Saturday, June 09, 2012

Humbled, Awed, Stunned and Grateful - A Review to Die For

In 1995 I was living in Marblehead, Massachusetts and, on a brilliant, sunny summer day I was headed for the beach and stopped at The Spirit of '76 Bookstore for something to read. I was looking through books when Bob Hugo, the shop's owner, said, "A lot of people are raving about this book." He handed me a copy of Shark Dialogues by Hawaiian writer Kiana Davenport. I bought it and for the next several days I could do nothing but read this astonishing book. It just took my breath away. I thought she wrote like a Hawaiian Isabel Allende, one of my favorite writers.

Last year, thanks to the wonders of Goodreads, I met Ms. Davenport online and since then we have exchanged many emails and spent hours on the phone. She edited my new novel Depraved Heart and has been so lavish with praise for my books. Tonight she posted the following review to Amazon for my second novel Each Angel Burns. I simply do not have words to express my awe. Thank you so, so much!

5-Stars -
DAVE PORT (HONOLULU, HI.) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Each Angel Burns (Kindle Edition)
Somewhere in the heavenly ethers, Daphne DuMaurier, and the Bronte sisters, must be applauding Kathleen Valentine. In EACH ANGEL BURNS she has written an epic, gothic, mystery/ love story that is a glowing tribute to their classic works, replete with chivalric romance, repressed sexuality, a deconsecrated abbey, haunted crypts, missing statues and bodies, and the abiding supernatural.

I am in awe of the task Valentine sets herself with her novels, for each one is a compendium of her knowledge of history, art, music, geography, and the myriad complexities of the human psyche. And she offers these riches to readers in astonishingly elegant and poetic prose. On the flip side, she is also blessed with a bawdy, Shakespearean sense of humor (a local tavern named The Arm Pit) and a genius for depicting the vernacular of priests, sadists, heartbroken women, aging men and especially blue-collar mill town workers. Again, I sit in awe.

Ostensibly, this is a love story, and an allegory. The main characters being the wavering priest, Peter (as in the Rock upon which Christ's church was built), the stalwart but searching Gabe (as in the archangel, Gabriel) and Maggie (as in Magdalene, the most under-rated and maligned woman in the Scriptures. Oh, there is a fourth character. Sinclair (the seething embodiment of Evil).

On the surface, the premise of EACH ANGEL BURNS, seems a relatively simple tale about people in midlife. A priest questions his true passion in life. A woman attempts release from a loveless marriage and sadistic spouse, and a husband faces the grim reality that his wife of thirty years never loved him. But Valentine draws each character (and even secondary characters) with such richness, such depth and dimension, this becomes a novel on a grand scale. A tale of human beings questioning their purpose in this life, their capacity for love, and whether they have the strength and passion to answer their individual callings.

Because the author deals with issues of faith, spirituality, infidelity, friendship, love, murder, and specifically a priest questioning his celibate life, there has been controversy about whether EACH ANGEL BURNS is a 'Catholic Novel.' I say emphatically no. This is not a 'Christian' story where a character finds salvation through Jesus. That would demean the grandeur of the book. For me, this is an epic about Love. About faith and passion on many levels.

Regarding Father Peter, it is a story about the honor and nobility of answering one's calling, and the sacrifices made to adhere to that calling even in times of debilitating doubt. As Valentine so beautifully says, the ability to shoulder "...the burdensome responsibility of virtue..." And it is not a "Catholic Novel' because there is no moralizing on concepts of 'good and bad, right and wrong,' according to the church. When two married people fall in love and commit adultery, Father Peter is less concerned for their 'lost' souls, than for their genuine happiness. In this novel Love, in all its redemptive manifestations, is revered above all else.

If the reader feels a sense of God in many passages, it is because, according to that ancient adage, "God is love." And there is so much love in this book! The touching scenes of love between a reconciling father and his son, between two brothers, between a husband and his paralyzed wife. Between two boyhood friends competing for the same woman. Even between a man and his beloved dog, Zeke.

And then, oh my, there are the incredible scenes of lovemaking between a man and woman. Here Valentine raises the act of sexual love to the highest level, where Gabe and Maggie are transported beyond the mere physical to a higher plane, where the act of love becomes an act of God. In that sense, yes, this is a spiritual novel, for I think most readers are uplifted in these sensual passages.

And there is a sense of uplifting, too, when Valentine praises the hard-scrabble lives of these mill town men and women. The women bearing children year after year, and the ..."bodies of men who have worked hard all their lives. The history of their lives in the contours of their bodies..." This is pure poetry.

What I found so appealing and a CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION is that the main characters in the EACH ANGEL BURNS are MIDDLE-AGED men and women, struggling with real midlife issues: age, weight, dying marriages, their families, their adult children, their jobs. These are not one-dimensional cutouts, ever-young, ever-slim parodies so often found in fiction today. Valentines characters are REAL people with spreading waistlines, and graying hair, but still driven by passion, desire, and downright lust. Mostly they are people still searching for love. People like you and me.

Oh, pity, poor youth who will have to wait several decades to experience this much deeper love that comes from having been humbled by life. The kind of love that makes Gabe and Maggie weep with gratitude for having found each other. And the kind of deliciously slow and thoughtful lovemaking that borders on the spiritual, because it comes after broken marriages and broken dreams, after years striving and seeking, and learning what real love is. What it means.

It's something we all search for, a redemptive love, that, again, may be the closest we come to God. They say a great book changes us, makes us question our way of thinking. Something extraordinary happens at the end of EACH ANGEL BURNS. It can only be described as a miracle. When I finished the novel (for the second time) I realized that, after years of disbelieving, I've changed my mind. I DO believe in miracles. I urge everyone to read this magnificent novel. Thank you, Kathleen Valentine.

KIANA DAVENPORT, Author of House of Skin, and Cannibal Nights.


  1. That's great, Kiana. You've every right to be proud of that great review. Here's to hoping you get many more like it.

  2. A truly grand review, and truly well deserved, Kathleen. I especially like "the grandeur of the epic about Love."

    Remember when I dipped into your books and, not understanding what a perversion of a good descriptor the self-styled Romance writers in indieland had turned the term into, declared you a Romance writer. Kiana Davenport captures the sense of Romance, the epic grandeur of love, that I intended.

    Thank you to both of you.


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