Dollbaby: a Novel by Laura Lane McNeal

5 stars Historical Fiction

Ibby discovered she had a grandmother just a few months ago and now, her mother is dropping her at Fannie’s while she figures things out.  Clutching her father remains, Ibby arrives in New Orleans, unaware how her arrival will affect the household.

There were many layers to this novel which added to its enjoyment.  Just when I thought things were smoothing out, something else would pop up and add to the drama.  The novel takes place in New Orleans in the 1960’s where Fannie has settled and she has a few individuals helping her out.  

Fannie is an outspoken tough, gambling woman who begins to change slowly when Ibby comes into her life.  Queenie came with the house when it was bought many years ago and she arrives every morning with her daughter, Dollbaby to tend to the house.  Dollbaby, has her own daily responsibilities in the house, as she works alongside her mother.  I noticed right away that there seemed to be a mutual understanding and respect between Queenie, Dollbaby and Fannie as they had a great relationship, considering the region and the time period. 

Ibby arrival added to the peaceful flow of this household.  It was entertaining to see what this twelve-year-old girl could do as she gets accustomed to the South.  A quiet girl when she arrived, Ibby begins to have a voice and she uses it.  I feel that Ibby’s experience in the South has given her insight and judgement and that by living with her grandmother, she has been given her some options which some other individuals don’t have.  There are family secrets that have been hidden and buried for many years.  These secrets of the past have a powerful message for the present. 

I don’t want to give too much away for this fantastic book. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it!

Note: I read some reviews that said that this book is a “rip-off of The Help. ” Well, I liked the book a lot and I enjoyed reading it. I read The Help many years ago and I enjoyed that also. I didn’t immediately think of The Help when reading this book. Yes, there are similarities but I think you will have that with many books pertaining to this topic. I really enjoyed the book.

Maus: a Survivor’s Tale- Part 1 by Art Spiegelman

4 stars Graphic Novel

I’ve been meaning to read this graphic novel as I’ve heard many great things about it so when our bookclub announced it for this month’s read, I was pretty excited.  This book afterall, was a graphic novel and it pertained to WWII, so what could go wrong?

This graphic novel is presented in black-n-white and written by the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor.  The son, an illustrator, visits his father and inquiries about his life in Poland around the time of WWII.  His father’s memory is quite good as he recalls this tragic event in history. 

I was amazed at how well Vladek recalls the names of places and individuals as he reaches back in time to relive his life. As the story unfolds, his journey was quite extensive.  I have a hard-enough time remembering what I did yesterday and Vladek memories include quite a bit of detail.

This novel provides more than just his father’s flashbacks during this father and son interview, we learn about other individuals who play a role in their lives.  We learn about other relationships, past and current, including the relationship between the father and his son.  I thought the some of these relationships were quite interesting and I was amazed at the connections that Vladek had. 

I do feel that there were times that the language in the book felt stiff and off for me.  I think it was how the book was translated that threw it off for me.  As I read, during Vladek days of trying to survive, I went through many emotions.  A good read will provoke that in a reader. 

I appreciate Vladek for sharing his story and for his service.  I also appreciate that Art wrote this graphic novel about his father.  It’s a momentous piece of history told from one who survived.

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig

Mystery 3.5 stars

There are three actual stories in this book but they all have one common thread. That common subject lies in a building, which has had many purposes over the years, if only the walls of that building could talk. 

I liked the idea of how this huge building served many purposes over the years.  The history that this building contained and how it served others was fascinating.  To think, how many people walked and in-and-out of its doors intrigued me.  Then, to read how the three women in this novel were also connected to this building, just added more significance to the structure.  I had to wonder if there were any standing building today that have these same traits.  Hum?

Anyways, back to the book. Following a trio of women, we crisscross over three different time periods (1892, 1920, and 1944) which I found confusing at times as I couldn’t keep everyone straight.  These women are all from the same family, just years apart, which made it more confusing to me.  I finally wrote everyone’s name down on a piece of paper and drew arrows to keep individuals separated as the romance in this novel adds even more complications.

Somehow over the years, these three women find their way back to New York, to this same building yet they’re there for different reasons.  As the novel comes together, you’ll find out what ties them all together. 

It’s a mystery that covers many generations.  With strong-minded women and a terrific setting this book provided for me an interesting read. 3.5 stars

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

2 stars Fiction

I don’t understand all the hype about this book. Eve reminded me of no one special, just a typical middle-aged woman who is coming to terms with her own life. Her son, Brendan is headed off to college where he feels life will be like those comedy videos he must have watched while a teen. In reality, they both get a reality adjustment, and come to terms with what they really want and need in life.

As I read this book, I really couldn’t understand why this book was getting all the excitement I have been hearing. Eve is going to be an empty-nester, a single mid 40’s, empty-nester which is going to be a major adjustment. Realizing that she’s going to need something to occupy her time, she signs up for a college course (great idea) but she also finds something else that starts to occupy her time. Online porn. Eve is embarrassed by her new online fascination but not embarrassed enough to quit.

Meanwhile, Brendan is getting settled into his college dorm and finding that partying all the time is taking a toll on his classes. Brendan doesn’t understand why others don’t want to “party” as they attend their lectures and study for their classes. This is not what Brendan had pictured when he imaged going to college, why is everyone so serious about these college classes?

I thought it was funny how both mother and son had similar yet different experiences. They each had something they needed to live through to gain them valuable insight.

I don’t think this book was a good fit for me but I read it for a book club read. It was an okay read.

Big City Otto by Bill Slavin

4 stars Graphic Novel

I enjoyed the quick-paced story and the thought the illustrations were amazing.  It you take this story for what it is, a story, it’s a wonderful adventure and kids will think so too but if you have to analyze, you’ll probably be able to find a few things wrong with it, so just enjoy it.  It reminds me of some of the comics I used to read when I was younger.

Otto, the elephant misses his chum, Georgie. Georgie, (a monkey) was taken out of the jungle by the man with a wooden nose and Otto, like most elephants never forgot anything about the whole ordeal. Crackers, (parrot) his friend, helps Otto remember what happened that day and the two friends set off to try to find Georgie in America.

Aboard the metal bird (airplane), after being wrapped as a special and oversized package, the two land in America and begin their hunt.  Sure, they get some attention but it seems that spotting an elephant and a parrot on the streets, of a big city in America, is not that unusual.  The big question is, will they be able to find Georgie amongst all these people?

It was the adventure that these two friends had trying to locate Georgie that made this book so enjoyable.  Otto’s size caused quite a few crashes and their lack of understanding was humorous to me yet others didn’t see it that way.  Their love for one another was felt as they watched out for one another throughout their trip and they tried to fit in to their new surroundings, the best that they could. I loved how Crackers pushed and pushed to squeeze Otto into some of the smallest places for an elephant and I thought Otto’s allergy was extreme but I can see how kids would love it and laugh as the final scenes of this book processed.  The illustrations are bright and colorful, they really add to the story.

This was a fun and entertaining graphic novel designed for children.  Filled with interesting and humorous characters, I think young kids will enjoy this book.  If you’re ready for some childish, make-believe fun, pick this book up and be ready for anything.

Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

Velva Jean’s daddy often took off, leaving his family wondering when he’d return.  Later, he’d walk back through the door, as if he’d just stepped outside for a break, and the days and the months that he’d been gone, you’d think they were just all your imagination.  When their mama died, the kids were at a loss, for their daddy was out somewhere.  When he got done wandering, he would discover that his wife had died and the letter that he had written to his wife, the one that she kept reading after he left, is what his children believe caused her death.

I enjoyed this novel as I followed along beside Velva Jean as she explored and grew-up in Sleepy Gap, North Carolina during the 1930’s. Velva Jean had dreams of singing in the Grand Ole Opry and considering her situation, I was impressed with this dream.  With her mama, gone and her daddy, a no-show, Velva Jean and her sibling were taken in by her grandparents. 

I think the grandparents did the best they could and I had to laugh when they sent two of the kids off to a bootlegger.  This incident lands the kids in jail which changes them forever on many levels.  The kids feel they have now crossed the fence from being “good” kids, they’ve met some new people, they seen new sights, and they’ve been arrested.

I liked the flow of this book.  It wasn’t an intense, action-packed novel but it had a calm, even-flow pace to it. It had the pace that I would think living in the mountains would have.  There was a singing competition that stirs things up as Velva Jean wants to compete, religion comes into the picture as Velva Jean started to worry about future, and it gets interesting when Velva Jean begins to mature and she runs into a fellow from her past.

I’m going to look into the other books in this series and I like books about the Appalachian Mountains and I enjoyed this novel. 

Age of License

2 stars Nonfiction

This was not what I expected.  When I thumbed through it and read the synopsis, I expected something like a graphic novel, a novel and journal rolled into one. Yet, that isn’t what I read.  The book started out fine but after a while I lost interest.  It was the great illustrations that kept me turning the pages till the very end.

I really had a hard time with this synopsis and the beginning pages of this book. They didn’t seem to follow what happened in the book.  The synopsis said there would be “descriptions of culinary delights” and “cute cat cameos” but I really had a hard time finding these. In the beginning pages, Lucy talks about her month-long trip to France, how she’ll be traveling alone, and how excited she is. I was excited to see France with Lucy, go on some adventures but that wasn’t what I read.    

Lucy’s mother and her friends had rented a house in France and Lucy wanted to go too. That’s how she ended up in France. Lucy said she was traveling alone, so I figured, she’d go off and do her own thing whenever she wanted.  Well, not exactly. Most of the time, Lucy spent with her mom or with her new friend, Henrik.  She just met Henrik at a party, before she left on vacation, as Henrik was visiting Lucy’s friend Lonnie.  Henrik lives in Stockholm.  

Lucy was usually with someone and the time she was alone, she was either contemplating life or doing activities as a writer.  I liked seeing the writer side of Lucy, the entertainment side and the obligations.  She met up with Henrik in Stockholm and they got alone, very well. They really hit it off!  I thought she latched onto Henrik and I was surprised how much the book included him.  I thought this book was more about her feeling towards him and her emotions than anything.  Not really what I expected.

I really enjoyed the illustrations.  I liked how some were colored and some were black-and-white.  I thought they included a lot of detail and they were fun to look at, including the different text fonts that were used in them. 

This book didn’t keep my attention. I guess I was expecting one thing and it delivered something else.  It felt flighty to me, not a good book for me.