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Kitchens of the Great Midwest PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Author: J. Ryan Stradal
Publisher: Published July 28th 2015 by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
ISBN: 9780525429142
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

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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 haba 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.

30 review for Kitchens of the Great Midwest

  1. 5 out of 5

    karen

    this is a book that uses that kooky structure i so enjoy when it's done right. like John's Wife and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, we learn about the life of one character, here eva thorvald, through the eyes of the people who knew her at various stages in her life. in a series of episodic stories told by her father, her first boyfriend, a jealous rival, her cousin, etc etc - people who knew her well and people who knew her briefly, we watch her progress from an orphaned baby to a master ch this is a book that uses that kooky structure i so enjoy when it's done right. like John's Wife and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, we learn about the life of one character, here eva thorvald, through the eyes of the people who knew her at various stages in her life. in a series of episodic stories told by her father, her first boyfriend, a jealous rival, her cousin, etc etc - people who knew her well and people who knew her briefly, we watch her progress from an orphaned baby to a master chef, successful and bold. like those other books, everything we know about eva comes through the filter of another, with their own perspectives and prejudices. and while i liked this book very much, i don't think the potential of the unusual structure was exploited to its fullest extent. normally in a book set up in this way, there's some psychological unpacking required of the reader, a complexity that needs to be dissected in order to fully comprehend the voiceless character. this one doesn't have much in the way of subjective intricacies; eva's character remains consistent throughout, and while some characters (well - one character) interpret(s) her behavior in an unflattering light based on their own prejudices, the eva on the page comes through the same regardless of the narrator's stance - good-hearted, a little clumsy, driven and talented. this is more of a charming read centered around a likable character than any sort of commentary about how we perceive others or construct our own narrative around them. it's light and sweet and fun, which is not usually my cuppa, but i must have been in the right mood for it this time, because i enjoyed it, to my own delighted surprise. there were a couple of things that halted me at the four-star mark - while i loved braque's chapter overall, it was a little jarring when it dipped its toe in the magical realism pool, when the rest of the book was straight realism. and then the ending was a bit contrived and treacly, in that "coincidence jubilee" way that always makes my teeth itch. but those were minor, karen-specific complaints. overall, this book was great - i loved the food writing, i loved the bake-off chapter, with its spotlight on how obnoxious modern-day foodies can be, and i even liked the inclusion of the recipes, even though they weren't the most staggeringly exotic dishes in the world. but this passage made me so hungry and jealous: The third dish, a tiny cut of venison steak, about half the size of a playing card, with tomatoes and sweet pepper jelly, was a different matter. The venison, firm enough to meet your teeth, and soft enough to yield agreeably in your mouth, revealed subtle, steely new flavors with each bite, while the tomatoes were so full of richness and warm blood, it was like eating a sleeping animal. Their pairing, the light-bodied Pinot, didn't erase these senses, it crept beneath their power, underlining them. It was about as much flavor as fifteen seconds were capable of; after one bite and one sip of wine, Cindy felt luminous and exhausted. and this cracked me up: "You want to feed carrot cake to a four-month-old?" Dr. Latch asked. "Not a lot of carrot cake," Lars said. "I mean, a small portion. A baby portion. I'm just concerned about the nuts in the recipe. I mean, I guess I could make it without nuts. But my mom always made it with nuts. What do you think?" "Eighteen months. At the earliest. Probably wait until age two to be safe." "I could be wrong, but I remember my younger siblings eating carrot cake really young. There's a picture of my brother Jarl on the day he turned one. They gave him a little carrot cake and he smeared it in his hair." "That's the best outcome in that situation, probably." "Well, now he's bald." "Looking over your dietary plan here, I'd have more immediate reservations." "Like what?" "Well, pork shoulder to a three-month-old baby. Not advisable." "puréed, maybe?" Lars asked. "I could braise it first. Or maybe just roast the bones and make pork stock for a demi-glace. That wouldn't be my first choice, though." "You work at Hutmacher's, right?" Dr. Latch said. "You do make an excellent pork shoulder. But give it at least two years." "Two years, huh?" He didn't want to tell Dr. Latch that this conversation crushed his heart, but the doctor seemed to perceive this. "I understand your eagerness to share your life's passion with your first child. I see different versions of this all the time. The time will come. For now, just breast milk and formula for the first three months." "That's awful," Lars said. so cute. it's a light and enjoyable read, touching on the issues of nature v. nurture, family loyalty, reluctant maternity, the evolution of food culture, and the ripple effect of intersecting lives. a delicious debut. (groan) also - on the back of my arc, in the "publicity" section, it says there will be a magazine editors farm-to-table luncheon and bookseller dinners. someone please come feed me food!! come to my blog!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roxane

    Warm and charming. Interesting narrative structure. At times, Eva felt a bit manic pixie dream girl. But it is really nice to see such a lovely novel about people from the Midwest. A really fine debut.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This is a charming foodie novel. I had expected a sweet story, but the book ended up surprising me with its richness and depth. What I liked best about this book was how each chapter was told from a different person's perspective. First we meet Lars, a chef who who adores his baby daughter, Eva. Lars' wife abruptly abandons them for another man, forcing him to be a single dad. The next chapter focuses on Eva as a young girl. Eva has inherited her father's gift for cooking, and we watch her grow This is a charming foodie novel. I had expected a sweet story, but the book ended up surprising me with its richness and depth. What I liked best about this book was how each chapter was told from a different person's perspective. First we meet Lars, a chef who who adores his baby daughter, Eva. Lars' wife abruptly abandons them for another man, forcing him to be a single dad. The next chapter focuses on Eva as a young girl. Eva has inherited her father's gift for cooking, and we watch her grow into her talent. Future narrators are all tangentially linked to Eva, and it was fun seeing the different viewpoints. I especially liked the description of a Lutheran church bake-off, and the story of an unusual pepper-eating contest. I am from the Midwest, and I enjoyed the references to the regional foods, including lutefisk and dessert bars. If my grandmother were alive, I would give her this book, and she would smile. Recommended to those who like heartwarming, foodie stories.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laurel

    Kitchens of the Great Midwest (or more aptly called “Eva’s Life by Way of Briefly Mentioning Food) takes Eva Thorvald rather rapidly from a newly-orphaned babe to a Scandinavian goddess with chipped fingernail polish who has a palate for either extremely hot peppers or one able to discern individual flavors from the most simply and exquisitely prepared dish. I grew up in the Midwest and lived in both Iowa and Minnesota so was excited to read this book. I knew many of the place names and was able Kitchens of the Great Midwest (or more aptly called “Eva’s Life by Way of Briefly Mentioning Food) takes Eva Thorvald rather rapidly from a newly-orphaned babe to a Scandinavian goddess with chipped fingernail polish who has a palate for either extremely hot peppers or one able to discern individual flavors from the most simply and exquisitely prepared dish. I grew up in the Midwest and lived in both Iowa and Minnesota so was excited to read this book. I knew many of the place names and was able to picture the settings, but to me it wasn’t enough to save this book. It’s not good chick lit and it’s not a good foodie book. The title is a misnomer. There is very little to tie this book together and the ending was so abrupt I couldn’t really believe I’d reached it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Kitchens of the Great Midwest is hilarious without being cynical, touching without being overly sentimental, and wholly original. It is one of those rare books you can finish in a day or two, but won't stop thinking about for months, and J. Ryan Stradal's voice is one of a kind. He captures the cadence of the Midwest perfectly and lovingly, and while he allows the reader to laugh at some of the more "stereotypical" midwestern characters, it never feels like these characters are being mocked. As Kitchens of the Great Midwest is hilarious without being cynical, touching without being overly sentimental, and wholly original. It is one of those rare books you can finish in a day or two, but won't stop thinking about for months, and J. Ryan Stradal's voice is one of a kind. He captures the cadence of the Midwest perfectly and lovingly, and while he allows the reader to laugh at some of the more "stereotypical" midwestern characters, it never feels like these characters are being mocked. As the title implies, the novel (structured as a series of vignettes, each from the POV of a different person in the main character's life) centers around food and the Midwest, but it is not necessary to be a foodie or a midwesterner to relate to its vibrant characters. I spent the entire novel growing to love each character, being horribly disappointed when a chapter would end and the book would switch POVs, growing to love that new character even more, then starting the cycle all over again. An absolute unmissable must-read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    My, oh my, did I love this book. I'm not sure if it resonated so strongly because: a) I spent most of my growing-up years in the Midwest b) I married a man from Minnesota c) I have actually eaten lutefisk d) My in-laws once, as a gift, gave me The Central Lutheran School of St. Paul, MN Cookbook (and it wasn't a gag gift). Said cookbook includes an entire chapter dedicated to bars. Stradal's book isn't quite a novel, and isn't exactly a collection of short stories, but more like "snapshots" of life, w My, oh my, did I love this book. I'm not sure if it resonated so strongly because: a) I spent most of my growing-up years in the Midwest b) I married a man from Minnesota c) I have actually eaten lutefisk d) My in-laws once, as a gift, gave me The Central Lutheran School of St. Paul, MN Cookbook (and it wasn't a gag gift). Said cookbook includes an entire chapter dedicated to bars. Stradal's book isn't quite a novel, and isn't exactly a collection of short stories, but more like "snapshots" of life, with each chapter told by a different narrator. These snapshots take place at different intervals in time, often with major gaps in time in between, but in some way involve the character Eva Torvald. We follow Eva from infancy though adulthood and see her challenges and triumphs. Each of the snapshots is strong, though my favorite was the one titled "Bars." Stradal does a fantastic job of capturing human character and foibles. He deftly (and hilariously) contrasts typical Midwestern culture with foodie hipness. Although I was provided a galley of the book, I ended up listening to the audio version, which was superb. 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5. Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for a galley of the book in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    Was I entertained? Yes. Did I love the book? No. Can he write? Definitely! Was I frustrated with the narration? Yes. Did I like the ending? I think so. The final chapter was far-fetched, but I enjoyed the final paragraph. I'll try to explain myself. This is a very different type of book. Without giving away any spoilers, the story is about Eva - her infancy, childhood and young adulthood. She is born with an amazing palate and has always been absurdly obsessed with food. There are numerous characters Was I entertained? Yes. Did I love the book? No. Can he write? Definitely! Was I frustrated with the narration? Yes. Did I like the ending? I think so. The final chapter was far-fetched, but I enjoyed the final paragraph. I'll try to explain myself. This is a very different type of book. Without giving away any spoilers, the story is about Eva - her infancy, childhood and young adulthood. She is born with an amazing palate and has always been absurdly obsessed with food. There are numerous characters in this book and the frustration for me is in the narration. Each chapter is a new story - a new character, a new time period and a new event. While the chapter's story furthers the timeline of the overall arc of the book, you are initially trying to figure out how this person figures in with Eva's life and how old Eva is now & what she might be doing at that point in her life. Each event becomes very compelling and then the author will simply stop the chapter and that story without a resolution to the climax. Was Eva suspended? Did Braque have the baby? How did Jordy get beat up? Did the police officer find the drugs? This book might not be as confusing if you can sit down and read it in its entirety. But, for me, it was hard to pick up again and try to figure out where I was. Kudos to the author for making me care about so many people and about the unanswered questions. The contemporary references to music, fashion, and the "foodie" trends are really fun. And, for originality, he gets an A+! Including the ending - which easily could have been botched. It was not anything I would have anticipated. 3.5 stars for me. Recommended for those who are looking for something very different to read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 On the surface, and of course from the title it seems like this would be a book about food. It is but also much, much more. We first get to know Eva as a baby and from there each chapter is narrated by a different character and highlights a different food. Almost more like connected narratives, than one continuing story. We learn about Eva, and her wonderful palate as well as her cooking talent from others, connected to her either loosely or personally. Found this to be a novel concept and c 3.5 On the surface, and of course from the title it seems like this would be a book about food. It is but also much, much more. We first get to know Eva as a baby and from there each chapter is narrated by a different character and highlights a different food. Almost more like connected narratives, than one continuing story. We learn about Eva, and her wonderful palate as well as her cooking talent from others, connected to her either loosely or personally. Found this to be a novel concept and construct. This is a novel about friends, family and acquaintances, about loyalty and trying new things and ideas. I loved how this all came together, hearing about bits and pieces of Eva's life. I did not feel close to this character, but I did feel I knew her, what she stood for and whom she valued. The ending I thought tied everything and everybody together. Also liked that it was left somewhat open, not a typical cliched ending. Kept, I thought with the spirit of the book. Well written, first novel about the ties that bind, the things that matter and the importance of the people who enter our lives, however fleetingly. Looking forward to seeing what this author tackles next.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn Day

    I told a friend yesterday that this book is almost perfect. It’s so rare to read a novel that just makes you happy–that makes you smile at the end. I loved the story, starting from the moment Eva’s chef father asked a confused pediatrician why he couldn’t feed his three-month-old daughter pork shoulder. ("For now, just breast milk and formula for the first three months." "That’s awful," Lars said.) The book starts and ends with food, and in the meantime, each chapter focuses on a particular fami I told a friend yesterday that this book is almost perfect. It’s so rare to read a novel that just makes you happy–that makes you smile at the end. I loved the story, starting from the moment Eva’s chef father asked a confused pediatrician why he couldn’t feed his three-month-old daughter pork shoulder. ("For now, just breast milk and formula for the first three months." "That’s awful," Lars said.) The book starts and ends with food, and in the meantime, each chapter focuses on a particular family member, friend, or acquaintance in Eva’s life. It’s almost short story-like in this way, with those singular characters being real and interesting enough to warrant full-length novels about their own lives. The last chapter and the final moments of the book are genius, with Eva’s story coming to an effortless (and beautifully-written) conclusion. I want to give this book to everyone I know. It’s maybe the most fun I’ve had reading this year and I’m only disappointed that the story had to end. Thanks to Penguin for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for a review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    N. Moss

    Oh my god I love this book. It careens in a way that has kept me in a tense place where I don't want to stop reading, but I don't want to rush the book either. The voice of each chapter is unique and hilarious and touching, and I am in love with Eva, the protagonist who grows and eats and cooks with incredibly hot peppers, and turns into this weird, goth, cool chef chick and more. I don't want to give anything away, but this is one of those books that I can't believe I get to be "in on" before i Oh my god I love this book. It careens in a way that has kept me in a tense place where I don't want to stop reading, but I don't want to rush the book either. The voice of each chapter is unique and hilarious and touching, and I am in love with Eva, the protagonist who grows and eats and cooks with incredibly hot peppers, and turns into this weird, goth, cool chef chick and more. I don't want to give anything away, but this is one of those books that I can't believe I get to be "in on" before it hits the big time. It's going to be a huge hit, and J. Ryan Stradal is going to be a huge star, and it's going to be a movie some day (mark my words).

  11. 4 out of 5

    MomToKippy

    The title and cover of this book give the false impression that it will encompass a warm and maybe historical feel of the food traditions and people of the midwest. The only reason I read over 80 pages in this is because I grew up on some of the streets mentioned and the places that provided the setting for this abysmal story. The adults have few redeeming qualities, the college student was just so trashy (the attitude toward her pregnancy was pretty revolting too) and the food aspect of this is The title and cover of this book give the false impression that it will encompass a warm and maybe historical feel of the food traditions and people of the midwest. The only reason I read over 80 pages in this is because I grew up on some of the streets mentioned and the places that provided the setting for this abysmal story. The adults have few redeeming qualities, the college student was just so trashy (the attitude toward her pregnancy was pretty revolting too) and the food aspect of this is really weak to me. I get no feel of "kitchens" or the "great midwest." The only connection to food I can make here is with the compost pile or the garbage disposal.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    What can I say, this book was perfectly tailored to all of my literary tastes. No pun intended, I swear. I always have the hardest time writing reviews for books that I fall in love with. It’s so much harder to quantify, “this book gave me lots of feelings” in a way that’s more than just SQUEEEEE!!!, and I always feel a lot of pressure to moderate myself because what if people read the book because I loved it here on Goodreads and then they hate it—and thus, they hate me? (Yes, that’s how my brai What can I say, this book was perfectly tailored to all of my literary tastes. No pun intended, I swear. I always have the hardest time writing reviews for books that I fall in love with. It’s so much harder to quantify, “this book gave me lots of feelings” in a way that’s more than just SQUEEEEE!!!, and I always feel a lot of pressure to moderate myself because what if people read the book because I loved it here on Goodreads and then they hate it—and thus, they hate me? (Yes, that’s how my brain works sometimes. Social anxiety is exhausting.) But, nevertheless, I fell head over heels in love with this book. I read it in a day and a half. I could have done it even faster if I didn’t have to sleep. It’s essentially the story of Eva as she grows from an infant to a world-renowned young chef. Each chapter relates a scene from a different period of her life, related to the reader through the narrative of another person in her life and framed around essential dishes that informed her tastes and her memories. We start with her father, who grew up cooking lutefisk in Minnesota and passed on his obsessive foodieness to his infant daughter. We then meet cousins, would-be boyfriends, and social arch-rivals who shine a light onto the arc of Eva’s growth. These characters weave in and out of Eva’s life over the years in unique and surprising ways before it all ties together at the end. If I were to dock this book any points, it’s that a couple of the chapters stray a little too far away from Eva in their focus and so Eva never became quite as sharp a character as I really wanted her to be. Maybe this bothered me because the book didn’t quite head in the direction I expected it to ((view spoiler)[I really thought the back half was going to be about Eva tracking down her mother (hide spoiler)] ), but it didn’t bother me enough to actually dock points. I liked the way that the plot unravels, illuminating exactly why a specific dish or ingredient planted itself in Eva’s memory, but what I really loved was the way Stradal writes. It’s so very Midwestern, breezy and light but filled with subtle emotional heft that isn’t totally evident until I was all done and looking back on the story as a whole. After a series of completely dreary books, the relatively upbeat tone of this book was completely refreshing—a testament to “right book at the right time,” I suppose. The characters were (almost) all incredibly likable, even the ones who were doing unlikable things. Stradal is nothing if not full of empathy for these characters. It’s basically a warm fuzzy in book form, but it’s not all fluff and sugar; it does run just a little deeper than that. Even if it’s not capital-L Lit-rah-chure, there’s lots of ideas about family and identity and community and taking risks and the incestuous wonder that is Small-Town America. I really connected pretty hard with a lot of the notes that Stradal was striking, and the book frequently made me laugh out loud. It was a wonderful way to spend two days, and I do so very much recommend it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    3 1/2 stars. Kitchens of the Great Midwest made me hungry. It's not a cookbook, but interspersed amongst these connected stories are a few recipes and descriptions of really tasty sounding dishes. The link between all of the stories is Eva, who has a rough start in life when her mother abandons her as a baby and her father dies soon after from a heart attack. She is then raised as their own by her father's brother and his wife. The book consists of a series of interlinked stories told from the p 3 1/2 stars. Kitchens of the Great Midwest made me hungry. It's not a cookbook, but interspersed amongst these connected stories are a few recipes and descriptions of really tasty sounding dishes. The link between all of the stories is Eva, who has a rough start in life when her mother abandons her as a baby and her father dies soon after from a heart attack. She is then raised as their own by her father's brother and his wife. The book consists of a series of interlinked stories told from the perspective of people somehow connected to Eva, starting in her childhood and running through to her adulthood. From an early age, Eva has an unusually developed palate and love of food and cooking. Some of the stories are very closely connected to Eva and in others she is only referred to tangentially. But the stories are connected thematically -- they deal to a large extent with ordinary people coping with relationships, financial troubles and illness, and the comfort provided by love, friendship and nourishment. Oddly, we never get to know Eva particularly well, but within a world that is at times harsh or indifferent, she is portrayed as a resilient graceful presence -- strong, generous, and self-assured despite her own personal circumstances. This is a relatively quick read. I liked some stories more than others, but I liked the concept and generally enjoyed the execution. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    For me this book is just one of those that starts off great and just slowly keeps sliding downhill. I also didn't get why it even included recipes, it's like the author thought that would be cool but it doesn't add anything to the story at all. I don't want to say too much about the ending so I don't spoil anything but let's just say I thought it was bad. Kitchens of the Great Midwest has promise but could have used a strong editor to really push Stradal's story into something amazing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    ☮Karen

    Just as your first steaming cup of coffee of the morning, sweet butter melting on freshly baked bread, a brilliant red heirloom tomato, a slice of carrot cake, and wine, great wine, are meant to be savored, so are these stories of Eva Thorvald. Born to a woman who chose a sommelier over her and a man who cherished her more than life itself, she grew up in our great Midwest learning about fresh food and family through osmosis. The descriptions made me hungry for farm stand produce and Peanut Butt Just as your first steaming cup of coffee of the morning, sweet butter melting on freshly baked bread, a brilliant red heirloom tomato, a slice of carrot cake, and wine, great wine, are meant to be savored, so are these stories of Eva Thorvald. Born to a woman who chose a sommelier over her and a man who cherished her more than life itself, she grew up in our great Midwest learning about fresh food and family through osmosis. The descriptions made me hungry for farm stand produce and Peanut Butter Bars from the Lutheran church's bake sale. I'm craving bi-color corn and a huge juicy vine-ripened tomato picked fresh this morning, still warm from the bright sunshine so missing from this January day here near Chicago. Food truly is a language we can all speak, even when there are no words for what's in our hearts. It's a one of a kind 5 ★ story and a debut to boot. You did an excellent job, J. Ryan Stradal. Your mother taught you well. Thanks for the memories, for this was a great experience I won't soon forget.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan Elizabeth Phillips

    Quirky and courageous with an absolutely fascinating structure. A few elements of magical realism. This would be a terrific book club book. It will especially resonate with Midwesterners. (Not a romance.)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (Nearly 4.5) One of my favorite debuts of 2015. From my Bookmarks review: Stradal has revealed that his grandmother’s Lutheran church cookbook was the inspiration for this culinary-themed novel that takes place over the course of 30 years. His unique structure takes what are essentially short stories from different perspectives and time periods and links them loosely through Eva Thorvald, an intriguing character who remains hard to pin down. Eva’s pop-up supper club gains fame thanks to her inno (Nearly 4.5) One of my favorite debuts of 2015. From my Bookmarks review: Stradal has revealed that his grandmother’s Lutheran church cookbook was the inspiration for this culinary-themed novel that takes place over the course of 30 years. His unique structure takes what are essentially short stories from different perspectives and time periods and links them loosely through Eva Thorvald, an intriguing character who remains hard to pin down. Eva’s pop-up supper club gains fame thanks to her innovative adaptations of traditional Midwestern foods like venison or Scandinavian lutefisk; it charges $5,000 a head. Yet this is “not only Eva’s story but also a gastronomic portrait of a region” (New York Times Book Review). For me the best chapter was “Bars,” but it’s not the only one in which Stradal cleverly denies the fairytale ending readers might be expecting. I, at least, thought traditional home cook Pat Prager should trounce all those hipsters and their vegan/gluten-free/celiac/raw baked goods at the bake-off and go on to culinary stardom. What actually happens is rather different, though the time lapse between chapters means you get to fill in some of the intervening plot for yourself. I loved almost all of Stradal’s ordinary, flawed characters. If you want a peek at how average Americans live (apart from the $5,000 meals), you’ll find it here. (Quick marketing question that I ask out of curiosity: how do you think the decision was made to pass this off as a novel, but Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno as “Stories”? Although Eva appears in some way in each of the chapters here, it can sometimes be like a game of Where’s Waldo/Wally – how will she turn up now? By contrast, Marra’s stories are more closely linked. Perhaps the difference is simply that his chapters are not chronological?)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Lane

    Two Cups of Strange Characters, A Tablespoon of Food Porn, And a Dash of Midwest I’m not sure how to rate this book. The writing is top notch with unique characters. But parts of the story disappointed or disgusted me, and the ending felt anticlimactic. Eva Thorvald is just a baby when her sommelier mother abandons her. Her foodie father, who serves her gourmet delicacies, dies next. Despite this tumultuous childhood, Eva grows up to be a world-renown chef. This book is Eva’s story, told through m Two Cups of Strange Characters, A Tablespoon of Food Porn, And a Dash of Midwest I’m not sure how to rate this book. The writing is top notch with unique characters. But parts of the story disappointed or disgusted me, and the ending felt anticlimactic. Eva Thorvald is just a baby when her sommelier mother abandons her. Her foodie father, who serves her gourmet delicacies, dies next. Despite this tumultuous childhood, Eva grows up to be a world-renown chef. This book is Eva’s story, told through multiple points of view by the characters around her. It took me a while to figure out that she is the central character due to many different threads woven into the story. When Eva is a teenager, she dates Will Prager. It’s a realistic portrayal of the awkward fail that is adolescent romance. Will’s buddies are great: Vik got up from his drum stool. “Ken, weren’t you listening? He got hugged at the end of a second date! Hugged! I wouldn’t wish that on anybody! Seriously, you’d rather get slapped in the face than hugged!” Musician Will writes a song for Eva (that she never gets to hear). Most of the music mentioned in the book is too alternative for me to recognize, but I do appreciate the shout-out to “The Distance” by Cake. My least favorite character is Eva’s cousin, Braque, who plays varsity softball at Northwestern University. The way Braque thinks and speaks makes me cringe. It’s like the author removes all her femininity to portray a female athlete. I just found her gross. And I didn’t really understand her hallucinations about sweet pepper jelly. My favorite part of the story is the suspenseful baking contest. Pat is a churchwoman with famous peanut butter bars, competing against gluten-free, organic, non-GMO, and local-sourced food. She’s so down to earth and real. Pat’s kind gesture to another parishioner made me misty-eyed. This conversation between Pat’s friends is SO Midwest: ”I like those capri pants, Barb,” Celeste said. “Oh, thanks. Got ‘em at Kohl’s. Originally fifty dollars, cut down to twenty-nine, but I got ‘em for nineteen with a coupon.” Everyone nodded in admiration at the good value. “The blouse was even a better deal,” Barb continued. “It’s Guess brand, originally seventy-nine dollars, but I got it at TJ Maxx for eighteen.” I also connected with the parallel conversation between Pat and her husband; both talking but neither listening to each other. The food descriptions are mouth-watering, culminating in one of Eva’s celebrated pop-up dinners with a succulent menu including foods mentioned throughout the story. Finally, I thought. This is the time when the separate threads of a story weave together at the end for an exciting climax. But the threads seemed to unravel in the realistic yet unsatisfying ending. Pat's and Will’s story in particular felt underwritten. While I appreciate the effort at realism, I felt disappointed.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Suzy

    What a wonderful way to start my new year of reading! A touching book about "found family" that I connected to in so many ways! It is set where I live in and around The Twin Cities in Minnesota, it's about food and foodie culture and about people from all walks of life and how they connect in surprising and unexpected ways. This is the story of Eva Thorvald, born to a budding chef father and a sommelier mother. Lars Thorvald has great aspirations for his daughter, even arguing with the pediatric What a wonderful way to start my new year of reading! A touching book about "found family" that I connected to in so many ways! It is set where I live in and around The Twin Cities in Minnesota, it's about food and foodie culture and about people from all walks of life and how they connect in surprising and unexpected ways. This is the story of Eva Thorvald, born to a budding chef father and a sommelier mother. Lars Thorvald has great aspirations for his daughter, even arguing with the pediatrician about feeding her fully prepared dishes at 2 months, but her life does not play out according to expectations. As the book blurb says Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character. I had not actually noticed the "single dish" part, but the "character" part allowed Stradal to tell of Eva's story from her birth to early adulthood and how each character's life featured in the chapters intersected with Eva's life and contributed to her development. I liked both the structure of the book and Stradal's writing. Each person comes to life fully formed and believable. His description of the food and the preparation of the dishes made my mouth water and led me to my own kitchen to cook! I love stories about found family and found community. Kitchens of the Great Midwest stands with others favorites of this ilk. It reminded me of one of my favorite reads of 2014 The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in how I felt reading it. Fikry revolved around books, Kitchens revolves around food, but both portray a heartwarming story of how people end up in the right place with the right people even when things don't go according to plan. I had mixed feelings about the audio production. The narration alternated between Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg. I didn't see the rationale behind the two narrators, so the switch in narrators was distracting. While they were both good, Stuhlbarg's Minnesota accent was too over the top!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    3*** We listened to the audiobook of KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST. The readers were excellent giving different voices for each character. Sections were humorous - my husband, who rarely laughs aloud, chuckled several times! However, he did not appreciate the vulgar language which was used throughout much of the book. Nor did I. About 40% into the book I was considering not finishing it. I read some reviews and based upon some 5 and 4 stars reconsidered. I wanted to know how Eva's life would turn 3*** We listened to the audiobook of KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST. The readers were excellent giving different voices for each character. Sections were humorous - my husband, who rarely laughs aloud, chuckled several times! However, he did not appreciate the vulgar language which was used throughout much of the book. Nor did I. About 40% into the book I was considering not finishing it. I read some reviews and based upon some 5 and 4 stars reconsidered. I wanted to know how Eva's life would turn out. Also, I wanted to know if her biological mother would ever return. This novel reads like several short stories with a common thread connecting them. Several recipes that related to the story were included. The paring of wines with foods brought to mind some of my Goodreads friends (You know who you are!). I raise this from 2.5 to 3 stars because I heard my husband chuckle and I liked the ending. **Being forced to listen to all the f***** words and such, possibly resulted in my lower rating than the rating of many friends.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    4.5 Riedel wine glasses I loved this touching, quirky, delightful, original story and so appreciated it after some heavy reads. Each chapter is an anecdote from a different time period in Eva’s life journey starting from just before her birth. Each is told from the perspective of a different person in her radar of peeps at that juncture and all will come full circle in the end. Because her father is a foodie and wants to be a chef and her mother has a love affair with wine and wants to be a somme 4.5 Riedel wine glasses I loved this touching, quirky, delightful, original story and so appreciated it after some heavy reads. Each chapter is an anecdote from a different time period in Eva’s life journey starting from just before her birth. Each is told from the perspective of a different person in her radar of peeps at that juncture and all will come full circle in the end. Because her father is a foodie and wants to be a chef and her mother has a love affair with wine and wants to be a sommelier (my kinda parents), she is genetically predisposed to love the culinary arts, eventually channeling her inner badass Julia Child. Throughout the pages we experience her skill with ingredients as well as my personal favorite, wine. What’s not to love? Well, the lutefisk. Even the best wine in the world and Eva’s skill cannot help with that. Favorite quote: when Eva’s father describes her mother. “Even though she had an overbite and the shakes, she was six feet tall and beautiful, and not like a statue or a perfume advertisement, but in a realistic way, like how a truck or a pizza is beautiful at the moment you want it most.” Favorite wineries mentioned: Cakebread Cellers (love their Sauvignon Blanc (thank you Jamise for the heads-up on that one), and Saxum’s TH Estate Wines. My BFF Bonnie said a bottle she drank was the best wine she has ever had (she did not share it with me so maybe I should rethink the BFF status). Favorite dish: Caesar salad. "Eva rubbed the sides of the wooden bowl with bisected cloves of Porcelain garlic and prepared the dressing, a mixture of Koroneiki olive oil, warm coddled range-free brown egg yolks, Worcestershire sauce, freshly ground Madagascar black peppercorns, one freshly diced Porcelain clove, and a bit of Meyer lemon juice. She placed single whole romaine leaves on everyone’s plates and drizzled the dressing over them, topping each with four homemade sourdough bread croutons." Oh my tastebuds. We also learn that Caesar Cardini’s original salad did not have cheese and anchovies (my kinda guy). Highly recommend this to just about anyone for sheer enjoyment in reading.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barbara A.

    Astonishing. It is rare to find a book that meets and exceeds its pre-pub. hype. The stories are at once restrained, involving, wry, funny, and spot-on reads of both Midwest life and foodie culture. Eva is creating, making, sharing far more that great food here. She is creating and sustaining an extended family. I am hungry for more by Stradal. And I think I am going to reread this immediately. Brilliant, affecting, memorable. Read alikes? Louise Erdrich's short stories meet Ruth Reichel's memoi Astonishing. It is rare to find a book that meets and exceeds its pre-pub. hype. The stories are at once restrained, involving, wry, funny, and spot-on reads of both Midwest life and foodie culture. Eva is creating, making, sharing far more that great food here. She is creating and sustaining an extended family. I am hungry for more by Stradal. And I think I am going to reread this immediately. Brilliant, affecting, memorable. Read alikes? Louise Erdrich's short stories meet Ruth Reichel's memoir. Film to view after? Babbette's Feast. Wine pairings? I await Cynthia Hargreaves' suggestions.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beth Knight

    To me, this book was overhyped. I was expecting it to be better. I'll write an actual review later, after I get all my thoughts together.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book consists of eight chapters, each of which stands as an independent short story that follows a different individual, time and place. But the reader of this book will notice, as they progress through the book, that some of the characters from previous stories make appearances. These short story chapters build upon each other, and by the time the end of the book is reached it leaves the impression of being a complete and unified novel. It's creatively written with food and beverage playin This book consists of eight chapters, each of which stands as an independent short story that follows a different individual, time and place. But the reader of this book will notice, as they progress through the book, that some of the characters from previous stories make appearances. These short story chapters build upon each other, and by the time the end of the book is reached it leaves the impression of being a complete and unified novel. It's creatively written with food and beverage playing a role in each chapter, and sometimes the recipes are even included. The writing style emphasizes character development with a focus on different individuals in the various chapters. The final chapter titled "The Dinner" is something of a reunion with many of the characters that were developed in the previous chapters making their appearances again in this chapter. But there is one character who keeps making an appearance in each chapter, and with each appearance she's a bit older. It soon becomes apparent that the book is following this individual from her being born and gradually progressing into adulthood as a celebrity chef. That individual's name is Eva Thorvald. Those chapters dealing with the younger years portray gritty life styles that probably reflect youth culture beyond my understanding as an old person. However, when it got the chapter titled "Bars" where the Lutheran church ladies are competing to win the baking prize at the County Fair, I knew that this was a cultural environment that I could identify with. The emphasis on food will appeal to foodie types. But the book's narrative includes plenty of satire on gourmet enthusiasts of a certain type. I'll have to admit I enjoyed those passages that I perceived as slams against those food snobs who emphasize things other than taste and freshness. In the following excerpt from the book the down-home Lutheran Church lady character named Pat Prager is encouraged to enter her winning "peanut butter bars" into a contest in the big city sponsored by Petite Noisette, a gourmet magazine. Unknown to her, this contest was completely out of her league, sophistication-wise. The following excerpt describes the reactions of the food snobs when they encounter her food:Pat and Sam made their way across the room to platter number 49, where Oona had a big smile on her face. "Wow, guys!" she said. "What's in these? They're amazing!" "They totally taste like the real thing," Dylan said, and glanced at Oona. "What's in'em?" Sam looked at his mom. "Butter," Pat said. "Powered sugar, peanut butter, milk chocolate chips. Graham crackers." Dylan and Oona stared back. "Butter?" Oona said. "What kind? Almond butter?" "No, regular milk butter. Like from cows." "Hormone-free cows?" "I don't know. It's just Land O'Lakes butter. It was what was on sale." "Oh," Dylan said. "Does their milk have bovine growth hormone?" Oona asked Dylan. "I don't know, but I think they're on the list," Dylan said. "Are you thinking about the baby?" "I don't know, do you think I should go vomit it up?" "I don't know, is that worse? The bile and stomach acids?"The narrative continues beyond this point, but I'll end the excerpt here. I apologize to any readers of this review who think that Land O'Lakes butter is poison and are sympathetic with the concerns expressed by Oona and Dylan. I happen to not share those concerns, and for me their reactions are so extreme as to be laughable. One nit-picky complaint I have with the title of this book—there is "The Great Plains" and there is "The Midwest" but there is no "The Great Midwest." That's my opinion. ____________ The following short review is from PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar for December 18, 2017: Avivid and fresh take on the foodie novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest tells the story of chef Lars Thorvald, who is left to raise his daughter Eva alone after her mother falls in love with a sommelier. Fast-forward years later, and Eva has a “once in a generation palate” and is the chef behind the secret supper club that's got everyone jostling for a reservation. Los Angeles Magazine said “Stradal's debut novel tackles foodie culture with all the finesse of a pastry chef. . . . Reading Kitchens is all pleasure.” KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST, by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman, 2015)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I received a copy of this from the publisher through the Penguin First Reads program in exchange for an honest review. The story of Eva Thorvald, a chef with a once-in-a-lifetime palate, is told through other people in her life. It starts with her mother, her father, then moves toward people who aren't as directly connected to her. This tactic had varying amounts of success in my mind. In the beginning I felt I had a clear sense of Eva, particularly in her love for spicy pepper jelly as an unborn I received a copy of this from the publisher through the Penguin First Reads program in exchange for an honest review. The story of Eva Thorvald, a chef with a once-in-a-lifetime palate, is told through other people in her life. It starts with her mother, her father, then moves toward people who aren't as directly connected to her. This tactic had varying amounts of success in my mind. In the beginning I felt I had a clear sense of Eva, particularly in her love for spicy pepper jelly as an unborn child and her revenge with peppers she grew in her closet as a child. But as the characters get farther removed from her, we stop knowing what she thinks and feels, and instead have to deal with various people including a somewhat obnoxious Minnesotan church lady. But then again, the characters are also great. If I take away my feeling that the novel is about Eva and we should be closer to her, I can say the capture of the midwest is fantastic. I don't know if in the final copy the publisher provides recipes but that would be a good idea (who wouldn't want to try those damn peanut butter bars?) In my reading around the USA challenge that I've been halfheartedly working on for a few years, I had never found a book set in Minnesota. Here it is!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    Comparisons to Olive Kitteridge are not something to be tossed around lightly, but this magical story about a star chef is worthy. Eva grows up in Minnesota with a great appreciation for food, thanks to her father, a wonderful chef who cultivates her appreciation for different tastes and textures. When she strikes out on her own, she quickly becomes the culinary star of a secret supper club. Whimsical, sensuous, and peppered with recipes, this book is a delicious treat and an amazing debut! Tune Comparisons to Olive Kitteridge are not something to be tossed around lightly, but this magical story about a star chef is worthy. Eva grows up in Minnesota with a great appreciation for food, thanks to her father, a wonderful chef who cultivates her appreciation for different tastes and textures. When she strikes out on her own, she quickly becomes the culinary star of a secret supper club. Whimsical, sensuous, and peppered with recipes, this book is a delicious treat and an amazing debut! Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/category/all-the-...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This is one of those reviews where I could go on forever or put in 5 to 8 different quotes that were spot on. But I will do neither. Well maybe 1 or 2 quotes at the end. The form is difficult and over-used presently. Without any heads up or trailer reads, for awhile I thought I was reading a series of short stories cored on locale and food. Nope! What I needed was a chart. Sequenced chronologically and with apprenticed categories of nicknames or subsequent names for the same person/character. Trut This is one of those reviews where I could go on forever or put in 5 to 8 different quotes that were spot on. But I will do neither. Well maybe 1 or 2 quotes at the end. The form is difficult and over-used presently. Without any heads up or trailer reads, for awhile I thought I was reading a series of short stories cored on locale and food. Nope! What I needed was a chart. Sequenced chronologically and with apprenticed categories of nicknames or subsequent names for the same person/character. Truthfully, I do not think you would get all the intersections of placements with people until the second read. But that won't happen with me. Not that the book is unworthy, but that the joy would be diminished, IMHO. Oh, but would all such virtual abandonments have such happy endings in the real world! Nearly a 5 star for the numerous Midwestern habits and parlance of at least 5 states. Losing only maybe 1/2 a point for the foul language, especially from child to parent, in work place, or between revered friends that occurs here within the book. Not going to happen here in this majority in the greater Midwest. Not in any age group, with exception perhaps on the internet. That may have been for marketing value? Midwesterners of the other than urban/urban just do not potty mouth by habit. Especially within huge territories of diversity being 4 Lutherans, 2 Methodists and 1 Catholic for an average parcel of eight. Some of the sections I thought were 2.5 star to 3 star, some were absolutely 5 (like the Bar Bakery contest). Most of the characterizations topped over 4 star, regardless of a certain subtle and heavily unbelievable factor in most of the food gifted personalities. For me anyway. Excellent and entertaining read which also made me laugh not once or twice but often. Starting with the lutefisk which was done over the top but which truly is that disgusting. This would definitely be an author I would read again in future fiction material. He absolutely knows his territory and has cast a wide net here on top of it for cultural nuance in separate locales. And he knows his food snobs too, every sort. If you like Eva's small plates, you should go to "Girl and the Goat" in Chicago (River North). It's pricey but far less than $5000 a plate. Oh and the generosity outside of the city/city noted here when the vet lost his job! Especially in rural or medium township, still absolutely there. You can not remain a stranger either. Not for long. Minneapolis itself! People TALK on the subway to tourists going to Mall of the Americas. Routinely. They are NOT city/city category, IMHO. Style yes, approachability no. They have bicycle stations that are not scavenged nightly on top of it. Quote #1: "Was this poverty? She'd never seen people who actually lived like this. It was almost like the apartment from the movie Trainspotting. It made her nervous, like she was holding on to the edge of an inner tube in a current, and the slightest shock might suck her down into this standard of living, with these people. Now she realized why even though poor people had the numbers, they could never start a revolution: they feared and despised the people one step below them, and for good reason." Quote #2: "And what does raw mean?" Pat asked. "Raw cake, what does that mean?" "It means that none of the ingredients were ever cooked." said a bearded older man, his sandy hair thinning, pink polo shirt buttoned to the top. "Sometimes the kitchens that make raw food don't even have hot water."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    A joyful work that’s a pleasure to read. J.Ryan’s Stradal’s writing has tremendous exuberance. This is a novel told in stories, each one self-contained and satisfying on its own. The thread that runs through them is legendary chef Eva Thorvald. Each story centers around an ingredient that ends up in a spectacular dinner served in the final chapter. We watch Eva grow from a newborn who knows her tomatoes, to a teen with a preternaturally discerning palate, to a star chef whose table people are wil A joyful work that’s a pleasure to read. J.Ryan’s Stradal’s writing has tremendous exuberance. This is a novel told in stories, each one self-contained and satisfying on its own. The thread that runs through them is legendary chef Eva Thorvald. Each story centers around an ingredient that ends up in a spectacular dinner served in the final chapter. We watch Eva grow from a newborn who knows her tomatoes, to a teen with a preternaturally discerning palate, to a star chef whose table people are willing to wait years to eat at. In some stories she is a central character, in others a secondary one, and in a couple she merely makes a cameo. By the end, Eva remains something of an enigma, which is maybe as it should be. The title encapsulates the lovely tension of these stories: Ambitious, sometimes precious epicureanism incongruously juxtaposed with a frank, unpretentious midwestern ethos—Fargo meets Cordon Bleu. Place is of paramount importance. J.Ryan vividly portrays the way his Minnesotans, Iowans, and Wisconsinites speak, eat, and believe. It’s a world where a mixed-race marriage is one between a Norwegian and a Dane. There’s almost a sense of nostalgia and melancholy for a world long gone, but then you realize these places and people still exist. Stradal’s voice is a true original. The descriptions and dialogue are a delight, utterly fresh and satisfying. The metaphors are exuberant and outlandish, and yet somehow so perfect you wonder why no one’s thought of them before. The book is stuffed with wonderful lines like “He suddenly looked sad and bewildered like an elephant that had been fired from the circus, wandering down the side of the highway with nowhere to go.” The novel manages to simultaneously celebrate and send up the cult of foodieism. It may skewer its snobbery, excesses and absurdities, yet it is clearly informed by a love of great food, although not by any hierarchy of excellence. Greatness might come in the form of thinly-sliced pane di castagne with dry-cured pork shoulder from hand-raised Berkshire pig, or humble peanut butter bars from a grandmother’s recipe. These stories are very funny, but also full of heart and never cynical or exploitative. Stradal never patronizes his characters or looks down on them. His deep affection for these people is clearly genuine. Although the universe he creates is a somewhat exaggerated and absurd version of this one, the characters that populate it are three-dimensional and specific, a difficult feat to pull off. Even when stories skirt the margins of farce, the characters are treated with tenderness and sympathy in the midst of their epic disasters. Each character’s reality, their point of view is honored. Stradal extracts pathos from even the most vain and self-serving of characters, rendering their self-deceptions poignant. My favourite story, “Bars,” is like something out of Flannery O’Connor, by way of Portlandia. It would be easy to make fun of an unsophisticated midwestern housewife, and devout Lutheran, who believes peanut butter bars to be the height of culinary achievement, but Stradal paints a complicated and loving portrait of a woman in search of redemption, that has us feeling protective of her and rooting for her all the harder the further she gets from home. The bars come to represent everything that matters most in the world, almost her very soul, and the turns her story takes are as unexpected and satisfying as Flannery O’Connor.

  29. 5 out of 5

    tristinleah

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Don't waste your time on this! I was expecting so much more. I just didn't understand the rambling, individual stories, that of course package together neatly in the end, but really for no particular reason! And there are WAY too many Minnesota references. I'm from there - it should appeal to me, but only comes across as trying too hard, and makes the writer less legitimate. He's just trying to do too much in this book. Everything is over-exaggerated. This book is all over the place, with many d Don't waste your time on this! I was expecting so much more. I just didn't understand the rambling, individual stories, that of course package together neatly in the end, but really for no particular reason! And there are WAY too many Minnesota references. I'm from there - it should appeal to me, but only comes across as trying too hard, and makes the writer less legitimate. He's just trying to do too much in this book. Everything is over-exaggerated. This book is all over the place, with many different characters that you're supposed to like, and then you're left hanging. What happens after Pat gets pulled over? How did Jordy kick his Oxy addiction? What made Braque decide to keep her baby?... all these unfinished stories, and then by just mentioning their names at the end, I'm supposed to just say, oh, it's all good - I don't need to know more, because they're here, with Eva. Eva, who we barely get to know beyond her hot pepper pre-teen years, except through glimpses, like a fan catching a moment with a celebrity. And even completely at the end, we're still left hanging - did Eva know it was her mom? Did she ever reach out to her? Why didn't Cindy ever look her up? Or find out that Lars had died? Why would Jarl and his wife completely cover up Eva's family story? Never once, as she got older, and a successful chef, did he think to tell her about her father and his talent? UGH! I'm sorry, I just did not "buy" this story. First book by Stradal, last time I'll read him. I may, however, make the peanut butter bars.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    I found this book because my girlfriend had received an ARC of it, and I had heard amazing things about J Ryan Stradal as an author, though I hadn't yet read much of his work. When I picked it up, I have to admit I was a bit worried it might not be for me: I am neither from the midwest nor do I enjoy cooking. But what followed was as captivating a read as anything I'd read in quite some time. I finished it in less than a day, and then I went back to reread it, and then I talked about it in my cl I found this book because my girlfriend had received an ARC of it, and I had heard amazing things about J Ryan Stradal as an author, though I hadn't yet read much of his work. When I picked it up, I have to admit I was a bit worried it might not be for me: I am neither from the midwest nor do I enjoy cooking. But what followed was as captivating a read as anything I'd read in quite some time. I finished it in less than a day, and then I went back to reread it, and then I talked about it in my class and encouraged all my students to pick it up when it comes out. There is so much structural experimentation, so many bold authorial risks, and yet -- it somehow all worked. He breaks all the rules without losing the narrative thread or his reader. He's got a bit of everything I love about David Mitchell mixed with everything I love about Jeffrey Eugenides mixed with a dash of the humor of George Saunders, with some corn and potatoes to mellow it all out. I think it all worked so well not only because of his mastery of craft and storytelling, but also because he didn't forget to have as much fun as possible telling these stories. My favorite books are always the ones you can tell the author enjoyed writing. And if he enjoyed writing this half as much as I enjoyed reading it (which I think he did), then consider me grateful as a reader and jealous as a writer. This book deserves to be a classic.

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