Monday, October 26, 2015

Another Good Book - But It Could Have Been Better

J. Ryan Stradal's Kitchens of the Great Midwest is getting a lot of pub.  And I understand why.  It's a very good book.  But what started out as a 3.5/4 through the first 5 chapters (of 8) ended up slowing down a bit, especially in chapters 6 and 7.  Chapter 8 picks up again. What happened?  I'll try to explain.

Instead of giving you the Goodreads synopsis, let me quote one small section of the book flap's description:  "This is a novel about one girl's extraordinary farm-to-table success story, about mothers and daughters, how food becomes the common language of our lives, and the bittersweet nature of life itself-its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises."

Being in the food service business myself, and living in the Bay Area, which is the area that started many major food trends - from California Cuisine (with Alice Waters) to sustainable fish to vegetarian to vegan to gluten-free, and on and on - and just flat-out loving all-types of food, it was certainly fun to read a book about one girl's transformation from a shaky childhood to world-class chef.  Along the way we get to see recipes from many of the foods that appear in the book.  I've seen that in a couple of books that I've read (their names escape me at the moment, like so many other pieces of trivia!).  It's a fun add-on.

But I digress.  What changed in chapters 6 and 7?  Well, it really comes down to the connection with the main character, Eva.  The 1st 5 chapters all either focused directly on Eva or on characters who interacted with Eva.  6 and 7 got away from that.  Do those newbies ultimately end up interacting with Eva?  Perhaps.  But, for me, it was too little, too late.

This is still a good, well-written book.  And I gave it a 3.25/4.  That's a very good rating. And I definitely recommend the book.  But my problem is that it started out so strong that I hate to see it lose steam.  At least the last chapter got back to what made the 1st 5 chapters so appealing.  This is in direct contrast to The Monsters of Templeton (review 10/9/15), which started out very strong (3.5), sagged in the middle (down to a 3.25), and then plummeted at the end (final 2.75).  I will be doing a post in the near future about the 5 different ways a book can progress from beginning to end, with examples.  Here are the categories:

Starts fast, stays fast
Starts fast, slows down
Starts slow, stays slow
Starts slow, speeds up
Hybrid (what's that?)


  1. I do get what you're saying but I still loved this book. It felt very fresh to me.

    1. Based on the buzz, I knew that others would like it more than me, even though I liked it quite a bit. But I do agree that it was not like most other books.