March felt like a weird reading month, when I did read, I read super quickly, enjoying the books and devouring them, but actually sitting down to read was a totally different story. I have some books I am really looking forward to reading, and haven’t read before but I just have no want to read. Is it burn out? Is it winter? I don’t know, but I also have a very full cart at Indigo that I’m not allowing myself to start buying from until I work through my current TBR.
Speaking of getting through my TBR, this book has been in it for about a year and it is a shame because this is a wonderful book. Set in Key West in the 1935 the people on the islands are either very poor or very rich, but Mother Nature cares not for your social status. We meet Helen Berner first, a very pregnant local, married to a horrible man, waitressing way past when is safe for her pregnancy to bring in some extra income and get out of the house. Then we are introduced to Mirta Perez, a newlywed in an arranged marriage to help her family back in Cuba regain some status after they made the mistake of backing the political opponent of the famously and infamously cruel Fulgencio Batista’s, the CIA-backed dictator of Cuba before Fidel Castrot. And finally, the young Elizabeth Preston, on the train down from New York, looking for her brother, a veteran of The Great War who abandoned their family, and to get away. These women’s lives will be drawn together in ways they could never imagine by intrigue, gang violence, and the wrath of a hurricane.
What I found most interesting about this book, is that so much of it is based in fact. Fulgencio Batista was vindictive and if he could not physically torture his “enemies” then he would economically brutalize them, and he really was in bed with American gangsters and the CIA to keep Cuba the United States’s cane sugar supplier and gambling site, a colony in all but title. Gangs were truly warring across New York for control over the illegal liquor trade (remember this is peak Prohibition), the treatment and hiding of Great War veterans in the Keys to get them out of the public eye, the Great Depression, and this hurricane and how many people it killed, how much property it destroyed, and how wrong the weather service was about it are all fact. I think that is my favorite thing about historical fiction, I would never have learned about these work camps for WWI vets or this hurricane if I had not read this. Also, this book is beautifully written and absolutely enthralling. Unless, unlike how history books are told, these centre the women in the story.
Then this book. This book was a sensation last summer, and I now understand why. We first meet, June, the daughter of seafood shack owners in 1950s Malibu, California. All she wants is to not have to work in the restaurant and to have double sinks in her primary bathroom. Then she meets Mick Riva (who you may remember as one of the seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo, the one she marries in Las Vegas for a night?), who has come to California to be a famous singer. He’s not famous yet, but he’s been starting to get some parties and gigs, and he just knows he’ll make it some day. When June introduces him to her parents, her mom says, that you don’t marry the Micks of the world. They are too handsome, too charismatic, to be husbands. But nothing can change their minds, they are determined to get married, and before the wedding June is pregnant with their first child, the strong, responsible, and stunningly beautiful Nina. At this point Mick’s career is taking off, and he is out on tour all the time, and while June might have his hand, his daughter, and the double sink in the bathroom, her mom was right about not marrying the Mick’s of the world. Shortly after she gives birth to their second child, Jay, another woman shows up with another son, Hudson, and drops him in June’s lap. June takes him in as one of her own and promises to love him. He and Jay are raised as twins. June divorces Mick and he pays child support, leaving June to work at the restaurant, taking it over when her parents pass, the exact thing she hoped Mick would get her away from.
Then Mick comes crawling back, they remarry, and for a while they make a wonderful family, the youngest, Kit, is born, and all the children are enamored with their father, but none more than Nina. But Mick is incapable of or unwilling to change, and when he goes back out on tour they never hear from him again. He and June divorce again, but this time he does not pay child support as promised and the family slips deeper and deeper into poverty, and June slips deeper until the bottle until seventeen year old Nina finds her one morning. This changes Nina’s life forever, but she does everything possible to let it affect her younger siblings as little as possible, keep the restaurant open, and keep the lights on.
Like most beach kids, all the Riva children could surf, and had been surfing from a young age, and it is surfing, and Nina’s legendary beauty, that saves their lives. We meet the Riva kids on the morning of Nina’s annual summer party, that has only gotten bigger and wilder as she has gotten more famous and richer. But the one thing they have yet to learn about Malibu, is that it wants nothing more than to burn, and that tonight will be the night that they choose what they want, and allow the rest to burn to ash.
This book. This book makes me think that Taylor Jenkins Reid may be an eldest daughter. I still have both my parents, so obviously my experience as the eldest daughter is not the same as Nina’s but there are so many similarities, the feeling of responsibility, never being able to relax, always having to be on the lookout, on watch for the younger ones. In charge of everything, always. There is just so much about Nina that I connected to. You can’t be fun, because you have too much riding on you all the time, and in a way that makes your siblings dislike you, because you can’t be their friend. There are also some quotes from this book that I can’t shake:
“Too much self-sufficiency was sort of mean to the people who loved you, Kit thought. You robbed them of how good it feels to give, of their sense of value.”Reid, T.J. Malibu Rising
There have been many times that I have wondered if I am too independent, especially since the start of the pandemic, and this hit something, I’m still reflecting on this.
“And then the two of them – somewhere between stranger and kin-…”Reid, T.J. Malibu Rising
This is what the author is referring to in this scene, but I think about this in the context of immigrants and family. I have all these cousins, all these people I’m related to in another continent, that I don’t know at all, we all exist between strangers and kin.
[Talking about selling the restaurant] “Nina suddenly had a picture in her head. It was as if June had given her a box-as if every parent gives their children a box-full of the things they carried.
June had given her children this box packed to the brim with her own experiences, her own treasures and heartbreaks. Her own guilts and pleasures, triumphs and losses, values, and biases, duties and sorrows.
And Nina had been carrying around this box her whole life, feeling the full weight of it.
But it was not, Nina saw just then, her job to carry the full box. Her job was to sort through the box. To decide what to keep and put the rest down. She had to choose what, of the things she inherited from the people who came before her, she wanted to bring forward. And what, of the past, she wanted to leave behind.”Reid, T.J. Malibu Rising
This is a spoiler for the plot for sure, but we don’t have to carry everything our parents, our grandparents give to us. It’s not all our problem or our gift. It doesn’t all have to be taken up by us. Some things get to be left behind with the previous generations, and previous generations should have learned this before us, but if we have to do it all now then so be it.
I will definitely be re-reading this book. I also really want to go to Malibu and see if any of this Malibu still exists behind the multi-million dollar mansions.
Have you read either of these? What did you think?