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How to Bake a Perfect Life: A Novel Paperback – December 21, 2010
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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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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
Top customer reviews
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?)
Ramona is a fantastic character. She has a history--she was an unwed teen mother who recently broke with her family and started her own business. She's guarded, as one might expect, but still yearning for companionship. I appreciated that she was human, not perfect. While I rooted for her without, I could still she that she had her own flaws.
O'Neal presents four major plots here (and four, for a book like this, is just too many). Ramona is struggling in her business and wondering what her next steps are. Her very pregnant daughter's husband was critically wounded and must go to him, which understandably causes Ramona worry and stress. Ramona is also needed to become the guardian to her tween step-granddaughter. And, to top all this off, there is a romantic element when "a man from her past" comes back on the scene.
I know that it is the romance that is the selling point of this book, but I felt that this was the least necessary (and least interesting) aspect of the book. Honestly, O'Neal could have lifted that entire plot and its character out of the book and still have enough for a good novel. Or, if this book really was meant to be a "romance," one or two of the other plots should have been left out.
I did think that O'Neal's writing was tight and readable, but I did have one complaint. I'm not a prude, but detailed sex scenes (or, as my mother calls them, "biology lessons") are rather annoying, especially if they don't fit in with the fabric of the book. The more intimate scenes just didn't fit with the narrative style of the rest of the book (but, as I said before, that whole plot didn't really fit). At times, I felt almost as if she had outsourced those pages while she wrote the rest of the book.
Another thing that bugged me...there is a supernatural element in this book. I have nothing against supernatural elements, but I feel that they have to be handled with care. I wouldn't say that O'Neal isn't committed to this element--she follows it throughout the book--but I really felt that she should have handled it differently. How, exactly, I'm not sure. Perhaps she should have made it a larger part of the whole story...I don't know. What I do know is that it just didn't quite jive here.
I don't want to give the impression that I hated this book. As I said, I really enjoyed the main character. The plot(s) also kept me going until the end, even if they sometimes left me scratching my head. This is a lighter read and problems in books like that are easier to forgive. In the end, it was still an entertaining read and is great when you just need something lighter to read when you have a few minutes here and there.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Great characters and plot was good.Read more
This book is a story of a life, more than a life, the story of a woman, Ramona...Read more