Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? (Holiday week edition)


It's a short week around here, which gives me a little more time for reading. I'm feeling ambitious. Here's what I'm reading this week:

In the car on audiobook: The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant.

On my iPod: On Folly Beach by Karen White.

For review (coming soon): 

The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera (in time for its publication date July 8)

Wedding in Provence: A Novel by Ellen Sussman (publication date July 15)

And pulled from my stack that I've been looking forward to reading:

Hiding Edith by Kathy Kacer

Call me Zelda by Erika Robuck

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

What are you reading?

This event is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Published on: June 10, 2014
Page Count: 512
Genre: Fiction
My Reading Format: Advanced reading e-book provided by NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover and Kindle e-book

My Review:

Don't be fooled by the cover of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. It's brightly colored and shows a woman's feet in a fabulous pair of heels next to an upside down, melted ice cream cone. The cover reminds me of a Mary Kay Andrews book cover (not knocking Mary Kay Andrews - personally, I'm looking forward to her latest, Save the Date). Ice Cream Queen is not a girly, cutesy, pretty story. It's a story about a little girl who grows into a woman in a life filled with abandonment and setback. This main character, first named Malka and later Lillian, just gets tougher. As life gets harder, so does she.

Malka is a young Jewish Russian immigrant with her family in Germany with plans to immigrate to South Africa to be near family. Instead, Malka's father, who seemed suspicious to me from the start, exchanges their tickets for passage on a ship to New York City instead without telling Malka's mother. Malka's father forces her to keep it a secret from her mother and her other three sisters. This is just the beginning for Malka of a life of getting let down by those around her who are supposed to love and care for her.

The story, which opens early in the 20th century, shows the dismal life of poor immigrants living in crowded tenement houses in the city, and those who rise above those conditions to move themselves out of them, and those who don't. Very early on, Malka is told by her mother that to be able to eat she must bring home money. Malka and her sister put together a singing and dancing act, earning them a few pennies per day, and which helps them stay in their mother's good graces. Malka has to draw upon that experience of putting herself out there to survive day after day for the rest of her life, even after she has made it as a successful businesswoman. In Chapter 2, Malka learns to "Be shameless. Be different. And appeal to the emotions -- never the head."

After an accident Malka is abandoned by her family and taken in by an Italian Catholic family, the Dinellos. Malka's name is changed to Lillian. The Dinellos are trying to make it in the ice cream business, and Lillian learns all she can from them before she marries and is ousted from the Dinello family. Abandoned but determined to take what she learned and create a successful business herself, Lillian and new husband Bert Dunkle slowly but surely build an ice cream empire together that lasts through the book's ending in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Besides just being a good story, Gilman's writing style is fun to read. Ice Cream Queen is filled with fantastic description: "Fumes of queasy-sweet gasoline billowed from new cars rattling noisily up the avenues. And since none of the tenements had bathtubs, these odors, in turn, mixed with the gamy smell of thousands of strains of human perspiration. Yeasty, fungal skin. Rose water. Decaying teeth. Dirty diapers. Sharp, vinegary hair tonic" (Chapter 2).

As I read, I anticipated the moment that this girl with gumption would become the business-savvy woman. But there wasn't one moment, just a progression. That ability to be this kind of a go-getter was part of Malka's personality all along.

I think what I liked most about this book though is the way that Gilman doesn't just give us a rags-to-riches feel-good story. Lillian is flawed. She does the best she can but she makes plenty of mistakes. Lillian knows how to learn from those mistakes and she's thick-skinned enough to keep moving forward and ignore what people around her are saying about her. Her career ebbs and flows, as do her marriage and her relationship with her son, who come second to that career. She faces addiction. Gilman has painted her as human rather than perfect. We all have our faults. Life isn't as sweet as the cover of The Ice Cream Queen indicates.

Four out of five stars

If you liked The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, you'll like Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, Kisses on a Postcard by Terence Frisby, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Recent Read: Monuments Men

I've finally read and finished, at long last, Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, a book I've been looking forward to reading for a long time. It was everything I'd hoped The Forger's Spell would be. Monuments Men is a lengthy book but well written. Short chapters focus on one or two art historians-turned-soldiers at a time, making it easy to keep track of everyone and their whereabouts.

One of my most favorite things about reading on historical places is that if I've been there the place comes alive for me again. If I haven't been there yet, it makes me want to go. Visiting Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle was one of the highlights of our family vacation last summer. It was also one of the big hiding places for European works of art during World War II and was part of this book.

The view from the castle is incredible!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recent Reread: Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera is hands down one of the best books ever written. Everything about the story and the writing evokes beauty. I just reread it over the weekend in light of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's recent passing. I read a lot of it while at the neighborhood pool. Who needs a romance novel when you can read something like this, right?

I had taught all day the day that happened, and strangely enough, I had a conversation with a student about him. She's from Colombia and loves his writing just like I do. Then, later that evening I got a news blast that he'd died in his home in Mexico City. 

A few days afterward, I got word that a celebration of Marquez's life was planned in Decatur near Atlanta: 100 people would read aloud his 100 Years of Solitude in an event called, appropriately, 100 Readers of Solitude (clever!). I thought about going. Then my husband broke his collarbone and I honestly forgot all about it. I'm sure it was a great even though, and I hope I'll be able to go to another read-along event again.

USA Today published a story that Garcia Marquez has an unfinished manuscript that may be published. Here's hoping!

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading?


Here's what I'm reading this week:

In the car on audiobook: The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant.

On my iPod: The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion: A Novel by Fannie Flagg

For review (coming soon): 

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power by Jimmy Carter

What are you reading?

This event is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey. Go check out her blog.