Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English & Book Club Giveaway

Summary: At the outset of World War II, Jack Rosenblum, his wife Sadie, and their baby daughter escape Berlin, bound for London. They are greeted with a pamphlet instructing immigrants how to act like "the English." Jack acquires Saville Row suits and a Jaguar. He buys his marmalade from Fortnum & Mason and learns to list the entire British monarchy back to 913 A.D. He never speaks German, apart from the occasional curse. But the one key item that would make him feel fully British -membership in a golf club-remains elusive. In post-war England, no golf club will admit a Rosenblum. Jack hatches a wild idea: he'll build his own.

It's an obsession Sadie does not share, particularly when Jack relocates them to a thatched roof cottage in Dorset to embark on his project. She doesn't want to forget who they are or where they come from. She wants to bake the cakes she used to serve to friends in the old country and reminisce. Now she's stuck in an inhospitable landscape filled with unwelcoming people, watching their bank account shrink as Jack pursues his quixotic dream.

In her tender, sweetly comic debut, Natasha Solomons tells the captivating love story of a couple making a new life-and their wildest dreams-come true. -- Reagan Arthur

As many of you already know, Kathy/Bermudaonion and I are hosting the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge. I have read some fantastic books from this imprint, but sadly, I've been a bit remiss lately with my participation in this challenge. Recently, I read MR. ROSENBLUM DREAMS IN ENGLISH by Natasha Solomons and now I remember just why I love this imprint so much. This novel was terrific! It was sweet, charming, cute, funny, and positively delightful!

I have to admit that I wasn't sure this book initially appealed to me. And even after I started reading it, I wasn't immediately sold on the characters -- especially Sadie. However, all of a sudden, I became caught up in the characters' stories and I didn't want to put the book down. I found Jack's story to be interesting and I was a bit entertained by his desire to become an Englishman. I also found some humor in Sadie's attitude towards Jack, but mostly, I was saddened by her life story. But when the two of them moved to the English countryside and Jack decided to build his very own golf course (by himself!), I absolutely fell in love with this book and its characters.

There are so many things about this novel that I loved that I'm finding it difficult for me to articulate my thoughts about this book. However, what I think stood out the most to me about this novel were the characters of Jack and Sadie. When Jack and Sadie flee Germany at the beginning of WWII and head to England, Jack decides that he will make himself into the perfect English gentleman. In fact, he religiously follows the pamphlet he received upon entering the county and even adds his own notes to it. His wife, Sadie, isn't quite as comfortable leaving behind her memories from Berlin. She can't forget her family and her life prior to the war and she also has some serious misgivings about Jack's state of mind. It isn't until they both share a love of the English countryside that they also realize how much they appreciate and love each other. MR. ROSENBLUM DREAMS IN ENGLISH is not only an entertaining story, but it's also a beautiful love story!

By the end of the novel, I absolutely adored both characters as well as their relationship with each other. I couldn't help but fall in love with Jack and his constant up-beat personality. He was the epitome of perseverance and hope. Even though many of his actions (like writing golf legend Bobby Jones letters and trying to build his own golf course entirely on his own) might be interpreted as a little wacky, I found him to be positively delightful -- and I was even able to buy his naivete and hopeful nature. His wife, Sadie, also grew on me throughout the story. I could understand her feelings and her actions because she was reluctant to leave behind her family and their traditions. My heart just broke over and over again and I read about her sadness, and I thought the scenes where she baked her mother's Baumtorte recipe were especially touching.

One thing that I appreciated about this novel was that Natasha Solomons actually based this story on the lives of her grandparents. For some reason, that just made the book all the more charming to me. I really can't say enough about Ms. Solomons' storytelling abilities, yet there was so much more to this novel that just the delightful story. I thought Ms. Solomons' did an amazing job of developing memorable characters from Jack and Sadie to the assorted townspeople. And I also loved how she wove some elements of folklore into the story. In addition, I appreciated just how much this book entertained me. It made me laugh (a lot!) and tear up a few times, but it also made me think. I really can't ask much more of a novel that that!

MR. ROSENBLUM DREAMS IN ENGLISH would make a wonderful book club pick. (Check out the end of this post for a chance to win a set of books for your book club!) Not only is the story charming, but the characters are extremely interesting and worthy of discussion. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and scope of their actions. There is a reading guideSemitism, perseverance, faith, and friendship. In addition, there are also some folklore and religious traditions that might be interesting to analyze.

I'm sure that many book clubs would love discussing this book at a future meeting, but I'm also excited by how creative book clubs could prepare some food that ties into the novel -- like the Baumtorte Recipe. Food is a critical part of this novel and I especially appreciated the symbolism of the Baumtorte that Sadie made in honor of her mother. I was excited to see that the recipe for this cake is actually one from Natasha Solomons' grandmother, and I love that she's so willing to share it with her readers:

Baumtorte Recipe
as made by Natasha Solomons' grandmother

1 cup butter, unsalted
6 eggs
 Zest of one lemon
1 cup vanilla sugar
1 1/2 cups flour

Whisk together a batter made of eggs, sugar, flour and lemon zest. Grease a 9" cake tin and heat a griddle till hot. Spread a thin layer over the bottom of the pan and grill until it is done. Ladle on layer after layer and grill until the side of the cake looks like the rings of a tree.

Bake a layer for everyone you need to remember. Decorate with sugared lemon and orange peel, or in spring, frosted violets.

My grandmother insisted that three cakes should be make at once: one cooking, one spreading, and one pondering.

Overall, I this MR. ROSENBLUM DREAMS IN ENGLISH was a wonderful book and I can't recommend it enough. Reagan Arthur described it to me as a mix between THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY and the movie Waking Ned Devine -- she mentioned that "editors love comparisons." I think she's spot on and this book is not to be missed!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.
Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the folks at Hachette, I have a fantastic opportunity for one lucky book club. I am giving away a set (up to 8 books) of MR. ROSENBLUM DREAMS IN ENGLISH. In addition, the winning book club will receive a box of Walker's Shortbread -- how English is that? Make sure you share this giveaway with members of your book club to increase your chances of winning!

To enter, just fill out the form below. I will be taking entries until November 20th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. Open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!


Maw Books said...

Thanks Julie. This book sounds like it's great and we are always looking for great book club reads (which sadly my book club often turns to the NYT besteller list for ideas).

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Julie for the chance. I am so excited about this book. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is on of my all time favorite books and seems to have the same feel. I loved your review along with the recipe.I can't wait to try it.

bermudaonion said...

I'm so glad to see this book is so good, because my book club will be reading it in December.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great contest! I looked at this in the library, and put it back, but it has been getting great reviews, and I think I need to give it a chance!

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the great review Julie! I have this one on my shelf but still haven't had a chance to read it. I've found that some of those books that it takes me awhile to enjoy I have a greater appreciation for the book as a whole when I have completed it. Thanks for the giveaway!

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

My book club usually tries to tie the food we eat to something in the book we read. It's a fun addition to the discussion.

Rose City Reader

Alyce said...

This one is already on my wish list, so I was thrilled to see that you liked it so much!

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Nice review! It's on my wish list - I hope to read it maybe after the holidays. I wonder if a paperback is planned?

Meghan said...

I thought this book was wonderful when I read it! I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

Beth F said...

I am really looking forward to reading this one, and your review really has me convinced that I'll love it.

JoAnn said...

I'm looking forward to reading this, too. Brought it home from the library last month, but didn't get to it in time. My name is on the list again!

Marg said...

This is going to be my next read, and I am very much looking forward to it!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This sounds good Julie! I think my book club would enjoy this one and it looks like it would make a good discussion.

Sheila Deeth said...

Amazingly, our book club has 8 members, and I'm sure we'd enjoy this.