About three or four months ago, sitting on some kind of odd, circular red seat near the fitting rooms at Target in Golden Valley, waiting for Mom and Meridith, I opened the Target Book Club edition of How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal (which includes a letter from her to Target shoppers, being that Target plays a small part in the book, and she loves Target), and began reading. I liked the descriptions of mother doughs, and of Ramona's kitchen, but didn't get further than that. Out of curiosity about a month ago, I ordered How to Bake a Perfect Life, remembering that brief encounter, and began reading it on August 25. I remember that so specifically because I had written about it on the 26th (http://scrapsofliteracy.blogspot.com/2011/08/perfect-day.html). Because of that experience, I ordered from abebooks.com her previous two novels, her first, The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and her second, The Secret of Everything. Right when The Lost Recipe for Happiness arrived in the mail, I had just finished The Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson, which merits its own entry soon, since I ordered books 2, 3, and 4 from abebooks.com, and am anticipating book 5 in 2012.
When I opened to the first page of The Lost Recipe for Happiness and began reading, I immediately began sighing with pleasure all over again, just as I had with How to Bake a Perfect Life. Imagine coming home from a hard, yet satisfying day of work. You've done some good in your part of the world. Your family or boyfriend or girlfriend comes home not long after, and dinner is many of your favorite foods. The mail has brought the latest issue of your favorite magazine. On TV, reruns, but in particular, a rerun of your favorite episode of your favorite show. Feel that bliss, that warmth, that peace, that love? That's what The Lost Recipe for Happiness feels like. That's why I ordered it, because I wanted again what Babara O'Neal had given me in How to Bake a Perfect Life, but also to see how she did it in her first novel.
With The Secret of Everything, I've found my favorite Barbara O'Neal novel, and my new favorite novel. This one will be going into my permanent collection (It's been a while since I've mentioned it: My permanent collection are the books that will move with me when we move; I also have collections of books around my room, but this collection is in two boxes that I use as shelves for now). O'Neal (a pseudonym, by the way, as she is Barbara Samuel) is a poet in a novelist's body. I want to give out more than just the first two paragraphs, but you need to explore this book for yourself too.
So here goes, the first two paragraphs:
"On a foggy August morning, Tessa Harlow had finally tired of her long wallow on the Santa Cruz beaches. Leaving her father's tidy little bungalow as she did every morning, she carried her breakfast down to the surf: a mango fresh from the local grocer, a hunk of sourdough bread, and a hefty cup of tea she bought from the stand on the corner.
Settling on the sand, she skimmed the thick outer skin from the mango and bit into the buttery flesh, mopping the juice from her chin with a bandana. The tea was hot and milky, sweet with real sugar, and the bread---while not quite as tangy as San Francisco sourdough---complemented the mango perfectly."
Now go find it, and bask in the words and descriptions of a novelist who is stunning in her approach to the world, poetry in paragraphs. As I read many descriptions, some on one page alone, I grinned wide, gasped a little from the beauty of her prose, and felt my heart swell over and over. This novel embodies what reading means to me.