If the reviews of this book on Amazon are to be trusted, mine is a minority opinion. But it’s a minority opinion I’ve lived with for a few days, so I’m pretty sure it’s an honest one and not some first impulse overreaction.
Why I Chose This Book
I was at the library with two kids who were getting restless/excited about the Magic School bus and I couldn’t stray too far away from the children’s section. That put me in front of the rotating wire baskets of sci-fi paperbacks. I grabbed a fat one with a pretty cover and an interesting title, and an intriguing back-cover description.
Why I Chose Right Now to Review This Book
We were purportedly about to watch Archer, for which I’d snuggled myself into the comfy chair in front of the TV, but then Certain People decided they needed about fifteen minutes to go into the garage with my camera and film a golf swing. Because Certain People do not tell time,* and all my knitting is out of arm’s reach from the comfy chair (but for some reason the laptop never is), I figured that writing a book review was as close to being productive I could be.
Nutshell Review of the Book
Pretty cover, interesting title, intriguing premise. Poor pacing, lots of info dumping, and a second half that completely fizzles.
Detailed Review of the Book, With Minor Spoilers
Here are some words I never want to see in a book again:
This book had a lot going for it. There is a (sadly too rare) middle aged female protagonist in a book that is not a love story, a beautiful New Mexico setting, two main characters who are working artists, a household full of ghost servants, a mysterious family legacy, and an unsolved, decades-old disappearance. For a long time, all these things hold together, and a huge portion of the middle of the book is very much a page-turner–thanks to the plot. There’s this house in New Mexico, you see, that Mira Fenn (the protagonist) lived in as a child but has not been back to for forty years. The house is amazing, and probably the most well-developed character of the few who really get, well, screen time. Mira is described more than once as an artist, but you never really believe it. Domingo Navidad is a far more believable artist and actually a realistically drawn character, but he’s really just filling the role of Mystical Negro (although he is Mexican-American). Aunt May we interact with mostly when Mira is reading Aunt May’s journals, and she’s clearly the the voice of the author. I tend not to mind journals as a plot device to provide the protagonist with information that is otherwise unavailable, but these journals did not feel like journals, and they were full of too many little asides about how unfair and sexist life is in the 1960s. Mikey Hart** is just a walking Scooby-Doo Ending–he shows up, explains everything, and ta da! Story’s over.
It takes an inordinately long amount of time to get to good part of the story (it starts when Mira is a small child, and kills time until she’s nine and the disappearance happens, and then kills more time until she’s 21 and inherits some property that she forgets about, and then kills more time until she’s 50, and then kills more time until she decides to go to the house in New Mexico, and THEN you’re hooked). There are some parts where you just flip through pages two at a time (a particularly long example is when Domingo and Mira are on a hike and he is explaining all the mystical history of every single local attraction via lecture; it’s supposed to be foreshadowing but whatever), but there are also some parts where you get to chat with the fabulous Pablita Angel, and so the book really builds in tension and you really, really can’t wait to find out. Then, after Mira marinates some chicken and makes a pasta salad with vegetables from the garden that Domingo has been tending for all these years and invites Mikey Hart to dinner so he can spend the rest of the book jamming information down the reader’s throat. And there’s a lot of rest of the book left.
I almost didn’t finish, but I flipped through until I learned what happened. It was a really cool resolution to the story. The whole plot was really cool. It was a great premise through and through. Despite my ramblings to the contrary, I didn’t hate the book. Plus, lots of people love it. If pressed to give an actual rating, I’d probably put it on the low side of three out of five stars. Chances are very high that I’d look for another book by this author. But holy crap the main character better have a different wardrobe. Even ankle-length denim skirts would be an improvement.