Welcome to Partonville! Meet the spunky Dorothy Jean Wetstra, the glue that holds her small farming community together. Clad in her trademark pink from head to toe, 87-year-old Dorothy and her faithful mutt Sheba tool around the community in "The Tank," a "rusty-and-white" 1976 Lincoln Continental that shows increased signs of wear and tear from Dorothy's lead-foot driving.
Partonville is, in the words of the author Charlene Ann Baumbich, "a circle-the-square town in the northern part of southern Illinois, where oldsters are young, trees have names and cars don't fly." The characters that populate Dorothy's world are as endearing as the ones in Jan Karon's Mitford series.
Dorothy, a retired bandleader, is a member of "The Happy Hookers Club," which, having long given up hooking rugs as too stodgy, now plays bunco every month for prizes. The club includes Dorothy's best friend, May Belle, who makes award-winning double chocolate brownies and keeps a solicitous watch over her mentally challenged adult son Earl, who Partonville residents describe as "slow and particular."
Maggie Malone, the 72-year-old proprietor of La Feminique Hair Salon & Day Spa, never fails to shock the ladies with her propensity for change, and she's about to make a new fashion statement that will surprise the whole town. Soft-spoken sixty-two-year-old Nellie Ruth McGregor is the youngster in the club, who owes a debt to Dorothy she can never repay. Rounding out the club is Glady's McKern, the swaggering "acting mayor" of Partonville, and Jessie Landers, an aged former semi-professional softball star who still throws a mean pitch for the Wild Musketeers, the community team.
Down at Harry's Grill, rumors fly thick and fast about farmers selling out to a big developer. Sharon Teller, a reporter for the Partonville Press, works hard to get a big scoop on what is up the handsome developer Colton Craig's sleeve. Few of the town's residents guess that the resident of Partonville who is struggling with whether to sell or keep her farm is --- Dorothy! As always, when faced with difficulty, Dorothy spends time praying about what she should do with the family acreage where she was born. In her ritual evening "Moment with the Big Guy", she straightforwardly addresses the Lord succinctly: "Dear Lord, give me answers. Now. Amen." Or her favorite prayer, "Dear Jesus, Just DO something. Amen." She's also been known to blow God kisses.
God answers Dorothy's prayer in the unlikely guise of 47-year-old divorcee' Katie Durbin and her 15-year-old son Josh, who come down from Chicago to settle the estate of Katie's Aunt Tess Walker, one of Partonville's reclusive eccentrics. Katie has nothing but scorn for the country ways of "Pardon-Me-Ville," and hopes to get her business there wrapped up quickly and head back to her high-powered life in the city. Yet, Partonville has a way of ambushing the hearts of those who visit it, and under the warm care of the town's inhabitants, Katie finds old prejudices beginning to melt.
Although Baumbich's refreshingly unpretentious writing is not quite as seamless as Karon's, her ability to craft characters as interesting as Karon's does will cause them to sneak into your heart and take up residence there. Fans of the Mitford series should take to this new one from the same parent company like ducks to water.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on December 29, 2010