Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Firstly, thanks to WalkerBooks Australia for this review copy <3

Date Read: January 29 2015
Date Released: March 25th 2014
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Source: ARC via publisher
Genre: Magical realism
My Rating: 

"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.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human."


“Happiness had a pungent scent, like the sourest lime or lemon. Broken hearts smelled surprisingly sweet. Sadness filled the air with a salty, sea-like redolence; death like sadness.”

This was my first foray into magical realism and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. It definitely took a while to get used to but I think once I did I really enjoyed this book. However, I thought the blurb was a bit misleading. It said Ava Lavender tries to understand why she was born with wings and embarks on a quest to find out why with a generational saga. This wasn’t so much about Ava’s own quest as it was an explanation into the history of the women in her family. I think I expected more of her. I felt sort of distant from her for a LOT of the book.

Ava’s female ancestors certainly all have their own unique stories, beginning with Ava’s great-grandmother, her grandmother Emilienne and her mother Viviane. It’s a story of intense heartbreak and misfortune that filters down the female line. Personally, I thought there was too much bad stuff going on, to the point where I didn’t feel anything. It was just one tragedy or heartbreak after the next and I was like “oh here we go what bad luck is going to befall them next” to the point where it was exhausting. The onslaught left me immune to feeling anything. There were definitely some happy moments but I just knew something bad would happen after.

I did like the women themselves though. I liked Emilenne’s resilience and cold strength, Viviane’s passion and the way Ava (when we FINALLY got to the ‘present’ of her story) just took her wings in stride. I loved Ava’s friend Cardigan who treats her as a true friend, especially towards the end of the book.

There were definitely some things that happened in this that made me extremely uncomfortable and were just another addition to the terrible things that happened to Ava and her family. It made me cringe and lose faith in humanity. But it made me realise the importance of family and how people can come together in bad times to support each other.

There’s also a hint of mystery tied into the plot that increases the intrigue of the Roux women’s tribulations and adds depth to the existence of Ava’s wings. The tinge of mystery in the history (hey that rhymes!) made the story more fascinating and again, made this a really wonderful take on magical realism.

The writing of this book was simply stunning. Walton’s prose is so elegant and poetic and magical and it was her writing that made my heart ache. The way she described things accentuated the magical realism element of this saga. My favourites were the descriptions of Emilienne’s bakery – those delectable pastries and breads and buns and desserts omg *mouth waters*

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a beautifully written book of the strange events of Ava Lavender and the sorrows of her family. Falling in love, falling out of love, heartbreak and generations of misfortune come swooping down as Ava learns to open her wings and find her place in the world.

“It whispered to me from dark corners during lonely nights. It was the song of the birds in spring and the call of the wind through bare branches on a cold winter afternoon. Fate. Both my anguish and my solace.”


  1. I've heard that the writing in the book is gorgeous (which is good because it should be to match that cover). It's strange hearing that there were so many bad things happening to her family that it slowly stopped having an effect on you, it doesn't help that you felt distant to Ava. Distance does not make for emotional reads.

    Still I'm glad you enjoyed this overall. I'm intrigued by the writing and the hint of mystery surrounding the family so I may pick this up one day.

    1. Hey Bec!
      I'm usually really emotional and the smallest things in books set me off and have me bawling my eyes out so I thought it was strange that this didn't happen in Ava Lavender. i really think it was because too many bad things made me numb.
      Definitely check it out for the writing if anything.

  2. I have so much love for this book! It was also my first foray into magical realism and Walton's writing really captured the exquisite beauty, pain and love throughout the generations. She managed to weave magical elements so seamlessly into the story that I just accepted it when someone turned into a canary. Even Ava's wings didn't bother me. The writing definitely plays a large part in my love for the book, but I found all their stories compelling as well. I CRIED SO MANY TIMES, it's like they just couldn't catch a break. Glad you enjoyed it despite not being able to connect with Ava all too well! xx

    1. The canary thing had me reading it again haha I thought she meant she dressed up as a canary or it was figurative and then I was like "wait what". But yes I definitely enjoyed the magical realism aspect and writing so much!

  3. I've seen so many reviews mirror yours Jaz, how stunning the writing was, the storyline was a beautiful and unique exploration of a coming of age story, sadly I just couldn't get into it. It just dragged for me, the rich history at the beginning really set the tone for me, and historicals aren't my usual read for that very reason. Eventually I'd like to give it another go when I'm in the right frame of mind, but so glad you enjoyed this for the most part. You're review was just beautiful <3

    1. Thank you so much Kelly! I can understand why you couldn't get into it and thought it dragged, it was a different kind of read that's for sure.
      Hopefully you'll enjoy it more if you decide to pick it up again in the future (:

  4. I've heard great things about this book too Jaz, so I'm glad to see that you were able to enjoy this overall, I can see how the bad things and constant heartbreak could be a bit of a downer at times, but its good to see the message that you can take away from it able to outshine some of the bad stuff in ways. I look forward to experiencing Walton's gorgeous writing soon. Lovely review Jaz!

    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment Jasprit. Too many bad things definitely had me getting sick of them. I hope you enjoy this when you decide to pick it up!

  5. Amazing review, Jaz! Your reviews just keep getting better and better. :') This sounds really good, and your glowing review is among many I've read for this author. Gaaah her writing sounds BEAUTIFUL and I'll definitely make sure I have some food near me when I read it because whenever talented authors describe food it makes me want food too! And yay for empowering female characters. Wonderful review, Jaz. Sorry I've been so AWOL lately. >.<

    1. *WRAPS RIYA IN HUG* EEEEEH you're back <3333 thank you so much Riya! I wouldn't say this was a "glowing" review but I definitely enjoyed this book and her writing is stunning. Females that have power, strength and take charge are my favourites.

  6. Great review Jaz! I know what you mean about it being different than what the blurb would lead you to expect, though I was definitely glad that the lyrical writing and overall concept made this one a true winner for me :)

    1. It was definitely the writing that got everybody :D