Monday, May 11, 2009

The Hourglass Door Doesn't Quite Deliver

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

You know how sometimes you want so much to love a book, but you just ... don't? That's what reading The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum was like for me. When Shadow Mountain offered me an ARC of the book, I jumped at the chance. After all, several LDS authors have praised Mangum's talents to me, her book is coming from a publisher I admire, and, judging by her blog/website, she just seems like a very nice person. I was hoping to add her name to the list of LDS authors I actually want to read - you know, people like Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, James Dashner, etc. - but, based on her first novel, that's just not going to happen. Why not? Because this, her first novel, just isn't original enough to keep my attention. It's not different enough to survive in a market saturated by Twilight copycats. No, Mangum's not writing about vampires, but it's close enough to be irritating. Add in flat characters, stilted dialogue and a plot that doesn't always make sense and, well ... maybe you can understand my hesitation.

The story concerns high school senior Abby Edmunds, whose life is busy with college applications; play rehearsal; and her nice - if a tad bit predictable - boyfriend, Jason. A good girl who pretty much does what she's told, Abby longs for a little adventure in her life. So, when foreign exchange student Dante Alexander saunters into her school, she's more than a little intrigued. The sparks fly fast and furious between them, making Abby nervous, seeing as she has a boyfriend and all. Still, she's been assigned to integrate Dante into the cast of the school play, and that's just what she means to do. So what if he's standoffish with the other students, mysteriously absent for days at a time, blatantly avoids physical contact, and seems to be hiding something (Can you say Edward Cullen?) - he's obviously into Abby. Plus, he's about the hottest thing to walk the halls of her high school in about a million years.

Abby does have one slight problem - okay, two. For starters, Jason's not too happy about the time she's spending with Dante. The truth is, she's beginning to wonder if her "safe" relationship with Jason is really worth hanging onto. But hurting the guy she's known since childhood in favor of a wild card like Dante doesn't seem like a great idea either, especially since weird things seem to happen whenever he's around (that's problemo numero dos, if you're counting). Maybe she's crazy, but when she's with him, time literally seems to stand still. She knows there's a rational explanation. She just can't figure out what it is. Dante's cryptic answers to her questions just make things more confusing.

When she finally lands on the truth (well, Dante spills the beans), her world tilts a little. His confession changes things, but how much? Can she still trust him? Even when his secret may put her and everyone she loves in danger? Exactly how far is she willing to go for the one person who can take her away from her safe, predictable life? Is that even really what she wants? With time warping all around her, Abby's got to trust her heart - wherever it may lead.

The Hourglass Door starts with a bang; the prologue is taut, otherworldy and mysterious. It seems to promise an intriguing thrill ride with a little romance, a little sci. fi and a lot of suspense. It definitely left me wanting more. So, when Chapter 1 plunged me into the bland world of teenage Abby, I was a little disappointed. Pacing slowed way down, minutiae crowded out the mystery, and stale characters made it all a little ... dull. The middle of the story dragged, then picked up toward the end, but by that time it had become confusing and unrealistic. I mean, the blurb on the book's back cover states that Abby is "drawn into a mystery whose roots reach into sixteenth-century Florence," so I didn't expect reality reality, but still ... you know how Stephenie Meyer makes us actually believe that there are vampires running around Washington State? Mangum doesn't quite do that. Here, Dante's big secret just feels completely unbelievable. The story also let a lot of things dangle - I didn't understand why Dante bothered going to school, why he chose Abby out of all the other girls, or why no one (like her parents) cared about her obsessive relationship with a virtual stranger. Plus, the ending bugged big time. I guess what I'm trying to say is that this book just didn't work for me. I thought the idea behind the story had a lot of potential, but it just didn't quite deliver. I wish it had, because I really, really wanted to like this one, but it was just okay for me.

Now, once again, reviewers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble disagree with my assessments, so check those out before dismissing the book completely. Just because it didn't work for me doesn't mean it won't for you :)

Grade: C

(The Hourglass Door will be available on May 13)

9 comments:

  1. This is a real shame. I too was looking forward to reading this book after all the hype surounding its iminent release. i'm in two minds now as its not yet available in Australia and i was going to order it from the US. I think i'll still give it a go but i'll wait until it is released here first i think. Great review.

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  2. ok heres the deal if someone had told me too read this book and what it was about i probably wouldn't have read it!, but i did and i loved every minute of it and it's actually really not all that confusing @ all it's fiction so it doesn't have too have fact and i cant wait until the second book coomes out in 2010

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  3. I read this book and I loved it! I'm deeply saddened that you did not enjoy it but, everyone is entitled to their opinions.

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  4. I just finished this book, and I absolutely loved it! Yes, I agree with some of your thoughts on it. I am finding too many books now are copycats, but this one flowed well for me, and I look forward to the second book next year.

    I do love your reviews-thank you for them! :)

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  5. I too loved the book, and disagree with you completely when you say,
    " just isn't original enough to keep my attention. It's not different enough to survive in a market saturated by Twilight copycats."

    I thought it was very original, without (hopefully) giving much away I thought the twists were clever, and where you felt confused I felt like it was a great story that I couldn't figure out. There are too many books out there that are predictable and I thought the ideas in this book were amazing.
    Yes it may have been slow in some places but most books are.
    That being said, I too am awaiting the Summer of 2010 for The Golden Spiral, and I appreciate your reviews. :)
    Jessica

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  6. Susan,
    Thanks for this thoughtful review. Personally, I think you were too kind. The author's verbosity and mixed metaphor's drove me nuts! And yeah, where were her parents when, say, a 50-ish year old man comes to visit her when she has the flu, etc. And what about the drama teacher kissing a student? Didn't it bother anyone besides me that there were no consequences for that? And I'm no expert on time travel, but if you time travel, you are supposed to end up in modern-day wherever-you-left, not traveling through time and space. And what about that supposedly soft-drinks only hangout? Dante's "uncle" served Abby a mixed drink that took three paragraphs to describe.

    I really really did not like this book. It was written by an editor and yet lacked editing. It was obviously written to cash in on the Twilight-mania.

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  7. It was such a relief to find someone who felt exactly the same way about this book as I did. Mangum tried way too hard to create a Bella/Edward romance and it just didn't work. I kept asking myself, when did they all in love? It seemed like the second he walked through the school doors they were both completely in love with each other. I also found the kiss from the drama teacher completely offensive and wondered why her parents had no problem with her hanging out with some guy they didn't know all the time and left her alone in their house with his old "uncle." The Twiligh comparisons are too many to name. Leo is the Carlisle character. He's been around for hundreds of years, seen it all, and instructs other time travellers how to live a normal life. He provides a safe haven, promotes peace, and treats the others like his children. Zo is like James/Jane. He's the character that Dante/Edward has to protect helpless Abby from and can somehow inflict mental pain on Dante. Jason is Jacob - the best friend with a smile like the sun who's in love with Abby and can offer her the normal life Dante can't. Dante has a gift like Edward, he can see the future in the river, he's overprotective of Abby, and has to restrain himself when kissing her or he'll hurt her (why he'd hurt her is never explained since he doesn't have superhuman vampire strenghth). He too thinks he's one of the bad guys even though he's never done anything bad. The list goes on. Abby, like Bella, is special. Where Bella is the one person who's mind can't be affected by vampire talents, Abby is the only person who can willingly go to the bank and make the bridge and door disappear.
    The whole thing with the door, the river, and the bending of time, etc. made little to no sense. The metaphors in the book were wildly redundant (does everyone have to ball their hands into fists EVERY time they get upset?), and the ending was weak. It seems that their should be something more in constructing a time machine than just blueprints that any high school shop student can follow. My mom begged me to read the book, so I did, but half way through she called to tell me not to waste my time because book two was much worse than book one. I finished it anyway, but wished I hadn't.
    FYI - if you're looking for a good LDS author I recommend Brandon Mull.

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  8. I have read this book once already and Loved it so much i decided to read it once more. This book left me with with both sadness and the urge to keep reading at the ending because of how it ended, i was just hoping for a happy ending. Though it just goes to show life isn't always filled with them. This book was a wonder read and i would most definitely recommend to anyone. hope yall future readers enjoy it:)

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  9. Yeah, by the end of the second book it made sense why Dante went to HS, why he's obsessed with Abby and got exciting... I mean it is a three book story. It is not great literature, but made me curious to see what happens. Waiting for the third book from the library.

    Others are comparing to Meyer. The only comparisons that could be made are teenage romance (obviously her audience and then her religion dictates a chaste romance) and the fact that, as tedious as the writing can be at times, it is far better than Meyer (who had a nice story and arc with Twilight, but writes horribly... clearly story has $$$ won out over skill).

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