After the death of her father, Seraphine Mayes is going through his belongings when she comes across a photo taken on the day that she and her twin brother, Danny, were born. The photo shows their older brother, father, and mother, who is holding one baby in her arms and looks happy…. which is odd, because their mother committed suicide the day they were born. And why is there only one baby in the photograph? Which twin is in the photo, and where is the other one? Unable to get answers from her grandmother, Vera, Seraphine is determined to track down the only other person who was there that day—the au pair who disappeared after her mother’s tragic death.
Staying at your parents’ home for an extended Christmas visit can be stressful, particularly if you haven’t spent the holidays with them in years. Can you imagine how much harder it would be if your family were under quarantine?
This is the situation Olivia Birch finds herself in upon returning home after helping to treat victims of a dangerously contagious (and often deadly) epidemic. For the next week she’ll be stuck with parents Andrew and Emma, as well as her younger, newly engaged sister. Phoebe’s obsessed with her wedding, Olivia is trying to adjust to being home as she worries about an ill colleague, and everyone in the family has secrets they are hiding from the others. As the quarantine nears its end, the Birches will find themselves caught up in events that have life-changing implications for all of them.
SEVEN DAYS OF US is Hornak’s debut novel, and a very enjoyable one at that. I liked the premise of a family who are not exactly close being forced to spend time together due to a quarantine, especially when each of them are already feeling stressed about something. Guaranteed drama there, right?
If I had to pick one Birch I was most interested in, it has to be Olivia. I won’t go into exact details about why, but her story had some particularly heart-wrenching moments that really got to me. A very, very close second is Emma because what she was going through—and the way she tried to deal with it—just broke my heart time and again.
Phoebe annoyed me with her single-mindedness, and for most of the story I didn’t like her at all. I liked her much better by the end, but she mostly got on my nerves. And I hate to say it, but I enjoyed watching Andrew squirm in his attempts to keep his secret hidden from the rest of the family. Andrew’s arrogance made it hard for me to feel a lot of sympathy for him.
There’s a lot I can’t say about this book, because I don’t want to give anything away. It’s not exactly what I was expecting—I assumed this book would be far heavier on the humor than it was. Still, I enjoyed reading it and I’ll be interested to see what Hornak’s next novel will be about!
I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Berkley via Netgalley.
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 Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.
As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides 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…
About the Author
Francesca Hornak is a British author, journalist and former columnist for the Sunday Times. Her debut novel Seven Days Of Us will be published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in October 2017. Little Island Productions has pre-empted TV rights to the book.
Francesca’s work has appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Metro, Elle, Grazia, Stylist, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Red. She is the author of two nonfiction books, History of the World in 100 Modern Objects: Middle Class Stuff (and Nonsense) and Worry with Mother: 101 Neuroses for the Modern Mama.
Emi Harrison is a hot mess, trying so hard to gracefully deal with seeing her ex-fiancé, Jack, again, but everything that can go wrong, does—usually in the most humiliating way. Her twin brother Evan is marrying Jack’s sister, Hannah—and he chose Jack to be his Best Man. Emi tries to settle her nerves over seeing Jack again with several drinks too many, and the first of many pre-wedding disasters strikes.
I was supposed to be reading another book, but LITTLE GRAY DRESS had been sitting on my Kindle’s carousel, neglected, for nearly a month. So I told myself I would take a peek at the first chapter, then set it aside until I finished the other book. Sounds like a solid plan, right? All I needed was a little self-discipline to see it through.
As you’ve already guessed, things didn’t go according to plan. Once I started, I simply could NOT stop reading until my eyes rebelled and insisted on sleep. The little traitors didn’t care that I wanted to read just one more chapter. (How rude! Maybe they knew I was lying about wanting to read just “one” more?) Which reminds me… this book should come with a warning label, because it’s guaranteed to keep you reading into the wee hours of the morning. (Or until your eyes turn traitor on you the way mine did—whichever comes first.)
I picked up where I left off the next morning, eager to see how it ended, and then my Kindle turned traitor on me, too! I was on the final stretch of the story when the stupid battery decided it was the perfect time to run out of juice. The text blurred and the screen went dark right in the middle of a crucial moment. Seriously?! My charger (who is not a traitor) did its job and I was finally able to finish reading.
All kidding aside… I simply adored this book. Chaos was Emi’s close companion through much of the book, and even during embarrassing moments that made me wince in empathy for her, I couldn’t help but laugh. Poor Emi goes through a lot of cringe-worthy mishaps that are rife with humor.
The events surrounding the wedding take place in the present, but readers are also given insight into Emi and Jack’s history through flashback chapters. The flashbacks don’t happen in exact chronological order, and it works very well at filling in the blanks of their relationship about some things, while leaving you in the dark (for a while) about others.
No story is complete without a villain, and Brown provides us with one that is truly terrible. I won’t give away who it is, but I can tell you that I absolutely despised this character. Emi went through a lot at the hands of this character, and I’m pretty sure I growled every time this person appeared in the book. Kudos to the author for creating an antagonist that I won’t soon forget.
The remaining cast of characters are as delightful as the villain is despicable. I especially loved Emi’s best friend, Lily. No matter what happened, she always had Emi’s back, but she didn’t shy away from setting her straight about things, either. We should all be so lucky as to have a friend like Lily!
All in all, LITTLE GRAY DRESS is a delightful story, filled with funny situations that will having you laughing out loud, touching moments that bring a tear to your eye, and a reminder that being in love with the right person can be truly magical.
You don’t want to miss out on this one, folks. This is a book worth reading!
Emi Harrison has avoided her ex-fiance, Jack Cabot, for nearly two years. Her twin brother Evan’s wedding is about to end that streak.
From bad bridesmaid’s dresses, a hyperactive sister-in-law, a mean girl with even meaner secrets, and too much to drink, nothing seems to go right for Emi, except when she’s wearing her little gray dress.
When she speed-walks into Liam Jaxon’s bar, things get more complicated. He’s gorgeous, southern, and has no past with Emi. He may be exactly what she needs to prove for the last time that she doesn’t need or want Jack!
Her favorite little gray dress has made an appearance at nearly every major event in Emi’s adult life. Will it make another grand appearance when she least expects it?
About the Author
Aimee Brown is a writer and avid reader, often blogging her thoughts on chick lit books. Little Gray Dress is her first novel published. She’s currently studying for her Bachelor’s degree in English Writing. She spends much of her time writing her next book, doing homework, raising three teenagers, binge watching shows on Netflix and obsessively cleaning and redecorating her house. She’s fluent in sarcasm and has been known to use far too many swear words.
Aimee grew up in Oregon but is now a transplant living in cold Montana with her husband of twenty years, three teenage children, and many, many pets.
She would love to hear your thoughts on Little Gray Dress! If you want to chat with her she’s very active on social media. Find her over at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or her author website. Continue checking her website for information on her next book release!
GATHER THE DAUGHTERS is the story of a group of people living on an isolated island. The story goes that just before the country went up in flames, a small group of men and women brought their families to the island, thus escaping the fate of what would later come to be known as “the wastelands.” The founders formed an entire civilization based around ancestor worship, adhering to the rules set forth by the original inhabitants of the island, such as: limiting the number of children each family is allowed to have, and the declaration that a person may live only so long as they are useful. Knowledge about the wastelands is practically non-existent, and only an elite group of men known as “the Wanderers” are allowed to go there in order to scavenge for supplies.
The island is a particularly restrictive place for girls. They are simply future wives who will marry and have children. But they are allowed a brief respite from a suffocating life bound by rules (called the “shalt-nots”) when summer arrives. They run wild outdoors, doing whatever they want, every summer… until they reach puberty and their “Summer of Fruition”, which marks their final summer of freedom. When it ends, they will marry and have children of their own.
During the summer, one girl sees something horrific—something that should never have happened on the island—and tells the other girls about it. This sparks a rebellion led by Janey Solomon, who is determined the uncover the secrets of the island and the wastelands. But on a secluded island bound by generations of traditions and practices that are disturbing (to say the least), will it even matter? And what price will these rebellious girls be forced to pay, in the end?
It’s been over a month since I read this novel and I’ve been struggling with how to review it because I’m conflicted on how I feel about it. So I’m going to do something a little different from my usual review, and focus on the good, the bad, and the ugly. (I’m pretty sure one I saw this approach by one (or more?) of the bloggers I follow, but I’m not sure who it was. Whoever you/they are… thank you for the idea!)
Simply put, Melamed’s writing is fantastic. Had I been unaware this was her debut novel, I would have assumed she already had a few titles under her belt (or rather, on the shelf). The island society she created is vivid, dark, and disturbing. Every character in the book—major or minor—all have distinct personalities. The different areas of the island and the homes are all described well enough for the reader to easily picture them.
Janey Solomon struck me as a particularly strong character, as well as a tragic one. Each of the four girls whose POVs tell the story are compelling characters, but Janey’s portion of the story, for me, was the most intriguing.
After all the build-up about the mystery of the wastelands, we are left with no solid answers, only suspicions. I assumed from the start there would be some sort of twist concerning this mystery, and while it was often heavily hinted at, it never happened. I was extremely disappointed by this.
Another thing that bothered me is that the story ends on a cliffhanger (in my opinion). If it ended this way because a future sequel is in the works, then it’s a good thing—it works as a finale for this portion of the story, and is a great starting point for the next portion. But if this is meant as a stand-alone book, it’s a very bad thing, indeed, because it hinted at a pay-off that wasn’t there. With this sort of ending for a stand-alone novel, even the most brilliantly written book of all time is going to leave me feeling sour once I reach the end.
I’ve previously described this story as dark and disturbing, and with good reason. One of the accepted practices of the island is father-daughter incest. Looking back, I can see that it’s vaguely hinted at in the blurb (“free of their father’s hands”), but it never occurred to me that that’s what it meant. It’s never graphically described, but still…
I mostly enjoyed reading this book, but I wasn’t a fan of the lack of resolution regarding the mystery of the island and the cliffhanger ending. That was the deciding factor in the three star rating I’ve given this book.
However… I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Jennie Melamed’s next novel. She’s clearly a fantastic writer, and I’m eager to see what she comes up with next!
NEVER LET ME GO meets THE GIVER in this haunting debut about a cult on an isolated island, where nothing is as it seems.
Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history. Only the Wanderers–chosen male descendants of the original ten–are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smoldering fires.
The daughters of these men are wives-in-training. At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony. They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die. But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme. With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly–they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers’ hands and their mothers’ despair. And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.
Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.
GATHER THE DAUGHTERS is a smoldering debut; dark and energetic, compulsively readable, Melamed’s novel announces her as an unforgettable new voice in fiction.
About the Author
JENNIE MELAMED is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in working with traumatized children. During her doctoral work at the University of Washington, she investigated anthropological, biological, and cultural aspects of child abuse. Melamed lives in Seattle with her husband and three Shiba Inus.
Life is hard in Baines Creek, an impoverished town in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. For Sadie Blue, it’s made even harder by an unplanned pregnancy that led to her marriage to Roy Tupkin—a mean-spirited moonshiner who began beating her days after their marriage. Her story of hardship is just one of many in the small town that lost hope long ago. The arrival of the new school teacher, Kate Shaw, is met with suspicion and gossip from some, but is a source of inspiration and hope for others in the town.
We see the town and its people through the eyes of several characters in the book. They each offer a unique perspective on a handful of key events that take place in the story, and they all have secrets others know nothing about. It felt a bit like a collection of short stories, in a way. Don’t let that put you off, because it works extremely well and gave the story a steady, irresistible flow that kept me reading until dawn.
Weiss has written an emotional tale that doesn’t shy away from the stark realities of abject poverty. These oft-times grim details illustrate the toils of a hard-lived life, while also taking care not to portray the characters as one-dimensional objects of pity throughout. Some characters have no redeeming qualities, and yet, when you learn why they became the way they are, you can’t help but feel just a bit of sympathy for them… and that, to me, is the epitome of excellence in writing.
Without giving anything away, I have to mention the final two lines in the novel are OUTSTANDING. If I weren’t afraid of waking everyone in the house, I would have let out a LOUD cheer. It was sheer perfection.
If you love reading southern fiction, put this one on your to-read list!
A strikingly sincere portrait of a town and its buried secrets from an outstanding new voice in southern fiction.
In a North Carolina mountain town filled with moonshine and rotten husbands, Sadie Blue is only the latest girl to face a dead-end future at the mercy of a dangerous drunk. She’s been married to Roy Tupkin for fifteen days, and she knows now that she should have listened to the folks who said he was trouble. But when a stranger sweeps in and knocks the world off-kilter for everyone in town, Sadie begins to think there might be more to life than being Roy’s wife.
As stark and magnificent as Appalachia itself, If the Creek Don’t Rise is a bold and beautifully layered debut about a dusty, desperate town finding the inner strength it needs to outrun its demons. The folks of Baines Creek will take you deep into the mountains with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.
About the Author
Leah Weiss is a Southern writer born in North Carolina and raised in the foothills of Virginia. IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE is her debut novel. She retired in 2015 from a 24-year career as Executive Assistant to the Headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. Leah enjoys speaking with book clubs. You may contact her at her website leahweiss.com.