**spoiler alert** This is one of those book that, for the first half of the book, was leaning towards 4 or more stars, but that, because of the last 3**spoiler alert** This is one of those book that, for the first half of the book, was leaning towards 4 or more stars, but that, because of the last 3/4 fell to about 3.5 stars. I enjoyed the epistolary style, as well as trying to figure out, in the beginning half, how all the pieces fit together and why notes and emails were relevant to Bernadette's missing status.
I guess I was expecting more from this novel, or wasn't expecting things to "work out" the way they did. The events, both current and past, seemed way too fantastical for a novel of this type: Russian Mafia, a stealthy disappearance in Antarctica, Bernadette's seeming descent into further craziness or artistic frustration. I mean, sure, some of these things could be plausible:
1) the destruction of the "Twenty Mile House" causes Bernadette to flee L.A. for Seattle—but not telling her husband for twenty fucking years?! And her husband not suspecting a thing?
2) Elgie burying himself at work so as not having to "deal" with Bernadette's constant frightening mood swings and rants—yet really never once considering if there was a reason other than her, say, four miscarriages before finally having a daughter who was born blue and thus had five years of surgeries in order to survive . . . because all of that isn't enough to send Bernadette on a downward spiral? Why didn't he suggest, I don't know, family therapy then?
3) Bernadette making the promise that she will never build anything again as long as Bee, her daughter, survives, yet again, not telling Elgie her intentions. All Bernadette seems to do with this promise is doom herself to a life of artistic frustration—frustration she takes out on her environment and the people within it, as well as herself.
4) Identity theft. Okay, I could buy this, but what was harder to swallow was Bernadette's crazy decision to hire a "virtual assistant" from India (supposedly) and give said assistant access to all her personal information, including bank account numbers, social security numbers, etc., and then have it turn out that the whole thing is a scam and "Manjula", the "assistant", is actually the Russian Mafia who send someone from Moscow to Seattle to kill Bernadette (supposedly). It was all a little too much.
5) Elgie deciding to have Bernadette involuntarily committed. There seemed to be zero communication in that family—which is probably part or most of the reason much of the novel is told in the epistolary style: a way to demonstrate that all the information this family seems to get is second-or-third-hand. And if there is actually direct person-to-person contact, it's during a period of misunderstanding, or when other people are present, so it makes whatever's being discussed less intimate.
6) The subplots with Audrey and Kyle Griffin and Soo-Lin. Again, these characters participated in events that seemed fantastical or blown way out of proportion. Audrey's abrupt "I can't let Bernadette be committed because of ME!" seemed so out of character, as well as her also abrupt "My son is a drug addict!!!" 180. Soo-Lin and Elgie's one night stand was so stupid and cliche.
7) Bernadette's 180. One of things I thought the novel lacked was more about this character, which may seem strange since the book is essentially about her, but I couldn't help but feel that we didn't really see enough about her to watch her make the decisions she made. Perhaps her letter wasn't "sudden", since she was apparently gone for six weeks or more, and in that time she was working and living at the Palmer Station in Antarctica, and during that time she had the time to reflect. Still, it seemed sudden that she "changed". Or perhaps, tried to make amends.
8) The end was messy and lacked satisfying closure. Possibly this was a statement on the fact that life is messy and not everything (if anything) is ever resolved properly or to any satisfaction. Okay, so Elgie still loves Bernadette . . . but he's having a child with Soo-Lin. Bernadette perhaps forgives Elgie, and decides they are going to move out of their fun-house home and into a Craftsman, which she hates, and decides Bee isn't going to an East Coast boarding school. But, then what? Do they just live "happily ever after" or is the next minor or major crisis lying in wait?
I could go on but maybe I shouldn't.
Overall, it wasn't a bad read, but I didn't love it. ...more
**spoiler alert** I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway from Hachette Book Group. I was so excited, especially because I figured I was doomed to nev**spoiler alert** I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway from Hachette Book Group. I was so excited, especially because I figured I was doomed to never win another Goodreads Giveaway. Anyway, I loved loved loved loved loved this book. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the author was Susan Jane Gilman, who had written "Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress", a memoir I had read previously and loved for its humor, wit, and blatant truths. It was also a pretty fun ride.
I really can't say enough good things about "The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street" (and not only because I won this book). I truly loved it and was very sad to see it end, because it was such a good read. I got through it pretty quickly, mostly because it was just hard to put down; I just didn't want to stop reading. I loved the vivid, colorful descriptive, well-written prose that seemed to fill in every single detail of early immigrant life in 1920s New York, from the strong smells, to the mass of human bodies crammed into the tenements and the streets, to the poverty, sending out small children as young as Malka and Flora to make some money for the family so everyone doesn't starve.
I loved Malka-Lillian as a character and narrator. Almost immediately I was taken in by her voice, all encompassing, brutally honest; she came off as 100 percent flawed human, sort of ruthless and single-minded in her pursuit to work and improve her and her husband Bert's ice cream business, willing to step on anyone—even her adoptive family—to get ahead and get what she wants. In the post-script, Gilman describes Lillian as an "antihero", as a woman who "hates children and would rather have a drink", someone who really doesn't see the error of her ways until her mid-seventies when it's just about too late. Despite this, I couldn't help but find Lillian likable, mostly because she just seemed like a real person, a real fighter, determined to make her way in the world and to do everything in a really big way (because why would she do anything in a small way? That's just not her).
I despised Malka's parents. Her mother abandoned her after the accident, and ended up in an asylum after her three remaining children were divided to other families. She just gave up, though Malka remembers her as a tough old woman. Her father deserted the family shortly after their journey to America, and then later reappears in Lillian's life only to swindle her out of $25,000. I was so mad at him for that! And poor Lillian just wanted his love and approval. I was glad when she finally "washed her hands of him" later in her life.
Loved the improbable (but probably not completely impossible) love story between Lillian and Bert. It's very obvious how much they love each other, though Lillian still can't help but question it every now and then. The day of Bert's 75 birthday was so heartbreaking; Bert wanted only to spend a little alone time with the love of his life, while Lillian's mind was again on business, and the party planning, and drinking. After his death, it would have proven Lillian to be some odd, cold fish not to react the way she did in her grief (and because she always does things on a large scale, everything had to be over the top, wild-dramatic and borderline crazy).
Loved that Lillian was able to reconnect with Flora near the end of the book. I couldn't help but wonder what became of Bella, but it seemed that once she left to be a nanny or babysitter to that family when they moved to Brooklyn, she was lost to them forever. And I loved the relationship Lillian had with her grandson in all its 1980s glory. It was a lot of fun reading about 80s fashions and music genres and having a "cameo" from Robin Leach.
There are many more good things I want to say about this book, but for now I will end with how much I loved and enjoyed reading such a great, sweeping historical novel, and how I think it's even better than ice cream! ...more
**spoiler alert** Ugh. I absolutely despised the "writing style" of this book, though I can't really say if that's the author's fault or the translato**spoiler alert** Ugh. I absolutely despised the "writing style" of this book, though I can't really say if that's the author's fault or the translators' faults, or both. The writing style is very simplistic, as is the dialogue, and the plot itself is very roundabout. The plot itself was boring, the characters flat and unrealistic.
A young woman, Noriko, marries into a large, close-knit family of eight, the Shito family, several generations who all live together in a big house in Tokyo. The family is well off, owning their own businesses and having properties with tenets. Everyone in the family is overly nice and kind to Noriko, calling her "the treasure of the family". Noriko is happy enough with her situation and new family until an accident—an explosion—occurs while she is away, visiting her parents. Noriko becomes suspicious when her new family fails to have any emotional reaction to the explosion, which caused the death of a tenet, an ice vendor and his family. The family offers no real answers to any of Noriko's endless questions, and Noriko's suspicions turn into delusions after she talks things over with an old friend, Tomomi. At first, Tomomi thinks Noriko is crazy with her suspicions, but then she encourages Noriko to not give in so easily and just trust the family when they continue to lie to Noriko.
I read to about page 124 and then I was just couldn't stand it any more. Noriko basically gets upset and more suspicious and more and more delusional and cries a ton and then the family apologizes to her and praises her endlessly, all of which makes Noriko more upset and uneasy. Everything that was already mentioned—the death/murder of the ice vendor and his family, the "Crazy Eggplant" the family grows in their garden, the mysterious nightly goings-on of the family which excludes Noriko, the mysterious Ei, the elderly matriarch of the Shito family and her neighborly visitors, Ei's ability to walk and Mastuzo's (a great-grandfather in the family who has had a stroke) ability to talk normally, etc. At one point, Noriko is hysterical, crying and screaming and threatens to leave the family. She runs upstairs to pack a suitcase and her husband and father-in-law corner her and make her drink drugged tea. Shortly after this, I skimmed the rest of the book.
I'm not quite sure what happened, all the details, but apparently the family has been selling psychotropic mushrooms or something for centuries to all the neighbors in their community. The family has been feeding Noriko these mushrooms to keep her disoriented and calm. Eventually Noriko's accusations of the family's untrustworthiness and possible murderous tendencies and tell her off, and then shortly after that, Ei tells Noriko the "true story" of the Shito family (I have no idea what this is because I skimmed it) and then the whole family undresses and has an orgy which each other. EWWWWWW. GROSS. WTF was this book?! ...more
**spoiler alert** Excellent installment in the series. Interesting, well-fleshed out new characters, fascinating storyline and subplots, great twist a**spoiler alert** Excellent installment in the series. Interesting, well-fleshed out new characters, fascinating storyline and subplots, great twist at the end of the novel. Hoping to see more of Detective Tam again in future books, as well as hoping to see (though it might not be possible for the show) to see a similar plot and characters on the TV show.
This book had more of a female empowerment story than previous books, such as "Keepsake" or even "The Mephisto Club", because the women in this story weren't running away from a scary, faceless demon of a man who was always chasing them, one step ahead of their every move; the women, Iris Fang, Bella Li, in this novel were fighters, warriors, constantly training their bodies and minds to eventually come face to face with this ghost-man and pay him back 100-fold for what he had done to their lives, 19 years prior. The payoff was very satisfying and I also liked the "spooky" twist with the third warrior, seen only to Barry Frost and Jane Rizzoli as "The Monkey King". I'm glad Jane got suspicious enough of Detective Tam at near the end of the novel to realize that she wasn't really witness to the appearance of a supernatural figure—but decided in the end not to tell him that she knew who he really was.
I also enjoyed Maura getting to spend some time with "Rat" (from "Ice Cold") in a more normal setting—her home—rather than out in the cold, fighting for their lives. It would have been nice to see another chapter with just the two of them, trying to do some of the normal, touristy activities Maura had planned for them.