The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster Author: Scott Wilbanks Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, August 4, 2015 Format: Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages List Price: $14.99 (print) ISBN: 9781492612469 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
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.
Annie Aster leads a rather solitary life in modern day San Francisco until the purchase of an antique door opens up a whole new world. Her new back door doesn't open up into her garden but rather, into a Kansas wheat field. Of course, it isn't just any Kansas wheat field. At the other end of the field, 200 years in the past, lives the cantankerous schoolmarm Elsbeth. The pair start to exchange letters and develop a friendship that transcends both time and space. When Annie sends Elsbeth to investigate the murder of a popular magician she doesn't realise the how this will change her life and give her the opportunity to discover who she is and where she comes from.
Annie shares her story with her best friend Christian. He has a profound stutter resulting from a terrible car accident. Both his injuries and his stutter has caused him to retreat from life around him and into his books. Fate enters his life in the form of the hunky gardener who befriends him. Little do this trio of characters realise what awaits them on the other side of the wheat field but it will irrevocably change all their lives forever.
I hate to sound so vague when writing a review but the plot does centre around a murder mystery and how this impacts Annie in her current timeline. The plot of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster reminds me of a loosely knitted scarf. One tug of one thread will find it unravelling on the floor. If I give too much away here in this review then then you would be able to guess the all the 'surprises' as they are so interwoven into the plot. What I can share with you is my view of Wilbanks' writing style, world building and skills at characterization.
I started out really enjoying this book and I liked how the story flipped between modern day and the late 1800's rather seamlessly. Nothing beats a bit of time travel and how convenient for Annie that she doesn't have to put much effort into travelling back 200 years than to waltz out her back door. Whenever I read any books with time travel elements I always think to Star Trek. How many paradoxes did Annie create by writing to Elsbeth? By the end of the book I am sure the space time continuum would have been in tatters. Saying that however, I feel there were one too many coincidences and as the plot developed I was able to guess every one, especially those involving Annie's friend Christian.
Annie was terribly twee with her love of dressing in Victoriana, her perfectly preserved tea set and her quaint old fashioned ways. Wilbanks' pushes my imagination on how much I could believe about how much Annie was impacted by the past or should I say a past she didn't actually experience. Overall, I found the characters were a bit too clichéd. Annie was beautiful and looked perfect in her late 1800's garb, Elsbeth the schoolmarm was plain and plain talking while Christian repressed his sexuality hence the stutter. I was really hoping that at least one of the characters would do the unexpected or be less stereotypical. I feel that the plot wouldn't have been so easy to guess had the characters not been written in such a traditional way.
Wilbanks does an admirable job of describing the environment in which all his characters live and I could easily picture Annie's lovely house and Elsbeth's wheat field. He also did well in tying all the different aspects of the plot together with a satisfactory conclusion to Annie's tale. While maybe the characterisation could have been improved this book was still overall quite readable and it must be remembered that this is Wilbanks' debut. I am sure that there will be great work to come from this author and I will look forward to reading it.