Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Nina Riva has led a very complicated life. Her mother died when she was still in high school leaving her to raise not only herself, but her three other siblings while barely making ends meet running her mother’s family restaurant in Malibu. Their father, Mick Riva, a very famous crooner with an incredible career as well as libido, turned his back on his family years ago. But today is the Riva annual end of summer party. The guest list is massive. It’s at Nina’s mansion which sit up on a cliff and overlooks the beach. Well, it’s not really her house, but her soon to be ex-husband’s. That’s way Nina is having a difficult day. Her tennis pro husband has recently left her for another tennis pro. She cringes at the thought of everyone seeing her so vulnerable tonight. But as usual Nina does not think about herself, but of her siblings, Jay, a professional surfer, Hud a photographer and Kit, her youngest sister who wants to follow in Jay’s footsteps. They look forward to this party all year.

But they too are having problems of their own. Jay may have to give up surfing, Hud has been keeping secrets and Kit who at twenty has never been kissed and has decided that tonight’s the night.

Nina’s upbringing was difficult, her mother an alcoholic, her father coming in and out of her mother’s life, Nina having to always be the adult in the room. Then she was spotted surfing by a photographer and her life catapulted her into both fame and fortune. And this seems to be where her problems really began. She was not made for stardom. So as much as she understands the party must go on, she dreads the feeling of embarrassment of the evening when all eyes will be turned to her to see how she is reacting to the news of her husband’s infidelity.

But the evening begins to take an awkward turn from the first ring of the doorbell as the guests arrive, two not expected at all and the siblings will find themselves not only fighting with each other, but with ghosts from long ago. As the evening progresses and the usual chaotic party begins to take a turn into complete pandemonium, with guests literally hanging from chandeliers, the family will have to come together when these revelations come to light. They each will need to come to grips with hurtful memories no one ever wanted to revisit. By the next morning, their lives will be changed forever.

The story, which is told between two times, an hourly accounting of the day of the party leading up to and into the next morning, and the love story of Nina and her sibling’s mother and her father Mick and all the heartbreak it caused.

It is a story of love, loss, greed and having to make tough decisions. It is a story of a family united by Nina’s perseverance always afraid to think of herself for fear her family will be torn apart. And finally, by its conclusion, a united family who will finally all take their individual control back as the create a new family unit.

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt lives in New York City. Her father is a well-known rabbi, her mother a doctor. Rachel’s occupation is a secret from her parents and just about everyone else. You see, Rachel lives and breaths for one holiday a year…Christmas! And to make matters worse, she is a best-selling Christmas author known as Margot Cross whose books have been turned into movies. She can hardly brag about that to her orthodox Jewish family.

Rachel has another secret. One she has kept from her book editors. She was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome when she was in college. On bad days she can not get out of bed, and sleeps for twenty hours. On good days she can get up and watch a bit of television. Rachel had to drop out of college, and she needed to reevaluate her career goals, figure out what she could possibly do which would keep her motivated and interested without having to go to work a 9 to 5 job somewhere. That was when she discovered her love of writing, especially creating Christmas stories!

But when her editor calls her into her office to suggest she change her next Christmas novel into a Hanukkah story she is not happy. Although she of course knew all about Hanukkah traditions, none seemed as exciting as the exhilaration of Christmas. But Rachel’s editor was adamant. Either write a Hanukkah story or lose your next contract. So Rachel begins to try and plot her next move. With her parents not knowing what she does for a living, just her real name on the book would blow her cover.

Adding to her stress which does not help her physical condition at all, she learns her years ago summer camp love, Jacob Greenberg was coming back from Paris, France where he mysteriously took off for after their one summer of torturing each other to organize a Hanukkah celebration in New York called the Matzah Ball. Her father was asked by Jacob Greenberg to light the last candle on the Menorah the day of the Ball.

That’s when something clicks inside Rachel. She decides she will write the story of their courtship during summer camp in which he dumped her and pull the Matzah Ball into the story. Which means she must get a ticket to the already sold out event. Which means she has to ask Jacob Greenberg. Who says no. Unless she wants to be a volunteer, which for Rachel would normally be out of the question because of her health, but she jumps at the chance. That’s when Jacob begins his I will get you back for dumping me in summer camp tour.

Soon, they begin to see each other in different lights. Jacob seems caring. Rachel is kind and smart. Is it possible for these two hot heads to finally make peace with the friction they have felt for each other all these years? Perhaps they can not only learn more about each other, but about themselves. As Rachel pours her heart and sweat into the Matzah Ball, she sees the Hanukkah traditions as she never has before. Why did she think there was no story here? But Rachel and Jacob still have some personal obstacles to climb. Can they let go of their past and open up to a new future?

The Matzah Ball is an adorable story, but it is also a remarkable learning experience for those unaware of ME, which unfortunately author Jean Meltzer has, but who has learned to not only live with, but incorporate into her work-life and which hopefully will inspire others with the same disease to believe in themselves and to aspire to accomplish what they want.

Thank you #NetGalley #MiraBooks #TheMatzahBall #JeanMeltzer for the advanced copy.

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

The Lighthouse family knows everything there is to know about murderers and serial killers. They were home-schooled by their mom. She had been obsessed with true-crime since her parents were murdered. Hence her children are named after murdered famous people. They are proficient in how murders occurred as well as placement of the murder victim’s body. This is how the Lighthouse children grew up. So needless to say, living on a secluded island where everybody knew everybody and where a serial killer was murdering young women, the family was a bit notorious.

Dahlia Lighthouse knew her family was different and did not fit in. How many families have the sheriff of the community constantly in their backyard with a flashlight? But the children stuck together until they were of the age to be able to leave the island. Then they moved away. Except when Dahlia left, she had to leave alone. Dahlia had a a twin, Andy who had promised they would leave together. But on their sixteenth birthday Andy disappeared, leaving a note. Dahlia was heartbroken that he left without her. So when Dahlia was able to leave the island, she spent all her time and energy trying to find out where her brother had gone and why he left without her.

So when Dahlia’s father dies and she has to return to the island, she hopes to find Andy there. Instead as they dig up the family plot where the father is to be buried, they discover a body. It is Andy. Her twin. Her other half. How could she not have known he was dead? Who killed him all those years ago and why?

As the police begin to investigate Andy’s homicide, the Lighthouse children begin their “normal” mourning routines when someone is killed. They build diorama’s of the murder with placement of the body, they prepare for their usual memorial museum of the murdered person. Normal stuff.

Dahlia goes about trying to solve her twin’s death. Suddenly she finds clues which may also uncover who the serial killer may have been all those years ago. She also discovers a part of Andy’s life she never knew existed. That is when the mystery turns even more gruesome. Is it possible for a family who are so far away from being normal learn to come to grips with a life of lies they all lived?

But just when the reader thinks they have the story figured out, the surprises come. One after the other, until you are left with a shockingly unpredictable conclusion. The Family Plot is the most intriguingly entertaining, morbidly enjoyable, plot twisting story to come along in quite awhile. Think Adam’s Family meets the Zodiac Killer. Deliciously different.

Thank you #NetGalley #Atria Books #MeganCollins #TheFamilyPlot for the advanced copy.

Fault Lines by Emily Itami

Fault Lines is a beautiful, poetically written, heartbreaking story about a Japanese woman who seems to have it all, but is slowly dying inside. She mourns the loss of her past, her freedom and the death of her father which she feels responsible for. As her world begins to break apart, like the fault lines which cause earthquakes, she must make a decision which she will have to live with for the rest of her life.

Mizuki is a housewife, who works part-time as translator for Americans who are living in Japan. She has a hard working husband who is never home and two children who believe she is their servant. Her life consists of cooking, cleaning, picking up and dropping off at schools, and tending to everyone’s needs except her own. This is a far cry from the young girl who spent a year in New York City in a student study abroad program, who had the world ahead of her and wanted to become a famous singer.

Just as her life begins to spin slowly out of control with a husband who spends no time with her and the demands of two children who can’t seem to do anything for themselves, she meets a man named Kiyoshi who owns many restaurants. They begin an affair. In him she finds the attention and conversation which is lacking in her relationship with her husband and the praise and appreciation she never feels when tending her children. She begins to see a life she thought she could never have.

Kiyoshi seems to be her true soul-mate. But with most affairs of the heart, there comes a time when a decision must be made. Feelings need to be reevaluated. Who is most important? Her love for Kiyoshi, or the choices she has already made in her life with her husband and her children? And then suddenly Mizuki is jolted back into the reality of her life with her family.

Along the way she gains perspective into her life, both past and present. Sometimes decisions must be based not just on ourselves, but on the needs of those we love. But love never dies and those we are devoted to never truly leave our hearts or our souls.

Thank you #Goodreads #CustomHouse #EmilyItami #FaultLines for the advanced copy.

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

Psychopaths rule! At least they think they do! A group of seven diagnosed psychopaths have found themselves in an experimental college clinical study. Most of the college community doesn’t even know the study exists. They are monitored and have sessions with a famous psychologist who put this study together. He was part of a serial killer’s team years ago. The group must wear smart watches at all times for tracking, complete experiments and help answer questions about how they are feeling at certain times. You see psychopaths have no empathy and feel no emotion. Most think the world revolves around their needs and wants. Tuition for these students is free. They do not know each other. Until one of them is killed. And one of them finds the body.

Then they begin to find each other, one by one.

Chloe is a freshman. She is smart, pretty, knows she must make lots of friends on campus and be popular. She is a psychopath. She is really at the school for the free tuition because she is planning to kill a student who goes to the school who did something to her when she was a younger. She has been stalking him since then and her plan is to commit the perfect murder.

Charlie is a seasoned psychopath. He has been in the program for a few years. He comes from a very wealthy family who are embarrassed by him. Charlie does have a faithful girlfriend who tries to keep him under control, but psychopaths like Charlie know how to manipulate very well. And Charlie has a wandering eye. Her name is Chloe.

Andre is a fake psychopath. Because he had been in trouble as a teenager he was able to manipulate his way into the study. What he is really there for is the free tuition. Although Andre can try and think like a psychopath, he cannot truly feel like one. He has found Chloe and Charlie and does not trust either of them. And he shouldn’t.

As the dead bodies begin to pile up, the group begin to accuse each other of being the killer. So how is it possible for psychopaths to try and put their psychosis aside and make an effort and work together? Very difficult. But they have to because whoever is killing has set their sights on them.

Is the killer a psychopath? Can these very challenged young adults put all the pieces together before one of them is the next victim? What happens when a group of non-caring, narcissistic, passionless, unexpressive psychopaths must work together? An incredible crazy ride!

Vera Kurian is a psychologist and writer and a longtime resident of Washington DC. She has a doctorate in social psychology, specializing in intergroup relations, political ideology, and quantitative methods. She has studied fiction at Breadloaf, Sewanee, VONA, and attended juried workshops at LitCamp, Colgate, Juniper, and the Marlboro Summer Writing Intensive. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a semifinalist for the Mark Twain Royal Nonesuch Humor Writing Contest.

Author Website

Twitter: @vera_kurian

Instagram: @verakurianauthor

Goodreads

Thank you #NetGalley #ParkRow #NeverSawMeComing #VeraKurian for the advanced copy.

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The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz

I have always been a fan of Fran Lebowitz although I had never read any of her essays or books. I would enjoy seeing her on talk shows and was always fascinated at her witty humor. Whether I agreed or disagreed with her politics or ethics, I always found her quick, clever responses amusing. So when she landed on Netflix in a documentary about herself called Pretend It’s a City, which also featured Martin Scorsese it was a must watch for me. And it did not disappoint.

So it was then I decided to pick up her books of essays. This, unfortunately was easier said than done. You see Ms. Lebowitz has not written a book since the 1980’s, although she does seem to still write essays for magazines. She wrote two books of essays, I found out, Social Studies and Metropolitan Life. As I searched to buy one or the other I was flabbergasted to find that the cost of said books were astronomical! One of the books was selling for over $100 and I found someone selling the set for $2,500! And they were not even signed!

And that is how I discovered The Fran Lewbowitz Reader. This paperback sells for about $14 and is a compilation of some of the essays from both of the books she wrote. And although the book did not disappoint, I only wish I could have been able to read more of the essays from both of the original books.

Now remember, these books were written in the late 70’s, early 80’s which make the essays even funnier! One essay, Disco Hints, (I told you they were old) gives a glimpse of the proper way to dance at a disco, and how and who should take clothes off when getting hot dancing!

In the essay Color: Drawing the Line she gives her interpretation of what the primary and secondary colors really mean.

In Parental Guidance she gives suggestions to parents on raising their children, although she has none. One suggestion: “Do not on a rainy day, ask your child what he feels like doing, because I assure you that what he feels like doing, you won’t feel like watching.”

There is a wonderful section titled The Frances Ann Lebowitz Collection in which she posts actual pictures of actual items in her apartment describing such items as if she were auctioning them off. These pictures are hilarious! She also gives Lebowitz sage advice on how to find an apartment in New York.

Although her sense of humor may not be for everybody, I truly enjoyed her satire, references and reflections from days gone by. Now if we could just convince her to write just one more book!

The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones

It was supposed to be a fun relaxing getaway for four good friends going to a destination wedding. But the fun never really began and they all seemed to be racked with guilt of some sort. Secrets are exposed, lives will be changed forever and jealousy and revenge will rear their ugly heads. More importantly who is telling the truth? Who do we believe? Unfortunately sometimes it’s not the lies, but the truth which can get you killed.

Rachel and her husband Jack and Paige and her husband Noah have been friends forever. Actually, Rachel and Noah have been best friends since college. Even their children have been friends since birth. The couples are traveling to Portugal for Jack’s brother’s wedding to his fiancee, Ali who used to work for Jack.

According to Jack, Ali has a problem telling the truth. Between embellishing stories, her “stylish” garb and always present smile and flirty demeaner, the group can barely tolerate her. But for Will’s sake, who seems totally smitten, they have decided to look the other way. Until Jack tells them something upon arrival to the resort which changes everything. Ali had been cheating with one of his married employees. He had her fired.

But as Rachel begins to look into Jack’s story, something seems a bit off. Ali begins lying to her. She sees Ali leaving her and Jack’s hotel room with Jack in a towel coming out of the shower. She confides in her best friend Paige that she thinks Jack and Ali may be having an affair. This seems to make the situation worse. But as the weekend progresses we find out other secrets the friends have kept from each other. Rachel wonders why Ali is lying. What does she have to gain? Should she tell Will that Ali is not what she seems? What secrets could Ali know? Will Ali expose any skeletons from their pasts? Can she be stopped?

All these questions will be answered in an explosive, shocking ending in which all their lives will be changed, and the guilt they each hid over the years will become visible. As with all Sandie Jones’ books, just when you think the story can’t get any better, she seems to always be able to save the best for last!

Thank you #NetGalley #MinotaurBooks #TheGuiltTrip #SandieJones for the advanced copy.

People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry

Poppy and Alex met by accident in college. Coincidentally they came from the same small hometown. Even so, their childhoods could not have been more different. But as the old adage says, opposites attract and they became the best of friends.

They spent all their college days together, and even spent their summers back home with Poppy dragging Alex places to try and give him new experiences. Alex, a bit set in his ways, always hesitant, but agreeable when it came to what Poppy wanted. Their friendship had no boundaries, even when Poppy moved to New York City to become a travel writer. And every summer, regardless of where they were in life, or who they were dating they always went on one vacation together.

Until two years ago when something happened and they have not spoken since.

For Poppy those two years were long and agonizing. Nothing compared to her time with Alex. She realizes what she has been missing these past years is Alex and their friendship. So on a whim she sends him a text and he replies. They begin to catch up on the time they spent apart.

Poppy then gets a brilliant idea to see if she can convince Alex to go on their annual summer vacation. She hopes they can get back to where they were prior to the disastrous last vacation. But can you really go back when so much time has passed? Can you ever conquer the roadblocks put in place when there has been a falling out? Can relationships really recover?

As Poppy reflects on their previous vacations through the years, she suddenly begins to see a pattern emerge. Perhaps not everything was as it seemed. Were there other feelings and emotions going on that they were both unaware?

Now Poppy must try and fix what has broken between her and Alex in hopes that she will not lose her best friend forever, a devastating thought she can hardly contemplate. She will do whatever it takes to mend this friendship. But this vacation seems to be one disaster after another. And as the days wind to a close, Poppy makes one realization which will change her and Alex’s connection forever.

People We Meet On Vacation is a tender, comedic, heartbreaking, emotional story in which all the reader can do is go along for the ride (or the vacations) and root for these two beautiful souls to fix what never should have been fractured in the first place.

Cul-De-Sac by Joy Fielding

Hooked from the first page, this incredibly intense story begins with a description of a group of families who all live in houses on a cul-de-sac discussing the shots fired and the death which occurred the night before.

The story then moves backwards and explains the varied lives and relationships of the families living on the street and their interactions and secrets with each other up until the sudden gunshot from the early morning hours before.

First we have Nick, a highly respected doctor and his wife Dani, a southern belle who is a dentist. Nick has a tendency to pick at his wife’s pronunciation feeling her southern slang is tacky. They have two young children, both boys. From the outside looking in they seem to be the all-American family, but when the doors close, they are anything but. Nick, by the way has a gun collection.

Sean and Olivia are next. Sean is a miserable stay at home dad. He was laid off from his executive position over a year ago and has been unable to find work. Olivia, his wife, was fortunately able to get her lucrative job back at the advertising firm she worked at prior to having their children. Sean has become extremely depressed and is secretly drinking and lying to Olivia about finding work. As his anger towards everything and everyone escalates, he considers buying a gun.

Julia is an elderly widow whose husband died of cancer. Nick was his doctor. She is incredibly indebted to him. Her relationship with her only son is a bit strained, as is his son’s relationship with his own son, Mark, a man in his early twenties who would rather steal from wallets and pawn jewelry for drugs rather than get a job. Julia takes Mark in as he has nowhere to go. While rifling through old things, Mark finds his late grandfather’s gun.

Craig and Maggie found themselves living on the cul-de-sac after an incident occurred with Maggie and the family was being harassed. They were so affected they moved to another state. But Maggie’s personality changed because of what happened. She has become fearful and paranoid of everything and everyone, to the point where Craig has moved out, unable to live with her anymore. They have two children, a rebellious teenager and a young boy. Maggie secretly carries a gun in her purse everywhere she goes and keeps it by her bedside at night.

Finally, newlyweds Heidi and Aiden are happily in love, except for the fact that Aiden’s mother dislikes Heidi and is super rich and has basically bought them everything they own, even the house where they are living. This has put incredible pressure on the couple who both work at the mall and without her help could barely make ends meet. To add to their stress, Aiden sees a therapist for PSTD from what he saw during combat in the war. As his stress increases, it seems so do his flashbacks.

So here are the cast of characters who live on this beautiful street, some of whom have unbearable deep rooted secrets. As they begin to interact and get to know each other, some of the secrets begin to fall out of the houses and into the streets where others can see. So which of these neighbors will finally snap? And who is the victim?

Cul-De-Sac reads like an updated version of Peyton Place or Knot’s Landing, where the dark secrets run deep and the gossip flows like good wine! Quite the page turner!

Thank you @NetGalley @BallentineBooks @Cul-De-Sac @JoyFielding for the advanced copy.

The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison

Nicola Harrison’s second novel, The Show Girl, is about a small town girl from Minneapolis, who has big dreams of becoming a famous Ziegfeld Follies girl fighting against all odds and unsupportive parents and many obstacles along the way hoping to achieve her dreams.

Olive McCormick realized she wanted to dance from a young age. She really knew she wanted to be a Ziegfeld girl. This was during the 1920’s and women’s dreams depended mostly on men’s assessments of them. Against her mother’s wishes and her father’s disappointment in her she chose to follow her dreams. And after many regrets, failures and hard work she became a show girl for Ziegfeld! She was singing and dancing. But when her parents are invited to see her perform, their reaction is nothing but disgust. Her father embarrassed by her. Having to make the hardest decision of her life, she decides to pursue her dreams over her family, never realizing how this predicament would someday come back to haunt her.

But Olive is a strong woman able to weather any storm with the brains and wit of any man, and is not afraid to question their decisions.

And as her career takes off something else wonderful happens to Olive, now known as Olive Shine! She falls in love. When she meets Archie Carmichael, a wealthy, handsome businessman with a heart of gold, she finally believes she has it all! He is proud of her career, and loves her. But when they decide to marry, Olive realizes Archie may want more than she is capable of giving him.

Her secretive past now comes back to torture her. She must decide if she should tell Archie what she has been hiding since she was young, and lose him forever, or keep her secret and walk away from the love of her life. Neither decision will make her happy. But her love for him is more powerful than any secret, even though Archie will never truly understand.

Will Olive’s strength and determination be enough to keep her on the new path she has chosen?

I was introduced to Nicola Harrison when I read her first novel back in 2020 called Montauk. It still haunts me to this day. But now I can add to the list of favorite books of 2021 with her latest, The Show Girl. Harrison is able to develop powerfully strong women characters with wills of their own, not afraid to reach out and take what they feel they rightfully deserve.

Thank you #NetGalley #St.Martin’sPress #TheShowGirl #NicolaHarrison for the advanced copy.