It’s the opportunity Elena Alvarez has been waiting for–the challenge of running her own kitchen in a world-class restaurant. Haunted by an accident of which she was the lone survivor, Elena knows better than anyone how to survive the odds. With her faithful dog, Alvin, and her grandmother’s recipes, Elena arrives in Colorado to find a restaurant in as desperate need of a fresh start as she is–and a man whose passionate approach to food and life rivals her own.
Owner Julian Liswood is a name many people know but a man few do. He’s come to Aspen with a troubled teenage daughter and a dream of the kind of stability and love only a family can provide. But for Elena, old ghosts don’t die quietly, yet a chance to find happiness at last is worth the risk.
I can honestly say this is one of the best novels I've read so far this year. Like a master chef, Barbara O'Neal has an undoubted talent for combining different facets of a woman's life to present a delectable story that's at once fulfilling and exotic.
Elena Alvarez is a woman who's suffered much, physically and emotionally. She loses herself in cooking and makes her painful way to the top of the culinary ladder, ultimately getting a position as head chef at a new restaurant in Aspen. She's more than up to catering to the international palate, but on the personal front there's a lot to be resolved. Until she faces up to the ghosts of her past, they won't let her live in peace, literally! The men in the book are also equally fascinating and their interpersonal relations add a different dimension to the tale. There's also an adorable and sensitive dog, a teenage girl and a myriad of interesting and eccentric characters to round off the story. The element of mystic/paranormal is also very strong in this story, but the author introduces it in a way that's seamless and begins to feel a very natural part of the narrative rather than something added on to make things more intriguing.
The other nice thing about this book are the recipes. Since this is the story of a cook, some dish or drink is always being mentioned. Instead of leaving the readers tantalized, each chapter ends with a recipe that's promises to be easy to make and heaven for the taste buds.
I liked almost everything about this book - the story, the characters, the plotting. But there were some things I couldn't quite digest. One is the teenage girl's character in the story. She's a troubled Hollywood teen, but it seems that a bit of her father's attention, a change of scenery and viola! she's a model child. That did not gel with me. There's also the accident which has maimed Elena both spiritually and physically. No exact cause for it is given and there's even a discrepancy between a newspaper report and Elena's memories as to who the actual driver at the time was. The last thing is one my pet peeves - the discrepancy between the photo on the cover and how it doesn't fit the description inside. In this book, it's the dog which is described as being of red/orange color but that doesn't fit the photo of the dog on the cover. A small thing, you might say, but it just irks me somewhat.
Despite this, The Lost Recipe for Happiness is a veritable smogasboard of rioting emotions and culinary skills. It's one of those books I wouldn't hesitate to recommend as a gift to any reader of women's fiction this holiday season. Or anyone who loves to cook, or for that matter, eat!
This book is released under the Bantam Discovery banner, which is beginning to be my favorite of all the new lines! In my experience, the stories are almost always unusual, with strong female characters that appeal to me, a touch of the paranormal and of course, something or the other to do with foods!
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