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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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2021

snowy10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2021.

I highlighted some of the upcoming releases I’m most excited for in my winter TBR post from a couple of weeks ago — but it’s always fun to look ahead and make even more reading plans! So, here are ten MORE books releasing between now and the end of June that I’m super excited to read.

  1. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (2/2)
  2. A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel (2/2)
  3. Later by Stephen King (3/2)
  4. An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6) by Deanna Raybourn (3/2)
  5. Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman (4/6)
  6. Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian (4/20)
  7. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (5/4)
  8. People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (5/11)
  9. The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren (5/18)
  10. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (5/25)

What new releases are you most looking forward to in 2021? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Top Ten Tuesday: So nice, I’ll read them twice!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books I Want To Read Again.

I’m a big fan of re-reading — sometimes to get a refresher on an ongoing series before reading a new installment, sometimes just for the pleasure of revisiting a book I’ve already loved.

Here are 10 books I’d love to read again (and for some, again and again…):

 

  1. Dune by Frank Herbert: With the movie coming out in 2021, it’s about time that I re-read Dune. I originally read the series over 20 years ago, and can’t remember much except for the terrifying sandworms.
  2. The Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black: Actually, I’m already rereading these books! I read the trilogy at the beginning of 2020, and loved them enough to now want to listen to the audiobooks.
  3. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: This is the only Austen novel that I haven’t already read more than once, and I’m fuzzy on the details, so I think a re-read is in order.
  4. Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I loved Daisy Jones, and I’ve heard that the audiobook is amazing, so I’d love to check it out.
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I’ve only read Jane Eyre once, and pretty recently at that. I think a re-read will help me appreciate it even more.
  6. Soulless by Gail Carriger: Ideally, I’d like to reread the entire Parasol Protectorate series. These books are so much fun.
  7. Mariana by Susanna Kearsley: Or really, any of a handful of books by this author, which are all so romantic and swoonworthy.
  8. The Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire: I’ve re-read several of the more recent books in the series, to prep when new books were being released, but I’d seriously love to go back to the beginning and listen to all the audiobooks.
  9. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow: One of my favorites from 2019, and such a beautiful book. I’d love to experience it all over again.
  10. A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers: This one was a 2020 favorite, and it was so lovely that I’d like to read it one more time.

What books do you most want to re-read?

If you wrote a TTT post, please share your link!

Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins [a spoiler-free review!]

Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: June 13, 2017
Length: 389 pages
Genre: Contemporary/historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means–and what it costs–to face the truth. 

My first 5-star read of 2020! The only question is, why did it take me until now to read this excellent book?

I’ve been a fan of author Taylor Jenkins Reid for several years now. I first read her book Maybe in Another Life when it was released in 2015, then went back and read everything else she’s written. I loved, loved, loved last year’s Daisy Jones and the Six. But for whatever reason, despite having a copy on my shelf since 2017, I just didn’t get around to Evelyn Hugo. Now I finally see what all the buzz was about — and let me tell you, it’s all completely justified!

By now, most people have probably read this amazing book — but here’s the thing: I went into The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo remarkably unspoiled. I’d read the blurb, and knew it was about a former Hollywood icon who’d been married seven times. And that’s it.

(And thinking about it, perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel especially compelled to pick up the book, despite all the glowing reviews. Hollywood stars and scandals isn’t usually a topic that draws me.)

Now, having read the book, I know just how much more there is to Evelyn’s story. And I am so appreciative of the fact that I read it with no expectations and no advance knowledge of the true depths waiting to be discovered.

So, for the sake of anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo yet, I’m not going to give anything away!

Taylor Jenkins Reid introduces us to star Evelyn Hugo at age 79, as she’s finally ready to share her true story to a relatively unknown writer. Why does she choose Monique? Why tell her story now, after so many years outside of the spotlight? All will be revealed by the end!

Evelyn is a marvelous character, a girl who came from nothing and reached the pinnacle of Hollywood stardom. The public came to know her through her movies and awards, but she became equally (if not more) famous for her series of marriages and their scandals.

But each marriage is a key to understanding the puzzle that is Evelyn. Each reveals yet another chapter of her history and her control of her own narrative and destiny.

As I said, I simply refuse to give anything away, because I love the fact that all of Evelyn’s secrets ended up surprising me as I read the book. But here’s what I can share:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is filled with:

  • Complex, fascinating characters
  • Powerful emotional connections
  • Deep, abiding friendship
  • True, passionate love
  • A reverence for families of all sorts
  • Unflinchingly honest reflections on sacrifice, power, manipulation, scandal, and fame

… and so much more.

I just loved this book, plain and simple. I think it would make a fantastic book group choice, as there’s so much to mull over and think about. I’m pushing this book on a few key bookish friends so I can talk about it with them!

As if I were in any doubt, this book absolutely confirms the talent of Taylor Jenkins Reid. I can’t wait to see what she writes next! Whatever it is, I’ll be first in line to read it.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:

Forever, Interrupted (2013)
After I Do (2014)
Maybe In Another Life (2015)
One True Loves (2016)
Daisy Jones & The Six (2019)


Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2019 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Summer 2019 TBR.

I’m mixing some light reads with some dark and creepy stories, as well as a book group book and a book that’s been on my nightstand for over a year now. Plus, I’m finally planning to start a series that’s been on my TBR for far too long (The Glamourist Histories), and also plan to read a more recent book (a sequel to a book I loved) by the same author. Wheeeee! I love summer reading…

  1. Reticence (The Custard Protocol, #4) by Gail Carriger
  2. In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant
  3. The Toll by Cherie Priest
  4. Circe by Madeline Miller
  5. The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan
  6. Shades of Milk and Honey (The Glamourist Histories, #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
  7. The Fated Stars (Lady Astronaut, #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal
  8. Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
  9. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  10. What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

What are you planning to read this summer? Please share your links!

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Book Review: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Where to start with how much I loved Daisy Jones & The Six? It’s a glorious evocation of the drug-fueled rock scene of the 1970s, and at the same time, it’s a deeply personal look inside the hearts and minds of rock gods, revealing them as ordinary people in an extraordinary time and place.

The book is presented as an oral history of the band, tracing it from early days to the huge flame-out at the peak of their success. The various band members, plus assorted producers, managers, rock critics, friends, and family, tell their version of the events. The accounts don’t necessarily line up. There are secrets that some know and others don’t; one person’s fond memory of a particular performance is another’s memory of bitter rivalry and slights.

The voices of Daisy and the others really come through. They’re unique personalities, despite there being so many of them. Through all these people, we really travel with the band on its climb to wild glory. Daisy is a rich-kid teen when we meet her, full of fire and energy and utter dissatisfaction. Her parents barely notice her, so she goes to the Sunset Strip to find a place for herself, first as a groupie, then eventually getting noticed for her raw talent and gorgeous voice as well.

Meanwhile, The Six — who started out as a pair of brothers with a talent for guitar — start to get gigs and develop a following. The band is full of talented musicians, but it’s lead singer Billy Dunne who’s the true rock star of the group, succumbing in the early days of the first tour to the lures of sex and drugs and non-stop partying. Billy’s wife Camila steps in to get him sober, and from then on, he’s pulled between his soul-deep commitment to his wife and daughters and the always present temptation of the out of control rock and roll life.

When Daisy records a duet with Billy (“Honeycomb”), the song is a huge hit, and eventually the idea is floated: Maybe Daisy should join The Six? Their voices and musical styles mesh perfectly. Daisy Jones on her own and The Six on their own were getting attention, but together, they’re superstars. In a mad frenzy of creativity, Billy and Daisy write the breakthrough album Aurora together, and the band seems destined to become the greatest rock and roll band of all time.

Daisy Jones & The Six gives us all the heartbreak of devastating love, both the requited and unrequited varieties, as well as the jealousies and competition and resentments that simmer below the surface of a group that wants to have equality, but sees two of their own becoming breakaway stars with all the power. We also see the expected ravages of the constant drug use, but here, it’s happening to the people telling us their story, so it’s particularly powerful and heartbreaking, even when we can see what terrible decisions they’re making.

I really don’t want to give too much away. This is a book that should be experienced. I love that the book includes all the song lyrics from the Aurora album at the back — and I also love all the fan club materials available here. How cool is that to see pieces of the album cover and the liner notes, as well as the band bios? Also, check out the trailer video:

Doesn’t that just make you wish you were there at one of their concerts? I know while reading the book, no matter how much I enjoyed reading the song lyrics, part of me was dying inside because I wanted to hear Billy and Daisy actually singing those songs! Did author Taylor Jenkins Reid have music to go with the lyrics? Inquiring minds want to know!

In terms of my reaction to the book, for Daisy, I got kind of a 70s Carly Simon vibe (in terms of looks, not voice or temperament). This isn’t necessarily because of her physical description in the book, but just the sense I formed in my own head. Something like these: (note: images scavenged from Pinterest)

And when Billy invites Daisy up to sing with The Six for the first time, I got this kind of feel in terms of the moment and their chemistry:

(Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve watched me some Shallow… couldn’t resist.)

Back to Daisy Jones & The Six: I loved it. It’s rock and roll, it’s the 1970s, it’s deeply personal, and it’s one heck of a powerful read.

I’m a fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid (although I’m hanging my head in shame over not having read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo yet). She’s such a talented writer, and this book is simply a treat. Don’t miss it!

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of:
After I Do
Forever, Interrupted
Maybe in Another Life
One True Loves

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The details:

Title: Daisy Jones & The Six
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2019

snowy10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2019.

There are so many books on the way that have me jumping up and down in excitement! Here are the ten at the top of my list… three of which are by the same author. What can I say? I do love her books!

1) In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

2) That Ain’t Witchcraft (InCryptids, #8) by Seanan McGuire

3) Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

4) Inspection by Josh Malerman

5) Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

6) Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

7) Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

8) Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

9) The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

10) The Book of Flora by Meg Elison

What books are you dying to read in 2019? Please share your links!

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Take A Peek Book Review: Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

forever-interrupted

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped.

Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists.

Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

 

My Thoughts:

Get ready for heartbreak.

Seriously. This books picks up your heart and smashes it into little bits within the first few pages. We start with newlyweds Ben and Elsie reveling in the simple joys of a lazy day as husband and wife, and within moments, Ben is dead and Elsie is left alone, devastated, and unwilling to even imagine her life without Ben in it.

The book alternates between Elsie’s life after Ben’s death and chapters focusing on how Elsie and Ben met and fell head over heels in love. Their love story is sparkling and fresh, but carries with it the knowledge of tragedy looming. Meanwhile, in the present, Elsie is forced to figure out how to deal with incessant grief and to confront a life without the man she intended to build her future with. By opening herself up to Ben’s mother Susan, she is able to understand the magnitude of love, whether in a marriage that lasts days or years, and what life can still hold once that love is gone.

Forever, Interrupted is a lovely, powerful look at unexpected love and loss, and the families we find along the way.

Also by this author:
Maybe In Another Life
One True Loves

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The details:

Title: Forever, Interrupted
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: July 9, 2013
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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Book Review: One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

One True LovesEmma Blair had the great good fortune to meet her soulmate at age 17. Emma and Jesse fall madly in love, eventually get married, and escape their small New England town for a life full of adventure and travel. They seem destined for a perfect life. But the day before their first anniversary, on a work assignment, Jesse in lost in a deadly helicopter crash in the Pacific Ocean and presumed dead.

Emma’s world is shattered, and she believes she’ll never recover from her grief. Yet with time and with the support of her family, years pass, she recenters herself and finds a new purpose, and finally, meets an old friend with whom there’s an instant connection. With much soul-searching, Emma brings herself to a point in her life where she’s ready to love again. Emma and Sam are in love, and establish a home and a life together. They’re happy.

And then, as the very first line of the book tells us:

I am finishing up dinner with my family and my fiancé when my husband calls.

Jesse is alive, miraculously found again years after his supposedly fatal crash. Not just alive, but coming home. Seven weeks later, Jesse arrives back in Massachusetts after getting his strength back, desperate to reunite with Emma and pick up where they left off. And Emma is a complete mess. She loves Sam, but she loved Jesse with all her heart and soul for so long. If Jesse hadn’t disappeared, they’d certainly still be together. So what is Emma to do?

Jesse was her one true love — but so is Sam. She can’t imagine hurting either man, but she knows she has to choose. Every time she seems to realize which is the person she can’t do without, her heart breaks at the thought of giving up the other.

One True Loves is an emotional rocketship ride, from a powerful take-off through chapters and paragraphs that go zooming by, all the way to the dynamic ending. I read this book in the space of a single day, because I couldn’t stop reading until I knew how it all would work out. The writing just sucked me in as of the very first line, and I simply couldn’t look away.

There are no bad guys here. You can’t look at Jesse or Sam and say that either one is a better person or is more deserving of Emma’s love. In fact, the author makes sure that we see just how special they both are. It wouldn’t really be a dilemma if it was an easy choice. Jesse and Sam are both devoted to Emma, but each represents something very different to her.

The book doesn’t shy away from pain and grief. Emma doesn’t just get over Jesse. We see her torment and devastation, her craziness, her defeat. Grief is a process and there are no shortcuts, and nothing is prettied up here. So when Emma meets Sam and decides to try going on a date, it’s a huge step for her, and one we want her to take. She’s been to hell and back. The fact that she can finally imagine a fresh, new love in her life is amazing, and we readers want her to be happy.

The writing is quite beautiful, exploring Emma’s complicated emotions and thought-processes. Ultimately, she realizes that it’s not a contest between two men or a question of who she loves more. They’re each a part of her; she loves them differently, not more or less. The real issue for Emma is who she is. Being with Jesse and being with Sam represents two very different versions of her life. She’s changed over the years, partly because she was forced to, and partly because she found new meaning for herself. In choosing the man to spend her future with, she’s also deciding which version of herself she wants to keep and nurture.

My quibbles with this book are small and fairly unimportant. One, the title. One True Loves? I’m sorry, but that’s just awkward. I would have much preferred it as Two True Loves, which sounds better from a word-appreciation standpoint (One True Loves just doesn’t flow off the tongue), and also captures the essence of the story. But what do I know? I’m not an editor.

The other issue I have is a plot point (SPOILER ALERT!), so maybe it should feel more major — but I choose to accept is as what it is and not get too hung up on it. And that is — the whole question of Jesse’s survival. Have you seen the Tom Hanks movie Castaway? Okay, this is basically that, but without the volleyball. Jesse floats in a liferaft from the sea near the Aleutian Islands all the way to a small rocky islet in the Pacific near Midway, where he lives for years on fish and rainwater, until he finally swims his way into the path of a passing ship. Um, okay? Really, it’s not the slightest bit believable… but I’m looking at this whole story as a romantic fairy tale of sorts, not a gritty real-world drama. What are the odds of Jesse surviving and coming home again? Slim to none. But hey, the point of this book is not the survival story — it’s about the love stories and the individual choice that Emma makes. How the characters get to where they are is less important than what they do once they get there.

But back to the positive…

Besides the great love story (stories), something that Taylor Jenkins Reid excels at is depicting female relationships in a way that feels real, showing them in all their complicated wonderfulness. Emma’s best friend is Olive, and she’s just a total hoot. Their friendship is a constant in Emma’s life, and even though Olive is in the story as a supporting character, she’s got dimensions and personality that are funny and fully formed. Likewise, the portrayal of Emma’s relationship with her sister feels true to life. Emma and Marie have a pretty typical teen relationship, barely tolerating each other, but we get to see how their commitment and love as sisters matures as they do, until they finally have an adult relationship that’s incredibly close and important.

I’ve read one other book by this author, Maybe In Another Life (review), and loved it as well. Her love stories are emotional but not sappy, and her characters deal with real-life emotions and dilemmas, even in situations that have an element of the fantastical to them. I plan to track down her two earlier novels — I have a feeling Taylor Jenkins Reid is going to earn a place on my “read everything she writes” list!

Check out One True Loves if you enjoy compelling love stories, relatable characters, and interesting, unexpected plots. Since it’s June, I guess this is the right time to say that One True Loves would be a perfect beach read!

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The details:

Title: One True Loves
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: June 7, 2016
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Maybe in Another LifeAre our lives determined by fate? Or is it all just a matter of chance?

Is there just one person in all the world that we’re meant to be with? Or is life more of a multiple-choice quiz, where different answers may be correct in different circumstances?

In Maybe in Another Life, the characters say one thing, but their lives and actions give a very different message.

Hannah Martin, age 29, has lived anywhere and everywhere, but has no idea where she truly belongs. After a go-nowhere disastrous affair in New York ends, Hannah moves back “home” to Los Angeles, to reunite with her best friend Gabby, pick up the pieces, and start from scratch.

And maybe, just maybe, rekindle an old flame with her high school sweetheart Ethan.

On their first night out on the town, Hannah faces a moment of truth: Should she go home with Ethan and see what happens… or call it a night, head back to Gabby’s place, and spend the night alone? At the moment of decision, the narrative of Maybe in Another Life splits.

From this moment on, we follow two separate narrative threads in alternating chapters. In one, Hannah does go home with Ethan, their dormant feelings are rekindled, and they begin to work through what an adult relationship might look like. In the other, Hannah turns Ethan down, continues on the way home with Gabby, and is struck by a hit-and-run driver, resulting in serious injuries and a lengthy hospital stay.

In both versions of Hannah’s life, she’s confronted with choices. What does her future hold? How do you know if you’re meant to be with someone? How do you recognize a soulmate? What do you give up for a relationship, and what are the deal-breakers?

Likewise, in both versions, Hannah tries to puzzle out the question of destiny and predetermination:

“You think things are meant to be?” I ask her. For some reason, I think I’ll feel better if things are meant to be. It gets me off the hook, doesn’t it? If things are meant to be, it means I don’t have to worry so much about consequences and mistakes. I can take my hands off the wheel. Believing in fate is like living on cruise control.

Hannah has been so busy searching for the perfect life and what she’s “meant” to do, who she’s “meant” to love, that she’s never fully engaged with her options anywhere she’s been.

“Doesn’t it scare you?” I ask her. “To think that you might have gone in the wrong direction? And missed the life you were destined for?”

Hannah’s life is so messy that she has to believe there are other forces at play:

“I mean, I think I have to believe that life will work out the way it needs to. If everything that happens in the world is just a result of chance and there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it, that’s just too chaotic for me to handle. I’d have to go around questioning every decision I’ve ever made, every decision I will ever make. If our fate is determined with every step we take… it’s too exhausting. I’d prefer to believe that things happen as they are meant to happen.

Ironically, the split narrative demonstrated that it is all random, and that every decision changes the course of events. Towards the end of the book, a party guest talks about the multiverse theory, in which every decision leads to multiple universes in which all possible outcomes exist. From the moment Hannah decides to go home with Ethan — or not to go home with Ethan — she has two different parallel lives. In both lives, she confronts pain and difficult choices, finds a soulmate, faces hard truths, and finally sets off on the path toward professional fulfillment as well as a life filled with love.

The lovely thing about Maybe in Another Life is that both halves of the story feel right! Neither of Hannah’s two lives is 100% easy, but both feel real and both seem like valid outcomes. In both, Hannah begins to grow, take chances, and own up to the decisions she’s made that lead her to this point. Both feel like the absolutely right thing for her, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

I really enjoyed the writing in Maybe in Another Life, which maintains a light touch even in heavy situations. Hannah herself is a person with a lot of room to grow, but she’s self-knowing enough to own up to her mistakes and want to make better choices. And through it all, she’s got a great sense of humor, is a devoted friend, and knows that she needs to finally do something with her life.

The author gives Hannah certain quirks and habits that are both charming and make her feel like an individual, rather than a stock character. In particular, Hannah’s need to always have her hair in a high bun and her constant craving for cinnamon rolls are recurring motifs, and to my surprise, the repetition is actually pretty charming (rather than annoying, as it so easily could have been).

I liked the double narrative, although occasionally I lost track of which event happened in which version of Hannah’s life. No matter, though: Both halves of the story contain ups and downs, loves lost and found, and the true and deep friendship between Hannah and Gabby, which is a key element of the entire story. It’s not often that contemporary novels emphasize the huge difference a good friendship between women can make, while also dealing with romantic entanglements and all sorts of other drama. But here, it’s crystal clear that the bond between Hannah and Gabby is the most important element for both women, grounding them in such a way that they’re able to make their life decisions from a position of strength and support.

Maybe in Another Life is a very quick read. It’s light, but heartfelt. Not sugary, not glossing over the hard stuff, Maybe in Another Life shows a young woman dealing with real life… and the way every decision has consequences. This book is quite fun to read, and yet manages to be emotionally real even amidst all the jokes about cinnamon rolls.

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The details:

Title: Maybe in Another Life
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: July 7, 2015
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley