June was a month of rediscovery for me. I saw a friend in-person for the first time in a year and a half. I went to unfamiliar places and learned a little about the new way we do things. I had opportunities to remember that I am able to hold my own in frightening situations, and I re-learned how to reach out to people I care about.
I read some really spectacular books in June, including Unseen City by Nathanael Johnson, which some of you have been reading with me! Reading has been a bit of a struggle lately – lots of other things are demanding my attention – so I especially valued books that sucked me in. Here are the three that caught me the most:
by Emily Henry
Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. For most of the year they live far apart – she's in New York City, and he's in their small hometown – but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together. Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven't spoken since.
Poppy has everything she should want, but she's stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together – lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.
Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?
As some of you already know, I absolutely adored Emily Henry's Beach Read. Just like that book, People We Meet on Vacation delivers a satisfying romance while also demanding serious personal growth from both of the characters involved. There are logistical obstacles to the relationship – but more than that, the people involved need to become honest with themselves in massive, frightening ways before they can consider coming together. I loved it even more than I hoped I would, and I plan to continue keeping my eyes peeled for whatever Emily Henry does next.
Charming, deep, lovely.
by Alexis Daria
After burning out in her corporate marketing career, Michelle Amato has built a thriving freelance business as a graphic designer. So what if her love life is nonexistent? She's perfectly fine being the black sheep of her marriage-obsessed Puerto Rican-Italian family. Besides, the only guy who ever made her want happily-ever-after disappeared thirteen years ago.
Gabriel Aguilar left the Bronx at eighteen to escape his parents' demanding expectations, but it also meant saying goodbye to Michelle, his best friend and longtime crush. Now, he's the successful co-owner of LA's hottest celebrity gym, with an investor who insists on opening a New York City location. It's the last place Gabe wants to go, but when Michelle is unexpectedly brought on board to spearhead the new marketing campaign, everything Gabe's been running from catches up with him.
Michelle is torn between holding Gabe at arm's length or picking up right where they left off – in her bed. As they work on the campaign, old feelings resurface, and their reunion takes a sexy turn. Facing mounting pressure from their families--who think they're dating--and growing uncertainty about their futures, can they resolve their past mistakes, or is it only a matter of time before Gabe says adiós again?
Alexis Daria is another repeat on my favorite reads. I've loved everything of hers that I've read, and A Lot Like Adiós is no exception. Set in the same social ecosystem as You Had Me at Hola, this book is the second in what I think of as the Primas of Power series – romances that center around a group of first cousins who are best friends and who support each other beautifully. In my experience romance, as a genre, tends to represent the importance of friendships really well, and Daria's work is a shining example of this. Not only is the romance at the heart of the story exquisite, the familial and platonic relationships are beautifully-rendered, complex and earnest. Alexis Daria is also just plain great at writing sex that is both hot and grounded; her work always respects the messy, silly, fun thing that sex can be when it's done right. A Lot Like Adiós comes out September 14.
Funny, dynamic, steamy.
by Aidan Truhen
Meet Jack Price and the Seven Demons: Doc, the evil mad scientist presently using Jack for sex; Rex, an explosives expert who doesn't ask too many questions so long as something goes boom; Volodya, a Ukrainian assassin who may or may not be a cannibal; Charlie, a comic book artist with computer skills and an anarchist bent; Lucille, whose specialty is razor-edged hugs; and Jack's predecessor, Fred, who doesn't contribute a whole lot owing to being a severed head on a stick. Finally there's Jack himself, former coffee magnate turned cocaine dealer turned First Demon, but basically just a guy trying to get along.
Jack has a problem. The Seven Demons don't have a contract, and there's nothing more volatile than a gang of deadly killers with nothing to do. Luckily, a shadowy Eurotrash businessman wants them to pull off the heist of a lifetime, breaking into a bank that makes Fort Knox look like the corner candy store. Jack thinks this will be a nice little diversion for his crew . . . until a rosy-cheeked, lederhosen-wearing little psychopath named Evil Hansel stabs him with an oyster knife, and the whole situation goes completely to hell. Someone isn't playing straight, and in a game of double crosses, Jack Price will do anything – literally, anything – to come out on top
I went into this book knowing almost nothing about it and it blew me away. Aidan Truhen is an alias for Nick Harkaway, a fact about which he's open and freely discusses. Seven Demons is a sequel to The Price You Pay, but you don't need to have read book 1 to understand and enjoy book 2; according to Harkaway they're very different books, and for what it's worth, I'm glad I went into this one fresh. Seven Demons is a heist story about a gang of international criminals robbing a Swiss bank. It's also about grief, and about learning how the world works. The voice is experimental and fresh, and takes a familiar narrative structure and turns it into something gripping and immersive. I've never read anything like this before and I can't recommend it strongly enough.
Captivating, dizzying, magnificent.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The paid subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re spending 2021 finding new ways to stay connected and share experiences. You can also find a list of my favorite reads of the year so far here.
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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.