you’re just kind of ambivalent about the whole thing, you’re in excellent company, and we both ride out hope for a better future.



It was a dark, gloomy class field trip. Because it was in a coal mine.

The star quarterback swore as he fell to the bottom of a mine shaft. Probably. Being deaf, Will Halpin could only guess about the cursing. But silent or not, Pat Chambers’s deadly tumble was definitely foul play.

Hefty, deaf, and the new guy in school, Will isn’t exactly a candidate for instant popularity. The beautiful girl in his class isn’t going to notice him anytime soon. But Will is a pro at reading lips, and he’s privy to a lot of dirt.

So when he teams up with the only guy in school less popular than he is to figure out what happened in that mine, Will discovers that suspects with motives to kill obnoxious Pat are many. The too-sexy-for-calculus math teacher? The crackpot bus driver? The sad prom queen?

The Hardy Boys they’re not. But nobody else at Carbon High has the smarts to solve this crime, or is dorky enough to don a fake beard in pursuit of the truth.


A lot of the time, it seems like the more lighthearted books don’t get enough credit. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin reminds me just how messed up that is–because even though it deals with murder, deafness, and bullying, it’s definitely a lighthearted book.

And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.

For some people, the major selling point of this book will be Will himself. He’s fun and quirky, and he manages to make just about any situation amusing. He’s also the new kid ditching an all-deaf school to integrate into a mainstream high school, and people aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to include him. As he adjusts, he keeps a notebook of observations about this new world he’s immersed himself in–and they’re pretty great.

Take, for example, his notes on his new bus driver. As he drives his route, said bus driver chows down on a huge bag of pork rinds and mumbles bizarre rhymes to himself. Will, the second-best lip reader at his old school, is delighted at this turn of events. When he sees the bus driver mutter stuff like “Joke the mole, smoke a bowl,” Will commemorates this in his notebook: JIMMY PORKRINDS = ADDLED POTHEAD OR GIFTED LYRICIST?

Once he gets to school, Will has plenty more material for his notebook. The other kids seem to forget he’s there, so it’s a good thing he’s not into blackmail–he picks up all sorts of scandalous tidbits on the people around him. In fact, once the school jerk–excuse me, jock–is murdered on the school field trip, Will’s got enough dirt to piece together the likely suspects.

Enter Devon, a cop’s son with a thing for the Hardy Boys. Devon’s got a robust vocabulary and a decent grasp of sign language, and he’s the only kid at school willing to give Will a chance–possibly because he’s the only kid less popular than Will. When the two team up to solve their classmate’s murder, they actually play off each other well. Between Will’s wise-guy sarcasm and Devon’s dated, gentlemanly mannerisms, the duo has a fun odd-couple feel going on.

Besides Will, I’d say the highlight of the book is his sense of humor. It’s full of witty asides, self-deprecating jokes, and wry observations of the world around him. I laughed out loud several times, and at the end of the day, I can’t ask for much more from a book.

Will’s deafness was handled beautifully, too. It’s referenced enough that you never forget about it, but not so often that you feel beat over the head with it. Being deaf is part of being Will Halpin, but it doesn’t define being Will Halpin. Alternate forms of communication, like sign language, written notes, and text messages were integrated smoothly, without getting gimmicky or tiresome. By the end of the book, I also felt like I had a better understanding of deafness, but I never felt like I’d been lectured to. Always a plus.

My only complaint about the book is that sometimes the plot felt a little all over the place–almost like it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. At the beginning, it seemed like it was going to focus on social issues: besides his disability, Will’s also overweight, and he and Devon both dealt with some bullying. Then the plot shifted, and Will learned about a local miner–also deaf, also named Will Halpin–who died in a cave-in a century ago. Weird coincidence, right? It seems like family drama/intrigue and possibly a ghost plot thread are brewing, but in the end, that particular story element is mostly dumped for the murder plotline. Which wasn’t a bad thing, but it never seemed clear why the other-Will-Halpin subplot was introduced in the first place.

All in all, it’s a fun, light read. I figure this one will appeal to fans of humor, amateur sleuth mysteries, and Rick Yancey’s Alfred Kropp series. If it sounds like your kind of thing, check it out on Goodreads.


Splintered cover
Welcome to the real Wonderland…

Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowersprecisely 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.  (Add it on Goodreads)


Once upon a time, I read glowing review after glowing review for this book, Splintered. So it only seemed reasonable that when I read it, I’d find it just as engrossing.

I didn’t, which is pretty disappointing. While I liked the twisted take on Wonderland, I couldn’t connect to Alyssa and was annoyed by Jeb, and I didn’t get interested until about 75% into the book. Still, once it got good, it didn’t pull any punchesand between that last chunk of the book and the untrustworthy, charming netherling Morpheus, I’ll probably give the sequel a shot. Just with lower expectations this time.

On the plus side, there’s the premise. Alyssa’s female ancestors on her mom’s side have all gone mad, and when bugs and flowers start getting chatty with Alyssa herself, she’s afraid she’ll be the next one to check into a rubber room. But she takes the denial route, stabbing the bugs to shut them up, arranging their corpses into prize-winning artwork. That sounds like a character I could get behind.

Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. This sounds weird to say about someone who makes dead-bug mosaics, but I found Alyssa pretty boring. She didn’t have much in the personality department, and all her attempts at humor fell flat. Even worse, until the very end, she added almost nothing to the story.

She’s supposed to be the main character, but much of the story could’ve played out the same way without her. Most of the “quests” were completed thanks to Jeb or Morpheus, and even that ended up being a much smaller part of the book than the back-cover copy suggested. Mostly, Alyssa just got tugged along for the ride and went on and on about her feelings. At length.

Also, a lot of the plot points seemed weirdly convenient. (Alyssa just so happens to find a website with accurate information on the mythology of the real Wonderland, when Carroll himself got it wrong? She just so happens to have all these repressed memories locked away, ready to flood back when she needs them?) Jeb was also problematic for me. He was

protective to the point of being controlling, and he wouldn’t let Alyssa do anything for herself. She actually seemed like more of a person when he wasn’t around.

Wonderland itself was the book’s high point, though. Howard took elements of the original story and warped them, creating something new that still paid homage to its source. The White Rabbit becomes Rabid White, the jabberwocky becomes a jabberlock box, and so on. The Twid sisters, half-spider soul keepers of Wonderland, were probably my favorite addition Howard made.

Then there was Morpheus. This guy had all the personality the other characters lacked, and he wasn’t shy about it, either. Personally, I love a morally ambiguous character, and the self-serving but charming Morpheus delivered on that. He’s the kind of character you know you can’t trust, but find compelling anyway. For me, he was the book’s saving grace. In fact, if Oscar Wilde had been a straight, blue-haired netherling from Wonderland with some seriously dubious trustworthiness and a penchant for accessorizing with dead moths, I imagine he would’ve been a little bit like good old Morph.

Ultimately, Splintered wasn’t all I was expecting—but there are loads of other reviewers who loved it. Because I’m willing to give the sequel a shot for the sake of Morpheus and Wonderland, I think it’s only fair to give it three of five stars. I’d recommend this one to fans of the original Wonderland, plus big fans of world building.

My Top 10 Fictional Brothers

Don’t ask me what it is–that’s a whole nother tangent for some other day–but there’s something about the dynamic between brothers that I find really compelling.

With that thought in mind, I thought I’d do a rundown of some of my favorite fictional brothers.

10. Phineas and Gene (A Separate Peace, John Knowles)

To be fair, this is one of the more troubled relationships on my list. To amp the fairness up a notch, that was probably the understatement of the year. But I digress.

Whatever went down between them, there’s no denying that Finny and Gene had a special bond. Granted, part of that’s because Finny was a special person, but I’d also argue that they were brothers: Gene loved Finny and hated him, was jealous of him and idolized him. At the end of the day, isn’t that what being a brother’s all about?

9. Thor and Loki

Blog post Thor LokiLet it be known: I’m not the world’s biggest Thor fan. Actually, I mildly loathe him, because he doesn’t bring much to the table and he strikes me as kind of bland. But I do love Loki, and I adore the side of brotherhood that their strained little relationship explores. Really, what does it mean to be a brother?

Brothers fight–and it makes sense that superhuman brothers have super-scaled fights. Again, we see jealousy and betrayal come into play here. But when they put everything aside and work together, they actually make a pretty inspiring team.

8. Frasier and Niles

Part of me thinks I’m insane to rank the Crane brothers above Loki and Thor, but really, there’s something to be said for a brother relationship that manages to be entertaining without resorting to the drama and angst that typically come with the package.Frasier and Niles

Growing up, the Crane brothers’ dad didn’t understand them. He was a cop, big on sports and greasy food, and his sons’ refined tastes. No worries, though. Even as adults, they’re still the perfect kindred spirits–wine snobs and opera buddies. And when Niles needed help avoiding a biking marathon with his fiancée because he didn’t know how to ride a bike, Frasier was right there to help him sabotage his bike.

That, my friends, is true brotherhood.

7. Xavier and Magneto

Nothing can make me hang my head and gnash my teeth quite like what Fox has done to the X-Men movies, but if they’ve done one thing I can appreciate, it’s the dynamic between these two in First Class. Back before they were Professor X and Magneto, they were Charles and Erik–two bright-eyed young mutants looking to change the world. Their closeness early on in their journey only makes their later strained relationship that much better.Blog post Xavier Magneto

6. Fred and George Weasley

I’m pretty sure this one doesn’t need any explanation. The only bond cooler than brothers is twin brothers, and the Weasleys were the best twins ever.

5. Lex and Clark (early Smallville)

I’ve only worked my way to the third season of Smallville, but I think we all know what eventually happens here. The fact that I know what they become makes me appreciate the early days of their relationship so much more, and dread what’s going to happen. But really, it makes sense. The dynamic between hero and definitive arch nemesis is a complex one, and it’s just like brothers–can’t live with him, can’t live without him.

4. Finn and Keiro (Incarceron, Catherine Fisher)

Technically, Finn and Keiro are oathbrothers. In the harsh environment of Incarceron, a sentient prison full of convicts banished from the real world, picking an oathbrother is like forming a business partnership, but deeper. An oathbrother is someone who has your back–together, you make sure you each stay alive.

Even when everyone tells Finn he shouldn’t trust Keiro, and even when Keiro doesn’t give Finn much reason to, Finn somehow has faith in him. And even though he’s wild and selfish and unpredictable, Keiro always comes through. These two are fun to read because you never quite know what scrapes they’ll get into or how they’ll get along, but you know their complex dynamic will shine.

3. The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater)

Blog post Raven BoysGansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah all go to

Aglionby Academy, a private school for boys. On the surface, that’s all they should have in common. Gansey’s the rich, spoiled pretty boy; Adam’s the scholarship student working to clip his Virginian accent and make something of himself; Ronan’s the troubled bad boy with family issues; and Noah is…well, Noah. But the four of them end up becoming a group, and they work well as a unit or broken down into smaller subgroups. Out of all the boarding school books I’ve ever read, the raven boys make this one the coolest.

2. Norb and Dag (The Angry Beavers)

Blog post Norb DagYears ago, when my sister and I rediscovered The Angry Beavers, we came to a weird realization: If you swap Norb’s vanity with Dag’s socially clueless outlook, the beaver brothers are eerily accurate mirrors for us. Even when Norb’s being manipulative and Dag’s being annoying, or their rivalry comes between them for the millionth time, they’ve still got just enough bizarre common interests to bring them back together again.

Plus, they come up with some of the best nicknames ever.

1. Sam and Dean Winchester (Supernatural)

Obviously, a post about brothers isn’t complete without the Winchesters.

When I think of compelling bonds, Sam and Dean always rise to the forefront. Time and time again, they’ve proven what brotherhood really means. They’ve been through just about everything together, saved the world way more times than should be strictly necessary, and sacrificed everything for each other—without hesitation.Blog post Sam Dean

The show’s currently filming its tenth season, and through all the years, the bond between Sam and Dean has always been its cornerstone. Everyone and everything else comes and goes, but at the end of it all, Sam and Dean will always be there for each other. Just…no chick flick moments.


Your turn. Any favorite fictional brothers? Any book or TV show I’ll have to look up?