Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead by Christiana Miller

Mara Stephens’ charmed life in Los Angeles begins a downward spiral after a tarot card reading delivers some really bad news–and the cards are always right. Thanks to the heads up, Mara is not surprised when she is evicted from her apartment (by her religious zealot of a landlord) and learns she is scheduled to die before her twenty-seventh birthday.

Mara’s luck seems to be turning around when she finds out she has inherited a cottage from her newly deceased great-aunt Tillie. Traveling to the woodlands of Wisconsin, Mara soon discovers that the cottage she had such high hopes for just might be a thing of nightmares. All of her new neighbors tell frightening stories about the cottage and urge her to leave, but Mara is determined to make it her home–ghosts and all.

For years I have loved reading urban fantasy authors such as Kim Harrison and Kelley Armstrong, who have witches as their main characters. Christiana Miller’s Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead seemed like the perfect, laugh out loud read. There are some great one-liners in this book (especially from the lips of Gus), and Mara’s 1st person narration is endearing and personable.

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead starts out as a light read, but then grows darker as the story progresses and the reader finds out more about Mara’s family. The story also becomes even more adult in nature; the second half of the novel features some R-rated scenes that are not suitable for teenage readers.

Although Tillie is referenced in the title, she doesn’t make her first appearance until nearly halfway through the book, which was somewhat of a letdown for me. I was also surprised that Mara was unaware of her existence until inheriting the cottage. Because of the title, I think she should have had a larger role in the novel.

As delightful and charming as Gus sometimes is, he might offend some readers. He doesn’t hold back any of his thoughts–especially ones involving his romantic activities. He grew on me more toward the end when he put Mara’s needs before his own, but he reminded me far too much of someone I actually know in person that I have to wonder if Christiana Miller knows this guy as well!

While I liked the story presented in Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead, I felt it had a very slow beginning since Miller focused too much on developing the characters and not also developing the world in which they live. For example, I would have liked to know more about dragon’s blood, since it’s mentioned several times in the story. How expensive is dragon blood? Are dragons pretty rare? Do they fly free, or are dragons only in captivity?

I was also a little puzzled by the structure of the novel. Occasionally there are a few paragraphs that are italicized, and seem to be written from Mara’s point of view after the events of Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any organization as to when they are used (sometimes they are at the beginning of a chapter, at the end, or sometimes in the middle of a chapter), and I didn’t feel as if they added to the story at all.

Overall, Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead is an entertaining read. I liked the characters and the plot, but the structure of the novel and the editing seem to need a little more polishing. Occasionally I found missing and misspelled words that pulled me out of the story and grounded me back in reality.

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