52 in 52: The All You Can Dream Buffet, by Barbara O’Neal

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by the Bantam Books imprint of Random House Publishing Group in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
Famous blogger and farm owner Lavender Wills is preparing to celebrate her eighty-fifth birthday! She’s invited her three best blogger friends — together they call themselves the Foodie Four — to the farm for her birthday bash: vegan Ruby is twenty-six and pregnant with her ex-boyfriend’s baby; widowed wine connoisseur Val is mourning the sudden, tragic loss of her husband and two of her daughters and now must learn to start over with her only living daughter, 15-year-old Hannah; and baker Ginny is faced with the dilemma of whether to remain in her sexless (and seemingly loveless) marriage. Lavender herself, meanwhile, knows that death is coming for her and must decide what to do with her farm — will she offer it to one of the Foodies to lovingly maintain, or will it fall into the hands of her nephews, who will simply sell it off to a mega-farm conglomerate? Their individual journeys to the farm, and their time spent on it, proves to be much more eye-opening and adventurous than any of the Foodie Four could have imagined. Love abounds in many forms while Lavender and her friends discover that life on the farm is an all-you-can-dream buffet.

My thoughts:
I chose to read this story based on name recognition — I have another book of Barbara O’ Neal’s, How to Bake a Perfect Life, that I recently purchased but haven’t yet read. So when I came across this title on NetGalley, I immediately requested it and, after being approved, scheduled it for the blog!

Ms. O’Neal put me on Lavender Honey Farms with her writing; I could hear the bees buzzing, smell the lavender in the fields and, even though I don’t drink, I could practically taste the mead. I have no actual life experience on a farm, but after reading The All You Can Dream Buffet I felt as though I were an unnamed member of the Foodie Four (Five?) and like I could take control of the farm after Lavender’s passing. I also felt as though I were in the passenger seat as Ginny made her way through the mountains from Kansas to Oregon. The fires in Idaho and the near-attack at the campground frightened me not only for Ginny but for myself! I found myself rooting for the truck driver she met on the road and hoping she would ask her husband for a divorce. I was also ready to slap Ginny’s mother, Ula, at the end of the trip, but I’ll leave it to you discover what she did to warrant that reaction. (Trust me, my feelings were valid.) I almost immediately fell in love with the idea of Ruby delivering her child and raising it on the farm — it’s such a calm, pleasant, educational environment for a child to grow up in! I also really liked Lavender’s manager, Noah, but I felt as though I hadn’t learned enough about him when I reached the last page of the book. I wanted more details about his backstory, life at war, and how he came to be at the farm. From the moment Ruby and Noah met, I hoped they would end up together! As for Val and Hannah, it was fun to see that Val followed the same life path that I did, from dancer to blogger (though I never reached fame like she apparently did). I wanted to hate Hannah after she was initially introduced, but remembering her family’s tragedy, which was explained early the narrative, forced me to remember that she behaved as she did for a reason. It was wonderful to see that Ruby, who came from a tragic background of her own, was able to help Hannah come around and grieve for the loss of her relatives.

My favorite element of the story was the constant mention of the Foodie Four posting to their individual blogs, chronicling their meetings, experiences, and of course their recipes! It gave me hope and made me feel as though what I’m doing is worthwhile. I closed the book feeling as though Ms. O’Neal wrote this story almost specifically for me and my blogger friends!

So would I recommend this book?
Yes, especially if you’re a foodie, a blogger, or someone who has lived on or loves farm life. It’s a beautiful story and I absolutely recommend it!

Visit Barbara O’Neal’s website here.
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  • readathomemama

    Thank you for writing it! It’s a beautiful book!