Who doesn’t love a good cooking competition? (Okay, maybe some people…) I love food and cooking in general, and just reading the synopsis I knew I’d be salivating throughout the entire book. I was totally right. This book made me hungry soooo many times!
Title: Salty, Bitter, Sweet
Author: Mayra Cuevas
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Genres: YA Contemporary Romance
I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
“Happiness, like love, arrives through the kitchen. At least that’s what my abuela Lala used to say. I may not know much about love, but I definitely got the kitchen part down.”
Seventeen-year-old aspiring chef Isabella Fields’ family life has fallen apart after the death of her Cuban abuela and the divorce of her parents. She moves in with her dad and his new wife in France, where Isabella feels like an outsider in her father’s new life, studiously avoiding the awkward, “Why did you cheat on Mom?” conversation.
The upside of Isabella’s world being turned upside down? Her father’s house is located only 30 minutes away from the restaurant of world-famous Chef Pascal Grattard, who runs a prestigious and competitive international kitchen apprenticeship. The prize job at Chef Grattard’s renowned restaurant also represents a transformative opportunity for Isabella, who is desperate to get her life back in order.
But how can Isabella expect to hold it together when she’s at the bottom of her class at the apprenticeship, her new stepmom is pregnant, she misses her abuela dearly, and a mysterious new guy and his albino dog fall into her life?
- Most YA books set in France are mainly in Paris, but Salty, Bitter, Sweet is set in Lyon and the rural outskirts of that city. It was a lot of fun to visit this new-to-me location.
- Beluga the dog is freaking adorable.
- Cuevas’ writing is breezy and fun, very easy to read. I read this book in a couple of days. It’s filled with the perfect amount of description, exposition, action, and dialogue.
- The romance with Diego is fun and sweet. He comes with some great character depth a little farther in the book, which I appreciated.
One thing I really loved about this book was the cooking class/competition that Isa participates in. It’s so tense, but not only that, the techniques taught and put into action are so well described. I could picture it really well. These scenes were fast paced and very suspenseful.
On the other hand, Isa often has flashbacks of her abuela. These are slower paced and rich with detail. I enjoyed this change of pace and found these flashbacks to be incredibly touching. Isa’s love for her abuela really stood out to me, as it affected everything Isa did.
The relationships Isa has with her family is complicated but also realistic. She lives with her dad who is newly married to the woman he hooked up with when cheating on Isa’s mom. It’s awkward and painful at times, but I liked how it was handled. Even her relationship with her abeula is complicated, but seeing Isa have tough feelings like this was compelling and made me appreciate her more.
One thing that surprised and fascinated me while reading was learning about the sexism women have to deal with in the culinary field. That isn’t something I’d ever considered, and this peek into that was both heart wrenching and educational. The ending is tied into all of that, and I LOVED how everything was resolved.
There is one aspect of this book that made me uneasy, however. Isa spends a lot of time thinking “she’s different from other girls” in that she doesn’t wear makeup or dress up or swoon over boys. This caused some unneeded girl-on-girl hate and friendship drama that disappointed me. The problem with this especially is that Isa does end up doing all of these things—she dresses up, puts on makeup, and ultimately swoons over Diego. It made me trust her less as a character.
Looking at the book as a whole, however, I did really enjoy this book. It’s fun, it’s hilarious (some of the jokes took me completely by surprise! I was giggling so much!), and it’s a great story.
I’m glad I had the chance to read this book. I enjoyed the journey and will definitely try to read more of Cuevas’ future books.