Tag Archives: kitchens of the great midwest

The Best Books I Read in 2017


Looking for a few good reads this coming year?

Here is a list of a books I read (that were not necessarily published) in 2017, that I also rated 5 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.  I have included three books each from three separate categories. Enjoy!


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

I saw the play, so I knew what was coming. But I was still crying all the way driving home from work as the story ended. It’s a great story in general, but the narration is fantastic. I highly recommend this on audio. (My review here.)





Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue

I didn’t know anything about this book in advance, only that it was recommended on audio. Man, is the narrator fantastic with the voices! This immigration novel will pull at your heartstrings. (You can read my short review in this post.)




Kitchens of the Great Midwest – J. Ryan Stradal

Yes, I listened to and recommended it last year. Yes, I listened to it again – this time, with my husband. He loved it, too. I have no regrets of duplicating those hours. I love this book.






Dinner: A Love Story – Jenny

This cookbook reads like a novel. That’s how I read cookbooks; so it was a match made in heaven. After checking it out from the library, I purchased my own copy. Which reminds me, those beef short ribs aren’t going to braise themselves. I need to open that one back up!



Well Fed: Weeknights – Mel Joulwan

This is another cookbook that got me excited to purchase my own copy. Now that I have it, I need to go back through, flag those pages and do some cooking! I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, you don’t need to be Paleo to enjoy this cookbook. (I’m not.) Joulwan will teach you how to cook without you even realizing it.


Five Ingredients, 10 Minutes – Jules Clancy

You already knew this, since I declared it the Best Cookbook You’ve Never Read! I’m still making my way through it and must say that I never knew how quickly tasty and satisfying meals could come together! I’ve got more results to post!




It Takes One to Tango – Winifred M Reilly

I wasn’t even looking for this book; but it is one of the best books I’ve read all year! It came up in a list of books about marriage that are actually useful. I read it on a whim and found it a surprisingly quick and eye-opening read. Whether you think your marriage is on the rocks or you just have the same little arguments over and over again, this book is for you.




Bon Appetempt –  Amelia Morris(I just reilaed this was also on Audio, but the audio isn’t the reason I liked it, where those 3 books above are great on Audio!

I just realized that I listened to this one on audio, but I didn’t put it in that category. You don’t have to listen to this one audio; so it fits fine here. In fact, I bought the printed book afterward because I wanted the recipes she described and read to me! We all have been on our own culinary journey as our knowledge of cooking and taste buds evolve. This is one woman’s story. And I liked it.




Obama: An Intimate Portrait: The Historic Presidency in Photographs – Pete Souza

This is an absolutely beautiful and historic coffee table book! The amount of work and hours Souza put in to capture all of these moments, both personal and professional, both joyous and heart-wrenching blows my mind. This is dedication to work and the result is stunning.




Rules of Civility – Amor Towles

It’s not common that I check a work of fiction out from a library and then promptly purchase the book after I’ve read it because I know I will be re-reading it in the future. You can read my review in this post.





This is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Whoa. I had no idea what this book was about before I opened it. It may have taken me a bit to get into; but I was thinking about it for weeks afterward. I don’t want to give too much away… but you can find my review at the end of this post.






A Dog’s Way Home – W. Bruce Cameron

I love Cameron’s books written from a dog’s perspective. (I never did see the movie adaptation of A Dog’s Purpose.) But this one may just be his best yet. My husband doesn’t like to read books about dogs because he always fears that the dog will die and he will be sad. Don’t worry, that is not the case here. (I’m not giving it away, the title tells you that!) So worth the read, especially if you are a dog lover.








The Deal of a Lifetime – Fredrik Backman

The author of a Man Called Ove conceptualized this book by thinking What If? And it is such a good one that takes place on Christmas Eve. It might be completely different from anything you’ve ever read… or maybe it isn’t. But it’s quick, easy and thought-provoking. I really enjoyed reading it this holiday season.






If you had one book to pick to recommend that I read in the New Year, what would it be?



5 for Friday – Books I’ve Been Reading.


These next few books, just happen to be mostly non-fiction ones.

Well, except for that last one. 🙂


The Power of Meaning
by Emily Esfahani Smith 
(non-fiction) – worth a read

I won this book from a giveaway on Good Reads. I have yet to write a review, but maybe writing this will inspire me to finally do that. This book is thoroughly researched! I flagged over 20 pages. Skimming those pages, here is my takeaway:

  • There is a difference between a happy life and a meaningful life.
  • “The search for meaning is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness.”  <–I may have been pursuing the wrong thing!
  • “Mental Illness is often the result of a person’s ability to tell a good story about his or her life.” <-Storytelling plays a huge role in the power of meaning!
  • Resilience is genetic, but those who are more sensitive to stress can learn it.
  • We are in an age when we are moving from a focus on materialistic values (which focuses on “economic and physical security”) to an age where the focus of fulfillment may be of self-expression and a “sense of meaning and purpose.”
  • And probably my favorite insight was this quote by WWII Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl: “Being human, always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to server or another person to love – the more human he is.”

Yet the subheading of the book *Crafting a Life That Matters, led me to believe that there is a how-to in there somewhere. While this book has great insight, I just wish there was a bit more instruction.


Well Fed Weeknights
by Mel Joulwan 
(non-fiction, cookbook) – must read

I’ve been checking out cookbooks from the library for a while now (approximately one per week.) Then, if I love the cookbook, I buy it. I own Joulwan’s first two cookbooks. I’m so silly. While I don’t eat exclusively Paleo by any means, I love Mel’s cookbooks. She teaches you how to cook without you even knowing it. I’ve learned to and have become more comfortable improvising! While I like cumin, Joulwan seems to be obsessed with it. Sometimes the recipes don’t suit me for that reason, but I have learned what I do like! Now that I own it, I can’t wait to devour this book.

I love cookbooks that teach me how to cook real food.


One Pan, Two Plates
by Carla Snyder (non-fiction, cookbook) – worth a read

My husband hates leftovers. They often end up as my work lunches or fill our freezer. I loved this idea of easy weeknight meals for two. Plus, the cover is beautiful. BONUS: Snyder suggests a wine or beer pairing with every recipe. One of the first recipes I tried out of this cookbook wasn’t actually for the two of us – but just for me. I had barley and lentils in my pantry that never made their way to the plate because Rob would never eat them. I made Snyder’s Barley and Lentil Salad for lunch one day (served warm). Delicious and filling, it made for a great, easy cold salad the following day, too. I can’t wait to try more of the recipes because…

I now own this cookbook, too!


The Law of Attraction
by Esther and Jerry Hicks (non-fiction) – on the fence

I am always interested in reading up more on the Law of Attraction. This book has some really great nuggets of info, if you can get past some of the kooky ways the authors came about it. There were times I was about to put it down, but I’m glad I didn’t.


Kitchens of the Great Midwest – Yes, AGAIN
by J. Ryan Stradal (fiction, audiobook) – MUST LISTEN *Highly Recommended

Rob and I took a trip to Iowa for a family wedding. I checked out two audio books based on the number of hours we’d be on the road. My first choice was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, read by Claire Danes. After a few paragraphs, Rob thought he’d read the book before. So I asked him if he’d like me to switch to my backup. As predicted, he loved this book as much as I did! If you love food, are addicted to the Food Network, like to cook and/or live in the Midwest, I think you’ll enjoy this book. I especially think you will enjoy the audio. The narrators are fantastic with just the right dose of Minnesota accents in my opinion. Stradal has me hoping he’ll write another book soon!

We had a few more tracks to finish upon our return from Iowa. So you know what we did? We opened a bottle of wine, popped the CD in our DVD player, lit some candles and listened to the ending.

For the record, I fully intend to listen to Handmaid’s Tale on audio. I know it’s also a television series at the moment, but I don’t think we get the station. On further reflection, Rob decided that he may not have read the book, but perhaps saw the previews to the television series!


There are a lot of books that are now or are soon becoming movies or television adaptations this fall.

Which ones are hoping to read before viewing?



All About Audiobooks {And a Few Recommendations}


You guys.

Audiobooks have changed my life.

{Also, my favorite book of 2016 is in this post.}

How It Began

When my professional life changed and my commute went from 5 minutes to 30, I knew I had to do something. I’ve been a nervous driver since our accident last February. I over-anticipate what’s going to happen. I think every vehicle is coming into my lane. I don’t trust anyone. {I’m not a very good rider, either. But that’s another story. That’s when real books and magazines come in to play!}

Truth be told, I used to love driving! I used to drive all over the Twin Cities teaching about wine! Back then, I happily listened to mixed CDs that my husband made me. There were only a couple of audiobooks that I had ever listened to at that time; but they were books that I had already read: The Secret and The Power by Rhonda Byrne. I was discussing them with a colleague and she mentioned how listening to them on CD in her car really did wonders for absorbing each book’s message. So I bought them.

When I discovered I could borrow audiobooks from the library just like any other books, I thought, Why not?” 

Does It Count as Reading?

Now I listen to books as if I’m reading them – for the first time. At first, I wondered if listening to an audiobook “counted” as reading the book itself. I read several articles on this topic and the verdict is – It sure does! You do need to concentrate when you are listening to an audiobook. I find that I cannot listen to one while I’m cooking and concentrating on what needs to added next to my dish. However, with driving, it allows me to focus on something else just enough to keep my mind off the driving anxiety, but without distracting me completely. It’s not like the radio, which can be more like background noise. I’m thinking I might enjoy listening to an audiobook while walking or running, now, too.

Choosing an Audiobook

The hardest part is choosing the right one. Not all audiobooks are equal to their originals. It’s a different experience whether you devour a book with your eyeballs or your ears! A book may be great, but the reader’s voice may not suit you, or even suit the book. Sometimes the book might come off better on audio. Other times, it just takes a few minutes to get used to the voice or the style and then I’m okay. All I really can rely on?


First, I have found that books written by comedians tend to make great audiobooks because they are often read by the authors. They know how to deliver! How did I discover this?

Trial and Error.

One of the first ones I listened to was Amy Schumer’s The Girl with The Lower Back TattooLoved it.

Here are a few other audiobooks I’ve tried, written by comedians and other celebrities. Of course, if you aren’t interested in any of these celebrities, you probably won’t enjoy them.


Why Not Me?
by Mindy Kaling
 (non-fiction) – worth a listen

For me, this was more a bit of fluff. I got to learn a few things about Mindy and what Hollywood is like. I feel like she’s someone I could hang out with sometime. She seems pretty easy going.



Yes Please
by Amy Poehler
 (non-fiction) – must listen

This is is one book that I could argue that the audiobook is even better than the hard copy without having read the hard copy. Why? Because it’s as if Amy Poehler is talking to you. She reads from her own studio and invites guests in to talk in between about some of the chapters. The last chapter is actually read on stage at a stand-up show. I loved it.



What I Know For Sure
by Oprah Winfrey 
(non-fiction) – must listen

There’s just something about Oprah sharing the things she’s learned in life that makes me feel like I’m “almost” talking with a mom or a mentor over coffee.


Audiobook Duds

I’ve had a few other recommendations that were utter duds for me. But sometimes it’s the only way to pick them! Here’s why they didn’t work for me:


*A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson 
(non-fiction) – DNF

I picked this one up not based on recommendations, but on a whim when I returned another one. I pulled it off the shelf because one of my favorite books is by Bryson – Neither Here Nor There. I read it right after my 12-week post-college backpacking trip through Europe. It was laugh-out-loud-funny. But as an audiobook, I just could not get into this one. The author did not read the book. Instead, it was a gentleman with a British accent. Bryson is not British; but he did live there. And most certainly books read in a British accent can work well. This one was just to dry for my tastes. Maybe I’ll find the humor if I read the hard copy one day…



What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
by Randall Munroe 
(non-fiction?) – DNF

I know that this one was recommended on a Best Audiobooks list somewhere. Someone commented that they liked having it read by Wil Wheaton. But the book is horribly absurd. Why did you take these horrible minutes from me! Truly the worst, in my opinion.



Getting Things Done: The Act of Stress-Free Productivity
by David Allen 
(non-fiction) – DNF

I thought that a motivational book would be great on audio! I was wrong. The Secret and The Power worked for me; but not this one. It just couldn’t keep my attention. There was too much theory and asserting of how these “methods” work before actually getting to the methods. I kept finding my mind wandering.



The Kitchen House
by Kathleen Grissom 
(fiction) – DNF

Here is an audiobook that was recommended from the fiction category. The truth is, I did like the reader’s voice. She did the other character’s voices extremely well, too. I think it probably is a pretty great work of fiction set during the era of slavery. I just had trouble concentrating. It could have been timing. Or just me. It might be worth a revisit.


Best Sellers

The best part about borrowing bestsellers on audiobook is that you often don’t have to sit on the library waiting list nearly as long as you’d have to for the hard copy! Here are a few books I decided to soak up with my ears instead.


A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman 
(fiction) – must listen

Yes! Yes! This one was worth it on audiobook! They chose the perfect gentleman to read the English version of this book of Swedish origin to convey the essence of the main character. I also would have never known how “Ove” was pronounced. I am looking forward to seeing the movie now. After listening to this audiobook, I’m wondering if The Nest would be worth a listen rather than a read? I haven’t seen the sound recording on any recommended lists yet; but the audiobook is readily available at my library while I’m on the long wait list for the book. Should I take the plunge?



The Couple Next Door
by Shari Lapena 
(fiction) – currently listening

I’m currently listening to this audiobook. I was strangely drawn to the cover. I’m not sure I love the reader’s voice; but it certainly is appropriate for the genre. I’ll have to get back to you on this one. As of right now, I think the book itself would be an easy read.


But the best, best, best audiobook I’ve read so far – AND my favorite book I “read” in 2016 is…


Kitchens of the Great Midwest
by J. Ryan Stradal 
(fiction) – must listen

I didn’t know anything about this book prior to listening to it. I probably saw it on a list somewhere and added it to my Good Reads audio list. In fact, I thought it was non-fiction. I suspected it would cover actual kitchens and chefs in the Midwest.

But, no. It’s a genius work of fiction! I loved, loved every second of it. You must listen to this book if you live in the Midwest and are interested in food at all whatsoever. I laughed out loud so many times. Both readers are excellent and do accents and the character voices well. I did see a review of several books on a blog recently, and next to this one they noted, “Good/Not Great.”

WHAT?! I guess that goes to show how hard it is to rely on someone else’s opinion. I cannot recall the blog, but perhaps this person isn’t from the Midwest and couldn’t relate. Or perhaps the audiobook made all of the difference in the world! This one comes highly recommended from me. I knew I had only a few minutes left in the book when I arrived home from my commute one day. The book was so good that I drove a round the block a few times just to finish it!


Going forward, I’ll include my audiobooks with all of my others, because to me, they are just as important.

 Do you listen to books on audio? 

If so, how do you choose them and what are your favorites?