‘The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender’ by Leslye Walton – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel

Pain in love is the Roux family birthright. For Ava Lavender, a girl born with the wings of a bird, it is key to her fate.

Ava traces the lives and loves of the Roux women as she tries to understand what has made her who she is and what she will become. On the night of the summer solstice, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air and Ava’s fate is revealed.

Review

Read in January 2016

How do I even begin to write a review for this book????????????

“Love makes us fools”

This book has just come along, stolen my heart and smashed it to smithereens…and I would gladly let it smash my heart for all eternity… it is just the most beautiful, most breath-taking, most peculiar and most lovingly crafted novel I have read in recent times. I am utterly taken with it.

So what is ‘The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender’ about ….
It is about a girl born with beautiful wings, about her family, about her mother, her grandmother…about their lives…about their abilities to love with all their hearts….about the sorrows that are seemingly inextricably linked with their loves….and it is utterly enchanting.

From the prologue:

“To many I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth – deep down, I always did. I was just a girl.”

On the night of Ava Lavender’s birth the birds acted strangely and feathers fell from the sky in the room where her mother was in labour. When she was born she was cocooned in a pair of speckled wings.

Chapter one starts with a journey back through Ava’s family tree and focuses on the life of Ava’s maternal grandmother Emilienne Roux. She was the eldest of four children, three girls and one boy.
The language is incredibly descriptive and very evocative; it makes it very easy to transport yourself within your mind’s eye to the scenes of the novel. This is a constant recurring trait of the book…the author is extremely skilled in her use of imagery and the pages of this story really do come to life as you read.

You have to take leaps of faith when reading this book. If you can’t believe that a person could turn into a tiny little bird because of the effects of love…then this book isn’t for you. This book is fantastical in its nature and requires you to open your heart, open your mind and accept that which we cannot understand. So when Pierette the youngest Roux child fell in love with a much older gentleman who had a penchant for bird watching, why wouldn’t she turn into a yellow canary? This is the first instance of birds in the family tree and there are many more feathery incidents scattered throughout the novel.

We quickly learn that Emilienne opened up her heart three times to love before her 19th birthday and all three loves ended disconsolately with the final love utterly breaking Emilienne’s heart. ‘Love can make us such fools’ she would say. Tragedy followed these heartbreaks and this tragedy followed Emilienne all her life and filtered into the life of her daughter Viviane, on whom the focus of the book then falls. One of my favourite lines from the book described Emilienne’s emotions as she entered into a loveless marriage with her husband…

“Emilienne silently promised she’d be good to her husband, as long as he didn’t ask for heart. She no longer had one to give”.

The story then follows Viviane’s childhood and her path into adulthood…it shows her fierceness at staying true to her love. Viviane’s story is probably my favourite part of the book. She is a wonderfully complicated character, at times stubborn but always true to herself. Her blinding capacity for love in the face of seeming hopelessness is something to behold. And when she becomes a mother she learns more about herself and what true love truly means…

She learned how to worry. She, who’d always thought love’s only companion was sorrow, learned that worry came hand in hand with love.

When Ava is born she becomes the book’s featured character. However all three of these women constantly play a role in each other’s lives; they live in the same house and therefore their stories don’t ever cease to be told. We see Ava grow from a young girl and blossom into a person who wants to be seen for more than her wings….she wants to love.

“I’ve been told things happen as they should: My grandmother fell in love three times before her nineteenth birthday. My mother found love with the neighbour boy when she was six. And I, I was born with wings, a misfit who didn’t dare to expect something as grandiose as love. It’s our fate, our destiny, that determines such things, isn’t it?”

The story of Ava Lavender really is the story of the hearts of these women, of Emilienne, of Viviane and of Ava. Each story is beautiful, filled with fierce love and deep sorrows with this constant magical element; there is almost a kind of symmetry between their lives and there is an ethereal majesty to every chapter of this book. I found myself getting completely lost in the language. Time stood still as I read this book.

There is a constant sense of foreboding woven throughout the book. I could feel the book build and build to a soaring climax; there were these messages and clues given throughout the story yet these all seemed nonsensical at the time but made this an absolute page turner. And as the book’s climax was reached I found my heart becoming more and more filled; I was so invested in the storyline and in what happened to these characters that I was almost nervous for the ending to come… I’m really not explaining this well at all but this book just touched my soul. I felt these women’s feelings and their capacity to love unconditionally. I lived their pain. I suffered their heartbreaks with them. I was never once frustrated by a character or plot development. No this was a beautiful work of what happens to those who are forever ruled by their hearts and have to live with the consequences of the sometimes ill-advised choices that our hearts make.

“Viviane stole a glance at Gabe, whose own gaze was lost in the fire’s flames. It wasn’t that she didn’t think Gabe was handsome. She did. Sometimes she’d catch herself studying him – the ease in his grasp as he reached for a bowl from the cupboard or the movement of the muscles in his forearms as he sanded the arched leg of a rocking chair – and she’d imagine how his hands would feel on her skin, the strength behind them as he lifted her hips to his. But before she got too far lost in her reverie, she’d remember Jack and the world would crash to the ground once again”

And even though each character seemed to have been touched by a sadness of some sort it never once felt like too much. Yes I cried, I wept is probably a more accurate description. However these ebbs of sorrow were written with such loving care that instead of feeling an all-encompassing sadness I just found myself taking long pauses, letting everything I had just read sink in…I basically just felt over whelmed by the beauty of the story and ultimately I felt strangely uplifted. This story reminded me of a traditional fairy tale: otherworldly with a dark undertone. Leslye Walton is my new hero. What a magnificent author she is; so gifted with her use of words, her ability to set a scene, to write such gorgeously multi-layered characters…even each minor character was gloriously detailed.

I loved everything about this book including the gorgeous cover ….It is beautifully simple and I loved the gilded effect along feather tips. It just made this cover shimmer when it caught the light and added to the book’s mystique.

Oh please read this book

Just read this book, you really owe it to yourself

It is just too beautiful not to

I do apologise for my rambling nonsensical review…my head is just in a spin after this book…my heart is heavy from all the feels

I love this book. Love it, love it, love it!

Four and a half soaring stars

“just because love don’t look the way you think it should don’t mean you don’t have it”


SECOND READ: May 2017
Why is it that we fall in love with some books?
And others we don’t?
I can never fully explain those feelings when I love a book. I can never find the right words to express all that is contained within my heart. Within my soul.

“If my mother kept a list of the reasons she confined me to the house on the hill, she’d have a length of paper that could stretch all the way down Pinnacle Lane and trail into the waters of the Puget Sound… To put it simply, my mother worried. She worried about our neighbours’ reactions. Would they break me with their disparaging glances, their cruel intolerance? She worried I was just like every other teenage girl, all tender heart and fragile ego. She worried I was more myth and figment than flesh and blood… She worried she couldn’t protect me from all of the things that had hurt her: loss and fear, pain and love. Most especially from love.”

I read ‘The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender’ for the first time in January 2016. And I utterly loved it. It moved me so completely. Stirred something deep within me and made me feel so much more than I could ever hope to feel from simple words on a page. So recently when I had to nominate a choice of book for my Goodreads Book Group to read it was a given that I would have to recommend this.
So when everyone voted to read my choice I was very excited… at first…
But then… The dawn of fear.
What if the book wasn’t as good as I remembered?
What if was too peculiar? Too dark? Too strange?
Not adventurous enough! Not exciting! Confusing…
I had all of these conflicting feelings. These doubts.
And sadly I doubted my heart.
I doubted my love.

“Love makes us such fools”

So then I reread my Ava Lavender.
And my feelings… I am both happy and relieved to say they are unchanged.
In fact I love it even more.
As for my book group and what they make of the book? Well if it isn’t for them I know it will break my heart in some little way. And not because I think I chose the wrong book. But because I wish that everyone could feel about this book the way I do.
I hope there’s a book out there for each person that makes your soul sing like this does for me. All the better if it is Ava Lavender, but if it isn’t then that’s okay too. Just as long as something touches you in the same way this has irrevocably touched my heart.

five stars

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7 thoughts on “‘The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender’ by Leslye Walton – Book Review

  1. A lovely ‘double’ review of this book. I hardly, if ever, reread books and I think one of the reasons is because I’m worried that it won’t be as I remembered it the second time around. Glad that you still ended up loving this one 😊 It’s giving me very The Astonishing Color of After vibes (maybe it’s the feather or text or beautiful cover), which I really enjoyed. I think I’ll be adding this to my TBR!

    Like

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