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.