I live in the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains, deep in the midst of Maine’s highest peaks. I can trace my mountains like the thin lines that travel across my palms and as long as I can find the mountains I know that it’s all right.
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains, deep in Appalachia, in a world I have never lived but still somehow know. The people in this book are familiar and so are their stories.
This story is one I see every day. Rural life, struggling families, scratching a life deep in the woods and mountains of the Appalachians. It is beautiful, but harsh and unforgiving. I have always found that while the world here in the mountains may be harsh, there is always a great capacity for hope and for love.
I am glad to find that others see this, too.
The Story Keeper is a novel woven inside another novel. Sarra’s story first presents as a manuscript that mysteriously lands on the New York desk of editor Jen Gibbs, plunging Jen into a whirlwind rush back to the Blue Ridge Mountains where she was born, raised, and from which she ultimately escaped to pursue her dreams.
I first picked this one up on a whim. I have been listening through audiobooks lately, and after Frankenstein, opted for something a little more modern before I continue my way through the classics. There’s another Lisa Wingate novel I’ve had my eye on for a while but The Story Keeper was available for free with my Audible subscription so I started there to see how I felt about the writing before I spent the money on the other one.
(I will be picking up Before We Were Yours and starting that one soon, I can assure you.)
This story was compelling and mesmerizing and I stayed up late more nights than I should have in order to finish it. I would recommend it for readers 17 and up.
My favorite line is from the epilogue, and I will leave with this.
When we lose our stories, we lose ourselves.”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate
Which classic novel should I listen to next? Let me know in the comments or send me an email!
Reader Notes: a book review + quite a lot of rambling
When You Find My Body by D. Dauphinee, 5 out of 5 stars
This afternoon, huddled under the blankets as the temperature in my house slowly crept upwards following a power outage, I finished reading Dauphinee’s book.
When You Find My Body is the story of Gerry Largay and her disappearance on the Appalachian Trail in Maine, right in the heart of my communities. Published in 2019, this book weaves a story that I have heard about since the beginning, but with more information and details. It helps me complete the picture.
About the book itself: the storytelling and the narrative voice is engaging and compelling. Dauphinee understands something about humanity that can be hard to capture sometimes, and he shows it on the pages of this book: the community need for survival.
He paints a beautiful but unapologetic picture of the place I call home. While the story he tells is full of grief and sorrow, frustration and even anger, hope, courage, and compassion shine through. I definitely recommend this book and will be picking up a copy for my own shelves.
That’s my thoughts on the book itself. My reaction to the story, on the other hand, is kind of complicated. I think that’s one of the reasons it has taken me so long to read it. I picked it up before Christmas and am only now putting it down.
I grew up in a little village tucked at the foot of Mt. Abram – Mt. Abraham, I suppose, to people who aren’t locals. I live near most of Maine’s tallest mountains. My hometown is also 23 minutes to Sugarloaf Ski Mountain and one hour, 8 minutes to Saddleback Mountain. (This is assuming favorable weather conditions and no delays and I tend to give myself 30 minutes and one hour and 30 minutes, respectively, because I often have poor conditions and/or delays.)
I did not grow up skiing. Or snowboarding. In the winter we amused ourselves by hurtling down an icy dirt road, bouncing off the frozen plow bank as we turned a ninety-degree corner, and continuing on down the road until it leveled out and the plastic torpedo sleds scraped to a halt, often a few hundred feet past the bottom of the hill. (It is worth noting that in 20+ years and 14+ kids, there were only two broken bones associated with these winter activities.)
In the summer, we played outside. The woods were ours, and nothing could get in our way. We built forts and shelters, made campfires, foraged for nuts and berries and greens, swam in the pond and the river, caught sunfish and frogs, wandered through the small woods in the pasture, and scrambled up and down hills, cliffs, and shallow ravines.
My uncle took my older brother and I on a number of hiking trips when I was a pre-teen. With him, we learned to follow a trail, to pack basic survival items and a little more food and water than we needed, and to pace ourselves and not overexert. On one hike we ended up unavoidably delayed due to injury and ended up hiking in the dark down to the logging road, where my dad and our friends met us and drove us out. That time we learned the importance of flashlights, extra batteries, and a good communication system.
The most important lesson, however, was one I learned from reading, well before we began hiking. I don’t remember when I first met Donn in the pages of Lost On A Mountain In Maine, but I do remember the most important time I met him in person.
It was September 17, 2011, outside the Cole Transportation Museum in Bangor. I say it was the most important time because I actually met him multiple times in my life, but this one was different. I was fourteen, my life was complicated and messy, and I was scared stiff about meeting him. We had eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the suburban on the way to Bangor and I was regretting that as my nerves twisted up my insides. It was, as I would later realize, an anxiety attack.
Donn was incredibly sweet. He graciously signed the entire stack of books my mother handed him and talked with me the whole time. I don’t remember if my mother or I told him that I was a writer, but it came up, and we chatted about that. He mentioned something along the lines of, maybe someday he would see my name in print.
I think, all told, we talked for ten minutes. I remember feeling embarrassed that we were holding up the line, but I also remember that he made me feel calmer. Less scared.
The most important lesson I learned from his book was twofold: if you’re lost, stay where you are; if you have to move, follow the water. It will always take you home.
As a pre-teen, hiking Maine’s high peaks with my uncle and brother, those words stuck with me. Donn was my age, and my best friend’s age, when he got lost. For a while I heard that rule in a kid’s voice.
After I met Donn that day when I was 14, however, I always heard it in his voice: comfortable and warm and soothing. And I wish I could have told him that.
Reading through When You Find My Body over the last few months, I found myself comparing notes with everything I have learned. And the thing that hit me was, would it have helped if Gerry had Donn’s voice in the back of her mind, reminding her to stay put when she first realized she was lost? Or later, when she finally settled down and made her final camp near a small stream, if she’d known to follow the water?
I don’t know. I’ve never really been lost before, so I can’t fully imagine what it must feel like. I know that the human mind doesn’t always behave rationally and that panic can make it impossible to do something unfamiliar.
One of our first trips up Mt. Abram last fall when neither my dog or I were familiar with the trail, we had a moment when I thought we’d gone off the marked trail onto a deer path. I couldn’t find the next blaze and the trail was faint, narrow, and covered in leaves. Something deep in the pit of my stomach started to bubble up into panic for a second, making me want to run and find safety, and then I remembered the rule: if you’re lost, stay put. I took a breath, looked behind me and found the trail and blazes leading back the way we’d come, and realized we weren’t lost. A few more steps led us within sight of the next blaze ahead of us. The whole thing lasted for maybe fifteen seconds.
My biggest takeaway from When You Find My Body wasn’t the tragedy of the story or the pain of losing someone and not knowing what happened or the courage and dedication of those search teams. I got all of that, certainly. But the biggest thing I was left with was much more simple and maybe a bit silly:
Maybe it’s a good thing that I hear Donn in my head when I’m hiking.
Beyind that, reading Gerry’s story has highlighted areas I may be lacking in and encouraged me to learn more. But she also has encouraged me to be brave and to reach for the stars and to fight for my dreams. “Inchworm” has inspired me to keep trying, even if I’m slow and it feels impossible. And she has encouraged me to keep faith close to my heart.
One final note:
I was able to spend a day with the Maine Search and Rescue Dogs group and the Maine Mounted Search and Rescue group last fall. I volunteered to be a subject for their training searches, and it was an incredible experience. I learned so much in those few hours and I would love to do it again.
But the thing that stuck with me the most from that day was one of the gentlemen who, when he learned where I was from, got a sad, sort of distant look in his eyes. “Oh, I’ve been there,” he said. “We were looking for Gerry.”
This book was too short. I need more about Haven and Kate and Drew, and more about Peter and his church windows. This was a sweet, summery read with a classic Maine vibe. I pulled it out a couple times today because I was about three quarters of the way through and I wanted to know how it ended. I can’t WAIT for the second in this series!
This novel is similar in writing and storytelling to Karen Kingsbury and Lindsay Harrell.
Fun fact: Evelyn has been a family friend for years and years, and was partly responsible for my poetry writing!
I liked this one, but it lacked a little of the finesse and emotional impact of John’s later books. It’s not necessarily one I’m going to go re-read, but it’s one I’ll keep on my shelf and hand to my teenagers if I ever get around to that stage of my life.
Colin sort of annoyed me, but at the same time I liked him. I am not good at math, my dyslexic brain has trouble with reading the numbers right so while I can grasp a lot of the theory, I tend to read 6 instead of 9 and so the math doesn’t work out right — I solved the problem correctly, I just didn’t solve the correct problem. But anyway for all that I still did high school math team from age 12 to age 17 (I opted not to graduate early because I liked math team so much) so I like math, I just struggle with doing the correct problems. Which is a little bit like Colin. I think he struggles to do the correct problems, and that is most of the issue. But he seems to work it out in the end.
Lindsey is wild and I love her. And Hassan is MAGNIFICENT..
Tell Me Three Things: there is only one rule. You have to tell the truth.
Five out of five stars
Betty’s debut novel is deep, aching, and had me fighting tears in the waiting room at the car repair shop. I’ve never read a verse novel before but it was the perfect form for this story and even helped me see how one of my stories would like to be told.
My favorite part was how Jonah stayed human. How Betty exposed the humanity, the exquisite beauty of broken bones and broken brains and broken hearts. It is so important to remember that brokenness isn’t always visible, and so important to touch those around us with soft fingers. “Where are you? What lives in your world?”
Liv reminds me of myself when I was 12 – fidgety, words turning into mashed potatoes when they come into my ears. Jonah… oh, Jonah. I know you. My Jonah was five years older than me. Her name was Heidi and she was one of my best friends when I was five. She and I would sing together because we could.
I felt like I knew this story, even though I’ve never read it before, never read the reviews. This is a story about my people. About my world.
It’s up for preorder until release day, May 1st, and if you like superheroes, sassy books, magnificent cats, and strong characters (both male and female), you want to read this one.
5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I’ve read a few superhero stories and this one takes the cake. Reformed has all the character depth and development as a Marvel movie, with an incredible cast of characters, Burke’s usual sassy tone, and some genuinely heartwarming moments. This story is about young adults, mid twenties mostly, but would be suitable for superhero fans ages 13 and up.
Aiden is my favorite, by the way.
Guest appearance by Westley who’s so black he screwed up the white balance in the photo.
I think this just wasn’t my book. There was quite a bit of language, which I don’t really mind but it did seem out of place or excessive, and there were several graphic steamy scenes that I skipped over. I hadn’t expected that content based on the summary, and found it jarring. I don’t mind a little well-done heat but again, it felt excessive and I skipped the scenes.
But Max and Lina were so sweet and precious that I had to keep reading to find out if they got their Happily Ever After. And the last couple of chapters… oh, those were beautiful.
Was amused by the old car breaking down. Also confused. Does Lina not have AAA? 🤪
I appreciated the author’s ability to weave a compelling story… I just think I’d be happier sticking to YA and NA rather than adult romcoms.
I very much enjoyed this one. It made me think, and made me feel, and made me evaluate my own measure of humanity the same way Scarlett had to. The actual writing is very curious, with hopping around in time, but I didn’t have the trouble I often have with a non-linear timeline.
Scarlett, Mina, David… they’re very real in my mind. I feel as though I could find Scarlett, touch her shoulder, and say, “I know what it’s like, I’m here.” But as we weave our way through the story it becomes plain that Scarlett is here, too, and that she’ll come out okay.
(That ending. I cried at my little brother’s soccer game.)
Due to subject matter I’d recommend for 17-18+. Definitely a higher end of the YA spectrum and deals with some challenging subjects in a way that doesn’t disguise or belittle them, but presents them honestly–openly–as the fact of the matter.
2020 reads, book 3: Darling Rose Gold, Stephanie Wrobel’s debut novel.
Releases March 17, 2020.
Dark. Gripping. Sharp. 5/5 stars.
I don’t usually go for psychological thriller type books but I picked this ARC up at my library, and oh. my. word. I read the last third of the book in an hour yesterday afternoon which had orginally been planned for a nap, but I started reading and couldn’t put it down until I got to the end and figured out what was going on.
Wrobel’s story telling is incredible. She flawlessly captures the flawed nature of humanity. She peels back the layers of human relationships and human behaviours and makes no conclusions, merely lays the pieces before you. She made me think with this book; I had a ‘book hangover’ for the first time in a while with this one.
2020 reads, 2 – The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver.
I got an ARC of this book from one of my libraries, and I’ve just been eating it up. This is one I would go back and reread for the sweet, poignant prose and the beautiful story. Lydia walks us through the question: what would you do if you had more time with the person you love?
This story spoke clearly about love and loss and the transformation that comes with healing. You never quite get over the hole they leave, but you can go forward anyway.
5/5 stars for a brilliantly done novel. This beautiful story releases on March 3rd, 2020, and if you’re interested in a sweet adult romance, I’d recommend this for 17+.