elisa's Reviews > Malibu Rising

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
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did not like it
bookshelves: 1-star, arc, historical-fiction

ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

(💌 full, unedited review on my blog, because the original version was too long for goodreads)

white nuclear families will literally surf instead of going to therapy for their trauma

this is one of those rare and extraordinary instances where my rage over a book propelled me through its pages at a speed i am totally unused to. i'm typically a slower reader, especially when losing myself in a world i love. this is because i enjoy soaking up details, really sitting with and unpacking the many layers that i've come to expect of long-form fiction. my experience with malibu rising was the utter opposite. i flew through the pages in a fit of wrath. if a five star novel is an onion, this was a single sheet of tissue paper.

when i saw the overwhelmingly positive reviews this book has been racking up, i felt a similar confusion as i had last year, after finishing the invisible life of addie larue and finding that i was pretty alone in my dissatisfaction. i want to chalk this up to the fact that in both scenarios, i had never read a taylor jenkins reid or v.e. schwab book, respectively, and so had no biases or expectations coming into either book. i had never experienced these authors’ writing styles. i didn't know what to expect. i had no preconceived opinions to contend with. i was just along for the ride.

part of me also wonders if maybe these books suffer from the cult classic syndrome so common on goodreads—the question of whether everyone genuinely enjoys these authors as much as they claim, or if, perhaps, their universal popularity among goodreads users has begun to affect the dimensions of public opinion/reviews. sometimes this website does feel like a bit of an echo chamber.

i can't say for sure. i can only speak for myself when i write that i remain unmoved by author popularity or proclaimed talent. beloved books have no effect on me. neither do my goodreads friends' opinions (just as i'd hope my own opinions won't "change" anyone else's true feelings). even despite all of that, though, i know i'm not the wrong audience for these books. romance and found family are some of my favorite things to read about and when done well, it's not hard for a book to sway me, even with glaring faults.

having said all of that, malibu rising was something of a disaster from start to finish. i feel like this preface is necessary because i know reid has garnered a very loyal fanbase. after combing through other reviews, i see that a few who have more extensive experience with her books feel this was a huge departure from fan favorites like daisy jones and the six and evelyn hugo. that's relieving to hear (even if i have no desire to ever pick up a book from this author again). this was very much commercial fiction and i'm wondering if that—commercial/genre trends—hasn't had some kind of effect on the quality of writing.

before launching into the many issues i had with the novel, i want to warn you that i'm going to be laying out a good amount of spoilers.

to begin to illustrate the many emotions i felt over the course of this novel, i have handpicked some annotation—of the 146 or so i jotted down—highlights from my kindle:

• girl i guess?
• that's enough heterosexuality for today
• fathers will be like hope i am not a person to you guys but a concept then disappear in a cloud of mist and wonder why you are deeply and irrevocably traumatized
• what in the name of filler
• IS IT EVERY BITCH IN THIS BOOK?
• why i hate malibu rising? i will try to be brief (1/435)
• and then the entire audience gasped
• first plot point that doesn't piss me off (annotated 75% into the novel)
• the men in this book: I HATE GETTING ACCUSED OF SOME SHIT I ACTUALLY DID 😡 WHO THE FUCK TOLD YOU
• this reminds me of the great gatsby when jay is throwing the party to end all parties and then suddenly goes Everybody Log Out I Wanna Be alone with my hunny Rightnow LIKE BRO YOU LITERALLY INVITED THE ENTIRE TRISTATE AREA TO YOUR PLACE OF RESIDENCE? A LITTLE LATE FOR THAT
• "eww she fuck the tennis man for tennis balls" - a bitch that's fucking the tennis man for Large Midcentury Unglazed Terracotta Planters on Stands

now, let me defend my one star rating. there are—generally speaking—three major components i look for in a novel and build a rating around (though they are often adjusted according to the parameters set by each individual book i read). plot is not listed among them because, in many cases, fully fleshed out characters are enough to carry a book for me.

1. writing
2. characters
3. world

to begin with: the writing.

reid's is not particularly impressive. more often than not, i found the prose in this novel aggravating, prone to drama, awkwardly descriptive in places and absolutely barren in others. certain stylistic choices, like the third person omniscient perspective, make the novel feel clinical and impersonal—not because this perspective is inherently impersonal, but because reid's execution is.

because the writing style keeps readers at arm's length, it does not feel like i know these characters. instead, it feels like i know someone else who does, someone relaying facts about people, with little to no introspection or interesting, informative character interaction. this drove me up the wall because i love third person omniscient—it might be my favorite point of view to both read and write—and i've seen it done fantastically, in ways that humanize characters, that make you feel intimately, humiliatingly connected to fictional people. this was not that.

readers travel backwards and forwards through time, watching the story of the riva children's parents unfold in the past, then catapulting back into the present as these children grapple with what it means to grow up parentless in old hollywood over a 24 hour time period. the structure is designed to create an impression of cause and effect, but because reid lays it on so thick, vaulting back and forth through time quickly becomes tedious.

since we're on the topic of laying it on thick: the melodrama, dialed all the way up, sits at a resting 100% throughout the novel, while any sense of reward falls flat. it's a lot like listening to a radio station that's nothing but static at the highest possible volume setting. i'm getting this outpouring of sound, but it's doing nothing for me, evokes no reaction, is more grating than it is gratifying.

in a prologue that seems to want to emulate celeste ng's little fires everywhere, readers are informed through foreshadowing that nina riva's big hollywood party is doomed to end in flames. this prepares readers for a habit the narrative is guilty of repeatedly and unapologetically committing: melodramatic foreshadowing, or preemptive, godlike observations. sometimes this foreshadowing arrives chapters before a certain realization or reckoning unfolds in real time; sometimes, pages. others, mere paragraphs. this writing device colors the novel completely, making eventual emotional payoff feel cheap, and unearned. it blunts the impact of conflict, stifles anticipation, and turns a mounting sense of tension into a plateau of exhaustion.

the consequence of this choice is that i was no longer willing to be surprised by reid's writing. i expected every plot twist. i saw things coming from a mile away. i was biding my time while i waited impatiently for the book to end, and even after finally getting my emotional vindication as things came to a close, i was left ultimately unsatisfied. why? because i'd figured out the plot of malibu rising by the 10% mark.

this tediousness is never more true than with the novel's failed romance, which brings us to characters.

in the goodreads version of this review, i'm only going to touch on one of those romances: june and mick riva. if you want my take on nina and brandon, you can check my blog.

aside from the fact that mick is a grown man seducing a seventeen-year-old girl, we know from the beginning that his romance with june is doomed to end in tragedy. more of that pesky foreshadowing: "the story of june and mick riva seemed like a tragedy to their oldest child, nina."

as readers come to learn, june is the victim of a serial cheater who up and abandons his children on a whim to fuck what we can only assume are hundreds of women (at times as young as eighteen) over the course of his music career, fathering clandestine children while married, divorcing his wife to remarry one of the many women he's having a public affair with, returning to briefly atone for his sins to his family, then running off to remarry again. and again. and again. it was exhausting to type that little summary out. now imagine reading an unreasonably drawn out retelling of that story, when you know every step of the way what kind of man mick is, and just how eagerly june is going to open her doors for him despite it.

the worst part isn't the fact that june is cheated on, over and over, without remorse, while she sits at home performing domestic labor for her (ex-)husband. no. the worst offense is that mick is the crux of june's entire character.

while he is permitted a career, a more fleshed out origin story, and desires wholly independent of the women of this world, all june ever aspires to be is the housewife and mother waiting at the window for her cheating husband to return. she has no personality beyond loving mick. from introduction until death, she is waiting and hoping mick will return in order to complete her, to give her what she needs to become a functioning human again. because, "...to june, it was, always and forever, a romance."

that, to me, is most egregious.

all the time spent trying to paint a picture of generational trauma to explain the gleeful ways in which mick exploits women for personal gain—the ways he sees them only insofar as they can perform for him as sexual objects—could have gone to understanding june and her family outside of a man.

it is choices like these that sabotage the characters in malibu rising, which is a bit of a lead-in to its world.

at times, i forgot that i wasn't reading contemporary fiction. it's only offhand details like random celebrity name-drops (occasionally real celebrities, occasionally fictional) that remind readers these characters are living in the past. malibu rising features a weak facsimile of old hollywood, only believable in that the men of this world are unrepentantly shitty and more often white than not. imagine if the great gatsby were a lifetime made-for-tv movie adaptation. that's the way this book reads.

reid expends most of her effort trying to build a believable party in the second half of the novel that feels vintage enough to convince you it could be real. how is this achieved? no, not through lush detail and three-dimensional characters. through slipshod head-jumping.

which brings me to my next point: filler.

i would argue that over half of this novel is filler. in fact, i have counted at least nineteen filler chapters (or "sections") in this book—meaning, had they been discarded during the editing process or even condensed into larger combined chapters, the narrative landscape would have remained completely and totally unchanged. in other words, they serve no real purpose. they exist to take up time and space. in a book that is 384 pages long, this choice is particularly needless.

malibu rising's second half (aptly called "part two") displays the very worst of this habit. as is often the case with sloppily executed omniscient narration, we head-jump from secondary character to secondary character—though i think calling them "secondary characters" is being generous; they're more like throwaway characters—spending brief, vignette-like interludes with hollywood caricatures who have no time to make any kind of lasting impression on readers. these filler sections are typically around 1-3 pages long and are characterized by washed up celebrities who are either a.) extremely horny, b.) looking to find their "true love," or c.) some combination thereof.

i can see that reid was attempting to humanize or at least fill up the party nina throws through these odd perspective shifts. and yet, rarely does the choice to inhabit secondary characters' heads pay off for writers. here, it is a spectacular failure. time that should gone to the riva siblings and their far more interesting chafing and tenderness is thrown away on...what...? censored threesomes? scummy movie stars groping women and getting away with it? in what world does a three page chapter outlining a celebrity's fictional film successes take precedence over actual plot and main character development?

in malibu rising's second half, there are at least eighteen characters whose heads we're flitting to and from. yes, i counted. at times, these shifts aren't even marked by new chapters or sections. sometimes a perspective leap takes place over a single paragraph, in a fleeting interjection from one character before we melt back into whoever the book has decided is the main show for the moment.

of over twenty badly written characters, i liked a total of two. nina and kit, one of which i was pleased to accurately predict was—spoiler—gay. the other pissed me off up until around the 80% mark, before her character development really kicked in and i finally breathed a sigh of relief.

even still, the way the novel fought tooth and nail to try to convince us that mick is a complex man right up until the bitter end made this experience decidedly hair-pulling. if malibu rising wanted a morally grey character, the book did a terrible job characterizing him as such. he was unambiguously awful from start to finish. so throwing in lines like, “‘i think he’s an asshole. but i can’t be sure. i don’t actually know him well enough to say,’” from his own permanently traumatized child after we’ve spent 350+ pages watching him abandon his blood to live without either parent or even a stable income is more than a little patronizing. i mean, come on. can the novel have some backbone?

this book gets one star from me because it didn’t check off any major components from my informal list and because i experienced not one ounce of personal enjoyment over the course of this harrowing journey. i wanted to rage-quit this book like a video game with bad graphics and worse writing more times than i can count. questions like, what do men have? fueled me for nearly 400 pages, all so i could give an answer i already, deep in my heart of hearts, knew: the audacity.

if i had to sum up my feelings on this book using one of its own quotes, it would have to be...

“tarine shook her head. […] ‘you people are revolting.’”
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Reading Progress

January 11, 2021 – Started Reading
January 11, 2021 – Shelved
January 12, 2021 –
11.0% "oh boy am i having a bad time"
January 12, 2021 –
24.0% "I JUST KEEP GETTING ANGRIER"
January 12, 2021 –
50.0% "i’ve angrily annotated this book 49 times so far"
January 12, 2021 –
69.0% "i am at my limit"
January 12, 2021 –
87.0% "me, vibrating at a frequency that could shatter glass, jotting down my 113th annotation: yeah i hate this book a normal amount"
January 13, 2021 – Shelved as: 1-star
January 13, 2021 – Shelved as: arc
January 13, 2021 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
January 13, 2021 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by rosalind (new)

rosalind 👀👀


message 2: by izzy (new) - added it

izzy uh-oh


elisa rosalind wrote: "👀👀" 😣😫😖


elisa izzy wrote: "uh-oh" i had a bad time


message 5: by Richa (new)

Richa I loved your annotations. Don't think I'll read the book after reading your review, honestly. I had enjoyed reading Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo though. Thanks for saving my time! :)


message 6: by elisa (last edited Jan 13, 2021 10:35PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa Richa wrote: "I loved your annotations. Don't think I'll read the book after reading your review, honestly. I had enjoyed reading Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo though. Thanks for saving my time! :)" ah, thank you! i'm hoping the few reviews i read were right when they claimed this book was a big deviation from previous reid works, so i can see why others might have enjoyed her older stuff more. thanks for your response! 😊


message 7: by mwana (new)

mwana Mmm as someone who HATED the 7 husbands of Evelyn Hugo I can see how her writing evolved to something like this. Daisy Jones & The 6 was written in podcast format so it didn't really require prosey prowess (haven't read it, don't plan to). Sorry it was a bust tho. Great review elisa.


elisa mwana wrote: "Mmm as someone who HATED the 7 husbands of Evelyn Hugo I can see how her writing evolved to something like this. Daisy Jones & The 6 was written in podcast format so it didn't really require prosey..." i would be curious to know why you hated evelyn hugo (gonna go check for a review right now), but that is super interesting. for some reason, i was under the impression that reid had really impressive prose, so i was very let down 😭 thank you for your response!


message 9: by mwana (new)

mwana elisa wrote: "mwana wrote: "Mmm as someone who HATED the 7 husbands of Evelyn Hugo I can see how her writing evolved to something like this. Daisy Jones & The 6 was written in podcast format so it didn't really ..."

My review is very succinct. However I hated the treatment of one of Evelyn's friends in the story and the writing was beyond simplistic. The writing is often the most important thing to me and with how much people praised Evelyn I expected to be blown away. I wasn't. I genuinely don't understand why people love it so much. I've read better old Hollywood fiction.


message 10: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa mwana wrote: "elisa wrote: "mwana wrote: "Mmm as someone who HATED the 7 husbands of Evelyn Hugo I can see how her writing evolved to something like this. Daisy Jones & The 6 was written in podcast format so it ..." okay yeah, after reading several reviews, i think i can confidently say i will not be picking up another reid book. the writing here reads exactly the same and the 1-3 page chapter length really grated. it seems like reid struggles to establish anything of substance.


Elyse  Walters AMEN!!!
What did you think about the bathtub Death? It happened so quickly… There’s absolutely no feeling whatsoever.
I tried to be nice and my review you said it like it is. 💕🔥


message 12: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa Elyse wrote: "AMEN!!!
What did you think about the bathtub Death? It happened so quickly… There’s absolutely no feeling whatsoever.
I tried to be nice and my review you said it like it is. 💕🔥"
agreed. the effectiveness of that death was also undercut by the fact that mick was the cause, and none of the kids knew (or ever would).


Marika Wow. Props to you for getting through it. I agree with everything you said and I barely made it a chapter in. Terrible writing.


message 14: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa Marika wrote: "Wow. Props to you for getting through it. I agree with everything you said and I barely made it a chapter in. Terrible writing." oh, trust me, it was an agonizing reading experience.


message 15: by Madison (new)

Madison As a fellow disliker of Addie LaRue I really appreciated the comparison in terms of online hype. TJR seems to work well in the fake interview format because it's quite procedural and you can get away with tons of extraneous detail and long-winded getting-to-the-point. That doesn't work so well without the crux of the format.


message 16: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa Madison wrote: "As a fellow disliker of Addie LaRue I really appreciated the comparison in terms of online hype. TJR seems to work well in the fake interview format because it's quite procedural and you can get aw..." that's what tjr fans have been telling me! i have no idea why i was operating under the assumption that prose was her strong suit + original medium.


message 17: by marta (new)

marta Everything in the comments resonates with me. I’ve found a huge disparity with the quality of the novels that I read and the amount of 5 star raving reviews it has. I’ve started to find wild gems of people on GR that share similar unpopular opinions and you’re definitely one of them. I loved Daisy Jones and the six but more so for the 70s aesthetic. Seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo WAS HORRENDOUS. Truly one of the worst books I read (along with Addie LaRue). From that day I swore off TJR so happy to see I missed literally nothing by never picking up her books again. Great review Elisa! Hope we have better luck with some undiscovered books instead.


message 18: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa marta wrote: "Everything in the comments resonates with me. I’ve found a huge disparity with the quality of the novels that I read and the amount of 5 star raving reviews it has. I’ve started to find wild gems o..." oh, 100%. and i agree—i love finding people whose reviews tend towards critical, because i always feel like that element is lacking in reviews on this website. i'm glad you think of me as one! and after reading reviews for evelyn hugo, i feel really grateful i never picked it up (it sounds deeply horrifying). thank you for your thoughts! 🥰 i hope so too!


Michele I second every single word of this review.


message 20: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa Michele wrote: "I second every single word of this review." glad i'm not alone in my (somewhat controversial) opinion 😖


Michele elisa wrote: "Michele wrote: "I second every single word of this review." glad i'm not alone in my (somewhat controversial) opinion 😖"

Of course! This book was distractingly bad for me. Sometimes a rant review can be cathartic.


message 22: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa Michele wrote: "elisa wrote: "Michele wrote: "I second every single word of this review." glad i'm not alone in my (somewhat controversial) opinion 😖"

Of course! This book was distractingly bad for me. Sometimes ..."
oh, 100%!


Lilyvance I had so many issues with the pacing. I gave it 3 stars because I felt there was so much potential but I was just :( bc I was unmoved


message 24: by elisa (new) - rated it 1 star

elisa Lilyvance wrote: "I had so many issues with the pacing. I gave it 3 stars because I felt there was so much potential but I was just :( bc I was unmoved" that's definitely how i felt. all this melodrama and my face was like this throughout the entire book: 😐


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