Book: The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis, Delacorte/Random House, On Sale Now
Book Info: Young Adult Contemporary, Review copy provided by the publisher, Available in HC 256 pages
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
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. There’s actually an indie movie in the works, and the setting was changed to Birmingham, Alabama. Read more about it here.
- The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis: Review and Giveaway (Sponsored) (rainydayramblings.com)
- Review: The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis (booksetceterablog.wordpress.com)
Book: manicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen, Random House Books for Young Readers, On Sale Now
Book Info: YA Contemporary, Review copy provided by the publisher, Available in HC 256 pages
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
Tom Leveen has a unique voice and writes interesting male characters, so I was intrigued to check out his latest book manicpixiedreamgirl. Leveen’s characters are usually creative types and not the typical leading men you see in YA. And since I’ve seen lot of movies featuring manic pixie dream girls, I was curious to see the bookish incarnation of that quirky unattainable girl.
I always think of Zooey Deschanel in 500 days of Summer (or any of her projects really) when I think of MPDG‘s. These types of characters are like the muse to tortured artist type guys. After seeing MPDG’s in several films, it seems like they are there on to inspire the male lead & help them take the next step to reach their goals. So, based on my movie viewing experience, I had an image in my mind of the typical MPDG- pictured below with the smitten male leads:
In manicpixiedreamgirl, Tyler is in a relationship with Sidney Barrett, but secretly worships Becky Webb. Becky is a talented actress in school productions, and a loner type who reads Stephen King, just like him. Tyler joins the tech crew in drama class just so he can be near her. Everyone but Becky knows about Tyler’s obsession – even his girlfriend Sid knows. Tyler’s a writer and Becky’s his muse, but he has her on too high a pedestal to make a move. One of his stories about Becky gets published though, getting his feelings out in the open ready or not.
The book has an interesting structure and is set on one pivotal night in seventeen-year-old Tyler’s life, with frequent flashbacks to fill in the important details in the story. The story takes place over two years from when he first sets eyes on Becky. We follow Tyler as he stalks Becky around school and asks his friends for info on her. Sidney falls for Tyler in the meantime, and he strings her along while pining for Becky. It’s tortured and messy like real life, and none of the characters behave how you want them to, but I still had to keep reading to see how it would turn out.
I thought the male voice in manicpixiedreamgirl was very strong and unique. Tyler’s smart and likes being around the drama kids and writing. It’s nice to see the guy’s POV when he falls for the unattainable sort of girl, and all the missteps along the way. Leveen’s writing is sharp and engaging, and he juggles the flashbacks with ease. Becky is in many ways similar to MPDG’s in film, but she keeps you guessing all the same.
I think this book will appeal to guys as well as girls, especially readers who enjoy John Green and David Levithan, and Leveen’s own Zero. manicpixiedreamgirl is in stores this week, and his next novel Sick is due out in the fall.
Scent of Darkness is moody, dark and mysterious and the type of book I like to read from time to time. The premise instantly reminded me of the novel Perfume, another book about the dangerous power of scent. In this story, a made-for-her fragrance changes a character’s life and makes her dangerously alluring to everyone in her path. Scent of Darkness drew me in, and I got lost in its magical spell. The New Orleans setting is an enchanting backdrop to the story.
Evangeline (Eva) is 18 and spends her summers with her grandmother Louise in New York. Her grandmother believes in magic and is a powerful perfumer. When she dies, she leaves Eva a bottle of custom scented perfume with a note of caution not to open it unless you want everything in your life to change. It would take a very strong person not to open that vial, and Eva is not that person. The fragrance has the essence of leather, rose and jasmine and becomes a part of her from the moment it touches her skin. Every person (or animal) near her becomes obsessed with her scent and wants to be closer to her. It’s like an extreme love potion.
Of course, Eva’s love life improves and her object of affection, Gabriel, a medical student, becomes infatuated with her. But things get complicated when another man, the artist Michael, enters her life. Once things get a little out of control, she needs help solving the mystery of the scent’s powers and discovering what her grandmother’s intent was with the magical perfume. Helping her is her tarot card reading teenage neighbor Levon, one of my favorite characters in the book.
This is not going to be a book for everyone- it has that dreamy, seductive quality of books such as Imaginary Girls, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and Perfume, and other books with magical realism. It also has a horror-esque, unsettling feeling to it. Most of the characters are cryptic and I felt somewhat detached, though the mystery of the plot kept me reading.
This book is technically in the Fiction category, however with it’s eighteen year old protagonist it has New Adult appeal. The writing is accessible, with short chapters, and a quick read at only 220 pages. The twisty plot unfolds like a horror movie and had me on edge. It’s the first book I’ve read by Margot Berwin (Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire) and it’s haunting, consuming and creative.
If Scent of Darkness sounds like your kind of book, let me know in the comments and I’ll send you my hardcover copy (US readers please). (UPDATE: Book has been claimed)
Book Info: Middle Grade, Received from NetGalley, Available in HC 313 pages
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars
I started reading Wonder on a whim over the weekend and couldn’t put it down. I’d heard good things about the book for months, and liked the book trailer, but for some reason I kept finding other books to read instead. Even though I do like middle grade books, the subject matter of this one gave me pause. Anyway, the story is so engaging and uplifting, much more so than I had expected. Totally a worthwhile read and I’m so glad I finally read it.
10-year-old August Pullman was born with a severe facial abnormality. His parents home schooled him all of his life due to his frequent surgeries and medical appointments. Now, when others August’s age are starting middle school, his parents think the time may be right for August to attend school as well. Auggie is a normal kid inside, smart and funny, and loves Star Wars and videogames. But will his new classmates be able to see past his outward appearance?
Auggie is so endearing- he won me over from the very first pages. I was so scared for him to start middle school. Middle school is terrifying under the best of circumstances! And even though Auggie has seen reactions of strangers around him all his life, it’s hard to prepare yourself for this age group. I, like Auggie, hoped for the best but steeled myself for the worst. His experience has highs and lows and focuses in on a handful of students and teachers and the different ways they interact with Auggie.
There are a few kids assigned to keep an eye out for Auggie at school to show him around. Auggie is very perceptive about others and is a good judge of character- he really is a brave little guy. It’s interesting to see the world through Auggie’s eyes and then later revisit the same scenes through the eyes of his friends when the book shifts to multiple POV. I hadn’t expected the book to shift POV actually, but it does satisfy some curiosity by hearing other characters perspective. Two of Auggie’s classmates, as well as his sister, her friend, and boyfriend all take a turn at the narration. Auggie’s sister Via is a standout character, as she shares the effect her brother has had on her life.
Hearing the different reactions to Auggie made me think about who I would be in the scenario, and I’d react in middle school if I had a classmate like him. My daughter and I had a dialogue about it, and you always hope you’d be compassionate, but it’s hard to know what is the right way to respond in the moment. The book does a great job of making you think about how to treat people fairly and with compassion. The writing is accessible and has a light touch, even though there are some heavy and distressing scenes. It is just perfect for a middle grade audience, and to read aloud for class discussion or at home. But really I think this uplifting story is appealing for all ages.
Check out the book trailer:
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio (kid-lit-reviews.com)
- Review : Wonder by R. J. Palacio (tararualibrary.wordpress.com)
- Wonder by RJ Palacio – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Valentine’s Day Kids’ Exclusive: R.J. Palacio on “Wonder” (omnivoracious.com)
- Interview with RJ Palacio, author of Wonder (telegraph.co.uk)
Book Info: Young Adult Contemporary, Received from RandomBuzzers, Available in HC 304 pages
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
I thought I had this book pegged by the cover, which is so punk rock and artsy. I made some snap judgments about the book, thinking it would be a little dark and gritty for my taste. And while there is a fair amount of art and punk in the book, it is at its core a sweet story about a relationship and finding self worth. As I may have mentioned before though, I am a sucker for YA books about music so I jumped at the chance to check out Zero. Throw in an artistic, self-deprecating new adult protagonist and I was so on board with this one.
Amanda “Zero” Walsh has just received some bad news that rocked her world. She didn’t qualify for a coveted art school scholarship and won’t be able to swing the money on her own. On top of that, things are beyond awkward with her best friend, and her dad’s drinking is spiraling out of control. Life takes an unexpected turn when she meets skate punk drummer Mike, and he helps give her a much-necessary boost of confidence.
Tom Leveen writes a realistic teenage girl character, one who is self-absorbed and a bit whiny, and dealing with lots of family drama. Amanda’s nickname Zero started out as a put-down junior high kids called her because she was the loner art chick. However, it stuck and she decided to own it, and even her own dad calls her Z rather than Amanda, or the dreaded Amy. Amanda has body image issues and low self-esteem and uses humor and sarcasm as a coping mechanism. She is a gifted artist and idolizes Salvador Dali, but she lacks the confidence to take her art to the next level. She has one close friend, Jenn, but they have a mysterious falling out. In a big moment of bravery she approaches the gorgeous-eyed drummer of up and coming band Gothic Rainbow, and they begin a relationship.
Mike the drummer is very crush-worthy, sweet and mature, and his scenes with Amanda spark with electricity. He is not a stereotypical rock-musician type at all, and in case you’re wondering he doesn’t have a Mohawk, as the cover would suggest. Leveen captures the feeling of first love really well, with an awkwardness and obsessiveness that rings true. And even though the two care for each other a lot, they both have a driving passion for their art that demands their attention. Their relationship goes a long way towards helping Amanda’s confidence issues, and takes some interesting and unconventional turns. It is also a more mature relationship, both mentally and physically, than found in most other YA books.
Leveen’s writing has a lot of personality and includes some humorous asides to the reader. He captures the feeling of being at a rock show, with authentic band and song names. Also, Amanda’s passion for her art comes through clearly and she gets lost in her art and makes many artistic references. I liked the feminist leanings of the book too and that the relationship wasn’t the only thing in Amanda and Mike’s lives.
Zero would be a great book for people that enjoy books about new adults, people who don’t fit in, and fans of art, music and romance. Don’t judge this book by its cover – there is a lot more beneath the surface.
Other Reviews of Zero:
In My Mailbox is a weekly event hosted by The Story Siren.
This week I received:
The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen – This book looks very cute.
Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare – audiobook (from Simon & Schuster Audio) – A very happy surprise! Now I have to read Clockwork Angel, stat!
The Savage Grace by Bree Despain – ARC (from Random House) – Another nice surprise! This is book 3 in The Dark Divine trilogy and I’m listening to book 2 now.
Blood Born by Jamie Manning – ARC (from Pendrell publishing) – For an upcoming blog tour.
Zero by Tom Leveen – ARC (from Random House) – Reading for Random Buzzers.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Read about this in Entertainment Weekly and was excited to see it on NetGalley.
From the library:
Everneath by Brodi Ashton – Have been wanting to check out this book for ages.
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare – Have to give this a listen before CP.
What did you receive in your mailbox this week?
I recently found out that I’m a Spring 2012 Ambuzzador for Random Buzzers! In addition to being an ambassador to the site, I am helping to get the word out about the book Zero by Tom Leveen.
Zero is a contemporary book about life, love, art, and music and is centered on an aspiring artist named Amanda, who’s nicknamed Zero. I’ve been flipping through it and it looks pretty cool so far. Check out the official synopsis below:
For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn’t materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero’s parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she’s so much more than a name.
I like that Zero features older teens and is on the more edgy and artistic side, and with a punk sensibility. Look for my review a little closer to the book’s release in April. You can also read more about it on Goodreads.
Interested in learning more about Random Buzzers?
Random Buzzers is a Random House book community for YA fans to discuss books, enter contests, share reviews, participate in author chats, score free books and more. When you complete activities you earn Buzz Bucks, which can be redeemed for books and other swag.
I have a few invite codes to share. If you sign up with the code you instantly receive 15,000 buzz bucks, which can be redeemed for a book on the site. The code will work for new members only, so if you’re interested just let me know in the comments.