Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak has been on my list for a quite a while. I am all over the chart with a review for this one so I guess I’ll activate stream-of-consciousness and type away.
The Birch family will spend Christmas holidays and new year together as they are under a quarantine. It will be the first time in years all four will be together for an extended period of time and they don’t always get along well. The eldest daughter, Olivia, is a doctor and she has been treating the Haag Virus in Liberia. She is the reason for the quarantine as she and other aide workers have been voluntarily treating an epidemic. Now she has returned to England and promised to spend the holidays at home during her quarantine. Initially Olivia is the only likable character (for me).
Our starring characters are Emma and Andrew Birch (the parents) and the two daughters Phoebe and Olivia. The supporting cast members are Phoebe’s fiancee George, Jesse Robinson who is Andrew’s son from a relationship he had in Lebanon when he was a war reporter (and also a complete Surprise! as Andrew didn’t know he fathered a child) and Sean Coughlin, an Irish doctor who hooked up with Olivia in Liberia.
Emma: Early on, so no spoiler here, Emma is diagnosed with cancer. Does she confide this to her husband or daughters? Nope, only her best friend knows. This is because Emma doesn’t want to ruin Christmas. She is fussy to the extreme over everything being perfect. While I understand the maternal overdrive when it comes to your kids, she’s way over the top. (I ended up liking her quite a bit and had empathy)
Andrew is….forgive my truthful language….a complete prick and a toff. He’s disconnected with his eldest daughter Olivia and clearly favors Phoebe. I think he’s jealous that he gave up his war correspondent life, an exciting career and meaningful reporting to be at home. Olivia meanwhile spends her time in third world countries administering to those less fortunate in the way of healthcare….and I think Andrew wishes he had his bohemian lifestyle back watching Olivia from the sidelines. His current job penning restaurant reviews is clearly unfulfilling. He always has to make the column tongue-in-cheek at the expense of the chef. He is also hiding a secret, just as his wife is doing. But it’s not cancer.
Phoebe: Shallow and self centered. She pouts because her fiancée got her the wrong earrings for Christmas. She wanted hoops and received pearls. She snaps at Olivia for looking at her iPad (as Olivia needs to know about Sean) “You never get it, do you?” Phoebe snaps.
“I don’t? I’m not the one crying because I got some ridiculously expensive earrings, when millions of children are malnourished,” said Olivia.
“Oh my god, do you always have to bring it back to Africa?”
Olivia: She is committed to helping those less fortunate, putting her life at risk to give medical aid. She avoids being home during holidays and this time, I am sure she regrets giving in to spend time with them. Even though I think she’d like to connect with her father she doesn’t respect him.
From her point of view:
Andrew repeatedly told, or started to tell, a story about lighting a fire in the desert with a magnifying glass during the Soviet Afghan war. “You know, this reminds me….” He never talked about the Afghan people, or the politics at the time – just his own Boy Scouts memories. But it was that way at home, everyone sticking to a script, wheeling out the same exhausted anecdotes.
Olivia and Sean started a relationship while they were in Liberia even though it was expressly against rules due to the possible spread of a dangerous epidemic. She wants to be with him after the quarantine is over and a tragedy strikes.
In the beginning I was thinking these were the biggest lot of self-indulgent people I’d read about and wouldn’t care to be friends or acquaintances with Andrew or Phoebe, probably not the rest of them either now that I think of it. Three quarters through the book I changed my mind about some of the characters. Secrets were revealed and the characters let their guard down, shared genuine feelings and emotions and thus, connected with one another in an honest way. Andrew was, in fact, not the prick I thought he was….not deep down. His moments with Olivia in his den were honest and I wish he had opened up much earlier.
A fun dysfunctional family drama for the holidays!
Whenever books or music are mentioned I check into the titles. One book called Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe was referred to a favorite of Emma and Phoebe’s, I think because it was set in 1980’s Camden where they lived. As Olivia says, “They kept pointing out it was 1980’s Camden as if this were a mark in its favor. Why would she want to revisit her own blinkered childhood? Olivia liked books she could escape into, fantasies and thrillers.” Also mentioned was the series the Archers. Emma was listening to the broadcast over the radio.
There was quite a bit of food mentioned in the book, as you may imagine with Andrew being a food critic, but most were in reference to the family meals rather than his weekly column. Here are a few below:
- Turkey curry, richly peaty smoked salmon, mincemeat creme brulee, lemon sole.
- Olivia’s homecoming was planned and prepared by Emma – a top roast, garlicky green beans, Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes (Delia Smith’s recipe). Champagne and Bordeaux.
- Fuchsia borscht marbled with sour cream and studded with porcini.
- Vol-au-vents : Buttery, garlicky mushrooms in puff pastry 🙂
- A pan of eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and bacon.
- Vegan aubergine curry.
- Claudia Roden is mentioned for her Chicken and Saffron Rice with Raisins and Almonds.
Here’s the low down on this elegant sounding creation. Surprisingly easy, very tasty.
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed but very cold (or use shells)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces wild mixed mushrooms, chopped to a rubble
1 whole, smashed garlic clove
2 stems fresh thyme
1 tablespoon dry white wine
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Lightly flour a cutting board, and place the pastry on it. Cut out 9 circles from the pastry using a 2.5-inch biscuit cutter. Use a 1.5-inch biscuit cutter to make an indent (not all the way through) in the center of each pastry circle. (OR use the pastry shell version)
Bake the puff pastry for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mushroom filling mixture. Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. Sauté the mixture over medium heat for about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms have greatly shrunk in size and the pan has dried out. Season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Allow to reduce. Remove the garlic and thyme stems from the pan, and take the pan off the heat. Stir in the crème fraîche.
Use a paring knife to gently remove the center disc from each puff pastry shell. Reserve. Fill the cavity with the mushroom mixture, and replace the pastry disc.
Linking up with:
Joy’s British Isles Friday
Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.