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The Secret of Everything    by Barbara O'Neal order for
Secret of Everything
by Barbara O'Neal
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tessa Harlow is drawn back to Las Ladronas in the New Mexico mountains, the scene of her childhood trauma as a very young member of a hippie commune, in Barbara O'Neal's delightful offering, The Secret of Everything. Note that O'Neal also wrote The Lost Recipe for Happiness. The story is interspersed with recipes for many of the enticing foods enjoyed in the novel, mostly from the 100 Breakfasts café.

Readers are introduced to Tessa as she stays with her surfer father Sam in Santa Cruz, recovering from an on the job accident that left her scarred physically and spiritually. Tessa worked as an adventure tour leader in the Rocky Mountains and lost a young woman under her care by making bad choices after disaster struck. That near drowning opened 'a Pandora's box of memories' from her childhood. Deciding she needs to confront them, Tessa proposes to her boss that she scout the possibility of a foodie/hiking tour in Las Ladronas. Though her father mutters about the bad spirits there, Tessa goes ahead.

Early on Tessa meets - and is attracted to - hot widower and search-and-rescue worker Vince Grasso. She meets his three daughters and his dogs. Though wary of anything long-term, Tessa is bespelled by all of them, especially by the prickly elder girl, eight-year-old Natalie, who has quite a few problems to deal with. As Tessa revisits childhood haunts, more painful memories emerge. Exploring the area's tour possibilities, she learns of a mysterious (still unsolved) shooting of the charismatic leader on the commune where she was raised.

Of course Tessa finds answers, some very surprising ones, as she learns the truth of her history and her family. She makes reparation for her own past failure and helps someone else do the same. She finds a new career, a new place to call her own, and a new life entirely. Don't miss The Secret of Everything, which I recommend as a very satisfying (and satiating if you try the recipes) read.

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