Katherine Coble's Reviews > The Lost Recipe for Happiness

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal
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Nov 03, 2009

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Read in November, 2009

** spoiler alert ** I truly wanted to love this book. Based on the light, airy cover (different than the one pictured here), the jacket copy and cover blurbs from other authors I adore, this seemed like a shoe-in for my top 10 of 2009.

But it seemed like almost everywhere the author could have zigged she zagged. And like a chef who tries to do too many things for one meal and turns out a mediocre supper, O'Neal tried too hard to pack this story with too many different directions. It's not sure if it wants to be a breezy romance novel, a funky piece of literary fiction or a stylized fictional restaurant memoir a la Anthony Bourdain. So you wind up with a woman badly scarred and in pain from a car wreck in her youth starting a restaurant for a handsome movie director with piles of money whom she will undoubtedly fall in love with while she talks to and has hot sweaty sex with various ghosts. Actual ghosts. It was at least parts of three books fighting for dominance in one space.

A lot of folks here on Goodreads have said they had problems with the secondary love story between two gay characters and I did, too. Not because I find gay love stories icky, but because it seemed so tacked on to curry favour with a certain audience. The character of Patrick was never fully developed so having his love story take up book time seemed as interesting as reading about the love story of someone else in another book.

In several other places it seemed as though the author had a scene she just wanted so desperately to write that she went ahead and wrote it, whether or not it made sense in the context of the larger story she was supposedly telling. The worst example of such a scene was that after pages and pages about the tight schedule for restaurant preparation, describing the growing pain and exhaustion of the lead character and the straits of the restaurant in general the characters decide to do an Iron Chef-style cookoff to decide who gets to listen to what music in the kitchen. So much for the woman just taking command. Instead we have this thing, which reads more like a short story from the fiction section of Good Housekeeping or Cosmo. And characters who we have been told have too few hours in the day and are pushing past the point of exhaustion wind up cooking a three-course dinner each for a large number of people at 11pm. Fun scene--but it didn't fit the larger book.

So why three stars? Because where it does work, it works very well. I had fun for a lot of it and I'll probably read her second novel eventually. You can tell she wanted to tell a good story. Maybe next time she'll tell one good story and not try to cram a couple of others in on top of it in the same book.

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