Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

I love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum so much so that I wrote one of my final thesis papers comparing the book to the movie starring Judy Garland. This book and the subsequent series helped shape me to become the person I am today.  Knowing this, imagine my excitement when I saw a new book by Elizabeth Letts called Finding Dorothy on the  shelf at work.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts is inspired by the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum’s wife, Maud, serves as the catalyst for this book by showing readers what is happening both in 1938 Hollywood and in her past both as a child and a newlywed. In Hollywood in 1938, Maud has learned that M-G-M is adapting Frank’s masterpiece for the screen. Without being asked her opinion on this development, seventy-seven-year-old Maud is convinced that she must make it on to the set in order to talk to the movie producers. Eventually making her way to the lot, Maud is eager to fulfill the promise that she made to Frank: the movie will stay true to the spirit of the book. Maud is the only one left who remembers the secrets of the book.

Maud is invited to the set where she witnesses Judy Garland rehearsing ‘Over the Rainbow’. As she closes her eyes, Maud finds herself transported back to the past. The yearning that Judy infuses into the song is reflective of the yearning that burned through Maud as she was growing up. Maud grew up in the shadow of her suffragette mother. When she decided to go to college, Maud made her way as one of the first women in the Ivy League. Meeting Frank one day drastically changed her life and Maud soon found herself growing fond of this young fellow. As their life grew together, Maud and Frank struggled. Desperate for a new beginning, they moved to the prairie where their life became even harder. The difficult times they experienced together on the prairie helped influence and inspire Frank as he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Watching Judy Garland bring Dorothy to life reminds Maud of the young girl that she helped to raise in South Dakota. Maud strives to help Judy more than she was able to help the other young girl. Seeing Judy under immense pressure from the studio and witnessing first-hand the advances the men made towards her serves to further strengthen Maud’s resolve to protect Judy.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts works to tie together two storylines: the lives of the Baum family members beginning in the 1860s and the development of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1938 Hollywood. Even though Letts imagines the dialogue between the characters, this book is a reflection of her dedicated abilities as a conscientious researcher. Her in-depth research into the lives of Frank and Maud Baum allowed Letts to capture how one family persevered through a mess of love and loss to create a book that has inspired many generations of readers.


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Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand’s books are the perfect combination of complex drama and noteworthy characters.  Her latest book, Winter in Paradise, is the first book in a planned three-part series.  At the beginning of the novel, we meet Irene Steel on a cold and snowy New Year’s in Iowa City.  Patiently waiting for her husband, Russ, to return from his business trip, she decides to meet a friend for an early dinner.  Irene’s world is turned upside down later that evening when she receives a cryptic phone call telling her that her husband has been killed in the Caribbean island of St. John in a helicopter crash.

Irene is blindsided with the news of her husband’s  unexpected death.  Not only did she think her husband was only a few states away for work, she had no idea why he would be on a small island in the Caribbean.  Irene, along with her two grown sons Baker and Cash, gather from across the country and make their way to the island to make the necessary arrangements.

Upon their arrival, Irene and her sons begin to learn the magnitude of Russ’ deception and delve unwillingly into his secret life.  The pieces of the puzzle all start to come together when the trio befriends various residents of the island and learn more about the husband and father that they thought they knew.  Along with the ripple effect of his death, the three must come to terms with secrets in their past too.  Just when the reader comes to end of the book, another exposed secret throws everything into a state of flux, setting the stage for the next book in the trilogy.  With the cliffhanger at the end of Winter in Paradise, I am anxiously awaiting book two in the series, which will hopefully be released this year!

 

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

When Anne Tyler’s previous book A Spool of Blue Thread was released in 2015, multiple patrons, friends, and other librarians told me I needed to read it. Sadly, I never got around to doing so since I was consumed in so many other great books at the time and it slipped from my mind. When her latest, Clock Dance, started popping up on lists months ago, I knew I needed to read it based on the popularity of her previous novels. For once, I was ahead of the game!

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler is the story of one woman’s life journey from an 11-year-old schoolgirl forced to step into her mother’s shoes in 1967 to a 61-year-old woman hoping for grandchildren in 2017. Tyler presents many characters throughout this novel. She does a wonderful job giving each vibrant backstories and rich present lives. I found myself thoroughly invested in each character’s life as they work to survive day to day.

When Willa Drake looks back on her life, she can count on one hand the moments that define her. In 1967, Willa and her younger sister Elaine come home from school to discover that their mother has disappeared. Again. Willa is forced to become a mother figure to her sister and waits hoping her mother will come home soon. In 1977, Willa is away at college trying to decide if she wants to marry her current boyfriend. During a trip home to see her family with said boyfriend in tow, Willa sees that she needs to form an identity separate from that of her parents. In 1997, Willa lives across the country with her husband and two children. Enjoying a life full of various activities, Willa’s world is thrown upside down when her husband dies. Only 41 years old, Willa struggles to put her life back together while taking care of her boys.

In 2017, Willa is 61 years old yearning for her sons to give her grandchildren. Given how little the two talk to her and from what she knows about their scant love lives, Willa doesn’t think she’ll ever be a grandmother. One day, Willa receives a phone call out of the blue from a stranger saying she needs help. Can Willa fly out to Baltimore and be her savior? Dropping everything, Willa and her second husband jump on a plane and head to Baltimore. Once there, Willa steps in to care for a young woman she’s never met, her nine-year-old daughter, and a dog named Airplane. Willa hardly ever makes impulsive decisions, but when this spur of the moment trip ends up introducing her and her husband to places, people, and experiences she’s unfamiliar with, Willa discovers that change can be a good thing. While her husband is anxious to get back to their familiar, Willa finds comfort in these complete strangers who have accepted her as one of their own.


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