Other elements: flappers, slang, the occult, belief, legends, magic in the real world, a Museum of Creepy Crawlies.
Overall rating: 7.75/10
This book is fun from cover to cover. Its main character, Evie O’Neil, is a thoroughly modern girl – a gin-drinking, boy-kissing, thrill-seeking 17-year-old “baby vamp.” She also has an unusual talent of the supernatural variety, the unwise use of which lands her in disgrace in her hometown. Hoping to do some damage control, Evie’s mom ships her off to her Uncle for the summer. Uncle Will is an odd duck – he runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult aka “The Museum of Creepy Crawlies” – but he lives in New York City, and that’s all Evie cares about.
Evie nudged Mabel. “Oh, look, there’s Gloria Swanson.” She nodded toward the lower level, where the seductive motion-picture starlet, draped in ermine and velvet, enjoyed the stares of admirers. “She is the elephant’s eyebrows,” Evie whispered appreciatively. “Those jewels! How her neck must ache.”
“That’s why Bayer makes aspirin,” Mabel whispered back, and Evie smiled, knowing that even a socialist wasn’t immune to the dazzle of a movie star. – Page 156
Evie starts making friends in the city right away, from glamorous Ziegfeld dancer Theta to the stoic Jericho and the mischievous Sam, who both kisses and robs Evie within moments of meeting her. When Evie’s Uncle is asked to consult on some obscure religious symbols found on a murder victim, Evie insists on coming along and ends up as an unofficial part of the investigation. Soon, the small staff of The Museum of Creepy Crawlies is conducting their own investigation into the possible occult element of the crimes. Before Evie knows it, she’s knee deep in a whole new world.
By the exotic, looping logic of dreams, she sat on the old wooden swing behind her family’s house in Ohio while James pushed her. She felt the desperate need to look behind her, to make sure he was there and to whisper a warning to him, but the swing rose higher and higher and she could do nothing but hold on tightly. On the fourth push, she swung so high that her pendant flew from her neck. Evie reached out a hand to grab it and fell down, down, down into a velvety forever. – Page 363
Bray’s writing is rich and deep – her descriptions are colorful and sensual, without fail. The characters are vibrant and interesting, despite the fact that quite a few of them fill very stereotypical 1920’s roles (Ziegfeld girl, numbers runner in Harlem, aspiring jazz saxophonist, Machiavellian newspaper reporter, flapper, etc.). But they’re so fabulous to watch that it doesn’t even matter. Evie’s constant use of as much 1920’s slang as possible in every sentence occasionally became wearying – even to the other characters – but it fits her personality.
The one element that I didn’t entirely buy was the “big bad” (to use a Buffy-ism). More specifically, the fact that he’s brought into being by the inappropriate use of a Ouija board in the first scene of the novel, which features characters that have no other purpose than to accidentally mess with things they don’t understand. It felt weirdly tacked on and unnecessary. However, this is the first book in a series. Maybe it’s going to be relevant later.
Either way, any complaints I had about this book were minor. I thought it was great. Who doesn’t love a book where a small group of people in-the-know have to save everyone else from impending doom? This book is well-written, engaging, and – as far as I could tell – well-researched. Absolutely perfect as a slightly un-fluffy beach read.