Sunday, February 15, 2015

Orphan Train Book Review and Beef Tostadas

“So is it just human nature to believe that things happen for a reason - to find some shred of meaning even in the worst experiences?” 
― Christina Baker Kline "Orphan Train"
Since its publication in 2013, "Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline, has been a bestseller on all the national lists in the U.S. I love it when an author sends me hurrying to Google in order to learn more about certain facts I've learned from their books. Christina Baker Kline has definitely achieved that here with her historical fiction novel, "Orphan Train."

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

In "Orphan Train", Christina Baker Kline seamlessly weaves together two stories from different time periods and two characters' points of view. Along the way, she infuses just enough history about the trains that carried Orphans across the county from 1854 to 1929 in search of new families to intrigue without belaboring the story. 

On the surface Molly and Vivian, the two point-of-view characters, seem to be worlds apart. 
Molly is an at-risk foster teen who has just narrowly escaped a stint in juvenile detention after stealing of all things, a book from the library. Her foster mother is fed up with her—the feeling is mutual—and her foster father, while a bit more supportive, mostly doesn’t want to cross his wife. Molly has bounced around far too many disappointing foster families, and is cynical and ambivalent. 

Vivian is a 91 year old rich widow, living alone in a waterfront mansion with too many unused rooms and a cluttered attic she needs cleaned out and organized. Her housekeeper is the mother of Molly’s boyfriend. Through that connection Molly and Vivian meet and agree that Molly fulfill her community service hours by helping Vivian organize her attic. As Molly and Vivian sort through boxes of Vivian’s history, the heart of the story unfolds. They learn they have a great deal in common, form an unlikely friendship, and together learn the meaning of family. 

As with many stories that take place in both the past and the present, I preferred Vivian's story in the past. This book is very much a character driven book but it is much more driven by Vivian than by Molly. I loved all of the historical details that Kline put into the book. Much of Vivian's story is set in Minnesota. The author is from Maine but she was meticulous in her research. The Minnesota references were authentic to the setting. I also really liked the descriptions of the families that Vivian went through and the people that she met along the way. Some parts of the newer story seemed a little forced. Vivian's story also had a lot more twists and turns than Molly's story. 
If this is any recommendation, I read the book in less than 24 hours. I was captivated and mesmerized by the story. In that brief time I became emotionally attached to the story and the characters going through several pieces of Kleenex. I do not usually read books on a Kindle except on trips so I kept checking to see how much of the story was left. Last number I saw was 89% but with that number my wailing  began! I couldn't believe the story just ended. I was sure there was a mistake since it still had 11% more to go. But what I did not realize was that the rest of the remaining pages were an excerpt from her first novel "Sweet Water." I can only hope there will be a sequel to "Orphan Train." I wanted MORE!
One Recipe=Two Different Dishes
Add a Southwestern flair to your cooking. One recipe makes a beef refried bean salsa dip or 3 Beef Tostadas.
Main Dish:Baked Beef Tostadas
Appetizer:Chips and Salsa 
  • 1-1/2 LB. ground beef
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • 1 jar 16 oz. chunky salsa
  • 1-2 TB. chili powder
  • 1/2 can refried beans (vegetarian)
  • 2 cups diced grape tomatoes
  • 2 cups shredded Shredded Mexican 4 cheeses
  • chips
  • optional avocado slices
  • 6 floured 7 inch tortilla shells 
  • Olive oil
  • toppings;sour cream, guacamole,green onions, diced tomatoes
Basic Directions:
  • In a skillet cook hamburger until no longer pink and onions are tender.
  • Crumble hamburger and drain grease using a colander. Wipe skillet clean with a paper towel.
  • Add hamburger and onions back to skillet with refried beans, chili powder, salsa and cheese.  
  • On a low heat blend mixture and cook for 15-20 minutes, uncovered. Remove skillet from heat.
  • Serve mixture warm in an ovenproof bowl with chips.
Beef Tostada
  • Preheat oven to 400
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush 3 tortilla shells lightly with olive oil and place shells olive oil side down on parchment paper. 
  • Evenly divide meat mixture on 3 shells. Top with diced tomatoes and avocado slices. Place remaining 3 tortillas on each shell and lightly bush with olive oil. 
  • Bake for 10 minutes.

1 comment:

  1. OK, this sounds like a book I definitely must read.

    Have you ever toured the Orphanage Museum in Owatonna? It would be worth your visit.

    Here's a link:

    I've also blogged about it.