Tag Archives: Tender 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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Book Review: “Tender Graces,” by Kathryn Magendie

Kathryn Magendie’s novel, Tender Graces, reminds me of that famous line from the Sting song, “If you love somebody, set them free.”

Tender Graces is more than a story of the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. It is the story of a young girl named Virginia Kate, who overcomes great obstacles to discover who she is. Above all it is a story that teaches valuable lessons about what constitutes a family.

The presence of ghosts is a recurring theme as almost all of the characters are haunted by the past. In some cases, the ghosts represent the pain of a wrenching decision. In other cases, the ghosts are actions the characters cannot take back.

Spanning an entire generation, Tender Graces is set in the mountains of West Virginia and the muggy and wet terrain of Louisiana. The story begins with the courtship and quick marriage of Virginia Kate’s mother, Katie Ivene Holm, to Frederick Carey, a Shakespeare-quoting traveling salesman. Katie’s mom, Grandma Faith, sees Frederick as the best hope for her daughter to escape a future of poverty and abuse, so she sets her free. Life with Frederick isn’t much better, though. His drinking and womanizing cause Katie to hit the bottle herself. Three children come in rapid succession: Micha, Virginia Kate, and Andy.

Magendie skillfully uses images such as the ice hitting the glass, shouting behind closed doors, and Virginia Kate taking refuge in the closet to dramatize the pain the children endure. The couple divorces and Frederick moves to Texas and then to Louisiana, where he marries Rebekha. When Virginia Kate first meets Rebekha, she wants nothing to do with her. Eventually, Frederick takes all three children, one by one, from his ex-wife, whose life continues on a downward spiral.

Rebekha’s relationship with Virginia Kate provides some of the more heartwarming moments in the novel. Virginia Kate comes to see Rebekha as a mother figure and Rebekha gives her love unconditionally to all three children. When Virginia Kate returns to West Virginia to nurse her mother back to health after a serious car accident, her mother sends her away again. It is not an act of rejection, but an act of love. Like her mother before her, Katie Ivene knows she must set her daughter free.

Magendie’s prose has a simple elegance. She uses imagery and setting to underscore the themes of the story. This is a touching family saga that I highly recommend.

Kathryn Magendie is based in Western North Carolina. She is the publishing editor of The Rose & Thorn.  Her published novels are: The Graces Sagas (Tender Graces – April 2009 & Secret Graces – April 2010), and Sweetie – November 2010. A novella-length work “Petey” in the anthology “The Firefly Dance” was released Summer 2011. The final in the Graces Saga Trilogy, “Family Graces” will be released spring 2012.



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