While other types of fiction are primarily concerned with plot, women’s fiction concentrates more on relationships. Romantic relationships, of course, but the friendships between women are just as important, and so are the connections between parent and child. One could make a case that fairy tales represent one of the oldest forms of women’s fiction. These stories, handed down verbally for generations until the Grimm Brothers and then Disney finally wrote them down and revised them for general audiences, not only featured thwarted love and other obstacles, but created that mainstay of fiction villains: the wicked stepmother (sometimes referred to as “The Stepmonster” in more contemporary works).
To this storied tradition, authors Erica Lucke Dean & Laura M. Kolar have added their salvo. Ashes of Life is told in alternating points of view from stepmother Alex and teenage stepdaughter Maddie. The twist? We meet Alex and Maddie at the funeral of Maddie’s parents. Why were David and Sarah in the car together on that icy road? At first, it seems Alex is left with only questions about the car accident as well as her pregnancy that prompted David and Alex’s just-three-months-old marriage. But the stress causes Alex to miscarry, and David’s lawyer informs her that David named her Maddie’s guardian. With Maddie’s aunt and grandmother both alcoholics, there’s no suitable family member left. Alex is forced to take the girl or leave her to foster care. Despite the animosity between her and Maddie, Alex can’t turn her over to the system. But she soon has reason to regret her compassion.
Sixteen-year-old Maddie is a mess. A self-described “cutter who doesn’t cut,” she goes out of her way looking for opportunities to screw up. There’s the drinking, getting high, cutting class, and hanging out with bad boys. And every chance she gets, she reminds Alex that her parents were together when they died. In fact, they had fallen back in love and were planning on reconciling.
And Alex believes her. Her grief over her miscarriage and David’s death, combined with this new horrific piece of news, sends Alex into her own downward spiral. Avoiding work and clean clothes, Alex can’t avoid Maddie, as the school is constantly calling her with the news of Maddie’s latest scrapes. Will Alex be able to rescue Maddie, or will she decide the troubled teen is too much?
With such a heavy premise, the authors tread lightly over the subject matter, and the voice that emerges is more commonly found in Young Adult than women’s fiction. This works well for Maddie, but makes Alex seem younger than she is. With this tone, the ending is predictable, but that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of the book. Both women are highly sympathetic, even when Maddie is at her brattiest. There are also times when Alex seems deliberately cruel to Maddie, but the writers are always able to convey the complex emotions behind Alex’s actions, and she remains likeable even during these interactions.
Ashes of Life is a quick and easy read, a perfect beach book for those who prefer soap-opera type plots with snark and sarcasm. The voice is highly engaging, and the twists come one after another. And I found it very revealing that in the acknowledgements, (I always read them. Don’t you?) author Dean thanked her stepdaughter Mady. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes we’re left guessing which is which.
Thanks to Red Adept Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.
Check out the other blogs participating in the blog tour.
Enter to win a $5 gift card or swag from Red Adept Publishing (as part of their tour):
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Worldwide. Giveaway ends July 26th.
More by Erica Lucke Dean and Laura Kolar: