Sunday, October 13, 2013

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead - Christiana Miller

    2011; 320 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Urban Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    Mara’s in a fix.  She’s a practicing Wiccan, and that offends her landlady.  But now she’s behind on her rent, and is about to be tossed out on the street.

   But hey, she is a witch.  And witches can cast spells, right?  So why not call upon the spirits to conjure up a new residence for her?

    Ah, be careful what you ask for, Mara.  Fate may do your bidding, but it might also add a few twists to it that you haven’t anticipated.

What’s To Like...
    This is an easy-reading Urban Fantasy tale, with a crisp pace, lots of wit, and just enough humor to make it tasty.  It’s a standalone novel, despite being the start of a series.  The title is a bit misleading – the protagonist is Mara, not Aunt Tillie.  The latter doesn’t make an appearance until 34%, and she’s well aware that she’s dead.

    There is of course a lot of witchery going on, and it is handled both deftly and accurately.  I was particularly impressed with the Tarot card reading mindset, as this is something I have firsthand experience with.  The other Wiccan aspects – spell-casting, potion-making, spirit-calling – are presumably handled equally well.

    Be forewarned – this book has “R-rated” material in it.  There are a fair number of cuss words, sexual terms, and a couple of “romps in the hay”, including one all-over-the-house orgy.  Christiana Miller gives due notice of this at the start of the book, but literary prudes tend to ignore the posted caveats, then gripe about it later.

    The three main characters are Mara; her best bud Gus; and of course, Aunt Tillie.  There’s nothing trite or stereotypical about any of them.  Mara has “love handles”, and can hardly be described as heroic when the story starts.  Gus is flamingly gay, can cast spells better than Mara, and dispenses bad advice with disarming confidence.  And you really don’t want to be on Aunt Tillie’s bad side, ethereal though it may be.

    The ending ties everything up nicely, although it felt somewhat rushed to me.  The baddies were cunning one moment; clueless the next.  Overcoming them seemed too easy; consequently there wasn’t much tension generated as the climax approached.

 Kewlest New Word (Phrase, actually). . .
Ouroboris Serpent (n.)  :  a snake eating its tail. (correct spelling : ouroboros)

    I had made the mistake of reading Gus’s cards once.  He thought I was spookily good.  So he’s made it his life’s mission to make me regret it ever since.  Although he calls it getting me to embrace my abilities.  “Tell me you’re joking.  I am so not on speaking terms with my tarot cards at the moment.”
    “Mmmm.  Let me see. . .  Yup, pretty sure I don’t care.  Whatever happened, apologize to the cards and get over it.”  (loc. 272)

    The difference between normal humans and witches, is if humans want something, they pray for it.  Their God takes it under consideration, and if it fits the grand design, God grants their prayer.
    Witches, on the other hand, plunge ahead blindly.  Their preferred method of prayer is spellcrafting.  Their Gods (and Goddesses) take their prayers under consideration and if they find the potential outcome sufficiently amusing, they step aside and let the witch give it her best shot, in a “be careful what you wish for” type of way.  (loc. 744)

Kindle Details...
    Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead sells for $3.99 at Amazon.  Christiana Miller also offers a short story, A Tale of Three Witches, featuring the main characters from STATSD, for $0.99.  Amazon makes no mention of a sequel, although the book cover describes this as “Book 1 of the Toad Witch Series”.

One of the problems with being a witch is when you ask the universe a question, it generally gives you an answer.  (loc. 101)
    The storytelling is superb, but the story’s structure felt clunky at times.  All of the minor characters are developed nicely, but some of them seem to appear for no reason (Lyra, Lenny, J.J.), while others quickly disappear after a moment in the plotline (Dad, Mama Lua, Mrs. Lasio).   Indeed, I felt like the whole first third of the book – the Los Angeles setting – was overly drawn out.  True, it introduces us to Gus and Mara.  But the main storyline only starts when Mara travels to Wisconsin.

    Of course, the author may have bigger plans for these presently-superfluous characters.  And Mara might return to the City of the Angels, to settle karmic scores with Mrs. Lasio and Lenny.  Gus certainly thrives in a California lifestyle; he will wilt in Wisconsin.

    But I quibble; a couple clunks are mere ripples in a fast-flowing, fun-to-read story.  Here’s hoping that Christiana Miller is presently working on the sequel.

    Good stuff.  7½ Stars.  Add one star if you happen to follow the Wiccan path.

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