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.
Last week as part of the Magic Realism Bloghop I interviewed Scott Wilbanks, author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. If you haven't already done so, do read the interview here: http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com/2015/07/interview-with-scott-wilbanks.html. As you can see from the interview Scott has a quirky sense of humour. This also appears in his novel. In his interview Scott talks about what he considers to be magic realism. In this book the magic comes from time travel. Time travel arguably is a magic realism subgenre (or should that be sub subgenre?) with Audrey Niffenegger's Time Traveller's Wife appearing second in a list of 100 favourite magic realist books on Goodreads (between One Hundred Years of Solitude and House of Spirits.
There is another interview with the author at the back of the book, which includes an explanation of the title. It turns out that lemoncholy is a real Victorian word meaning melancholy. I am not sure that I would describe Annie's life as melancholy. She seems a pretty self-sufficient and emotionally resilient to me, making the most of a bad hand in life. And she has the lovely Christian as her best friend, a vulnerable but emotionally generous young man. Annie attracts a group of loners and misfits around her as allies in her quest to defeat the evil Mr Culler. Most of them are very well drawn, the exception is Annie's love interest, Nathaniel (but that may only be in the context of the others). One criticism/suggestion I might make is that even where you have a character, such as Cap'n or Edmond, who has shadows in the past they side with Annie too easily, without too much of a struggle. I was waiting for a crisis of some kind, even a betrayal, but they never came. This means that the dramatic tension was mainly generated by the actions of the baddies - Culler and his associate Danyer. Culler is an arch villain - pyschopathic without any redeeming feature. There is a plot twist at the end of the book about Danyer which I will not reveal, but let me just say that I didn't see it coming.
The other generator of tension is around trying to work out what the consequence of Annie interfering with the past will be. Scott Wilbanks is obviously having fun with the concept and plot possibilities created by time traveller. If anything he has too much fun with the concept and the characters. I felt that he could achieved more with less. Nevertheless this is a fun take on time travel with a feisty heroine and some excellent supporting characters.
I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher in return for a fair review.