Published October 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
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…
When I was pitched this book, I read that summary and imagined "light and frivolous." While there is a lightness to the book, frivolous it is not. Hornak touches on infidelity, homosexuality, cancer, deadly viruses, adoption, abandoned dreams, and complicated relationships within families.
Sometimes when I sit down to write a review, I think it might just be easier to start giving ratings and leave it at that. This one would get, for example, three of five stars. Which, as it turns out, makes it harder to review than a book that got one star or a book that got five stars. So why isn't this a five-star book?
- Because the characters are somewhat caricatures. Andrew, for example, is the crotchety middle-aged man who dreams have been squashed and who takes it out on the restaurants he now reviews. Phoebe is very much the pampered younger daughter who believes the world revolves around her. And her fiancé, George, and his family are the stereotypical upper class English family, with the macho, sporty men. To some extent, those tight characters forced Hornak to follow particular plot lines; more rounded characters would have made some of the action less predictable. It might also have made it easier to like the characters and this is a book that needs readers to like the characters.
- Because, while the writing is perfectly acceptable, there was nothing that particularly exceptional about it. Some of it is predictable. There weren't passages that made me think, "wow" or "that's beautiful." If I'm giving a book five stars (theoretically), it has to have that kind of writing.
- I was never entirely sure how I was supposed to feel about one of the love stories and I wasn't clear if Hornak meant for the reader to wonder or if that was just the way I felt about it.
- Because this is a book that, despite all of those heavy subjects, mostly stays away from being overly dramatic and predictable; and it does maintain that lightness which makes it the kind of book that you can read almost any time. People who don't read a lot may not even know why that's important. But for those of us who do, we know that, sometimes, you need a book you know you're not going to carry around with you (figuratively) when you finish it. Sometimes I need a book that I can enjoy while I'm reading it and then be done with it when I'm done. That's a good thing, really it is.
- There are a couple of things that really took me by surprise. One thing in particular that I did not see coming and I always love when a writer can do that without making it feel unnatural.
- I don't want to give away the ending. But...this is the kind of book that you know going into is going to have a happily-ever-after ending. And then Hornak doesn't do that. Not everyone is going to come to their senses. Every relationship is not going to get tied up with a pretty bow. That made me very happy because it felt just right. And if you leave a reader feeling like the ending was just right, then you've done a job well worth a three-star rating.
*Would this one make a good book club choice? Yes, with all of those themes, there is a lot here book clubs could discuss. Plus, it might be just right for those members who get scared off by heavier books.