Synopses & Reviews
In a novel as warm and embracing as a family kitchen, Barbara O’Neal explores the poignant, sometimes complex relationships 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.
"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.) In Haney's fast-paced second novel featuring justice seeker Kennesaw Tanner (after No Man's Land), the empathetic Kennesaw, who lives on his sea skiff, Miss Rosalie, in the Savannah River, finds himself confronting the sex trade in Georgia's rural underclass while chasing down the story of the mysterious death of a young girl. Kennesaw's casual self-assurance makes him a charming action hero, but his smugness about his friendships with people less fortunate than him and his introspective asides about how we are ruining nature ('are we not content until we have cut down every ancient tree') and about the hopelessness of the lives of the poor ('a social disease for which there appears to be no immunization and no antidote') yield an unpleasant air of condescension and superiority. Still, both military and boating enthusiasts will be rewarded. (Dec.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
About the Author
Barbara O’Neal fell in love with food and restaurants at the age of fifteen, when she landed a job in a Greek café and served baklava for the first time. She sold her first novel in her twenties, and has also published under the names Barbara Samuel and Ruth Wind. Since then she has won a plethora of awards, including two Colorado Book Awards and six prestigious RITAs, including one for The Lost Recipe for Happiness. Her novels have been widely published in Europe and Australia, and she travels all over the world, presenting workshops, hiking hundreds of miles, and, of course, eating. She lives with her partner, a British endurance athlete, and their collection of cats and dogs, in Colorado Springs.
Reading Group Guide
1. As a young girl, Ramona has to choose between keeping the baby growing within her, or having a life filled with travel, as her Aunt Poppy had. Have you ever grappled with the choice between motherhood and opportunities in work or life?
2. Most of the characters in the novel find both solace and enjoyment in a passion—Adelaide, Lily, and Katie in flowers; Poppy and Ramona in baking bread; Jonah in music. How do your passions or hobbies impact your life in good times or bad?
3. Ramona is both a mother and a daughter. When you become a parent yourself, does it make it easier to forgive the flaws of your own parents, or harder? What makes the difference? If you are a parent, how did your relationship with your parents change when your children were born?
4. Some of these characters have faced very challenging issues in their lives—the loss of a child, the loss of a parent, the challenge of grievous injuries—and each of them handle these experiences differently. Who copes well? Who does not? How would you have responded differently to these challenges?
5. The relationship between sisters plays an important part in this book. Do you identify with the complexity of these relationships? Which sister do you relate to the most?
6. The process of baking bread is described as a kind of therapy for Ramona, and later it allows for a trust to build between
shy, standoffish Katie and her step-grandmother. What practice in your life has allowed you to build emotional bridges or connect with others?
7. When she first meets Ramona, Katie is fiercely protective of her mother. How does Katie’s acceptance and adoption by Sophia’s family effect Katie’s understanding of her own mother and impact that relationship? How do you see it evolving in the future?
8. How is Katie’s relationship with her mother reflective of the other mother/daughter relationships portrayed in this book?
9. Discuss the role pets play in this novel. How are their personalities a reflection or contrast of their owners?
10. What do you think about Ramona’s choices in relation to men? Did she lose something by turning her back on Cat? What do her choices in men say about her as a person?
11. Ramona’s mother, Lily, comes through for Katie at times in a way she never did for her own daughter. Why do you think this is? Do you think Lily has regrets or would have done things differently with Ramona if she could?