A black and white shot of the front driveway of a large mansion

About the Book

Title: Roses and Rot
Published: 2016
Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Cover Story: Who’s That I See Walking In These Woods?
BFF Charm: Single White Female
Talky Talk: You’re Everything A Big Bad Wolf Could Want
Bonus Factors: Fairy Tales, Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: I Think You Ought To Walk With Me To Be Safe

Cover Story: Who’s That I See Walking In These Woods?

This is a pretty enough cover, but it doesn’t do justice to the story within.  The building is, of course, supposed to be the artists’ colony in the book, although frankly Howard makes it sound much more enchanting and tucked into the forest than this building.

But hey, it’s got a blurb from Neil Gaiman right there on the cover, so that right there is probably all you need to know.

The Deal:

Imogen, a writer, and Marin, her semi-estranged ballerina sister, are two artists nearly at the top of their game—as evidenced by their acceptance to a prestigious artists’ retreat. With this acceptance comes the promise of spending up to a year tending to nothing but their art, mentored by some of the most prominent artists in their fields. People who have attended Melete have gone on to achieve superstardom and legacies that will far exceed their lifespans. It’s a dream come true, especially because their cruel and abusive mother’s talons can’t dig in while they’re tucked away in this nook.

Not all is as it seems, however: after some odd incidents, Imogen starts wondering why the retreat and certain attendees are so successful, and what it means when she and her sister are selected for an elite group of the most promising students. Only one of them can be chosen for Melete’s highest honor, something that will guarantee success beyond their wildest dreams. It comes with a price, though—one that they may not survive.

This is technically an adult book (with crossover appeal to older teens, I imagine—I would have loved this book if it had existed when I was a teen), but the rich atmosphere, complex relationships, and OH YEAH, THE HOT DUDES, make it perfect for adults who devour YA. Not that we know any of those.

BFF Charm: Single White Female

BFF Charm with an image of the main character from the movie Single White Female

I do not just want to be friends with Imogen, I want to be her. Aside from that pesky abusive mother thing, and the turbulent sisterly relationship with Marin, she’s a fairy-tale writer living in a glorious artistic retreat where all she has to do is focus on her art. This is the grownup version of living in a Disney movie where bluebirds do your dishes and make you dresses—just add whiskey and hot, talented guys to hook up with. BRB, cutting and coloring my hair to look exactly like Imogen’s.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Certain scenes in this book will melt your drawers right off. Pass the church fan.

Talky Talk: You’re Everything A Big Bad Wolf Could Want

The best word for Kat Howard’s prose is lush: it’s hauntingly atmospheric and creates a world that you will want to live in, at least for a while. Although Imogen is a fairy tale writer, her own story, too, is a fairy tale—particularly the relationship between the two blindingly ambitious sisters and their mother. Howard is an expert at knowing when to heap on the delicious descriptive passages and when to hold back, to better ground her story in a more practical reality. The overall effect is the very definition of magical realism—you almost believe that this all could happen. (If it can, please call me, my body is ready.)

Bonus Factor: Fairy Tales

Artistic drawing of colorful fairy tale characters all piled together

I love fairy tales, especially the dark original ones, where everyone dies and/or ends up unhappy. Seriously: there are fairy tales where a person is sentenced to dance in red-hot iron shoes, one where a family murders their children and one is reincarnated into a bird, singing about its murder, and a unicorn is beheaded.

Imogen’s fairy tales are like this. You know how sometimes a character writes something, and it makes you wince? This is not the case with Imogen’s fairy tales, which are dark and informed by her abusive childhood. They are spare, dark, and lovely (like Kat Howard’s short stories).

Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award For Awful Parenting

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

Why am I filing this under a bonus factor instead of an anti-bonus factor, you ask? It’s because Imogen and Marin’s mother is so perfectly written. If you’ve ever read anything about narcissists, Howard absolutely nails the traits of a narcissist: the outward charm, the ability to justify anything as long as it suits their needs, and the casual cruelty. It is the perfect backdrop for the sisters’ tenuous relationship, which is mostly loving, yet fraught with competitiveness.

Relationship Status: I Think You Ought To Walk With Me To Be Safe

Book, I picked you up because I’ve really liked your author’s previous work—but our date far exceeded my expectations. It was dark, sexy, and dangerous, and you took me to places I never quite expected to go. I loved that you explored the ambition of female artists and the dark depths of familial relationships. Ever since it ended, I’ve been thinking about you, and I think we ought to meet in the woods again. I’ll bring the soundtrack.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought my own copy. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one. Roses and Rot is available now.