Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Summary: Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.

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. -- Pamela Dorman Books

At this year's BEA, I asked a woman who works for Penguin what were her must-read books for Fall 2015. She listed a few including KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal. This novel is the author's debut, and all I can say is "wow!" This book was both original and a treat to read. It will definitely go down as one of my favorites of the year!

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST centers around Eva Thorvald. Eva had a difficult childhood between the abandonment of her mother and the sudden loss of her father; however, prior to his death, he shared his passion of food with her. It ends up that Eva developed quite the sophisticated palate.. and that's an understatement.The novel then follows Eva's life from her birth until her success as a legendary chef at a secretive pop-up super club.

I kept my description short and sweet because I knew very little about this book when I picked it up, and I ended up loving the little surprises that I found. KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST is truly special and so incredibly well done. This book has a little bit of everything! It has food, love, family, mother/daughter drama, and more. Fans of food novels and literary fiction will devour this novel. (Sorry for the pun, but I couldn't help it!)

One thing I truly appreciated about this book is how the author decided to tell Eva's story. The story is told from points of view from different characters who knew Eva throughout her life. Each chapter reveals something about Eva as well as featuring a special food or ingredient, many of which are from her native Minnesota. Naturally, I enjoyed getting insight into Eva through the various people in her life; however, I also loved that each chapter almost read like a short story.

I also loved Mr. Stradal's writing style -- he has major skills. KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST is a beautifully written novel that captures the essence of Eva, a complicated and impressive woman. His descriptions of the beauty of the Midwest and all of the foods and ingredients were nothing short of amazing. However what was even more impressive is how he managed to tie together all the separate chapters (and the food references in them) and wrap up everything in a satisfying conclusion. And I have to be honest, there were times when I wasn't sure where this book was going and if he could pull it off!

I honestly loved KITCHEN OF THE GREAT MIDWEST and think it would be an ideal book club selection. Just think of how amazing your food and wine selections could be for your meeting! In fact, the author put together a terrific book club kit that includes lots of recipes, wine and music suggestions, and even a Q&A. There is also a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include food and cooking, mother/daughter relationships, loss, grief, comfort, connections, and memories.

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST is a must-read for both foodies and fans of literary fiction. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

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bermudaonion said...

I loved this book too - I'm sure it's going to be one of my favorites of the year.

ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

This is my book clubs pick for October. I'm glad to hear it's so good!

Beth F said...

I'm kind of ashamed I haven't read this yet, but I have an audiobook copy .. so I might go that way.

Vicki said...

It's on my list.

jama said...

Thanks for the glowing review. Will add this one to my TBR list!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) said...

I had high expectations for this one, especially after loving the first part of it! But, as I got farther into the story, I got frustrated with how Eva faded from view for much of the middle. I was I'd gotten to see more of the nuts and bolts of Eva's rise to the pinnacle of chefdom! Did love how things came together at the end, though.

Claudia said...

This one is on my TBR list for sure. Aounds like a winner.

Katherine P said...

Every time I read a review for this one it goes a little higher up on the list and your review I think just got it to the very top! I absolutely can't want to read this one! Fantastic review!

Laurie C said...

I've been meaning to read this one for a while now! Glad to know you enjoyed it!

Carole said...

I've ordered thisi one from the library - looking forward to getting my hands on it. Cheers from Carole's Chatter!