The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

18656072Title: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

Author: Susan Jane Gilman

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: June 2014

ISBN: 9780446578936

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

 Synopsis from Goodreads:

In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.

Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, “The Ice Cream Queen” — doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.

Lillian’s rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.

So sue me: I couldn’t put this book down! Lillian Dunkle is a spirited, stubborn, cutthroat, hard-working woman who refuses to let anything get in her way. She refuses to be seen as a cripple, or as a to be considered useless. She works her whole life to work her way out of and keep away from the squalor of Mulberry street where other poor Russian, Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century. Her family comes to America with nothing, and most of them die with nothing. Lillian casts aside her birth name, Malka, and her past, becoming the ruthless president of Dunkle’s Ice Cream.

Her story is the rags to riches, make it in America story. With hard work, determination, and a little bit (well, more than a little bit, darlings) of backstabbing she builds an empire out of nothing. It seems like everything gets in Lillian’s way of success, but she defeats each hurdle in stride. She is told she’s ugly and she’ll never marry, yet her partner, Albert, is the most supportive man a girl could ask for. Not only are they lovers, they are business partners as well, complimenting one another to make an indestructible team.

Lillian is a true-to-life kind of character. Sure there are a lot of good qualities, but there are definitely some bad qualities as well and those things that sometimes annoy you about her get her into trouble in the end. But Lillian only ever wants to be successful, and through that she gains the reader’s empathy. She kind of crazy and really sarcastic. She takes the story to a whole new level.

The past and the present excellently intertwined, this is a faced-paced and moving read that exposes the hardships of immigration in the early 1900s, as well as the realities of living and trying to succeed through the Great Depression, the wars, and everything in between. Definitely an excellent read!

Funky Cover Fridays

It’s Friday again! Here’s another cover for you to kick off your weekend.

One of my favourite covers of all time is the censorship cover for George Orwell’s 1984.

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Covered in black censorship bars but debossed, the title Nineteen Eighty-Four is barely visible, but it makes such a huge statement about the books message. It’s an intellectual, statement cover that says says more in its simplicity that if it were a more complicated image. The design communicates the entire meaning and tone of Orwell’s story with utter perfection.

What are some other 1984 covers that you liked (or didn’t like)?

Top Ten Tuesday

Hello again and welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! This week’s topic is pretty fun: Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island. I’m not going to think about this too much, and I’m going to write down the first characters that come to mind, just to see what happens.

10. Gandalf – Because you should always make sure you’re stranded with a wizard.

9. Eeyore – Although he’s a bit sad, he always is there for his friends.

8. Oskar Schell – To help us find what is lost and to learn our way in our new world.

7. Lisbeth Salander – Socially inept but I’m sure she could hook us up with some insane tech some way or another.

6. Luna Lovegood – For snarkles and grunkles and all our mystical needs. She’s an awesome girl!

5. Karou – Because she’s a fighter and she’s determined. You’d want to have her on your side.

4. Bigby Wolf – The protector. He’d keep everyone safe from any monsters and night terrors hidden on the island.

3. Katnis Everdeen – She can teach me how to shoot a bow and arrow. We’ll need to learn to hunt for food.

2. Jamie Fraser – Cause he’s hawt.

1. Ron Weasley – Because he’s a loyal friend and we’ll need his lovely and quirky company.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, who would you want to be stuck with? 

Review: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

18764826

Title: The House We Grew Up In

Author: Lisa Jewell

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: August 12, 2014

ISBN: 9781476702995

The House We Grew Up In

 Synopsis from Goodreads:

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children’s lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they’ve never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in — and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

 

This book is possibly one of the most tragic stories I’ve ever read. It is a heart-wrenching tale of a broken and dysfunctional family, torn apart by unspeakable tragedy, unable to heal. Each member of this family struggles to recover from the loss that altered each of their lives forever, their pain manifesting in obsessiveness, denial, anger, fear.

From the first sentence, I was hooked. I sped through it in two days, unable to put it down. The house they live in begins as a place of love and memory. It is a place for family. But devastation quickly overcomes the space and it becomes a prison both literally and figuratively. Some members of the Bird family become physically trapped within the house, while others are unable to break free of the mental hold that their life and the household has on them. Their entrapment manifests in obsessive compulsive behaviours and a manic desire for order, extreme social insecurities, or a complete disregard for responsibility. Each Bird suffers in his or own way. The story follows each of them–how they live and interact, and how their actions affect the others in their family–and their journey to healing. They must learn to face their pain and to move past it in a healthy and healing manner.

Shocking is the only word that adequately describes the Birds’ lives. Everything they encounter is one step closer to appalling and horrifying. That’s what makes it so fantastic. The Birds’ are a microcosm for how we deal with death and suffering. Some choose to ignore, others choose to micromanage. But in the end, we are all searching for a way to heal and move on with their lives. Each character experiences great growth over the course of time, accepting and making peace with their lives. Their transformations are beautiful and I soon found myself feeling as if I too were a part of the Bird family.

Overall, a really awesome read. It’s so devastatingly sad but so elegantly moving. Each and every word deserves special attention because everything that Jewell has to say is so ripe with meaning. I definitely recommend this one!

 

Funky Cover Fridays

Hello again!

I’ve decided to add this short weekly post to highlight different book covers that I think are pretty awesome. Feel free to tell me what you think about them or to share your favourite covers as well! I always welcome your thoughts. :)

I want to start off this week with a book I’m really looking forward to reading. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell comes out September 2014 and it’s cover is stunning.

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This cover really plays with depth and layers to create an image that draws your eye. There’s movement, but also serenity in the image of the clouds broken up by concentric circles. The lines within each circle really remind me of an egg timer, counting down, running out. Knowing nothing of this book, I’d definitely buy it based on the cover.

What do you think of The Bone Clocks’ cover?

Review: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

18465852

Title: The Book of Unknown Americans

Author: Cristina Henriquez

Publisher: Bond Street Books, a division of Random House of Canada

Date Published: June 2014

ISBN: 9780385680738

The Book of Unknown Americans

 Synopsis from Goodreads:

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel’s recovery-the piece of the American Dream on which they’ve pinned all their hopes-will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles. At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamà fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she’s sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America. Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.

I read this book incredibly quickly. Once I turned to page one, I couldn’t put it down. It is a moving story about the immigration experience and the pursuit of a safe and happy life. The story explores the concept of hard-work and sacrifice. Even though the characters push themselves to the breaking point to survive, they do everything they can to get themselves even that inch closer to happiness.

What I loved most about this book was the structure. The main plot is punctuated with chapters from the points of view of each of the people living in the complex where the Riveras settle upon arriving in Delaware. Not only do we get a close up of the struggle of the Rivera and Toro families, we come to understand that their struggle is ubiquitous among all of the immigrants living there. They experience terrible and pointed racism, poverty, and judgement, all for the sake of achieving a safe life for their families. The point is raised again and again, the things they will do for the well-being of their families. Each of them is doing what they can to find a more advantageous life than the one they left behind.

Each of these families lives and works, and in many cases has citizenship, in America. They identify as American and they want to contribute to a better society. One thing that Major observes about his experience being born in Mexico but growing up in America that really struck me was, “The truth was that I didn’t know which I was. I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim” (78). He feels lost. He doesn’t feel as though he has claim to either culture. The American boys in his class label him and “other” him because of his birth, but he was raised in the same culture as them and so he feels more American than Mexican. Major’s experience in the book is one of self-discovery. He is trying to figure out who he is as a young man and as a citizen.

Overall, this was a great story. Each character’s point of view is so open and raw that you can’t help but feel connected to them and their story and you hope only for them to succeed and reach their goals. There is always this constant feel that they will fail and that’s the greatest struggle: that they hover on this tipping point and event the slightest of events can send them toppling over the edge. I definitely recommend this one!

Review: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

18079623 Title: The Crane Wife

Author: Patrick Ness

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Publication Date:

ISBN: 9781443420129

The Crane Wife

Synopsis from Goodreads:

George Duncan is an American living and working in London.  At forty-eight, he owns a small print shop, is divorced, and lonelier than he realizes.  All of the women with whom he has relationships eventually leave him for being too nice.  But one night he is woken by an astonishing sound—a terrific keening, which is coming from somewhere in his garden.  When he investigates he finds a great white crane, a bird taller than even himself.  It has been shot through the wing with an arrow.  Moved more than he can say, George struggles to take out the arrow from the bird’s wing, saving its life before it flies away into the night sky.

The next morning, a shaken George tries to go about his daily life, retreating to the back of his store and making cuttings from discarded books—a harmless, personal hobby—when through the front door of the shop a woman walks in.  Her name is Kumiko, and she asks George to help her with her own artwork.  George is dumbstruck by her beauty and her enigmatic nature, and begins to fall desperately in love with her.   She seems to hold the potential to change his entire life, if he could only get her to reveal the secret of who she is and why she has brought her artwork to him.

I did really like this book, but I can’t say I loved it. There’s something about it that I can’t quite identify that got in the way of me falling in love with this story. It is at times humorous and romantic, while at others is vengeful and tragic.

The character of Amanda is complex. Her hatred runs deep, but she’s following a journey of self-discovery to understand why she feels and thinks so negatively and self-destructively. She experiences a great deal of growth throughout the story, taking control of her life and her situation in order to better herself. I actually quite liked her. Sometimes I really hated her, but she really grew on me as well.

The mystical story of the crane and the volcano is also something that really drew me into this story. It is at once beautiful and tragic, a story of love and hate, of healing and destruction, of vengeance and destruction. Kumiko is the embodiment of the story and she is a character who remains a mystery to her lover, George, and to the reader. Kumiko is compelling and like George, the reader is driven to know her more. Really though, she is an unknowable presence in the book. She is there to heal and to forgive. She is a mythical and mysterious creature that adds a fantastical element to the book.

I was the most bored with George. He’s really a nothing character. He loves quickly and easily, and he seems to be a constant presence for Amanda, but he really does nothing. Kumiko has a power and control over him, keeping her identity a secret. Amanda bosses him around. He tells us all of the women in his past had once been lovers, but became friends and left him over time because of his niceness. And his niceness doesn’t change. He is the same character at the beginning as he is at the end. He experiences little or no change. He was boring.

Overall, their story didn’t really move me. The story itself is interesting and most of the characters are complex and intriguing, but I didn’t feel anything while reading it. I had no connection to the story. It was just alright.