Tag Archives: Secret Graces

Book Review: “Family Graces,” By Kathryn Magendie

The final book in Kathryn Magendie’s Graces trilogy begins with a quote from Shakespeare: “The wheel comes full circle, I am here.” Family Graces spins forward on the strength of the main character, Virginia Kate Carey. She brings the story full circle by demonstrating through her actions and her choices that love can overcome the hurts inflicted by dysfunctional families.

At the outset the ghost of her grandmother, Grandma Faith, asks Virginia Kate to tell the family’s stories. These stories, though heartbreaking, must be told to set free Grandma Faith and Katie Ivene, Virginia Kate’s troubled mother.

Family Graces delves into the unsettling stories of three characters featured in Tender Graces and Secret Graces. The reader learns the ugly details about Grandma Faith’s nightmarish life with her husband, Luke, an abusive drink who beats her. Her daughter, Katie Ivene, dreams of becoming famous in Hollywood, a form of escape from her bleak family life. She marries Frederick Carey and she eventually realizes she will never escape her home in the West Virginia mountains. She finds escape by turning to alcohol.

In sharp contrast to Katie Ivene is Rebekha, the woman who raises Virginia Kate. Though Katie Ivene will not allow her to adopt Virginia Kate and her brothers, Micah and Andy, Rebekha provides the one thing their biological mother cannot: unconditional love. We learn about Rebekha’s childhood in a wealthy household and about her distant and emotionally detached parents. Rebekha finds escape through her love of science, the microscope being her lens of choice. Her first love ends in tragedy and she is working in Texas when she meets Frederick Carey.

We also learn the story of Adin, Virginia Kate’s adopted daughter, who is left at her doorstep because her mother believes Virginia Kate’s ex-husband Dylan is the girl’s father. Virginia Kate finds a kindred spirit in Adin, who is visited by Grandma Faith. Like her adoptive mother, Adin overcomes a childhood of neglect to become a well-balanced adult.

Virginia Kate’s healthy relationships with Rebekha and Adin illustrate the redemptive power of love to break the cycle of abuse. The bond formed in those relationships is stronger than that found in some nuclear families.

Magendie elegantly weaves these dark stories, with breaks of levity, into a beautiful quilt, held together by the unique voice of Virginia Kate. I was sad to see this series end, but satisfied with the way the story came full circle.



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Book Review: “Secret Graces,” by Kathryn Magendie

Secret Graces is the second book in a trilogy by Kathryn Magendie that features the unforgettable voice of Virginia Kate Carey. As in the first book, Tender Graces, the story alternates between the present, when Virginia Kate returns to the West Virginia mountains upon the death of her mother, and her turbulent journey from adolescence to womanhood in her current home in Louisiana.

When Tender Graces ended, Virginia Kate was an adolescent struggling with the need to bond with her biological mother, who sent her away, and the warmth of her second family, anchored by saintly step-mother, Rebekha. As Secret Graces begins, Virginia Kate is a university student pursued by Dylan, who is smitten and courts her with dogged determination. Virginia Kate is hopelessly conflicted about Dylan and Magendie deftly describes her state of mind, drawing on setting and other elements to underscore her emotions.

She stood under an oak tree when Dylan spotted her for the first time. As she looked back from the perspective of a middle-aged woman, she reflects, “I remember that girl. That girl had been afraid all her life. That girl had tried to pretend she wasn’t afraid. And she gained and she lost and she knew she never had what she thought was hers, because she never fully gave of herself.”

Later, young Virginia Kate senses her step-mother wants to know about Dylan. “I knew Rebekha wanted me to talk to her about Dylan, but those feelings were easier to keep stuffed down where they were safe. If I talked about him, words would be released into the air, faster and faster until I’d be sucked asunder by a tornado, mad-whirled, scattering feelings and actions willy nilly.” And so Virginia Kate remained ambivalent, frustrating Dylan as his longing for her becomes more intense.

Despite serious misgivings, Virginia Kate convinced herself she and Dylan could have a happy life together. “He would make me love him back and I would be a part of someone, a half to a whole. I would make my own home with my own children…I’d never again be see-through or worry about lonely again.” But her fears proved well-founded.

The story ends on a hopeful note, setting the stage for the final act of this trilogy.

As with the first book, Virginia Kate’s authentic voice engages the reader right away. She is at times funny, vulnerable, perceptive, and unsure of her instincts. In other words, she embodies the imperfections and hope in each of us.




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Doctor Print vs. Mister Kindle

When it comes to print books versus e-books, the reader in me is in a Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde tussle. As Billy Martin said in the “taste great/less filling” beer commercial, I feel very strongly both ways. The true test is when you’re traveling. What do you take with you: a book or your e-reader? On a recent business trip to Kansas City, I couldn’t decide so I took my Kindle–and two paperback books.

I was tempted to go solo with the Kindle, but there are those few minutes when the plane is taking off and the captain tells the passengers to power off all electronic devices. Besides, it’s nice to have a good paperback (or two) in the unlikely event that my Kindle dies or the battery runs low. And since I happened to be reading three books at the same time (my wife thinks I’m crazy for doing that) I brought them all.

In the terminal, I was enjoying the second novel in Kathryn Magendie’s trilogy, Secret Graces. I had my music in my ear buds. I was a happy camper. When I powered off on the plane, I switched to Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. Since I was almost done, I also brought Bernard Malamud’s The Natural. I was just getting into one of Anne’s excellent craft essays when we hit 10,000 feet and it was back to the story of Virginia Kate Carey. Landing on the first leg of the flight in Baltimore, I had to abandon Virginia Kate in the middle of a dramatic scene and I nearly finished off Bird by Bird.

The longer leg of the flight to Kansas City took me back to Secret Graces and I made great progress, aided by Wilco in my ear buds. I completed Bird by Bird on the descent to Kansas City.

The next afternoon I returned home and cracked open The Natural, continuing to enjoy the exploits of Roy Hobbs as he smote the ball to lead the New York Knights out of the doldrums. At 10,000 feet it was back to Secret Graces for a long stretch. By the time I returned to The Natural, the Knights had risen to third place in the league.

The short flight from Baltimore to Hartford-Springfield had me juggling the two books. I was again forced to leave Virginia Kate during one of the most dramatic scenes in the book. Meanwhile, in The Natural, fans were celebrating Roy Hobbs Day at Knights Field. And then the plot took a sharp turn and that’s where I left off.

The fact is I still love the feel and the experience of e-books, but it’s nice to read about that hot New York Times bestseller and have it on your Kindle within seconds.

Do you prefer print books or e-books? Are you like me and enjoy both?


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