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Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel Hardcover – July 28, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of August 2015: Get ready for the jokes. I’d wager you’ll be hearing that J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest is “delicious” and that he has “cooked up” a great story about food and foodies, a story that will leave you “satisfied, not hungry for more.” I would try not to make such lame jokes here, but what can I say? This debut novel is as tempting as a piece of Key Lime pie, so perfect is its ratio of tart-to-sweet. The ingredients: a misfit Midwestern girl whose special gift happens to be a golden palate; single-parented by a large and lovable father/chef, she can taste a spice in a trice, and manage the hottest sauces west of the Mississippi. Never mind that Eva is shy and sort of weird looking, she knows she’s got the secret sauce and she grows more confident by the day, thanks to such concoctions as the simplest pan sautéed Walleye and original, perfect Caesar salad (which, if you don’t know – and I didn’t – was not an invention of Julius Caesar but rather that of one Italian-born chef named Caesar Cardini). No one, least of all, Eva, is surprised when she becomes a superstar chef in our food-obsessed culture. Eva knows that people do not live by even home baked bread alone – and her quest in this novel is for sustenance of the emotional kind. Whether and where and how she finds it is the book’s special treat. And yes, you will devour it. – Sara Nelson
From School Library Journal
Top Customer Reviews
The protagonist in this story is a woman named Eva, daughter of Lars Thorvald and his wife, Cynthia. When we first meet her Eva is just a baby and lives with her parents in Minnesota. Although her father Lars had no special training and came from a working class family, he has a special gift; he can discern various tastes and flavors from foods and loves to cook. Lars adores his daughter but his wife Cynthia realizes too late that she doesn't want to be a mother and would rather be a sommelier. The chapter ends and important decisions have been made about young Eva's life and care.
At this point I don't want to give away any more of the plot. I did not read a summary of this book and I had no idea what each chapter would bring and I think that's for the best. I will tell you that each chapter goes in chronological order and Eva is an important character in each chapter. As you read along, try to remember some of the names of the characters you will meet because you will often read about them later on. I really had fun with that and it added to my enjoyment of this book.
Each chapter is named after a food/dish and the book is replete with fun recipes. Food is so important, that's it's almost a character in the story.
I had such a good time reading this book and when I put the book down, I couldn't wait to pick it up again which is high praise from me. I don't have to like a character to enjoy a book, but I found myself loving so many of the people we meet in this novel. The whole thing was very quirky with lots of humor thrown in for good measure.
(Note, there were just few discrepancies in the book that took me out of the story for a moment, such as describing one character as six feet tall and then later on referring to her as "short and slender." But these are minor quibbles in an exceptional book and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.)
But the story is charming too: the story of Eva, who grows from quirky girl growing habaneros in her closet to the most sought after chef around. Don't read the book hungry!
It was possibly inevitable that the daughter of an up-and-coming Minneapolis chef and a sommelier-in-training would grow up to have a refined palate and a passion for good food and wine, but Eva Thorvald largely had to come to this place without the direct aid of her parents. Abandoned by her mother as a newborn, Eva also lost her father when she was just an infant, and was raised by an aunt and uncle who preferred McDonald's hamburgers to the heirloom tomatoes and heritage pork shoulder that Eva's father hoped to introduce her to.
Nevertheless, in the linked chapters that compose KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST, Eva finds herself compelled to pursue tastes and flavors (even outrageously spicy ones) and to learn as much as she can about cooking, even from a very early age. Despite the loss of the foodie parents she never knew, Eva matures into a woman --- and a chef --- either of her parents would be proud to know and gratified to be fed by.
Much like Elizabeth Strout's OLIVE KITTERIDGE, KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST is a "novel in stories," told from the points of view of eight different characters and touching more or less obliquely on Eva's life. She appears in each of the stories but is rarely, if ever, the central character.Read more ›
The reading is realistic, for what passes as conversational thought and language today, in that there are f words and babies with snot and boys popping pimples.
Some of the chapters leave you hanging and this is where the book develops its unique style. Each chapter could be a story, but they all intertwined, sometimes in a minor way with Eva. It is not always a simple storyline. There are a lot of characters and you must remember names and how they are interwoven with each other and the plot.
This is not a book with emphasis on kitchens, although there are recipes interspersed in the story, including one baked bar recipe that winds up in a $5,000 menu. The characters and their stories are what makes this an engrossing novel that is remarkable to read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I am from the Midwest, and could relate to the story through past experience. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Mary E Gutwein
I thoroughly enjoyed the interwoven characters and plots, all with a theme of food. Being a cook and foodie myself, I was had high hopes and I was not disappointed. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Madeleine M. Holdsworth
I really enjoyed this book despite the fact that it had some really sad parts and a sad ending that leaves you wanting more. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Rubia
This is not a feel good book. Very gross. Went as far as I could but could not finish. It will appeal to a certain type of person no doubt. Read morePublished 6 days ago by Shopping Is Fun
I could not put this book down. Surprisingly interesting and thought provoking. Thought it would be a quick forgettable read. Pleasantly surprised!Published 7 days ago by Kathleen Frazer
Pleasant story of family history in the Midwest with a sad ending. A good quick read that brings you back to growing up in Minnesota.Published 9 days ago by Amazon Customer