How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal is a novel with bread recipes. I’ve never made bread in my life, but since finishing this novel I’ve copied out the recipe for Sunshine Fruit and Honey Bread and bought all of the ingredients.
The main character in How to Bake a Perfect Life is Ramona, who is a baker. After falling pregnant at the age of 15, Ramona kept her daughter, Sophia, despite family pressure to give her baby up for adoption. Now Sophia is an adult and pregnant herself with her first child. Sophia’s husband Oscar is a soldier in Afghanistan, and when he is badly burned, Sophia goes overseas to be with him, leaving Ramona to care for Katie, Oscar’s child from a previous relationship.
Poor little Katie has her trials too. She is 12 and her mother is a drug addict who manipulates and takes advantage of Katie to feed her addiction. Katie’s father attempts suicide as soon as he is well enough. Not surprisingly, Katie has abandonment issues, although she is very capable and quite resilient.
There is a lot going on in this story, with all of the characters, and they all have their struggles. Ramona’s bakery is under serious financial pressure, due to the global financial crisis and a series of ongoing repairs needed for the bakery.
Ramona and her sister have a serious case of sibling rivalry, something which seems to run in the family. Ramona also has issues with her mother, and her mother and aunt also had unresolved issues with their mother. Ramona feels as if she has lost her close connection with her family because they kept her husband in the family business instead of her and to further complicate everyone’s emotions, Ramona had an affair with an older man who was once in love with her mother. (Yuck, is all I can say).
Ramona fell in love with Jonah when she was pregnant with Sophia, although at the time he was too old for her. When they meet again in the present time of the book, their age difference is no longer a problem. Ramona is resistant to entering into a romance with Jonah, because emotionally she has so much else going on. Obviously she did eventually, otherwise this book would have been a failure as a romance novel. Ramona invented the recipe for Sunshine Fruit and Honey Bread after a hot first night with Jonah (the author’s words, not mine. Cringe, is all I can say here, too much information).
Ramona has been in the habit of leaning on Cat (her mother’s old flame) who bails her out financially and emotionally when things go wrong with her business. Eventually Ramona decides to stand on her own two feet, but when her hot water system for the bakery fails, instead of running to Cat as she used to do, she went to her sister for advice. I quite enjoyed most of the book (cringe-y bits aside) but this plot device was ridiculous. It is not credible that a grown woman who started and runs her own business lack the know how to pick up the phone to call a plumber. Not surprisingly, Ramona’s sister did not offer her assistance in this instance. I got the feeling that the reader was supposed to think Ramona’s sister’s behaviour was overly harsh, but on this occasion I was on the sister’s side.
The other thing that irked me about How to Bake A Perfect Life was the title. There is no such thing as a perfect life. Not all of the loose ends were tied up in the novel either, but that is probably the same in real life too. Still, the recipe for Sunshine Fruit and Honey Bread may turn out to be the perfect loaf, I’ll let you know. I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than it sounds like in this review and would read more books by Barbara O’Neal.