As we approach the heart of summer, these sunny days demand to be filled with books of atmospheric settings and engaging plots to carry us away. The search for the perfect summer read grows ever more important—and we’re here to help. The June releases in this list are well loved among us here at Off the Shelf and all set to become the talk of the beach.
Sarah’s Pick: The perfect book club or feel-good read, THE MISSING TREASURES OF AMY ASHTON invites readers to a neighborhood of interesting characters, complicated friendships, and an 11-year-old mystery. Amy Ashton clings to objects, filling every room and drawing the attention of nosy neighbors; the trouble is that she can trust her belongings, but not people. Not since her boyfriend and best friend disappeared all those years ago. When two young boys move in next door, Amy forms an unexpected bond; as the older one says, “That’s pineapple juice and losing people that we have in common. And cranes.” Suddenly she’s making room for others, including the boys’ father, and following new leads that may reveal the source of her pain and uncertainty.
For fans of The Keeper of Lost Things and Evvie Drake Starts Over comes a funny and tender debut about a reclusive artist whose collection has gotten out of control—but whose unexpected friendship with a pair of new neighbors might be just what she needs to start over.
Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist—of creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow-cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things than people. Things are safe. Things will never leave you.
But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.
Quirky and charming, big-hearted and moving, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton proves that it’s never too late to let go of the things that don’t matter...and welcome the people who do.
Molly’s Pick: Lauren Layne, author of the supremely fun Central Park Pact series, is back this June with a new rom-com that’s drawing comparisons to You’ve Got Mail. In TO SIR, WITH LOVE eternal optimist Gracie Cooper takes over her father’s Manhattan champagne shop after his untimely death. She quickly learns that the business is struggling and she’s offered a buyout by the devastatingly handsome and exceedingly arrogant Sebastian Andrews. Not wanting to stress her family with this difficult decision, Gracie turns to an anonymous friend named “Sir” who she met on an online dating app. She begins to fall for Sir, but little does she know that Sir and Sebastian are one and the same … TO SIR, WITH LOVE is charming and swoon-worthy—a perfect summer read.
Love Is Blind meets You’ve Got Mail in this laugh-out-loud romantic comedy following two thirty-somethings who meet on a blind dating app—only to realize that their online chemistry is nothing compared to their offline rivalry.
Perpetually cheerful and eager to please, Gracie Cooper strives to make the best out of every situation. So when her father dies just months after a lung cancer diagnosis, she sets aside her dreams of pursuing her passion for art to take over his Midtown Manhattan champagne shop. She soon finds out that the store’s profit margins are being squeezed perilously tight, and complicating matters further, a giant corporation headed by the impossibly handsome, but irritatingly arrogant Sebastian Andrews is proposing a buyout. But Gracie can’t bear the thought of throwing away her father’s dream like she did her own.
Overwhelmed and not wanting to admit to her friends or family that she’s having second thoughts about the shop, Gracie seeks advice and solace from someone she’s never met—the faceless “Sir”, with whom she connected on a blind dating app where matches get to know each other through messages and common interests before exchanging real names or photos.
But although Gracie finds herself slowly falling for Sir online, she has no idea she’s already met him in real life…and they can’t stand each other.
Sharon’s Pick #1: Kiese Laymon has one of the most inventive voices in literature today, and after I finished (and had my mind blown by) his essay collection HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA earlier this year, I made a vow that I would read all of Laymon’s writing. LONG DIVISION is Laymon’s debut novel, revised in this new edition, and like his nonfiction, it's highly inventive while tackling topics such as race, violence, and the power of language. The book starts in 2013, with the 14-year-old protagonist Citoyen “City” Coldson becoming an overnight YouTube celebrity after having a meltdown onstage during a nationally televised quiz contest. In the aftermath, he is sent to stay with his grandmother in a small coastal community. Before he leaves, he is given a book without an author titled LONG DIVISION, which stars him and his love interest in 1985, attempting to time travel into the future in order to save a fellow time traveler’s family in 1964.
From Kiese Laymon, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Heavy, comes a “funny, astute, searching” (The Wall Street Journal) debut novel about Black teenagers that is a satirical exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in post-Katrina Mississippi.
Written in a voice that’s alternately humorous, lacerating, and wise, Long Division features two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.
Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called Long Division. He learns that one of the book’s main characters is also named City Coldson—but Long Division is set in 1985. This 1985-version of City, along with his friend and love interest, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future, and steals a laptop and cellphone from an orphaned teenage rapper called...Baize Shephard. They ultimately take these items with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet to protect his family from the Ku Klux Klan.
City’s two stories ultimately converge in the work shed behind his grandmother’s house, where he discovers the key to Baize’s disappearance. Brilliantly “skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism” (Publishers Weekly), this dreamlike “smart, funny, and sharp” (Jesmyn Ward), novel shows the work that young Black Americans must do, while living under the shadow of a history “that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves” (The Wall Street Journal).
Heather’s Pick #1: I don’t know about you, but even post vaccination, I’m not yet ready to commit to a ton of social events. Instead I’m daydreaming about a week of vacation where I do nothing but read a book while basking in the sun. Enter MESSAGE IN THE SAND, a perfect match for my current aspirations. Set in the small town of Saybrook, Connecticut, Hannah McKinnon’s new novel explores how a community recovers from an unexpected loss that ultimately brings them closer together. One summer is about to change everything for Wendell, an estate caretaker who’s seeking a respite from military life; 15-year-old Julia, who’s crushing hard on the boy next door; Julia’s aunt, Candace; and returning local Ginny, who also happens to be Wendell’s first love.
An emotional and unforgettable tale of a small town irrevocably affected by an unforeseen and shocking event—from the author of the “charming gem of a novel” (Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author) Mystic Summer.
Wendell Combs is as local as they come. Born and raised in the small town of Saybrook, Connecticut, his venture into the larger world was met with heartbreak. Now, middle-aged and a confirmed bachelor, he seeks solitude from his tour of duty as a soldier back in his hometown, working as head caretaker for wealthy Alan Lancaster’s forty-acre estate, White Pines, a place he has come to love for its beauty, peace, and quiet.
Alan’s eldest daughter, fifteen-year-old Julia, also loves White Pines, but for very different reasons. She and her little sister spend their days riding horses, swimming in the lake, and painting landscapes inspired by the property they adore. While her parents prepare to host their annual summer gala fundraiser, Julia’s eyes are set to the simpler joys of summer: she’s fallen in love with the boy-next-door and longs for their next encounter.
But as the last guests leave on that magical summer night, a tragedy no one could have predicted suddenly occurs, shaking the entire town to its core. Wendell and Julia now face an uncertain future. At the height of their grief, two very different women return to Saybrook: Ginny Feldman, Wendell’s first love, who cannot stay away any longer, and Candace Lancaster, Julia’s estranged aunt who wants nothing to do with the town or the family estate she escaped decades earlier. Now, the only familiar things Julia has to cling to are Wendell and White Pines, but it looks like she’s about to lose both...
With Hannah McKinnon’s “sharp and evocative” (Kirkus Reviews) prose, this stirring and affecting tale explores the connection between people and place and what, ultimately, makes up the fabric of a family.
Allie's Pick #1: I cannot recommend Jesse Thistle’s memoir FROM THE ASHES enough. This extraordinary book tells Jesse’s story—from his childhood in the foster-care system, to his struggles with addiction and homelessness, to his eventual decision to save his own life. Now a rising indigenous scholar, Jesse recounts his painful past in this inspiring memoir. FROM THE ASHES was a #1 bestseller in Canada, remaining on the bestseller list for over 85 weeks, and I’m so excited for American audiences to meet Jesse and discover his incredible story.
Watch his video for a sneak peek!
This #1 internationally bestselling and award-winning memoir about overcoming trauma, prejudice, and addiction by a Métis-Cree author as he struggles to find a way back to himself and his Indigenous culture is “an illuminating, inside account of homelessness, a study of survival and freedom” (Amanda Lindhout, bestselling coauthor of A House in the Sky).
Abandoned by his parents as a toddler, Jesse Thistle and his two brothers were cut off from all they knew when they were placed in the foster care system. Eventually placed with their paternal grandparents, the children often clashed with their tough-love attitude. Worse, the ghost of Jesse’s drug-addicted father seemed to haunt the memories of every member of the family.
Soon, Jesse succumbed to a self-destructive cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and petty crime, resulting in more than a decade living on and off the streets. Facing struggles many of us cannot even imagine, Jesse knew he would die unless he turned his life around. Through sheer perseverance and newfound love, he managed to find his way back into the loving embrace of his Indigenous culture and family.
Now, in this heart-wrenching and triumphant memoir, Jesse Thistle honestly and fearlessly divulges his painful past, the abuse he endured, and the tragic truth about his parents. An eloquent exploration of the dangerous impact of prejudice and racism, From the Ashes is ultimately a celebration of love and “a story of courage and resilience certain to strike a chord with readers from many backgrounds” (Library Journal).
Heather’s Pick #2: One of the buzziest books of the year, and rightfully so, is THE OTHER BLACK GIRL by debut novelist Zakiya Dalila Harris. Some of the anticipation stems from its setting in the world of book publishing and that it’s written by an author who has worked in the industry herself: she gets the little details of an editorial assistant exactly right. A bigger part of the excitement surrounding this book, though, comes from how masterfully it combines a gripping suspense plot with incisive cultural criticism about what it’s like to be a Black woman in a majority-white workplace. THE OTHER BLACK GIRL will draw you in with the story of 26-year-old Nella Rogers, who’s the only Black employee on her floor at Wagner Books, until the arrival of a new colleague named Hazel. While at first hopeful she and Hazel will be fast friends, Nella soon starts to feel that they’re in competition. And then one evening she finds a disturbing note on her desk…. To reveal any more would be to ruin some big story twists, so I will leave it at this: once you pick up this thriller, you won’t be able to put it down!
Watch Zakiya discuss her inspiration behind THE OTHER BLACK GIRL!
“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel
Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.
Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.
It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
Sara’s Pick #1: How do you follow up a thriller about a silent killer readers couldn’t stop talking about? Alex Michaelides comes back with another tale of murder and obsession sure to send shivers up even the steeliest spines. THE MAIDENS follows Mariana Andros, a group therapist who becomes obsessed with a secret society of young women at Cambridge University, and the popular professor whom Mariana believes killed one of those members. As the bodies keep piling up, Mariana must find a way to prove her theories right, even if it costs her everything.
Emily’s Pick #1: I love romantic comedy stories that revolve around writing or publishing—the flirty dialogue is always filled with so many nerdy book references that I find myself nodding and laughing along with the characters. Which is why I’m so excited about SEVEN DAYS IN JUNE. Eva Mercy is an erotica writer and Shane Hall is a literary author, and their intense weeklong fling from 20 years ago has always been on their minds; it even snuck its way into several of their novels. When they both run into each other again at a New York literary event, the old feelings rush to the surface, accompanied by explorations of betrayal, Black culture, motherhood, and more. This promises to be a poignant rom-com that doesn’t dodge the difficult conversations!
Emily’s Pick #2: My favorite memoirs are those that build tension with the momentum of a novel, while recalling memories with so much honesty that you feel like you know the narrator. HOUSE OF STICKS accomplishes all of that. Ly Tran’s coming-of-age memoir about her family’s immigration in 1993 from a small Vietnam town to NYC is filled with remarkable, eye-opening descriptions that confront the realities of generational drama, the immigrant experience, and the American dream.
An intimate, beautifully written coming-of-age memoir recounting a young girl’s journey from war-torn Vietnam to Ridgewood, Queens, and her struggle to find her voice amid clashing cultural expectations.
Ly Tran is just a toddler in 1993 when she and her family immigrate from a small town along the Mekong river in Vietnam to a two-bedroom railroad apartment in Queens. Ly’s father, a former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese army, spent nearly a decade as a POW, and their resettlement is made possible through a humanitarian program run by the US government. Soon after they arrive, Ly joins her parents and three older brothers sewing ties and cummerbunds piece-meal on their living room floor to make ends meet.
As they navigate this new landscape, Ly finds herself torn between two worlds. She knows she must honor her parents’ Buddhist faith and contribute to the family livelihood, working long hours at home and eventually as a manicurist alongside her mother at a nail salon in Brownsville, Brooklyn, that her parents take over. But at school, Ly feels the mounting pressure to blend in.
A growing inability to see the blackboard presents new challenges, especially when her father forbids her from getting glasses, calling her diagnosis of poor vision a government conspiracy. His frightening temper and paranoia leave an indelible mark on Ly’s sense of self. Who is she outside of everything her family expects of her?
Told in a spare, evocative voice that, with flashes of humor, weaves together her family’s immigration experience with her own fraught and courageous coming of age, House of Sticks is a timely and powerful portrait of one girl’s struggle to reckon with her heritage and forge her own path.
Allie’s Pick #2: John Paul Brammer is a popular columnist who has had pieces in the Washington Post, Food & Wine, Business Insider, and more, and he runs the popular advice column ¡HOLA PAPI! His new book is a collection of memoirs-in-essays that shows his journey as a queer (but closeted) mixed-race child growing up in Oklahoma and explores how you can let go of your past and move on. These essays are completely heartfelt and heart-wrenching, but they are also completely hilarious and will have you laughing out loud.
From popular LGBTQ advice columnist and writer John Paul Brammer comes a hilarious, heartwarming memoir-in-essays chronicling his journey growing up as a queer, mixed-race kid in America’s heartland to becoming the “Chicano Carrie Bradshaw” of his generation.
“I loved ¡Hola Papi!” —Shea Serrano * “An invigorating and vital read.” —R. Eric Thomas * “We are lucky to live in the era of JP Brammer.” —Alexander Chee * “JP Brammer is the best storyteller. ” —Heather Havrilesky * “[Brammer is] a beautiful writer.” —Rainbow Rowell * “Essential and necessary.” —Jonny Sun
The first time someone called John Paul (JP) Brammer “Papi” was on the popular gay hookup app Grindr. At first, it was flattering; JP took this as white-guy speak for “hey, handsome.” Who doesn’t want to be called handsome? But then it happened again and again…and again, leaving JP wondering: Who the hell is Papi?
What started as a racialized moniker given to him on a hookup app soon became the inspiration for his now wildly popular advice column “¡Hola Papi!,” launching his career as the Cheryl Strayed for young queer people everywhere—and some straight people too. JP had his doubts at first—what advice could he really offer while he himself stumbled through his early 20s? Sometimes the best advice to dole outcomes from looking within, which is what JP has done in his column and book—and readers have flocked to him for honest, heartfelt wisdom, and of course, a few laughs.
In ¡Hola Papi!, JP shares his story of growing up biracial and in the closet in America’s heartland, while attempting to answer some of life’s toughest questions: How do I let go of the past? How do I become the person I want to be? Is there such a thing as being too gay? Should I hook up with my grade school bully now that he’s out of the closet? Questions we’ve all asked ourselves, surely.
With wit and wisdom in equal measure, ¡Hola Papi! is for anyone—gay, straight, and everything in between—who has ever taken stock of their unique place in the world, offering considered advice, intelligent discourse, and fits of laughter along the way. “Readers are likely to become addicted to these stories; they’re that good…Brammer comes to know himself very well, and readers will be delighted to make his acquaintance, too,” says Booklist in a starred review.
Sara’s Pick #2: You think making idle chitchat with a stranger is the worst? Imagine being stuck in a car with them for hours on end. And that they might be a serial killer, eyeing you as their next victim. Charlie is fleeing college after the brutal murder of her best friend, the third in a series of killings at the school. Joining a campus ride board, she pairs off with Josh, who is supposedly headed to Ohio to see his sick father. But as they drive into the night, things don’t add up, and Charlie is getting more and more suspicious of her traveling companion. SURVIVE THE NIGHT will have you on the edge of your seat for the long ride, and there’s no way you’ll put this down once you start.
Emily’s Pick #3: Lisa Taddeo’s THREE WOMEN has been praised for its honest and nuanced portrayal of three women’s sex lives. Now, Lisa’s debut novel encapsulates similar themes—evocative, psychological, feminist—in a riveting fictional narrative. After witnessing a brutal death in NYC, Joan travels to Santa Monica where her motives are revealed slowly to the reader, while she looks back on her traumatic childhood. Told in brutal, shocking prose, Joan’s stories and psychologies oscillate between shocking and sweet, open and closed, predator and prey, and make for one fast-paced read that you won’t be able to put down.
Lisa Taddeo illustrates one woman's exhilarating transformation from prey into predator in Animal, the “ferociously beautiful” (Library Journal) debut novel from the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller and international phenomenon Three Women, named to more than thirty best-of-the-year lists and hailed as “a dazzling achievement” (Los Angeles Times) and “a heartbreaking, gripping, astonishing masterpiece” (Esquire).
I am depraved. I hope you like me.
Joan has spent a lifetime enduring the cruelties of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child—that has haunted her every waking moment—while forging the power to finally strike back.
Animal is a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society.
Photo credit: iStock / Canetti