Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

J.Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST, by J. Ryan Stradal, is not like any other novel you’ve read.  Boy is it ever going to appeal to foodies! And it’s funny too.

To say Eva Thorvald had a tough upbringing is a gross understatement. Her sommelier mother left her and her chef father when Eva was  just a baby. And then Eva’s dad died.

Eva was raised by friends of her dad. And they never had one dime to rub against the other, however, what they did have was a lot of love for little Eva. Then her adopted mom died. And on and on.

Eva’s story is told in chapters.  Each chapter showcases a person and a food. It’s kind of like what Elizabeth Stroud did with Olive Kitteridge.  Each character is unique and quirky. In the end they all come together. And there’s all this fabulous food. After all, this book is being marketed toward foodies for a reason. The food is the “Star.”  Eva was born with a palate that is out of this world.  As a child she grew the hottest peppers imaginable under a grow light in her closet. And she ate them when no one else on earth could.


J. Ryan Stradal

“Stradal brings readers right to the heart of Minnesota, from Lutheran church cake bake sales to opening weekend of deer season, and shares an incredible tale of how the food we eat and the people we meet shape the world around us.”

I found KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST both witty and charming.  It grew on me.  And has been on my mind since I finished it last week.

My husband and I are foodies. My entire family is infatuated with food: preparation, growing of, devouring of… My daughter has a blog dedicated to baking and cooking. My sons are both involved in the restaurant business. And I met my husband years ago when we were both managing restaurants. Food brings us all together.

In a conversation with J.Ryan Stradal, he tells Pamela Dorman Books that his interest in food began when he got his driver’s license, which took three tries. He was a famously terrible driver as a teenager. Growing up in a small town in Minnesota, he had lots of wanderlust and a yearning to see the world, but couldn’t swing international travel on the money he was making as a janitor at the Steamboat Inn. Therefore, he hopped in his mom’s VW Golf, and drove north on Highway 61 with his high school girlfriend Stacy and hit all of the unusual and ethnic restaurants  they could find up in the Twin Cities.

Then later he got into wine and went to Napa Valley for one year.

But living in Los Angeles-where he learned to drive really well; that or be killed-he really discovered exceptional and interesting cuisine.

There are recipes in this book as well as menus. And we foodies can’t resist a great recipe or menu.

And please check out the Online Book Club Kit.

Word of mouth from the early readers is that they are loving it. My lovely finished copy arrived via Pamela Dorman Books, a division of Viking.  I send out lots of thanks.

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain

Paula McLain

Circling The Sun

CIRCLING THE SUN, by Paula McLain, is a delicious novel; one I will be thinking about for a very long time. I am predicting that it will be a blockbuster this year and for years to come! I hated for it to end. It’s the kind of book I rate OMG!

Paula McLain is the acclaimed author of the wildly popular THE PARIS WIFE.  And we all know how successful that fabulous novel has been.

CIRCLING THE SUN, is a wonderfully alluring force to be reckoned  with. Quickly, we become acquainted with little Beryl and her family who are just relocating from England to Kenya. Big move for this family. Dad is keen to be a farmer. Mom is ready to run kicking and screaming when she sees the fifteen hundred raw acres and the three weathered huts that are all the land has to offer. Their nearest white  neighbors, Lady and Lord Delamere live seven miles through the bush. And even this couple live in a typical mud-and-thatch hut.  Mom was peppered with madness at the thought of having to go miles for water to bathe in. And that was not the worst of it.

It took two years for Beryl’s mother to finally pack up and head back to England. And when she did, she took Beryl’s older brother Dickie along with her, citing his frailty. How could a mother leave a child behind? She left as sure as the sky is blue. With not mention of ever returning. Beryl was not yet five. Left to be raised by her father, Beryl became a veritable wild child. She was taken under the wing of a family of Kipsigis who would never, ever abandon a child. As Beryl and her best friend Kibii discovered the world around them, the face of Beryl’s mother began to slowly fade away.

McLain has captured the very essence of Africa. When I saw that she was writing about Africa I was ecstatic. Beyond that. I stepped into this book with an open mind and a bit of trepidation, not knowing a thing about it. It quickly sucked me in like a vacuum cleaner, and I just kept wanting more and more and more. And I got it.

Beryl’s father became a renowned race horse trainer.  And Beryl used this opportunity to learn all she could even as a child. She loved both the outdoors and the animals. Business suddenly soured for her father  when Beryl turned sixteen.  When her father explained that he had to sell the farm and take a training post in Cape Town. Beryl was pretty much shanghaied into that first marriage: it really was the only way she could figure out how to stay on the land she loved. The man she married, Jock, was a new rancher, destined for greatness, they said. However, there was certainly nothing of greatness in their marriage. Except, misery.

Beryl quickly saw that her marriage was a mistake. A grave one. She set off on her own causing her first big scandal. Thank God for Lord Delamere who took her in.

Horses and racing were in Beryl’s blood by now. And she decided to become the first woman race horse trainer. Then she got caught up with a fast crowd of gin and champagne drinking wealthy landowners, and deeply involved in a complex love triangle with Karen Blixen (the writer) and Denys Finch Hatton( the famous hunter). And now the wondrous shades of OUT OF AFRICA begin.

Here’s the kicker. For those of you who do not know this: Beryl Markham was a real woman who broke  historical boundaries many years ago. And she wrote a memoir in 1942. She met Hemingway and was said to have rebuked him while on safari. She even went on to become the first person, man or woman, to make a solo flight across the Atlantic ending in America.

I have been privileged to  be a first reader of this magnificent story, told with artful prose and presenting us with sparkling characters. You need to stop whatever you’re doing, and run to buy this book.! Try to take your time and savor it, or just read it quickly, then go back and reread it. I know you will love it. It is bound for glory.

After you’ve caught your breath from reading CIRCLING THE SUN, please pick up WEST WITH THE NIGHT. It’s the memoir written by Beryl Markham. It will blow you away with its sumptuous prose. And it’s the real deal.

Author Paris Wife

Paula McLain

I received my gorgeous review copy with lovely photos from the generous people at Ballantine Books, a division of Penguin Random House. I rate this OMG!!

Among The Ten Thousand by Julia Pierpont

Julia Pierpont

Among The Ten Thousand

AMONG THE TEN THOUSAND, by Julia Pierpont, is a strong first novel of a family dealing with the aftermath of marital infidelity.

Jack is a well-know artist living in the Upper West Side of NYC with his wife Deb and their two kids: Simon -15; Kay-11. Deb’s been struggling for months with the knowledge of Jack’s infidelity with a much younger woman. She truly thought she could handle it. That is…until… one day a box is delivered to their apartment. The contents of the box are shocking and life-changing. Certainly not anything a child should be subjected to.

The doorman inadvertently gives it to 11-year-old Kay to take to her mother. And then this family begins its descent.

This portrait of an unraveling American family is written from the views of each family member. The kids are much more interesting than either of the self-centered parents.  The kids were caught up in the middle with almost no chance of getting out of it all unscathed.

I kept remembering that Deb was much younger than Jack. And that she met and wooed him while he was still married to his first wife. Bah! I always think that will blow up in someones face.  It sure does here.


Julia Pierpont

The critics are likening Pierpont to Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Franzen. I can see why, to an extent.  It will surely be interesting to watch her grow.

My finished copy came from Random House Publishing in exchange for an honest review.


Losing Me by Sue Margolis

Sue Margolis

Losing Me

LOSING ME, by Sue Margolis, was one of the quickest reads I’ve had in a long while. And very satisfying.

I’ve not read Margolis before. She’s an English author with a slew of titles under her belt. I’m sure glad I’ve finally found her. She’s witty, smart, cheeky, and is totally tuned in to her characters.

Almost sixty, Barbara Stirling is everyone’s caregiver: mother, grown children, grandchildren hubby, she’s got them all covered. And then one day she is called into the office and told she’s become redundant, has lost her job, the job that she has lived for. Barbara is a teacher, but not just a teacher, she teaches kids with problems, real problems. Issues at home more than real learning disabilities. And Barbara cares for these kids. Goes above and beyond for them. Now, she feels her life is over. It matters not that she lost her job because of downsizing since she was the closest to retirement age. What matters is that she can no longer define herself.

Although LOSING ME sounds awfully serious, it’s full of warmth and pepper. What drew me in so quickly was what Barbara was going through at home. Her husband was always too busy for her. Always had been when she looks back. And her son who still lives at home expects so much with little return. Then there is Barbara’s mom, who even though she does not live with Barbara, is a huge worry and commitment. How many woman are living lives of quiet desperation? Right in the midst of their families. They are lonely and yet not alone.

Barbara looks around at her friends who all seem to be doing oh-so-much better than she and her husband Frank. They’ve got their mortgages paid off, are still having sex and seem committed. It always looks greener on the other side of the fence.  Then her best friend Jean confides in her, and things begin to look differently.

When Barbara is taken to the hospital by ambulance we think she may be having a heart attack. She is terrified. Thank God it is just a panic attack, but still… And where is Frank? Finally, he arrives on the scene only to drop her off at home and flee the scene back to his studio. GRRR

Finally, Barbara has had enough of THIS. She disappears.

I will leave you with this. A cliff hanger. I just could not put it down. I had to find out what was happening to Barbara.

We’re all galloping along, hitting our stride, getting older, hopefully wiser, wondering if everyone else is doing better than we are. We need each other. And we sure do need more great stories like this.

My review copy came from New American Library, a division of Penguin. Thanks so much. What a great novel!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop

I just finished reading THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP by Nina George. Already, I know it’s one of my favorites for this summer. I loved it!

The cover is magnificent. I am immediately transported to Paris. That is always a plus for me. But it’s the magical, sweet, wonderfully told story that steals the show, as it should be in a novel.

Monsieur Perdu runs a literary apothecary. What might that be? Monsieur prescribes novels from his floating barge of a bookstore named Lulu,  which is docked on the Seine. Suffering from the loss of a love? You have a tortured soul? Perdu has just the remedy for you, in a book, of course. Whatever may be ailing you, he has just the book to bring you back to your old self. Unfortunately he has not been able to cure his own broken heart. And that heart has been broken for 21 years now.  The love of his life, his only love in fact, left him a letter all those years ago, then vanished into thin air. And Perdu has not opened this letter.

Finally, after all those years, Perdue reads the letter. This quickly becomes an event and he unleashes Lulu one morning and with a little help from a young and famous author friend named Max, off they go on the adventure of a lifetime… Through the canals of France, through quaint villages, selling books along the way to pay for food and fuel.

This story warmed my heart. It wove itself around my heart and squeezed.  I found myself questioning the importance of this story. Because, yes, I feel it’s important. It can be life-changing in the right hands. It’s about life, about grief and the grieving process. But it’s also about letting go and loving again. Nina George has a way with words. And she is at her best on these pages!

As Perdu and his cast of characters floated, shimmied, and clamored through the canals and rivers of France on their way to Provence, they drew me into their journey and made me feel a part of their lives. It was much more than just a peek into their lives; I became a character. The people drew breath, the aura of the villages popped and crackled with life. And, I almost forgot, the barge was inhabited by two well-read cats: Lindgren and Kafka. The two were sometimes the only physical contact Perdu had in his personal life.

THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP, by Nina George, was just recently translated from the German. George has written more than 26 books and once spent time as a cop  reporter. And, included in the back are some of the recipes they came up with on their journey.  I sure hope she’s writing more novels like this one.

My copy of THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP came from Crown Publishing in exchange for an honest review. I am so grateful for this fabulous and gorgeous book. It is definitely one of my all-time favorites. Thanks so much!


Go Set A What? By Whom ?

Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman

Everyone involved in the book business in any way has been awaiting GO SET A WATCHMAN, by Harper Lee. I have been anticipating it. Wondering if it is authentic. Wondering if it is any good. Hard to even utter those words. But I am only saying what everyone is thinking.

This highly expected novel has been under a tough embargo. It arrived in our store only to be hurried into the manager’s office and locked away in all its glory. No one, but no one, was supposed to read it before pub date,July 14.

But, more than one somebody got a hold of a copy. It’s been reviewed in all the top papers in this country and abroad, and not to raving reviews. Far from it for the most part. There have not been harsh words said against it. But nothing splendid is coming out of this. I am hearing plenty of chatter about race. And I don’t like what I’m  hearing.

How do I feel about this book? I have had reservations from the get-go. There’s just something wrong when a manuscript of this proportion suddenly erupts from out of nowhere. It makes me wonder why it took so long to “show up.” It makes me wonder if greed was a big part of the discovery being brought to the surface.  But, most of all, I am now quite concerned that the contents of this book will ruin the classic appeal of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. And, I’m also very concerned about the state of civil rights in this country, right this very moment. Some people are going to be offended. Some are going to be outright disappointed. A few might be just glad to have another book by Harper Lee.

I have decided not to read GO SET A WATCHMAN.  The last thing I want to do is read anything about anyone with racist tendencies. I certainly do not want to read of a protagonist who was a hero being brought down. Not Finch. It’s just not right for me.

I think enough reviews will be done. I have so many other books to read. And so I will be passing on this one. Boom!

Tox-Sick by Suzanne Somers

Suzanne Somers


TOX-SICK, by Suzanne Somers, has a huge message. In this important new book about disease and toxins, Somers talks about the new normal which is 68.8% of adults who are considered overweight or obese.  She tells of ADHD and how it’s increased an average of 5% per year from 2003-2011. Shocking.  And did you know that an estimated 50 million Americans now suffer from autoimmune disease?  I had heard that food allergies are on the rise, but did not realize by how much.  The most shocking fact is that 95% of cancers are caused by diet and environment. And that is a very sad state of affairs.

Writing from experiences that her family members have had, Somers presents a clear picture of what is happening to our health, and she gives plenty of information to show how we can halt it all.

I am not a fanatic about health, food, or exercise, but I found this book to be life changing.  I will not be using every single piece of advise, but I will be taking notes and making small changes.

I received this fascinating book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. Thanks so much.