“The All-You-Can-Dream Buffet” by Barbara O’Neal

The All-You-Can-Dream Buffet, by Barbara O’Neal, tells the story of four food bloggers meeting for the first time in person to celebrate an 85th birthday, although each woman is going through a rough time. Lavender, the birthday girl, invites baker / cake blogger Ginny, who might never be going back to her husband, and vegan foodie Ruby, newly dumped and newly pregnant, and Val, who stopped wine blogging (and everything else) when her husband died.

  This is a gentle story, about personal crossroads and relationships. It’s also a love letter to distant friends, and to blogging, and to cooking delicious food, with an underlying theme of screw those rules, I’ll make my own. Yes.

I’m not saying I read a lot of formulaic chick lit, but I was braced for the predictable falling-out between the four friends (in order to set the stage for the teary reconciliation, wherein they realise the Value of Friendship, obvs.), and I was pleasantly surprised when that never happened. The author sends four characters on four personal arcs, that happen to intersect in interesting ways.

The story has some unabashed chicklit moments — Val, Ruby and Ginny all just happen to have gorgeous campers to drive out to Lavender’s gorgeous farm, and Val just happens to know a costume director in the next town who outfits them all in goddess/fairy ensembles — but why not, in a magical story? Why not end up with the four friends, plus Val’s teenage daughter Hannah, dressed as barefoot goddesses under a blue moon in fields of lavender?

 The villains in the story aren’t mustache-twirling evil-doers, either.  Lavender’s nephews, who stand to inherit the farm, aren’t greedy money-grubbers, just guys trying to keep their aging aunt from giving the family property away to random internet strangers. Ruby’s ex-boyfriend comes off as not so much evil as hopelessly self-centered and a bit confused. Even Ginny’s controlling mother means well. The true antagonist in each woman’s story is time.

I particularly liked Ginny’s drive from Kansas to Portland, a solo adventure after years of being an agreeable wife. I hate to drive, and I don’t think I would enjoy towing a camper in the Colorado mountains, but solo traveling is always great. Or maybe the best part was Ruby admitting she was named after the Galactic Gumshoe,  The name always reminds me of that radio play, and I’ve called several game characters after her, too.

Although Ginny hasn’t gotten the best reaction from being outed as that cake blogger, The All You Can Dream Buffet loves blogging. Sometimes the characters will literally say it to each other, that writing this blog changed my life. Reading your blog makes my life better. And author O’Neal says it too, over and over, in different ways, that blogging is the wonderful interaction of creativity and friendship, of solitary hobbies and public sharing.

This review is based on an eARC from the publisher. Thank you! Opinions are my own and  free copies  have never stopped me from snarking about a bad book before.

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Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you are enjoying food and friends and making your own rules!

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