Ok….so….my return to fiction has been a triumph!
Fine print: With the exception of “Silence”.
Kitchens of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal is a treat! It’s Stradal’s first book and a real gem. It is an engaging story about one little girl’s journey through a world that has afforded her very few advantages in life, her singular ability to see opportunity for growth in all situations no matter how inauspicious and her natural aptitude for securing close life-long bonds with those around her who have helped her along the way. The protagonist, Eva Thorvald, is a nonconformist, a visionary and a culinary enchantress. She is confident yet vulnerable, loyal to a fault, bold and courageous. She may very well be my new favorite fictional heroine; second to Fanny Price (no one will ever take Fanny’s place in my heart)!
The book is divided into eight sections. Each one tells the back stories of the new characters being introduced. I hope you’re not the kind of reader that prefers to get to the gist of it by speed reading without really getting to know the characters. That methodology will not suffice with this book. It has a “six degrees of separation” scheme which you’ll need to follow closely. Each character is of paramount importance. Don’t skip any information no matter how insignificant you may think it. I promise you, in the end, it’ll be relevant.
At first, I wasn’t too sure whether I was going to like the book primarily from a maternal viewpoint. Eva’s mother and I have very different parenting styles; hers being more of the absentee fashion. A little further into the book, Stradal introduces Braque. I struggled to get through Braque’s story only because I couldn’t get passed all of the profanity. The rest of the stories are all enriched with personal history, rectitude and raw emotion. In one of the stories, Stradal uses a doe and it’s fawn as a metaphor for one of the character’s predicament with impending death. I’m not a cryer. But the thought of this man slowly helplessly turning into a disoriented little boy with every sentence that I continued to read, made me lose it. I openly cried. I cried for him, for the doe and most earnestly for the powerless fawn. It made me think of my little girl and my furry little one as well.
As you may have already noticed from my previous reviews, I’m not one to give too much away about a book. In fact, I give the most minimal amount of information about it so that you’ll approach it objectively should you choose to read it. This time around I was very tempted to divulge more than I should. But I know it would be an injustice on my part. So I’ll just stick to my customary style. Just a couple of minor things bothered me. The language was bush-league and somewhat troglodytic. I didn’t enjoy the abuse of expletives.
However, there was so much I loved about it that easily outweighed the bit I didn’t like! What I loved most about this book was the protagonist. I love all of the strong female characters throughout the book. I love that the author while not female himself, still managed to accurately portray and understand women so consummately. The author shared a few delicious recipes. I love that it is an unconventional love story…love for food and culinary mastery. The book flowed ever so smoothly. Each story intertwined effortlessly with the next. The plot was exquisite. The ending unpredictable (which was a very pleasant surprise) and just right. It ended as it should have; in my humble opinion. Nothing about this book was foreseeable. It was refreshing. I can’t wait to see what he writes next. I’m keeping my eye on this author. The next time around, I hope he’ll surprise me again and go with a completely different genre and writing style without losing his essence, of course. I gave this book four (4) stars on Goodreads only because of the excessive profanity; otherwise, it definitely would have been a five. I’d love to hear whether you get a chance to read it. Let me know. Enjoy!
Pat Prager’s Peanut Butter Bars:
2 1/2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 cup melted Grade A butter
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup milk chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon Grade A butter
Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, peanut butter, and sugar. Pat into a greased 9-by-13 inch pan. Melt the chips and butter and spread them on top of the bars. Set in the refrigerator until firm. Cut into bars.
P.S. – I wonder if Eva is the fictional version of Karen (the woman to whom the author dedicated the book). Wonder if Karen is his mother. His inscription to her is so endearing, “To Karen, Who always did the best with what she had.” It describes Eva Thorvald to the tee.
Just me…thinking out loud.
P.P.S. – Thanks for all the support. You guys are amazing!