Review: The Secret Ingredient – Nancy Naigle

Review: The Secret Ingredient – Nancy NaigleThe Secret Ingredient
by Nancy Naigle
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 320
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Love is like a perfect recipe…
You never want to lose it.

Years ago, Kelly McIntyre and Andrew York were engaged and dreaming of opening a restaurant together. Then he chose an opportunity to study in Paris over the small-town life they’d planned, and their romance came to a bittersweet end.

But Kelly’s doing fine. She’s not only the owner of a potbellied pig named Gray, but also of her own bakery. Business is good—so good that she’s invited to compete in a Valentine’s Day bake-off. As she prepares for the contest, she tries not to get distracted by Andrew’s visit to town.

When Andrew sees Kelly, it stirs up his old feelings. Little does he know that soon, in New York, he’ll compete against her in the bake-off…and they’ll both realize how much their past is a part of them still.

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4 stars icon contemporary icon m/f romance icon yummy food

I love second-chance romances and baking, so this seemed right up my alley.  Plus, it’s set in a small town in North Carolina and involves a baking competition.  How could I resist?  And I’m glad I didn’t, because this is such a sweet, adorable romance.

“I’ve never met anyone who made me feel the way you did. The way you still do. What about that ‘if you love someone let them go’ quote? Maybe there was a reason we were apart for a while.”
“There was. You chose to pursue education and a career in another country instead of marrying me.”
“That’s not exactly how it was.”
“Fine. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. You may have only planned to go for a while, but in the end…you didn’t come back.”

Childhood sweethearts from a small town in North Carolina, Kelly and Andrew broke up when Andrew decided to stay in France after completing a pastry chef internship there.  Though it scuttles their dreams of opening their own restaurant, seven years later, they’re both successful people in their own rights.  Andrew is the head chef at a famous French chef’s restaurant, and Kelly has opened a famous bakery in their hometown.  When the chance of a lifetime brings Andrew back to his hometown, seeing Kelly again brings up good memories – and doubts about whether he’s as happy as he thinks.  But Andrew’s time back in Bailey’s Fork is limited, as he’s heading to help a friend open up a restaurant in New York City, while Kelly is traveling to Orlando for a baking convention – or so they say.  Fate has a few more meetings in store for them.  Can they both see past their old hurts to bake a new future together?

This is just the sweetest book – and I’m not just talking about all the desserts!  Kelly is adorable – a hardworking businesswoman who hasn’t lost her sense of fun, which serves her well when designing her award-winning baked goods.  Andrew, well, Andrew took a bit for me to warm up to him.  In all honest, I spent at least the first quarter of the book being seriously judgmental of Andrew.  While, in retrospect, I can see where some fault for their breakup might like with Kelly, it’s Andrew who chose to breakup with her over the phone and completely trashed the plans they’d made together over the course of years.  While he was pursuing his studies in France, Kelly was left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart.  Kelly used her heartbreak to throw herself into running The Cake Factory, which started as a little bake shop that mostly just filled orders for her parents’ cafe next door, but expanded to truly live up to its name, including fulfilling internet orders across the country.  Plus, she adopted a pig she named G.R.A.Y. View Spoiler », a detail which had me giggling.  Kelly does have a chip on her shoulder about being a self-trained baker, rather than the fancy training Andrew received as a pastry chef in France, and she’s wary of trying to rekindle even a friendship with him.

“I guess I did leave someone special behind. I just didn’t make it clear to her that I thought she was special.”
“You’re an idiot then. My ex was like that.” Lori cocked her head and leaned away from him. “That’s why he’s an ex. Don’t be like that.”

While Andrew realizes from his first reunion with Kelly that he lost something special with her, and that he still loves her, Kelly is more gun-shy, worried about another heart-break.  After all, he left her once, so who’s to say he wouldn’t leave again when another opportunity presented itself Part of Andrew’s decision to stay in France was to prove to his father that he was a “real” chef, as his dad wanted him to follow in his footsteps and join the family mechanic shop and disapproved of his career choice. It was nice to see him start to rebuild those relationships with his family, and also gradually remember the joys of living in a small town.  I will say that the book was very heavy handed on the small town vs big wide world in the first half of the book, enough that it made me roll my eyes in parts.

The first half of the book is spent in North Carolina, and while it’s a bit slow-paced, it’s a nice view into what their relationship used to be, certainly much better than the first chapter.  There’s a scene where Andrew teaches Kelly how to do sugar work and it’s just obvious to the reader how well they fit each other.  It’s nearly half-way through the book before the cooking competition enters the plot-line, and from there the pace picks up.  I do wish they’d been able to spend a bit more time on the cooking competition portion, because some of my favorite parts where the chapters describing the challenges and how each completed them.  And, yes, there are tons of delicious deserts described in this book, enough to make me break out my stand-mixer to make some baked goods.  As a side-note, there’s a recipe for Andrew and Kelly’s Honey Almond Cake (which plays a pivotal role in the plot) at the back of the book.  While I haven’t tried it yet, I’m pleased they finally included something similar to a recipe used in the book, as previous ones have included… odd… choices, to say the least.  And, yes, the plot is very predictable, and it verges on saccharine sweet at times, but this is a Hallmark novel, so that’s to be expected!

Overall, this was a sweet confection of a book (pun intended).  If you’re looking for a light, quick romance with a small town second chance romance, this is the book for you!

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