A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays...
It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while her older sister, Olivia, deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.
Their father, Andrew, sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent. But his wife, Emma, is hiding a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.
In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…
My Review of Seven Days of Us
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak is the intricate story of the Birch Family forced together for a week at Christmas under medical quarantine.
The Birch family has not been together under one roof for quite a while. Their oldest daughter Olivia is coming home from Liberia where she has been treating an epidemic of Haag Virus along with another doctor Sean Coughlan. Unfortunately, Olivia must stay in enforced medical confinement at home, leaving her family with little choice but to join her in isolation at their old county manor in Norfolk. But Olivia’s dreading the week she must spend with her family over the holidays. She has felt disconnected from her mother and father for quite a number of years and the closeness she once felt with her sister is gone as they now have nothing in common. As the days progress Olivia begins to feel trapped. She misses Sean and the day to day intensity of living in the worst of conditions, treating the worst of diseases. Phoebe, her sister, does nothing but prattle on about her upcoming nuptials while dad makes himself scarce and mom bustles about the decaying manor cooking and wrapping gifts as if everything is hunky dory. But the serene family Christmas the Birch family is trying so hard to manufacture is about to come unraveled at the arrival of two unexpected guests, George, Phoebe’s fiancé and Jesse, a son Andrew Birch has never met. As secrets of the family are revealed, and everybody has one, the tension within the house comes to a head with explosive results. But the outcome is for the better as the Birch family find they will emerge from their medical seclusion a more caring and tight-knit family. One they’ve always wanted to be, one they always needed to be.
I liked the way Francesca Hornak weaved complex characters into an ever evolving storyline. As the holiday week wore on, you could feel the tension building in the house. When George and Jesse finally arrive on the scene, things really begin to take a turn in an unexpected way and there was never a dull moment in the Birch residence again. Secrets are laid bare leaving the family to deal with them in the aftermath. Things will never be the same again, but the family will be the better for it.
All the characters in Seven Days of Us were unique and well written. Each had a distinct part to play in this book, but my favorites were Jesse and Emma. I liked Emma because despite all the problems she was quietly dealing with, her priority was always and foremost her family. She tried to bring lightness to all the tension and when all else failed she reverted to the kitchen to feed her loved ones. She tried to constantly keep everyone happy even in the most awkward of situations and when she finally had enough of her husband’s behavior she let lose a lifetime of pent-up frustration. It was a great scene in the book, one I could read again and again.
I also liked Jesse. Jesse liked to get to the heart of the matter, in other words he wore his proverbial heart on his sleeve. This made him extremely endearing to the reader, but not necessarily to his new found family. Jesse also had a kind side to him and was willing to go the extra mile, even at the expense of himself. I believe it was Jesse and Emma that were instrumental in resolving the conflicts that held the Birch family hostage for so long. All in all, they were charming characters amid the others who were often reserved and seemingly detached. Unfortunately, George was my least favorite character. Selfish and often self-serving, he only had his own interests at heart.
Seven Days of Us is the unique story of The Birch Family trying to get through the holidays with secrets intact and with little emotion expended as possible. Instead, secrets are revealed, feelings expressed and a family long void of emotion manages to find themselves seeing each other in an all new light. The family that entered the holidays will not be the same family that enters the New Year.
I want to thank Berkley Publishing via NetGalley for an advanced copy of Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak for a fair and honest review.
My thoughts on bread making and The Gift of Bread
Recipes for the Heart and the Table
When I was a child one of my favorite memories was watching my mother make homemade bread. My mother’s way of making bread may seem a little unconventional, but the process definitely worked. On bread baking day I would climb a chair and sit at the table mesmerized by her process. She never used a recipe, she made it all by sight and touch. After she proofed her yeast, she took a big enamel roaster (the kind you roast a turkey) and added a 5 lb. sack of Cinderella flour. After the flour came the shortening, salt, sugar, yeast then to this she added warm water. With the exception of the flour everything was done without measuring. As she kneaded the dough she would feel the texture and know if she needed more water to achieve the beautiful elastic consistency she always managed to create. Not once did I ever see her add more flour, or adjust anything else. She knew from experience and feel what she needed to do to have her dough turn out beautifully each and every time.
After the dough was silky and smooth she covered the roaster with its lid then wrapped the roaster in blankets to keep it warm and free of any drafts. My mother always gave her bread dough three risings. Two in the roaster and one in the pans. I swear it’s what made the bread crusty on the outside, but chewy and light as a feather on the inside. I always ran into the house when she punched it down for the first time. When she lifted that lid and the pungent smell of the yeast hit your nose there was nothing like it in the world, well that is besides slicing and eating it warm from the oven. My mother was always at her best in the kitchen baking and cooking for those she loved.
Today I try to carry on some of my mom’s favorite traditions and baking bread is just one of them. Try as I might though, after all these years I have never managed to create a loaf of bread the same way she did. I have however, managed to find a lot of great bread recipes and I’ve collected many bread cookbooks through the years. And even though I have enough cookbooks to fill a small library, I couldn’t stop myself from buying my latest find The Gift of Bread: Recipes for the Heart and the Table by Karen Whiting. This book is not just a cookbook full of bread recipes. This is a book where bread is lived spiritually, physically and emotionally. It is as she calls it a “cookbook devotional”. Each beautiful chapter starts with a short scripture passage, followed by a short personal story of family or friends followed by Lovin’ From The Lord where the author shares a biblical passage always related to meals or breaking bread. She includes a Food For Thought and concludes each chapter with The Joy of Bread Making where the reader gets countless kitchen tips or Lovin’ From The Oven where the author shares wonderful bread or muffin recipes for family and friends to enjoy. The finishing touch at the end of each chapter is A Morsel of Bread, a small quote that gives you food for thought for your day.
In rating this book I would easily give it 5 *****. To describe it I would use one of two words, DELIGHTFUL or INSPIRATIONAL. This is a book I plan to refer to again and again and not just for the recipes. The personal stories and scriptural passages in regards to relationships and food are so well thought out. An all-around gem of a book that will not only feed your hunger, but feed your heart and soul too.
In closing I wanted to note that the above picture is one I took of Karen Whiting’s book The Gift of Bread and the loaves of bread sitting by it are two loaves I made from one of the recipes in the book. The Amish White Bread was light and delicious and easy to make. Because my daughters occasionally, but lovingly call me out for tweaking recipes I will be honest and say the only thing I did differently was in using instant yeast verses dry active yeast. Dry active yeast you typically proof first, whereas instant yeast you just add it to the flour. I also shaped the loaves by hand instead of using a loaf pan. I like to have fun and do creative things when making bread, but that was it. Soft and yummy the bread was a hit.
So if you are a novice and would like to make some bread for the first time, or an old pro like my mom, The Gift of Bread: Recipes for the Heart and the Table is sure to be the inspiration to get you motivated to make and break bread.
Celebrate the joyful hope of the Christmas season as characters find healing in the midst of heartbreak.
New from Olivia Newport!
Christmas in Blue
In the wake of a personal loss deeper than anyone realizes, Angela plans to bypass as much of the season as possible and get through her duties as the church organist by going on autopilot. Instead, she finds herself in charge of the town’s celebration. After a mysterious young man arrives, townspeople suspect he is the reason that one set of plans after another disintegrate until little is left of their traditions. Yet Angela warms to Gabe because she suspects they share a secret—his real reason for coming to town. Even when all they have to work with is a garish supply of blue Christmas decorations, Gabe helps Angela discover the hidden beauty of hope.
Christmas in Gold
After eighty years, change is nothing new for Astrid. By the time she was twenty, she survived the destructive Nazi regime, caring for her family under brutal circumstances, moving to America, and losing her husband. At forty she was widowed again and left to build a new life with her children. Now, when she faces a move into an assisted living community and meets a young woman on the brink of despair, she resolves to stir up hope through tragedy one more time.
My Review of Colors of Christmas
If you are looking for a book to add to your holiday reading list this year, make sure to add Colors of Christmas by Olivia Newport. This gem of a book holds two beautiful stories in one, Christmas in Gold and Christmas in Blue, both tender and endearing and sure to lift your hearts and spirits this Christmas season.
Christmas in Gold tells the story of Astrid, an elderly woman who sells her home and moves to Sycamore Hills, a place where seniors can be as independent as they want or receive assistance should they need it. It is an adjustment for Astrid for she is fiercely independent and private, but finds herself in need of help after a fall that left her with a broken ankle. But as the holidays approach and her new place of residence is being decorated for Christmas, Astrid is drawn to a particular tree dressed in gold. She has possessed for years three gold ornaments, the only thing left of her family from Germany after the war. It is her own sorrow she carries quietly from the past that draws her to her Physical Therapist Carly who is running from past mistakes of her own. As Astrid begins to open up and shares her story with Carly a bond of trust begins to form and an unlikely friendship develops between the women. A friendship that will take them into a brighter future and happier holiday season.
Christmas in Blue is the story of love, loss and the beauty of family and friends. The town of Spruce Valley has always taken its Christmas celebration very seriously. A Christmas to Remember has always been the town’s highlight of the year, but this year things are different. Carole, the town’s chief organizer and decorator loved by all has passed leaving her best friend Angela, the Main Street Church’s choir director, in charge by default. As Christmas approaches all Angela wants to do is run away. The loss of her best friend has been more than she can bear, especially with the holidays fast approaching. But as the town’s expectations mount for A Christmas to Remember Angela has only days to prepare for what normally takes weeks. And if things weren’t bad enough the decorations that are normally stored and used every year are ruined due to circumstances beyond her control. With nowhere to turn and limited resources and ideas a mysterious stranger named Gabe appears in town and magical things start to happen. With Gabriel leading the way new decorations are sought, and though all they can obtain are blue, Gabe and Angela are determined to make this year’s celebration a memorable one. As A Christmas to Remember approaches the whole town pulls together at their annual celebration making it one that Spruce Valley will never forget. Feeling the love of God, Gabe and her neighbors, Angela is able to approach Christmas without the dread she anticipated but with joy and tenderness in her heart.
I loved the stories comprising Colors of Christmas. They were both different in content, but left me with a smile on my face and looking forward to the hustle and bustle of Christmas. It also left me with the knowledge that my relationships with family and friends is really what makes Christmas magical and not the gifts under the tree. It reminded me to be thankful and to never take anything for granted and to remember it’s about the child in the manger that we really celebrate Christmas in the first place. The Colors of Christmas should make everyone’s reading list this year and will make a perfect gift for that booklover in your family.
I want to thank Barbour Publishing Inc via NetGalley for an advanced copy of Colors of Christmas by Olivia Newport for a fair and honest review.
Story Time--The Most Important 10 Minutes in a Child's Day!
Your children or grandchildren will delight in this fully-illustrated storybook that brings 365 read-aloud classic Bible stories to life for impressionable young hearts.
Beginning with the creation story, "God Creates the Earth," and ending with "In Eternity with God,” your children will develop faith in an almighty God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, while journeying alongside Bible characters like Samuel, Jonah, Esther, David, John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, and many more.
365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories promises to make bedtime reading a delightful learning and faith-building experience for your kids 3 and up.
My Review of 365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories
365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut is a beautifully illustrated collection of bible stories from the Old and New Testaments for children of all ages. Starting with the story of creation Jesse Lyman Hurlbut takes us on a journey through a biblical timeline that children not only hear, but see through the tender illustrations that are provided for the reader. A perfect book for children too young for an adult or teenage bible, but in need of learning as much as they can about God and the roots of their faith. Both children and adults together can enjoy these stories and there is one for every day of the year. What a beautiful way of starting or ending your child’s day.
I enjoyed 365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories as it relayed Old and New Testament knowledge, but in a way children can grasp, break down and remember. Each story leads to the next in a timeframe that stays true to its biblical period. At times I felt like I was reading a bible just for children instead of bible stories and the illustrations that the book provided were sweet and beautifully done. The beauty of 365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories is your children can journey every day for a year, learn about their faith and be the better for it.
If your children are unfamiliar with the bible or bible stories 365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories is the perfect way to introduce them to God and their faith. If your children are familiar with bible stories then 365 Classic Bedtime Stories can expound their knowledge and the tender illustrations make those stories come to life. Let 365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories make your Christmas shopping list for your children or grandchildren. It’s the perfect Christmas gift for the season (or any occasion) and an excellent way to start your loved ones New Year.
I want to thank Barbour Publishing, Inc via NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of 365 Classic Bedtime Bible Stories by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut for a fair and honest review.
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