Shelf Control #278: Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Night Road
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: 2011
Length: 385 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Jude Farraday is a happily married, stay-at-home mom who puts everyone’s needs above her own. Her twins, Mia and Zach, are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill enters their lives, no one is more supportive than Jude. A former foster child with a dark past, Lexi quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable. But senior year of high school brings unexpected dangers and one night, Jude’s worst fears are confirmed: there is an accident. In an instant, her idyllic life is shattered and her close-knit community is torn apart. People—and Jude—demand justice, and when the finger of blame is pointed, it lands solely on eighteen-year-old Lexi Baill. In a heartbeat, their love for each other will be shattered, the family broken. Lexi gives up everything that matters to her—the boy she loves, her place in the family, the best friend she ever had—while Jude loses even more.

When Lexi returns, older and wiser, she demands a reckoning. Long buried feelings will rise again, and Jude will finally have to face the woman she has become. She must decide whether to remain broken or try to forgive both Lexi…and herself.

Night Road is a vivid, emotionally complex novel that raises profound questions about motherhood, loss, identity, and forgiveness. It is an exquisite, heartbreaking novel that speaks to women everywhere about the things that matter most. 

How and when I got it:

I bought a paperback edition about two years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I know Kristin Hannah has been a bestselling author for many years, but I’ve only recently read anything by her, and the two books I read (The Great Alone and The Four Winds) both blew me away. I feel in love with the books, the characters, and the settings, and have been wanting to read more of her books.

This sounds like a dark domestic drama. I love stories involving family secrets and found families. The description does make me a little nervous that the events will be too heartbreaking for my poor tender feelings, but I’m also intrigued to find out more about what happens and how the family is changed over time.

What do you think? Would you read this book? Or are there any other Kristin Hannah books you’d recommend?

Please share your thoughts!


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Audiobook Review: Beth & Amy by Virginia Kantra

Title: Beth & Amy
Author: Virginia Kantra
Narrators: Janet Metzger, Brittany Pressley, Catherine Taber
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 11, 2021
Print length: 348 pages
Audio length: 11 hours 8 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Four sisters face new beginnings in this heartfelt modern take on Little Women by New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra.

Amy March is more like her older sister Jo than she’d like to admit. An up-and-coming designer in New York’s competitive fashion industry, ambitious Amy is determined to get out of her sisters’ shadow and keep her distance from their North Carolina hometown. But when Jo’s wedding forces her home, she must face what she really wants…and confront the One Big Mistake that could upend her life and forever change her relationship with Jo.

Gentle, unassuming Beth grew up as the good girl of the family. A talented singer-songwriter, she’s overcome her painful anxiety to tour with country superstar Colt Henderson. But life on the road has taken its toll on her health and their relationship. Maybe a break to attend her sister’s wedding will get her out of her funk. But Beth realizes that what she’s looking for and what she needs are two very different things….

With the March women reunited, this time with growing careers and families, they must once again learn to lean on one another as they juggle the changes coming their way.

The March Sisters audiobooks are a treat — let me tell you why! I enjoyed the first book, Meg & Jo, and I’m happy to be able to report that Beth & Amy is a worthy follow-up.

Note: While I rarely include content warnings in my reviews, I do think I need to mention that this book deals extensively with an eating disorder, so keep that in mind if that’s a triggering subject for you.

Obviously, from the title, the focus of this second book is on the two younger sisters from the world of Little Women, whose stories never get as much attention as Meg and Jo’s. Here, Beth and Amy take center stage, and it’s really fun to see author Virginia Kantra’s take on these sisters’ inner lives.

In these books, the girls are grown-ups, all in their mid-20s to early 30s. And let me just take a moment to dispel any fears, at the risk of being spoilery: Beth lives. So if you might avoid this book in order to avoid the heartbreak of Beth’s death… you’re good.

(And excuse my digression, but this seems like a good time to share one of my favorite Friends moments:)

As Beth & Amy opens, both characters seem to have achieved career success. Amy is living in New York, running her own business designing and selling fashion handbags. Orders are starting to pour in, now that a certain Duchess has been seen with one of Amy’s bags. But she’ll need to expand if she wants to really make her mark, and that’s going to take a cash infusion.

Beth is on tour with country superstar Colt Henderson, having written two songs for him that led to Grammy nominations. But she’s paralyzed by stage fright, and after a particularly awful experience, Colt sends her home to her family to recuperate. It doesn’t help that she’s in a relationship with Colt, and he seems more focused on his tour and his next Grammy than on Beth’s well-being.

The family is reunited for Jo’s wedding back in North Carolina, and it’s here that the sisters begin to reevaluate their hopes, their dreams, and what it looks like to be happy.

As in Meg & Jo, Beth & Amy is narrated in alternating chapters by different narrators, each representing one of the two sisters. This time around, their mother Abby also gets a voice, with a few key chapters of her own woven into the sisters’ story. The audiobook makes this story especially fun, and the narrators bring each character to life in a way that feels fresh and engaging.

I did really enjoy Beth & Amy. I’ve always loved Little Women, and before coming across these books, I would have had a hard time imagining that a modern-day retelling could work. The author does a terrific job of bringing the sisters’ lives and relationships into the 21st century, balancing contemporary issues with the more classic elements of the family dynamics.

I feel invested enough in Virginia Kantra’s vision of the March family at this point that I just wish there could be more! Maybe continue with retelling Little Men and Jo’s Boys next?

Final note: I think these two books are engaging enough to work perfectly fine even if you haven’t read Little Women — though of course, if you do love Little Women, these retellings will be even more fun.

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Book Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Title: While We Were Dating (The Wedding Date, #6)
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: July 13, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?

Jasmine Guillory’s books are reliably romantic, intimate, and full of unusual characters, and While We Were Dating is no exception.

Our two main characters are Ben, an up-and-coming advertising executive (who, BTW, used to be a backup dancer — hot!), and Anna, an Oscar-nominated actress who needs her next movie to be the big breakthrough that will take her back to the Oscars and send her home with the prize.

When Anna agrees to star in the ad campaign Ben is leading, they’re immediately drawn to one another and develop an easy rapport. But it’s not until Ben offers to drive her all night to reach her family at a Southern California emergency room that they truly connect, spending the long car ride sharing secrets and dreams. Their intimacy becomes physical, and they’re both wildly attracted to one another — but neither imagines that this can be anything but a fling.

Later, Anna’s manager comes up with a plan: In order for the studios to see Anna as a big enough box-office draw to land that next crucial movie contract, she needs to be more in the public eye. He convinces her to go public in a fake relationship with Ben, making sure the paparazzi are on hand to capture their every private-but-public flirtation. Soon, they’re featured in People magazine and are walking the red carpet together, but Ben knows that once the premieres have ended, so will this relationship.

I enjoyed a lot about While We Were Dating. Anna and Ben are both well-developed, flawed people. Sure, they’re super hot, but they’re also vulnerable, each dealing with his or her memories and past painful experiences, cautious about who they trust and who they allow into their lives. They have an easy chemistry together, and their banter is adorable and flirtatious and very down-to-earth.

This author also tends to go outside the societal norms of beauty when it comes to her heroines, and Anna is depicted as both stunningly gorgeous and plus-sized. And honestly, I love that about her.

I’m not a huge fan of “Stars! They’re Just Like Us!” kind of stories, so the Hollywood magic is, if anything, a minus for me when it comes to books featuring glamorous stars and their love lives. Here, though, we see Anna’s family and her roots, her struggle to adjust to her new reality, the invasiveness of the paparazzi, the need to always be “on”, and it makes her feel relatable, even if the day-to-day of her life — with stylists and gowns and borrowed jewels — feels like something from another world.

The books in The Wedding Date series are all loosely connected, but don’t worry if you haven’t read the others. Familiar characters show up, and you’ll be happy to see them if you know who they are, but it’s not at all crucial to know their backstories in order to enjoy While We Were Dating (or any of the other book in the series.) Each book focuses on a new romantic pairing and can stand on its own just fine.

If you’re a fan of Jasmine Guillory’s books, you’ll definitely want to read this one as well. Even if you’re new to this author, this would make a great pick for beach or poolside reading.

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Book Review: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Title: Incense and Sensibility
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: July 6, 2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Yash Raje, California’s first serious Indian gubernatorial candidate, has always known exactly what he wants—and how to use his privileged background to get it. He attributes his success to a simple mantra: control your feelings and you can control the world.

But when a hate-fueled incident at a rally critically injures his friend, Yash’s easy life suddenly feels like a lie, his control an illusion. When he tries to get back on the campaign trail, he blacks out with panic.

Desperate to keep Yash’s condition from leaking to the media, his family turns to the one person they trust—his sister’s best friend, India Dashwood, California’s foremost stress management coach. Raised by a family of yoga teachers, India has helped San Francisco’s high strung overachievers for a decade without so much as altering her breath. But this man—with his boundless ambition, simmering intensity, and absolute faith in his political beliefs—is like no other. Yash has spent a lifetime repressing everything to succeed.

Including their one magical night ten years ago—a too brief, too bright passion that if rekindled threatens the life he’s crafted for himself. Exposing the secrets might be the only way to save him but it’s also guaranteed to destroy the dream he’s willingly shouldered for his family and community . . . until now.

As you might guess from the title — but not from the synopsis — Incense and Sensibility is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It’s also a moving, well-written, and engaging contemporary novel about love, pain, and healing.

I&S continues the loosely connected story of the Rajes, a wealthy Indian-American family living in the Bay Area. Previous books have focused on Yash’s sister Trisha (Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors) and his cousin Ashna (Recipe For Persuasion). In both of those books, Yash is a background character — the successful, driven brother who can achieve anything he wants. He’s the golden child, the one everyone believes will do great things.

He’s also haunted by trauma, although he doesn’t even realize this until events kick off in I&S. As the book opens, Yash is running a competitive race for governor of California, and his chances look good. He’s a man devoted to public service, who truly believes that he’s called to make life better for those who are suffering. While popular with many voters, Yash also encounters the racism you’d unfortunately not be surprised by due to his skin color and ethnicity. An attempted shooting at a rally leaves Yash lightly wounded, but puts his trusted friend and bodyguard Abdul into a coma that he isn’t expected to wake from.

Suddenly, Yash’s world is turned upside down. He feels tremendous guilt about Abdul’s sacrifice, and is overwhelmed by an anxiety attack when he attempts to go onstage at his next rally. With only months to go until the election, and with a growing lead in the polls, his family is desperate to “fix” him. And so they turn to a friend of Ashna and Trisha’s, India Dashwood, a yoga instructor and Reiki healer.

India lives with her mother Tara and her highly emotional sister China in the apartment above their yoga studio. They’re not well off, but they’re getting by, until Tara falls ill and India realizes they may not be able to cover her necessary medical treatments. On top of that, China is head-over-heels in love with a Korean pop star, but the woman she loves is deeply closeted and insists on secrecy. China sees a rosy future, but India is afraid that China will be hurt badly.

When Yash reenters India’s life, it’s ten years after they spent a magical, romantic night together in which they fell in love, but then parted and never reunited. India has never quite recovered from the pain of Yash’s disappearance from her life, but she also can’t turn him away when he’s obviously in such pain and in need of help. As she works with him on healing from trauma, old wounds reemerge and are finally confronted, and Yash and India’s feeling for one another resurface as well. But with the election his to lose, Yash has to make some big decisions about telling the truth and taking a stand, and India must decide whether she’s willing to risk the peace she’s found for the man she’s never gotten over.

Incense and Sensibility may look light and possibly even funny from the cover, but it’s really not. While there are some lighter moments, the book deals with very real trauma and pain, and the author isn’t afraid to show how the characters are affected by their pasts in damaging ways. At the same time, the characters really are lovely and sympathetic, and I loved getting to know the new characters introduced in this addition to the Rajes series, especially India, who is just wonderful.

As an Austen retelling, I found I&S to be very successful. Contemporary retellings of Austen novels are hard to pull off. With the classics’ focus on marriage, their themes can be hard to translate to a modern setting, and many of the retellings I’ve read feel like they’re trying too hard to shoehorn Austen’s storylines into a setting where they just don’t work.

Not so in I&S. Sonali Dev doesn’t hit us over the head with the Jane Austen references and plot points. While they’re there, they work organically, so the story would make sense and be appealing even without knowledge of the original. And while some characters’ storylines are a bit more obvious — for example, China as the Marianne stand-in is destined to have her heart broken — I was still taken by surprise by some of the twists and turns of the story, and that’s a good thing. Also, for what it’s worth, it took me a really long time to figure out who the Colonel Brandon character would be, even though it should have been obvious (I won’t say why, because spoilers!).

Incense and Sensibility is a terrific read, both as a standalone contemporary love story and as an Austen retelling. I can’t wait to find out which Austen novel the author will tackle next! I’m so enjoying the characters and their lives, and look forward to the next book so I can stay in their world.

And as a side note — India’s yoga practice and her approach to life have finally convinced me that I need to find a good yoga class!

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Book Review: Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie

Title: Skye Falling
Author: Mia McKenzie
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: June 22, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A woman who’s used to going solo discovers that there’s one relationship she can’t run away from in this buoyant novel from the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of The Summer We Got Free

Twenty-six and broke, Skye didn’t think twice before selling her eggs and happily pocketing the cash. Now approaching forty, Skye moves through life entirely–and unrepentantly–on her own terms, living out of a suitcase and avoiding all manner of serious relationships. Her personal life might be a mess, and no one would be surprised if she died alone in a hotel room, but at least she’s free to do as she pleases. But then a twelve-year-old girl shows up during one of Skye’s brief visits to her hometown of Philadelphia, and tells Skye that she’s “her egg.” Skye’s life is thrown into sharp relief and she decides that it might be time to actually try to have a meaningful relationship with another human being. Spoiler alert: It’s not easy.

Things gets even more complicated when Skye realizes that the woman she tried and failed to pick up the other day is the girl’s aunt and now it’s awkward. All the while, her brother is trying to get in touch, her problematic mother is being bewilderingly kind, and the West Philly pool halls and hoagie shops of her youth have been replaced by hipster cafes.

Told in a fresh, lively voice, this novel is a relentlessly clever, deeply moving portrait of a woman and the relationships she thought she could live without.

Main character Skye is definitely an acquired taste in this funny yet touching novel set in West Philadelphia. Skye is a loner by choice, always fleeing before friendships, relationships, or family can make too many demands on her. She’s abrasive and off-putting, and has basically one friend left who puts up with her selfishness and unreliability.

Skye runs a tour company that specializes in international experiences for Black travelers, and she’s wildly successful. It not coincidental that leading tours around the globe pretty much nonstop means she never has to stay put for very long in any one place. Her life is filled with adventure and one night stands, and she prefers to keep it that way.

All this changes when 12-year-old Vicky shows up in Skye’s life and reminds her of that time way back when, when Skye donated eggs to Cynthia, a former friend from summers at camp. Cynthia has recently passed, Vicky is being raised by her aunt Faye, and guess what? She’s Skye’s egg. Initially, Skye’s reaction to this news is to both vomit and then try to climb out a window to escape (seriously), but she starts to come around to the idea that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a connection to someone — someone who’ll maybe take care of her in her own age. (Once again, Skye’s selfishness is front and center — it’s about her, not about Vicky.)

For once, Skye decides to stay put in Philly and get to know Vicky, and as she does, a new bond starts to grow between the two. And staying put, Skye is forced to start dealing with the trauma and bad memories of her youth, rather than always running away at the first hint of having to be serious.

Complicating matters too is Skye’s growing attraction to Faye, which may or may not be reciprocated, her long-ignored relationships with her mother and brother, and confronting memories of past rejections that may not be as clear-cut as Skye would like to think.

It’s really hard to like Skye, and at first, I absolutely didn’t. She’s mean to people, irresponsible, and doesn’t seem to care about anything or anyone. Gradually, though, we get to see how much of her personality and her actions are defense mechanisms based on escaping her past, and as Skye starts to (finally) mature, she slowly starts to become a person who gets involved and actually cares.

Vicky is a terrific character, and she’s not all sweetness and light. She’s dealing with her own set of traumas, including losing her mother, having a stepmother she hates, and living in a gentrifying neighborhood where the newly arrived white neighbors feel the need to call the cops on the long-term Black residents over so-called noise infractions. While the book focuses on the personal relationships, it also pays great attention to the world around the characters,

Overall, Skye Falling was a quick read, and I while I always felt at a bit of a distance from Skye, I did enjoy the relationships and getting to know the characters and the neighborhood.

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Shelf Control #274: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
Author: Abbi Waxman
Published: 2019
Length: 351 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)

2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).

3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page. 

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle version at some point last year.

Why I want to read it:

I just love cute stories about bookstores, people in bookstores, introverted people in bookstores… you get my point. The description makes this book sound totally charming. Add in a new-found family and coming out of one’s comfort zone, and this sounds like a great formula for a fun summer read.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

Stay tuned!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: I Don’t Forgive You by Aggie Blum Thompson

Title: I Don’t Forgive You
Author: Aggie Blum Thompson
Publisher: Forge
Publication date: June 8, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An accomplished photographer and the devoted mom of an adorable little boy, Allie Ross has just moved to an upscale DC suburb, the kind of place where parenting feels like a competitive sport. Allie’s desperate to make a good first impression. Then she’s framed for murder.

It all starts at a neighborhood party when a local dad corners Allie and calls her by an old, forgotten nickname from her dark past. The next day, he is found dead.

Soon, the police are knocking at her door, grilling her about a supposed Tinder relationship with the man, and pulling up texts between them. She learns quickly that she’s been hacked and someone is impersonating her online. Her reputation–socially and professionally–is at stake; even her husband starts to doubt her. As the killer closes in, Allie must reach back into a past she vowed to forget in order to learn the shocking truth of who is destroying her life.

Allie is new to the close-knit, overly involved neighborhood when she attends a party that changes everything. The community is full of successful, highly ambitious people whose children all attend the same school. Everyone knows everything about everybody, and it’s cliquey and overwhelming to outsider Allie. After some mild flirting over a glass of wine, Allie finds herself cornered and assaulted in the bathroom, and leaves feeling shaken up and terribly worried about her future in the neighborhood.

Among the neighborhood women, she has few allies, and when she decides to share her terrible experience with her closest neighbor, the word spreads that she’s accused the (now dead) man of assault. The crisis escalates as Allie discovers fake Tinder and Facebook accounts pretending to be her, causing horrible damage to her reputation, and soon leading even her husband to mistrust her.

Meanwhile, an old secret from Allie’s troubled past seems to be resurfacing, and to make matters worse, her mother and sister are entangled in problems as well. As the police start to zero in on Allie as a murder suspect, her panic worsens — there’s no one she can trust, and no one seems to believe that she’s been set up.

I Don’t Forgive You is a fast read, setting up the key conflict quickly and then piling up clues and suspicions left and right. There are lots of possible solutions to the question of who’s setting Allie up and why, and the plot intentionally plays up all the potential misdirections before finally revealing the answers.

The book kept my interest, although I’m not a huge fan of these types of suburban, gossipy neighbor thrillers. I couldn’t feel overly invested in the PTA drama, the judging women treating Allie horribly, or Allie’s own poor decision-making in times of crisis.

My big takeaway from this book is — stay off the internet! It’s like an object lesson in the dangers of identity theft and the value of cyber security. I think Allie’s awareness of online security protocols is probably pretty typical of most people — we assume passwords and firewalls are enough to keep us safe, and we tend to be blind to all the many, many ways people with bad intentions can mess with us.

I Don’t Forgive You is a good entertaining read. It didn’t particularly rise above average for me, but take that with a grain of salt, since thrillers in general aren’t usually my preferred genre. This would make a good summer read, a fun choice for reading in a beach chair or by the pool!

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Buy now at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Title: Malibu Rising
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind. 

Taylor Jenkins Reid is on a hot streak! I’ve love all of her books, but her two most recent, Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo have really taken her work to a new level of excellence. I’m happy to announce that Malibu Rising belongs right on that shelf with the best of the best — it’s another win for TJR!

In Malibu Rising, we meet the siblings of the Riva clan — famous, gorgeous, wealthy, and at the center of the Malibu elite. But as we learn through chapters that trace their history, their lives have not been pampered or privileged up to this point.

The book is structured around the Rivas’ big blow-out end-of-summer party, the most coveted social event of the season. Anybody who’s anybody will be there. There are no formal invitations — if you know about it, you’re invited. As the book opens in August 1983, Nina and her siblings are getting ready for the party in their own way, each dealing with their own share of worries and secrets, nervously anticipating how the party will play out.

Meanwhile, we also learn about the past through interwoven chapters going all the way back to their parents’ courtship. Their father is Mick Riva, who in 1983 is a world-famous singer, possibly on the downward slope of his fame — but in the 1950s, he was a charming young man on the cusp of stardom who fell hard for a pretty girl he met on the beaches of Malibu. Mick’s name will be familiar to readers of Evelyn Hugo — he has a brief appearance in that book, but here, it’s his legacy that really has an impact.

Mick marries June and starts a family with her, but over the years, his rising stardom takes him away from home more often than he’s there, and his infidelities and lack of availability eventually lead to total abandonment. June is left with four children to raise, no support or contact from Mick, and has to figure it all out on her own. From working long hours in her family’s restaurant to going without and giving all to the kids, she struggles to keep them afloat, but it’s not easy on her or the children.

The Riva kids’ saving grace comes when they discover a discarded surfboard on the beach. From then on, they’re hooked, and surfing becomes their defining shared passion — and ultimately, their ticket back to money, success, and the fame that goes with it.

As the party approaches, the four Riva kids, now all young adults, deal with a dissolving marriage, a shocking medical condition, a secret relationship, and questions about identity. Meanwhile, hundreds of stars and wannabes are preparing to descend on Nina’s beachside Malibu mansion for a party that will quickly escalate out of control and will change lives forever.

At first glance, I was hesitant — books about the super-rich don’t typically appeal to me. Would Malibu Rising be just another story about a group of spoiled rich kids? Happily, I was pleasantly surprised. The four main characters — Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit — are well-drawn and grounded, and the more we get to know them, the more sympathetic they become.

I loved how the author weaves together the family background and the siblings’ childhood experiences with the main timeline of the story, so we understand as the party gets rolling who these people are and what’s at stake. As the party progresses in the 2nd half of the book, the tension mounts higher and higher. We’re told right in the prologue that there will be a devastating fire — but how it starts, what happens next, and who gets out remains a mystery until close to the end.

The relationships between the four main characters are complex and beautifully developed, and seeing how their parents’ relationship echoes down to the next generation is eye-opening and feels really realistic.

In case you’re wondering, while Mick Riva does figure into the plot of Evelyn Hugo, Malibu Rising isn’t a sequel, and it stands on its own just fine. I mean, yes, go ahead and read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo if you haven’t, because it’s amazing, but it’s not a requirement in order to enjoy Malibu Rising.

I’m sure this book is going to be a huge bestseller — totally deserved! Apparently Hulu is already planning an adaptation, and I for one will be there for it!

I highly recommend Malibu Rising — don’t miss it!

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Book Review: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

Title: The Invisible Husband of Frick Island
Author: Colleen Oakley
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: May 25, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Sometimes all you need is one person to really see you.

Piper Parrish’s life on Frick Island—a tiny, remote town smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay—is nearly perfect. Well, aside from one pesky detail: Her darling husband, Tom, is dead. When Tom’s crab boat capsized and his body wasn’t recovered, Piper, rocked to the core, did a most peculiar thing: carried on as if her husband was not only still alive, but right there beside her, cooking him breakfast, walking him to the docks each morning, meeting him for their standard Friday night dinner date at the One-Eyed Crab. And what were the townspeople to do but go along with their beloved widowed Piper?

Anders Caldwell’s career is not going well. A young ambitious journalist, he’d rather hoped he’d be a national award-winning podcaster by now, rather than writing fluff pieces for a small town newspaper. But when he gets an assignment to travel to the remote Frick Island and cover their boring annual Cake Walk fundraiser, he stumbles upon a much more fascinating tale: an entire town pretending to see and interact with a man who does not actually exist. Determined it’s the career-making story he’s been needing for his podcast, Anders returns to the island to begin covert research and spend more time with the enigmatic Piper—but he has no idea out of all the lives he’s about to upend, it’s his that will change the most. 

Frick Island, home to under 100 people, is a charming little community in Chesapeake Bay, where everyone knows everyone, tourists are tolerated, fishing and crabbing is the main livelihood, and a proposed new cell phone tower is the scandal of the decade. Frick Island is also dying — climate change has affected the sea life, resulting in smaller catches and dire times for the fishermen, and rising sea levels mean that the island itself will be uninhabitable in the not-so-distant future.

When Anders visits Frick Island on assignment, he’s startled by how foreign it all feels, from the unreliable ferry schedule to the lack of cell and internet service, to the peace and satisfaction (and oddity) of the people he encounters. When he sees a young woman — who strikes him as the most beautiful person he’s ever seen — sitting alone at a table for two at the island’s only restaurant, he gets up the nerve to ask her to join him… and is confused when she informs him that, as he can plainly see, she’s having dinner with her husband!

Piper and her husband have been together since their teens. Married for one year, they’re happy and in love, content with their small cottage and quiet life. When Tom’s boat is lost in a storm, Piper hides herself away in grief for two weeks, finally reemerging full of smiles, talking about Tom as if he were still present. The townspeople are confused, but end up supporting Piper by playing along — so when she walks Tom down to the docks each day, they all call out greetings to Tom as if they can see him too.

Anders has struggled to find his audience as a podcaster, but once he stumbles across Piper’s story, he’s inspired. He digs into the island’s history, researches post-bereavement coping strategies, and starts visiting the island week after week — ostensibly to learn more about climate change’s impact on the people of Frick Island, but in reality, looking to understand how an entire community could pretend to see a man who isn’t there. Anders begins a new podcast series, What the Frick, focusing on Piper’s story, then expanding the series to include all the stories of Frick Island that he can find. And it’s a hit — suddenly, his listens are in the thousands.

But as Anders spends more time on Frick Island, he’s also building connections to the people there and developing feelings for Piper. Soon, he realizes that with the cell tower nearing completion, the people of Frick Island will have access to his podcast, and they aren’t likely to be happy with him. He’s falling in love with Piper, but knows that she’ll feel horribly betrayed by his sharing of her story without her permission. He’s treated Piper, and the entire island, as an oddity to be marveled over, and he knows that unless he deletes the podcast completely, there’s going to be hell to pay.

In many ways, I was charmed by The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, although Anders’s behavior is hard to tolerate. He’s depicted as kind of gawky and young and afraid of everything, developing self-confidence and connections to others through his continued visits to Frick Island and his growing involvement with the community. He should have known all along how his podcast would be viewed if the islanders ever heard it. There’s no getting around that he crossed a huge line by sharing such personal stories without permission — even if there’s a benefit to the island in the end (which is a very rosy-eyed solution to the problem).

Piper’s behavior too is problematic, once we learn more later in the book. There are a lot of false leads about what’s truly going on, and the answers felt a little flat and unsatisfying. I tried to give both Piper and Anders some benefit of the doubt because of their ages (early 20s), but even so, their actions are both questionable. At least with Piper, she’s managing her grief and loss the best way she can, but there’s a lack of honesty about certain elements that made me like her a little bit less.

I was entertained by The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, but because of my issues with the main characters’ behavior, I couldn’t quite embrace the story fully. The island community is charming, if a little too much the typical fictional cute/quirky small town filled with cute/quirky/weird-but-memorable people. I did like that the book ends not with a swooning romantic HEA, but with a positive outcome for the characters and the island’s future — and I especially liked Piper’s next steps at the end, which (without saying too much) is the best possible course of action for her.

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island would make a good choice for a summer read — it’s light and entertaining, despite the plot points I couldn’t quite get behind.

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Book Review: The Quiet Boy by Ben H. Winters

Title: The Quiet Boy
Author: Ben H. Winters
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Legal thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

From the “inventive…entertaining and thought-provoking” (Charles Yu) New York Times-bestselling author of Underground Airlines and Golden State, this sweeping legal thriller follows a sixteen-year-old who suffers from a neurological condition that has frozen him in time—and the team of lawyers, doctors, and detectives who are desperate to wake him up. 

In 2008, a cheerful ambulance-chasing lawyer named Jay Shenk persuades the grieving Keener family to sue a private LA hospital. Their son Wesley has been transformed by a routine surgery into a kind of golem, absent all normal functioning or personality, walking in endless empty circles around his hospital room.  In 2019, Shenk—still in practice but a shell of his former self—is hired to defend Wesley Keener’s father when he is charged with murder . . . the murder, as it turns out, of the expert witness from the 2008 hospital case. Shenk’s adopted son, a fragile teenager in 2008, is a wayward adult, though he may find his purpose when he investigates what really happened to the murdered witness.

Two thrilling trials braid together, medical malpractice and murder, jostling us back and forth in time.

The Quiet Boy is a book full of mysteries, not only about the death of a brilliant scientist, not only about the outcome of the medical malpractice suit, but about the relationship between children and their parents, between the past and the present, between truth and lies.  At the center of it all is Wesley Keener, endlessly walking, staring empty-eyed, in whose quiet, hollow body may lie the fate of humankind.

This legal/medical thriller kept me turning the pages, but now that I’m done, I feel like I have more questions than answers.

In The Quiet Boy, we follow two timelines: In 2008, a high school boy named Wesley comes out of brain surgery in an unheard-of state: He walks endlessly around his hospital room, eyes open but unseeing, appearing to be “hollowed out”, no one home, no ability to interact or change. In 2019, Wesley’s father has just been arrested for the murder of the expert witness in the family’s medical malpractice lawsuit.

Linking the timelines together is Jay Shenk, an ambulance-chasing lawyer who in 2008 is at his peak of success, well-connected, perfectly attuned to the needs of his client, and able to pull off victory after victory against the deep-pockets hospital corporations who’ll always choose settlement to make their problems go away. But in 2019, we see a very different Jay, one who’s weaker, less robust physically, and clearly a man whose best years personally and professionally are behind him. To add to the confusion, we know that in 2008, his son Ruben was the center of his life and Ruben, in turn, was devoted to his father — but in 2019, the two are estranged and barely communicate or see each other.

When Jay first hears about Wesley’s strange condition, he sees dollar signs. Leaving aside the fact that it’s unclear what happened or why Wesley is the way he is, Jay is certain that he can negotiate a quick payout for the distraught family. But Wesley’s situation is unprecedented, and Jay ignores the warning signs that his case may be slipping away from him.

Meanwhile, in 2019, the family demands that Jay defend Wesley’s father in his murder trial, despite the fact that Jay is not a criminal lawyer. Not that it matters — Richard is determined to plead guilty and wants to move to sentencing as quickly as possible.

As the two timelines weave back and forth, we learn a lot more about Wesley, Jay, Jay’s son Ruben, and the strange man who seems obsessed with Wesley’s case. There’s a mystery here: Is Wesley the victim of a never before seen medical condition, or is there something else going on, a sort of otherworldly entity waiting to break through?

I was weirdly fascinated by this book, but also incredibly frustrated. By the end, there aren’t any good answers about Wesley, although we do finally understand how the first trial went so very wrong and why Ruben and Jay’s relationship fell apart.

The book feels overly long, and while there’s a lot of ground to cover related to the trials, scenes of depositions and testimony and coaching the expert witness make the books feel bloated at times. I had issues with certain details, such as how Ruben was able to track the whereabouts of the witness — there seem to be some pieces missing, and certain conclusions seem jumped to rather than figured out.

A minor nitpick, but one that irritated me, is that Ruben is often referred to as the Rabbi, which is a nickname given to him by a coworker after he requests a day off for a Jewish holiday. It has no relevance to the story, but in various chapters, we hear about what “the Rabbi” is doing rather than having him be referred to by his name, and it feels a little pointless.

I did enjoy The Quiet Boy as a whole, but with so many open questions and a few plot holes, I wouldn’t list it as a top read for this year.

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