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I am shocked and deeply honored to get the news that I'm at the top of the Library Reads List for July. As a person who not only spent much of his young life in libraries, and owe so much to the encouragement and support of librarians (starting at Tilden Elementary, where, while I was in second grade, they helped me prepare a lecture on the "Dinosaurs of North America"), this means so, so much. Thank you, libraries and librarians -- you were already in my heart, and I was already in your debt.
*Stradal, J. Ryan. Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Jul. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780525429142. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698196513. F
Renowned chef Eva Thorvald commands $10,000 per couple for exclusive, destination dinner parties that leave guests swooning. But how did she develop her discerning palate and culinary chops? What made her into the sensitive, beloved genius she is today? Each chapter, told from a different person’s viewpoint, presents a phase in Eva’s life, going back to her infancy when her father first introduced her to braised pork shoulder (puréed) and heirloom moonglow tomatoes. Though Eva’s life is at turns tragic—her mother left the family when she was a baby, for starters—she always has her fascination with food to sustain her. At age 11, Eva grows hydroponic chocolate habaneros in her closet and uses them to take revenge on bullies. In high school, she experiences her first kiss and her first grilled walleye. By her twenties, Eva is working as a sous chef while struggling to cover medical bills for her adopted father. Eva perseveres and eventually thrives, surrounding herself with friends and family who love her and support her artistry. VERDICT Stradal is a confident first novelist, crafting characters who are singular, sometimes unlikable but always human. Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. A standout. [See Prepub Alert, 2/1/15.]—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA