It’s almost time for everyone’s favourite micro-flash-fiction challenge once again – Fiction in 50! July’s challenge will open on Monday and the prompt for this month is…
If you’d like to play along – and we sincerely hope you do – just create a piece of fiction comprising fewer than 51 words and pop back on Monday to add your link to the comments on my post. For more detailed information and prompts for the next six months, just click on the attractive button at the top of this post.
Now on to the bookery!
Today I have an unexpected delight for you that involves murder, mystery, magic doors, time travel and pen pals. Not necessarily in that order. We received a copy of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks from the publisher via Netgalley.
Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.
Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.
As far as time travel mysteries go, this is very well put together with a lovely blend of action between the present and the past. The tale starts off slowly (and innocently) enough, with two ladies becoming trans-temporal pen pals after each suddenly discovers the other’s house in their back garden. As Annie and Elsbeth try and figure out why they are suddenly connected in this manner, more pressing issues come to light and the ladies are drawn into trying to stop a murder that may (or may not) already have happened.
As the story unfolds, the author deftly reveals subsequent layers of the connection between the two women and the events surrounding Annie’s current circumstances in the present. The characters of Christian (Annie’s long-time, stuttering friend), Edmond (befriended by Christian due to an inexplicable familiarity of face) and Nathaniel (old-fashioned romantic interest for Annie) all add to the depth of the story and kept me guessing about who was who and how they were all linked. Or not linked.
The villains, Culler and Danyer, are violent and unpredictable and cast a deliciously creepy shadow over proceedings that is necessary to dispel Annie’s unfailing belief that meddling in time will result in things turning out perfectly alright. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the ordinary issues of Annie’s life melded with the time-travelly, magical aspects of the tale and I think this book will have a wide audience that encompasses those who enjoy plain literary fiction as well as those who like an unreal twist to their novels.
The only thing that mildly soured the experience of this book for me was the fact that I felt the pace slowed unnecessarily in some places, making the book feel a bit overly long. This is one of those books that, like the final film in The Lord of the Rings franchise, has an action-packed climax and then continues on for another half hour or so as all the loose ends are tied up. While the post-climax information is interesting and enlightening, and a satisfactory conclusion to the tale, it falls into the category that I like to call the “pre-empted bladder annoyance”. This may be familiar to you (or not), being the situation in which you think something (usually a film) is about to end and therefore you give your bladder permission to relax, knowing that within minutes you will be free to attend to its needs. When the film (or book, or play or whatever) then continues for longer than expected, you are forced to fidget uncomfortably while the author takes the time to neatly tie off the ends of the narrative.
Again, this certainly wasn’t a big enough complaint to sour the experience for me, but I do like a bit of warning where bladder pre-empting is concerned.
The thing that stands out for me about this book as opposed to other time-travel jaunts I’ve read is that it really does read like a family drama/comedy with time travel thrown in, rather than focusing on the mechanics of the time-travel and paradoxes and so forth. As a veteran reader of time-travel novels, this felt like a lovely, gentle yet exciting entry into the genre.
If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that doesn’t feature any unbelievable or magical elements, I would definitely recommend you give this book a try because it has all the best features of contemporary and women’s fiction (the friendships, the focus on relationships – both romantic and otherwise, the growth of the characters) as well as the added interest of the problems posed by finding a magic door at the back of your house and being unwittingly drawn into a century-old murder investigation.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the buoyant tone of this book and the way in which the author has intertwined time-travel with the general excitement and intrigue of a murder mystery. Annie and Elsbeth are both strong characters with a great sense of humour and wills of iron. The male characters run the gamut from shrinking violet to homicidal maniac and flesh out the narrative so that you can never quite be sure where each fits in (or will fit in in the future).
Give it a go, I reckon. If nothing else, you will find out the meaning of the word “lemoncholy” which you can then use in general conversation to annoy those who don’t know what it means, while simultaneously feeling superior in your ever-expanding vocabulary.
Until next time,