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Interviews

October 2004

August 2004

Books by
Charlene Ann Baumbich


DIVINE APPOINTMENTS
A Snowglobe Connections Novel
Book 2


STRAY AFFECTIONS

Book 1:
DEAREST DOROTHY,
ARE WE THERE YET?


Book 2:
DEAREST DOROTHY,
SLOW DOWN, YOU'RE WEARING US OUT!


Book 3:
DEAREST DOROTHY,
HELP! I'VE LOST MYSELF


Book 4:
DEAREST DOROTHY,
WHO WOULD HAVE EVER THOUGHT?!


Book 5:
DEAREST DOROTHY,
MERRY EVERYTHING!

THE DEAREST DOROTHY SERIES Reading Group Guides

Book 1: DEAREST DOROTHY, ARE WE THERE THERE YET?

Book 2: DEAREST DOROTHY, SLOW DOWN, YOU’RE WEARING US OUT!

Book 3: DEAREST DOROTHY, HELP! I’VE LOST MYSELF!

Book 4: DEAREST DOROTHY, WHO WOULD HAVE EVER THOUGHT?!

Book 6: DEAREST DOROTHY, IF NOT NOW WHEN?!


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THE DEAREST DOROTHY SERIES
by Charlene Ann Baumbich


"The Peace That Passes All Understanding"

An Introduction to Charlene Ann Baumbich's
DEAREST DOROTHY SERIES

It would be easy to say "Welcome to Partonville." But a far better orientation for this little circle-the-square town in southern Illinois is coming up the road. See that dust cloud yonder? That's Dorothy; or, as folks around here are fond of saying, Dearest Dorothy, coming into town from her beloved Crooked Creek Farm. Dorothy Wetstra --- that's like "wet straw," only without the "w" at the end --- is an eighty-seven-year-old oldster (as she calls herself) who serves as Partonville's ambassador to the rest of the world. You might want to take a step away from the curb --- once Dorothy climbs behind the wheel of her 1976 Lincoln, The Tank, the only thing that can stop her is a brick wall. Or maybe a garbage truck. Anyway, armed with her faith in The Big Guy (the one upstairs, as it were) and a positive attitude seasoned by her nearly ninety years in this small town, Dorothy is a walking wonder. Retired bandleader, genuine firecracker, and perpetual cheerleader, Dorothy is brimming with life. And, oh, what a life.


Book I: DEAREST DOROTHY, ARE WE THERE THERE YET?
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0142003794

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ABOUT THE BOOK

Dorothy is wrestling with a dilemma. Like a lot of sleepy towns across America, Partonville is decidedly behind the times. The old clock in the square has been stuck at 1:14 since anyone can remember, and everyone, it seems, is over the hill. What could Partonville possibly offer a young person? Over in Hethrow, though, progress is in the air. And the only thing standing between Hethrow's sprawl and the sleepy town of Partonville is Dorothy's ancestral home, Crooked Creek Farm. A developer is breathing down her neck and needs a decision soon. Should she sell the home she inherited from her mother: the home where Dorothy was conceived and born, where her three children were conceived and born, and where her precious daughter took her last breath? With no clear answer in sight, Dorothy does what she does every single day --- talks to her Lord and asks for guidance.

But guidance comes in an odd package: one Ms. Katie Durbin, a businesswoman from Chicago, arrives in Partonville --- where her mother was born and raised before moving to the city --- in order to deal with a recently departed aunt's estate. Rather than an estate, though, Katie finds a mountain of mayhem her Aunt Tess has left behind.

As Dorothy becomes acquainted with Katie and her fifteen-year-old son, Josh, she realizes that The Big Guy can throw a mean curve ball. In settling her aunt's estate, Katie comes home to herself, dealing with long-buried grief and heartache, and eventually leads Dorothy to a new and unexpected homecoming of her own.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Katie finds herself regretting using her stylish wardrobe and accessories to make sure Partonvillers know she's not one of them. Can you think of a time when "putting on airs" seemed like a good idea but backfired? How important a skill is relating to people on their own terms and turf?

2. Dorothy's faith is her nearest and dearest possession. Does her fear of giving up what's familiar show a weakness in her faith?

3. As is common in small towns, the residents of Partonville gather for a meal after Tess's funeral. Do you think living in a tight-knit community fosters a healthier view of death and dying? Or do funerals and wakes make for uncomfortable and inappropriate chances to socialize?

4. Maggie Malone makes quite a stir at the Happy Hookers meeting with her new tattoo. Do you think the other women's shock and surprise might be just what fuels Maggie to try new things? If her behavior were ignored, would she be as likely to be so adventuresome?

5. Katie questions whether or not God uses unsuspecting --- and maybe nonbelieving --- bystanders in His works. Does God limit His actions to the faithful? Or is all of creation part of His plan?

6. Josh seems mesmerized by Dorothy. Is the so-called generation gap really the result of young people being "different" nowadays? Or is Dorothy's willingness to share young people's interests --- not to mention her youthful spirit and even her Internet savvy --- the key to bridging it?

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Book II: DEAREST DOROTHY, SLOW DOWN, YOU'RE WEARING US OUT!
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0142004189

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ABOUT THE BOOK

So much to do. Dorothy has a house filled with almost nine decades' worth of memories to either get rid of or pack up and move into town. Saying good-bye to Crooked Creek Farm will be difficult. But that can come later; it's summer in Partonville and she doesn't move (at least officially) until the fall.

Besides, summer means crawdad hunting, crickets, and, most important of all, Dorothy's new friends Katie and Josh returning to Partonville for a few days. She must prepare for their arrival. Unfortunately, The Tank seems to have developed a cough. Or is it a wheeze? After giving it a good once-over, Arthur --- who is the only mechanic Dorothy trusts --- shouts, "Back 'er out." Dorothy obliges and unwittingly gives Katie, Josh, and Josh's best friend a welcome home they'll never forget. Taking God's cue, Dorothy realizes that it's time for her to become a pedestrian.

The decision to give up driving isn't easy --- it feels like a huge loss of independence. But Dorothy's new home is close to everything she needs and everyone she loves --- especially now that Katie and Josh plan to move from Chicago to Crooked Creek Farm. And this time she gets to decorate her own home from scratch, even painting the ceiling fire-engine red if she wants. As Dorothy begins the arduous process of liquidating her assets and moving into Partonville proper, she finds she can't do as much as she used to. Even the townsfolk and her own family begin to realize Dorothy's a bit more frail these days and encourage her to slow down. But old habits are as hard to break as The Tank's protective armor.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Dorothy certainly believes in the power of prayer. She's also an accomplished cheerleader. Can you see any similarities between the two, such as the constant focus on positive change? Do you find yourself praying in times of bounty as well as in times of trial?

2. Is there a mandatory age at which seniors should give up their drivers' licenses? Should exceptions be made for residents of rural areas versus those who reside in more developed urban areas?

3. One could make the case that giving up the farm will take some of the strain off Dorothy's heart. But isn't it possible that all the hubbub involved in selling it might just be doing more harm than good?

4. Katie finds, for the first time, a true friend in Partonville. Is Jessica more infatuated with the idea of having a city-slicker friend than with truly getting to know Katie? Is motherhood a strong enough bond for these two very different women?

5. Josh brings his best friend, Alex, to Partonville. Do you think their friendship will survive Josh's moving out of Chicago? If the boys weren't attending different schools already, would their friendship have a better or worse chance?

6. There's an immediate clash between Dorothy's family and Katie. Are the bad feelings really rooted in the possibility that Katie is ripping off Dorothy? Or are there other factors at play?

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Book III: DEAREST DOROTHY, HELP! I'VE LOST MYSELF!
Penguin Books
ISBN: 0143034286

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ABOUT THE BOOK

Gladys, acting mayor of Partonville, is on a tear. The fall celebration is just around the corner and there's more to do than can possibly be done --- especially since Dorothy is conspicuously absent from the inaugural committee meeting. She has enough on her plate, with band practice and getting the talent show up and running. Besides, Arthur's presence at the meeting --- due primarily to his being duped into attending by his wife, Jessie --- draws attention away from Dorothy's absence. Not only is the festival in the works, but Gladys has decided to inject even more life into the town by announcing that a Centennial Plus 30 will coincide with the annual revelry.

Meanwhile, Katie and Josh are having very real --- but very different --- identity crises. Popularity at his new school agrees with Josh --- only it's not the same Josh who came to Partonville just a short time ago. Katie is equally confused: old letters she's unearthed show her mother and aunt communicating in an odd code. What can it mean? The mother Katie thought she knew is slowly becoming a stranger. And --- even more perplexing --- is it possible that Gladys actually has a heart?

Secrets of the past find themselves aired in the present as Partonville erupts in whispers and almost unheard-of scandal. As usual, Dorothy finds herself right in the center of all the commotion. But once things calm down and traffic gets back to normal, Partonville finds itself, quite literally, catching up with time.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Gladys's cantankerous façade seems to be showing cracks. Do you think her stern attitude is a result of deeper psychological issues? Does she take her position as acting mayor too far?

2. Josh realizes he's getting a little big for his britches. Can you recall being put in your place? Were you grateful? Is the emphasis on being "popular" damaging to children?

3. Dorothy takes a cricket's chirp to be a sign from God. Have you ever asked for a sign from God that was granted? If it were as subtle as a cricket's chirp, would you even notice?

4. Katie gets a bit angry when Dorothy keeps talking about God. Is it better to witness to people in turmoil or to let them find the peace of prayer on their own?

5. Dorothy prays and prays about whether or not to tell Katie the truth about her past. Do you agree with her decision?

6. Do you agree that the secret Katie discovers about her mother should be shared with the residents of Partonville? Will it help her fellow townsfolk to accept her?

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Book IV: WHO WOULD HAVE EVER THOUGHT?!
Penguin Books
ISBN: 014303619X

ABOUT THE BOOK

A familiar chill fills the crisp air of Partonville. It's the season of food, family, houseguests, and, above all, being thankful. With the Pumpkin Festival and Centennial Plus 30 behind them, Dorothy Westra and the citizens of Partonville turn their eyes to Thanksgiving. Even with worn-out backs, new love interests, morning sickness, lofty business ventures, and the impassioned fallout of a bygone courtship, they're preparing for a Partonville-wide feast that requires everyone to pitch in. It's sure to take a lot of work and a little unselfishness, prompting Dorothy to recall that "if we extend generosity to anyone, it's the same as if we've extended it to Jesus." But is success possible without Gladys in her usual take-charge role? And with no vacancy at the motel, can poor Jessica be expected to cook, especially since she can't even hold down a saltine?

As the big day approaches, Katie Durbin (wrestling with a few unexpected houseguests of her own) is cooking up a surprise worthy of her "Development Diva" moniker. She sees the potential of a bona-fide tourist destination in Partonville. But it's a more personal sort of development that excites Katie even more: the town she once dubbed boring reveals itself as the home she never expected.

With loved ones returning for the holiday, memories both precious and dear intermingle with heavenly aromas from the piping hot Thanksgiving banquet. Everyone knows Partonville has plenty to be thankful for, including a celebration that is twofold: Happy Birthday, Dearest Dorothy --- and pass the pie!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Josh has mixed feelings about spending Thanksgiving with his father. He makes the very grown-up observation that life is "complicated for everybody." Do you have experience with children rotating holidays between divorced parents? How do you feel about the way people handle it in Partonville?

2. A startup publication called BackRoads Illinois gives Partonville the change to get itself on the off-the-beaten-path map, so to speak. Straying from the interstate and heading off the beaten path often leads to memorable vacation moments. What interesting sights and situations might you have missed if you had stuck to the obvious route? Have you ever happened upon a town reminiscent of Partonville during your journeys? If so, what did you think about it?

3. Holidays can be a difficult time for anyone feeling lonely. What special holiday memories do you have of opening your heart or home to those less fortunate? Do you think offering people uncomfortable with "charity" a chance to participate in the festivities (like Lester) is a good way to lift their spirits? How do you feel when offered something you might consider to be charity?

4. Jessie and Arthur go through a bit of a bad patch. Do you think it's important for people to take "breaks" from one another? How do you think Vera and Herman egged on the situation? What could have been done differently that might have minimized the embarrassment everyone felt?

5. Dorothy is thrilled that Nellie Ruth has found a good-hearted man who thinks she hung the moon. Her relationship with ES is still in the early, somewhat secretive stages. Do you recall a courtship you kept secret for a little while? What romantic tactics did you employ to keep your relationship out of the spotlight? Do you wish you could have kept that "what if we get caught" spark alive? Or, better yet, do you have a secret for doing so?

6. Katie now has something in common with scores of Americans: a Turkey Disaster (but at least she remembered to remove the giblets). Do you have one of your own? Have you attended a holiday dinner where the turkey --- or what was left of it --- was the main topic of conversation? Did the cook handle her- or himself gracefully? Would you be able to laugh off your own kitchen catastrophe?

Click here to buy this book from Amazon.com.

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Book VI: DEAREST DOROTHY, IF NOT NOW WHEN?!
Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143112570

ABOUT THE BOOK

Home is where the heart is --- and this Partonville homecoming will warm the hearts of all Dearest Dorothy fans this fall

The colorful characters of Partonville, Illinois, are back once again to delight Charlene Ann Baumbich’s ever-growing legion of fans. Dorothy is thrilled that her attorney son Jacob is moving back to their hometown and wonders if he might help Katie Durbin with more than legal matters. Meanwhile, Partonville’s mayoral elections have just heated up. Incumbent Gladys McKern is being challenged by Sam Vitner, owner of Swappin’ Sam’s, whose campaign slogan is “McKern’s had her turn! Time to SWAP! VITNER for Mayor!” And the contest to name Katie’s new mini-mall incites competition and a mad dash of entries. Through it all, Dorothy’s spirit and the Partonvillers’ antics will keep readers wanting to circle the town square again and again.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Imagine you’re one of Partonville’s mayoral candidates. How would you have handled the race differently? Do you think you would have been able to defend yourself in front of the whole town with more success than Gladys? Now imagine if you were running for mayor of the town where you live. What changes would you make? What would you choose as your campaign slogan?

2. Jacob, like Katie before him, has trouble adapting to small-town life after living in a large city. Explore some of the differences between living in a city and living in a small town. Specifically, how would the attorney/client relationship be different? Do you think it would be more difficult for a “city slicker” to get used to small-town life? Or would the reverse present more challenges? Why?

3. Josh is having some trouble with his driving again. Should his uncle have kept the traffic stop to himself? Would you have done the same? Discuss times you or people you knew thought they were getting away with something, only to get caught later. What did you think about Katie’s reaction?

4. Even though she needs to keep quiet about her business deals, what could Katie do differently in order to convince the townsfolk that she’s one of them?

5. If you were given space in Katie’s mini mall, what type of store would you open? Consider that whatever store you choose would benefit from synergy with the shops that already exist.

6. It seems that living in Partonville nearly guarantees you’re going to have a catastrophe while entertaining. Recall some instances when you’d rather have kept the door closed when guests arrived. How did you handle the situation? Have you ever been on the other side of that door about to walk into a disastrous evening?

7. Timing is everything in this novel. Recall some events when timing -- good or bad --- made all the difference in the world to you. In the good instances, was it your own timing or do you believe there was a higher power involved?

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© Copyright 2004 by Charlene Ann Baumbich. Reprinted with permission by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.

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