The Secret of Everything: A Novel

The Secret of Everything: A Novel

by Barbara O'Neal, Barbara Samuel

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The Secret of Everything: A Novel by Barbara O'Neal, Barbara Samuel

In this spectacular new novel, Barbara O’Neal delivers a generous helping of the best in life–family, food, and love–in the story of a woman’s search for the one thing worth more than anything.

At thirty-seven, Tessa Harlow is still working her way down her list of goals to “fall in love and have a family.” A self-described rolling stone, Tessa leads hiking tours for adventurous vacationers–it’s a job that’s taken her around the world but never a step closer to home. Then a freak injury during a trip already marred by tragedy forces her to begin her greatest adventure of all.

Located high in the New Mexico mountains, Las Ladronas has become a magnet for the very wealthy and very hip, but once upon a time it was the setting of a childhood trauma Tessa can only half remember. Now, as she rediscovers both her old hometown and her past, Tessa is drawn to search-and-rescue worker Vince Grasso. The handsome widower isn’t her type. No more inclined to settle down than Tessa, Vince is the father of three, including an eight-year-old girl as lost as Tessa herself. But Tessa and Vince are both drawn to the town’s most beloved eatery–100 Breakfasts–and to each other. For Tessa, the restaurant is not only the key to the mystery that has haunted her life but a chance to find the home and the family she’s never known.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553907391
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/29/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 126,217
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Barbara O’Neal fell in love with food and restaurants at the age of fifteen, when she landed a job in a Greek café and served baklava for the first time. She sold her first novel in her twenties, and has also published under the names Barbara Samuel and Ruth Wind. Since then she has won a plethora of awards, including two Colorado Book Awards and six prestigious RITAs, including one for The Lost Recipe for Happiness. Her novels have been widely published in Europe and Australia, and she travels all over the world, presenting workshops, hiking hundreds of miles, and, of course, eating. She lives with her partner, a British endurance athlete, and their collection of cats and dogs, in Colorado Springs.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

On a foggy August morning, Tessa Harlow had finally tired of her long wallow on the Santa Cruz beaches. Leaving her father’s tidy little bungalow as she did every morning, she carried her breakfast down to the surf: a mango fresh from the local grocer, a hunk of sourdough bread, and a hefty cup of tea she bought from the stand on the corner.

Settling on the sand, 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.

A woman walked purposefully along the water’s edge, her calves showing ropy muscle. Gulls wheeled overhead. For the first time in months, Tessa wished for her camera. She would shoot the isolated piles of homeless men sleeping on the buffalo grass, and the boats bobbing in the distance, and maybe even the stack of mango skins on the sand.

It was time to get back to her life. She walked to the edge of the waves, dipped her right hand in the water, and washed her face and the fingers sticking out of the turquoise cast on her left arm. Letting her skin dry in the air, she sat back down with her cell phone and a sheaf of papers she’d printed out yesterday at the Internet café near her father’s house. Luddite that he was, he didn’t have a computer of his own, and Tessa had lost hers in a river three months ago.

Three months. The weeks had gone by in a wash of aqua and pale gray, deep-blue afternoons that she spent reading whatever she found at the laundromat or the local youth hostel—battered thrillers, dog-eared romances, ancient sagas. Whatever.

Three months. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. In Tessa’s case, the nail was a spider that had crawled into her bed in the Rocky Mountains and bitten the sole of her left foot. Not such a big thing, ordinarily. It wouldn’t have been this time, if she had paid attention to it right away.

Or if the rain had not been quite so persistent, so unexpected.

Or if the deluge had not softened the earth so completely that a tree fell sideways, taking the trail and her entire tour group down the mountain.

Or if the river had not been quite so high.

Or if . . .

Oh, so many details. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost, and Tessa washed up on the beach here in her father’s land.

Lately it had begun to creep into her mind that she couldn’t exactly live this way. Her wounds, if not healed, were at least pretty well scabbed over. Mostly she could sleep again. Mostly she’d stopped having panic attacks and flashbacks. She had not purchased a new camera, but she would. Much as Sam, her surfer father, would love to have Tessa join him in his aimless drift, sooner or later she needed to explore the memories that had surfaced when she nearly drowned in Montana. Yesterday she’d spent a couple of hours online exploring the town she wanted to visit and had assembled a pitch for her boss.

Flipping open her cell phone, she dialed his number. “Hey, Mick,” she said when he answered. “It’s Tessa. How are you?”

“Well, hello to you, gorgeous,” her boss said. “It’s so good to hear from you. How are you?”

“Definitely getting there.” She traced a long mark on her foot. “They gave me a new cast last week, this one only up to the elbow, and my foot should be a hundred percent before too much longer.”

“I’m glad. How long do you wear this cast?”

“Only another four weeks or so.”

“That’s terrific. Is it tacky to ask when you might be coming back to work?”

“I’m not up to a tour yet.” Maybe she wouldn’t be again. “But we have been talking about the economy and the fact that overseas travel has been so expensive that we need to set up some food and hiking tours in the U.S., right?”

“True, true. You have something in mind?”

“I do.” Tessa shook hair out of her eyes. Too long. She hadn’t cut it in nearly a year, and the humid salt air made it curl. “Have you ever heard of Los Ladrones?”

“New Mexico?” She heard his skepticism. “Pretty rustic for a foodie tour, isn’t it?”

“Some of it. But Los Ladrones is a very chichi spot these days, lots of Hollywood types drifting north from Santa Fe and Taos.” She leafed through the pages in her lap. “A lot of really good restaurants—like, more than a dozen high-end places—and a big organic farm with a vegetarian cooking school, kind of new, small, but getting some attention.”

“Huh. Sounds intriguing. What else?”

“On the weekends there’s a big market in the plaza, with local artisans and all that, and there’s a café that’s been written up a couple of times, in Food and Wine and—” She scowled, flipping through her notes. “Can’t find the other one. Anyway, it’s on the plaza, called The 100 Breakfasts Café.”

Mick was silent, and she gave him space to digest. In her imagination, she could see him sitting at his desk in Santa Monica, drawing cartoon faces down the margins of a yellow legal tablet. “All good stuff, Tessa. What else can we do with it? Hiking? Rafting? There’s gotta be some outdoorsy stuff in the mountains of New Mexico.”

“Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There are hot springs, and a pilgrimage trek that goes to a famous shrine on the mountain, and a river, and a big lake up in the trees. It’s also one of the oldest towns in the area, which means really old, like 1630 or something. A lot of history.” She shrugged. “I can send you all the notes in email. You can give it some thought.”

“Tell you what—send me the notes, but I’m onboard if you want to do the research. It’s worth a week. Look around, see if you think it might actually work for our demographic.”

She nodded, drawing a big heart in the sand beside her. “Excellent. I’ll get out of here tomorrow if you want.”

He chuckled. “Little stir-crazy, sweetheart?”

“Mmmm. Could be. I mean, how long can a person just lie around on the sand?”

“I’m glad. If this is viable, maybe we can get it on the schedule for next year. We have the new catalogs going out in late November.”

As clearly as she could remember, today was August 25 or 26. “I’ll email you the reservations and flight info this afternoon.”

“Good. Welcome back, babe.”

“Thanks.” She hung up and sat with the phone in her palm, feeling both anxious and relieved. It was time. Time to get moving again. Time to open the Pandora’s box of memories that had been haunting her since the Montana debacle.

Now to break the news to her dad. She gathered her flip-flops, her book, and her straw hat. Dressed in an embroidered Mexican peasant blouse and a pair of baggy capris that were so faded they no longer had a discernible pattern, she headed for the boardwalk.

Her father, surrounded by his three rescue dogs, was repainting the menu at his margarita shack in a careful, elegant hand. He’d studied calligraphy at some point and took pride in his lettering. She loved getting cards in the mail from him. “Hey, kiddo,” he said. His voice was as gravelly as a gizzard. “You’re back awfully early.”

When Tessa was a child, Sam had been everybody’s favorite dad. She felt sorry for other kids, who had to go home to somebody normal or—this being coastal California, after all—a pothead who couldn’t keep his sentences straight. Sam was neither. He’d made his living as a magician, so he could do a billion tricks, and his vagabond life meant he had a store of adventure stories he told at random, and he could make a grilled cheese sandwich exactly right, with the bread turned just barely crispy, light golden brown. In his pockets, he carried Tootsie Roll Pops, which he gave away when you skinned your knee or got in a fight or fell for some whopper of a fish story he told.

This little margarita shack had been his dream for a long, long time. Tessa had helped him buy it seven years ago out of money she’d saved over a ten-year period. “Like Elvis,” he said with his sideways grin. “Buying a house for his mama.”

Sam surfed most mornings, talked all afternoon and evening with whoever stopped by Margaritaville. He wasn’t much of a drinker himself, a help if you owned a bar.

This morning he wore long shorts and bare feet and a loose, ancient Hawaiian shirt. His skin was tanned even darker than Tessa’s. He’d recently shorn his steel-gray hair into a crew cut, making him look younger than his sixty-two years, and it was a rare woman who could remain immune to the twinkle in his eye.

“I have something to tell you.” She sat down on one of the stools in front of the bar. “I got a phone call. A job offer.”

“You ready for that?”

“I won’t be leading anything. Just doing some preliminary research for some possible food tours in New Mexico.”

“New Mexico?” He dipped his brush into shamrock-green paint. “Whereabouts?”

“Los Ladrones.”

He put the brush down, but not before she saw a faint tremor pass through his strong brown hands. “That’s a bad place.”

Tessa raised her eyebrows. He believed that your animals reincarnated, that the Great Spirit sent messages via feathers, and that there was magic in drums.

She believed in none of those things. “C’mon, Dad.”

“I’m serious,” he said in his drawl. “There are bad spirits there.”

“Dad. Bad spirits?”

His lips twitched beneath a thick, glossy mustache that he wore without the faintest self-consciousness. “That’s where you fell in the river when you were little.”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Secret of Everything 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Following the total disaster in Montana, thirty seven years old hiking tour guide Tessa Harlow returns home to her father Sam the surfer dude in Santa Cruz. While her foot is in a cast healing, mentally Tessa thinks about her birthplace, Las Ladronas, New Mexico. Tessa decides it is time to truly go home. .In Las Ladronas, Tessa meets single dad Vince Grasso and his three girls (Natalie, Hannah and Jade). Vince and Tessa become lovers, but she warns him she is a rolling stone so will one day leave as a "wanderer" does. Tessa also investigates her past starting with the 100 Breakfasts diner. As she and Vince fall in love, the kids come first. This is an engaging character study as Barbara O'Neal gets deep into the spirit of each key player, which is more than just the charming quintet. The story line is driven by a combination of romance, children in need of a caring mom, the mental healing power of delicious food, and a bit of mystery of what happened to the little girl who left town almost three decades ago. In spite of quoting Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the climax is too abrupt resolving issues wider than the state in a flash. Still The Secret of Everything is worth reading as Ms. O'Neal reveals the poignant answer as Tessa finds her Tao in this enchanting tale. Harriet Klausner
Mel_Writes More than 1 year ago
The title of Barbara O'Neal's novel says it all, as THE SECRET TO 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! Although I enjoyed the book as a whole, there was one part I didn't care for: the "mystery man" character. I won't detail here why I disliked this aspect of the book because I don't want this review to contain "a spoiler." This character appeared often in the book and I think the situation/explanation involving him was a little "corny"—I think the mystery man could have been removed from the book without wrecking the story. On a positive ending note, I'm thankful my Goodreads group Women and Books picked THE SECRET TO EVERYTHING for their April discussion. 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loved the story line you caught from the start to finish
m_bee More than 1 year ago
The story, characters and setting for this book are all just wonderful. Once again, I find that O'Neal knows how to make her characters andtheir surroundings so real that you really do feel like you're there.
LynnKS More than 1 year ago
The writing is so perfect - so visual - i felt i was in another place. I am buying several copies and giving them to my friends.
katbella More than 1 year ago
love all her books
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I spent six years of my adult life in Colorado with my then teenage daughter. We spent many wonderful weekends in New Mexico, as often as we could, living cheaply. I found this book and the author's previous book to be engaging, interesting and surprising. I loved the geographic area, the cooking, the quirky characters and the story lines. It took me right back to the life I had in Colorado and New Mexico and who I was back in the 1980's. I have recommended this book to many and passed it along to my daughter as a must read.
TheKellyn More than 1 year ago
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Lately I've been having a hard time finding good "chick lit" and by that I mean literature with the young 30-something women in mind... This definitely hit the mark and now that I've read it, I am getting her first book. The story line is interesting and keeps you going - there are intriguing plot twists, family, love, lust, love of animals, food and cooking. I can't wait to try some of these recipes (I've always wanted to learn how to make Hollandaise sauce!). Just finished it this morning and I'm not ashamed to say it made me cry.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
The Secret of Everything is a beautiful story about love and family, good food and gorgeous landscape, faithful dogs and a mysterious town. Tessa is a hiking tour guide who is recovering from a traumatic, near drowning experience. As she recovers strange memories from her mysterious childhood begin to surface. She sets out for Los Ladrones, the small town in New Mexico where she was born, in an attempt to uncover the truth. What a gorgeous book! The strength here is in the real, down to earth characters. I just fell in love with them and then became so wrapped up in their stories I couldn't put the book down. The detailed descriptions of New Mexican landscape, its ferocious storms, and the enticing food are icing on the cake. The plot is unique enough to be interesting and only requires a little suspension of belief. Barbara O'Neal writes the kind of captivating novels that keep me up late at night turning pages. I will anxiously awaite her next one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this story. It had sweet and surprising twists.
PollyBennett More than 1 year ago
A lovely deeply poignant story. It has everything, wonderful characters steeped in mystery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. When it ends and you don't want it to end.... that's a good book.
Mari-Kate9 More than 1 year ago
another winner.  i especially like the quilting and food references.
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