Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Painting the Roses Red

Published: January 1st, 2013
By: A.G. Howard
ISBN-13: 978149704284

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.

     Alyssa has grown up with a very valid fear of losing her sanity - the women in every generation of her family since her great-great-great Grandmother Alice Liddell have been committed to asylums.  Yes, Alyssa's three times great Grandmother was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's books about the twisted world of Wonderland.  But she insisted that it was real.  And since Alyssa has been communicating with bugs and plants for most of her life, she's pretty sure she's going insane too.  Until she discovers that it's all true and she has to travel to Wonderland in order to break the family curse and free her Mom before more drastic measures are taken to 'cure' her.  But Wonderland is not the same as it was before Alice fell down the rabbit hole and Alyssa must fix all her mistakes if she's to ever be sent home again.  She didn't count on her best friend (and secret crush) Jeb getting dragged down into the rabbit hole with her.  And who will she trust with her life - Jeb or Morpheus, her childhood guide thorough Wonderland who has his own selfish and possibly deadly motivations.  When Alyssa uncovers a secret from her family's past that changes everything, can she still save Wonderland without sacrificing who she is?
     I was expecting disappointment when I went into this, even though I was giddy with excitement.  Thankfully it lived up to my expectations, unlike the 2010 Tim Burton film redux.  Everyone should skip that and go with Syfy's Alice miniseries from 2009.  There's a very HOT Hatter in it...but I digress!  The book managed to take a darker spin on Wonderland and still make it relatable and not completely out of context.  It was like coming upon a treasure chest of Gothic jewels.  And they were very well crafted.  It was pure awesomeness having a heroine, who while pretty much crush obsessed, managed to not let it overtake her entire life.  Alyssa was brave, strong, independent and wonderfully snarky.  I liked that she was being tested and (supposedly) had to fix Alice's mistakes to break the curse of madness in her family.  The author managed to make both Morpheus and Jeb both likeable love interests, even though about 80% of the time I wanted to smack one, or both, of them upside the head.  The mystery of all the original characters' true stories, Alyssa's family lineage and the motivations of everyone offering to 'help' her finish her quest make for a truly gripping story.  Some truly creepy scenes had me flipping pages, desperate to find out what happened next.  The ending leaves things open for a sequel, but could also be a fairly satisfying ending which is nice in a world full of never-ending trilogies and quartets.  Highly recommended for anyone looking for an innovative and well crafted tale with romance, adventure, twisted fairy-tale elements and pure surprise.
VERDICT:  4.75/5  Stars (I can't go higher because of the loose ending.  I would have liked more definite closure or cliffhanger.  One or the other.)
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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