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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins



ISBN: 9780670014736

Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP Viking

Pamela Dorman Books

Publication Date: 07/03/14

Format: Hardcover Top Books of 2014 A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets. When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure.

Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion.

It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

My Review

A special thank you to PENGUIN GROUP Viking, Pamela Dorman Books, and NetGalley for an ARC, in exchange for an honest review.

Move over Southern writers, this newfound author is here to stay! THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE! Laura Lane McNeal, where have you been? Hands down, DOLLBABY, The Best Debut Novel of 2014! A predicted bestseller chart topper.

From the exquisite and stunning front cover, beautiful fonts, and the intricate filigree throughout the book—resonating the elegant New Orleans style of southern charm and sophistication, worthy of this much loved historical setting—matched with a beautifully- written, impressive debut novel, from the first page to the last.

A heartwarming and poignant story of strong women, facing many obstacles, tragedies, and challenges in a time of racial tension during the 60’s and 70’s. From Civil Rights, Vietnam, family secrets, and lies, to the days of Woolworth’s, President Johnson, Black and white TVs to color---in the exciting and beautiful southern backdrop, where architecture, jazz, music, dance, southern creole and Cajun food feed your soul. It was 1964 and Liberty Alice Bell (Ibby) 12 yr.-old, born on July 4th, from Washington, has just lost her dad, due to a biking accident (they were on their father-daughter outing). Ibby’s mom, Vidrine, (not a very caring mom), dumps her daughter, (with no explanation), along with her dad’s ashes and an urn---on her eccentric grandmother, Fannie’s doorstep, in the historical area of New Orleans. Of course, Vidrine does not care for her mother-in-law, and the feeling is most definitely, mutual.

Ibby is not aware she has a grandmother prior to this date, nor is she knowledgeable of her southern roots, her dad’s family, or anything about this foreign culture. She is grief stricken, and now left alone with a grandmother she does not even know, in a strange town. Boy, is she in for a treat of her life, when she is greeted by Fannie’s black, smart and wise housekeeper, and cook-- Queenie, who seems to run the household. Queenie came with the house, and has been with Miss Fannie since she was eighteen. She has seen and heard it all, and well equipped for the job!

Queenie’s daughter Dollbaby (Doll) -- (23 yrs. old), a talented seamstress and manager for Miss Fannie, runs the household as well, keeping everyone in line. One of her main duties is ensuring Miss Fannie, the lady of the house stays calm. This group loves hiding things, and keeping secrets to protect their owner. (And let me tell you, this family has plenty of dark, hidden secrets), keeping you engrossed from beginning to end! Doll’s daughter, Birdelia (sassy and fun), also Ibby’s age, so an immediate family and friendship. (If only Annabelle could be so easy to win over).

Miss Fannie has had a tough life after her husband, and two son’s death. She has a colorful past, yet is the foundation of the town, and knows everyone. Fannie is rich, street smart, has guts, tough, funny, and well respected. (Even though she does like to drink now and then, and go a little nuts). Her main family is Queenie and Dollbaby, and of course, their immediate family. Fannie will do anything to protect them, as they her. Even though Fannie is strange in many ways---she has a wonderful and giving heart and takes Ibby under her wing. However she wants to protect her in the event her mom comes back for her.

The funniest is Fannie’s love of betting – tennis, golf, football, race horses, etc…..she is sharp, has a thumb on the winners, and a town of followers, ready to follow her lead. She begins to teach Ibby, the ways of the south from-- the way you dress, entertain, manners, and how to win at life! (The white gloves and pearls, a trademark of the South)—yes I am a southerner!

Queenie and Doll informs Ibby the rules of the house from their point of view:

Rule #1: Don’t ever go asking Fannie about her past (gets her all emotional) Rule #2: Fannie talks about her past, let her talk, but don’t go asking no questions. Rule #3: You see her hand start twitching, you better change the subject or she gone have one of her spells Rule # 4: You got something you want to know you come ask one of us Rule #5: I will tell you what you need to know, but don’t never let on to Miss Fannie that I said nothing. Rule #6 Keep Miss Ibby away from Miss Annabelle "Just remember those rules and we won’t have no troubles!"

As Ibby searches for a family and her own identify, she finally comes to know her real grandmother, with all her secrets and flaws; and love of the other powerful women in the house on Prytania Street, who irrevocably shaped and nurtured her grandmother, past the ghosts she left behind. From the flash backs to the fifties to the present time of sixties through the seventies – what a ride, from loss and love, to forgiveness and redemption.

Loved these quotes:You can’t choose the day or time when you will fully bloom. It happens on its own time, when you least expect it. “Whenever there’s a loss, there’s bound to be a gain somewhere else. You just have to know where to look for it.”

Fans of Dorothea Benton Frank, Beth Hoffman, Karen White, Susan Rebecca White, Fannie Flagg, Joshilyn Jackson, Wiley Cash, Charles Martin, Kathryn Stockett, Sue Monk Kidd, Sarah Addison Allen, Julie Kibler, and Diane Chamberlain (just to name a few of my favorites), will welcome Laura Lane McNeal’s DOLLBABY, and assured to enjoy her unique style and authentic first-hand knowledge of the south, its characters, and dialect.

This big-hearted, coming-of-age debut novel, is the type of book, you cannot put down. A page-turner, keeping you wanting to know the next secret and fate; yet at you come to the close, you do not want it to end as you want to savor each word. (Missing Commander’s Palace–and my favorite seat in the garden patio). Please, let’s hope for a sequel, as these characters are too good, to end. You have to love New Orleans and this house!

What a storyteller---this inspiring, uplifting and funny novel, full of flawed and lovable characters, will keep crying and laughing, as they win reader’s hearts. Would love to continue to hear more about future adventures of Ibby, Doll, Birdelia, and T-Bone. Fans will definitely root for a movie –as can you image the cast?

A powerful, thought-provoking, inspiring, and satisfying read. I highly recommend! A talented author you will want to follow for years to come-can’t wait to see what comes next!

Review Links


Dollbaby: A Novel

Written by: Laura Lane McNeal

Narrated by: January Lavoy

Length: 11 hrs and 12 mins

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date: 07-03-14

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Update Audio Book 2015: Almost a year has passed since the launch of award-winning DOLLBABY, a favorite among southern fans. Being an Audible member, I enjoy going back to some of my "all time favorites reads" from the previous year, and re-reading by listening to them via audio.

What a pleasure experiencing once again an extraordinary and heartwarming story by Laura Lane McNeal, performed by January Lavoy, delivering an outstanding performance! (A perfect match). Highly recommend any version; however, the audio most definitely captures the essence of time and place, as well as the intense emotions of the turbulent sixties.

Laura Lane McNea

About the Author

Laura Lane McNeal grew up In New Orleans where people laugh a lot, talk with their hands, love good music, good food, and will make up any excuse for a party.

After receiving two undergraduate degrees from Southern Methodist University (a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Business Administration), she went on to earn an MBA from Tulane University. She spent most of her career in advertising, working for firms in New York and Dallas, before returning to New Orleans where she started her own marketing consulting firm and became a free-lance writer as well as a decorative artist. In 2005, when the devastation of Hurricane Katrina left her with having to rebuild her life, Laura seized the opportunity to fulfill her lifetime dream of becoming a writer. She hasn't stopped since.

Laura resides in New Orleans and is married with two sons. DOLLBABY is her first published novel. She is presently working on a second novel. Website Twitter Goodreads






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