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Steamy novels to dive into this summer, according to a romance author

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

We've been talking with some of our favorite authors over the last few weeks about recommendations for summer reading - books old and new that we should read. And today, we're looking for love. That's where Robinne Lee comes in. She's an actor and a writer. Vogue magazine called her smart, sexy romance "The Idea Of You" the sleeper hit of the pandemic. Welcome to the program.

ROBINNE LEE: Hi. Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: So I feel like we have to start with your recommendation for a book that's about a romance writer. It's called "Seven Days In June" by Tia Williams. Tell me about this. It sounds spicy. So tell me about this.

LEE: It is spicy. Tia Williams is a good friend of mine, and her novel "Seven Days In June" was released the summer of 2021. It was hot and sexy and laugh-out-loud funny. Tia is, like, the queen of wit and description and detail, and she has all these characters and specifically New York characters in Brooklyn, like the Brooklyn Literati. And it's - she just does such a brilliant job of, like, pulling you in and describing these character that just are larger than life and jump off the page.

But what I loved about it is that she did not shy away from writing something a little darker. It's not your typical romance in that her characters are somewhat flawed, but her protagonist is dealing with - she has migraines - like, severe migraines. And the male lead has also got his issues as well. And so they're not these, like, shiny, happy, wonderful, everything's-great characters. They're kind of real people going through real problems, and it's super smart and interesting and sexy.

RASCOE: A couple of your picks are set in places that seem made for summer. Tell us about "The Paper Palace." That's set on Cape Cod.

LEE: Yes. "The Paper Palace" is this beautiful, beautiful novel by Miranda Cowley Heller that really just took my breath away. It was beautifully written. Like, I think of it as a literary - more literary novel than not. And it's this woman who is 50 years old, and, you know, she's got a wonderful British husband she's in love with and three kids. It starts out - the very first scene, it's the morning after she has just had sex with the guy she loved growing up while their spouses were, like, in the other room or something to that effect.

And so it goes back and forth in time - like, the course of this woman's life, but also a 24 hours when she has to make the choice. Does she go with this guy or stay with her husband? And the entire time, it reads like poetry, the way she describes Cape Cod and these lakes and the beach and the water and the trees and the woods, and it kind of picks you up for wherever you are and puts you down in that space. And it was just a gorgeous, gorgeous read.

RASCOE: I gather that one of your picks involves a less-than-romantic premise but one that a lot of people deal with, and that's divorce. It's "Before I Let Go" by Kennedy Ryan.

LEE: By Kennedy Ryan. So it's a couple who are divorced, but they're still both very attracted to each other. And they re-fall in love, and they're kind of discovering what made it good the first time. But what I loved about this story is that it's not this simplistic story. They've gone through a huge tragedy, and there's more going on than just the attraction between two people. And it's also - like "Seven Days In June," the lead characters are Black. They're both African American. And it's beautiful to see these characters have multidimensional lives, be flawed in certain ways and strong in certain ways and human and not have to fall into stereotypes of what it is to be a Black woman in Atlanta in 2022 or whatever it is. It's beautiful that we have writing out there that kind of shines a light on that.

RASCOE: Another one that you picked out - and because we work in audio, of course this would stand out to us - and this is a book about an audio narrator called "Thank You For Listening." And this is by Julia Whelan.

LEE: Yeah, Julia Whelan. And she's actually a friend of mine. We met at a writers' conference. She's just super smart, a beautiful writer, and she gets - because she's an audiobook narrator, she gets voices. And her character is flawed and dealing with the tragedy in her past. She is differently abled. She's blind in one eye. She's lost one eye. And like Julia herself, she was an actress, and now she's an audiobook narrator. And she ends up building this relationship with another audiobook narrator who she's been, you know, assigned to do a project with where they're both recording one story together. And he's doing the male leads, and she's doing female leads.

And so it's a lot of - in many ways, it's epistolary. She's - there's a lot of letters and emails going back and forth and then texts, and you're watching them build this relationship when they're not - they can't see each other. They're not in the same room. And so it's so interesting when you don't have that pressure of, well, this is a date. And you just kind of fall in love with the words, and you're kind of cheering for these characters to get together. And it's a romance, so they do (laughter).

RASCOE: Yeah. Yeah.

LEE: But it's really well done. It's really well done and smart. And she does this thing when she's kind of dissecting romance novels and the way romance novels are received by the general public within a romance novel. It's very meta in that way. It's really brilliantly done.

RASCOE: That's Robinne Lee. She is the author of "The Idea Of You." Thank you so much for these picks.

LEE: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOSS OF AURA'S "NEVILLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.