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

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
By Susan Jane Gilman
Releases 6/10/14
Provided free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 5 bones

Finish Time:  7 nights.  So good to be back to historical fiction.  My favorite genre by far.  I feel smarter!  And what a great story to get back into it!  I was a tad disappointed that the story was in fact not real.  It was loosely based on the Carvel Ice Cream story, according to the Q & A with the author at the end.  A very much appreciated segment, as it answered many questions I had leaving a historical novel such as this.

And also so good to give a book a 5-bone rating.  I loved it.  It had everything.  A good old rags to riches, striving for the American dream, immigration story.   Romance, suspense, thrill, crazy characters, and let me tell you about the main character.  Born Malka Treynovsky, with a few names in between, our leading lady is Lillian Dunkle, aka the Ice Cream Queen, not only of Orchard Street, but America, is quite the character.

Victim of awful parents, and really an awful society, Malka fights her way through life.  Doing whatever she has to to survive.  Not all is right but she is clever and the reader can understand the choices she makes.  The defining point of her life is when she gets run over by a horse and is crippled.  During a time of rampant illnesses, many times it is mistaken for polio, which later on in the book is used to her advantage, both for good and bad.  Never knowing who she can trust and being let down time and time again, her actions make sense, as she is the true definition of a fighter.

The book jumps between past and present (the present of the book being the early 1980’s), to tell Malka’s transformation into Lillian Dunkle, the Ice Cream Queen.  And then her on trial for tax evasion and for another crime, not that it’s a huge spoiler, but it’s a bit humorous so read the book to find out!  Along the way she meets the love of her life, Albert Dunkle.  Both her husband and business partner, their story is so sweet.  What I’m assuming are facts about the ice cream industry are also found throughout, different flavors, processes (the invention of the soft serve machine), presentations (invention of the cone), competitors, among others.  While probably not credited to the correct person, they were very interesting and really helped the story along.

Faces from her past pop up throughout the book and I loved reading how Lillian handled all of them.  Surprises were at every page-turn, and it was just that, a page-turner, until the very end.  I really loved it.   Really.  Check it out when it comes out in June, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


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.

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