Review of Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

eBook Review Gal Book Review of Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Lars Thorvald is a simple man. He’s overweight, balding and not exactly a lady’s man.
When he meets and falls in love with Cynthia Hargreaves he’s shocked to find the feelings are mutual. They begin a relationship, get married and Cynthia soon becomes pregnant. It doesn’t take long for Cynthia to realize she’s not cut out for motherhood so she runs off with a coworker. Lars does the best he can for their daughter, Eva, and that includes introducing her to the finest cuisine he can create. When a tragedy occurs, baby Eva is left in the care of her aunt and uncle, and readers watch her grow and change into adulthood….some of the time.

I didn’t dislike Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I enjoyed the author’s writing for the most part, but this book reads much more like a compilation of loosely related short stories than an actual novel. Characters came and went – sometimes never to be heard from again and sometimes years later at very different points in their lives. I felt this tactic interrupted the flow of the book unnecessarily.

The book is broken up into sections and each section has a food theme – or at least the section title does. The story(ies) is told in third person omniscient, thank goodness. Otherwise, I think it would have been a nightmare to follow whose chapter I was reading. To some degree, I’d have to say the author was quite good at giving each character his or her own voice – no small feat in a book with so many different characters. However, I did find that the author gave “themes” to his characters. Snarky to several and goody-two-shoes to others. For instance, Braque’s character had an extremely similar “eff the world” mentality than that of Jordy’s character. This had them both sounding more like angry teenage boys instead of adults.

By the end of the book, Eva was almost God-like. She’d become a wildly successful culinary celebrity who was charging exorbitant amounts of money for one dinner while guests literally (yes, literally) rolled around on the ground in ecstasy while crying tears of joy. Yet, through it all, she remained humble and unfailingly sweet. Since the author spent so much time bouncing around and head-hopping I didn’t think readers had enough opportunity to fully connect with Eva and find out just how realistic any of this was. I know I didn’t.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, judging from the book’s title. There are a smattering of recipes sprinkled throughout, but the book doesn’t rely solely on a food theme at all. Which is fine of course, but I just didn’t think the title accurately reflected the stories within the book. Much of the plot (and subplots) was left up in the air with no clear resolution. We met too many characters in crisis and were never privy to any resolution – even when the character appeared chapters later.

As I said in the beginning of this review, I didn’t dislike Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I just think this book could have been done a bit differently. I was on the ratings fence, because I was undecided whether to give it three or four stars. Since Amazon doesn’t give a three and half-star option I bumped it up to four.

4 of 5 Stars, Review by Susan Barton