Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: "How To Bake a Perfect Life" by Barbara O'Neal

How To Bake a Perfect Life Barbara O'Neal
Published: December 21, 2010
ISBN: 9780553386776
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy (Kindle)
Recommended for readers looking for a romantic novel featuring an, ahem, more mature heroine

Professional baker Ramona Gallagher is a master of an art that has sustained her through the most turbulent times, including a baby at fifteen and an endless family feud. But now Ramona’s bakery threatens to crumble around her. Literally. She’s one water-heater disaster away from losing her grandmother’s rambling Victorian and everything she’s worked so hard to build.

When Ramona’s soldier son-in-law is wounded in Afghanistan, her daughter, Sophia, races overseas to be at his side, leaving Ramona as the only suitable guardian for Sophia’s thirteen-year-old stepdaughter, Katie. Heartbroken, Katie feels that she’s being dumped again—this time on the doorstep of a woman out of practice with mothering.

Ramona relies upon a special set of tools—patience, persistence, and the reliability of a good recipe—when rebellious Katie arrives. And as she relives her own history of difficult choices, Ramona shares her love of baking with the troubled girl. Slowly, Katie begins to find self-acceptance and a place to call home. And when a man from her past returns to offer a second chance at love, Ramona discovers that even the best recipe tastes better when you add time, care, and a few secret ingredients of your own.

My Thoughts: 
Here we have a book featuring a baker and, honestly, I felt like it was baked in a microwave.  Some parts were perfect, some parts were overdone and tough, and some parts were raw and undeveloped.  I'm left feeling deflated because, what I liked about this book, I really, really liked.

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.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

How to Bake a Perfect Life
by Barbara O'neal

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