The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster starts with the eponymous Annie Aster opening her door, recently installed in her 1995 kitchen, and finding herself in an 1895 Kansas wheatfield. She promptly begins a pen-pal relationship with her spunky 1895 neighbor. As the story develops, Annie and her friend Christian begin to explore the history of the door, attempt to stop a murder, and find themselves dragged into a time-hopping adventure.
I really, really wish I could have liked this book. I’m sorry, Lemoncholy Life; despite your beguiling title, it just wasn’t meant to be. I do hope you find your perfect readers, and I’ve no doubt you will. But sadly, I won't be among them.
At heart, I think I suffered from style dissonance. The book has a slow start, and I had to keep taking breaks because I can only take so much saccharine before my teeth start to hurt. The author tries quite hard to do a Jane-Austen-style narrator, and perhaps he just tries a little too hard. I began to have premonitions on the very first page, when “Lemoncholy” is defined. I’m of the opinion that when one explains a joke, it dies. On the other hand, I also strongly believe that the magical system in a story must be explainable. In this case, the door’s supernatural powers and mysterious limits effectively defy explanation; both exist for plot convenience, and I can attest that thinking about them too hard or expecting an explanation will only lead to frustration. I’m mostly a mystery reader, so unexplained coincidences, conundrums, and contradictions drive me nuts. In this case, I compiled a whole list. Conveniently, most of my complaints are pretty spoilery, so I won’t bore you with them in plaintext. Suffice it to say that carelessness with factual accuracy and internal consistency soured me a bit on Lemoncholy Life.
My favourite character was easily Elsbeth, the spunky Victorian woman who starts the story by threatening to shoot Annie for invading her corn field. I didn’t really dislike any of the rest, but I never felt particularly involved in most of their conflicts either. Many of the characters’ personality traits depend upon Informed Attributes provided by the narrator in trademark amused omniscient fashion, and because the characters themselves seemed to fall into well-defined tropes. Perhaps the only character who really escapes this is Christian, who is, not incidentally, probably my other favourite character. Christian is recovering from some unexplained tragedy (a common motif in the book) which has left him with a terrible shyness, an inability to talk without stuttering, and a tendency to walk and read at the same time. Christian is complex and interesting, all the more so for his lack of self-knowledge. While I liked the slower-moving romance, there’s also an egregious bit of InstaLove that got on my nerves. The plot itself is rather unevenly paced; at the beginning, it’s very slow-moving and quite cute, but at some point, an impressive amount of violence is introduced. Due to the time travel aspect, we keep seeing the same events over and over, and since they’ve been predetermined from the first, I had trouble forcing my attention back on the plot.
I really regret being unable to enjoy this book to the full. The whimsical title, the time travel, the spunky Victorian characters... it should have been a perfect fit, and simply wasn't. I wish future readers better luck with finding the sweetness in Lemoncholy Life.
~~ I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, Sourcebook Landmarks, in exchange for my honest review.~~