Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie

Virginia Kate Carey has come home to West Virginia to release her mother’s ashes to the wind, but the feral Katie Ivene will not be laid to rest so gently. Powerful as a hurricane roaring through the lives of her husband and three children, Katie Ivene left an alcoholic trail of emotional devastation in her path, because when she loved, she loved magnificently, and when she hated, she hated fiercely.  Virginia Kate’s only hope to bury her mother and her memories is to set free the words that will tell their story, and she does so with aplomb.

In the beginning of Tender Graces, her voice has all the breathless energy and adoration of a five-year-old for her mother.  Yet as Virginia Kate writes of her life and the lives of her two brothers, her tone matures and though Tender Graces grows darker, Virginia Kate’s hope and humor shines through their storms with depth and insight far beyond her years.

This is not your usual saccharine coming of age novel.  North Carolina author Kathryn Magendie tells Virginia Kate’s tale with passion, poetry, and an honesty that will feel brutal at times, but nowhere does she manipulate the reader with cheap literary tricks.  She exhibits her greatest skill when she chronicles the children’s gradual emotional growth and with Virginia Kate’s subtly changing narrative.  Poignant and funny, Tender Graces renders an accurate telling of being a child in an alcoholic home without being preachy or overwrought.

Bravo to Magendie and her debut novel!  I hope we will be seeing more of her work in the future.

My Rating: 


A.D. 62: Pompeii by Rebecca East

It’s no secret that I like time travel themes (see my reviews of Mary Modern and The Mirror).  This one sends bookish Harvard grad Miranda back to the first century Roman empire, and lands her in the ocean near the doomed city of  Pompeii.  Caught in a fishing net, she is soon sold to a wealthy slave owner, Marcus Tullius, and is put to work as a house slave.  At first Miranda is unworried, confident that she can return to her world at the touch of the transmitter implanted in her arm.  Unfortunately, something goes awry with the transmitter and Miranda finds herself stranded in ancient Rome.

Apparently Rebecca East is the pen name of a university professor.  I would venture to guess that her area of expertise is history or archeology, rather than english or literature.  The historical descriptions are detailed and interesting, if a bit reminiscent of a tour book one would purchase at a kiosk when visiting Pompeii.  The characters are rather thinly sketched, and what starts out a detailed historical overview eventually loses steam and degenerates into a typical Master/slave romance.  Even the impending explosion of Vesuvius is barely acknowledged in the end. 

This book had promise, but could have benefited enormously from a good editor.  There was much repetition of thoughts and ideas, and also more than one misspelled word.  Still, it wasn’t so bad that I gave up on it.  I bravely saw it through to the last page.

My Rating: 

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip

When I was twelve-years-old (yes, my Wild Things, I was not hatched old; it only seems that way) I was browsing the stacks at the Reidsville Public Library and found a slim paperback book entitled The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip.  It was my first fantasy, and that novel led me to Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, then to The Hobbit, and on to a life-long love of fantasy, folklore, and stories.  Most importantly, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld made me a fan of Patricia A. McKillip and her bewitching, beautiful characters.

In the Forests of Serre is an enchanting novel that tells the tale of Ronan, crown prince of the land of Serre, who seeks death through war, because his grief over the loss of his wife and child has made his heart a barren thing.  While riding home, Ronan accidentally kills the prized white hen of the oldest witch in Serre, Brume. Ronan refuses to enter Brume’s cottage of bones, and the witch places a curse on him that will cause him to wander the forest of Serre until he finds her once more.

Thread by thread, Ms. McKillip then weaves into her story the beautiful princess Sidonie; the ancient wizard Unciel; the brash, young wizard, Gyre; and the scribe, Euan. Each character plays a part in Ronan’s tale, and only Patricia McKillip could spin such an intricate yarn about grief, love, and what it means to steal a heart.

With her elegant prose and her rich characters, Ms. McKillip sweeps the reader into a fairy tale as colorful and elaborate as the Unicorn Tapestries. So I invite you to journey to the forest of Serre where “ you never know when and where a tale will become true . . .”

My Rating: