Monday, April 8, 2024

In a Nutshell Reviews - 5 Star Edition

Effie Olsen's Summer Special
 by Rochelle Bilow
Published by Berkley on April 30, 2024
Age/Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

These childhood best friends swore they’d never speak again. But a surprise summer reunion changes everything when it gives them the chance to turn up the heat.

Effie Olsen thought she’d never live on the tiny Maine island where she grew up, but she’s returning from sixteen years as a professional chef in far-flung countries for one summer and one summer only. Her hometown boasts one of the best restaurants in the US, and lucky for her, Brown Butter needs a sous chef. Effie's eager for a chance at redemption after her last job went up in flames, but reluctant to set down roots in a place that reminds her of the ghosts of her past.

Until, that is, she runs into Ernie Callahan, her onetime best friend who now works in the very same restaurant. Early morning swims and late-night games of truth or dare with Ernie remind her of what she’s been missing while traveling the world. He knows her better than anyone, and it doesn’t hurt that his smile lights her up brighter than the lighthouses dotting the craggy coastline.

But their restaurant has a secret that’s bursting at the seams, and if Effie doesn’t keep it, her job will vanish into the foggy Maine air. As summer draws to a close, her dream job and the perfect guy are both within reach. Her salty seaside hometown might be the key to Effie’s sweet ending...if she can learn to let her heart lead the way in time.

When her career hit a snag, Effie returned to the island she had wanted to escape in order to regroup and figure out what was next. But years of experience plus her absence had her viewing this place she resented in her youth through a different lens. Effie was also viewing some important people from her past in a new light, but would it be enough to convince Effie to call Adler Isle home again?

From the very beginning, I knew this book was going to be a hit. I very much enjoyed Ruby Spencer's Whisky Year, but Effie blew that book out of the water. It had me laughing and swooning and hoping, and it was simply a delight from beginning to end.

There is something about returning to a place you once called home after many years away. Some things may be the same, but there will inevitably be a multitude of changes, too. Not only had the people Effie left behind change, but so did she. She came back with some new baggage but also a whole heck of a lot of world experience.

Effie had dreamed of traveling the world, and she accomplished that. She also dreamed of being a head chef, and well, that didn't quite live up to the dream. This was something Effie confronted in this story. Was her dream the same or had it changed? I would say this was a minor part of the story, but it really spoke to me, and I appreciated the way Bilow explored it.

As I said, some things stayed the same while other things changed, and Effie couldn't help but notice how much her former best friend, Ernie, had changed. I was excited that she found herself physically attracted to Ernie, as she had previously broke his heart when he confessed his love to her, But I was even more excited about how easily they fell back into their friendship. They spent many years apart, but their friendship never really faded. I loved that. They had such a great rapport and the banter was fantastic. Their bucket list excursions were so much fun, too. It was just a pleasure to watch them grow closer and closer to each other.

But there was more to this story than a stellar friendship and fabulous romance. It was quite a personal journey for Effie. She confronted her past with respect to her parents and dealt with some unsavory situations related to the restaurant industry to which she had dedicated so many years. Both storylines were well done, and I was really pleased with the results of Effie's soul searching.

Effie was supported by such a wonderful group of people. Her dad was a sweetheart, as was her sister. You already knew that Ernie was a standout friend, but Effie also built a community at the restaurant where she was working. The other employees became her "family". They bonded and worked together to try and make Brown Butter a success. I knew Bilow could write about food from her last book, but she did an incredible job capturing the highs and lows of the restaurant industry here.

Overall, I adored Effie Olsen's Summer Special. The focus on family, friendship, and food plus a charming New England setting, a great romance, and Effie to root for made this a spectacular read for me.

Lovers and Liars
 by Amanda Eyre Ward
Published by Ballantine  on May 14, 2024
Age/Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

Three wildly different sisters reunite for a destination wedding at an English castle in this heartfelt and rollicking novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Jetsetters.

Once upon a time, the Peacock sisters were little girls who combed each other’s tangled hair. But decades of secrets have led them to separate lives—and to telling lies, to themselves and to one another.

Sylvie is getting married. Again. A librarian and widow who soothes her grief by escaping into books (and shelving them perfectly), Sylvie has caught the attention of an unlikely match: Simon Rampling, a mysterious, wealthy man from Northern England. Sylvie allows herself to imagine a life beside him—one filled with the written word, kindness, and companionship. She’s ready to love again . . . or is she?

Cleo is the golden child. A successful criminal defense lawyer with the perfect boyfriend, she is immediately suspicious of Simon. Is he really who he says he is? Cleo heads to Mumberton Castle with a case of investigative files, telling herself she will expose Simon and save her sister from more heartbreak . . . but who is she really trying to save?

Emma is living a lie. She can’t afford this fancy trip—and she definitely can’t tell her husband and sons why. She once dreamt of a line of her own perfumes. Fragrances allowed her to speak in silence. Now, that tendency for silence only worsens her situation. Will she emerge with her dignity and family intact?

When their toxic mother shows up, the sisters assume the roles they fell into to survive their childhood . . . but they just might find the courage to make new choices.

Set over a spectacularly dramatic weekend, in the grand halls of a sprawling castle estate—amidst floor-to-ceiling libraries, falconry lessons, and medieval meals—Lovers and Liars is the unforgettable story of a family’s ability to forgive and to find joy in one another once again.

The Peacock sisters are reunited after a decade apart, but will their secrets and lies ruin their reunion?

I had previously read The Lifeguards by Ward which really impressed me. When I saw this story about sisters, I could not resist! I absolutely adore books that focus on sibling relationships, and I thought Ward did a stupendous job exploring the bond between the Peacock sisters.

I guess you can say these sisters trauma bonded. Each suffered lasting damage at the hands of their narcissistic mother, but they found comfort and safety in each other growing up. As adults, they had grown apart with one reason being a secret Emma and Cleo had been keeping from Sylvie for a decade.

While each sister's had their moment in the spotlight, the core of this tale was their shared sisterhood. There were some really beautiful and touching moments experienced between the women while they found their way back to one another.

All that sounds so serious when in reality, this was quite a fun book. The castle setting was well utilized to deliver some amusing moments with a sprinkling of interesting historical bits. There were outings that allowed me to get a sense of the flora and fauna in the area, too. And Sylvie and Simon were so bookish. How could I not root for the bookish couple?

A great setting, fleshed-out characters, and a focus on the relationship dynamics had me fully engaged in this story. I was wholly invested from beginning to end and was utterly delighted with how Ward chose to end the story. It was a perfect way to top off this tale of sisterhood and healing.


Have you ever slept in a castle?
Let us know in the comments!


  1. I'm happy both of these authors did even better than the first books you read by them.

  2. I enjoy sister/sibling stories, too, and Lovers and Liars sounds like a good one. It's interesting how when the mother shows up again the girls revert to their old roles.

    1. It was good. Fun but with lots of meaning. The mother was the worst!

  3. I confess that I would love to read the Peacock sisters’story!

    1. It was excellent. Wacky and fun, but also very heartfelt.

  4. A wedding in a castle? That sounds dreamy!

    1. The setting was excellent and well utilized. I liked it a lot

  5. Definitely sounds like I need to pick up the Effie Olsen book! Glad these were both winners for you.

    1. This book just checked all the boxes for me. I hope you give it a try

  6. Great reviews, Sam. It sounds like these authors did a great job with this books and they met your expectations. both 5 stars us awesome.

    1. I was bowled over by both these books and they exceeded my expectations