Thursday, January 31, 2019

How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal

Iowa has been dead center in the middle of this horrible "polar vortex" the past few days. It's been so cold that pretty much everything was shut down, and people stayed home. Crazy, crazy cold--the kind that hurts your face the second you step out. Add to that a lovely snow storm today (it was only supposed to be an inch, but we're at about 4 with horrible roads and many, many accidents), and we're all ready for a balmy 32 degrees (coming in a few days). January has certainly been an interesting month.

I was doing a great job on reading lots of books, and then hit a wall. I've got all sorts of books started, but can't seem to get through any of them. I decided to reach for a book I've had sitting on my bookcase for a few years and get a head start on reading for a book group later in February. I also needed to read something a bit lighter. 

How to Bake a Perfect Life is a mixed bag of chick lit, family drama, and bread. Oh, I loved the bread! I've never made my own bread, but this certainly has me thinking I should try.  At the heart of this plot is Ramona Gallagher, a forty-year old woman who owns her own bakery in Colorado Springs, CO. Her daughter Sophia is married to a solider who's been severely injured while on active duty, and is in Germany at a hospital. Sophia must go, but Sophia is currently 8 months pregnant, and her stepdaughter Katie comes to stay with Ramona in her rambling Victorian home/bakery. Katie's mother is a drug addict in rehab, and Katie has nowhere to go. 

There are a lot of moving parts to this story, and they unfold little by little, so you get to know Ramona, Sophia and Katie as the story moves along. Ramona was a young mother-fifteen--and her accidental pregnancy created tension within her family--a prosperous large family that owns and operates many restaurants in the area. She inherited her grandmother's home, and decided to finally take her talent for baking bread and turn it into her own bakery, with no ties to her family's businesses. This also has created tension. But of course her money and her plan have gone awry with unexpected building issues that are keeping Ramona close to ruin. Can she keep going and make the bakery a success? 

There's a whole lot to this novel, and I can't possibly tell you all of it, and I wouldn't want to anyway! The bread is a big part of it, and there are recipes included throughout. There are many themes, too: mother-daughter relationships, forgiveness, veteran issues, drug addiction, home, and second chances. There's also a delightful dog named Merlin who is a very wise old soul, and an elderly woman who sits in the back garden and talks to Katie about the family. Multiple points of view help you understand what each character is thinking, and gives the plot a lot more depth. I was expecting a fun, lighthearted novel, but got more than that--and I happily dove right in and couldn't put it down. 

This novel helped me get back on track with some reading to finish out January. I'll post my February reads list this weekend--there are so many I want to read, I'm not sure what to start with first. 

Rating: 4/6 for a read-off-the-shelf novel that has me yearning for a warm crusty loaf of sourdough bread, guitar music, and a beautiful garden to soothe my soul.   Lots of characters have me hoping there are more novels ahead with the Gallagher family. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

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