Well Read for the Summer | The Reader's Shelf

As June heats up, new summer reading opportunities unfold. Those in search of a great story and wide-ranging delights might consider an array of popular genres.

As June heats up, new summer reading opportunities unfold. Those in search of a great story and wide-ranging delights might consider an array of popular genres. The varied experience illuminates their multiple pleasures and proves just how much overlap there can be, regardless of their labels.

The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor (Viking. Jun. 2017. ISBN 9780735221475. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735221499) is a winning blend of family dynamics and personal affirmation. A shark expert and researcher, Maeve Donnelly has spent over half of her life deeply invested in the fish. When she was 12, a Black Tip bit her leg and then let go. She is so involved that she postponed her wedding to childhood sweetheart Daniel in order to undertake a research project, a decision that now sees Maeve single and wondering what might have been. Brilliantly set in a Florida beach town, neatly described, and quickly paced, this latest from Taylor (coauthor of the memoir Traveling with Pomegranates) provides a companionable read.

The premise of MatchUp (S. & S. Jun. 2017. ISBN 9781501141591. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781501141614), edited by Lee Child, is perfectly made for a day at the beach. Well-known female and male thriller authors pair up on short stories featuring their beloved characters. Sandra Brown and C.J. Box make a team, Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry join forces, and Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille band together. The result is a quick hit of pure fan fun. Who wouldn’t want Jack Reacher to meet Temperance Brennan or see what Jamie Fraser makes of Cotton Malone? In that piece, “Past ­Prologue,” not only does Jamie meet Cotton (and perhaps sends a message to Claire), but Cotton meets Geillis Duncan at a central point in the Outlander arc.

Fantasy enthusiasts (and others) will devour Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Forge: Tor. Jun. 2017. ISBN 9780765392039. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765392046), the second in Seanan McGuire’s “Wayward Children” series but a stand-alone nonetheless. Sisters Jack and Jill, raised to be symbols of their vapid parents’ egos, go down the hill—­actually a set of mysterious stairs—only to discover they are stranded on a magical moor. Each adopted separately, they survive, one raised by a ruthless vampire, the other by a “mad” scientist. However distant from each other they may be, their fates remain linked. Writing in a style redolent of dark fairy tales, McGuire conjures luminously lyrical language recalling the sensibility of Neil Gaiman and Christina Rossetti.

House of Names (Scribner. May 2017. ISBN 9781501140211. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501140235) by Colm Tóibín pre­sents readers of literary fiction with a new version of the saga of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon and their doomed children ­Iphigeneia, Electra, and Orestes. It is a tale that echoes through time, a seething account of murder, revenge, and hate that has been told in countless renditions. Tóibín delivers his interpretation in strong, crisp, contemporary prose while maintaining the ancient Mycenae setting. There he develops a narrative driven by sinister and fomenting motivations. Agamemnon murders Iphigeneia in order to find favor with the gods and power his way to victory in Troy. Clytemnestra plots her retribution throughout the Trojan War, planning her husband’s death on the very eve he returns triumphant. More casualties follow in a twisted legacy Tóibín maps with verve.

Set during the Civil War, Alyssa Cole’s opener to her “Loyal League” series introduces a brave and stalwart heroine amid a great deal of tension and danger. Elle Burns is a former slave who willingly goes under­cover in a Confederate household to foil the South’s war efforts. There she meets Malcolm McCall, a covert Pinkerton agent bent on the same mission. The two join forces, willing to risk all to save the Union while falling in love along the way. Full of winning dialog and vivid characterizations, An ­Extraordinary Union (Kensington. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9781496707444. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781496707451) marks the start of a romance series well worth following. The second novel, A Hope Divided, comes out in November.

The Last Neanderthal (Little, Brown. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9780316314480. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316314459), Claire ­Cameron’s arresting work of historical fiction, details the connection between a Neanderthal named Girl and modern-day archaeologist Dr. Rose Gale. Girl is part of a small and, as it turns out, precarious family, made up of her mother, two brothers, and a foundling they have adopted named Runt. Rose, newly pregnant and on a difficult academic track, is seeking funding for a career-­making discovery: a cave where a Neanderthal and a Homo sapien lie buried together, embracing. As their paths intertwine, Rose teases out the secrets of the bones, and Girl, pregnant as well, faces a suddenly disorienting and harsh future. Cameron convincingly creates the alien world of the Neanderthal and brings Rose and Girl together in an engrossing story.

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

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