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on October 3, 1999
As most people of my acquaintance know, in my eyes, John Jakes is king. His characters never fail to intrigue; his seamless insertion of historical facts never cease to amaze, and his intermingling of fictional characters and real-life personages is his unequaled specialty. The eight-book series, "The Kent Family Chronicles," along with the "North & South Trilogy," remain my all-time favorites in the genre of historical fiction. These are the very books that inspired me to try my hand at novel writing. For that alone, Mr. Jakes has my undying gratitude and admiration.
Needless to say, any and all new offerings by this extraordinary talent are eagerly anticipated. And how I eagerly anticipated "American Dreams," which begins where the marvelous "Homeland" ended, albeit a few years later.
I will admit, I experienced mild disappointment when first I began reading. Oh, not that the characters, storyline, and historical details are anything but typical Jakes magic, but I was expecting the novel to feature Paul Crown, the young man who (in "Homeland") immigrated from Germany to Chicago in the late 1800s to make a new life for himself as a moving-picture camera operator during the Spanish/American war. Since Paul had proven himself a worthy lead character, I was hoping this sequel would dwell on his further adventures. Certainly, Paul does make an appearance, but in "American Dreams" he has been relegated to more of a minor role. Mr. Jakes, instead, has opted to feature Paul's cousins from Homeland, Fritzi Crown, and, to a lesser degree, her brother Carl.
My disappointment, thankfully, was short-lived. It soon becomes clear that Fritzi Crown is worthy of the starring role she is given. Though not a standard beauty, with her skinny legs, flat chest, and shock of wiry and unmanageable blonde hair, this tomboy does have a "certain something," a uniqueness that makes her unforgettable to the many persons she will meet as the story progresses.
Fritzi immediately charmed me. In the opening chapter, while thwarting a possible rape beside the waters of Lake Michigan, and without the aid of her trusty weapon of choice-a sharp hat pin-Fritzi relies on her natural-born gift for imitation.
"Don't let the long hair fool you, bub," she says to her would-be attacker in a replica of his manly baritone. "You've got the wrong fellow."
The tramp's vast shock gives her the seconds needed to make good her escape. This talent, along with her quick thinking and unwavering determination, will eventually make her a star. With dreams of a stage career (much to her father's dismay), Fritzi soon heads for New York City.
Her road, however, proves difficult, and at times, perilous. We follow Fritzi's less-than-meteoric rise to stardom, from her days as a starving thespian seeking that ever-elusive noteworthy role, to her steady gain in popularity by becoming, in her desperation, an actress in silent pictures, a medium she rather detests.
As with all of his previous historical work, Mr. Jakes comes through in spades, placing the reader smack dab in the center of the early motion-picture industry, from the hills of New Jersey to a one-horse town called Hollywood. While forging friendships with the likes of Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Fritzi makes a name for herself in one- and two-reelers. Her comedic timing, unconventional appearance, and chameleon-like expressions prove a powerful box-office draw. Still, despite her healthy income and growing success, Fritzi yearns to return to the stage. She doesn't want to be labeled a "film" actress, but a "serious" actress. Can she make the split with Hollywood and return to New York City, especially after she loses her heart to a movie extra?
Along with Fritzi's story, we also spend some time with her brother. Obsessed with all forms of transportation, the young Carl Crown heads for Detroit. There, he makes friends with Henry Ford, works on the racing circuit for Barney Oldfield, and forsakes love and marriage to a beautiful heiress, all for his dream to become an aviator.
In England, Paul Crown continues his career as a camera operator. Married and with a growing family, he finds himself in the company of people like Winston Churchill, filming often-violent suffragette movements in London, and capturing on newsreel footage the darker moments in human history, especially with the outbreak of the first World War.
The bottom line? Knowing how I feel about the author, do I even need to spell it out? Well, perhaps I should, in order to make it abundantly clear...
Throughout these 500 pages, Mr. Jakes delivers the goods. I daresay, out of all Mr. Jakes's female characters, Fritzi Crown came extremely close to beating out "North & South's" Madeline Main as my favorite. And believe me, that says a lot. In my humble opinion, though "American Dreams" might not be the best book Mr. Jakes has ever written, I still believe it outshines 99% of all other historicals on offer. Like all commendable historical novels, the characters in are enchanting, complicated, and utterly human. The history is detailed, convincing, and absolutely flawless. The story is occasionally amusing, ofttimes poignant, and always gripping. For anyone who has an interest in the days leading up to World War I, early auto racing and manufacturing, or the film industry in its infancy, this book is a must-read.
There, now, I've said it. And is anyone truly surprised?
Long live the king!
Trace Edward Zaber, Owner/Editor - Of Ages Past Magazine
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on March 12, 2002
I started reading this book for a project and ended up not wanting to put it down. This was my first exposure to anything that Jakes has written and I am already looking forward to reading his other books. He weaves in historical facts without the reader even realizing what he has done. This book gives the reader a feel for the time period right before the first world war, and by the end, the reader feels almost as if they could have lived through it themselves. This book was both exciting to read and educational. A welcome surprise!
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on December 28, 2013
This book plus Homeland are a look at the way people struggled to get to the United States in the late 1800's & early 1900's. These books really take you to those times & how people knew that with hard work they could achieve the "American Dream". The books are about the Crown family that immigrated from Germany and the people they touched. It also goes into how the Unions worked to get into businesses & Mr. Jakes was fair on the pros & cons of this happening.
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on October 13, 2013
John Jakes, along with Michener, Wouk and several other great writers make history accessible, exciting and entertaining. I would rather see someone read the entire Jakes series then turn their backs on history as a dull and uninspiring pursuit. American Dreams are part of the Crown Family saga - industrial age, turn of the century dynamics play out well in this series. Immigrant lives, social class and status, fame and prejudice - in short, all that makes us America is on full display with a backdrop of novelistic page-turning interest in the created characters that fuel these pages. If I had children coming of age I would encourage them to read everything Jakes has written, particularly if they were showing signs of turning their backs on history as something for dullards.
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on February 28, 2016
john jakes does it again...this is the kind of book that with every page you dread that it's that much closer to the end...the characters come alive and you feel you know your getting history lessons about the beginning of the 1900's...If you read Homeland you must read this..even if you didn't you don't feel like your missing out or not understanding what is going on...
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on April 24, 2013
A friend of mine recommended this book and others and have to say that I absolutely love them. Especially reading about the Historical significance of the time. Really makes you feel like your there seeing it all.
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on May 23, 2013
I have read a lot of John Jakes novels. All hold my attention to the very end. I really loved the 8 novels of the family that started with The Bastard. I may have to reread them since it was years ago I read them. The last two i read the Homeland and the American Dreams I liked because I like continuing novels about the same families.
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on December 31, 2013
Love the continuity from the last book Homeland to the end of this book. I become a character follower as I read of them from childhood to becoming adults. I find myself rooting them on, becoming angry with some of their choices, and thrilled with their success. I love the accuracy of the historical characters and happenings of the early 1900's. The one disappointment of this read is it's the last one of the Crown family, I would like to follow them on into WWII and further into the century as they seem like a real family.
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on December 2, 2015
This is a wonderful book. It is very interesting in that the setting is in the USA in the period just prior to the First World War, WW 1. It goes back to the causes and happenings leading up to the war with the Spanish in Cuba, the US Army in Tampa , and the American action during the Mexican war for independence. The labor turmoil during the period was well done as was the references to prohibition. The parts about the beginning and development of the movie industry during the silent film period were excellent. I would like to read a sequel to this book but I don't believe that there is a Crown Family Chronicles Book 3.
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on January 15, 2013
I know there isn't one, but I am going to miss the Crown family when I finish the book. I think I am reading it slowly because I don't want to say goodbye. I find the turn of the century very interesting and have really enjoyed exploring the early stages of the movie industry. The aviation - not so much.
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