Review: The Story Keeper by @LisaWingate

bmbcoverThe Story Keeper
(Carolina #2)
by Lisa Wingate
Christian Fiction
Paperback448 Pages
August 22nd 2014 by Tyndale House Publishers

Summary

When successful New York editor Jen Gibbs discovers a decaying slush-pile manuscript on her desk, she has no idea that the story of Sarra, a young mixed-race woman trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the twentieth century, will both take her on a journey and change her forever. Happy with her life in the city, and at the top of her career with a new job at Vida House Publishing, Jen has left her Appalachian past and twisted family ties far behind. But the search for the rest of the manuscript, and Jen's suspicions about the identity of its unnamed author, will draw her into a mystery that leads back to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains . . . and quite possibly through the doors she thought she had closed forever.

You can read a sneak peek here.
      

My Review

I was pleasantly surprised by The Story Keeper. There were so many different depths to the story. There was the plot of a successful editor who is just out to find a story and the man who wrote it. Then we find out that there is much more to this editor and her life than one would at first suppose. Then you have this author who is somewhat of a hermit. The first time he appears in the story he could be taken at face value, but later on you find that there is so much more going on. At the same time this contemporary plot overlaps a historical plot that is bittersweet, but felt so real.

I loved how immersed I felt in these characters lives, their hopes, their fears, and their struggles. I loved how blatantly honest it all felt. Each of these characters wore a mask, but there was so much going on beneath those masks. I loved that there was mystery in this half-finished manuscript and how it brought so many pieces of these characters' lives together. I loved how the romance wasn't the focal point, but was also given quite a bit of weight. I would have loved an epilogue that showed what happened for sure between Jen and Evan, and the historical couple as well. I am a sucker for romance.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
"'Sarra,' she says many a time, 'all things a flesh and blood pass, but stories is the one part goes on here'n this world. You ken the stories, and when I'm shed a this place, then it'll be you who's the story keeper.'".
-Location 4172, Kindle ARC 
"I knew they'd be here. I knew it's happen," Lily Clarette says, and I admire her blind faith, even as I realize that all faith is blind. We can never really know, except in hindsight, how prayers will be answered.
-Location 4961, Kindle ARC 
I feel Wilda here beside me, her hand on my shoulder. So often it is our narrow focus that limits us, she is saying. When we look only at our own plans, we miss the infinite possibilities of a greater plan.
-Location 5146, Kindle ARC 
If you enjoy reading Christian fiction, or contemporary fiction with an underlying historical plot then I would highly recommend picking up The Story Keeper. It was, frankly, a very good story and one I thoroughly enjoyed due to its honesty, imperfect characters, and bittersweet plot, and just the way these two overlapping plots were told.

Content: Clean (There were a few references to abuse and rape, but nothing descriptive in the story.)

Source: From Edelweiss, which did not affect my review in any way.

About the Author

Lisa WingateSelected among BOOKLIST'S Top 10 of 2012 and Top 10 of 2013, Lisa Wingate skillfully weaves lyrical writing and unforgettable Southern settings with elements of women's fiction, history, and mystery to create stories that Publisher's Weekly calls "Masterful" and ForeWord Magazine refers to as "Filled with lyrical prose, hope, and healing.” Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and the author of over over twenty novels and countless magazine pieces. 

Her books have held positions on many bestseller lists, both in the U.S. and internationally. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, an Oklahoma Book Award finalist, a Christianity Today Book Award nominee, an Inspy Award nominee, a two-time Carol Award winner, a LORIES Best Fiction Award winner, and a Utah Library Award winner. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life.


Q&A with Lisa Wingate

The Story Keeper” tells such a powerful tale. What would you like readers to learn from this book?

The Story Keeper is in many ways an examination of identity. It’s about the masks we wear, where they come from, and whether we can leave behind the masks and become authentic. So often, in rejecting the roles our childhood experiences may have forced upon us, we only put on other masks. In the story, Jen believes she has left behind the girl who was raised in poverty in Appalachia and forced to comply with the brutal and cultish faith of the tiny Church Of The Brethren Saints. But in reality, even hundreds of miles away in New York city working her dream job as an editor, Jen’s in hiding from her past and all the painful questions of her childhood.

When she discovers the partial manuscript of The Story Keeper on her desk, she comes face-to-face with the tale of a young girl living a similar life over 100 years ago. That discovery breaches the mask. What Jen really finds in that manuscript isn’t the story of a 16-year-old Melungeon girl trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the century; it’s her own story. That’s why Jen is compelled to go back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of the rest of the story. She’s looking for her own truth, for the self she abandoned due to the wounds of her childhood.

That’s what stories can do for us. They can break us open in ways we could never have imagined. I hope that people take away two things away from The Story Keeper. First, on a basic level, I hope that the historical thread in the novel is a reminder of the value of stories and their truly life-changing potential. Our stories shouldn’t go untold. They shouldn’t be lost.

On a deeper level, I hope Jen’s experience resonates with readers who have in some way surrendered to the wounds of a painful childhood. Life behind the mask amounts to slow suffocation. It’s another form of allowing other people to dictate who you are and what you believe. Letting go is a risk, but on the other side of that process lays light, freedom and the glory hour Jen finally senses in the end of the book. I hope that’s what people take away from The Story Keeper. Our lives have purpose, but to fulfill that purpose we must first claim ourselves.

How did your experience as a published author help you to write a character who works in the publishing industry? That must have been a fun aspect of Jen Gibbs’ story to create.

For me, writing about New York publishing from an insider’s point of view was the most fun part of the novel! Over the years, I’ve written for publishers based in New York and several other cities. Every house is different, but there are certainly commonalities in any kind of publishing. It’s an interesting world – a mix of glamour and achingly hard work, of mundane tasks and the Eureka of discovering occasional gold nuggets.

While I had fun dreaming up the uniquely powerful, yet family-owned publishing company that is Vida House in the novel, I’ll admit, it was also a little intimidating to write about the secret inner workings of editors’ lives, all the while knowing that when I was finished, I’d have to turn the manuscript over to… gulp… an editor!

Fortunately, the manuscript passed the agent-and-editor test. Not only that, but friends in publishing loved the idea of tripping over a mysteriously wonderful submission that’s been languishing on a slush pile for 20 years. A fascinating manuscript written by a mysterious author who lives somewhere in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains is the ultimate literary gold nugget.

The Appalachian setting is a character of its own in the book. Why did you set the book there?

Appalachia is a place where the air fairly whispers with stories. So much of the world has grown too fast paced these days, too busy for sitting and listening, too preoccupied with the future to devote effort to retelling the past. But in Appalachian culture, there’s still a reverence for it. There are still storytellers who can entertain a crowd at a ramshackle cafĂ©, on a back porch or at the kitchen table over coffee. That tradition of the passing down of stories is part of The Story Keeper.

Appalachia is filled with mist and mystery. It lends mood to a story. The mountains are dotted with isolated communities where people can live differently, undisturbed by outsiders. It’s also the place where mysterious “little races” like the Melungeons lived historically, and in some cases still do. I knew that the historical tale of Sarra would have to do with her Melungeon blood and the myths, legends and prejudices that sort of heritage would bring. Even today, the heritage of “blue-eyed Indians” discovered in the Appalachians by the first English and French explorers remains a mystery. What were the origins of their Caucasian blood? Were they descendants of shipwrecked sailors? Journeying Norsemen or Turks? The progeny of the Lost Colonists who vanished from Roanoke Island without a trace, decades before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock? The mystery fascinated me, and it pulled the story from me, and yes, the place became a character in itself in the book.

How did you write 20 books in 12 years with kids at home?

I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t get serious about freelance writing and selling until after I’d graduated college, married, and started a family. I wrote and sold various smaller projects in between naps, diapers, and playgroups. And when the boys were older, during soccer practices, in carpool lines, while helping with homework, and in all sorts of other situations.

People often ask me if I need quiet in order to write. With boys in the house, if I’d waited for quiet, the writing would never have happened. I learned to lose myself in a story amid the noise of life and I loved it that way.

I asked myself what makes a story last, what really makes a story worth telling and worth reading? I wanted to write books that meant something, that explore the human soul.

One day, I came across a notebook in which I’d written some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d never known quite what to do with those stories, but I knew they were significant in my life. When I rediscovered the notebook, I had the idea of combining my grandmother’s real stories with a fictional family who is like and unlike my own family. That little germ of an idea became my first women’s fiction novel, Tending Roses.

Now that the boys are grown and the house is quiet, I’m redefining the writing routine again. Just as in books, life is a series of scenes and sequels, beginnings and endings, and new discoveries.

Have you read this or do you plan to?

6 comments

  1. I am not sure whether I would want to live in a sci-fi world, while they usually sound interesting, they sound scary as well. Although I think robots can be handy in some aspects of life. I am curious if other inhabitable planets and aliens exists.

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  2. I think I wouldn't mind if it was like ours, but just scientifically advanced with cleaner air and cars that don't use gas. Nice to think about at least...

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  3. The only thing that appeals to me about living in a sci-fi world is the special abilities, like immediate transport and such- I'm too impatient for traffic! :)

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  4. Lol! I am too! It would be great if there was never heavy traffic. :)

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  5. These look interesting! I don't know about the whole living in a sci-fi world. It all depends what is going on. A lot of sci-fi worlds I've read about are on the verge of being dystopian. And I would never live in a dystopian world--scary!

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  6. So true! I wouldn't mind living in a specific type of sci-fi world, one I haven't found yet in books because mine would be a happier place. :)

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