An unforgettable novel that celebrates food, family, and the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters.
In a story as warm and embracing as a family kitchen, Barbara O’Neal explores the poignant, sometimes complex relationship between mothers and daughters—and the healing magic of homemade bread.
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.
“Forty-year-old bread maker Ramona Gallagher owns a boulangerie in Colorado Springs, though independence from her restaurateur family members has put a crimp in her financial well-being and in their relationships. Pregnant with her first child, Ramona’s 24-year-old daughter, Sofia, flies to Germany when her soldier husband, Oscar, is burned in an explosion in Afghanistan. Katie, Oscar’s 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, comes to live with Ramona after her mother is arrested and forced into rehab for drug use. A surly teen with a dog, Katie adds to the unresolved family issues lying heavily on Ramona’s shoulders. She thinks back on that long-ago summer, when she was pregnant and Aunt Poppy had taught her to bake bread—and, oh, that young man at the record store.
Verdict: Mothers and daughters are at the heart of this beautiful novel by O’Neal (The Lost Recipe for Happiness). Their interactions can be thorny and insuperable, yet there is love at the root, just waiting for the proper nourishment to make it grow—a lot like mother dough, refreshed and fed and folded into so many tantalizing creations. O’Neal offers baking lore and recipes along with her narrative. Readers will be captivated by the baking process as much as they are by these complex and multidimensional women. Highly recommended.”
“This book will have you smiling and crying and pining for an old love, or just a hunk of really good fresh-baked bread. I loved every single delicious bite.”
“Envelopes you like the scent of warm bread, comforting and invigorating, full of love and forgiveness and possibility.”—Erica Bauermeister, bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients
“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.)”
(Starred review) O’Neal, Barbara. How To Bake a Perfect Life. Bantam. Dec. 2010. 398p. ISBN 9780553386776. pap. $15.