Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 505
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Published: January 2014
First Line: "We'd been in American just three months when the horse ran over me."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 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

My Review:  I picked up this book from my local library because I was interested in a 'rags to riches' storyline and while this certainly was a book of that type it took on a different tone than I was expecting. 

The book started out strong but my interest and the momentum of the storyline started to waiver about halfway through especially as the business side of the storyline took the lead.  Some of the ice cream information given was interesting but I wanted more detail about the characters and progression of the storyline.

Unfortunately I didn't feel whole-heartedly engaged in the storyline.  As Lillian goes from a likeable young girl to the matriarch of her family's booming business I tended to like her less and less and she became someone I hardly recognized.  Some of her speech, specifically when she referred to people as 'darlings' and bringing her small dog everywhere she went, reminded me of the infamous Zsa Zsa Gabor.  But her incessant mean streak had a strong Leona Helmsley (the original 'Queen of Mean') feel to it. This combination of overly exaggerated arrogance and nastiness got old fast and didn't endear her to me in the least.  

This view of the character felt very disjointed with the young girl/young woman that I had just read about.  I truly love tough, sassy old ladies (my Nana was queen of sassy ol' ladies!) but Lillian came off as much more of a clichéd, rich old dame who doesn't give a rat's patoot what anyone thinks of her.  I also couldn't imagine my Grandma or Nana doing some of the things that Lillian does with her grandson.

In the end, my favourite part of this book was seeing what life was like for new immigrants in NYC.  While this book kept my interest enough for me to finish the book, in the end I was left a little disappointed with the pace and character development since I felt that it was overly long and Lillian came off as little more than a cliché. 

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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