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3.7 out of 5 stars
11
The Secret Ingredient
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VINE VOICEon November 17, 2013
Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I feel like this is another YA contemporary about which I hadn't heard much. Luckily that tends to work in my favor as I don't enter the book with expectations, instead being prepared to just enjoy whatever comes. What I did know was that this book would feature its protagonist cooking a lot, something that really pleased me. Unfortunately I kept wanting recipes and this book did not provide any. I feel like I am encouraged to give cooking (and baking, my first love) more of a shot but I'd like a bit more guidance before attempting.

Anyway the plot for this one is less focused than your typical dystopia or fantasy. Basically we have Olivia going through the summer before senior year: she's getting her first real job in a casting agent's office, her adoptive gay dads are having money struggles, and she's starting to wonder about her birth mother in addition to creating a plan to pursue her love of cooking and first romance troubles.

One of my big concluding impressions of this book is that it is light. Yes, it does look at some more serious topics but the writing and plotting is very smooth and flows well. It's on the shorter side and I read it pretty quickly. Although I am thinking about it now, a few days after finishing, it didn't have anything substantial that will continue to resonate with me for the rest of the year like my favorite books did.

I pretty much liked everything but didn't love anything. It was great to see Olivia as a child of adoption and the easy acceptance of her dads for what they were (although as is shown, sadly not everyone is cool with it). I liked the cooking aspect, which plays a huge role. I liked Olivia's best friend and her support of Olivia at multiple key points. I wasn't too thrilled with how the romance plays out but if you're someone who doesn't want too much romance, you might be pleased with its representation here (I sometimes wish for more casual relationships in YA but really I do want the one true love intensity that we most often get.)

Overall: A perfectly pleasant read-fine for the beach or other summer locales. It just didn't knock my socks off :(
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on June 12, 2016
What happens when you encounter someone you do not believe in, someone who looks at you and starts telling you what your future will be? Meet Olivia who lives in Silverlake, a part of Los Angeles. She's been raised by her two dads ever since her mom gave her up and vanished. Most of the time, she's been relatively content, but the fact that her mother abandoned her still hurts and then, there's something magical and mysterious about the used cookbook she experiments with. She can't stop imagining the life of the former owner who left copious and very intriguing notes in and around the recipes.
When her chance meeting with the psychic is followed by a job with a talent agency where she's reunited with Theo, a boy she was crushing on and was about to date when he abruptly vanished, Olivia has to rethink her skepticism about fate and psychics. In the process, she must try to save her dads' failing restaurant, figure out what the clues in the cookbook mean, how much to let Theo back into her life and whether a trip to follow a hunch is worth the effort.
This is a quirky and engaging book about nice people. Teens liking an offbeat love story with an air of gentle mystery will greatly enjoy it. I liked it enough to buy and read the author's earlier book You Have Seven Messages.
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on August 24, 2015
I picked up this book on the clearance rack of a used book store. I read the cover and began to read the inside of the book it seemed interesting so I bought it and read the book. I didn't know it was a book written for teens. What I found strange is that there is no reference to the subject matter at all in the jacket or on the back of the book. Which seems a little deceiving to me. The writer felt it necessary to not only have two dads, but to weave-in another story line regarding a lesbian couple, and that under age sex with no commitment just felt right for the 16 year old girl at the time. Lots of reference to the girls lack of a mother and feelings regarding this matter which seemed realistic, but no reference to the emotions involved in teen sex. There are a lot of topics presented as an everyday matter of fact situation which I personally do not want presented to my teens in such a fashion. Seemed like a lot of issues were being presented in this book that parents and teens should be aware of before picking it up. I really could have skipped reading it, and wouldn't suggest spending the time.
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on October 20, 2014
The secret ingredient of The Secret Ingredient is food porn. The narrator, a sixteen year old budding chef who is somewhat unbelievably called upon to cook in her family's restaurant, lovingly details the dishes she whips up both in the kitchen and in her imagination, dwelling languorously on descriptions of both the fresh ingredients and the warm, inviting finished products. It's a shameless bid for the Foot Network audience, and it absolutely works. It's only when you glance up from your plate that you realize that, aside from fictional feasts, there's not much else on Lewis's menu. All of the conflict seems to swirl around the main character rather than directly involving her, and the overall resolution is ridiculously pat. Still, this inspired me to attempt my own artichoke lasagna recipe, so it's not a total wash. Best read while hungry, or during a cable outage that's cutting off your normal Food TV supply.
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on July 24, 2013
Although she's an excellent chef whose delectable dishes are devoured by her family, friends and customers in her dad's restaurant, Olivia still feels something is missing from her life. An avid cook, she knows that to create a truly mouthwatering recipe the chef must incorporate a unique final touch --- a secret ingredient. Olivia is convinced that this summer she'll find the "secret ingredient" that is lacking in her life, an idea reinforced by a psychic she meets. Unfortunately, Olivia has other slightly more gripping issues to deal with. Her two dads are in debt and may lose the restaurant that is their livelihood. Furthermore, she starts a new job, has mixed feelings about an old love interest who turns up and tries to be supportive to her best friend whose mom recently was diagnosed with cancer. To top it off, Olivia decides that now is the time to find her birth mother.

Growing up with two fathers in Los Angeles wasn't always easy for Olivia, but she loves her dads, Bell and Enrique, dearly. She doesn't want to hurt them but has a hunch that the mother she never met could be the thing missing from her life. Can Olivia summon the courage to search for her mother? Will she allow a boy who deceived her once to get close to her again? Will her wayward brother who landed himself in jail for driving a stolen ice-cream truck really land himself a record contract? Read THE SECRET INGREDIENT to find out!

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and read it in three somewhat lengthy sittings. Olivia, the main character, had an intriguing and dynamic personality. As she differed from the stereotypical teenage girl who dominates many books, I feel that she would appeal to many readers. In refusing to have a Facebook page or a cell phone, Olivia set herself apart from other slightly bland characters who are fully engulfed by the technology that dominates our lives. In addition, she preferred to shop at vintage boutiques as opposed to mainstream department stores. These quirks made her character seem more real.

Olivia's interest in cooking also added an exciting element to the book as she often related the rules of cooking to daily life. As a teen who enjoys cooking for my family, I could understand her desire to create delicious meals for her loved ones in times when they needed cheering up. Olivia's use of food as a healing, comforting or unifying device was both simple and ingenious at the same time.

By developing refreshingly unique characters and a clever plot, Stewart Lewis, the author of THE SECRET INGREDIENT, created a novel that was simultaneously lighthearted and deep. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books about food, friendship, family and growth. This book just may be the missing "secret ingredient" that your bookshelf needs.

Reviewed by Jennifer B.
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on May 7, 2014
\\ Review originally posted on The Book Addict's Guide //

Date Completed: May 19th, 2013
Publication Info: June 11th, 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: ARC provided to me by Random House for participation in the blog tour

I’m really glad that I got to be a part of this blog tour because I hadn’t heard of THE SECRET INGREDIENT before and I devoured it (okay, pun kind of intended) in one afternoon. With a breezy California setting, I found THE SECRET INGREDIENT to be a perfect mixture of romance, mystery, and culinary expertise for a summer day. Olivia and her family run into some hardships over the summer that is chronicled in this book, but despite the hard times, I still found the book to have a lightness to it that carried me through the whole book and got me lost in Olivia’s story.

One of the main points of THE SECRET INGREDIENT is Olivia’s quest to find out about her birth mother. She was adopted and lives with her two fathers in Los Angeles and despite being teased when she was younger, she couldn’t be happier in her home with such loving parents. The real sort of mystery begins when Olivia has a nagging desire to find out who her birth mother really was and after digging up documents, she decides to finally take that leap and possibly even make contact with her… Providing she’s still alive or in the general area. I really liked this part of the storyline — I think it’s always interesting to see where the author takes an idea like this. Is Olivia’s mother a good person? Is she in prison? Did she start a new family? Is she even alive? That little spark just had me questioning every little thing until the very end!

Another huge part of the book is Olivia’s knack and passion for cooking (hence the title). When she finds an old cookbook with numerous notations and personal thoughts written in the margins from the previous owner, a whole back story begins to unravel in her head and with each recipe she tries from the cookbook, a new tale unfolds. Very Half-Blood Prince, no? :) I kind of loved it! This story becomes Olivia’s other obsession over the summer, attempting all of the recipes that the previous owner had. I liked the second story line that sort of unravels here piece by piece and that these people and events that are being recorded in the cookbook are real people somewhere that Olivia may or may not be able to meet in real life, should she choose to go out and find them. The only thing I didn’t like was that Olivia jumped to her own conclusions about where the story really went because Rose (the previous cookbook owner) was very vague on many things. Olivia just assumes that “Maybe this is what happened” and then takes her own assumptions for the truth. I think I just wanted a bit more mystery there — me being a mystery person and all — and maybe a few more guesses and hypotheses instead of just assuming one story line was true. Either way, it was definitely an interesting piece to the story!!

Another thing I really enjoyed was the family dynamic of this book. I loved both of Olivia’s dads and how different they were, with Bell as the restaurant owner who seems to be the backbone of the family and Enrique as more of an artistic sort of person having formerly been part of the Mexico City Ballet. I really loved their guidance and advice for Olivia and just the way they all interacted. I could totally tell how much love was in their family and even through the hard times, they still all manage to pull it together and were so supportive of each other. Olivia also has a brother who doesn’t live at home, but she still pops out every once in a while to meet up with him. Both Olivia and her brother work their hardest over this summer to help out their fathers’ struggling business and it was just so touching to see their dedication to the family! Their family seemed so realistic and they all just felt so genuine. It was one of my favorite aspects of this book!

And of course there’s a romance! How could I forget about that!! After up and leaving with no word the previous year, Olivia’s first real crush is back in town. Theo is back after abandoning Olivia on the night of their first date and things start to heat up again… But I was always left with that idea of “Can we trust him?” He left without a word so I was very hesitant to see him back in Olivia’s life, but I definitely started seeing his appeal and he had just some of the sweetest moments with her! Theo was a bit quirky in a good way and I never knew what to expect from him. I loved the spontaneity… As long as it didn’t involve him leaving again!

THE SECRET INGREDIENT has its fair share of serious topics and hard times, but it isn’t one to bog you down — I started and finished in one afternoon and really enjoyed every high and low of the book! I was swept away by this book and just let myself get lost in Olivia’s story.
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I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Ingredient is the story of a single summer in young Olivia's life, a summer where things start to change. Olivia is beginning to feel like she's missing something and she's certain it's her birthmother. Her fathers, Bell and Enrique, are struggling to make do with their slowly failing restaurant and her brother Jeremy is kind of a dreamer. The Secret Ingredient is the perfect summer time read; it's short, sweet, has a touch of romance, and a ton of self discovery. Just make sure you have snacks handy, because this one is sure to make you hungry.

Olivia Reese is a incredibly sweet sixteen year old girl who puts her family first and it's not until she gets a little push that she starts trying to do things for herself. She's also an incredible cook and that's where she finds her peace, and believe me...the food she makes in this sounds utterly amazing. The family unit in SI is really important to the story and the best part for me is that her parents are actually great parents, none of that typical YA horrid or absent parent nonsense here. Bell and Enrique have their issues and they have a lot of stress on them but they really try and thanks to a few flashbacks you get a good idea of how they raised Olivia and Jeremy. I suppose my only complaint is that I wish I could see more of those instances. Lola is Olivia's best friend and while we didn't get a ton of back story for her she really does seem like a wonderful best friend who is willing to stand by Olivia no matter what. Then there is Theo, the boy with the surprisingly sweet heart and big dreams. I really liked him, he seemed really sweet and at sixteen he's incredibly responsible. He really encourages Olivia is realize her dreams and I thought he was a great addition to her already large support system. I did not like where their relationship ended up though, it felt a bit off or incomplete. Though I suppose technically it is since the story only covers one story of her whole life and realistically everything would not fall into place, but still it was a bit of let down.

The overall plot is a quick and filled with life's ups and downs that Olivia has to find a way to navigate. I think she does better than simply navigate the troubled waters though, she really puts her best foot forward and works to do what she can to better both her situation and that of her friends and family. She also discovers quite a bit about herself as she searches for her birthmother and I liked that she grew as a person. The romance is really cute and put a smile on my face, and the cooking parts had me reading in the kitchen. (Seriously...I read most of this while in my kitchen so I could grab stuff to eat easier). My only real big issue was the fact that there was a lot of telling and not a lot of feeling, it didn't really balance out and while I enjoyed the story quite a bit I didn't find my self connected to the characters as much as a I wanted to be. It's not an extremely deep novel but it did get me thinking about how people can take seemingly small things for granted, but when you lose them you realize just how big it was.

If you're looking for a book to keep you company while you sit out in the sun and relax then The Secret Ingredient just might be for you.
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on June 15, 2013
The Secret Ingredient is a sweet quiet read about family, love, and finding that secret ingredient that holds it all together. Olivia is a promising young chef who lives in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles with her two adoring dads. But she can't help but wonder about her birth mom. A chance meeting with a psychic and the discovery of a vintage cookbook help bring her closer to discovering the secrets of the past.

I like to cook so I'm always intrigued when food is woven into the narrative of the story. Olivia is still in high school, but her dad Bell owns the restaurant FOOD and she gets to take over the kitchen on Saturday nights. Ollie is very creative with her recipes and has learned to put her own signature stamp on her dishes. The restaurant is in financial trouble though, so Olivia takes a job at a casting agency to help out.

Olivia loves her dad's but at times she feels that she's missing out by not having a mom. For instance, she reflects back on getting her first period and having her dad Enrique taking her to the neighbor lady for assistance. She wouldn't change her situation for the world but she naturally is curious about her birth mom. Ollie's British friend Lola is her partner in crime in this adventure, and she's spurred on by a psychic's uncanny reading in an elevator, and the story-within-a-story found in a used cookbook.

With the names Lola and Bell, and Ollie's two dads I couldn't help but think of another great read, Lola and the Boy Next Door. And in fact, I think Stephanie Perkins fans will like this one since it has a city setting, family theme, and romance. The romance doesn't take center stage in this book, but there is a boy named Theo in Olivia's life. The love story angle wasn't my favorite part, though, and I think I preferred Ollie's more introspective moments in the kitchen.

This was my first experience with Stewart Lewis' writing. He's also a singer-songwriter and wrote You Have Seven Messages. Lewis does a nice job with the female POV, and I forgot that the author was male actually. I liked that the characters are a little quirky and creative, and that the workplace and city settings are used to full advantage. The story is light and engaging and held my interest. Since food is such a central theme, it would be great if recipes were included too, but maybe they are in the finished copy.

The Secret Ingredient is a cute, lazy day summer coming-of-age story, and I'm interested in reading more from this author.
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on June 26, 2013
Olivia is happy with her life in Los Angeles, living with her dads and brother and cooking a weekly special at her dad Bell's restaurant. But lately Bell's restaurant is suffering, and Olivia finds a summer job in a desperate attempt to help alleviate her family's financial situation. When she does, she meets a psychic who offers some strange advice and sets Olivia on a path to be open to romance and finding her birth mother.

Stewart Lewis, author of You Have Seven Messages, has written another thoughtful and emotional book centering around family dynamics and the relationship between mothers and daughters. The Secret Ingredient has a lot of really neat elements to it; the vintage cookbook that Olivia finds offers an interesting side story that helps Olivia to grow as a person, and Olivia's best friend's issues with her own mother add to the conversation about the relationship between a mother and a child, and how that connection--or lack thereof--shapes us. The Secret Ingredient is an introspective family drama with flavors of friendship, romance, and a passion for food that makes for a quick, appealing read.

Cover Comments: I really like the vintage feel of this cover, which fits the story really well. And--the girl on the cover looks like how Olivia is described, which is really cool!
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on June 22, 2013
{my thoughts} - This book has a magical feel to it. Once I had started reading it I found it to be incredibly difficult to stop. I read the entire book in one sitting. Olivia is a seventeen-year old girl with a brother and two dads. She was adopted as a baby and recently has a hang up with wanting to find her birth mother. She meets a psychic and everything in her life seems to fall into place like tiny pieces of a puzzle that has been scattered for so long. This book is about love, devotion, acceptance, betrayal, sacrifice, understanding and learning to become your own person. I absolutely enjoyed reading this book and hope to read more by this author in the future.

{reason for reading} - I obtained this book through netgallery in return for an honest review.
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