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Alison Wonderland

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Overview

After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do: She spray-paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There’s her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric ...

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Overview

After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do: She spray-paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There’s her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and — last but not least! — her psychic postman. Together, their idiosyncrasies and their demands on Alison threaten to drive her mad…if she didn’t need and love them all so much. Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, Alison Wonderland is a literary novel about a memorable heroine coping with the everyday complexities of modern life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469242217
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 11/6/2012
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

HELEN SMITH is a member of the Society of Authors and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain. She writes novels, children's books, poetry, plays, and screenplays, and was the recipient of an Arts Council England award.

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Read an Excerpt

My name’s Alison Temple and I used to have this line when people asked me if I’m married. I’d say, ‘I’m waiting for Mr. Wonderland and when I find him I’ll get married. Until then I’m staying single.’ The kind of people who need to know whether or not you’re married don’t see the humour in a joke like that.
 I was married once, for a while. I thought my husband was cheating on me. Sometimes he was late home and I’d stand at the bedroom window and watch the street. I’d lean against the window frame and press my forehead against the window in despair and I’d wonder, Who do you love more than me? In darkness, in silence, I’d wait until I saw him turn the corner on his way home. Then I’d go and lie in bed— waxwork, expressionless features; heavy, bloodless limbs. It was like one of those hospital nightmares where you have enough anaesthetic to stop you moving or screaming, but not enough to stop you feeling pain. I would just lie there, closing my eyes to stop the giddy feeling that I supposed was anger but was really relief that he was home at all. I was never sure which of us I hated more. Nothing tied me to him—not money, children, or even much of a shared history. Just a sunny day and a white dress. I stayed because I didn’t want to leave, but I hated him for not loving me more than anyone else. I stood at the window and I wondered, Who do you love more than me? I never asked the question out loud.
 I thought if I knew he was seeing someone else, then I’d have to leave. I wouldn’t need to lie there anymore, waiting until he was asleep to touch his skin to see if it felt different, if someone else had touched it. I was twenty-four and I felt debilitated loving someone who didn’t love me enough. I didn’t want to leave him over a suspicion, but I didn’t want to stay. I waited for a sign, something that would settle the matter for me.
 One morning as I looked through a local paper while I was waiting for the kettle to boil to make myself a cup of coffee, I saw an advert for a female detective agency, and that’s how I found this place: ‘Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation. Discretion assured.’
 I hired someone to follow my husband for two weeks, and I felt comfortable that a woman was doing it; I thought she’d understand. Was he unfaithful? I suppose I knew the answer in my heart a long time before it reached my head. I didn’t hire the agency to prove that he was cheating; I wanted them to show me I was wrong. Yes, he was unfaithful.
 The woman who had him followed was called Mrs. Fitzgerald. A tidy, authoritative woman in her late forties, she has slightly curling hair, cut severely short at the back in an old-fashioned crop. She calls her glasses spectacles. They’re on a chain that she never puts round her neck. She waves them around or sets them down on the desk in front of her. Mrs. Fitzgerald has small, dainty feet and a large bosom and bottom. If you overheard a conversation about her in a butcher’s shop, you’d catch a note of admiration when the men behind the counter called her a ‘big woman.’
 She handed me a colour photo that answered the question I’d never dared ask out loud.
 ‘Do you really think he loves her more than me?’ I peered at the photo in Mrs. Fitzgerald’s office. From my experience of detective movies I’d expected it to be in blackand- white, but of course it’s much cheaper and quicker to use colour film and get it developed in Boots.
 ‘No, I don’t suppose so, she looks rather bony and ordinary to me.’
 That settled things for me. I just packed up and left him. I could have clung to him and wept, charmed him, fought with him, tried to hurt him or save him, if he’d been captivated by a bewitching, superior beauty. Perhaps the photo didn’t do her justice, but I was rather disappointed in this thin girl he was fiddling about with in the evenings. Apart from a fleeting impulse—which I resisted—to call his girlfriend with some hair and makeup tips, I chose to ignore them both and faded spectacularly out of my husband’s life.
 That’s not the whole story, of course. I wanted to get a can of red spray paint and write, ‘You ruined my life, you bony bitch’ all over the walls of her house and the place where she worked. I wanted to shred his clothes and castrate him. I wanted to call the police and get him into trouble. I mean, I really wanted someone to tell him off so he’d be sorry. I walked round and round town crying with shock and self-pity while I considered these options. In the end I compromised. I took half the money from our bank account, I bought a can of red spray paint and I went home. I packed everything I wanted from the house (not necessarily the things that were mine, just the things that I wanted, like his records), and then I put my wedding dress on the bed and I sprayed red paint on the bodice and I left a note by it: ‘You broke my heart, you cunt.’ He’s never approved of women swearing. I didn’t want him to feel sorry for me, I wanted him to be angry. Then I faded out of his life.
 I work at the agency now. I’ve stopped waiting for Mr. Wonderland. I don’t need him anymore.
 One of my first jobs was for a woman who was worried that her husband was having an affair. They’d been married for years and they loved each other but they started having money troubles. He’d become withdrawn and secretive, going out in the evenings without telling her where he was going or who he was meeting. He’d come home late at night smelling of a brand of soap she didn’t recognize. She thought he must be having sex with another woman and showering at her house before he came home.
 I followed him to Clapham Common one night and tracked him as he sneaked through the men who gather there after nightfall in the hope of meeting a stranger, in spite of or perhaps because of the danger. They, like me, were warned as children never to talk to strange men, and now they want to meet them on the common and suck their cocks. They shot me furtive, guilty glances as I passed them, but I wouldn’t meet their eyes in case they thought I was judging them.
 I hung back in the trees as the unfaithful husband met a younger man he appeared to know. They greeted each other brusquely and moved away from the cruising area towards the pond. An island in the middle of the water is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife. There’s a heron in Battersea Park, but the most exotic bird I’ve ever seen in Clapham Common is a Canada goose, which I believe is classified as a pest, along with grey squirrels.
 The water is surrounded by concrete. There’s a paved lip from which parents with toddlers persevere in throwing stale bread, even though they must know it will choke and constipate any delicate-stomached ducks that might stop here en route to more glamorous locations. I’m not sure what the alternative is to feeding them bread. You’re supposed to give hedgehogs dog food, but I can’t see it working for wildfowl. Perhaps sunflower seeds, or perhaps, as the notice in the pond advises, you should leave them alone.
 As far as romantic locations go, I’ve seen better. Swirls of greenish goose shit decorate the concrete surround of the pond. Ugly fish breed in the black water. Crayfish whose parents were plucked from a tank in an upmarket restaurant and released into a downmarket freedom here, where there is little else to do except feed and multiply, sit on the mud and open their mouths to let the plankton trickle in, oblivious to the sexual charge in the nearby cruising area.
 The unfaithful husband and his boyfriend strode towards the ponds. Intrigued, I stood behind a tree and watched as they crouched at the water’s edge. The foliage that hid me masked their activity but the urgency of their movements was unmistakable, so I moved closer. They were removing crayfish to return them to restaurants in the West End at market price. They worked quickly, stacking them in baskets in a dark blue van parked on the public road that runs through the Common along the edge of the pond. They need a permit to do this, and they didn’t have one, which is why they met in secret. The husband washed the traces of pond and crustacea from his body at his friend’s house before he went home to his wife so she wouldn’t know the shameful things he’d been doing to make ends meet. As I was new to the detective game I found the story quite touching, and I didn’t charge the wife for the time I spent following him, although she insisted I take the £7.99 it cost to get the photos developed. I still keep a picture of a crayfish in my wallet as a reminder that not everything is what it seems.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 25, 2011

    Loosely connected and utterly engaging

    "My name's Alison Temple and I used to have this line when people asked me if I'm married. I'd say, 'I'm waiting for Mr Wonderland and when I find him I'll get married. Until then I'm staying single.' The kind of people who need to know whether or not you're married don't see the humor in a joke like that."


    And so begins the tale of Alison Wonderland, a straightforward, amateur detective of sorts who's just trying to find her truth in life. In the meantime, she meanders around, making the best choices she can, and doing what she thinks is right. Alison has a downstairs neighbor who shows his love with poetry- between coming up with the next great invention (my favorite is the clock that makes time go slower or faster, depending upon what you want at the time), a job following and photographing unfaithful men, a crazy and possibly unstable friend, and, oh yeah, there's a man out there dead-set on finding out exactly what Alison knows, which is nothing at all, really.

    With witty, straightforward writing, and well-developed characters, Helen Smith has crafted an engaging tale that takes us into Alison's life and thoughts. A big part of the appeal of this book is the sheer enjoyment as we saunter along with Alison, who finds herself in the oddest of situations- on a hillside, watching a man in love with his shig, tracking down an "unfaithful" husband who is actually just trying to make ends meet, helping a friend escape from a club supposedly frequented by singing monks, finding a baby in a box at the edge of the sea... life is never boring in Wonderland.

    Written in the present tense with UK spelling and phrasing- including single quote marks for dialogue- some readers may need a few chapters to adjust to the style. I quite enjoyed the style, and was quickly immersed in the story. The tale sort of ambles along, not really intent upon getting anywhere. At times, I found myself wondering if we were really even headed in the same direction as we started. It's really less of an progression towards an end of some sort, and more a study of the characters contained with the pages.There is some growth to be seen in some of the characters, and in Alison's character, in particular. Each bizarre turn spurs Alison on again and we discover more about who she is and what she is becoming through those turns of event. There are several different storylines going on in the story, and they don't all get tied up in neat little packages at the end, but, somehow, the ending is fitting and gives a sense of closure anyway.

    Loosely connected, but utterly entertaining, this is a fun read all around.

    @MotherLode

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2010

    Wonderfully Quirky

    I recently finished reading Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith and found it to be quite refreshing. Written with UK grammar and spelling, this book does take a few chapters to get comfortable with the writing style. As well as the difference in grammar, Alison Wonderland jumps from character to character, letting us experience their separate thoughts and feelings as their share a combined journey in the book. After you get used to the writing style, you can comfortably follow Alison on her ups and downs as she acquires a job at a private investigators office. She handles mostly cheating husband cases but soon finds herself investing a different case. At times I felt as though there was an abundance of details as Alison often gets sidetracked with various thoughts to herself that can sometimes confuse the reader. Sometimes you are left thinking what the point is of some of the characters' thoughts. However, it all came together nicely and was a pleasant and quirky read. There is some mild adult language throughout and adult themes that may make some readers a bit nervous so I would definitely suggest that it be read by strictly mature audiences.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2010

    Witty and insightful

    Alison Wonderland is a delightfully quirky, character-driven odyssey. Underlying the seamless prose is Smith's wit and insightful observation of human nature. An absolute joy to read.

    The literary fiction I've read (or at least attempted to read) in the past has always been hard work. In Alison Wonderland, it's Smith's words that do all the work. All the reader need do is sit back and enjoy the journey.

    I urge others, who like me are wary of anything labelled "literary fiction," to take a chance on this book. I promise you won't be disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 16, 2010

    Modern Ms. Wonderland

    You had me at "I'm waiting for Mr. Wonderland and when I find him I'll get married. Until, then I'm staying single." And you kept me captivated right to the end-the poignant parting words will stay with me. I can't rave about this book enough. The Author, Helen Smith, takes us on a wondrous journey into the life of Alison Temple, a private detective based in London. Her writing is sharp and witty, her ideas totally original. All the characters in this story are interesting and peculiar in their own ways. I won't say a lot about Taron, only that you will instantly fall in love with her. I can't wait to read more from this brilliant Author.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Cleverly surrealistic

    Alison Temple, a private detective with a self-deprecating sense of humor, works for Mrs. Fitzgerald's female detective agency and finds a reasonable amount of her fulfillment from her job. She has to track down a bunch of cheating husbands, but she also uncovers a sweet situation where a husband isn't cheating, but is sneaking out at night to make extra money for the family. I particularly liked that scene, because the book satisfies two warring reader-needs--when a person is accused of wrongdoing and is followed by a detective, you half want them to be found out and punished and half hope they will be innocent and vindicated for sneaking out.

    Alison's non-work life is spent with her friend Taron, who runs clubs and is obsessed with finding an abandoned baby--any abandoned baby--and with Jeff, her smitten neighbor. Jeff is a wacky inventor and Alison showers him with attention out of kindness, and is thankful that he didn't fall in love with somebody else, because they'd inevitably hurt his feelings while she won't. Jeff and Alison overtalk everything and their fact-filled conversations, usually about the articles they read to each other from the newspaper, are adorable, and provide a counterpoint to Alison's conversations with Taron, which are fanciful, descriptive, and often completely fabricated.

    The POV shifts between Alison's first-person account and several other characters' third-person viewpoints. Mrs. Fitzgerald is investigating Emphglott, a company that does genetic experiments on animals and has produced a huge creature called a shig, half sheep half pig. The investigation, counterinvestigation against Alison, and misinformation all around make up one big part of the plot--in the course of the novel, Mrs. Fitzgerald uncovers a huge personal betrayal, Alison's house is burgled, and some thugs beat up a friend of Taron's, thinking he's a friend of Alison's.

    But through all the spying, snooping, kidnapping, clubbing, and baby-discovering, Alison's wry viewpoint remains the coolest and most endearing thing about Alison Wonderland. She muses on things like how she'll never meet a good single man, since she works at an all-female agency and trails after suspicious married men all the time. She's heard that it's easiest to meet men at supermarkets, but she shops at all the wrong stores, and the one man who seemed interested in her had mass quantities of bleach (?) and lard (?!) in his shopping basket. It's little asides and observations like this that make the book.

    I'd describe Alison Wonderland as a mystery with a strong comic base, a literary tone, and some magic thrown in, too. It wasn't quite my genre and some of the darker themes, including recreational drug use, really didn't sit well with me, but the writing is consistently out-of-the-ordinary and cleverly surrealistic. Grade: B

    Poetry bonus: Alison's admirer Jeff writes poetry for her, full of hilariously sincere lines. My favorite poem ends on this note:

    "Some people eat the icing on the cake
    and discard the marzipan
    But I never do

    I prefer the marzipan
    It makes me think about you" (pg 18)

    This and the "citrus spangled love" poem are reason enough to adore Jeff.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Filled to the brim with dry wit

    Alison Wonderland is like no other novel I have read. It has romance, intrigue, mystery, and adventure all presented with an amusing, almost campy, flare only a British author could supply. I highly recommend this entertaining book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2013

    The overall style of the book is very easy to read and is someth

    The overall style of the book is very easy to read and is something that doesn’t require effort to read and enjoy. It’s engaging and the main character is likeable, the first person narrative allows the reader to learn about the character without needing to have lots of backstory explained at the start of the story.
    There is a confusion where the tenses switch from past to present and it becomes muddled and jolts whilst reading it throughout the book and often at points where it makes no sense to the reader as to why the switch has happened until much, much later and sometimes not at all. There is also an assumption that the reader understands more about the world than is given which can be confusing, some of the information you need in order for it to make sense you don’t get until later on in the book. 
    The book benefits from being read twice and is all the more enjoyable with the second read. A must for people who love short stories that are easy to digest and like to re-read stories again and again. They are entertaining and easy to digest; they don’t follow a strict overarching plot, the element tying the short stories together being the romantic subplot. Enjoyable from start to finish with little twists that don’t have you on the edge of your seat but often surprise you.

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  • Posted December 21, 2013

    Awesome Surreal Novel I have to admit that going into this book

    Awesome Surreal Novel

    I have to admit that going into this book I expected more of a lighthearted chick-lit sort of story. Suffice it to say that this book is much more sophisticated and much more interesting than that! The story follows Alison who is going through a tumultuous, depressing time after her divorce. And even though on the surface Alison is a professional detective, on the inside she is unraveling.

    I loved the way this story is told primarily in a sort of stream of consciousness narrative. I think Helen Smith has done a superb job of getting into the minds of her characters, even at times when those minds are not quite, well, acceptable.

    Though this is a detective story, it is quite unlike other books in the genre. It has a heavy helping of magic and surrealism, which works very well in this story, but might not work for all readers. Also refreshing was the quintessential dry English humor and stoicism that this book contains heaps of.

    All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an original, quirky read!

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  • Posted July 16, 2012

    One of the first things that came into my head after reading thi

    One of the first things that came into my head after reading this book is "What a brilliant opening!" Seriously, you have to love a heroine saying this:
    "I'm waiting for Mr. Wonderland and when I find him I'll get married. Until, then I'm staying single."


    It's such a smart answer to anyone bothering you about your personal life, right?

    Then there's the cover. I love the red, black and white and how they look together. It's like a mystery, making me wonder how colorful London - and the world in general - would look like if I looked at it from Alison's POV. And I can honestly say Alison's view of the world is quite unique. Afraid of letting her guard down with another man, due to her cheating ex husband, she'd rather live in a pseudo-relationship than trying to see if a real relationship would actually work. She's afraid of rejection, though I can hardly blame her. Her job isn't helping either. As a female P.I, she's mostly hired to prove an estranged husband or boyfriend is a cheater. At some point she gets a "secret mission" to check out some company dealing with genetically altered vegetables.

    Besides Alison, we get to meet some interesting characters. We have Taron, Alison's friend, who is one of those unique friends. Taron is the kind of person who will either drive you mad or make you a happier person. She thinks her mother is a witch and she believes in horoscopes, witchcraft and things like that. I do believe she's the type who can make a really sad person to smile. Then there's Mrs. Fitzgerald, Alison's boss. She seemed like the motherly type. For some reason, she left me thinking that she cared for each and every woman she met through her agency, be they employees or women hiring her for different reasons. And many other characters that I won't talk about, because then I'll probably give some unwanted spoilers :P

    There are some funny moments in this book too. I actually laughed out loud a few times.

    I felt as though the ending wasn't exactly the way I had hoped it would be. There was some suspense regarding Alison's job and one of her marks and I was waiting for something more spectacular to happen. Then again, maybe it was the right ending for Alison, proving that not always you need a big "boom" at the end of a frightening experience. Though I did see Alison grow up as the story progressed.

    Anyway, if you love chick lit, you might want to check this out. I know I really enjoyed reading this book!

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  • Posted May 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Alison Wonderland reminds you that you don’t have to fall

    Alison Wonderland reminds you that you don’t have to fall down a rabbit hole to encounter the strange and fantastical. It leaps off the page at you. Be warned, however, you can’t sit back and lazily read it. You’d get lost for sure, because it does jump around. The reader leaps from the head of one character to the next with little warning of the impending change, but once you’ve learned that this could happen at any moment it becomes one more quirk of the book. Just as you can never guess what the characters might say next, you can’t get too comfortable that you even know who might be saying it. It keeps you on your toes.

    It may not be to everyone’s taste. Alison and her cohort tend to treat everything from love poems, to mysterious Buddhist drummers, to blow-jobs with the same nonplus equanimity. Personally I thought this enhanced the novel in the same way that seeing someone tell a bad joke with a stoic, straight face is somehow funnier than when they’re grinning. Others, however, may think it falls flat. This I’m afraid is probably just a matter of preference. You like it or you don’t. I do.

    Reading Alison Wonderland, I’m perhaps in a relatively unique position. I’m an American living in England. This is of note because there are some definite cultural references in the book that those outside of the UK would not get. Helen waxes lyrical about Lichorice Allsorts, Jammy Dodgers, and Wagon Wheels, for example. While not wholly unheard of in the States (I can’t speak to the rest of the world) they aren’t common enough to evoke familiarity as intended in the novel and I can see that this might leave people scratching their heads and wondering ‘what was all that about?’

    Overall, I enjoyed Alison Wonderland. I liked the quirky characters’ ability to accept their comrades’ foibles unquestioningly. I liked the seemingly random nature of the events and the obscured ending. I never could decide if it was happy or not. I did feel a little bit like I knew every detail of a week (or so) of Alison’s life and very little about Alison, but knowing too much just might have ruined the magic.

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  • Posted October 23, 2011

    Kritters Ramblings

    A short and simple review for a smaller book that was definitely out of my normal reading genre. I thought it would be a good one to stretch me out of my comfort zone, but I just couldn't get into it. By the end of the book, I was confused, lost and kind of ready for it to end.

    If you like a little story, with some quirkiness and some magic, this one would be one you could pick up.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 4, 2010

    Fun and entertaining read

    Alison Wonderful is actually a very good, quite funny book. It was a little typical in its' distinctively English humour and has a cast of truly memorable characters. Highly entertaining and a good 'light' read. I suppose my only criticism was that it felt a little bit like a young Miss Marple crossed with Monty Python - which is not necessarily a bad thing but I found it a little confusing at times.

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  • Posted October 9, 2010

    Creative and fun read

    It took me a page or two to adjust to British colloquialisms, but after that, it became much easier to read. Smith's style is straightforward and honest, with a tone that is almost offhanded even as she describes abandoned babies. The characters were well-developed, and I loved the oddity of Jeff and Alison's nonexistent relationship and how the unevenness of it was dealt with in a matter-of-fact tone, rather than the usual fluff and angst. The development of Taron's personality was enjoyable, as we come to see her as being more than just off-kilter and eccentric.


    Smith seemed to be comfortable in her own skin as she writes. Her phrasing and the occasional use of slang made it conversational, which was a relief to read at the end of a long day. The dialogue flowed easily, adding depth to the characters and substance to the story.


    Unfortunately, I felt as if too many characters were being explored at once. While it's wonderful for each of them to have their own unique background, a longer piece would make it easier to explore them all. The point of view frequently shifted between characters and an omniscient third party, and I was confused - or at the very least, unsettled - whenever this occurred. The changes are abrupt, making it difficult to follow along and to invest emotionally in the protagonists. Oftentimes, it took a minute or two to realize that Alison was no longer the one speaking. The spirit realm came to act like a deus ex machina, and I still can't quite determine whether or not it's supposed to be real or simply a string of coincidences within the context of the story. All of these things interrupted the process by which I build faith in characters and the world in which they live


    Additionally, the sequence of events was a bit hard to understand. It reminded me of Waiting For Godot, where all these things happened, but it was as if nothing had happened at all. With the initial set-up, I was expecting more intricate intrigue than what was presented. The story never actually reached a climax as the lives of the various characters continued onward at the same steady pace in which they had moved throughout the novel. I kept waiting for the turning point that never came.


    Overall, this was a fun read. Comedy was mixed in with the randomness, and the combination was sprinkled with comments and the occasional sentence that are both refreshingly truthful and deep. With that being said, a less confusing method of shifting points of view, as well as more varied pacing, would have been appreciated.

    - Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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