Seven Days of Us: a true family drama

sevenDays

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.

Photo Credit

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.

Mushroom Vol-au-Vents

MushroomVol

Here’s the low down on this elegant sounding creation. Surprisingly easy, very tasty.

Ingredients

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

Procedures

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.

Heather’s March edition of Foodie Reads

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The Dry by Jane Harper

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The Dry.  It starts with a funeral and a mystery of how Aaron Falk is connected to the deceased.  Three coffins are displayed in the front of the church.  Lying dead is Aaron’s friend Luke along with Luke’s wife and young son, Karen and Billy.   Luke and his family were murdered and it looks like it was murder-suicide.  Luke was found with half his head blown off, his shotgun next to him in his truck.  His wife and son were also shot but the baby, Charlotte, was left untouched. Is this situation what it appears or is there another explanation and motive?

As Aaron Falk stands against the wall in the church, some of the close knit community give him hard looks and I’m immediately hooked to know the backstory. Aaron is now a federal police officer, one who investigates financial crimes.  Aaron and his father were basically run out of the community almost 20 years ago as it was suspected one (or both) had something to do with a young woman’s death.

Aaron didn’t come back just to pay respects to his friend but because Luke’s father summoned him with a message. “Luke lied. You lied.” This is in reference to their alibi the day Ellie Deacon was found dead.

So you see, there are two stories intertwined in this mystery.  Luke and his family and young Ellie Deacon.  Aaron Falk was meant to stay only 24 hours, enough time to see his friend buried and head back to Melbourne but Luke’s father implores him to look into his son’s suicide and murder. Even though 20 years have passed since Ellie was found dead it seems as if it happened only a week ago, as far as some townspeople are concerned.  These mysteries dovetail into a satisfying end, in my opinion.  I’m a big fan of series so I will add this to the series I plan to immerse myself into this coming year.

The writing was very detailed, I could immerse myself into the story and see what was being described.  The author painted a picture of the harsh environment and climate, the relationships both warm and those tense.  So many passages I liked in this book.

“City people wanted to move to the country but weren’t prepared to look out and not see another soul between them and the horizon.”

“He could understand them seeking out the idyllic country life style; a lot of people did.  The idea had an enticing wholesome glow when it was considered from the back of a traffic jam or while crowed into a gardenless apartment.  They all had the same visions of breathing fresh., clean air and knowing their neighbors. The kids would eat homegrown veggies and learn the value of an honest day’s work.

But on arrival, as the empty moving truck disappears, they gazed around and were always taken aback by the crushing vastness of the open land.  The space was the thing that hit them first, there was so much of it.”

Very little food offerings but it wasn’t that sort of book.  I did note sparkling wine and a lamb casserole.  Rita, the policeman’s wife, prepared a feast for Aaron Falk and her husband.  “A rich concoction of tomatoes and eggplant and spicy sausage washed down with a decent Shiraz.”
PastaEggplant1

Eggplant and Penne

Ingredients
4 1/2 cups cubed peeled eggplant
1/2 pound bulk pork breakfast sausage OR TVP ( Textured Vegetable Protein, like mince)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
6 cups hot cooked penne (about 10 ounces uncooked tube-shaped pasta)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

Cook eggplant, sausage, and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until sausage is browned and eggplant is tender. Add tomato paste and the next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Place pasta in a large bowl.   Add tomato mixture, cheese, and parsley; toss well.

This is my first book completed for the Aussie Author Challenge. It satisfies the category of both female author and new author, but I have plans for another new author very soon.

Also linking up with Girlxoxo for the Monthly Motif Travel the World and Heather for the March Foodies Read 2018.

If You Knew Her by Emily Elgar

IfYou KnewI have to start with saying, the ending of this book gutted me. It was emotional, I wanted a different ending for the characters I grew to like yet somehow it was the perfect ending.

Alice is a nurse at a hospital, one that works with comatose patients, and she is a lovely, caring woman.  You can really get behind this character,  have empathy for her in both her professional and personal life.

The story is told from several points of view bringing us different perspectives and information about what’s going on.  We have the nursing staff with Alice, Mary and Lizzie. Later in the book you want to throttle Lizzie (you’ll see).  They interact with these comatose patients, nursing them, comforting them and hoping for improvement.  We read about several of the patients, some in a passing reference because they are moved to another facility or they die.  The two main comatose patients are Cassie, a woman brought into the ward after a hit and run, and Frank,  a stroke victim.

There are also supporting “cast members” – Cassie’s husband Jack and her mother-in-law Charlotte, Cassie’s best friend Nicky, her step-father Marcus and her neighbor Jonny.

Frank is an alcoholic and one of the long term patients on the ward.  While the doctors think he is in a PVS (permanent vegetative state) he is actually aware of what’s going on around him.  He can’t speak, blink, move a finger to let people know he’s locked in.  What a nightmare.  From his point of view we learn about his previous life, the love for his daughter Lucy and what it’s like being an alcoholic.   He describes addition:  The addiction “pounced on me when I lost my job, it pounced on me when Ange (his wife) finally chucked him out.  After that it seemed to take up residence within me, switching places with the man I tried to be, consigning Frank to the shadows, meek and withered as the beats gnawed my bones, sucking out the marrow of my  life every bottle of whisky…..”   Great descriptions.

Cassie’s story has it’s twists and turns.  She clearly misses her deceased mother April, she loves Jack but is sometimes distant from him and her best friend Nicky is like a sister.  One day she witnesses something that changes her life (don’t want to give spoilers).  Shortly afterwards she is stuck by a car, obviously on purpose (that’s in the beginning) and left for dead. You come to wonder if she was targeted by her husband, best friend or step-father.  The story builds up as we learn more about our supporting cast.  I had my assumptions about what happened with Cassie but the end still surprised me.  I liked reading about Cassie and her life before she went into a coma.

While food was mentioned here and there, and I will note it because…I do write about books and food….it’s not a celebratory book to enjoy a meal.  It starts out interesting but near the end this plot grabs you by the collar and demands your attention.  Emotional ride here at the very end.  Ok so, there was:

Salmon fillets, salad and new potatoes and wine.
Homemade jam, lasagna
Croissants, prosciutto, melon and freshly squeezed orange juice
salmon

I would recommend this author and I will most certainly look for her future publications.  Well done, Emily Elgar, as you had me shed a tear at the end.
Great wrap-up.

For more info on the author check out her website HERE. Emily grew up in West country and currently lives in East Sussex England.  Much thanks to LibraryThing for my copy of this book.

Linking up with:

Foodie Reads at Based on a True Story
British Isles Friday at Joy’s Book Blog

2018FoodieRead BriFri

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

rebeccaRebecca. This is a classic I had been meaning to read for years.  I started it a few years back (it’s been on my Kindle that long) but was distracted by something else I “needed” to read.

We never learn the first name of our narrator.  She is described as young woman without worldly experience.  You know straight away she is impressionable, a bit naive but kind-hearted.  She is often referred to as the new or second  Mrs. de Winter.  Personally I think she was named after her father.  I thought that after this exchange with Maxim de Winter over dinner.

“You have a very lovely and unusual name,” said Mr. de Winter.”  “My father was a lovely and unusual person,” our narrator replies.

Our young lady is swept off her feet by the worldly and kind Maxim de Winter, eager to take her role as wife and lady at Manderley.  She daydreams about her new home, how they will have children and what a wonderful life they will have.  Gothic themes, love, jealousy and murder abound in this story.

When the second Mrs. de Winter meets Mrs. Danvers she hopes the two can become friends, have a friendly face to assist in her new role. The arctic  personality of Danvers was evident from the start – no friendly face or help with that one.

There were never any complaints when Mrs. De Winter was alive”, said Mrs. Danvers.    She is comparing me to Rebecca and sharp as a sword the shadow came between us……..”

Frankly, I would have been very nervous around Mrs. Danvers.  I didn’t grow up in a high society or upper class setting and I can imagine poor little new Mrs. de Winter is intimidated.  In over her head, absolutely.  It’s only later that you realize what an unhealthy, obsessive one-sided relationship Danvers had with her employer.

**Spoilers**

Since the beginning of the book is actually a description of the end of their lives at Manderley, I had to go back and read the first chapter again.  It all dovetails into a complete story.

Their lives are nothing like they hoped, they are merely existing.  Now I see Maxim had a genuine desire to experience a loving marriage with his young bride.  While she thought she was being compared to Rebecca and found wanting, it was actually the opposite.  Max was delighted with her open genuine spirit and her love.

Remember, I did state Spoilers and they will continue…..

We discover Rebecca didn’t drown but was murdered, her body placed in a boat and submerged. Are we then surprised that Maxim did it? That the second Mrs. de Winter stays with him and is actually happy he truly loves her rather than appalled over the murder?  Once Manderley burns they live a faded existence, avoiding talk of their past,  staying in hotels but living frugally.  It’s a sad story but oh so well written.

Menus
Curried prawns, roast veal, asparagus, cold chocolate mousse
Ice cold consume, fillets of sole and hot shoulder of lamb
Those dripping crumpets, tiny crisp wedges of toast, piping hot floury scones, gingerbread and Angel cake….and so much more.

I wanted to prepare the sole and asparagus but, as luck would have it, a friend caught 20 Mangrove Snappers and gave us some fillets.  What a gift!  It’s a wonderfully solid fish that grills exceptionally well.  We did manage the asparagus though. And  a Martini.

Linking up with:

February’s Monthly Motif at Girlxoxo

Foodie Reads at Based on a True Story

British Isles Friday at Joy’s Book Blog

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Power Plates (Photos so stunning you could lick the page!) and Fluff, a sticky sweet story

I had some book mail recently – that’s always a cool thing to get home and find books in the mailbox!  I received a copy of Power Plates cookbook and a copy of Fluff, a historical narrative on …Fluff 🙂

powerPlatesPower Plates!  I seriously plan to make something from this book if I can actually put it to use instead of staring at the pages.  Eye candy for the foodie lover for sure!  The photos are stunning and each bowl meal looks so great, you could almost lick the page!

That sounded gross, didn’t it?  But it’s so true!  Vibrant colors, artfully and deliciously displayed and a variety that will please an adventurous eater.  Cusines from around the globe are represented with Indian, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Asian and more.

If you are into healthy eating you will adore this book.  What should I make first?  Cheesy Cream of Broccoli Soup with Smoky Roasted Chickpeas or a warm tofu chopped salad?  The salmon bowls appeal to me greatly (I love salmon)

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Here are some tacos that’s high on my list to try. Not my photo, I grabbed it shamelessly from amazon HERE, so there is the credit where credit is due.

Not all the meals in this books are bowl meals, you have some for the stove top, oven, blender….but I love the idea of a bowl meal.

Fluff

Fluff !  This book has such detailed research and old photos.  You can tell a lot of hard work went into this narrative.  I remember coming home from school and getting a Fluffernutter sandwich.  This brought back memories of when I was kid growing up near Philadelphia.  Believe it or not, simpler times.  There are so many old photographs and historical info recorded.  This is great for a history buff or those who love Fluff.

More Info

*I received Power Plates from Blogging for Books for this review. All opinions, nice and no-so-nice are my own 🙂

Great Houses of the National Trust

I am a big fan of our local library. It allows me to preview books before buying, I can check out the latest DVD releases and eBooks too. All free of charge – what’s not to love? My latest haul of library loot includes a detailed book of the great manor houses managed by the National Trust in Great Britain.

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There were a few manor houses we had toured on a trip to England but there are so many ideas of other places we’d like to see.  It’s always exciting to see one of the places you have visited and among those in this book are Montecute House and Arlington Court.

Arlington Court was definitely one of my favorite places.  It’s in Devon near Barnstaple.  The grounds were amazing and you can just get lost in the solitude there.  If you are an Anglophile and want to plan a trip soon – this is the book for you.  Great to look at the photos and the history of the estates.

I wish the English Heritage organization would put out a book like this.  Maybe they have and I haven;’t seen it at the library.  We joked that each organization, The National Trust and English Heritage were defined as property with roofs and those without.  the English Heritage has the old ruins and castles and abbeys with sections of roof missing most of the time.  National Trust has 350 historic houses and gardens and English Heritage has 400 sites such as Stonehenge (Wilts), Battle Abbey (East Susssex), Tintagel Castle (Cornwall), Down House, home of Charles Darwin (Kent).

To compare check out this article .

Linking up with Joy’s British Isles Friday

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Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Years back I was on a kick reading just about anything I could about Australia.  I read travel guides, novels set in Australia, non fiction from Aussie authors….I couldn’t get enough. This was before the internet made it’s way in our home so it was all a personal agenda, no challenges to sign up for.

Jo at Booklover Book Reviews is hosting a book challenge which is right up my alley. I will start slowly and sign up for the Wallaby level.

WALLABY
Read and review 3 titles written by Australian authors, of which at least 1 of those authors are female, at least 1 of those authors are male, and at least 1 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, any genre.

My planned books are The Dry by Jane Harper, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton and The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally.

 

As it often is with well laid plans, this list could change or I may read more books than intended. I still plan to read an occasional book from my BBC Culture Books Project (see tab at the top) but that will be an ongoing project, something I will work on here and there.

If the Aussie Author Challenge is something you think you would enjoy it’s certainly not too late to sign up.  Check out the signup HERE.

AussieAuthor