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Salty, Bitter, Sweet

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“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?

Salty, Bitter, Sweet:
- Is a YA contemporary #OwnVoices novel written by CNN producer Mayra Cuevas
- Features a Latina main character who is trilingual
- Is inspired by the author’s relationships with food and family
- Explores complicated family dynamics and relatable themes of friendship, acceptance, and learning to care for yourself

320 pages, Hardcover

First published March 3, 2020

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Mayra Cuevas

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 198 reviews
Profile Image for Berit Talks Books.
2,011 reviews15.7k followers
March 29, 2020
Food, family, forgiveness, fun.

This was a sweet and salty story about family, with a splash of romance and a ton of food. Isa has moved to France to live with her father and her new stepmother. She is not terribly fond of her new stepmother especially because she caught her kissing her father before her parents were divorced. The situation is not helped by the fact that stepmom is now pregnant and refuses to eat the food that Isa makes. When Isa’s new step brother Diego shows up things get even more complicated. This was a fun feel good coming of age story that made me smile. Isa is a likable character with A lot of determination. When she earns the prestigious apprenticeship with an internationally acclaimed chef she is definitely tested. The chef was very demanding and somewhat hostile, to say the least. I definitely admired her tenacity. My only tiny Kniggle with this book was I wanted more romance and less food prep. But that could just be me, I’m more into the eating and less into the preparation. A slow burn romance that will make you happy and hungry.

This book in emojis 🍽 🍲 👨🏻‍🍳 👩🏻‍🍳 🐶 🛵

*** Big thank you to Blink for my gifted copy of this book. All opinions are my own. ***
Profile Image for Mackenzie - PhDiva Books.
416 reviews14.4k followers
March 17, 2020
A coming-of-age novel about an American teenager who is living in France with her father and attending a high-caliber cooking program. With dreams of becoming a Michelin-star chef, a troubled relationship with her father and his new family, and a love-interest, Isabella has her plate full. A charming story with a lot of heart and some amazing food descriptions.

Isa had the misfortune of witnessing her father kissing a woman who wasn’t her mother. Following the incident were months of fighting, a divorce, and eventually her father remarrying and the couple becoming pregnant with a baby who will be seventeen years Isabella’s junior.

The frustration, betrayal, and hurt Isabella feels is confusing to Isa. Now, she’s living with her father and step-mother in France while attending her apprentice program. But it doesn’t help that she can’t seem to connect with her step-mother, Margo. Isabella expresses love and connection through food, but Margo won’t eat a bite of what Isabella cooks.

So when Isabella meets Diego, the step-son to her step-mother Margo, things quickly derail even further. Isa is trying to hold it together in her apprentice program despite less than stellar performance relative to the others, when she finds herself in a hate-to-love relationship with the brazen and attractive Diego.

Salty, Bitter, Sweet is a lovely coming-of-age novel with a diverse cast of characters and a flawed but redeemable leading character who I really felt for. I loved learning more about Isa and her connection to food and cooking and heritage. I also loved the prevalence of women in this male-dominated industry. Isabella isn’t perfect—not even close—but she is a young woman coming into adulthood who ultimately grows so much through the book.

A quick pace and a great story make this a fun young adult novel that many will love. Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Blink YA for my copy. Opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
543 reviews3,550 followers
January 31, 2020
CW: colorism, death of a relative from hepatitis, grief, ableism (especially in regards to addiction).

DNF @ 40%

Even though I promised myself last year that I will be more liberal with DNFing books I am not liking, here I am still feeling bad about doing it but at least, I'm getting better at it, right? SALTY BITTER SWEET sounds amazing on paper, a book about a French-Cuban American girl who is trilingual, passionate about cooking and wants to make a career out of it, who also faces complicated a fresh parental divorce, complicated family dynamics and grief over her grandma's passing, when said grandma was the center of her world. On paper. But the execution of it all left a lot to be desired, at least in the 40% that I read before I gave so bare in my mind that this is a review strictly of what I read and not of the entire book as I don't know what happens later on.

SALTY BITTER SWEET does have some positives to it. Although the story didn't really manage to grip me in the beginning, I chalked that out to it not being written for me as I'm not a teenager and have been recently growing out of YA contemporary, so I didn't really fault it for that, I could still see everything that it did well. First is all the cooking parts had me salivating, so much focus on the kitchen and our main character being laser focus on her passion and getting into an apprenticeship that would open up many many doors for her, while I could also see that her focus didn't solely stem from passion but it also also a way for Isa to escape her dysfunctional family dynamics, with a father who seems to have done a 180 on everything that made her the man she grew up around her whole life, a stepmom who barely acknowledges her existence and seems to dislike everything she does, and a boy, Diego, who is making it all worse. To top it all off, this whole family is very dismissive of her endeavors that they don't take seriously and downright undermine at times.

I saw a few reviews say that the romance is ~taboo~ because a stepbrother/sister romance but I'll have to disagree. Diego is the son of Isa's stepmom's ex-husband. So he's not even related to her, let alone to Isa? And they didn't grow up together nor know of each other's existence until the book started. So you'll have to excuse me if I think that's a bit of a stretch. And I say this as someone who wasn't really fan of the romance in the bit that's I've read, not only because it was barely budding when I stopped reading but also because they're mutually assholes to each other. Isa dislikes him right off the bat for no real reason but then he starts hindering her kitchen progress and not really taking her hurt seriously. All of this is fine as I might have continued reading but then a couple things made me stop:

- There was this passage where the main character encounters people struggling with addiction (not saying how or where because spoilers), but although there are a few of them but the only one whose race is pointed out is the Black man in a way where the MC thought to herself "I can't believe that Bubba, the sweet Black man I've known for so long had an addiction problem too", and this rubbed me the wrong way for two reasons. 1/ Addiction doesn't have a "look" to it, there isn't one type of person that struggles with it, so the fact that she's shocked "a sweet man" struggles with it is...not it. 2/ Why was it necessary to have the Black man's race pointed out when no one else's was? it didn't bring anything to the story and enforces stereotypes. I shrugged this off on account of it being such a fleeting minor part of the story, but then a trope I despise showed up.

- Isa suffers from the "Not like other girls" syndrome. There were bits and pieces of it sprinkled in the beginning but nothing to make me think that the book would go all out with the cliché but then this quote happened and I just needed to cut my loses especially since I wasn't really invested in the story to begin with:
Once I entered high school, the pretty girls were so predictable, daubing on lip gloss in the bathroom mirror or styling their hair with a curling iron until it has the "messy-after-sex" look. I never knew what they meant, And what's so special about using lipgloss and curling irons? Ask any of them to make the perfect lemon zest whipped cream and they would probably go to the stopre and get a tub of Cool Whip, an artificial imitation
In 2020? really? it's great to be passionate about cooking, and it's also great to like makeup, but flash news, some people also like both??

Like I said I didn't read enough to see if the MC grows and changes her ways so I don't know if this is a pattern throughout the whole book. I saw a couple reviews say that the second half is much better which I sincerely hope is true because this book has some potential to be a teaching moment for the MC and have a really great character growth ARC, but I'm sadly not invested enough to push through the things I disliked to find out.
Profile Image for Antonella.
3,269 reviews426 followers
February 17, 2020
Salty, Bitter, Sweet is a young adult novel dedicated to food & family.
There is a lot of talk about grief and forgiveness in it, but also some romance.
I guess the title is perfect as it ties everything nicely together.

I liked how you can just tell that both food and family are very important to the author. It just pours from pages of this book. I loved her connection with her Abuela as I could relate to it. It is very familiar to me; healing through food. If you love YA contemporary, own voices books and cooking shows this book is perfect for you. Also, the cover of this book is beautiful.

Main issue why I will not rate this book a perfect score is a fact that I was a bit bored. It is weird to say but I didn't really care about Diego and his story.
As the author has an interesting background and has many similarities with Isabella, I would love it more if this were more...more non-fiction and more just focused on food and grandmother
This is between three and four stars.

Thanks to NetGalley & publisher for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,376 reviews233 followers
February 17, 2020
She lost her Lala and her family was in shambles, but Isa was going to make the most of the situation. She earned a spot in a prestigious summer cooking program, which could lead to a once-in-a-lifetime internship with a renowned chef, but would she be able to hold it together, and win the internship?

• Pro: This book was filled with fantastic female characters. Two stood out, Isa's abuela and Chef Troissant. Both women set the bar high for Isa, and she was better for it.

• Pro: It was sort of sad, that I only got to know abuela Lala via flashbacks, because I loved her more and more with every new detail revealed. The love she gave to Isa and the lessons she passed on to her were priceless, but her community service endeared her even more to me, because it showed how HUGE her heart was, and what a beautiful person she was.

• Pro: This was a rough couple of weeks for Isa. She was still dealing with grief and guilt surrounding her Lala's death, as well as her parents' divorce. Combine that with the high stress atmosphere of the summer cooking program, and it was easy to see why Isa was struggling so much. She was lucky to find a friendship with the two other women in the program, and then she met Diego, who helped her see things a bit differently. She grew so much, and I loved the direction Cuevas took her in.

• Pro: I adored the way Diego busted into Isa's world and knocked her off balance. Not only was he a handsome boy, there to win her heart, he also brought a lot of insight with him regarding chasing and evaluating your dreams.

• Pro: Isa thought she had it all figured out, but once she was there, in that professional kitchen, she had to step back and reevaluate her dream. I really appreciated this aspect of her story, because it took into account the sacrifice required, its toll on her, and if it was really her dream.

• Pro: Caveat reader - do not read on an empty stomach, because there is a LOT of cooking and eating going on in this book, and many of the scenes involving food are accompanied by very detailed and mouthwatering descriptions.

Overall: A story about redefining your dreams, family, friendship, and fantastic food, which I rather enjoyed.

*ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for vic.
304 reviews
December 27, 2019
*sigh* i have a lot of thoughts and not many of them are good :'/

update: dropping down my rating to 2, cause the mere thought of this book makes me boil.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,975 reviews3,291 followers
March 6, 2020
Salty, Bitter, Sweet is a wonderfully nuanced coming of age story that will definitely leave you hungry! It also features a prickly young heroine who, among other things, finds love. I suspect some mixed or
negative reviews will be due to this "unlikeable" (but realistic?) teen girl character. Prickly girls need love too guys! Honestly, this was little slow to get into, but it really crept up on me and I ended up loving it. It tackles complicated family dynamics, grief, love, identity, and learning to balance what is and isn't worth sacrificing for the career that you want. It really feels like a book for teens and I hope many of them read it. This is #ownvoices for the Latinx representation.

Isabella is and aspiring chef of mixed identity, finding herself at the intersection of Cuban, American, and French. She is in France competing for a highly coveted culinary apprenticeship, while also dealing with the loss of her Cuban grandmother, the end of her parents marriage, and the imminent arrival of a new half-sibling born to her fathers mistress turned new wife. Isa is a culinary perfectionist, determined to win the sole spot in the apprenticeship, but the arrival of Diego, a very handsome yet frustrating boy (the son of her step-mom's ex-husband, in case things weren't complicated enough) throws a wrench in some of her plans. To be clear, Isa and Diego are in no way related, did not grow up together, and he is not even related to her stepmom.

Isa is incredibly dedicated to her work in the kitchen, but slowly awakens to the realities of highly competitive, Michillin starred kitchens and must grapple with whether the pressure of being at the top is really what she wants for herself. Throughout the story we also learn more about her relationship with her (wonderful) abuela and the importance of food and recipes to her family history and sense of community. The food descriptions are often mouthwatering, but are also deeply rooted in culture, love, and community. It's incredibly rich, much like all of the French desserts that I am now dying to try!

I love the nuanced discussion here of deciding what is really important to you and what you are willing to sacrifice. And there aren't black and white answers. What might be right for Isa isn't necessarily right for another character. I also loved how this brings in an issue that is too rarely discussed with young people- the difficulty of having work/life balance in high-pressure careers. We meet a side character who had been a top ranked chef with her own restaurant who had to re-evaluate her career when she had her first child. She didn't abandon it, but the realities of motherhood did necessitate some degree of shifting priorities so that she could keep her sense of joy in both career and family. I don't know that teens are always prepared for how true to life that will be when they grow up under such pressure to achieve and be the best. I applaud the author for tackling this in such a practical way.

I could go on, but suffice to say that I think this book is well worth picking up. It is very self-aware and has a lot to unpack. Isa certainly isn't perfect, but she has a clear arc of growth and I can definitely relate to having been a more difficult teenager who needed to develop greater empathy. I received an advance copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.

CW include divorce, discussions of parental infidelity, high-risk delivery scare with stepmother's pregnancy, colorism, loss of a loved one due to hepatitis from a needle.
Profile Image for Lisa Mandina.
1,837 reviews416 followers
March 6, 2020
4.5 stars.

So honestly, I really adored this book! It was such an easy read, I mean I couldn’t stop turning pages. And with no page numbers in the ARC, I was unsure if that would make it seem like it took longer to read, like e-books do when they don’t have page numbers, but it didn’t. I flew through this book, even though it is over 300 pages long. The characters were really a lot of fun, I loved Isa especially. I guess it is totally possible that one thing that I loved about the book was that parts of it were kind of set in Wyandotte County in Kansas, which is where the school I work at is located. Isa’s grandma, or Lala as she called her because she had trouble pronouncing abuela as a child, lived there. Of course, all of the little tidbits that made me smile for that part of the world definitely caused this to have a special place in my heart. But it really wasn’t just that.

Most of the story actually takes place in France, so that made for some interesting cuisines! All of the different food was mouth-watering to read about. Well, except for some gross sounding foods. But all the pastries and the different recipes she tried not only for her cooking class, but also just for her family, made me hungry as I was reading.

I also really enjoyed reading the parts about what it was like when Isa got the chance to actually work in the kitchen as they prepared for a big guest for their master chef’s restaurant. I liked how Isa was stressed and didn’t enjoy all of it, while the other girl did, and then the know-it-all boy had his own interesting experience as well. It was great to see all the different people and situations that helped Isa realize whether this cooking was truly her dream and future, or if maybe she wanted something a bit different.

There was definitely parts in the story that showed just how much a chef’s world is still a man’s world for the most part, even as so often women are expected to be the ones to do all the cooking in the home. The romance was just enough for the story, the family drama was good, although maybe a bit much at times, however it did work out perfectly in the end in a way that I think wrapped up the story perfectly.

I definitely recommend this one and can’t wait to buy a finished copy to put in my school library to share with my students, who live and go to school in Wyandotte County, Kansas.

Review originally published on Lisa Loves Literature.
Profile Image for Karen_RunwrightReads.
396 reviews99 followers
April 6, 2020
Like a really good menu, the title encapsulates the tastes on offer with this novel, served like a well-served three-course meal would be presented on your table. Character presentation also matches the personalities being introduced, although each individual offers some degree of salty, bitter and sweet in their interactions. I enjoyed the complexities of their past and how each one incorporates their past, like raw ingredients, to make their own cuisine.  Although our main girl,Isa, is the chef, each one has their own  irritations (salty), continues to harboring disappointment even while they try to keep on living (bitter) and working towards their own version of a happy ending (sweet)
I absolutely enjoyed the gastronomical descriptions that made my mouth water, the French dialogue that peppered the prose and the thematic explorations that juxtaposed friendship and romance, betrayal and forgiveness, ambition and contentment. There were so many experiences to tittilate the senses -detailed cooking techniques to inspire the Julia Child in each of us, an ominous number thirteen reference to poke fun at the triskadekaphobe in many of us and, and the messy family dynamics to arouse the rage in most of us, and that's just to name a few. This was a really delightful story to become immersed in and enjoy from start to end. Kudos to author Mayra Cuevas for serving up such a wonderful meal, even if I had a fork in my hand for most of the experience because it was such an appetizing read.
Thanks to Blink YA and TLC Book Tours for providing me a complimentary review copy of Salty Bitter Sweet in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for It's Jess✨.
103 reviews456 followers
January 3, 2020
If you like With the Fire on High or ANY cooking show this book is for you. I am no chef (I barely make pasta and eggs) but the visual explanation of the prep and execution of meals literally had my mouth watering. It makes me want to learn how to cook!

I love the family dynamic it is just complex as real life but with a hint of hope. The divorce representation was good, I only wish to have seen the mother possibly find happiness as the father did.
As a Cuban/African-American having an Abuela who fills the kitchen with love is so heartwarming.
The women's friendships were AMAZING! Pippa, Lucia and Chef Troissant were all strong independent women doing what they love.
All the characters, no matter how small, had so much heart and passion. I particularly enjoyed the presence of a young five year old boy who enjoyed Isa's cooking. Each character had so much history and depth.
The only thing that bothers me a little was that the romance between Isa and Diego felt too easy. In the beginning, there was so much tension. I would have loved if the two of them opened up to each other in either a slower process or not have forgiven that tension so quickly. Being vulnerable is a huge thing and having a first love can be as messy as the family drama.
But it is nice that love was not the main focus.

Overall the exploration of all these people, all different ages and backgrounds, trying to discover what fulfills them is hands down the most beautiful part of this book. I enjoyed that this book makes us question our need to succeed and be the best, rather than focus on finding what makes us happy and doing that.

I would recommend this to everyone!
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,125 reviews724 followers
March 8, 2020
(free review copy) An #ownvoices sweet teen foodie romance set in France with themes of fitting in, grief and family. The main character is Cuban / French and is based on the author’s teen years. I enjoyed the story, but I listened to the audiobook and I feel like the narration was a bit overdramatized - I may have loved it if I had read it on paper. Recommended for fans of YA travel and cooking stories.
Profile Image for Gabi.
97 reviews2 followers
February 11, 2020
I loved it! It was emotional and I loved seeing her sweet relationship with her late grandmother. The romance was cute and I enjoyed it a lot, though I would've preferred if the love interest hadn't been her new stepmom's ex-stepson. He could've easily been the son of an old family friend of Margo's, rather than being Isa's not-stepbrother. Other than that, it was cute seeing her go from being annoyed with him to pining for him. I also loved the descriptions of food. This book made me hungry!
Profile Image for Tiffany Heitz.
114 reviews5 followers
March 8, 2020
Loved this book about finding your true passion and ffoooodddd.
Profile Image for Giselle.
320 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2021
This book was so amazing, it was written so beautifully and the romance was so perfect. I think I really needed this book today, just something to get lost in and this was the perfect one.
Profile Image for Theresa Milstein.
Author 9 books59 followers
June 18, 2020
I enjoy books about cooking and family, so I was looking forward to reading this book. I love the cooking descriptions. Isabella's passion is contagious. The settings of the kitchens and restaurants were vivid and interesting. I also thought the idea of passing recipes through generations was lovely. I appreciated that her parents were from different cultures and how that influenced her, and sometimes how people judged her. But quite a few things bothered me. I listened to the afterword, so I got that the author wanted girls to know they could do things are their own terms. But the execution left me with the opposite impression. Pretty much everyone is unkind to the main character and tries to talk her out of her dream. I explain more in the spoilers below.

****** SPOILERS *******

The parts that bothered me:

The two girls in her prestigious cooking group--one goes on a drunken rant. Isabella never calls her out. Hurt, Isabella retaliates. And the way she retaliates is fine because students aren't supposed out help each other out. Better she ignored her than mislead her. But still, the "friend" questioned her right to cook French food because she only had one French parent and basically called her a terrible chef. Being drunk and saying those things doesn't give you a free pass. Then Isabella spends a lot of the book feeling bad, apologizing, and never telling the other girl how she hurt her. The love interest never bothers to find out why she loves cooking and pushes her not to be ambitious until it's clear she'll cook for family over being ambitious. His pressure was constant and obnoxious. He started the book by mansplaining and caused a fire. He never apologized. And then he joked (not funny) about needing a fire extinguisher when she cooked at the end of the book. The father and boyfriend eat an important dessert she needs for school--they don't apologize. The new wife is a jerk to her; father doesn't care. Instead of studying, the love interest is insistent and petulant about Isabella taking a trip, on the weekend before the exam. Isabella throws the exam at the end because everyone told her she had to do something else and she made it her wish too.

What if felt to me was like internalized sexism. One baker tells the main character she had to walk away from her Michelin-star position because she had husband and a kid and you can't have it all. NOBODY ever says this to men. Another female chef talked about how the male chef took her glory. The only kitchen Isabella witnessed was borderline cartoonish because few could afford to keep making their staff cook and throw away large quantities of food. There was no example of successful woman chefs in a man's world or a regular restaurant with a normal atmosphere. The message was to find your own way because men won't make room. I say a better message is make your own room.
Profile Image for Kita.
11 reviews
January 27, 2020
For me, Salty, Bitter, Sweet was a book of two halves. The bad news: one half is not that great. The good news: the other half is uplifting, life-affirming, inspiring and has stayed with me after finishing. So if you can push through a lacklustre and slightly infuriating first half, you’re in for a real treat.

The book spans a three week time period, during which Isabella (Isa) undertakes a punishing apprenticeship in a Michelin starred kitchen, meets her new step-mother’s ex-step-son, and reflects on her family and her future. Isa is a fantastic main character – passionate and driven, but occasionally blinkered by her own excellence when it comes to her relationships with others. Her history and her personality are fleshed out fantastically throughout the book. I want to date her, I want to be her friend, I want her to be my sister. Isa is fantastic.

But the extent of my love for Isa is also one of the reasons I found the first half of this book quite difficult. I don’t want to delve too deeply into spoiler-territory, but until about that midpoint almost everyone seems completely awful to Isa. I’m not insensitive to the way her kitchen-focus could alienate her from those around her, but the casual cruelty with which her family seem to treat both her and her lifelong dream is jarring. It’s possible that this is intentional on Cuevas’ part, highlighting the difficulties that arise when families merge. But while I felt this teething-problems type struggle with her father and step-mother, the love interest, Diego, spends the first part of the book being really quite unlikeable. He is all but openly derisive of her passion for haute cuisine and takes up a huge amount of emotional and physical space right of the bat. Isa’s attraction to him is initially confusing, given the way he treats her.

But the Diego of the second half of the story is a very different creature. Sensitive and thoughtful, using his own history to open a dialogue with Isa instead of insisting his experiences can be extrapolated universally, he becomes a much more compelling romantic lead.

However, the true stars in this story are the other women Isa meets as part of her apprenticeship – two fellow hopefuls and a chef. The book explores the way i which life in a top kitchen can be difficult for women than it is for men, and gives opportunities for Isa to both fail and succeed in supporting other women in a stressful profession. Isa’s relationship with her abuela – Lala – told through memories and flashbacks is also of note: this is a relationship that is very much alive, and colours everything Isa does. Lala reminds me a little of my wonderful Italian aunt Marina – not so much into the baking, but very much into the power of food as love and pressing it urgently on anyone close by. The history of Isa’s family that unspools throughout the story adds another dimension, running parallel to the stresses of a professional kitchen.

I love cooking but am no expert, so I loved the kitchen scenes in this book but can’t speak to how accurate they may be! The blend of cultures and languages, from Cuban home cooking to French haute cuisine, really make the book come alive. Isa’s own journey through the professional kitchen she finds herself in is interesting, exciting and well-paced. Unfortunately, the stop-start romance and changeable romantic lead mean that the romance plot is not as good as the kitchen plot. However, the blend well towards the end and the story is ultimately a very heartwarming, inspirational and fulfilling one. This is also a book I feel like I could talk about at length – I would love to bring it to a book club or sit down and really get into it with a fellow reader, which isn’t something I always feel!

As a bit of a foodie and someone struggling with their own thoughts about their future and career, I really enjoyed this book and will probably pick up a hard copy when it comes out. It’s also reinspired my passion for baking, which can never be a bad thing! However, the nature of the first half has to affect my rating. I also think that if you’re not someone who has at least a passing interest in food, or kitchen reality shows, you may struggle with some of this book. But the setting is vibrant and lovely throughout, bringing the French countrysides and markets to life, and Isa’s own attitude, heritage and passions will make her a character I won’t forget in a very long time.

See my other reviews at my blog: https://blackcatreadz.wordpress.com/
Profile Image for Sara.
363 reviews9 followers
February 22, 2020
Salty Bitter Sweet is a moving, introspective, and DELICIOUS read! It’s about Isa, a French-Cuban American girl who speaks three languages and is a talented cook who grew up learning her grandma Lala’s recipes, like her county fair famous apple pie.

What I loved about this book is that Isa isn’t a plain white girl who thinks she’s better than everyone because she has talent in the kitchen. Ugh what a cliche. Isa is French-Cuban and works damn hard to be a good cook and baker. She toils hard in the kitchen to make sure she gets the recipes correctly. She doesn’t think she’s the best cook there is, but she wants to be the best she can be. I liked that it didn’t just come easily to her. I always hate when main characters are talented but don’t work hard to be good at their talent. That’s not to say she isn’t talented though because Isa is enrolled at a renowned and competitive kitchen apprenticeship.

Isa works hard in the kitchen due to the fact that her life has gone through some serious changes recently: her grandma Lala passing away, her parents getting divorced, and now her dad is having a kid with her new stepmom. It would be tough for any teen to deal with, so it makes sense that Isa turns to cooking.

I like Isa as a character because she works hard at cooking, she’s friendly and kind, cares deeply for people, and thinks a lot about the past and the things she would’ve done differently. Despite the upheaval of her life courtesy of her dad and her new stepmom not warming to Isa (and vice versa), Isa still cooks for her dad and her new stepmom. She isn’t a grumpy, moody teenager. She takes the steps to be there for her dad and be kind to her stepmom.

And Diego! OMG! I liked him right from the get-go! Yes, he’s Isa’s stepmom’s stepson, (that’s a mouthful!) but it isn’t creepy or weird at all. Isa and Diego aren’t related and don’t even live in the same house. Diego, and his cute dog Beluga, lives in the guest house. He’s fun and adventurous and kind and he’s there for Isa.

And the FOOD! I wanted everything that Isa cooked or ate throughout the book, from her grandma Lala’s apple pies to the foods she tortured over at the apprenticeship to the bakery goods she ate with Pippa and Lucia to the meals she shared with Diego. *drool*

A few minor things I didn’t like: that it seemed like the tension between Isa and her dad never really got resolved. Their relationship got better with time, but she was so hung up about why he left her mom and that was never resolved. Or at least to me it didn’t seem like it. And why was her mom barely in this book? No phone calls or texts or visits. She went to visit her mom once and it was so quick. It was just weird to me.

I really enjoyed reading this and seeing what it’s like to be a chef apprentice and compete again other talented cooks in France. It was moving and fun and made me want to eat all the things!

*Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.
Profile Image for Stephanie Jane.
Author 2 books229 followers
March 7, 2020
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

I picked out Salty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas from NetGalley because of its Own Voices authorship. Isabella's part-Latina heritage is an important aspect of this authentically complicated character's emotional makeup. Still reeling from emotional family upheavals, Isabella's need to find herself a new way to belong reminded me of similar themes in Natalie Tan's Book of Love and Fortune by Roselle Lim. Both novels are essentially foodie coming-of-age stories for which I would strongly recommend having plenty of snacks to hand whilst reading! If you love your food as much as I do Salty, Bitter, Sweet will make you hungry!

I loved how Cuevas incorporates French and Spanish locations and language into her novel. Despite Isabella being American herself, Salty, Bitter, Sweet feels like a European novel. I recognised the portrayals of Lyon and Barcelona from my own visits, and the swirl of cultural identities throughout the story reflects Isabella's own confusion about who she is and, perhaps more importantly at this stage of her life, who she wants to become. Her need to hide in a kitchen drives her culinary ambitions and she is obviously talented, however Cuevas shows how hanging our entire sense of ourselves onto one facet of our makeup is not a healthy way to live. I appreciated the correlations between Isabella's obsessive behaviour and Diego's similar situation. They are each at different stages of their emotional journeys, but this allows them to make a connection that might not otherwise have been possible - once they stop bickering that is.

Friendships, particularly female friendships, are featured prominently in Salty, Bitter, Sweet, with much of the culinary storyline taking place in an ultra masculine environment - a Michelin starred kitchen. I loved how Cuevas mutes the majority of the male characters though so, while we are always aware that the three female students are very much the minority, for us they carry the focus. Cuevas shows the dark side of what it takes to become 'the best', leaving me questioning why such hostility and angst is considered essential to creating high quality food. I, too, would rather eat imperfectly cut chips cooked with love!
Profile Image for Danielle Zimmerman.
431 reviews19 followers
March 10, 2020
SALTY BITTER SWEET will have your mouth watering from the very first page. Chock full of discussions about food, people, and the way it can change lives, it’s practically a main character in its own right. From delectable desserts such as apple pie and flan to chicken dinners and even hamburgers, there’s so much joy in the descriptions of food, even when situations are less than joyous in the characters’ lives.

This is a story of family and the ways in which food brings us together and witnesses the majority of the most impactful moments of our lives. It’s also a story of dreams and duty, and how sometimes outside forces influence us to confuse the two. In attending a prestigious culinary program, the main character believes that her life is on track and her success will lead her to the Michelin started prestige she has always dreamed about. But when her new family dynamics and a handsome stranger force her out of her comfort zone, she gets a much better view of her dreams and aspirations.

I think the thing that surprised me most about this novel were the intimate moments between characters and frank discussions of not only sex, but also drug use and broken families. Whenever I come across a Blink title, I have a certain expectation of “cleanliness,” almost frustratingly so. They’re generally very chaste stories that end in a first kiss. While it’s not dirty or inappropriate by any stretch of the imagination, I love how SALTY BITTER SWEET embraces all aspects of humanity, even the spicy and the unsavory. I immensely appreciate the frank discussions of sexuality and just how the character *feels* from moment to moment as well as the depictions of the lingering effects of grief.

SALTY BITTER SWEET is a wonderful contemporary YA novel full of heart, hope, and, of course, mouth-wateringly delicious descriptions of food. It’ll inspire you to grab an apron, get in the kitchen, and start whipping up something tasty for your loved ones.
Profile Image for Fabulous Book Fiend.
1,122 reviews126 followers
April 21, 2020
Oh this book had a little bit of everything and so therefore I ended up falling in love with Isa and her story.

Isa is a great character to spend time with because she is at the stage in life where you think you have your identity as part of a family figured out and then you realise you really don’t. I love the fact that Isa is from Chicago with a French mother, a Cuban grandmother and is there in France with her father to pursue her dreams of being a chef-what a great mix for a novel.

As if the pressure of family life and chef life wasn’t enough. This author has added in a possible love interest for Isa who is very much an annoyance to her and a hindrance to her career. I loved watching the relationships in this book grow and change. Isa is such a strong character and so seeing how her relationship with her dad evolves and has evolved, as well as the relationships with Margot and Diego and what will happen with those-just magic!

This story also deals with some excellent issues surrounding gender identity. It’s like every aspect of being 16 and one’s identity has been put into a pot and shaken up. I love how the role of women in haute cuisine is explored. The role of a daughter vs the role of a son and how gender bias can work both negatively and positively. Overall this book shows that there is still a gender bias, particularly in this industry and whether things work negatively or positively for you personally, that bias must be addressed.

Of course I loved all the food in the book. It isn’t always delicious sounding but it is always very intriguing and definitely put me in the mood to be in the kitchen, or perhaps just enjoyed a French Omelette with a nice Cafe Au Lait. I really enjoyed this book. I did the audio and the narration was excellent. High recommend!
Profile Image for Kathy - Books & Munches.
447 reviews156 followers
April 23, 2020
Triggers: Mention of suicide, detailed description of cutting up a chicken

This story didn't start off all that great for me. And.. I think that ruined a lot. But it's not the only reason this book didn't click.

First off, this story is about Isa. A main character I really didn't connect with due to her general disrespect towards people, being egocentric and having overly dramatic tendencies. At least, those are the things that stuck with me at the time of writing this review. Obnoxious is another one. You can probably see how this isn't the best place to start.

But then there's Diego, a character who made a very.. annoying and not too positive entrance in this story. I won't spoil things, but let's just say he didn't redeem himself in my eyes. He might for others but.. I just couldn't get over it. Nope. He has some growing up to do.

The story itself is very focused on Isa's dream to become a chef, which makes sense since she's doing competing for an apprenticeship. But.. Well.. My other half is currently following a cooking course, hoping to make it his job eventually and this book? This book makes me want to change his mind badly. Also, not the greatest thing for me, haha.

Although I did like the idea of the story and how things progressed - especially regarding the side characters - I simply didn't like the main character and the love interest. At all. That ruined a whole lot and.. it honestly hurts because I had such high hopes for this book..

2 / 5
Profile Image for Petra.
227 reviews
June 4, 2020
I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Isa is spending the summer in France with her dad and her pregnant stepmom in order to be able to attend a prestigious kitchen apprenticeship at the restaurant of world-famous Chef Pascal Grattard. She's trying to juggle being overwhelmed in the kitchen with apprenticeship rivalries, a guy who randomly shows up at her stepmother's house, and various unresolved family issues, from confronting her dad about the affair that led to Isa's parents divorcing to grieving her beloved Abuela.

Look, I live for Chopped (even if I'll defend raw onions until they kill me #balkangirl #sorrynotsorrychrissantos) and just food in general, so this should have been right up my alley. And I did enjoy parts of it - mostly the food stuff (can someone please just hand me a box of French pastries ASAP?), as well as all the interior decor descriptions. And, then, it did get you right in the feels in the right places (especially towards the end).

But then...

Let's just do bullet points, shall we?

- Riddle me this #1: Isa's cooking skills. She gets accepted into the most prestigious culinary program in the world, proceeds to bomb her way through 2/3 of it, then suddenly rises to the top , with basically no middle ground at all, . Look, I'm always there for stories of the underdog making it big due to hard work, but this... wasn't it. The level of woeful underpreparedness Isa shows at the beginning of the course, combined with the fact that large parts of the course don't get covered at all, makes for a pretty unrealistic rise to the top.

- Riddle me this #2: Isa's "passion for cooking". We're told she cares OMG So Much. What we're shown, however, is... Her showing up late on the first day. Her not bothering to learn how to put on a chef's hat properly until, like, day 10 of the 20-day course. Her constantly disobeying the rules. Her constantly being distracted by Diego's abs. Her constantly blowing off being a reasonable human being to stay up all night with Diego. Yeah, fine, teens and hormones, BUT: it's a three-week course. It's not a year abroad, it's not a 4-year program, she hasn't signed her life away for this. She's being asked to focus on a thing she supposedly loves for 15 days + weekends + one exam. It's implied that she did just fine through three boyfriend-less years of high school, so remind me again why the 6-hours-each-way drive to Barcelona couldn't have been postponed to literally three days later? Does. Not. Compute.

- Isa's "not like other girls"-ness. Yes, Isa, some girls prefer perfecting their smoky eye to perfecting their omelette. Deal with it. (And that's before even touching on the situation with Lucia.)

- The visit to Isa's mom and maternal grandmother. Isa supposedly goes over to visit them for a weekend, but we only get told about her arrival and one lunch, during which Isa gets zero quality time with her mom and mostly has to listen to her grandmother berating her and being low-key racist. It's such a weird episode that doesn't really connect to any of the bigger story arcs and mostly left me wondering why the mom character was shoehorned in (since it would have been perfectly legitimate to just have her stay in Chicago and leave her out of the book completely), .

- Dad's new family. Fair enough, Isa is a jerk to Diego to begin with (not that he helps matters), but Margo having a pregnancy-get-out-of-jail-free-card as an excuse to never interacting with Isa in any kind of a positive manner and Papi being the most conflict-avoidant person on the planet, even at the expense of protecting his (already living and breathing) daughter was... annoying, to say the least.

- The mixed messaging about what it takes to be successful. The culinary world is cut-throat and you'll lose your soul if you enter it? You can have it all if you're a girl, but, really, you can't... or shouldn't want to? You should want success in your career, but less than you do now... because... you'll lose your soul? It's not that I don't get the point this book is trying to make about balancing your professional desires with still being a decent person, but the way the point gets made left so much to be desired.

- The uneven structure of the storytelling. For a book that only covers a time span of three weeks, this was very weirdly paced. Not that I needed to be shown every day at the apprenticeship and every dish made, but when multiple days at a time were missed, I did feel like I was missing huge parts of what was happening. See also: the visit to Isa's mom.

All in all, this was... fine. Which is a shame, because it could have been great. Better yet, it could have been a book about Lucia or Chef Trossaint. Ah well...

2.5 stars, rounded up.
Profile Image for Mary Havens.
1,335 reviews23 followers
August 3, 2021
It was like watching Top Chef: Apprentice edition but in a book. I loved it. All the food descriptions - magnificent.
I also really understood Isa's journey as she discovered what she really wanted out of life, especially uncovering that she was not really made for the Michelin world (or the kind of Michelin world where everyone is yelling and backstabbing each other) and that was o.k. I've had a lot of black and white thinking in my life, especially in my younger years. "Be the best, what's the best, find it out and do that, don't let anything get in your way" kind of thinking. It's interesting that the Olympics is occurring right now; definite parallels in Isa's journey and these top athletes, like Diego's own journey in the book. I read an article the other day on Simone Biles' exit from the team gymnastics round and her support of her team versus a Russian tennis player's meltdown on the court (throwing racket, etc.). The article talked about the mental pressure and how people handle it. "Salty, Bitter, Sweet" has similar components during their competition.
It's funny to me that the author's note was all about healing broken families and grief. TBH: I was just here for the food! But, that tells you how great this book is. I found a food journey and a healing in Isa's journey in acceptance while the author wrote it about broken families. Something for everyone!! Check it out - I am eagerly looking for other Cuevas works!
Profile Image for Emilie Haney.
551 reviews68 followers
June 17, 2020
This one was a fun, foodie-filled book that played on my not so secret dreams of becoming a pastry chef. Okay, I know that'll never happen, but it was fun reading about it...until it wasn't. In Cuevas's book we get a real look at life in a high-powered kitchen in France where I'm sure she didn't over play the stressful details put upon these teens.

Initially Isabella, Isa, was a really hard character for me to like. I understood that she really needed to have that 'perfection' trait in order for her to make it through and the whole point is clearly the journey she takes to discovering what she truly wants in life, but one thing that brought this down from at 5 to a 4.3 for me is that it was too tense (for me) in some ways. She was too focused. Too...mean. I love tension, don't get wrong, but I needed more of a break from it to see the softer side of Isa.

I wanted more from the romance as well. It was hard because we don't see them together as much and the suddenly she's falling in love with him. I do like that, at least in my opinion, he was able to show her alternative avenues for her dream to thrive. I know many reviewers had issue with her end decision, but I think she made a choice she thought was best for herself as a chef. That I can respect.

All in all, it was a fun book but perhaps not one I'd read again? Of course, I say all of this from my own perspective and I am positive most people probably won't notice these things and will enjoy the book regardless :)

My rating: 4.3*

Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for gifting me a copy of this book. My opinions are my own!
Profile Image for Rachel.
447 reviews
January 13, 2020
In Salty, Bitter, Sweet, seventeen-year-old Isabella Fields is trying to move forward after her abuela’s death and her parent’s divorce, particularly the part where her dad cheated on her mom, remarried, and has a new baby on the way. She’s spending the summer with her father, though, because of his proximity to a summer apprenticeship she’s attending. To make matters more complicated, her new stepmother’s former stepson shows up unannounced and moves in…and he is HOT.

This set-up would make for an enjoyable Young Adult novel, with real life issues and the possibility of a summer romance, but debut author Mayra Cuevas kicks the story up a notch by setting it in France, where Isa is competing for a prestigious internship with a top French chef. With all of the stress in Isa’s life, will she manage to impress her teachers, or will it all be bloody knives and flaming stove-tops? This #OwnVoices novel is a great option for contemporary YA readers and budding chefs and foodies (a novel hasn’t made me this hungry since Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel).
Profile Image for Olivia Fink (NatureGraceReader).
192 reviews24 followers
November 21, 2020

Received copy in exchange for an honest review.

I am surprised at how much I liked this book. It is hard for me to give over a 3 star for any contemporary books because they all just seam the same to me but this one was different. I think the main reason I enjoyed this one was because it was like reading a cooking competition. But I am glad it wasn't all just the competition. This book had many different layers and every conflict and separate story line flowed really well together. I love how the author took something like cooking and took it to a whole new meaning. Of how important it can be and how it can tie you with members of your family. This book was very heart warming and the main character learns a lot of lessons through the story. It is very well written, interesting and easy to understand. It has a sweet romance, but nothing to much. I think it would work well for even young readers. Truly enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Firkins.
Author 4 books219 followers
October 10, 2020
More sweet than salty or bitter, this novel is full of traits I thoroughly enjoyed:

1. a complicated, flawed heroine who doesn't always say and do the right thing
2. the kind of friendships that weather conflict
3. complex but loving family dynamics
4. a central theme around ambition and perfectionism I think a lot of readers can relate to
5. a dog that adds a hint of conflict at humour at just the right moments
6. a high stakes competition
7. an electric kiss

Most of all I enjoyed Isa's journey as she learns that sometimes to achieve one's dreams, the dream itself might require adjusting. It's not the usual tale we see in YA where heroines are prone to conquering worlds and winning competitions, so I loved that Cuevas explored something more complex here. A romance also threads through the novel, but the focus here is on food, family, and friends. It's an uplifting read with a diverse cast and so many truly delicious food scenes, you'll be scrambling straight from your reading nook to your pantry, lured by a scent of apples and nutmeg you could swear came straight off the page.
Profile Image for Katie Bananas.
523 reviews
September 27, 2021
This was okay; however, I don’t feel it a favorite. I know the story screams of friends and family, but I noticed a nudge on ableism with regards to substance abuse. Otherwise, there is yes the occasional angst that exists in developing friendships and the bloom of relationships between chefs, foods, and friends..
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for JustYourFriendlyReader.
70 reviews40 followers
January 5, 2020
Sweet, warm and friendly, this book tells about a teenage girl striving for her dream of workingin a professional kitchen. For three weeks, she is part of an intensive course in the restaurant of a famous French chef. At the end of the course, one participant will win a coveted apprenticeship.
Alng the way, Isabella must deal with her new stepmother, her grief over her grandmother, her relationship with her father after his affair and subsequent divorce for Isabella's mother. And the infuriating Diego.

This is a novel about dreams, ambitions, and family, and about figuring out if what you think you want, is what you really want. It focuses a lot on the characters, and how they interact, which is something I personally enjoy in books. I would have liked it if the secondary characters had been a bit more fleshed out, but that's difficult in a first-person narrative. Overall, I found this to be a very good coming-of-age book, and thoruoghly enjoyed the food and cooking focus.

#SaltyBitterSweet #NetGalley
Profile Image for High Plains Library District.
625 reviews73 followers
April 14, 2020
This was a wonderful story to read! I absolutely loved it! What I really enjoyed most was the combination of family dynamics, sharing of recipes and the challenges and struggles that the characters overcame. I think tweens, teens and adults will love this book!
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