Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jenn's Review: The Lost Recipe for Happiness

The Lost Recipe for HappinessSummary:  In this sumptuous new novel, Barbara O’Neal offers readers a celebration of food, family, and love as a woman searches for the elusive ingredient we’re all hoping to find…

It’s the opportunity Elena Alvarez has been waiting for–the challenge of running her own kitchen in a world-class restaurant. Haunted by an accident of which she was the lone survivor, Elena knows better than anyone how to survive the odds. With her faithful dog, Alvin, and her grandmother’s recipes, Elena arrives in Colorado to find a restaurant in as desperate need of a fresh start as she is–and a man whose passionate approach to food and life rivals her own. Owner Julian Liswood is a name many people know but a man few do. He’s come to Aspen with a troubled teenage daughter and a dream of the kind of stability and love only a family can provide. But for Elena, old ghosts don’t die quietly, yet a chance to find happiness at last is worth the risk.
~product description

Review:  This one has been in my To Be Read Pile for a while, and I'm glad Roof Beam Reader's 2011 TBR Challenge finally moved it closer to the top.  I haven't read a good Food Lit book in a while, except The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen (who I revere), and this definitely fit the bill. The Lost Recipe for Happiness is the perfect combination of food, romance, and magical realism.

I loved the characters Barbara O'Neal created.  They're real and vibrant.  It was fabulous that Elena's decisions were her own and she doesn't fall into archetypal caveats.  The character of Julian Liswood doesn't fall into the stereotypical Hollywood director category either; he has great depth and has not been corrupted by his money.  Even Portia, who is a troubled teen struggling to make sense of her glitzy world, is not without redeeming qualities. 
The secondary characters are rich too, and you just wish you could spend more time with each of them.  It isn't just the characters though, but the storyline is enticing as well.

Job equality has come a long way, but the commercial kitchen is still a man's world and I love seeing a strong woman not just surviving, but thriving in it.  I also like the way the Ms. O'Neal works plot exposition in the form of flashbacks into the story through Elena's memories. Often times this doesn't work or gets too narrative, but this was beautifully done -with the exception of several pages of rumination on Elena's past relationships that just didn't work for me. Barbara O'Neal's writing is a lot like reading a script in that you can see everything like it's unfolding on the big screen as you read. While the ending was slightly predictable, the journey was not. Elena is haunted by her past, but not broken by it. In fact, her ghosts help her along the way. The only thing that really didn't fit for me were the love scenes. I don't mind a good sex scene, but some of these seemed extraneous and over the top. I like a little left to the imagination.

This is one of those Food-Lit where the recipes, as they relate to the story, are found at the ends of chapters.  In fitting with the story, they are mostly south western cuisine and sound interesting. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan, so there wasn't many I was drooling over and wanted to add to my repertoire.  Although Ms. O'Neal does include some nice ones for pomegranate baklava, french toast, and one recipe for chicken soup for those of us "poor souls who will never like chilies."

In the end, this was a bittersweet read because I'm really sorry it took me so long to get to this, but I can't wait to read more from Barbara O'Neal! She is definitely a new favorite in the Food-lit genre. I've already added How to Bake a Perfect Life and The Secret of Everything to the top of my TBR Wishlist.

Final Take:  4.25/5.0



Vanessa@Luxuria June 14, 2011 at 3:22 PM  

Definitely going on my summer reading list. Sounds like my kind of book (I am a real foodie!!)

Grace Fonseca June 14, 2011 at 6:33 PM  

Very pretty blog. Good review. New follower. Come visit me sometime as well.

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