Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Secret of Great Reading!

by Anna Campbell

You know you're in the hands of an extraordinary writer when she changes the way you view your personal environment. Barbara O'Neal (and her other incarnations as Ruth Wind and Barbara Samuel) is just such a writer.

After finishing THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING yesterday, I went for a walk and I found myself noticing new and vivid details of my surroundings. The stark white of a gum tree trunk or the rich red of a lovely flowering bottlebrush around the corner from me. It's not that I don't see this stuff normally. But somehow the intense sensory experience of reading Barbara's work had flowed over to freshen up my ability to see what was around me.

Barbara O'Neal is an intensely sensual writer. Her books are full of the things that make life richer. The taste of a good meal. The scent of mountain air. The lovely silky feel of a just-groomed dog (more about the dogs later). How wonderful it feels to stretch out on a comfortable bed after you've done a long, long hike. Hmm, perhaps I'm not QUITE so familiar with that one!

Something as simple as the plain adobe house with blue-painted window frames that the heroine moves into in this story fills your mind with such an evocative picture, it's like you're there. It's an amazing gift. Reading a Barbara O'Neal is like sitting down to an exquisite banquet - and to get the full experience, you won't gobble it all down in a hurry, you'll pause and savor the different flavors and how they come together to make a delicious whole. To emphasize the comparison with food, a lot of the chapters end with luscious recipes from the cafe that features in the book, 100 Breakfasts. I wasn't tempted to get out the frying pan, but I sure was tempted to get on a plane and try and find this place and order about ten breakfasts in a row!

THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING is her second Barbara O'Neal book (I loved her first, THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS too). It's probably more women's fiction than romance, although there is a very strong, very sexy romance included in the story.

Tessa Harlow comes to the New Mexico town of Las Ladronas after tragedy and injury. Las Ladronas has painful memories for her too - as a child, she almost drowned in the river and as a result, she has suffered memory loss that has haunted her all her life.

Over the coming weeks, she'll discover those lost years, she'll learn about family, and she'll discover a new love with the gorgeous local Vince Grasso. She'll encounter people who will change her life. Not just Vince, but many people who knew her as a child, Vita who runs the famous cafe 100 Breakfasts, Annie who is a parolee with a tragic past, and Vince's three daughters. She'll reassess her relationship with her father and she'll learn what she wants to make of her life.

And she'll meet lots of dogs! Dogs populate this book and they're all marvelous. Personally I love animals in books and I know I'm not alone. Favorites in THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING include Vince's rather nutty Akita mix Pedro and the stray collie pup who Tessa eventually adopts. You'll fall in love with both of these dogs, believe me!

This is such a lovely, life-affirming read. And the writing is just gorgeous. It's the kind of book where the characters linger in your mind long after you close the cover on the last page. Highly recommended.

49 comments:

  1. I loved this book (and her first) and her previous books...I always come away from them happy, hungry and yearning for a dog to go walking with : )

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  2. Lovely review. I haven't read anything by this author but now I'm seriously considering it. Thanks.

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  3. Hi Anna, I've liked the look of this book. Now your review makes me want to go right out and buy it--well, more likely order it online!

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  4. Hey Anna! I have to say that I have never heard of this author, but the way you describe the book I need to find it, and quickly! I love learning about new-to-me authors.

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  5. Sold!! Fantastic review, Anna! I am buying this book right away. :-)

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  6. What a lovely review, Anna! This sounds like a "feel good" book. And since I love "feel good" books, I need to get it. Thanks! :)

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  7. Thanks for another beautifully written review, Anna. I have O'Neal's first book in my tbr stash but haven't picked up the second one yet. Happily for me, I just won an Amazon gift card so I'll be getting this one soon.

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  8. I love Barbara Samuel - her writing just shines. I first discovered her with her Ruth Wind books for Harlequin, and now I'm tracking down her other alter egos. This sounds like a keeper.

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  9. Great review, Anna. I have not heard of this author.

    Even though her book is full of rich writing, what was your fave part or line, and why?

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  10. Thanks for such an insighful review. I will look out for her books.

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  11. Whether she's writing as Barbara Samuel, Ruth Wind, or Barbara O'Neal, Barbara is one of my favorites. Her writing is indeed a feast for the senses, Anna. Her books always pack an emotional punch too. I could create a list of the top 25 things I loved about The Secret of Everything, but I'll just echo Anna on the setting and the dogs (real dogs, not some Disney version) and add a character. The child Natalie stole my heart.

    I'm so happy to see this review, Anna. Barbara is one of those writers that more people should be reading. They should read TSOE and then glom madly, being sure to include No Place like Home (Barbara Samuel) and In the Midnight Rain (Ruth Wind). Oh, and check out her blog A Writer Afoot and her contributions at Writers Unboxed. I'll stop raving now. :) Can you tell I'm a real fangirl?

    Thanks, Anna. Your review made me want to reread not only TSOE but also all my keepers by this writer.

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  12. Hi Anna!
    I've never heard of this author before, but after reading your review, I'll have to check this one out! :)

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  13. I love stories that engage your senses. So this book sounds like something I would really enjoy.

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  14. If Anna recommends it, it must be good. :)

    Totally putting it on my TBR pile!! I love women's fiction with romantic elements...and I love her work as Barbara Samuel.

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  15. Anna, what a great review! You know I'm a dog person. I'll have to check this out.

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  16. Hey, everyone, please pause and send Miss Mel a huge congratulations. She just sold three urban fantasy stories to Ace/Roc!!!!

    Oh, man, I get so hungry when I read a BON book! And yeah, I want a dog!

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  17. Emmanuelle, I think you'll love Barbara's stuff. I think she's one of the real treasures of the genre whether she's writing a pure romance (well, pure in terms of genre, she writes a great love scene!) or women's fiction which this veers more towards.

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  18. Actually, Kandy, I think this book is right up your alley! And the descriptions are mouth-watering, not just of the food either! Snort!

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  19. Buffie, she's actually published for years as Ruth Wind (including some fabulous category romance) and Barbara Samuel. I've been a fan of hers for years - if you can find a book called IN THE MIDNIGHT RAIN by Ruth Wind, grab it. I think it's out of print but it's fantastic! I use it in writing classes as an example of how to build atmosphere with words.

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  20. Hey, Gannon, kewl bananas! Happy reading. And I bet you're hungry when you finish!

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  21. Mary, they're lovely, aren't they? I loved the first one too. And I love the way they have such a vivid sense of place. It was like Las Ladronas was all around me when I read it.

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  22. Andrea, Barbara doesn't shy away from difficult stuff but I think that's part of the secret of the feel-good stuff. You know, these people emerge purified by fire. I highly recommend anything she's written - in any incarnation!

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  23. Oh, PJ, what a treat, both books still ahead of you! Thanks for the nice compliment about the review! ;-)

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  24. Vanessa, I always find her books are like a vitamin drink for my writing. That ability to bring a tiny detail alive and make it illuminate character and situation. Amazing! And I love the way she incorporates different cultures in her writing too. It means the stories gain an amazing richness.

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  25. Ooh, Deb! That's asking! Especially as I've since lent the book to Christine Wells. I really remember the description of the adobe house - honestly wanted to move in the moment I read it. There's some really beautiful description of music in the story. Oh, and there's a bit where she gets her stray dog back after he's been to the groomers and she describes that lovely silky clean dog in a way you can almost touch. The dog's part collie and I grew up with a collie so I know how silky their hair is when they're clean. And there's a bit when the mad Akita goes happy nutsy... OK, I'll stop there. As you can gather, lots of great bits! Oh, and the first love scene is pretty luscious too!

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  26. Scorpio, well worth picking up! Happy reading!

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  27. Ha ha, Janga. Whenever I read one of your posts, I want to come and visit and raid your bookshelves! We have VERY similar tastes, have you noticed? I'm not surprised you love BS/RW/BON. She strikes me as someone who would really appeal to you.

    Actually you're right about the girls! Again, she does kids not in the fantasy version but as real people. Someone else who does great kids, by the way, is Susan Elizabeth Phillips but that's another blog. Natalie is just fantastic and so real, you just want to cry for her. Actually I did have the occasional tear in my eye when I read this story.

    I love No Place Like Home and another of the Barbara Samuel's that I just adored (and cried my way through) was Lady Luck's Map of Vegas which I think won a RITA the year it was out. Well deserved.

    In the Silhouettes, one that really stays in my memory is RIO GRANDE WEDDING. Another heart-wrenching story but so beautiful and another one with a great little girl in it! But honestly, I've never read a bad book by her.

    She visited Australia two years ago for our conference and it was a privilege to attend her workshops. She's so insightful in person as well as on the page.

    Oh, and you're so right about her pieces on the website. There's a gorgeous travel piece about Ightham Mote in Kent that absolutely captured my own experience of going there. Fantastic!

    Here's the link for A WRITER AFOOT. Check it out - but make sure you've got time to wallow in how beautiful those pieces are: http://www.barbarasamuel.com/blog/

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  28. Trisha, I'm not sure how she's managed to skim under people's radars although I know she has. Definitely check her out - she's an amazing writer.

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  29. Julie, in that case I think I've just found you your perfect read ;-)

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  30. Hellion, I actually don't notice a lot of difference between her single titles as Barbara Samuel and her single titles as Barbara O'Neal. Apart from the fact that that BON books have all included recipes so far. There's still that amazing knowledge of the human heart in all the books. Glad you're already a fan! And hey, I love if Anna recommends it, it has to be good! Now, do you want to buy a used car?

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  31. Nancy, I think Barbara O'Neal's stuff will really appeal to you. There's a breadth to the writing that you'll like. And of course, the dawgs!

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  32. Anna said . . .Hey, everyone, please pause and send Miss Mel a huge congratulations. She just sold three urban fantasy stories to Ace/Roc!!!!

    That is just wonderful news! Congrats to you Mel!!! I know you must be thrilled :-)

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  33. Buffie, Mel won every contest that moved down here and has also been a real mainstay of Romance Writers of Australia - she served as treasurer for a couple of years and that's such a big job. I think this is karma paying her back. Can't wait to read the stories!

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  34. Mel, congratulations on your sale! What terrific news!

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  35. Vanessa, I first discovered her as Ruth Wind too. I'm not sure if I've read any of her Barbara Samuels books. I'll have to check them out.

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  36. Now your review makes me want to go right out and buy it

    Kandy, Anna's reviews frequently have that effect on me.

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  37. Mary, thanks for stopping by. Glad to hear you enjoyed the books. I'm looking forward to reading them.

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  38. I knew we'd be seeing you here today, Janga! I think you must be Barbara's #1 fan...or close to it!

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  39. Anna, I can always count on you to introduce me to an author I have never heard of before, but, since I only came to romance reading 3 years ago, that isn't too difficult!

    I love it when a book gives me a real feel for the scene, either by sight, sound or smell. Sadly, sometimes romance novels do not have this all important ingredient.
    Thanks Anna, adding to my wish list!

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  40. PJ, I see you and Kandy have fallen victim to my fiendish plan. Bwahahahahahaha!

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  41. Drew, seriously, I think Barbara S is someone we can all learn from as writers. Her ability to use a few well placed words and create a vivid picture is breathtaking.

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  42. Thanks, Anna, for the recommendation. I love an author who can inspire me to open my senses and view the world around me with new perspective. I've never come across this author before in any of her identities so I searched her out on the library website and placed a hold on several of her titles to see if I like her work. I'm hopeful, she sounds like a wonderful writer!

    Congratulations, Mel, on your sale!

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  43. Hey, Laurie, cool! Hope you really like her. I think she's great. It's been so great to talk to so many people who didn't know Barbara O'Neal in her various guises and encourage you all to give her a go!

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  44. Hey, thanks, everyone, for a great day on the Romance Dish! Next month, it's another of my favorite authors, Liz Carlyle! Hope you'll all swing by. I love talking about great books.

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  45. What a fabulous review, Anna! Isn't wonderful when you come across a writer who makes you see things in a different light? Thanks for the recommendation! I'll look out for this one.

    ~ Vanessa

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  46. V, she's definitely worth checking out! Thanks for swinging by!

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