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Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel Hardcover – July 28, 2015

4.1 out of 5 stars 463 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

Stradal's novel chronicles the young life of Eva Thorvald, beginning with her birth to a woman who would rather become an expert sommelier than a mom and who leaves with no forwarding address. Her father dies shortly after of a heart attack. The narrative then moves on to three key moments in Eva's life: in her preteens, her teens, and her 20s. Each section ends in a suspenseful way and many of the characters reappear in later sections. Eva's teen years are crucial to the other parts of the narrative. Her arrival in a new high school brings romance with a boy who is awkward but smitten. Meanwhile, she works in a restaurant to help her ailing uncle and guardian pay the bills. In the restaurant, she learns about food and acquires a reputation for her marvelous palate, preparing the way for Eva's 20s, when her dinners, given as private reserved affairs, bring her fame and satisfaction. There is much to love here for readers of all ages. Stradal's gentle humor pokes fun at such Midwest customs as calling any cold food a salad and satirizes a few young foodies, too. The plot moves quickly, and the unusual and stimulating structure allows readers to think about what may have happened during the gaps. And teens will enjoy seeing a girl who cannot finish high school nevertheless become a success. VERDICT A very special novel most readers will hate to see end.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books; 1 edition (July 28, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052542914X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525429142
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (463 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 11, 2015
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brief summary and review.

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.

Highly recommended.

(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.)
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Format: Kindle Edition
Being from the midwest probably made me love this book more than I should have, because it was like going home. It had me from page 2, with this line"Theirs was a mixed race marriage--between a Norwegian and a Dane-- and thus all things culturally important to one but not the other were given a free pass and critiqued only in unmixed company." Perhaps that's something only someone from Minnesota or Iowa might understand, but it made me laugh out loud, along with many other "insider" jokes that kept me turning the pages. Lots of double entendre and humor that plays both with the foodie culture and the back to nature world of fresh food. I can't wait to make Pat's peanut butter bars and remember those long days in the Lutheran church.
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!
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Format: Hardcover
I knew I was going to love J. Ryan Stradal's KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST from the very first page, where he mentions Happy Chef, a beloved diner I remember well from my years growing up in Minnesota. Stradal, a lifelong Midwesterner who recently moved to Los Angeles, suffuses his debut novel with place-specific details like this, but it's not just current or former Midwesterners who will respond positively to the book. It's about food, family, and maturing into the life you were born to live, sometimes without really knowing why.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
From the first page ‘Kitchens of the Midwest” introduces you to many of the people you will meet in the Midwest – others are such complicated characters that it makes the reader turn the pages to find out what happens in their lives.
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.
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