September 5, 2012

Guest Review: How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal

About Sarah: Who am I? I'm a part-time library science student, part-time librarian, and full-time mom. When I'm not wrangling my little girl or my husband, I'm reading all sorts of books to be able to recommend that "next" book for shy readers or those new to the romance genre. I can be found on Goodreads or on my blog at

I'm always on the lookout for new authors and different styles of romance to read. This book recently won a 2012 RITA for a novel with strong romantic elements. I was skeptical of the book to start out with. I'm not a huge fan of books told in the first person, nor do I typically like books with different voices throughout, but somehow this book managed to get past all my preconceived notions. It made me laugh, it definitely made me cry (a lot), but overall, I just didn't want to put it down and was quite sad when it was over. I should caution anyone that if you find reading books that talk a lot about food make you hungry, you should probably steer clear of this book--there are recipes galore and much description about breads and delicious foods throughout.

The main character is Ramona Gallagher, who owns a bakery in her grandmother's former Victorian house. Ramona is an interesting character, too. She was a mother at 15, and during the course of the book we learn the circumstances of her pregnancy, as well as some of the problems she's had with men throughout her life. She's fiercely independent, but underneath her outer shell made crusty from life, is a protective and comforting mother. Her relationships with the women in her life are complicated, and made more complicated by the relationships she's had with men. Her ex-husband, Dane, used to work for the family business, and was kept on despite their divorce, causing Ramona to choose to open her boulangerie outside of the family's restaurant group. Her much-senior mentor, Cat, also has a history with her mother that ends up creating a rift between the two of them. Drama! 

Next up, we have Ramona's daughter, Sofia. Sofia is the wife of Oscar, a man badly burned while on duty in Afghanistan. Despite being very pregnant with her first child, she rushes off to take care of him in Germany before he can be flown back to the States. Meanwhile, her step-daughter, Katie, through a series of unfortunate events involving her mother and meth, ends up needing a place to stay (along with a lovable dog). Ramona ends up taking her in and teaches her about bread and being a "normal" kid. The story moves through each woman's story, ending with the birth of Sofia's child.   

What I liked best about this book could very well be something that someone else hates, so I'll just lay out what I loved and you can choose for yourself. I'm a new mother, so pregnancy and labor are not distant memories for me. O'Neal's language describing those events is so tangible I found myself crying quite often just remembering. I also am a baker, so any books about food are a plus for me. This book had so much about bread making, creating starters and mother doughs, and general baking, that I often felt I was in the kitchen kneading the dough with Ramona. It also made me bake while I was reading the book, which may or may not have been a good thing. At times, this book felt a little more like reading regular fiction than a romance novel, but right at that moment when I was going to write it off, that's when the romance started. [Possible spoiler] The only reason I didn't give this book a solid 5 was that there were a few story lines that did not get resolved by the end of the book that I felt should have at least had some closure or at least attempts at understanding. This book is not part of a series, so we'll never know and that's a pet peeve of mine. [End spoiler]

In any event, reading this book myself made me agree with the judges of the RITA competition; this book definitely deserved to win the award it did. If you want to see who else won and give some new authors a shot, check out the RITA and Golden Heart winners page of the RWA conference. I've read a few of the books this particular book was up against and I still agree it deserved to win. This would also be a great book for a book club, and the three story lines would have potential for great discussion.  

Review by Sarah
Grade: 4.5
Sensuality: McDreamy
Purchase: Amazon


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.

Bantam. December 21, 2010


  1. Sounds like a wonderful read. I have put it on my Tbr list... thanks for the review and bringing this book to my attention.

  2. It turns out that Barbara O'Neal and Barbara Samuels are the same person... I've read books by both but the voices seem different, must read this one and see how it compares now that I know they are the same author. Great review!

  3. This puts me in the mind of Mary Kay Andrews. She has very detailed food and cooking in many of her books as well. Sounds like an interesting read. But I think I would agree with Sarah about the ending.

  4. Interesting review, Sarah, and thank you! Because I would probably have written off this book, based on the number of storylines it seems to contain ^_^; I'm not sure I'll get to it, but it's now on my radar :)


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The books reviewed here were purchased by us. If the book was provided by the author or publisher for review, it will be noted on the post. We do not get any type of monetary compensation from publishers or authors.