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How to Bake a Perfect Life: A Novel Paperback – December 21, 2010

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How to Bake a Perfect Life: A Novel + The Secret of Everything: A Novel + The Lost Recipe for Happiness
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Original edition (December 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553386778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553386776
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #491,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Rita Award–winning author (as Barbara Samuel) of The Lost Recipe for Happiness returns with the absorbing story of Ramona Gallagher, a 40-year-old woman whose joy in running a bakery in Colorado Springs helps her transcend a life that's anything but perfect. Ramona has a prickly relationship with her large, restaurant-owning family and a deep love for her daughter, Sofia, who Ramona had as a teenager and is now grown and pregnant. When Sofia's husband is injured in Afghanistan and she flies to Germany to be with him, Ramona is left to care for Sofia's 13-year-old stepdaughter, Katie, a scrawny child whose drug-addicted mother is in jail. Over the summer, Ramona struggles to keep her business afloat and find some solid footing with her family, bonds with Katie, aches for what her daughter is enduring, and rekindles a romance from 25 years earlier. O'Neal's tale of strong-willed women and torn family loyalties is a cut above the standard women's fiction fare, held together by lovingly sketched characters and real emotion. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

Ramona Gallagher does not do well with her family. Born into a long line of restaurant owners, shipped off to the country when 15 and pregnant, and skipped over for promotion in favor of her ex during an acrimonious divorce, she broke away from her family and opened her own bakery. She now leads a quiet life while residing with her pregnant daughter, Sofia, whose husband is stationed in Iraq. When Sofia receives a call that her husband has been injured, she flies to his side, leaving Ramona to take care of Sofia’s stepdaughter, Katie. Katie, 13, has had a rough life with her drug-addicted mother while her father is overseas, and Ramona, out of practice and remembering her own mother, tries her best to deal with the prickly teen. Under Ramona’s care, Katie slowly blossoms until another tragedy threatens to permanently ruin them all. O’Neal’s third novel is, like its predecessors (The Lost Recipe for Happiness, 2008; The Secret of Everything, 2010), a dramatic, emotional story with honest characters and a warm heart at its center. --Hilary Hatton

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Customer Reviews

The characters were very well written.
Monica Caples
It is one of those rare books you read that you want to find out what happens but you don't want it to end either.
I have devoured all of Barbara O'Neal's books, but this is my favorite one of all!!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Lee Rhuday on January 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
With "How To Bake A Perfect Life," Barbara O'Neal once again demonstrates why the Romance Writers of America awarded her their top prize for novels with romantic elements in 2010. And, in my opinion, she's baked her own slice of perfection in this book. Yummy recipes and sensual descriptions of bread making and baking will satisfy the cravings of an ardent foodie. Those who want a story about family rifts and healing will find it in Ramona's dealings with her strong, restaurant-owning clan. Lost love and teenage angst play against a hearty dose of war's realism.

The creation of a book, much like the making of a loaf of bread, requires the careful combination and layering of many aspects--plot, structure, characterization, voice. "How To Bake A Perfect Life" takes all those elements and adds a dash of the unknown, a willingness to take a chance by focusing the story on an older heroine. There's a lot going on, but somehow Ms. O'Neal simply makes it work, and the result is one of the best books I've read in ages.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Pheebie on July 5, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let me begin by saying that I am a picky reader. It seems lately almost every book I begin to read, I find myself putting down after a few pages because the writing is so incredibly poor. (My husband frequently hears me sighing, "Life's too short to read bad writing.") That being said, I went into this novel thinking, "How far will I get into this one before tossing it into the 'give away' stack with the others?"
Thankfully, at last, a book worth finishing - and keeping on my bookshelf as well. I won't detail the plot or well-crafted characters, as others have sufficiently summed up those aspects. I merely wanted to put in my proverbial two cents and give this novel enthusiastic praise. (On another note, I don't understand the review regarding 'explicit sex,' as I don't recall any such elements in this novel, so please do not let that critique deter you from buying this book. Perhaps the reviewer was thinking of a different novel?)
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By RobynB on February 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
I had a lot of trouble putting this book down. It was wonderful; made me laugh and cry a lot. I cannot imagine what the one reviewer meant by explicit sex as there were definitely no explicit sexual descriptions in this book. The author writes very well from the perspective of a teenager, and equally well from the mother and grandmother's points of view. I found it well-written and well-edited. The characters were nicely developed and multi-dimensional, and I really cared what happened to them. Highly recommend this book!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Literary Marie on November 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
Ramona was born into a line of restaurant owners and bread bakers. After she was skipped over for a promotion, she broke away from the family and started her own bakery. Everything was fine until one phone call changed her life. Ramona's pregnant daughter, Sofia, received news that her soldier husband was badly burned overseas. Sofia rushed to her injured husband's side, leaving behind a 13-year-old stepdaughter, Katie, in Ramona's care.

The story slowly moves along with Ramona trying to keep her bakery business afloat and out of debt. Katie is trying to adjust to the new surroundings and Sofia is hoping her husband has a full speedy recovery.

Every now and then, I come across a highly recommended, 5-star rated book. But when I read it, I wonder what the praise was for. How to Bake a Perfect Life is that type of book. It wasn't a page turner for me. It was too easy to put down and reluctant to pick back up. The writing was well done but the story itself just fell flat in a predictable way. I thought the theme (relationship between a mother and daughter; the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child) would draw me in. Unfortunately, it did not. I disagree with the village's recommendation. Meh!

Literary Marie
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M.S.F. on February 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While the book started like just another piece of woman's fiction with recipes and the standard characters, I soon found myself drawn into the characters and their lives. How to Bake a Perfect Life captured my attention in ways that many books of the same subject manner don't. First, the author does an excellent job in telling the story from multiple perspectives without disrupting the flow of the story. The author manages to do this without making the reader feel like they are switching gears. Second, while the the pieces of the story fit together a bit too conveniently, the characters are fleshed out in a way that they come to life and it doesn't feel far-fetched. Third, the recipe/baking theme isn't just a gimmick but adds a sensory feeling to the story (as do the themes of music and flowers). While the story (provided by other reviewers) itself doesn't differ much from the multitude of other women's books out there, these facets pulled together make this read stand above most. It's that well written.

There are 1 or 2 bedroom scenes but I didn't find anything overly explicit or inappropriate for the target audience. Because the book touches on themes of teenage pregnancy, depression, life struggles/disappointments, this is a book for women, not young teens. More importantly the scenes are woven into the story in a way that adds emotion/meaning to the plot as part of the evolution of a relationship..not just for the sake of adding sex. In fact, like other reviewers, it probably wouldn't have jumped out at me as having "sex scenes" if I hadn't seen it mentioned.

I didn't give it five stars because it isn't a book that I would read more than once nor is it earth shaking. But it is a book that I would share and pass along (if it weren't on my Kindle). I couldn't put it down and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. If you enjoy women's fiction, you should add How to Bake a Perfect Life to your reading list.
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