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The Secret Ingredient for a Happy Marriage

by Shirley Jump

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931,514,556 (3.5)None
Nora has always been the sister who binds the O'Bannons together. No matter what crisis hits, smart, dependable Nora knows how to fix it. But for Nora, the pressure of perfection is taking its toll. Nora's marriage is in trouble and she has been reluctant to worry her sisters with just how dire her situation is. Now, though, faced with losing her husband, her home, and the life she's worked so hard to build, Nora can no longer pretend. As the O'Bannon women rally around her, Nora begins to see that failure is nothing to fear. It's like they say in the bakery: If you want to make something good, you can't be afraid to get messy. When her husband returns, asking Nora to give their family a second chance, Nora must decide if their relationship can be saved or if it's time to throw out the old recipe and start from scratch.… (more)



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Good story of love, forgiveness, and family. Nora has been the glue that holds her family together. Her father died when she was eight, leaving her mother overwhelmed as she became the sole support of the family. Nora became the second mother to her sisters, making sure things got done and doing her best to make everything go smoothly. She dealt with any problems, always insisting that everything was fine. This continued into adulthood, where everything looks perfect to those on the outside, looking in.

But things aren't perfect. Though Nora appears to have an ideal life, with a loving husband, two kids, and a lovely house, appearances are deceiving. Her marriage is in trouble, thanks to her husband's gambling addiction. They are about to have their home repossessed by the bank, and Nora holds Ben entirely responsible for it. He left her holding the bag, trying to pay the bills and keep the household going. Ben went to rehab, but Nora no longer trusts that he will put the family first and is ready to call quits on their marriage. Additionally, their eight-year-old daughter, Sarah, has been in trouble at school and was just suspended for fighting. Nora is at her wit's end but continues to maintain the façade of "everything's fine" to her sisters and mother. When her sister, Magpie, invites her and the kids to the beach for a week, Nora grabs the chance to get away from it all.

I started the book with a great deal of sympathy for Nora. She is the one trying to keep things as normal as possible for the kids, make ends meet, and find a way out of the mess. I was happy for her to have a chance to relax and recharge, away from all the reminders of her troubles. Her encounter with the neighbor, Will, seemed a heaven-sent look at what could be. I liked the way he treated her, restoring a little bit of her self-worth. But all the time she is with him, she is reminded of the love she had for Ben. There were times she remembered the good times, but she would allow the present to overshadow them. I quickly became frustrated with her consistently negative outlook on her future.

I was not a Ben fan at the beginning. Knowing he was responsible for the loss of their house was a big black mark against him. I softened toward him as I saw what a good dad he was, with excellent relationships with Sarah and Jake. The more I saw of him, the more sympathy I felt for him. He knew he screwed up and took himself to rehab. I ached for him when he came out because it's clear that Nora hasn't forgiven him. Ben wants to reconcile, but every time he brings it up, Nora shuts him down hard.

It was interesting to see the changes in both of them as the book went on, but especially the changes in Nora. She was so rigid and controlling in some things that it was no surprise that Ben had some resentment toward her. He still didn't give up on them, despite Nora's resistance. I ached a bit for Nora as the pressure she felt to hide her troubles kept building, and knew she would eventually break. That scene was a little heartbreaking as she realized how much she had lost by keeping that distance from her family. I loved how they came through with the support she needed. The confrontation she had with Ben also opened her eyes to the way she had treated him. I wasn't sure how much effect it would have on her since she was still focused on the past. I loved Ben's big moment at the end. It was sweet and romantic and filled with hope.

There were also some things going on within the O'Bannon family. The girls' mother, Colleen, who has been a widow for twenty years, is spending a lot of time with Roger. He is the director of the shelter where she volunteers. He is a sweet and kind man with a painful backstory that had a significant impact on who he is today. He has it bad for Colleen. Unfortunately, she feels guilty for even thinking about him because she never believed there would be anyone other than her late husband. I liked Roger's persistence, and his realistic view of Colleen. She was prickly and judgmental, which irritated me quite often. That came to a head in her dealings with the bakery's intern, Iris. Though everything worked out, I do wonder if Colleen can genuinely change.

Nora's sister, Magpie, is the sister with wanderlust. She is a world traveler who rarely stays in one place for long. Throughout her and Nora's stay at the beach, it is evident that she has something she wants to talk to Nora about. But she also suffers from the family "I'm fine" disease, and can't get past it to confess her problems. I was pretty sure what the trouble was, which was confirmed by her conversation with her friend, Charlie. I liked her confession to her family, and the instant support she received. I hope that there will be a book for her.

I liked the bakery intern, Iris. Her need to please was heartbreaking, and I liked seeing her blossom as she worked there. There was a rough patch that wasn't her fault, and I ached for what she went through because of it. I'd like to see more of her. ( )
  scoutmomskf | Mar 18, 2020 |
The second book of a series, I liked the first one better. This story focuses on Nora.

Everyone thinks Nora’s life is perfect, she’s got a great husband, two kids and a job she loves.
No one knows that her husband had a gambling problem and that she’s about to lose her house.

Nora’s sister Magpie invites her for a little get away right after Nora asks her husband for a divorce. Nora jumps at the chance to get away. Magpie has a secret and Nora has a secret too.
But both women struggle to open up to each other.

The secrets were predictable and I’m ok with that but there was too much time spent building up to the secrets. That’s my opinion anyway.

I felt bad for Nora but I didn’t understand how she could keep such big secrets from her family for years. They are all so close but she couldn’t ask for support.
And Nora’s husband just seemed so carefree and casual about the fact that they might lose their house.

The one thing that remained was love. Despite everything, they do love each other. Neither of them thought their love could wind up in such a fragile place.

This book wouldn’t normally have caught my eye, it would have sounded too sad for my personal book preferences. But I really enjoyed the first book, so of course I was interested in this one too.

I won a copy of this book in a giveaway. ( )
  Mishale1 | Dec 29, 2018 |
The O'Bannon women band together again. I have really started growing very fond of Nora, Bridget, and Colleen. I just love how these three women have each other's back no matter the situation. Oh and all the yummy goodies that they bake. It is as if I can smell the vanilla, cinnamon, and other scents.

This book focuses on Nora. She finds herself homeless with two children and the possibility of divorce. Thank goodness for family. Although, once back home, Nora considers starting up a new relationship despite that she still does love Ben. She is just not sure that she can forgive him.

What I really like about this series is that author, Shirley infuses so much life into the story and characters that it is like the O'Bannon women are an extended part of my family. Therefore, you can't help but fall in love with Colleen, Nora, and Bridget. A fun and charming read. The Secret Ingredient for a Happy Marriage brings a dash of sweetness, a pinch of love, a handful of goodness and humor that produces one yummy read! ( )
  Cherylk | Apr 30, 2018 |
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