Book Review: The Hourglass Door, by Lisa Mangum

Funny story, while I always wanted to read Lisa’s series, it kept getting pushed behind the newest shiny book that I’d been waiting for from the library. Then, I scored what I thought was the first book at a Christmas book exchange party. HUZZAH. I waited for the perfect weekend to cuddle up and dive in – only to find that it was the second book.

PSA: Should you ever take part in a book exchange, don’t bring a book in the middle of the series, kay? Just sayin’.

Long story short, I ended up grabbing a copy of the first book from the library and was finally able to sit and enjoy.

The Story

For a YA urban fantasy, this one hits all the expected points. Young girl who is reasonably happy with her life, although a little bored with her long-time totally devoted boyfriend, encounters mysterious stranger who is both foreign and, well, hot. Mysterious stranger ends up being more than just an exchange student – and the plot thickens from there. Did I miss anything?

Abby is a high school senior and as such is applying for colleges while juggling school and being the assistant director for the school’s Shakesperian play. She’s busy, but happy enough with her life. The only thing that would make her life perfect is to be accepted into the quirky arts college she applied to and for her boring boyfriend to do something spontaneous, like finally kiss her.

Dante is, well, from Italy in the 15th century. Due to his involvement in a conspiratorial plot, he is sent forward in time – a new form of banishment. There are side effects to this time travel, some of which are being exploited by other banished individuals in the present. While Dante also just wants a normal life, he also wants to stop these other time travelers from hurting people for their own gain.

Abby and Dante meet and are instantly drawn together by a force greater than just attraction. Abby has something special about her that alters how the flow of time works when Dante is around. With each step, the situation grows more complicated and the stakes greater until we reach an exciting conclusion.

My Review

I was instantly drawn in by the prologue. The reader is thrown into the head of a man who uses counting to cope with being in prison – so cool. He counts the steps to the door, the minutes until his trial, and the thoughts and regrets surging through his mind. It’s beautifully written, evocative and instantly engaging. A perfect start to the kind of fantasy I love.

Then, we leave that special space and never return. We spend the rest of the book largely in Abby’s head. That was a bit of a bummer, because I really wanted to see the world from that viewpoint again. But, even without that the story was enjoyable, there were plenty of interesting reveals, and the writing, exceptional.

Some say that the story is a little slow to get moving and it takes too long for Abby to start getting a clue, and I would agree. We do drag through quite a bit of Abby’s life before things start to get interesting. While it’s a slow build, it’s still has plenty of drama going on and perfectly captures the angst and insecurity of being a teenager.

When the fantasy magicky bits finally started happening, I was thrilled. We had elements of an alternate world, people with special powers, and devices required to unlock the mystical portal that is the Hourglass Door. It all comes together to create a satisfying conclusion with a natural tie in for the next book in the series.

Recommendations

If you like a healthy dose of high school angst and all the feelings mixed into your urban fantasy, the Hourglass Door is a perfect fit. If high school drama bothers you, then this might not be your best pick. The writing itself is done with care and precision enough that it forgives a lot of the angst, at least it did for me.

This is a clean read, no objectionable language or intimate situations. There are a few scenes with violence and depictions of injury, but it’s handled with care.

I give the Hourglass Door 4/5 stars for being a well written, well imagined story with a slow start.


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Book Review: Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor

When you fall in love with a story, it’s always a delight to know there’s a sequel. Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, a beautifully written fantasy that I gushed about in my review posted a few weeks ago.

There’s also a worry when it comes to sequels. If the first book was intended to be a standalone, then sequels never feel quite like they belong. The story conflicts tend to feel out of place or engineered. This isn’t so with Muse of Nightmares. If anything, my guess is that both books were originally intended to be a single volume, but the story was simply too big and had to be broken into two parts.

And it totally works.

Mind you, because this is a sequel I can’t help but divulge a few details from the end of the first book which gives clues to how it ends. Should you be the type that hates having the ends of books revealed – don’t read this review.

The Story

At the end of Strange the Dreamer, we left the charmingly awkward Lazlo as he makes a life-changing discovery. He is godspawn and has the rare magical gift that allows him to control mesarthium, the indestructible blue metal that makes up the citadel. His love, Sarai, has changed as well. Due to the events at the end of Strange the Dreamer, she is now a ghost held in the world by her sister Minya, a hateful, spiteful woman stuck in the body of a 6-year-old child.

Minya would destroy the world to save herself and the other blue-skinned godspawn and she’s holding Sarai as leverage to force obedience. Should anyone wish to move against her, she’ll release Sarai’s ghost and let her disappear forever.

Lazlo is torn. If he saves Sarai, he allows his world and friends to be destroyed. If he let’s her go, he can prevent untold carnage. It’s an unwinnable situation.

But, there are other forces at work and other questions that need to be answered. The world of the Mesarthim is a mystery at best. These mysteries are slowly exposed as the past and present collide to create not only new problems, but present a new solution.

All the critical elements come together, love and hate, revenge and redemption, salvation and destruction, to create a fulfilling story with a satisfying ending.

My Review

I cannot say this enough, but Laini Taylor’s writing is glorious. Her use of poetic lyrical language is a delight and utterly delicious. More than that, she’s created a complete world with depth and history that’s unlike anything that exists on earth or seen in other fantasy universes. That, in itself, is incredible.

As a writer, I can see the sheer amount of work that’s gone into the development of this world and the characters, cultures, and history that makes it unique. Each element has been given loving attention so that it doesn’t only exist, it comes alive off of the page.

One of the challenges of any sequel that ends the story is tying up all the loose ends of ideas presented in the first book. Strange the Dreamer presents lots of ideas that we are given tantalizing glimpses of, but aren’t fleshed out enough to be well understood. In Muse of Nightmares we dive into those ideas and finally see the truth of Sarai’s past and why she and her siblings were abandoned. Like I said, it’s satisfying to finally see the truth of what had only been hinted at for so long.

So, yes. I love this two book series. Everything about it makes my fantasy loving heart sing.

My Recommendations

While this is a wonderful fantasy, it requires attention to detail and an appreciation for lyrical writing. With this in mind, I don’t recommend this for younger readers and believe it’s best meant for high school age and up (and those they let play). Compared the the first book, there’s less intimacy but more violence and graphic description.

That said, for those of you who like traditional fantasy with a twist, this one should definitely scratch that itch.

I give Muse of Nightmares 5/5 stars for bringing a wonderful ending to a fantastic story.


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Book Review: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

There are those books that are just interesting and fun to read and there are those books where you feel something magical has happened. The Name of the Wind is the latter. I read this book a few years ago, but because it’s summer and I’m behind on my normal reading, this was the perfect time to finally review it. 

The story:

As the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, The Name of the Wind introduces us to the famous Kvothe, who is trying his best not to attract attention by taking a fake name and serving as a small town innkeeper. When Kvothe rescues a traveling scribe known as Chronicler and is recognized, the scribe asks to record his real story and his unfortunate rise to fame. As with many popular main characters, Kvothe’s life is full of hardship and misfortune. Lucky for him, these misfortunes tend to open doors, often in the most unexpected places. 

The story that’s recorded covers his childhood with a traveling performer troupe, his lost days as a beggar and pickpocket, his desperate attempt to get into the University where he can track down information, the many different ways he works to get enough money to attend the school, and all the many problems he encounters along the way. And trust me, there are plenty of those.

My Review:

I’m a sucker for any fantasy book. But, when I can find a book with an unusual magic system, a well-formed world, and beautiful language, it’s a rare treat. The Name of the Wind has all three. Perhaps Rothfuss’s greatest strength is his ability to transform his ideas into evocative fluid images. You can’t help but feel pulled into his world. 

Another strength is in the construction of the story itself. Instead of the standard narrative tale starting with a character discovering a great need, this book starts at the end and then carefully gives the readers the pieces of Kvothe’s story through a scribe. From the first page, the reader is presented with questions that need to be answered. Part of the joy in reading it is piecing together the clues to see how everything fits together.

The last point that I loved, but some readers might be squeamish about, is that Rothfuss does not shy away from including physical injuries and their care afterwards. Poor Kvothe has many enemies who really like to hurt him. With inexperienced writers this can often be a pitfall, but Rothfuss weaves it in as a natural result of danger and adventure and it really works. 

Recommendations:

This is a fantasy that is better suited for older readers, I’d recommend it for readers no younger than sixteen because of the beautiful language and puzzle-like nature of the story itself which might be too abstract for younger readers. For those who love a unique magic system, beautiful writing, and plenty of danger, this is a good pick.

For readers who prefer knowing clearly what is going on from the beginning, and not having to wait, often several books, for the answers, this book might prove frustrating. 

I give it a 5 out of 5


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!