Review// Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: May 27, 2021
Book Length: 384
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.

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 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. 

My Review:

I have always had reliable experiences with Taylor Jenkins Reid’s work, and this book solidified why. In pursuit of a perfect novel, the main thing I look for are quality characters, and TJR consistently delivers on that front.

That being said, it’s hard to rate this book when you compare it to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, or Daisy Jones and the Six, because while in my opinion it was amazing at face value, there was something missing here in comparison that I can’t quite put my finger on. With the other two, I felt like the barrier between fiction and reality blurred, and I almost found myself searching for the characters in real life because they felt so believable to me; I just needed more of them. In Malibu Rising, I still felt the barrier I usually feel when I’m reading a book but not quite a part of it. And while there is nothing wrong with that, and I think it’s quite normal, it’s just so hard to properly rate the book for what it is without unfairly comparing. Plainly speaking, is this my favourite book by this author? No. Is this an great book for what it is? Yes.

Nina was my favourite character by a landslide; she exudes first born daughter energy if I’ve ever seen it, and I can relate to that. Her character development by the end was something I didn’t really expect, but I enjoyed the direction it took. I really liked the other Riva siblings too, and I was so invested in each of their dramas and points of view. I also loved the back and forth timelines between their parents childhood’s to theirs, and each hour leading up to and during the party; it kind of gave me a sense of why each sibling turned out to be how they were in adulthood, and I liked how that built the characters from the ground up.

I really enjoyed this book; it made me feel like I was on the beach in 70s/80s Malibu. If you’re looking for the perfect summer beach read, add this to your list!

– Catherine

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Review// The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

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Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Series: The Shadow of the Wind 
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: May 1, 2001
Book Length: 506
Publisher: Penguin Group
Review: 4/5

My Review:

This book is a labyrinth – it is mainly one story (with a few side stories in between) of an author told from various viewpoints after a boy discovers one of their books in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books – where threatened texts are protected – and embarks on a quest to find out more about its mysterious author

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this book was well thought out and well written. I really enjoyed following Daniel on his journey to find out more about Julian Carax, the author of a book he found in his father’s shop, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The beginning was amazing, and I was so into all the eerie things that were happening to Daniel which mirrored the main character in the book he was so fascinated by as a boy.

Maybe it’s the element of wonder that got me hooked, but I think I actually preferred the beginning of the book more, when Daniel didn’t know that much about Julian and was kind of just living his life, instead of playing detective trying to find the people Julian was close with to get more answers about his books, and why there were so few of them left after they’d been burned by an unknown person throughout the years. Every time Daniel got in touch with a person that knew Julian, there would be entire long chapters dedicated to that person’s narrative, so it was kind of like you were there with Daniel hearing their side of the story. However, I felt that sometimes these chapters dragged on too much. As I said before, this book is a labyrinth, and while I loved getting lost in its pages, at times the twists and turns made me dizzy. There was a lot going on at one point, and I found it difficult to keep up with who was who, and who said what, because each person Daniel “interviewed” went on for quite some time about their version of it.

I wanted more of Daniel and Fermin, but especially Fermin, a fellow worker of he and his father’s at the bookstore. Fermin was by far my favourite character – his dialogue was hilarious, and I loved his personality. I want a book entirely dedicated to him!

I will never be disinterested in a fictional book about books, and I can honestly say that despite any of my criticisms, this one was unique and worth the read. I almost can’t believe this is a series, because the book tied off so well at the end with no real loopholes that I can think of!

– Catherine

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Review// Those Who Leave & Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

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Author: Elena Ferrante
Series: My Brilliant Friend #3
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Book Length: 418 
Publisher: Europa Editions
Review: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her abusive husband and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which have opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women have pushed against the walls of a prison that would have seen them living a life of misery, ignorance, and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.

My Review:

“A community that finds it natural to suffocate with the care of home and children so many women’s intellectual energies is its own enemy and doesn’t realize it.”

Okay yes, I know the cover to these books are really ugly, but I promise you, what’s inside is golden.

However, for the first time in the series, I’m a bit torn about how I feel about this book, mainly because the one juicy part of the whole thing consists of something that I hate: insta-love / a love subplot that comes randomly out of nowhere. On the one hand, I like that it happened because it gave me something to to keep turning the pages for, but on the other, I hate that it happened because it felt so out of place.

This book takes place in the 60s and 70s, mentioning a lot about the university and worker strikes that happened during that time in Italy, which was really interesting. I love all the historical aspects of the book and how they always tie together so well with the characters’ lives. Not only do I feel like I’ve learned something through the historical events, but it also drives the plot along, which is nice. People’s ideas of the role of women in society also begin to change in this book and I thought it was fascinating to read the progression.

The girls are in their 20s and 30s now, and Lila is as stubborn as ever, but Lenu surprised me. At the end, it felt like she became an entirely different person, and it kind of bothered me because her actions were so out of character. Though they are all grown up, it’s evident that their lives in the neighborhood have shaped – and continue to shape – who they are, even if they’ve both moved away from it.

If I could change one thing about this book, it would be how obsessed everyone is with Nino. There is no one that I know who still fantasizes about their elementary school crush, and honestly, I think Lenu needs to grow up and get over it. It kind of annoyed me that she constantly tried to find ways to bring him up and how she’s still bitter about things that happened in their childhood between him and Lila. These girls are constantly comparing each other and trying to one-up the other, and while it makes for an interesting story, sometimes it just gets so childish.

But anyway, now that I’m down to the last one, I can’t wait to see where the plot takes these characters as Ferrante always ends her books on a cliff-hanger and this one was no different!

– Catherine

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Review// Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

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Author: David Mitchell
Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Book Length: 608 pages 
Publisher: Sceptre
Review: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Utopia Avenue are the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967 and fronted by folksinger Elf Holloway, guitar demigod Jasper de Zoet and blues bassist Dean Moss, Utopia Avenue released only two LPs during its brief and blazing journey from the clubs of Soho and draughty ballrooms to Top of the Pops and the cusp of chart success, to glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome and a fateful American fortnight in the autumn of 1968.

David Mitchell’s new novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue; of riots in the streets and revolutions in the head; of drugs, thugs, madness, love, sex, death, art; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder. Can we change the world in turbulent times, or does the world change us? Utopia means ‘nowhere’ but could a shinier world be within grasp, if only we had a map?

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book overall; give me a historical fiction about music and I’m always going to be eager to read it.

The author really made me feel as though Dean, Elf, Griff, and Jasper were actual icons in the 60s, and along with all the real celebrity cameos it set the scenes well. However, sometimes, I have to admit that it didn’t seem believable that they would run into that many big names so casually. I don’t know what the music scene was like back then from my own knowledge, so I could be wrong, but the cameos felt a bit too in your face at times. I think the book got off to a really strong and promising start; I especially liked the way the author wrote all the flashbacks, and as the backstories of the main characters were revealed, I began to enjoy the book more and more.

Despite that though, there were a few things I didn’t particularly enjoy. For starters, Jasper’s backstory with the Knock Knock felt too long winded – I began to get a bit annoyed by it, and I didn’t like the magical direction it took because I didn’t think it suited the book at all. I wish Griff got more of a backstory too, because after 600 pages, I still feel like I barely know his character, despite him being one of the main ones. The biggest disappointment for me though was that I really did not enjoy how the book ended. I could tell that so much thought and work went in to writing the beginning and middle parts, but the ending felt unsatisfactory and kind of like a cop out. I do appreciate that it wasn’t predictable, but I don’t think it had a satisfying ending, and it did not leave me longing for the characters and story long after I put it down.

Even though I personally wasn’t a fan of how it ended, I would still recommend this book if you like historical fiction about music and bands. It was well written overall and kept me engaged and eager to see where the story was going to go.

– Catherine

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Review// The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

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Author: Elena Ferrante
Series: The Neapolitan Novels #2
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September 22, 2012
Book Length: 471 pages 
Publisher: Europa Editions
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

My Brilliant Friend introduced readers to the unforgettable Elena and Lila, whose lifelong friendship provides the backbone for the Neapolitan Novels. The Story of a New Name is the second book in this series. With these books, which the New Yorker‘s James Wood described as “large, captivating, amiably peopled … a beautiful and delicate tale of confluence and reversal,” Ferrante proves herself to be one of Italy’s most accomplished storytellers. She writes vividly about a specific neighborhood of Naples from the late-1950s through to the current day and about two remarkable young women who are very much the products of that place and time. Yet in doing so she has created a world in which readers will recognize themselves and has drawn a marvelously nuanced portrait of friendship.

In The Story of a New Name, Lila has recently married and made her entrée into the family business; Elena, meanwhile, continues her studies and her exploration of the world beyond the neighborhood that she so often finds stifling. Love, jealousy, family, freedom, commitment, and above all friendship: these are signs under which both women live out this phase in their stories. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila, and the pressure to excel is at times too much for Elena. Yet the two young women share a complex and evolving bond that is central to their emotional lives and is a source of strength in the face of life’s challenges. In these Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante, the acclaimed author of The Days of Abandonment, gives readers a poignant and universal story about friendship and belonging.

My Review:

“… she was explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often, to hear the mad sound of the brain of one echo in the mad sound of the brain of the other.”

I loved this book so much! The dynamic of Lina and Lila’s friendship as they’re growing into young adults was enthralling. They could not be more different, yet they compliment each other; they really are two sides of the same coin. Together, these two reach an equilibrium that could not be possible alone.

Admittedly, I really saw a lot of myself in the narrator, Lina. Lila is definitely the ‘pain in the ass’ of the two, as one character had put it, yet something about her draws Lina to her (and vice versa). The same could be said for me – as much as Lila annoyed and frustrated me at certain points in the book, I still couldn’t get enough of her; her energy was contagious, pulling me in like a magnet.

One of the best things about this series is that the author really makes you feel like you are there in Naples with the characters. I feel such a connection to the people sights in ‘the neighborhood’ – the old grocery, the new grocery, the Solara’s bar and pastry shop, the Cerullo shoe store, the old library, all of it. My favourite parts had to be all the ones surrounding the summer holiday in Ischia. This author really has a way of making you feel like you are there while reading, and it was a lovely escape from the state the world is in right now. Not to mention, the juiciest parts of the book happened in Ischia! I was truly shocked by what had transpired and was so eager to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. I would love to visit Ischia one day on summer holiday, if only to recount the feelings the book gave me in real life.

Just like the first book, the second also ended on the biggest cliff hanger! I am so eager to start the next book and admittedly also a little apprehensive because once it is done, there is only one more left, and I am not ready to say goodbye to these two just yet!

-Catherine

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