Books · Food · Fourth Friday Book Review


Every Fourth (or Final) Friday of a month I will post a book review.  Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.

I live in Texas where about 300 days of the year the weather is hot enough to wear shorts and to do “summer-like” activities – such as hiking.  Texas is also a place where tons of good food can be found.

Thinking about hiking and food made me think about Barbara O’Neal’s novel The Secret of Everything, so that is why I chose it for June’s Final Friday Book Review.  I read this book five years ago, but still enjoyed it so much that it popped into my head this week.  I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, which means “I really liked it,” and I think you will “really like it” too!

The Secret of Everything by Barbara O’Neal

The title of Barbara O’Neal’s novel says it all, as The Secret of Everything includes a little bit of everything for all kinds of readers.

Anyone who loves outdoor adventures, animals, who is a foodie, nature lover, who likes learning about a tad of mysticism, who likes books about the bonds between family members, about relationships that occur between men and women in their 40s … any reader fond of these subjects should check this novel out for an enjoyable read!

The main character Tessa is a woman in her late 30s who was raised by her hippie father Sam, and who at one point in her childhood lived in a commune near the town of Los Ladrones, New Mexico.  Tessa grew up traveling the world, and in her adult life found great satisfaction in leading hiking tours.  The novel opens after a tragic event occurred while Tessa led an excursion in Montana, and she has returned to New Mexico to stay with her father, as she tries to recover from both physical and emotional injuries.

The incident in Montana causes Tessa to have flashbacks of a time that her memory had almost completely erased, when she was a little girl who almost drowned in a river while living at the commune.  These bits and pieces of recollections, along with Tessa’s desire to “start living again,” spur Tessa to get permission from her boss to investigate the now “hip” town of Los Ladrones as a possible destination for her to lead tours as a travel guide.

During Tessa’s stay in Los Ladrones, the images of her past become more prevalent, and she crosses paths with people she feels she might have met or been connected to a long time ago.  She forms a relationship with such individuals as restaurant owner Vita, a woman in her 60s with the build of a marathon runner, and with a parolee who works there named Annie, a quiet woman about the same age as Tessa.  At the location of the former commune which now is an organic farm, Tessa meets Cherry and Paula, and these interactions cause her to really question her father for more information about her near-drowning accident as a child—an event he’s tried over the years to disperse as little information as possible about to Tessa.

Single-parent Vince Grasso is a firefighter/rescue worker, who lives with his three young daughters Natalie, Jade and Hannah.  Immediate sparks fly between Vince and Tessa, but she’s not sure what might happen with this family, as she still struggles with the hurts of her past, and how to handle the baggage Vince himself carries.

O’Neal displays her talent for description throughout the entire book, from food, to locations, to people.  I admire an author who has the ability to make an object on the page almost palpable, and who can create a setting with such detail and use of sensory description that I feel as if I’m sitting at that location right along with the characters in the book.

A couple of examples when the author displays her skill in this area occur any time a scene takes place in the market in the plaza or at the 100 Breakfasts Café, or whenever O’Neal describes food, such as this passage:

“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.”

Speaking of food, one of the unique aspects of O’Neal’s novel is the inclusion of several recipes for the menu items served at 100 Breakfasts Café. (My favorite I’m going to try to make is Breakfast #90 Huevos del Diablo.)  I also discovered the author’s website includes multiple recipes for dishes mentioned in her other novels.  Sweet!

This was the first time I’ve read any of O’Neal’s writing, and since I enjoyed her writing style and this story, I will certainly buy other books by this author.

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