Book Review (Quarantine Special)- Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Ebook, 327 pages
Fiction, Holiday, Contemporary, LGBTQ
Rating: 3.5/5

One thing you all must be wondering: Mia, was it really wise to pick up a book about quarantine during quarantine?

Possibly not. But the prose was so tempting, I just couldn’t resist.

So, yes, I did pick up this book because of the self-quarantine aspect. Especially, since I and many others in the world are in lock down and quarantining ourselves with our loved ones. And I, for one, can tell you in all honesty, it has not been a blast. Quite the contrary actually.

Seven days of Us reads like a melodramatic sitcom. We are introduced to the Birch family. An affluent upper middle class family, who has decided to self-quarantine themselves for seven days (from Christmas to New Year’s) in their family mansion, upon the return of their eldest daughter, Olivia Birch, from treating a deadly disease called Haag. (Because what could possibly go wrong with shutting themselves in with a person who is completely exhausted from treating sick and dying people in a third world country?)

Told from multiple POV’s, this story gives a glimpse into the intriguing dynamics of the Birch family. From Olivia to Phoebe, from Emma to Andrew and last of all, to the new comer, Jesse, we see that what makes any relationship work is more than just smiles and fairy dust, its communication and hard work.

Being engaging and warm whilst remaining utterly realistic, is a hard feat to achieve, but this book manages to shake its soap opera-like roots to tell a very captivating, witty and thought provoking story.

The Birch’s are introduced pretty early in the book and the dysfunctional relationship with their eldest daughter is pretty evident early on. Which the matriarch has taken it upon herself to see that its fixed over the next seven days. (Mothers, they do try, don’t they?)

Secrets, secrets and more secrets are unveiled as the quarantine begins as each of the Birch’s finds themselves a recipient of (some expected and very unexpected) news:

The youngest daughter, Phoebe, just found herself to engaged to the man of her dreams (or is he?).

The patriarch of the family, a former war correspondent turned food critic (think Ego from Ratatouille and you have him down to a T), just received word from an old flame. (And he does not like it one bit.)

On the other hand, the cheery, self-sufficient matriarch has news of her own. While the news is quite devastating and equally heart breaking, she will be damned if she let spoil her perfect vacation.

Olivia, on the other hand, cannot wait for this week to be over (AMEN TO THAT). She had never connected to her family and cannot think of a reason to now. And the only thing worse than being in quarantine with her exorbitant family, might be Haag itself. 

With secrets everywhere, the Birch enter their week long quarantine (Pfft. Amateurs). Will they make it out alive? Or at least with their feelings intact? Will all the skeletons remain in the closet or will they all come tumbling out in an avalanche? To find out and more, stay tuned for next week’s episode of…Oh wait…

With a few surprises along the way, the book wraps up the same way it began, nicely, like a well wrapped Christmas gift. And anyway, who doesn’t love the theatrics of dysfunctional family? Right?

Book Review- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins

Ebook, 391 pages
Historical Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Fiction, LGBTQ
Rating: 5/5

I am torn about this review. On one hand, I want to write it spoiler free and let you, the readers, find out why this is an absolute jewel of a book and what a huge mistake it would be not to read it. On the other hand, I want to prepare an all comprehensive alphabetized list of all the reasons as to why this book is a masterpiece. But the latter involves a lot of spoilers, and if there is one thing you should know about me, it is that, I don’t do spoilers. Not. One. (and I am so indecisive that’s its taken me five months to choose a book for me to review. But this is a whole different story)

How would I describe this book in one word? Sultry.

Because that’s Evelyn Hugo. Sultry, desirable, oozing sex appeal. A dominating presence onscreen and off. A string of questionable scandals following her every move. and rumor has it, she has men eating out of the palm of her hand.

Or is that what the tabloids and the gossip mags wants you to think?

“I’m cynical and I’m bossy, and most people would consider me vaguely immoral.”

Once an undeniable seductress with an enchanting stage presence, who was considered an epitome of beauty, Evelyn, now at the ripe old age of 79, has decided to divulge about a subject she has long kept private: her seven husbands. And she promises it would be as scandalous and salacious as the readers expect.

And who is the lucky reporter who gets to dive into the personal life of one of the most delicious scandal makers in Hollywood? A no name reporter named Monique. (And I will let you in on a secret, no one is more surprised than Monique herself.)

This book is a ride. There is no other way to describe the Topsy-turvy world that Evelyn opens up for us. Evelyn is a Hollywood actress in the 80’s and that in itself is an invite for racism, sexism, sheer misogyny and having to conform to almost ridiculous social norms that will make you clench your fist and grit your teeth and contemplating roundhouse kicking every stupid character in the family jewels.

Anyway, back to Evelyn and Monique, our two leading ladies. Monique soon finds out that when Evelyn meant all the details, she meant them all. Including her long standing frenemy rivalry with the her once costar, Celia.

Is Evelyn Hugo going to tell me just enough to keep me on the edge of my seat but never enough to truly reveal anything?

Evelyn is a good storyteller. And as it turns out, her habit of giving the audience just enough to leave them wanting more, translates perfectly onto the page as it does in her movies. Her ‘greatest love’ is a secret she holds close to her heart and as we read through her story, husband after husband, our minds circle back to the inevitable question, “is this the lucky one?”.

The more Evelyn revealed about her life, the more I, as a reader, connected to her. I understood her when she talked about how people looked at her differently at the age of 15, when her body changed, how she realized how hard it is to break into a man’s world, how she played the game to get ahead, married for lust, love, desperation and in the end, regretted it all. How she bore the brunt to the media’s criticism as well as the film industry’s sexism. And in some ways, she used both to her advantage.

Basically, Evelyn explores what it means to really make it and what is the ultimate price one pays for it.   

“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.”

She manipulated and lied and did anything to get to the top. She crossed boundaries and tore down stereotypes and pushed the limits in a world where being a person of color and a female were one of the worst things to be. She was not cut from the same cloth as the other girls her industry. She was an entirely new cloth and she was not afraid to show it.  

“Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.”

And even though she did despicable things, as a reader, I was strangely drawn to her. I understood her decisions, I understood her motive, her ambition and most of her, her craving to be loved, to be seen as more than a vapid, attention loving whore than the media inevitably portrayed her as.

And the interview she gave Monique was raw, honest and at times, unapologetically blunt. She took the readers to a dark, gritty, and highly intoxicating place, beyond the shimmering lights and the fame of the big screen. She took them through the hidden nooks and crannies of one of the most sought out places in the world. Hollywood.

And she didn’t leave any secrets behind.

Book Review- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Ebook, 368 pages
Poetry, Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

I don’t read poetry. I have never felt the need to read poetry. And my expertise in poetry ends with my high school textbook when we learned William Wordsworth and Robert Frost. And although I enjoyed dissecting their works and finding meanings to their verses, I have never ventured into this genre. So, it was unusual for me to even pick up this book.

I had seen it flitting about. I had seen a lot of people rate it. But I went into it with no blank slate determined to not judge it. So, hear me when I say, that this book attacked me. It had the audacity to come into my house on a Saturday morning and attack me!

Freedom seems like such a big word. Something too big; maybe like a skyscraper I’ve glimpsed from the foot of the building but never been invited to climb.

To say I loved this book seems insufficient. To say it made me think seems glib. To say it made me feel as though everything I’ve ever felt and kept bottled up in me was suddenly made available to the world as though a hurricane was crashing through me seems adequate. This book was heart wrenching and beautiful.

I understood Xiomara’s pain. Her identity being already established for her by a society that judged her by her body rather than her mind. I understood her rage as people assumed this and that of her not taking into consideration that she has a voice and that she could speak for herself. I understood what it means to realize that the only people in this world who was supposed to stand by your side and be on your side abandons you and you have to fend for yourself. How it feels to want to scream and shout and rage against the world screaming “I have a voice. Please listen“.

Another thing that this book didn’t shy away from was religion. How this played a fundamental part in her relationship with her mother. And though, I grew up in a household similar to hers and have had questions, just like her, I cannot say I agree with the author when she solved this problem too neatly. It was clear cut and I don’t think in real life, it would have ended so beautifully as it did in the book. But then, again, hope is hope.