Book Review: Dollbaby

July 11, 2014 Book Review, reviews 7

Book Review: DollbabyDollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal
Published by Pamela Dorman Imprint on July 3rd, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Source: purchased


I cannot recall where I read about this book but it sounded like THE perfect southern fiction read to tempt me away from the tumbling stack of review books.  Southern fiction has soared to the top of my favorite genre – it’s like coming home although I’m already home.  I’m guessing most of us feel that way when we read novels from our particular culture?

Twelve year old Ibby {short for Liberty Alice Bell} loses her beloved father in a tragic biking accident, Ibby’s mother moves her from Washington state to New Orleans {practically another country} and then drops Liberty off in front of her paternal grandmother’s home holding the urn with her father’s ashes.  Ibby’s mother, Vidrine, doesn’t even see fit to walk Ibby inside to meet the grandmother she never knew.  Vidrine and her late husband’s mother, Fannie, did not get along to put things a bit mildly.  Fannie is a unique creature.  To say much more about her would give the story away.

Whenever there’s a loss, there’s bound to be a gain somewhere else.  You just have to know where to look for it. {Fannie}

Fannie’s long-time servants, Queenie and Dollbaby round out the household in the old rambling antebellum mansion in the heart of New Orleans.  Queenie and Dollbaby take it upon themselves to teach Ibby the ins and outs of southern culture.

To tell you that McNeal used the backdrop of New Orleans as a primary character would not be spoiler-material.  To tell you that McNeal’s best, most thoroughly drawn out character is the Crescent City would also not be spoiler-material.  Finally, to tell you that you’ll be craving, and I do mean CRAVING, some good gumbo or crawfish after reading Dollbaby is  only fair warning 😉

This here is the Holy Trinity.  Onion, celery, and poivron, or what some folks call bell pepper.  Along with a touch of garlic and a smidgen of cayenne pepper, the Holy Trinity goes into just about everything I cook. {Queenie}

I have mixed feelings with my recommendation of Dollbaby.  Why?  Well, I felt like there were moments in the book that felt disjointed and characters who did not really change over time other than get a few years older.  Events would happen and rather than seamlessly moving on I felt like the next events did not flow with what just happened.   Suspending belief is the term I’m looking for – a couple of situations in the book were wrapped up way too neatly and I felt like the author could not decide which type of message she wanted Dollbaby to be – was it about Vietnam War? changes in America during the 60s? racial relations and tensions? the evolving role of the woman both white and black in the 60s. . .there were several story lines that could have been more fleshed out.

While I have a bit of reservation in wholeheartedly recommending Dollbaby, I do plan to read Laura Lane McNeal’s next novel, especially if it’s set in New Orleans {I’ll just make sure to put the gumbo on early}.  Seriously, she’s got star talent.  If she can make her characters come alive like she can her city then her books will soar off the shelves.

Dollbaby is a story about overcoming the obstacles we find in our lives and living life to the fullest every moment of every day.  Life changes on a dime haven’t you heard?  Have you read it?  Do you find yourself drawn to books about your geographical culture, i.e.- Southern, Midwestern, Canadian, etc?



7 Responses to “Book Review: Dollbaby”

  1. Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves)

    I’m in the middle of this one right now…and I totally agree about the food and New Orleans! I highlighted the same passage about the Holy Trinity that you featured. And I love all the little cooking tidbits that are thrown in there…how to tell if fish is fresh, the shellfish seasons, how to clean soft-shell crabs! Jury’s still out for me about how much I like the book overall.
    Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves) recently posted…The Lion’s Game by Nelson DeMille: Mini Book ReviewMy Profile

    • Stacy

      I KNOW! When Queenie popped that fish eye in her mouth I did a loud “ewwww!” {with all the inflection of a teenage girl!}. Ha! I forgot about Queenie’s seasons of shellfish – I had that one highlighted too but must have overlooked it when I went back through working on the review. When you’re finished I’d love to run a couple of things by you to see if it was just me being nitpicky or if it was hiccups with the script.
      Stacy recently posted…Book Review: DollbabyMy Profile

  2. Holly (2 Kids and Tired)

    This one sounds good. I love a book that brings in food and setting like that. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and I love, absolutely love, books that use the Bay Area as a setting. When an author truly knows the geographical area and culture isn’t just using it as setting, the book is all the richer for it.

    2 Kids and Tired Books
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    • Stacy

      ooooo my mouth started watering for sourdough bread as soon as you mentioned San Francisco! I bet the sourdough isn’t even the absolute best local favor there either – I would imagine a type of seafood and/or soups would be pretty popular there, am I close? McNeal certainly knows her city too and you’re right, Dollbaby was incredibly rich for it. . .only thing I wished she had included was her local recipe for gumbo or fish stew!
      Stacy recently posted…Book Review: DollbabyMy Profile

  3. Laurel-Rain Snow

    I have this one on Sparky (my Kindle), and love books about the 60s…and about the South, even though I’ve never been there except in books and movies.

    But some of my grandparents were “sort of” Southern (Missouri), and judging by their expressions and behavior, they were culturally Southern. So it feels like home to me, too.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    Laurel-Rain Snow recently posted…AUTHOR’S HOME PAGEMy Profile

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