Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️++
Is it possible that someone in Green Valley, Tennessee, the hometown of Penny Reid’s the Winston Brothers could dislike them? If you’ve read any of Penny Reid’s books set in this fictional town, about the only people who are not fans of the brothers are the Iron Wraiths. To a certain degree, they don’t really count as they exist on the periphery of the civilized community. As we find in Ellie Kay’s newest book, No Whisk No Reward, there is someone who detests the Winston Brothers. And his choices have placed him outside of this town’s community.
I need to be honest. I wish I could go to Green Valley and visit the Donner Bakery. I’m not one for sweets, yet there is something perpetually welcoming about this place that makes me think I could be friends with someone like Jennifer Sylvester-Winston. In reading Ellie Kay’s story, this feeling grew exponentially because this story, above anything else, shows the power of a community of women.
The story follows Sophie, a pastry chef, who is relocating to Boston from Washington state. After failing miserably on a national television baking competition, her former employer loses confidence in her ability to bake and create pastries, so she decides to make a change. On her road trip to Boston to work for her friend, her car becomes disabled in Green Valley. On her entry into town, she unexpectedly meets Joel Barnes, when she almost collides with his car. Asking for accommodations, Joel offers his rental for the night. When her car breaks down, she must rely on the help of the Winston brothers to fix her car. This also provides her an opportunity to work for Donner Bakery while she earns money to make her way to Boston. From the moment they meet, Joel and Sophie are drawn to each. However, Joel’s past and the circumstances of his present along with Sophie’s move to Boston seek to keep them apart. Can Joel resolve his problems? Can Sophie move past her failure and take advantage of a “do-over” on the show where she failed? Will Joel decide to follow Sophie to Boston? Will these two find their happy ending?
Green Valley is this idyllic place, even with the threat of the Iron Wraiths. Yes, there are people in this community who undermine the happiness of others. However, overall, everyone seems to find a place except Joel Barnes. The Winston Brothers have derailed his family’s auto repair business, and this causes an issue with finances. Before his death, Joel’s brother makes an impetuous deal with the Iron Wraiths that task his relationship with Joel and their future. After his death, Joel is left to honor the agreement, but it causes him to be exiled to a certain degree in Green Valley’s community. In his exile, Joel becomes a ghost of his former self. Without the fulfillment of his dream to leave Green Valley and travel, he loses himself. His risk would be forgoing the business of the Iron Wraiths and leaving town, but he struggles with honoring his family’s business.
Like Joel, Sophie is stuck in her sense of failure. Her life’s work as a pastry chef further complicates this, as Ellie Kay shows us, because the “chef” culture looks for failure. She comes to Green Valley feeling dejected and looking for the comfort of a job with her friend in Boston. She struggles to move beyond her failure on the television show, and it makes her look for safe choices. Enter Joel, Jennifer Sylvester-Winston, Tempest, and Joy to her life. And she’s once again reminded that risk is necessary. In fact, this is true for both Sophie and Joel. Kay’s characterization of Sophie and Joel illustrates our daily struggle to accept failure and keep moving forward. She’s suggesting that we cannot let our past define us; instead, we need to learn from them and challenge ourselves in the future. Through their relationship, we find Joel and Sophie challenging each other in this way. It’s the development of their relationship that makes Kay’s book so worthwhile. From one minute to the next, as Sophie and Joel struggle through their journeys, you laugh, you sigh, and you cry. When Sophie makes strides to help Joel, the story becomes angsty, and it hurts your heart. For me, that’s a plus. Feeling the emotional upheaval of the characters always makes for great storytelling, and Kay has that in spades in her book.
However, the gem of this book is the community of women in the Donner Bakery. From her beginning, Sophie is enveloped. She comes from an environment that is high stress with little positive feedback. In this bakery, the environment is still high stress, but the women who work there support each other. They don’t just encourage each other. They exhort, empower, and challenge each other. Beyond the beauty of Sophie and Joel’s romance, THIS is the part of Ellie Kay’s book that I loved the most. In our society, people can be generally terrible to each other especially in the realm of social media. Yet, women sometimes are the worst. No Whisk No Reward provides us with examples of women who feed the souls of other women, and it’s glorious. I thought the angst of Sophie and Joel’s relationship would be the height of my emotional upheaval. Instead, it was the moment when Sophie leaves for Boston and says goodbye to Tempest and Joy because it’s clear that these women love and care for each other. And that makes for the best of storytelling.
So, are you ready to take your own risk? If so, then you should read Ellie Kay’s No Whisk No Reward. Women empowering women and a heroic couple taking the ultimate risk together proffer a book that keeps us dreaming in Green Valley. Even if you are like Joel and detest the Winston Brothers, or if you’re like me and love the Donner Bakery, this book has a little treat for everyone.
In love and romance,