Publishers Weekly® Reviews
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Twenty years ago, Elena Alvarez, the chef heroine of O'Neal's bland kitchen romance, was the sole survivor of a car accident that left her badly scarred and haunted by the sister and boyfriend she lost in the crash. Attempting to escape the specter of the accident and buoyed by her love of cooking, Elena drifted to culinary school in Europe and eventually ends up at an upscale Vancouver restaurant, where her passion and skills capture the attention of celebrity restaurateur Julian Liswood, who hires her as the executive chef of a new restaurant he is opening in Aspen, Colo. Elena relishes the opportunity, even as she recognizes the potential disasters, both romantic and job-related, inherent in the feelings she has for her boss. As the new endeavor finds its footing in Aspen's restaurant scene, she, too, begins to find a home. Unfortunately, O'Neal doesn't bring anything new to an already busy subgenre: the plot is formulaic, the prose is tepid and her main character is too narrowly drawn to have much appeal.
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A dash of romance
The central character of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, by Barbara O'Neal, is also starting over. Elena Alvarez arrives in Aspen poised for the professional opportunity of a lifetime: her own kitchen in an upscale, new restaurant. Poised, that is, with a broken body, a broken family and a string of broken relationships behind her. Thirty-seven, unmarried with no children, she is deservedly proud of her decades of slow, hard work up the kitchen ladder from slave to sous to chef.
Elena has been rebuilding her life since she was a teenager, when a horrific accident killed her boyfriend and several family members. Elena alone survivedalbeit with horrific injuriesand she remains haunted by her past. So much so, perhaps, that she is in danger of missing a different opportunity: the possibility of true love. The unlikely candidate is Julian Liswood, who is not only a four-time-divorced hotshot film director, but her new boss, as well. The story alternates between third-person viewpoints of these two, and as the intricacies of each is revealed, the plot thickens quicker than a béchamel sauce. A nice touch is the bit of magic realism O'Neal (aka novelist Barbara Samuel) throws into the mix, giving Elena a bit of ghostly guidance and a sixth sense that serves her well.