Sunday, July 27, 2014

412 (2014 #40). The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

by Susan Jane Gilman

It's 1983, and ice-cream magnate Lillian Dunkle is looking back on the past 70 years of her life while awaiting the outcome of tax evasion charges and a personal lawsuit.

In 1913, 5-6-year-old Malka Treynovsky, loud and curious, immigrates with her Jewish parents - who'd originally planned to go to Cape Town - and three older sisters from Russia to New York City.  Just three months after arriving at their Orchard Street tenement, her father having abandoned the family, Malka is run over by a horse and is crippled for life.  Malka's mother is overwhelmed and leaves her at the hospital.  Salvatore Dinello, the immigrant Italian ices peddler whose horse ran over Malka, feels compelled to take her home.

The Dinellos expect Malka to earn her keep, and every day she helps make the ices - and later, the ice cream the family sells.  Malka ingratiates herself with the family (although not always in the best way), eventually being baptized as Lillian Maria Dinello.

Lillian is not especially pretty, but she's very smart, and the Dinellos send her to college.  She tutors privately on the side, and meets illiterate, stuttering Albert Dunkle - another Jewish immigrant who is a whiz with machines.  They eventually marry, and between Bert's invention of the soft-serve machine and Lillian's marketing magic (and a bit of luck), they grow an ice cream franchising empire.  Yet Lillian continues to be haunted with feelings of abandonment and insecurity, which makes her vulnerable in some situations and abrasive in others.

Lillian isn't the most likable of characters, but her story is a great one.  Susan Jane Gilman did extensive research on both immigrant life in the tenements of New York in the 1910s and 1920s, as well as on ice cream.  The Carvel Ice Cream Company was her inspiration, and she even worked there for a while to get a feel for the industry.

I love the cover; the dropped and melting ice cream cone looks like an unhappy clown.  Unlike the cone, this book is hard to drop - you will be tempted - as you must do with ice cream - to finish it all in one sitting.  I think my book club might like this book too.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[I received a hardbound final copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  I plan to hang on to the book for a while for a future re-read.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

411 (2014 #39). Manger

poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Helen Cann

This picture book is a collection of 15 poems by selector Lee Bennett Hopkins and some other well-known poets and writers, such as X. J. Kennedy, Marilyn Nelson, Jane Yolen, Alma Flor Ada, Ann Whitford Paul, and Alice Schertle, as well as a few newer authors unknown to me, and one traditional verse.  The theme tying the poems together is what different animals might say or do or think if present at the manger for the birth of Jesus.  Helen Cann's vibrant illustrations, rendered in watercolor, collage, and mixed media, tie everything together.

The poems are written for ages 4-8.  This would be a great read-aloud during the holiday season, and the poems are easy enough for beginning readers too.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This unbound galley proof was sent to me in exchange for an unbiased review by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

410 (2014 #38). The Master Butchers Singing Club

written and read by Louise Erdrich

Although a bit quirky, I loved this book.  The Master Butcher is Fidelis Valdvogel, who fights for Germany in World War I, marries Eva, the pregnant fiancee of his best friend who was killed in action.  Fidelis comes to America in 1922 and sells sausages to try to get to Seattle - but can only get as far as Argus, North Dakota.  So he sets up a butcher shop there and brings Eva and her son over, and they have three more sons.

Meanwhile, Delphine Watzka has returned to Argus and her ever-drunk father Roy with her vaudeville balancing act performing companion, the French-Ojibwe Cyprian Lazarre.

Thus begins a novel with unusual happenings - a butchers' rivalry involving a dog and the formation of the singing group, the discovery of three sets of human bones in Roy's cellar, a rescue from a collapsing mound of dirt, and a murder, among others.

What makes it all work for me are the colorful characters.  Delphine is really the protagonist of the book, but nearly all of those she encounters - Cyprian, Roy, Fidelis, Eva, their sons Franz and Marcus, Franz' girlfriend Mazarine, Fidelis' sister Tante, the town's Sheriff Hock, Delphine's friend Clarisse, the town's undertaker, even Step-and-a-Half, the town's bag lady - have intriguing stories.

The book also provides some insight into what life was like in small-town North Dakota in that era - 1922 to 1954.   Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II all play a part in the book. I don't think author Louise Erdrich (who is of German, French, and Ojibwe descent) intended it to be historical fiction, though, she was just telling a good story.  She does say in her acknowledgments at the end of the book that

The picture of the young butcher on the cover of this book is of my grandfather Ludwig Erdrich.  He fought in the trenches on the German side in World War I.  His sons served on the American side in World War II.  This book is fiction except for snout salad [page 83], the bull's pizzle [pages 143-144], and my grandmother's short stint as a human table in a vaudeville act.

Erdrich reads this audiobook.  Although she is not a professional audiobook narrator, and her reading is therefore not polished, she is effective.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library and my university library respectively.]