Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid is about the four Riva siblings, each famous in their own right, the children of a famous singer who abandoned them and their mother when they were children. This early trauma has created an unbreakable bond between them, a bond that is about to be tested.

Growing up near the beach in Malibu before it became a celebrity hotspot, the brothers and sisters spent as much time in the ocean as on land. They help their Mother run the family restaurant, an unassuming seafood shack that is popular with the locals. When their mother dies, Nina, the oldest, takes on the job of raising the other three, giving up her own dreams until one day she is “discovered” and is thrust into the spotlight when she becomes a model. Her older brother Jay becomes a champion surfer, Hud is a very successful sports photographer and the youngest, Kit, is just about to break through as a champion surfer herself. All of them carry secrets that will affect their lives and could break their family bond and it is all about to come together at Nina’s annual summer party.

The party quickly gets out of hand, with hoards of people (most uninvited), booze and drugs. In the midst of the chaos, the four Riva siblings struggle with their own demons, fight with each other and make up and, finally, come together to do what’s best for each of them.

Taylor Jenkins Reid has an amazing ability to seamlessly sweep the reader into another time and place and immerse them completely. Her most recent books, which include Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, focus on subjects and time periods I’m not usually drawn to but each time I quickly get caught up in the story. The same was true for this one. Beautifully atmospheric of the beach and the ocean and surfing, this is ultimately the story of family and how family can trap you but also set you free.

Online Reading Challenge – June

Hello hello!

Time for a new author exploration in our Online Reading Challenge. This month our author is: Alice Hoffman!

A popular and prolific author, Hoffman books always include a bit of magic. It’s often understated, and sometimes doesn’t appear immediately, but it runs through each title like a vein of gold. Some of her best loved titles include Practical Magic, The World That We Knew, The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites.

If you would like to read something by a different author, look for books with some magical realism and/or female relationships. Some titles to consider include:

House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Amiee Bender

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by A.E. Schwab

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia

Lots of great choices! There will also be displays at both Fairmount and Eastern with titles to consider.

I am planning on reading The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, which is a prequel to Practical Magic. It’s been a long time since I read Practical Magic, so I’m hoping this one can be read as a stand-alone. I will let you know how it goes!

 

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Greetings Fellow Readers!

Here we are at the end of May already. How did your reading go this month? Did you find a Toni Morrison book or similar author to read this month?

I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi which turned out to be an excellent choice. It tells the story  of half-sisters Effia and Esi, born in Africa. Unknown to each other,  their lives take very different paths. Effia is married off to a white man, the British officer in charge of the Cape Coast Castle, the trading post where slaves were housed until sent West. While her life is relatively comfortable, she torn between two worlds – not entirely African anymore and not welcome in English society.

Meanwhile, Esi is captured, sold into slavery and sent to America, her life becoming a nightmare of constant hardship. After she is captured, Esi is held in the dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle with dozens of other women. She raped, beaten, nearly starved and lives in filthy conditions until a ship is ready to sail. Life as an enslaved person in America is no better.

Both women struggle to raise their children with a love and understanding of their African roots, passing along the oral history of their family and their people. Each generation that comes after these women must also struggle with the terrible legacy of slavery – of the responsibility for it (on Effia’s side) and the suffering, emotional and physical, of living it (on Esi’s side).

This is a powerful story, told by a bold and courageous voice. While the writing does not have the ethereal quality of Morrison’s, it is magical in it’s own way. The stories jump forward through time, describing a pivotal moment in the life of a member of each family each generation, then moving on to the next generation, creating a face-paced but vivid picture of struggles and triumphs. The long-lasting affects of slavery and racism are especially eye-opening and heartbreaking. A powerful story of tragedy and resilience. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month?

 

 

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Drought, record high temps and poor agricultural practices combined in the 1930s to cause one of the worst disasters in the United States – the Dustbowl. Crops failed, livestock starved to death and people struggled to survive. Many had to abandon their farms, heading west to California and the hope of a better life.

In The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, Elsa Martinelli has settled into a happy life on the Texas farm that belongs to her husband’s family. While it is not a love match (they had to get married when she got pregnant), she grows to love her in-laws and the land. After a sheltered childhood where she was repeatedly told she was unlovable and useless, Elsa now grows into a strong, capable woman who is loved by family and friends.

When the drought first begins, no one believes it will last and people settle in to wait for rain. But the rain never comes. Instead, high winds combined with years of poor farming techniques create dangerous dust storms that will eventually give this time it’s name. To make a terrible situation even worse, it happens during the darkest years of the Great Depression – jobs are non-existent, banks are failing, homes and farms are being foreclosed.  At first the Martinelli’s are able to hang on, but as the situation worsens, Elsa’s husband abandons them, their livestock dies and no crops grow. Finally, with no viable alternative, Elsa and her two children head for California promising her in-laws, who refuse to leave their land, that they’ll return.

What follows is a horrific journey of suffering as Elsa joins the migration west along with hundreds of other refugees. When they finally reach California – which is shockingly green and vibrant – they are not welcomed at all, but forced to live in terrible conditions in makeshift camps. Jobs are scarce and pay little, the Californians mistrust the “okies” and shun them. There are large agricultural companies that hire during harvest time, but at great cost, forcing the workers to buy from the company store on credit from which they can never get out from under the debt.

Elsa, who has spent most of her life being quiet and hard working, finds herself becoming an advocate for the workers, organizing protests and seeking better conditions for all. This is dangerous work as the controlling companies will do just about anything to maintain their stranglehold. Will Elsa be able to create a better life for herself and her children and the desperate refugees? And will she ever return to her beloved farm?

I have mixed feelings about this book. Hannah is very good at spinning a story line that keeps you engaged and the story she tells here is an important one that needs to be heard. I particularly liked that this is told from a woman’s point of view; women in situations like this often take the brunt of the hardship, raising children, keeping the family together and scrambling to cook and clean and often, work a job. But be warned that it is a grim story and many, many terrible things happen to Elsa. I also felt that I had already read this story, just from a slightly different viewpoint, in the brilliant The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. While The Four Winds is certainly worth reading, if you haven’t already read it, I’d recommend that you reach for The Grapes of Wrath instead.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

It is fair to say that the top-secret work done at Bletchley Park during World War II shortened the war by as much as two years and may have saved millions of lives. The extent of the achievements of the code breaking that was done there was mostly unknown until the mid-1970s. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn takes us beyond the guarded gates and brings this amazing wartime work out into the open.

The Rose Code begins in 1940 as England prepares for war. Osla, a beautiful socialite who wants to prove there is more to her than a glamorous exterior and Mab, a young woman who has pulled herself up from abject poverty, meet on the train to Bletchley Park on their first day of work. Despite their differences, they become close friends and roommates. Both start working menial tasks, but Osla’s perfect German has her promoted to translating decoded messages. Mab becomes an expert at working the automatic decoding machines which is both physically demanding and intricate work. The friends soon recruit their landlady’s daughter Beth, who is able to understand and translate intricate puzzles. All three flourish in their new jobs.

Even as the women succeed in their work, their personal lives are complicated by the war and the secrets they must keep. Osla is dating Prince Philip (yes, that Prince Philip, the future Duke of Edinburgh) who is serving in the Mediterranean; she knows of the important naval battle his ship will be involved in before he does. (Quinn based Osla on Margaret Osla Henniker-Major who did indeed date Prince Philip during World War II and worked at Bletchley Park). Mab is searching for a “suitable” husband, but falls in love instead and Beth must overcome her crippling shyness and stand up to her mother, all against the backdrop of the war.

The novel jumps between the war years and 1947 when Beth has been falsely accused of a terrible crime and is in grave danger. Her friends from Bletchley Park look past their differences and unite again to work together to try and solve one more secret. As time runs out and the Bletchley Park colleagues encounter multiple obstacles, will they be able to right a terrible wrong?

I’m a big fan of Kate Quinn; her earlier novels The Alice Network and The Huntress are a couple of my all-time favorite books. She ties major events to lesser known historical figures and brings them to life, adding great depth to the repercussions of war and conflict, of the lasting legacies and past bravery. The Rose Code is no different, with fascinating details of the vital work that went on at Bletchley Park, the women (who mostly went unacknowledged) that made so much of the code breaking possible and the great tension of the last few chapters when a new danger threatens, made for another can’t-put-down novel.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

guest post by Mary P.

“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”

When I was in college I was assigned to read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for my Modern Africa history class. I had never read any of Adichie’s work, but once I was finished with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie became one of my favorite authors.

Half of a Yellow Sun vividly depicts the horrors of war. I would advise readers to take caution if you are sensitive to descriptions of this kind.

The novel is a historical fiction of before, after, and during Nigeria’s Biafra War (1967-1970). The story follows five characters: Ugwu, a teenage houseboy who works for university professor, Odenigbo; Olanna, the professor’s mistress; and Richard, an Englishman who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister Kainene. Adichie’s beautiful use of storytelling envelopes the readers in the lives and struggles of the characters. The characters experience love, loss, violence, and betrayal throughout the story.

There were many things I loved about this novel. One was how Adichie created characters who showed all aspects of a country at war. She was able to intertwine the lives of characters whose personalities, backgrounds, and experiences differed. Adichie highlighted the comfortable life of Odenigbo, who lived as a university professor, as well as the harsh realities of war refugee camps Olanna and Kainene faced.

She also added themes of colonialism and how it affects the identities of the characters. Adichie’s poignant writing style reveals the stark truth about Nigeria’s history and the struggle its people have faced. The characters believed independence from Britain would solve their problems, but they ultimately faced challenges they did not expect when their freedom was gained. Adichie describes this battle in an emotional manner, which leaves the reader questioning what freedom really means.

For those interested in reading fiction similar to Half of a Yellow Sun, check these titles out: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan.

For those interested in works by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, I suggest Americanah and Purple Hibiscus.

Note: For those following our Online Reading Challenge, Chimamada Ngozie Adichie is our Read-Alike author for November 2021. Any of the books that Mary mentions here would be great choices for that challenge!

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

In the fall of 1917, eighteen Smith College graduates leave for war-torn France. They’ve volunteered to aid the people of a group of small rural villages that have been devastated by World War I in Band of Sisters by Laruen Willig.

Swept along by a wave of patriotism and good intentions, the young women are ridiculously unprepared for what they will face in France. One of them even plans to shop for her wedding trousseau in Paris, not realizing the toll the war has taken on the city. Although they are all graduates of Smith College and highly educated, most come from privileged families and have few practical skills. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Once the shock of the reality of the situation wears off, the women rally and set out to do their best. They must cope with shortages of food and medical supplies, unreliable transportation (from trains that don’t run on time to a stubborn mule), a complete lack of adequate housing and mud everywhere. They learn to build trucks (their promised trucks arrive unassembled in boxes), handle livestock, scramble and bargain for food and supplies and treat the sick and dying, all against the backdrop of the not-too-distant front lines. Despite differences, they learn their strengths and meld into a team.

Based on true events and people, I quite enjoyed this book. The grit and determination of the women is inspiring as is their ability to adapt and their absolute resolve to help the local people. For much of the book the war felt very distant though; the constant noise of bombing from the not-too-distant front is only occasionally mentioned, the women seemingly more concerned with gossip. It’s not until near the end of the book, when the Germans launch their spring offensive in the Battle of the Somme, that our heroes come face-to-face with the war when they and the people they’ve been helping are forced into a terrifying, chaotic, hasty retreat.

Overall, a satisfying read about a nearly forgotten footnote to history.

Online Reading Challenge – May

Hello Challenge Readers!

Welcome to the May Challenge. This month’s author is: Toni Morrison!

A Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Morrison wrote with depth and heart that was both brutally honest and astonishingly beautiful. Her books examine the African American experience, both it’s joys and it’s heartbreak and the long lasting effects of slavery and racism. If you haven’t read any of Morrison’s novels, this is a perfect time to read one of these lyrical novels which include Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye and Beloved as well as several others.

If you would like to read books that are similar to Toni Morrison, check the list below. I’ve listed books that focus on the African-American experience and on racism in American rather than on books that may be similar to Morrison’s unique writing style. Choose something that interests you and maybe push the boundaries of your usual reading preferences.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

The Known World by Edward Jones

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’m planning on reading Homegoing by Gyasi about two half-sisters born in Africa with two very different destinies, one who is enslaved and sent to America and the other who marries a white man and lives in relative luxury.  I’m looking forward to see how their stories unfold.

What about you – what will you be reading in May?

Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Challengers!

How did your reading go this month? I hope you found something interesting for our Jojo Moyes read-alike month. I hadn’t read anything by Moyes, so I choose one of her more popular titles, The Giver of Stars.

Taking place in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, The Giver of Stars dramatizes the work of the WPA Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky which ran from 1935 to 1943. Hobbled by poverty, isolation and lack of resources, the people of this area had little access to reading material. The Packhorse Librarians brought books, newspapers and magazines to far flung mountain homes, facing difficult terrain, bad weather and suspicious landowners. Their hard work provides a fascinating backdrop to the stories and adventures of the people of this beautiful but unforgiving land.

The small town of Baileyville. Kentucky has been hit hard by the Great Depression. Coal mining has provided some jobs, but at great cost both to the miners and their families and to the land. Alice Van Cleve, recently arrived from England and newly married to the son of the mine owner, she finds it nearly impossible to fit in. When the call goes out for ladies to help run the newly established Packhorse library, she is quick to volunteer despite the objections of her conservative husband and father-in-law. Away from her overbearing family and loveless marriage,  Alice has more freedom and independence than she has ever known and grows to love the land and the people she serves.

Alice and the other library workers face many obstacles including a catastrophic flood, townspeople who try to shut down the library as “unChristian”, lack of funds and materials, wild animals and treacherous terrain. There’s some romance, some heartbreak and a murder mystery. Through it all, Alice and her library friends form an unbreakable bond, coming together to support and celebrate. I especially enjoyed reading about and was impressed by the hard work these women did and their dedication to their patrons and literacy.

Earlier in the month I mentioned that I had read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson a couple years ago. It is also about the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky and was published just a few months before The Giver of Stars. At the time, there was some controversy that Moyes’ book had plagiarized  the earlier book. I didn’t feel that though – while both books center on the Packhorse Librarian program during the Great Depression, the characters and what happens to them are very different. Both are worth reading!

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in April?

Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

Focusing on a part of World War II that is less explored, Jennifer Robson transports us to Italy under German occupation in Our Darkest Night.

Antonina has lived in Venice her whole life; her family have been residents for several generations. Her father is a renowned and well-respected doctor, with people from all over Europe and from all walks of life seeking him out. But none of this matters after the Nazi occupation of Italy. By 1943, daily life for the Jews of Venice has become nearly unbearable and increasingly dangerous.

As the danger looms, Antonina’s father refuses to leave his invalid wife, but insists that Antonina escape, posing as the wife of a man she’s never met, Nico, a former seminary student. Nico takes her to his family farm in the countryside, several days travel from  Venice, in the hopes that she will be safe hiding with a Christian family in a remote location.

Antonina (now known as Nina) finds her new life grueling and lonely, and she misses and fears for her parents desperately.  But even as she finds a place in her new family and falls in love with Nico, the German threat is not far away. Can she and Nico survive the horrors that are to come?

This is a quick read with characters that you will care about. The relentless cruelty of the Nazi’s can be difficult to read, but the strength of the Italian people will give you hope. For more books about Italy during the German occupation in World War II, be sure to check out A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell and Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero.