Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I have a 2016 Reading Goal to read 30 books and I was trailing behind by 5 books. So I put my foot down and said enough! Hehe. I was "reading" (aka had on hold) three books and this one was the easiest and shortest to read. I wanted to change my 5 books behind schedule to 4 so I felt a little better about my laziness. 
I know. Let's carry on shall we?
The synopsis for Leslye Walton's The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is provided by Goodreads

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

   By a friend and fellow book lover Sasha. She She also reviews book but in video format, check her out! 

(safe for those who haven't read this yet)
    My memory of the beginning of book is a little fuzzy since I started it earlier this month, but I'll do my best to discuss the early chapters of the book. Before that, let's start with the facade. The cover is bright and represents the hopeful and sunny personality of the narrator. While the design is rather simple, simply a feather serving as the backdrop. It's appealing and is partially the reason why when my friend recommended it I gave it a chance. Also the title. It's a mouthful but it works and the name's unique and whimsical. 
   Diving into the book we're taken back to the beginning of family's life in America. We hop back three generations---highly risky for a novel of only three hundred pages--- and follow as her great-grandfather and mother leave their homeland France for New York. Already we're thrown into a world of fantasy without a mention of anything truly supernatural happening. The immigration of Europeans to the New World isn't unheard of but because of the selective and spotlighted details the author chooses to focus on in their lives makes the story fresh. I found the story to move at a slow-pace because she focused on their lives over actions that move the story forward. She establishes the lives of the oldest generation so that we can see how the later generations fare. 
     The first half of the book I'd like to say is a collection of tiny anecdotes that establish characterization than actually move the plot. This was probably my biggest con while reading. The writing is lovely, as are the stories of the lives of the protagonists and the secondary characters. I've never read a book where the author didn't neglect the lives of the minor characters and gave each of them a story that had to be told. Usually authors just give them a scene to show their characterization but Walton took the time to dedicate a mini chapter in the chapter for them. That being said, it made the title seem rather fraudulent. For such a title and focus on a certain character, while the narration is done by her, the first half of the book she doesn't physically appear. I'm sorry if that's considered a spoiler but when I say that the author begins from the life of the great-grandmother and goes through the lives of the next two generations before finally reaching the "main" protagonist, including all the lives of the town and even of the lives that aren't in town anymore, then 150 pages goes quickly.
    So the second half of the book is where the "real" story begins. I would've been okay with this if the title was different. For example a couple of years back I read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, and it details the intimate and impactful lives of three generations, from the author all the way to her grandmother. While it's over 500 pages and the story of the author doesn't begin until later in the novel than earlier, at least the title explicitly tells me. It isn't the story of one woman that's important to note but all. 
     I understand that the author had to write the lives of the mother and grandmother and great-grandmother and honestly I love how it centers so much on women. They were all real women with disappointments and joys that couldn't be passed on to the next generation. I doubt it was the author's choice to title it what it is, but if she did then I'd have to mark her down for it. Not every title has to be centered on the protagonist. The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein, The Giver are all prime examples of that. The title only gave me an expectation, and considering the pace wasn't as fast-paced as I'm accustomed to in the YA books I read it's a reason why I'm atypically critical.
     I want to briefly discuss the magical realism aspect of the novel. I don't know how to critique it properly since I've read maybe three magical realism stories in my life. I understand it's seeing the abnormal as normal in every day life, but the world didn't see the girl with wings as normal. For some reason I accepted and believed Pierette as a tiny canary than the unusual case of Ava. 
    I don't want to downplay the novel as bad because it's really colorful and detailed, and unlike many stories it has a wide cast of characters (a whole town full which I love love love), however it had the same problem I had with The Night Circus. I need more of a structured plot than just a beautiful story. 

For this, I give this book 3/5 stars.

“Just because love don't look the way you think it should, don't mean you don't have it.”
-Leslye Walton, The Beautiful and Strange Sorrows of Ava Lavender 

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
   Something I wish I got to see more was the time-placement of the world-building. The world-building was very detailed and every move we made she gave us the smells and the sights, however it didn't seem like it belonged in that time frame. Actually the world was no different had the story been placed in 90s. Or the 70s. She mentions WWII with the mother Viviane while she was a teenager and the Depression in passing when Viviane was young but that's the only time we really get a glimpse of the world affecting the lives of the family, which I kind of found disappointing. 
    Another disappointment that came to mind was the incident where Cardigan takes Ava on her first adventure from the house to the reservoir and she outs Ava immediately with having wings. I thought she was drunk but then she apologized afterward and suddenly became sensitive to Ava's feelings. I had trouble reading her character after that point because what was once a best friend was suddenly a backstabber. Why was it her brother that had to defend Ava when he didn't spend nearly as much time with her. While I liked Rowe and probably due to his connection to Ava, he had the least amount told about him. The only unique thing about him was that he stuttered. He likes Ava out of no where and defends her out of no where and is unusually loyal to her. I say unusual since we never get a glimpse of their relationship before they started to like each other. Walton should have put the focus spent on John Griffith and his obsession with Emilienne that was never pursued or expanded on after his abrupt departure, and gave that novel space to develop Rowe's character. 
    Like I said in the review above I need more of a plot than just a beautiful story told, but something I wanted to add I didn't want to spoil in the safe part of the review was the fact how unbalanced the story was because of it. The first half of the book is dedicated to the generations before the protagonist, and then when the last half of the book should be dedicated to her arc, it sort of drags to the climax and when the climax comes, it barely lasts a page. The synopsis describes this scene as the "devastating crescendo" of the novel which is way way way overplayed. It's resolved so quickly and awkwardly I couldn't really believe that all the suspense and stress and beautiful imagery resulted to just...that. Maybe the author was rushed to finish the novel...I'll never know. There was more emphasis on the baked goods Emilienne created that people just couldn't deny than there was on the protagonist in her most important moment. And then after the climax, in the last chapters, it continued to talk about baked goods and by this point I couldn't wait to finish it. It's disappointing when a novel is better in the beginning than in the end. Especially when the most important character isn't in the parts that you liked about the book.
    A moment I found was the most moving moment in the novel was at the end when Ava's in the hospital and her grandmother comforts her. It's a scene that we see everywhere but because we're given 250 pages of Emilienne refusing to truly care for anything suddenly reveal a soft moment made the first 250 pages mean something. It took a long time for me to see the coldness of her reserved personality could be thrown aside when her granddaughter needed her. It was one of the events of the book that worked, despite it taking so long to be shown. 
    Now, about the antagonist Nathaniel Sorrows. I'm not going to delve into the crazy religious man's life before the climax because to me that was just a trope, but I will briefly mention his ending scene. The suspense and ominous mood was well written as he Hansel and Gretel'd Ava into his house out of the storm. It was the trapping her in the house and she couldn't find her way out that was only the beginning to making the climax fail. I couldn't really believe she couldn't remember the way to the front door. That was warning number one. Number two was when she happened to stumble into his room of bird butchery. I'm going to skip the brief rape scene and highlight his reaction to attack was to flee. Warning number three leading perfectly to number four--- Vivianne happened to pass him at this moment and he just stops like a deer in the headlights. He stops and is suddenly vanquished by Emilienne's haunting relatives. O_O
   I couldn't help laughing at this horrifying scene because I'm temporarily imaging him being sucked into darkness like when Willy was by demons in Patrick Swayze's Ghost. While Nathaniel's death is more sudden than that, he sort of explodes in flames, I couldn't see the justice being served as much as the author wanted me to to believe. Why were the grandmother's relatives his executioners? Why did Marigold Pie, a pious woman who didn't divulge herself in the "desires" of the flesh like sweets suddenly go on a craze and have to have her nephew come. Why didn't her family check up on them to see if she was getting better? The only solution the author gave was she was drugged in her room. Since when? Why did Henry suddenly go to his father's house on the day of his sister's attack? Was he the bad man to Henry-- someone he'd never met? I thought it was the creepy guy living next door talking to his sister in the middle of the night from behind a bush who had a fixation on touching her wings. I could go on with the unanswered questions.
    And how about the brother with premonitions? Personally I dislike the "normal" brother as being bizarre and having premonitions. The few words he says is disregarded--- ironically believable since the words are nonsense in context of every day life--- but on the night it happens he keeps repeating the "There's blood on the floor and feathers everywhere." I could see this whole night being filmed in a movie and how it was written-- I think she's ready for it to be made into film.

     I didn't think my review would go on this long but I'd like to end on one of my favorite characters. A character who never appears (in human form anyway). Fatima Inês. Another tragic life that is more a mystery and urban myth to locals. Her contribution to the novel made it one of the reasons why this novel's a good read.


Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

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