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[Mild spoilers] I bought this book having finished The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by the same author, and wanted to love it. Same fun turn of phrase, same random characters dying here and there, same intense interest in a subject (food for this one; beer for the other). But while the other book left me weeping, this one left me cold. The ending felt very unsatisfactory, and I didn't feel the device of each chapter telling the story of Eva worked, because in so many of the cases the links to Eva were so tenuous. And the more we saw Eva evolve, the less believable her journey felt.
I gave his other book 5 stars (which I rarely do). Not so with this one.
I am unsure how to review this book. Each chapter of the book reads like a short story and is told from a different characters point of view so we hear Eva's story through a variety of family, friends and even a boyfriend. The stories in themselves are well written and interesting enough. However Eva is the only character that appears in every story and in some stories she has almost no role at all. This means we struggle to paint a complete picture of her character which makes the blurb of the book quite misleading. Certain characters that appear in the early chapters reappear later on as minor characters which I found confusing because I had forgotten who they were. As few characters appear more than once there is also little character development which was kind of disappointing. I also found the ending of the final story quite a let down as well. There is some good writing here and perhaps if told in a different way may have proved to be a more interesting book.
So this is unlike any other book I have read. It tells the story of Eva Thorvald from her parents meeting through to her adulthood and her becoming a celebrated chef. However, apart from 1 chapter, each chapter tells the story of another character who has some connection to Eva. Whilst this is not an unusual way to tell a story, the difference here was that many of these characters have very loose links to Eva and in some chapters she is hardly mentioned – we may only get a glimpse of what is going on with her in the background to the other characters story.
However, towards the end of the book some of the characters are brought back into the story and I found it quite difficult to remember who they all were and how they were connected to Eva. The ending of the book felt unsatisfactory and without wanting to give away any spoilers I was left wandering if the gathering was a coincidence or whether it had been planned by Eva.
As a character, Eva seemed too perfect. She seemed to glide through life getting what she wanted and the other characters seemed to hold her in some god like reverence. I didn’t particularly find myself caring about her or rooting for her.
Through the book and the different characters stories there were a lot of cliffhangers and these never got resolved. In some cases you could fill in the gaps with your own imagination of what happened but in others I really would have liked to have known what happened to the character.
It was an interesting snippet into multiple lives centred in and around the Minnesota area but unfortunately the snippets were not quite long enough to leave me satisfied at the end of the book.
I really enjoyed - Kitchens of....Beautiful writing, Funny,sweet with a great dollop of chilli. I'm a sucker for recipes in books. I found the whole heirloom stuff really funny, especially having been in L.A and discovered what a buzz word it is there. The Lutefish too, brought to mind Lake Wobegone. The book conjured up many sensorial memories. Great characters and the bittersweet ending. Basically, loved it. Just brought 4 as gifts for friends.
One of the best books I have read in a long time and one that has been given as a gift to family members with an interest in food. The descriptions and storyline will ring true with many chefs. I rarely highlight quotes or lines in books but I have marked many noteworthy lines Here is one of my favourites which resonates with anyone who has worked long hours in a job: "She looked like a shorter, wider Hillary Clinton, but with the posture and attitude of someone fifty-eight hours into a sixty-hour workweek."
The writing is good. Phrases are well-turned. And I loved the broken, hurting characters in the first half of the novel. Unfortunately, the main plotline went ridiculously ostentatious and veered out of hand to the point where I didn't like the main character by the end. But in fairness (SPOILER) a main character who plants corn in a field four years before she plans to cook a gourmet meal nearby just so she could have the freshest corn possible is always going to irk me. It is possible I'm simply easy to rile, as I was also put off by the inclusion of recipes,which seemed an unnecessary gimmick. In summary, read this if you are a complete food snob--you'll love it. Otherwise, skip it and join me in hoping that the author devises a less irritating story next time.