Thursday, June 28, 2018

Book Brief: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal


by J. Ryan Stradal 
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 2015
310 pages

Motivation for reading: After an especially persuasive negative review, I vowed never to read this book. But Care  loved it... and because she is so persistent and has such awesome taste in books, I promised her I'd at least give it a try.

Source: ebook, purchased as a kindle daily deal

Publisher's summary:

When Lars Thorvald's wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine--and a dashing sommelier--he's left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He's determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter--starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva's journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that's a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal's startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life--its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

Opening lines:
Lars Thorvald loved two women. That was it, he though in passing while he sat on the cold concrete steps of his apartment building. Perhaps he would've loved more than two, but it just didn't seem like things were going to work out like that.
My thoughts:

What a pleasant surprise! I didn't expect to like this book, but the first pages grabbed me (they practically turned themselves) and before I knew it, I'd read the first chapter.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest  is primarily a novel about Eva, yet she is not always front and center. Many chapters focus on other characters as they move in and out of her life.  In some, Eva makes only a cameo appearance.

The chapters don't necessarily flow one into the next and, at times, I wondered if this could actually be a collection of connected stores. Taken together, they paint a portrait of Eva's life... an aspect reminded me of Olive Kitteridge  by Elizabeth Strout.

Food, of course, is a key component throughout. One particular dish is central to each chapter and recipes are included. The ending left this reader completely satisfied. Overall, a very enjoyable book. Thanks for the push, Care!

My rating:


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22 comments:

  1. oh - interesting about the negative review! I loved the beginning of this novel, but it overall didn't quite do it for me. I wanted more Eva throughout the whole novel.

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    1. Sarah - I practically inhaled the first chapter... couldn't put it down. But I'm with you in wanting more of Eva, there were such long stretches where she didn't appear at all.

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  2. I read this when it first came out and loved it too.

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    1. Kathy - and to think I would've missed it without Care's encouragement...

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  3. I'm so glad you enjoyed this. I couldn't get into it...but it was definitely a book I wanted to like!

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    1. Audrey - I devoured the first chapter, but shortly after starting the second, I set it aside for several weeks... was a little bored. Got hooked again when I went back. Maybe it was my mood or timing?

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  4. Well, maybe I'll have to give it a second chance. I tried once and couldn't get interested, but it could have been a timing issue. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. Les - I loved the beginning, then got bored and set it aside for a few weeks. It was fine when I went back to it but, if you didn't get an initial positive vibe, it might not be a book for you.

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  5. This book was a welcome surprise to me! It really has so much to love.

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    1. Ti - This seems to be a book I appreciated more the more I thought about it. A very interesting structure, in my opinion.

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  6. I almost read this a while back but didn't. I may end up adding it to my list though.

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    1. Vicki - Who knows, it may end up jumping out at you in the library sometime ;-)

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  7. Sounds pretty good. I certainly like the cover🐧🤠

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    1. Pam - It was a good read... so glad I decided to give it a try. A nice cover is always a plus for me, too ;-)

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  8. I am so glad that you changed your mind about it!

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  9. I wonder how this would be in audio? I sort of wrote it off after a few negative reviews. Glad it seemed to work for you.

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    1. Diane - Just had to check and the ratings are very high on audible. Might be worth a shot. I'd written the book off, too, and am glad Care was persistent!

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  10. This one was on my TBR as soon as it came out but then I heard some bad reviews and put it to the side. You've definitely changed my mind about it as I love how you've described it and I adore books with food.

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    1. Katherine - The negative reviews had me convinced I'd hate it, so my experience was a very pleasant surprise. Yours might be, too!

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  11. I was finally convinced to read this one, too. I even made my book club read it and it was a big hit that kept us talking a long time. I loved the interconnected stories as a way to move Eva's life forward.

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    1. Lisa - The structure was my favorite element of this novel. I think the interconnected stories approach worked just as well for Eva as they did for Olive Kitteridge!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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