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LaurenBDavis

LAUREN B. DAVIS

Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

The Witches of New York - Ami McKay
I LOVED this book! It's magical, alluring, beautifully plotted and full of fabulous characters, both human, and not-so-human (Oh, Perdue, you lovely raven you!). Plus, let's not forget that Victorian setting. Think of the child Edith Wharton might have had with Charles Dickens. In fact, McKay has used many of the Victorian Penny Dreadful tropes to splendid effect. 

Three women -- witches all -- in their shop, "Tea and Sympathy", a marvelous confection of place, as full of fairies (Dearies) as herbs and potions (some for 'regulating the womb' if you know what I mean). The shop is a place of refuge and care for the women of the neighborhood. Frankly, I want one of these shops near me. Now, please. 

And of course, there must be a villain. For that, we have a group of religious fanatics who pluck the very worst from their teachings and apply them with murderous, misogynistic intent. (Shades of Jack the Ripper anyone?) 

At the heart of this novel is something deliciously subversive: These women, who have suffered terrible loss and heartbreak, and who struggle under the yoke of Victorian patriarchy and hysteria, live with a quiet resolve and autonomy; they assist other women, they stand tall in their truth, and never deny who they are. 

A joy to read from beginning to end and it kept me up at night reading far later than I'd planned. Enjoy.
The Heavy Bear - Tim Bowling
Really lovely. Bowling, who is a well-respected poet, brings his talent for writing beautiful sentences to the novel, with delightful results. The story of a man named Tim Bowling (yes, the author names the protagonist after himself) at the author's age (50), questioning meaning as he wanders the streets haunted by the ghosts of the past century, embodied by Buster Keaton and Delmore Schwartz. And a girl. And a monkey. 

You can see what sort of book this is, can't you? 

Now, I'm not entirely sure this book will be for everyone -- it helps to be as big a fan of Buster Keaton as I am since a good deal of the book is a sort of love song to the tragic-faced star of silent films. There is at least as much cultural-commentary as there is plot. Perhaps more. Not to mention Delmore Schwartz (the heavy bear). 

But, if you enjoy a thoughtful, meditative, melancholic and deeply intelligent read, this just might be the book for you.
 
 

 

The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox

Well, this was a great deal of fun! A BIG read. Set in mid-Victorian England it is a murder mystery, a character study, with the era being one of the characters, and a fascinating one as well. The research is impeccable, and if the pacing is a tad slow in parts I didn't mind a bit since I was enjoying the vision so much. The ending might not be entirely satisfying, but still... a fun read. 

King Rat - China Miéville

This urban grunge fantasy is Mieville's debut novel and the first of his works I've read. This is a riff on the Pied Piper of Hamlin and is imaginative and fast-paced. The language is delightful as is the imagery. The plot, however, is entirely predictable and there is one clear flaw in the plot, having to do with the protagonist's ability to resist the Rat Catcher's tune when no one else can. Still, it's a fun and fast read, and shows Mieville's developing talent. I'll read more of his work. 

The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects - Barbara G. Walker

A wonderful work on the study of symbols and sacred objects as they relate to the female. It's an excellent companion to the marvelous "The Book Of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images" offering insight on the feminine roots of many of our symbols.

 

Just as an example, one such symbol is the fish, widely accepted to be the symbol of Christianity, but which is actually FAR older. Ichthys was the offspring of the ancient Sea goddess Atargatis, and was known in various mythic systems as Tirgata, Aphrodite, Pelagia, or Delphine. The word also meant "womb" and "dolphin" in some tongues, and representations of this appeared in the depiction of mermaids. The fish is also a central element in other stories, including the Goddess of Ephesus, as well as the tale of the fish of the Nile that swallowed part of Osiris' body (the penis), and was also considered a symbol of the sexuality of Isis for she had sexual intercourse with Osiris after his death which resulted in the conception and birth of his posthumous son, Harpocrates, Horus-the-child. So, in pagan beliefs, the fish is a symbol of birth and fertility.

 

Before Christianity adopted the fish symbol, it was known by pagans as "the Great Mother", and "womb". Its link to fertility, birth, and the natural force of women was acknowledged also by the Celts, as well as pagan cultures throughout northern Europe.

The Romans called the goddess of sexual fertility by the name of Venus. And thus it is from the name of the goddess Venus that our modern words "venereal" and "venereal disease" have come. Friday was regarded as her sacred day, because it was believed that the planet Venus ruled the first hour of Friday and thus it was called dies Veneris. And to make the significance complete, the fish was also regarded as being sacred to her. The similarities between the two, would indicate that Venus and Freya were originally one and the same goddess and that original being the mother-goddess of Babylon.

 

The same association of the mother goddess with the fish-fertility symbol is evidenced among the symbols of the goddess in other forms also. The fish was regarded as sacred to Ashtoreth, the name under which the Israelites worshiped the pagan goddess. And in ancient Egypt, Isis is represented with a fish on her head.

Great stuff. Wonderful for those of us who do dream work, and who look for the deep plumb line of the Sacred that runs through all time, all people, and all place. More evidence the world is full of wonder, magic, and miracle.

People of the Whale - Linda Hogan

This is one of those books I'm going to re-read. It's just so RICH. The writing is astounding, and the story is compelling. Such wisdom and healing - wide and deep as the sea, and the whales and the people who live in profound harmony with their environment. 

 

A couple of quotes: "

 

“He wakes up and he is not a halfhearted man and he can’t remember why he wakes this way, except that he hears the sound of birds and it is as if behind the human world something else is taking place. "

 

and: 

 

“Like the water, the earth, the universe, a story is forever unfolding. It floods and erupts. It births new worlds. It is circular as our planet and fluid as the words of the first people who came out from the ocean or out of the cave or down from the sky. Or those who came from a garden where rivers meet and whose god was a tempter to their fall, planning it into their creation along with all the rest.”

 

Marvelous. Hogan is a literary priestess. 

Every Man Dies Alone Publisher: Melville House; Reprint edition - Hans Fallada

An extraordinary novel I am embarrassed to say I was not aware of until Melville Books (bless them) sent me a notice about it. Where the hell have I been?

 

Primo Levi called EVERY MAN DIES ALONE "The greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis."

 

The Montreal Gazette said, "It is no wonder the work's reception in the English-speaking world has been the journalistic equivalent of a collective dropped jaw."

 

It is not only politically important (dare I say, especially in these times?), but it extraordinarily readable. Riveting, in fact. Every character crackles with vibrancy, every decision is perfectly credible. There isn't a speck of cliche. It is heartbreaking, sometimes very funny, thrilling, exhausting, beautiful and ironically life-affirming. The small man/woman, going about life. Being brave beyond measure, even in the face of . . . well, you know.

 

You may be thinking you've read quite enough books about WWI. May I humbly suggest that unless you've read EVERY MAN DIES ALONE you need to read just one more.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Penguin Essentials) - Patrick Süskind , John E. Woods

How I loved this book! The writing is magical and so inspiring, and the story's pretty damn good as well. When I first read it, years ago, I remember thinking I had never read anything quite like it. What a tour de forces. I suggest my students read it to understand what can be done when writing deeply from the senses. 

Since We Fell - Dennis Lehane

Although I like Lehane's work generally (loved Mystic River), this isn't his best. The pacing is slow and the stakes don't seem high enough, even given that we are told the protagonist shoots her husband in the preface. In fact, the preface reads a bit like an afterthought, as a way to persuade the reader something interesting will eventually happen. When things DO happen, they are utterly beyond credibility. I can't quite figure out what Lehane was thinking with this one, unless perhaps he wrote it to satisfy a publishing deal. 

 

My Sunshine Away A Novel - M.O. Walsh

A truly stunning and endlessly surprising novel. Beyond the beautifully plotted and paced story, with just the right about of subtext and perfectly timed reveals, I'm struck by Walsh's prose in particular. Although never overly showy or self-aware, it's lyric in all the right ways. (Chapter 32 is something of a masterclass.) The word choices are precise and delicate and delightful, and I could have gone on reading for a long time. He manages to find the perfect balance between elegy and suspense, meditation and mystery. It is at once deeply psychological and completely irresistible.

 

Highly recommended.

The Good Girl - Mary Kubica

I might have given this book one star, but for the sections with the British-born mother. Those passages are, for the most part, at least credible, and the emotional depth is appropriate. The other sections, however, those of the detective and the criminal, were desperately in need of an edit. The voices are cliched, so much so that the detective sounds like a parody of 1940s noir literature (and not a good one at that). The criminal is the same, only without the occasional unintended giggles. On top of that, the plot is predictable and slow moving. How I wished for more. 

The Outward Room - Millen Brand, Peter Cameron

Madness. Wholeness. Healing through the tiny details of a life lived among others who care for us, and the terrible fragility we all navigate. This is a classic. So much larger than can be contained within its pages.

 

THE OUTWARD ROOM is the best kind of philosophical book: one rooted in story, in character, and one in which the word 'philosophical' never appears, and yet it asks all the important questions, and does so brilliantly, in a mere 230 pages.

 

Reward yourself. Read this book.

Chocky - John Wyndham, Margaret Atwood

Wyndham. What a visionary. And this is a wonderful story, in part mystery, in part psychological thriller, in part family story, in part sci-fi, and in all ways, utterly hopeful, well, almost utterly.

 

And did I mention timely? Given the threat we pose to the planet, this book remains pertinent.

No Beast So Fierce - Edward Bunker

I'm sure this was groundbreaking when it first came out, but now it feels sadly dated. Or perhaps I've just read too many of these sorts of memoirs, or... known too many people like this. 

To the Wedding - John Berger

A stunningly beautiful meditation on love and death told in multiple voices, like a choir. The sensual details are intoxicating, as is Berger's tenderness and hope for us frail humans, even in the face of a terrible, unchangeable fate. 

The Wreath - Sigrid Undset, Tiina Nunnally

A wonderful medieval romance, written by a Nobel Prize winner in 1928. It's said that no one writes about the medieval world as Undset did, and I can well believe it.

 

A love story, as well as a story about obligation, pride, honor and sin, it has a little something for everyone. The first of three books centering around Kristin Lavransdatter, this one chronicles her life from birth, through tempestuous first passion, to her marriage.

 

She's quite the classic heroine, willful and strong, determined to live for love in spite of the traditional strictures of the time. It's impossible not to cheer for her and wish her well.