Posts filed under ‘May 2015 reads’

Round peg meet square hole – “Dollbaby” by Laura Lane McNeal

UnknownLet me begin this review by saying please publishers, for the love of all things holy, stop comparing every book where there are African-American servants to “The Help.”  That was not the first book written about the topic and we are not all looking for the next great book that is like “The Help.”  It was a fine book but it did not redefine the literary world or create a ground-breaking forum for racial discussion. Okay, now onto this book (which has been compared to “The Help”).

After her father dies in a bike accident, Ibby (Liberty) Bell finds herself dropped off by her unstable mother at her grandmother’s house in New Orleans.  Ibby has never met her grandmother before and finds her awkward teen self living in an old house with weird decor and African-American servants who teach her about life and her family’s history. Yep, that about sums it up.

This novel is McNeal’s first and it is just crammed with a bunch of stories, deaths (way too many to be believable), mental illness (also, a lot of this interlaced with the death thing) and poorly crafted descriptions.   Nothing seems to fit right.  The author tries to make the story relevant by setting it during the Civil Rights movement and having Doll, one of the African-American servants, protest at a Woolworth’s counter. But that part of the story line never goes anywhere so I am not sure why it was even necessary.   The characters did not resonate with me either, and I found myself wishing I cared more about someone, anyone, so I could connect better with the story.

McNeal also has a narrator problem. While it would seem we are crafting a story told by a third person omniscient narrator, the omniscient part of the narrator comes and goes.  So at times, there is a whole back story that is thrown in  while at other times, well, who knows what anyone is thinking or why they are doing what they are doing – and what is behind door number 2 on the second floor.  It is just awkward and confusing.

Perhaps equally bizarre is the author’s note that this is a tribute to New Orleans, when in fact there really were not a whole lot of descriptions of New Orleans as a city and most of the story takes place in Ibby’s grandmother’s old, rickety Victorian home.  I really don’t know what to make of it.

This book is like a patchwork quilt without any kind of plan – and the result is just uncomfortable and sad, because you know it took a lot of work.  But even knowing all the work that went into it, you still want a quilt to look pretty and a book to tell a well-crafted story.

Oh well, onward.  Have you heard about a book called “The Help”…

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June 8, 2015 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

The Schools out It’s Time to Read List

I have been reading a lot, and a lot of the books have been fun.  So here is what I think you should be reading while malingering by the pool.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: This was one of those big hype books that never sounded particularly like my kind of genre.  But it is just so good. Admittedly, it is another of those futuristic, lots of people die from a disease, stories. But the way the story is linked with the life of a celebrity actor is just fascinating.  The novel also takes  an interesting look at theater and how it changes as the world changes. Celebrity acting is such a disconnecting/lonely thing but a traveling troupe of actors connects people and towns.  I can’t guarantee your money back or anything, but this book is worth the leap of faith.

2. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon: This book is creepy and scary and all of those good things that a creepy-scary book should be.  Below the floor boards in an old house, surrounded by encroaching woods,  someone finds the diary of a woman who was murdered in 1908.  This is really all I need to say, right?

3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: You know from the first sentence of the book that Lydia is dead but her family does not.  Lydia is the teen daughter of a mixed-race marriage in the 1970s.  Her father is Chinese and her mother is Caucasian.  While it is a mystery through-out how Lydia died, it is not the driving force of the book. It is instead driven by the dreams that parents have and how the unspoken force of these dreams can do great harm, even when they are meant with the best intentions.  This novel was amazingly insightful, particularly in how Ng examines how broken people carry their brokenness into parenthood.

4. At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen:  I didn’t think this was a stunning novel.  And it was extremely predictable, almost painfully so, but it took place in Scotland and that made me inexplicably happy.  It is set during WWII, when three American socialites Maddie and her husband Ellis, along with his friend Hank, decide to head to Loch Ness to find the infamous monster.  They are spoiled, rich kids with a ridiculous plan.  While Ellis and Hank spend their days drinking on the shores of Loch Ness, with binoculars, Maddie sits at the pub and waits.  There is a sully maid and a burly pub keeper – so one gets in a fight, another woman gets pregnant, etc.  I think you get the idea but it is a fun, mindless read for the summer.

IMG_0498Swim, read. Work, read. Have a cocktail, read. Have two cocktails, read.  Whatever happens just make sure it ends with a book. Cheers.

May 26, 2015 at 7:05 pm Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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