This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Reviewed by Kay Brooks
Eccentric Annabelle Aster has never quite fitted in with San Francisco in the 1990s. With her old-fashioned dress-sense and social circle of one friend, she is used to being perceived as strange. When she leaves her house one day to find a wheat field and a brass mailbox have inexplicably appeared overnight, her innate curiosity, rather than fear, is aroused. Annie gains a new friend when she realises that the mailbox allows her to communicate via letter with Elsbeth Grundy, an elderly hermit, living out her life seemingly simultaneously in the 1890s. When links between their lives become apparent, the two women realise their communication must result in action if they are to prevent a murder occurring that could be catastrophic for both their lives.
There’s an awful lot going on in this comparatively short novel and the fast-paced action had me hooked. Annie is a strange woman, with a unique way of viewing the world. Her bad health, which she is determined to hide even from her socially awkward best friend, Christian, has only increased her isolation from the outside world. She lives in a sort of time-warp within her home, preferring the décor and furnishings of an era gone by. Even her language harps back to the time of Jane Austen. When she discovers a hiccup in time that allows her to communicate with Elsbeth, it seemed obvious that she would simply re-join a time period more suited to her peculiar tastes and personality but the plot is much more complicated than that.
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Annie quickly links the hole in time to a strange, antique door she has recently purchased and from there ensues a story of magic, time travel, long-lost relatives, friendships and romance. Annie’s once empty life is suddenly full of action and a variety of interesting characters including equally lonely Elsbeth, the murderous Mr Culler, a magician with a lot to lose and a captivating young street-girl called Cap’n who has an invaluable knowledge of the criminal activities in the 1890s and a heart of gold.
I thoroughly enjoyed this rather different read. I found the plot to be intriguing and full of surprises. My only criticism would be that, at times, it felt like too much was going on and that prevented me from getting to know the characters as well as I would have liked. Christian is sweet and kind. His stutter, an after-effect of a horrific accident that nearly claimed his life, prevents him from being outgoing and making friends. I would have enjoyed knowing more about his recovery and struggle to build a normal life. Cap’n is a fantastic character and it is inferred that she has had lots of close-calls with criminals and had to resort to crime herself in order to survive. Again, I would have liked to know more about her past experiences. The magician who has stumbled on real magic in the form of time travel was also a source of interest for me. His mysterious past could have been elaborated on. If anything, it is a compliment to the writer that I would like to get to know the characters better. Perhaps the novel could have been longer or even written in instalments so I didn’t feel like I was missing so much information about the characters. Or perhaps the many subplots could have been cut down to allow space for this.