“Seven Days of Us”
By Francesca Hornak
c. 2017, Berkley
$26.00, $35.00 Canada; 358 pages
Your seating chart has been made. Very carefully.
Uncle Tim doesn’t get along with Aunt Sally, so they can’t sit together. Cousin Jeff is old enough for the Adult Table now, but you’re tempted to put Grandpa at the Kids’ Table, and there’s a moratorium on politics. So before you sit down this holiday, imagine spending a whole week like this, and read “Seven Days of Us” by Francesca Hornak.
The No-Touch rule was in place for a reason.
Olivia Birch knew it and so did her beloved, Sean; they were both doctors, for heaven’s sake! They knew the risks of the deadly the Haag Virus. They’d taken precautions in their time at the Liberian medical camp and as soon as their final quarantine was over – his, in Ireland; hers, at her mother’s family home near London – they’d be free to be a couple.
Andrew Birch missed his eldest daughter – it’d been years since Olivia’s last trip home – but he sometimes felt like he really didn’t know her. His younger daughter, Phoebe, was a different story: she was often his dinner companion when he was reviewing restaurants for the newspaper, and Andrew valued Phoebe’s opinion and her insights. He knew that after her wedding, he’d feel a little bit lost.
Phoebe wasn’t happy about the upcoming quarantine. She’d have to be away from her intended, George, for seven days, but that seemed oddly appealing. The confinement itself, though, made her want to squirm.
At last, her entire family, including both daughters, would be together for the holidays, but Emma Birch’s excitement was also fearful: this first-in-awhile Christmas might be their last. Just before quarantine, Emma learned that the lump she’d found was cancerous, but couldn’t the news wait? Why ruin everyone’s Christmas?
Growing up in Iowa, Jesse Robinson definitely stood out – not because he was gay, but because he was dark-haired, dark-eyed exotic. He wasn’t sure which birth parent he’d gotten the swarthiness from, but he’d learn soon: he’d found his birth father online, and the man lived in London. So Jesse booked a ticket…
Here’s a Christmas surprise: “Seven Days of Us” is not a comedy.
Oh, sure, there are chuckles sprinkled like cookie decorations here and there, but this is more a book about family and the magnification of secrets we keep from them. It’s the kind of story that lets readers in on the character’s foibles early, but takes its time in letting them sort things out while author Francesca Hornak tosses a few wrenches into the mix to make things interesting and even a little madcap at times. You might also note that the setting – a drafty, dusty old manor – turns out to be a perfect place to tell this tale and yes, you might catch the ending early, but don’t cheat and peek.
So make your arrangements around the table. Bake your pies, gild your turkey and be sure you’ve got this book set aside. When the meal is done and everybody’s gone, grab “Seven Days of Us” and have a seat…
“The Last to See Me”
By M. Dressler
c. 2017, Skyhorse Publishing
$22.99, $35.99 Canada; 264 pages
Not a creature was stirring…
And that’s what you love about this time of year: late at night, it gets so quiet. You can almost imagine that you’re the only one awake in your town, that you’re the only person who keeps watch. You can pretend you’re all alone but, as in the new novel, “The Last to See Me” by M. Dressler, are you, really?
Emma Rose knew who he was the minute she saw him.
He was a hunter, one who made it his work to send beings like her down to where worms and subterranean animals wiggled and scratched. She was well aware of his kind; she was wary but not concerned. As long as she didn’t allow herself to lose control or get angry, as long as she watched him, she could remain hidden.
She felt that she’d been hidden for most of her life.
Her mother died when she was born so she was raised by her dad, a workman just like most of the fellows in their northern California town. They were common folk, not at all like the Lambry men, whose wealth kept them above everyone else in Benito. The Lambrys snubbed people who spent their days doing honest work, washing and cleaning for lumberjacks who toiled on nearby hills. They snubbed people like her.
So on the night that she danced with Quint Lambry at the community hall, Emma Rose knew tongues would wag in Benito, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care when Quint’s mother found a job for her, far from town and far from Quint. It didn’t matter, because Quint rode miles to see her every week anyway.
That was a century ago – many lifetimes, in fact, including that belonging to Alice Lambry, the final resident of the Lambry Mansion. But with Alice now lying in her grave and the mansion up for sale, there was a problem: the cleansing that’d supposedly ridded Benito of ghosts, missed the one who’d once been called Emma Rose Finnis.
But the hunter could never know that.
A name was power. His knowing hers could be the end.
What’s beneath your bed? Or behind you or above you? You’ll look, and then look again after you’ve read “The Last to See Me.”
That’s because this book is creepy – and it’s a little bit funny, in that shrieky-scared-for-a-minute-but-then-laugh-self-consciously way that actually means you’re still scared. Brace yourself: that’s going to last until the very last paragraph of this cat-and-mouse book, since author M. Dressler takes us on a screaming, careening trip through a resort town’s history, the life of a brazen woman and an old house in which characters are dead, or alive, or neither. Surprises? Expect them everywhere there’s potential for fear; indeed, Dressler knows how to make worms and flowers seem positively, dreadfully frightening, a talent that readers will come to adore.
As the nights get shorter and there’s less daylight, reach for something double-dark on a page. For you, “The Last to See Me” will stir you well.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.