If the first weeks of June have us bracing for sweltering temps and still-chilly Atlantic waves, they also signal prime beach-read season. And while summer always catches us stocking up on piles of books in anticipation of perilously long sunbathing sessions, we're kicking it off by spotlighting two deliciously-plotted novels by breakout female authors.
Ann Kidd Taylor's début novel, The Shark Club, resonates as a spellbinding meditation on one woman's unresolved past. Set against Florida's summery paradise of breeze-tousled palms and seaglass-crusted coasts, the story centers around Maeve — a 30-year-old marine biologist still grieving the failure of a marriage to her childhood love, Daniel. When Maeve returns home to her eccentric grandmother's beachside hotel after months away on a research trip, she's understandably shocked to discover that Daniel has joined the staff as the restaurant's head chef. And he didn't come alone. Intoxicated by Daniel's irresistibly precocious daughter, Hazel (the product of the affair that broke them up years ago), Maeve surrenders almost immediately to an enduring desire for her ex.
But even in Kidd Taylor's idyllic world of key-lime pie flavored martinis and whimsical shark-tooth necklaces, the past isn't always so easily rewritten. As she and Daniel discover that their rekindled intimacy carries the blight of old problems, Maeve must decide whether to stay with her new family in Florida or embark on a crucial research opportunity abroad. Throw in a seductively nerdy diving partner, Nicholas, along with a mysterious shark-finning operation beguiling local law enforcement, and this bittersweet portrait of the long road towards adulthood had us totally hooked (insert fishing pun here). A compelling, empathetic look at a young woman balancing the trauma of heartbreak against ambition's exhilarating call, The Shark Club challenges ingrained notions about what makes a family, smoothing the often jagged edges of the troubled relationships that shape us. Consider it required summer reading for anyone still tangled in the tricky project of growing-up.
If The Shark Club plays with the pitfalls and pleasures of unusual relationships, Francesca Segal's The Awkward Age pushes them to gripping extremes. When Julia Alden's husband unexpectedly dies, she's convinced she'll spend the rest of her days alone. But after years of quiet devotion to her maddeningly touchy, imaginative daughter, Gwen, Julia is delighted to start sharing her London home with a new beau — gallant American obstetrician, James. Of course, she's significantly less thrilled with the prospect of also living with James's son, Nathan — an insufferably pretentious high school senior who does little to hide his contempt for Gwen.
However, when the teens start hooking up as a defense against their parents' cloying flirtation, Julia and James are understandably horrified. And once Gwen reveals that she's carrying Nathan's child, their home life plunges into real chaos. As Julia frantically enlists her late husband's mother, Iris, to persuade resolute Gwen to end the pregnancy, she discovers the dangerous fault-lines buried in her previously blissful relationship and must fight to keep both her daughter and her last chance at love from slipping away.
Fans of Jenny Slate's 2014 tour de force, Obvious Child, will be thrilled by this domestic drama's darkly funny, unflinchingly human representation of abortion — and its equally compassionate take on the obstacles facing young moms. At its heart, The Awkward Age suggests that its nimble title unfortunately applies to all stages of life, as Segal's characters navigate the movements in their stories across drunken adolescent parties and nostalgia-packed ancestral homes. But if Julia's family feels the pain of these explosive shifts, we're also left with their contagious faith that life must, inevitably, change again.
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