Arts book review

A definitive ranking of the Taylor Jenkins Reid universe

Four books, four eras: which deserves to be on top?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Simon & Schuster
June 2017

Daisy Jones and The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Simon & Schuster
March 2019

Malibu Rising
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Simon & Schuster
May 2021

Carrie Soto is Back
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Simon & Schuster
August 2022

If you’re a reader, you’ve probably heard of the author Taylor Jenkins Reid: her novels have taken the literary world by storm, gripping TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube. Her four most widely-read books, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017), Daisy Jones and The Six (2019), Malibu Rising (2021), and Carrie Soto is Back (2022), have captivated audiences across the globe, leading to ample online discourse and theorizing. I myself enjoyed all four. 

Although the four novels don’t form a series, there is definitely continuity between all of them. For starters, the publication order of the novels roughly follows chronological time: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is set in the 1950’s and 60’s, Daisy Jones and The Six is set in the 60’s and 70’s, Malibu Rising is set in the 80’s, and Carrie Soto is Back is set in the 90’s. All four novels are set in southern California, so readers get to see the landscape evolve over five decades. There are also Easter eggs hidden throughout the four books that make it clear that all of them are set in the same universe. For example, all four books mention legendary (fictional) singer Mick Riva: he is one of Evelyn Hugo’s husbands, a musical contemporary to Daisy Jones, the father of the four main characters in Malibu Rising, and a prominent feature in the tabloids that Carrie Soto loves to read.

In addition, the lives of some of the characters are intertwined across novels. For example, Nina Riva from Malibu Rising is married to Brandon Randall, a world-famous tennis player. We find out in the novel, however, that Brandon cheated on Nina with fellow tennis sensation Carrie Soto, whose story is fully explored in Carrie Soto is Back. The reverberation of events across books and time periods makes this set of four novels even more riveting; I personally thoroughly enjoyed searching for the little clues that connect the stories together.

Of course, I liked some of the novels more than others, so here’s my ranking:

On top: Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

This isn’t a controversial opinion. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is routinely touted as one of TikTok’s favorite books, and many Taylor Jenkins Reid fans seem to have come to the consensus that it is her best-written work.

The novel is narrated from the perspective of magazine reporter Monique Grant, who has been hand-chosen by reclusive 50’s and 60’s Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo to write her biography. Evelyn details the seven marriages she has had, and along the way, reveals who the great (and forbidden) love of her life has been. There’s also a plot twist at the end involving Monique’s ties to Evelyn Hugo (which I won’t spoil) that explains why Evelyn has chosen Monique to reveal her secrets to the world.

The linchpin of this novel is Evelyn. As a character, she is absolutely riveting — unapologetic about her search for fame, passionate about her love, and perhaps most importantly, deeply flawed. There’s a lot to dislike about Evelyn Hugo, but even more to love, and it is evident throughout the novel that her years in the spotlight have given her a fierce confidence as well as a sparkling kindness that is so refreshing amongst the throngs of one-note female protagonists. I also enjoyed the narrative structure of the novel: framing it as an interview with a magazine reporter adds to the air of drama and mystery with which Reid has tried to imbue Evelyn. All in all, if you choose to read only one novel from this list, this is the one I would recommend.

Second place: Carrie Soto is Back

This is Reid’s newest release, and I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The novel narrates the story of Carrie Soto, one of the world’s most successful tennis stars. Initially coached by her father, former tennis player Javier Soto, Carrie took the record for most Grand Slams won by a woman during her heyday. Now, six years after retiring, her record is being challenged by Nicki Chan — so Carrie decides to come out of retirement in an attempt to take her crown back.

I’m not an athlete in the slightest, and I didn’t know much about tennis before picking up this book. However, Reid does a fantastic job of crafting Carrie Soto. I absolutely love the concept of an unlikeable main character, and Carrie is certainly that. She is too harsh and scathing in her assessments of her fellow tennis players, she is overly competitive, and she is loath to lose matches or take criticism. Despite this, you really feel for Soto; you get to witness her panic as she realizes that the significance of her achievements is about to be ripped away, her raw desperation to get her record back, and her dawning awareness that she doesn’t know who she is without tennis. In addition, the scenes of tennis matches were spectacularly written. Reid puts you right on the court, smack-dab in the middle of the action.

I didn’t care much for the romantic arc of the story. Carrie Soto’s flame, tennis player Bowe Huntley, is fine as a character, and I appreciated how he serves as a counterpoint to Carrie’s harsh, almost cruel, ambition, but I didn’t feel the romance between the two was necessary to demonstrate how much Carrie has grown as a character. Ultimately, however, I would pin this novel as a success.

Third place: Daisy Jones and The Six

Quick disclaimer: I haven’t yet watched the television adaptation of this novel (it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime). Nevertheless, I can vouch for Daisy Jones and The Six. The novel follows the titular legendary band, who shoot to fame and are led by musical prodigy and lead singer of The Six, Billy Dunne, as well as the charismatic singer Daisy Jones. Billy, his wife Camila, and Daisy have a complex relationship, as do the other members of the band. The story is loosely modeled off the collaboration between Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac.

I really enjoyed the structure of Daisy Jones and The Six. The book is formatted like a podcast, with lines written out for each character, instead of having one narrator for the overall story. The responsibility really falls on the reader to piece together the different perspectives and determine which version of the story is the truth.  You inherently get a sense of each character’s personality from the differences in how they narrate their version of events.

One negative: I didn’t particularly enjoy Daisy Jones as a character. She is supposed to be unlikeable yet complex, but I found her selfishness to sometimes be irredeemable. However, I did appreciate what she brought to the dynamic of the band as well as to the overall plot. Ultimately, however, I would recommend this book.

On the bottom: Malibu Rising

Sorry, Malibu Rising. It’s nothing personal, but the other three books are just more cohesive and attention-grabbing. The story follows four siblings who are the children of legendary singer (and deadbeat father) Mick Riva. Nina Riva is a professional surfer and model, Hud Riva is a surf photographer, Jay Riva is a competitive surfer, and Kit Riva is a hobby surfer and college student. Nina is famous for her once-a-year blowout party in her Malibu mansion, and the novel explores what occurs over the course of one of these parties, which ends with the mansion burned to the ground.

I liked the premise of this novel. I was fascinated by the fact that it primarily takes place over one night, but explores the intertwining stories that lead up to that night, and I enjoyed putting the pieces together and realizing why each character behaves the way they do. I also found the relationship that the siblings have with their father, Mick Riva, to be extremely well-written: he abandoned them over and over again and was partially responsible for the death of their mother, and the anguish that all four siblings feel when they meet him in the novel is incredibly realistic.

However, my main issue with Malibu Rising is that there are too many perspectives for all of them to be satisfyingly resolved by the end of it. We hear from all four siblings, as well as their mother, June Riva, and there are also numerous party attendees whom we briefly hear from. I found myself wanting to know more about these side characters, but they were left unexplored — which is only natural given the length and scope of this book. For me, this issue left the novel feeling slightly unfinished.

Ultimately, the Taylor Jenkins Reid universe is a delightful and fascinating one. All four books toe the line between being lighthearted beach reads and exploring serious topics. I would recommend Reid’s novels to anyone looking to explore California in all its glory throughout the ages.