Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie

Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you finish it. I turned the last page this morning, and I still can't get the characters out of my head. It's Southern fiction set in West Virginia and Louisiana from the 1950s through the present. The story is told in the first person by Virginia Kate Carey, opening in the present as she makes her way back to West Virginia to pick up her mother's ashes. While back in her childhood home for the first time in years, Virginia Kate thinks back to the start of her parents' relationship and details the events that led to the breakup of her family.

Virginia Kate is a girl haunted by the ghost of her Grandma Faith, her maternal grandmother who was married to an abusive husband and met a sad and violent end. Her mother, Katie, was a beautiful, wild mountain girl who was immediately drawn to Frederick Hale, a door-to-door salesman who loved to quote Shakespeare. The two elope almost immediately, with Grandma Faith initiating their relationship by buying some kitchen items from Frederick and inviting him for dinner, seeing it as a way to get Katie away from her abusive father. Ultimately, they have three children -- Micah, Virginia Kate, and Andy. Virginia Kate loves her parents dearly, but their alcoholism and the frequent arguments that sometimes turn violent are hard for the children to bear.

Tender Graces shows how hard it is to deal with being separated from a parent, having to rebuild your life, and learning who you can trust with your heart. The book also touches upon the definition of family and the mistakes parents make when they just don't know how to do the right thing and how these mistakes can change the course of one's family history. Magendie's writing is wonderful, and she seamlessly moves the narrative from the past to the present and back again. The characters are rich and unique, and it's hard not to like them, even when their decisions leave you heartbroken. Some of the characters are a real treat, like Mee Maw, Virginia Kate's paternal grandmother, who is an awful woman but her antics are as entertaining as they are horrifying. Magendie does a great job with dialogue, and the Southern accents, mannerisms, and culture make you feel as though you are right there in the story. It's hard to believe this is Magendie's first novel.

The tone of the story was sad, with bits of hope peeking through. I fell in love with Virginia Kate, and I didn't want her story to end. Magendie doesn't leave any loose ends hanging -- though they're not all tied up neatly, which I like -- but I can't stop myself from wondering what happens to everyone afterward. I highly recommend Tender Graces, and I know it will make my list of favorite books for the year.

Tender Graces also was reviewed by:

S. Krishna's Books

Pudgy Penguin Perusals
Stone SouP

If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Tender Graces from Bell Bridge Books for review purposes.


Serena said...

glad to hear you liked this one...its a new-to-me author and book. sounds like an entertaining and thought-provoking read!

Jo-Jo said...

Wow this sounds like a very emotional book to read. I don't know if I could handle this one right now, but it sounds like one that I would definitely enjoy in the future. Thanks for the review Anna!

Blodeuedd said...

It does sound lovely, even if it's sad and i want my books a bit happier. But can't read happy books always :)

bermudaonion said...

This sounds very powerful, but I do love books like this, especially when they're set in the South.

bermudaonion said...

I love powerful books like this, especially when they're set in the South. Great review.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Maybe it is because I live in the South, but stories that are based down here seem to take on richer hues, more emotional stories. I love the cover too. I'll keep my eyes open for this one.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Anna, thank you for taking the time to read and write such a lovely review of my book. I read every word while smiling ...maybe even grinning! This is a wonderful review and I appreciate you.

Kaye said...

Wonderful review Anna. This is such a teriffic book. Like you, I found it hard to believe it is a debut novel. Magendie has the most beautiful way of writing. Her characters are just so alive, no blase
ones that's for sure. You either really liked them or wanted to slap them silly and tell them to smarten up. Aunt Ruby - grrrr. These aren't characters readers will forget too easily. Wonderful wonderful book!

Wanda said...

Your pleasure in reading Tender Graces really comes through in your review, Anna. This sounds like my kind of book, one I could really get into.

Just the mention of "Mee Maw" makes me want to re-read an old favourite Crazy in Alabama.

Kristi said...

Thanks Anna, this sounds like a book I would enjoy. I am going to add it to my TBR's.

Ladytink_534 said...

I just love southern fiction! Maybe because I've always lived down here but I like it regardless. :) Glad you seemed to really like this one!

Darlene said...

I've seen a few reviews on this one and I think I'd like to read it. I love books that stick with me long after I turn that last page.

Anna said...

Serena: I think you'd enjoy this one. You can borrow my copy.

Jo-Jo: Let me know if you eventually read it. I'd love to know what you think. It definitely was emotional and parts were hard to read because of that, but it was so worth it.

Blodeuedd: I like not-so-happy books. It's books with the neat, happy endings that bother me the most.

Bermudaonion: I think you'd like this one.

Sandy: I agree that they're richer. Makes me want a Southern, small town life like in the books. :)

Kathryn: Thanks so much for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I wish you much success with the book.

Kaye: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed this book, too. I wanted to slap Aunt Ruby, too.

Wanda: Thanks! I think you'd enjoy this one.

Kristi: Great! Let me know if you get a chance to read it.

Ladytink: I'm only just realizing how much I love Southern fiction. I've read a few recently and loved every one.

Dar: I really think you'd like this one!