LitStack Review: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
Scott Wilbanks
Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date:  August 4, 2015

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster will be released on August 4, 2015.
Be sure to reserve your copy today!

Annabelle “Annie” Aster is, by choice, a most singular young lady. Or, “a sincere woman in every particular” as she Scott Wilbanks 1wrote of her hopeful self when she was 12 years old, in an attempt to mimic her favorite author, Jane Austen.  By the time Annie was “twentysomething”- specifically, by May 17, 1995 – she is “undeniably lovely, a fragile beauty, possessing a face that looked as though it had been lifted from a cameo.”  Still, it has to be mentioned that Annie is, well, a bit strange – but in a totally charming and often disarming way.

Annie lives on her own in her childhood home – “a lovingly restored Victorian Stick” at the western edge of the Mission District in urban San Francisco.  Her adoptive parents had died two years earlier, and a highly cultured and somewhat eccentric godmother, who had been a huge influence on Annie as a child, was a distant but still beloved memory.  Annie, in fact, loved all things Victorian, often affecting that era in her personal style, bearing and speech.  And she adored Victorian clothing.  Oh, she had plenty of conventional clothes; it’s not like she was completely off her nut, but a visit to a café or a walk in the park might have her “looking like a ghost from anther age.”

However, Annie is not a shrinking violet by any means.  She is vivacious, direct, self-sufficient and completely fine with the fact that some might find her eccentric.  Although life has not been particularly kind to her (besides not knowing either of her parents and losing her adoptive loved ones, she also suffers from a serious and chronic health condition; something she hides from others and which keeps her somewhat reclusive), she refuses to give in to despair, or sink into melancholy.

In fact, her life instead is brim full of lemoncholy, which means unassailable, or, as author Scott Wilbanks defines it:  “The habitual state in which one makes the best of a bad situation.”

So when Annie awakens one day to find a beautiful, huge rose garden in her normally normal back yard, full of blossoms of every conceivable hue and every possible form, she is delighted.  When she wades through the frothy flowers to the fence around her property, and sees in the distance a solitary cabin beyond a dusty wheat field, she barely is thrown by the fact that there are no cabins nor any wheat fields in urban San Francisco.  Nor is she overly concerned by the sign a ways down the road that says, “Pawnee County, Kansas. Pop. 673.” Or that when she tries to get to the cabin, she is magically redeposited somewhat unceremoniously (if not terribly violently) back into the newly established rose garden of her backyard.

But while the Kansas cabin (with the smoke coming out of the chimney) seems unavailable to her for whatever reason, what Annie can access is the antique brass letter box perched on the gatepost of her garden fence, which seems to be a line of demarcation between the two properties.  Within the brass box she finds a parched-looking envelope containing a somewhat terse handwritten letter from someone who identifies herself as Elsbeth Grundy, demanding an explanation for why a fancy house with an abundant rose garden has appeared in her wheat field, when there never was one there before.  The letter is dated May 17, 1895.

A hundred years in the past. To the day.

So what does Annie do? Scream?  Faint? Throw a fit or decide to ignore all that has been happening?  Not Annie! Instead, she pens a delightful and somewhat saucy reply to her new neighbor. And thus begins a rollicking tale full of bending time, multiple mysteries, magic shows, lots of pick-pocketing, and a curious antique door that seems to hold the key to the overlapping of the two worlds.

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster is also full of captivating, unforgettable characters.  Besides exuberant Annie and cantankerous Elsbeth, we find the likes of a wise-beyond-her-years street urchin in pigtails, known only by the nickname Cap’n; steadfast Christian, Annie’s sweet and incredibly shy true blue best friend who just happens to see angels; Edmond, the personable young man possessing all the confidence that Christian seems to lack, yet who harbors a secret that has kept him a loner for many years; and the sinister, up-to-no-good, fearsome businessman, Mr. Culler, and his vicious hatchet man, Danyer.

To even try to truncate the action of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster into a succinct, sound byte-ish few sentences would be incredibly foolish, were it even possible (spoilers or no spoilers).  Let me just say that author Scott Wilbanks lets no moss grow under the feet of the characters in this, his debut novel – how could he, with two time periods to contend with, multiple mysteries (not all of which are contingent on the space/time bubble thingy), and – oh yes – murder?  I forgot to mention murder before, didn’t I?  Well, there is murder involved, too, or at least an attempt at stopping a murder.

And as the action unfolds, so do the burgeoning relationships within and across the time/space anomaly.  We start to realize that what at first seemed arbitrary instead may have had some kind of binding purpose – but what purpose, and to what end?  Trying to keep up with the whys and wherefores of the story as it unfolds is not advised:  this is a book where the reader should just sit back and enjoy the ride; and let me tell you – Mr. Wilbanks is a very entertaining driver.  (Just make sure you have your seatbelts securing fastened and that you’re holding on to your hat with both hands, especially during the final chapters!)

And even though I admittedly haven’t said much about what transpires in The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, two things are certain.  That you will not have read anything quite like it ever before.  And, that you are going to have a heckuva lot of fun along the way.