Kelly McIntyre and Andrew York had everything going for them— engaged and with plans to open a restaurant. However, when Andrew is offered the chance to study with a pastry chef in Paris, he can’t resist, and the two drift apart. Seven years later, Kelly’s on top of the world with her own bakery that’s so successful she’s offered the chance to compete on a televised baking competition. She’s so focused on her new life that she almost doesn’t care when Andrew waltzes back into town. Almost. They won’t be able to avoid each other forever, though, as Andrew’s also been chosen to compete.
Considering Kelly runs a bakery, it’s no surprise that cakes are mentioned repeatedly. One that plays a pivotal role is a Triple-Layer Honey Almond Cake— a mouthwatering confection that everybody wants a slice of. That cake is a lot like this book. Sweet and rich, but with a ton of depth. And sure, with so many layers, one slice would be enough, but author Nancy Naigle has provided a generous slab with plenty for leftovers.
The characters are completely charming. Kelly is talented and determined, but she also has a playful nature that can only come from someone who perfects sweets all day long. Interestingly, Naigle has crafted Andrew in much the same way. They do have differences, but on the page they read as a perfect pair. This works. Even though it should be easy to dislike Andrew for leaving Kelly, it’s nearly impossible since they’re obvious matches.
This leads to some of the richest layers of the story. Kelly and Andrew had different ideas for obtaining their same high school dream, and it results in the complicated mess of their relationship as the book begins. Their eventual growth, especially for Andrew, stems from not only reconciling their past, but also considering their present. Both appear to be outwardly triumphant in their culinary professions, but Naigle has some insightful comments on dreams and what it actually means to achieve success.
The story does take some time getting to the cooking competition. The bulk of the action takes place in their hometown in North Carolina. Naigle is an expert on crafting idyllic tiny towns, and this one is no exception. It helps carry the plot as Kelly and Andrew stumble into each other again and again, the small size easily forcing them into situations where they’re in close proximity. Of course, it’s populated with a cast of fun supporting characters who are enthused at the prospect of the two ending up together.
However, once the story gets to the cooking competition, it’s a race to the finish. There’s a complete shift of pace, marking a total change from life in the sleepy town to the hustle and bustle of New York City. There also are a ton of fun surprises. Naigle is a master of telegraphing information to the reader that will surely lead to a collision for the main characters at some point. She writes with a wink.
Simply put, The Secret Ingredient is a wonderful treat.
Title: The Secret Ingredient
Author: Nancy Naigle
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.