After enduring a life living in the shadows of her brother, family trauma, and wavering self-regard, Zadie Lu wrests mental and tangible control back from the shadows. Shadecraft received an unprecedented reader response over the past few months. Still, most comic readers I personally interact with seemed unaware Shadecraft existed. With issue #5 acting as a first arc ending point and sending the series on a brief hiatus, new readers can discover Shadecraft and read a completed storyline. Shadecraft #5 is written by Joe Henderson, illustrated by Lee Garbett, colored by Antonio Fabela, and letttered by Simon Bowland.
Shadecraft #5 brings all the threads and unresolved plot points full circle in the conclusion of arc one. Each issue blended relatability with gravitas naturally, and this issue magnifies reader resonance with aplomb. Garbett and Fabela’s grand illustrations delineating the fantasy horror genre fuse together poignantly with intimate scenes dissecting Henderson’s family drama thematic dialogue throughout the series. Shadecraft #5 climaxes with flying colors, fusing the elements that strengthened this comic series together in persuasive symbiosis. Finally, readers feel the full effect of Zadie’s emotion as she battles for her brother’s life alongside her mother.
Henderson writes organic dialogue in Shadecraft conveying the inner turmoil of the comics’ teenaged protagonist particularly well. Even during a final issue expansive battle, Zadie retains her wit and sarcasm-laced speech. In Shadecraft #5, Zadie still speaks like a teenager, teetering on the precipice of not fully understanding the confusing emotions encapsulated in the adolescent experience.
Yet, Henderson doubles down on showcasing Zadie’s morphing characteristics in this issue. Shaped by the tension and trauma from her brother’s accident, Zadie undergoes exponential character growth. She flourishes, initially cast in the dim light of an entropic state of existence to finally reversing her fate. Henderson portrays Zadie relatably. Here, readers breathe a sigh of relief as Zadie learns to purge the overshadowing self-deprecation and lack of confidence she displayed during the series’ opening issues.
Shadecraft’s art taps into the solidifying roots of Henderson’s script. Garbett draws characters with a stylized look, leaning on dense inks and expressive demeanors. Shadecraft #5 peels back the clouded layers congesting the characters’ guarded emotions. There’s weight in a subtle raise of the eyebrows or demure smile that carries sentiment between mother and daughter in this issue.
Shadecraft binds readers up in magic and shadows, bolstered by Fabela’s color work. The comic combines a darkly vibrant pastel color palette with a kind of leaking watercolor appearance. Whenever Zadie commands the shadows through Shadecraft, the tendrils and ghostly, oil-hued shapes discharge a moody aesthetic. Issue #5 crosses the threshold of reigning in the shadows, letting Garbett and Fabela fill entire splash pages to emphasize Shadecraft’s potential for destruction.
Simon Bowland’s lettering further cleaves the light and dark theme in Shadecraft #5. The white speech bubbles accommodating crisp, descending words deeply contrast the shoved together letters of Zadie’s brother against a black background. A slight difference in kerning proves seminal in channeling the tone of trapped fear Zadie’s brother suffers as a renegade shadow.
As usual, Shadecraft #5 sustains its effort to impact readers with shock. A detailed plot summary would have given away these surprises, both broad and small-scale. Keeping major story beats shockwaves undisclosed will pay off for readers who find themselves curious about Shadecraft after reading this review. If the first issue feels minorly predictable, readers will assuredly never anticipate those last page cliffhangers that left me slack-jawed every month.
This fifth issue wraps up loose ends well while seeding in hints of later storylines, patiently biding their time in the shadows. Although no major cliffhanger awaits at Shadecraft #5’s conclusion, revelations about Zadie’s mom enkindle emotional potency, and worrisome questions arise concerning the physical and mental toll using Shadecraft abilities produces. The epic battle is fought, and tensions between Zadie and her exploitative enemies come to a head. Yet, Henderson and the creative team evidence that Zadie’s skirmishes encompassed in her Shadecraft power are far from over. Shadecraft humorously teaches lessons about family and forgiveness in an intoxicating supernatural narrative that will leave you side-eyeing your own shadow.
Empathy and humility should not be mutually exclusive. Instead, a humble mindset broadens one’s capacity to understand another, if your intentions are rooted in compassion. Syphon #1 from Image’s Top Cow imprint introduces a protagonist, Sylas, who already demonstrates both empathy and humility in his everyday life. An urban fantasy miniseries roping in some noir aesthetic flair, Syphon #1 is the first of three issues about an empowered empath. Syphon was conceived by comic book documentarian Patrick Meaney, co-written by Mohsen Ashraf, illustrated by Jeff Edwards, and colored by John Kalisz.
Syphon protagonist Sylas is a New York City EMT in his 20s, saving lives and easing pain-riddled victims through calming words of affirmation. He is an everyday hero, exhibiting heroic characteristics right from the story’s start. Due to the nature of his day job as a first responder, Sylas possesses natural empathy and sensitivity concerning peoples’ well being. A patient frantic over the loss of his finger in the back of the ambulance offers to repay Sylas’s alleviating conversation after the trip, but Sylas never demands nor expects repayment to come to fruition. Critically, Syphon #1 presents Sylas as genuine in his empathy. It’s this kind of humility that deems Sylas worthy of transcending his emphatic personality trait. Thus, Sylas’s transformation into a supernatural empath feels like a logical event.
Flashbacks reveal how Sylas is not without flaws, because he is still human, after all. Through a horrifying sequence of panels rotating to emulate a car flipping upside down and the fiery aftermath of a car crash, readers learn of Sylas’s involvement in the accident. Subtle uses of dialogue evidence a former drinking problem Sylas works hard to curb. Unassuming dialogue interspersed within the story exposition chiefly allow readers to assume an interconnectedness between the two crises. Rescue from a good Samaritan during the crash turns out to be an inciting incident for Sylas. Because someone saved him out of empathy, he dedicated his life to helping others survive accidents by becoming an EMT. The story is touching and formative of Sylas’s character. Additionally, this brief page provides a vital example of how human flaws can provoke immolation, but out of destruction comes an impetus for change and rebirth.
Sylas eventually receives power to not only sense other’s pain but also siphon pain from these suffering individuals. A paranormal encounter with a woman spirit introduced in Syphon #1’s opening pages grants Sylas a sight to visibly witness pain, extract the burden from a person, and thrust the weight on himself instead. Therefore, Sylas’s life takes yet another direction leveraged by his core propensity for empathy. Balance then behooves his actions. Syphon #1 posits a question extremely relevant to our current society: How do you carry another’s pain and heal their adversity without succumbing to the intense agony of that pain yourself?
All the themes in Syphon #1, visceral empathy, engaging with others’ viewpoints devoid of a personal agenda, and mitigating another’s’ misery without letting their burdens induce a schism inside your own psyche are splendidly displayed. Co-writers Patrick Meaney and Mohsen Ashraf pack Syphon with a gripping showcase of the human experience and a unique supernatural aspect. The beginning pages revealing ancient origins and multiple users collectively involved in the “siphoning” power come across somewhat nebulously on a first read through. However, the supernatural circumstances are interspersed through the narrative coherently, elaborating sporadically instead of opening with a mountain of exposition.
Beyond the veritable fantasy, Meaney and Mohsen write a sublime character I could read an entire novel about. Quick pacing is inevitable in a three issue miniseries. Their ability to make me care deeply about Sylas and proffer enough backstory for a full-scale analysis in one issue is astounding.
Let’s talk about the phenomenal art in Syphon #1. Whenever magic and siphoning powers takes centerstage, readers are blessed with vibrantly cinematic illustrations, illuminating light sparkling in popping technicolor on the pages. Illustrator Jeff Edwards and colorist John Kalisz create a synthesis of electrifying imagery. Adorned by Kalisz’s kaleidoscope of vivid violet and vermillion hues, Edwards’ experimental renderings of siphoning power usage lash out over panel gutters or explode over double splash pages.
Additionally, colors and shapes within speech bubbles supplement the supernatural atmosphere Syphon. Speech bubbles in the magic realm take on a loose congealing form against an orange tinted background. The imagery swells with a phosphorus glow, reinforcing the theme of pain and the magic-adjacent red color palette.
Novelist Mohsin Hamid says that “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Perceptible through Syphon #1’s narrative, branches of this theme are exemplified by the comics’ artistry. Characters in Syphon are drawn with correct anatomy and proportions, but Edwards distorts true reality. Combining a semi-realistic art style with flairs of impressionism reflects echoes of realism. Moreover, we can identify with the characters’ resemblance to ourselves, easily empathizing with those echoing parallels of pain they endure.
Lately, empathy appears to manifest less and less. People adopt numbness or indifference toward overwhelming tragedy occurring daily, as opposed to responding empathetically. Largely, this emotional barrier is due to the simple fact that the human mind is incapable of processing the amount of information contained in a single day news cycle. Syphon #1 empowers an already empathetic protagonist with an empathy-driven skill. This beautifully-drawn first issue is elevated by topical thematic material. Syphon portends an ambivalent future for Sylas, but I am eager to see how learning balance will tectonically shape his destiny. Balance, empathy, and humility should function as touchstones of our own lives as well.
Life Is Strange: Coming Home #1 begins the penultimate arc in the Life Is Strange comic series. Shocking revelations will gratify fans reading this double-sized issue. Simmering with multiverse developments, Coming Home procures long-anticipated answers to questions posed throughout the series. The comic saga has been lauded as a stellar story bridging gaps between the first and second Life Is Strange video games. Therefore, it comes at no surprise that the latest comic installment continues demonstrating an acute understanding of the Life Is Strange universe — and characters Max Caulfield and Chloe Price.
In Max and Chloe’s original universe timeline where Max sacrificed Arcadia Bay to save Chloe and the two fell in love, reality-phaser Tristan fights for a way to cross back into Max’s new timeline. Pixie, drummer for the traveling band “High Seas”, finally confronts herself, Tristan, and the original Chloe about her own connection to the transect. Pixie’s powers were hinted at during the last Life Is Strange comic arc. In Coming Home #1, Pixie reveals herself as able to see alternate possibilities during an event. This revelation contains extreme ramifications for Tristan and emphasizes Pixie’s role in both realities.
On the alternate side of the temporal divide, Chloe’s anger toward Max persists. While exploring Carlsbad Canyons with Chloe’s girlfriend Rachel Amber and Rachel’s theatre troupe, Max tries to make amends for recklessly rewinding time without telling Chloe and casting Tristan out of this timeline in the process. Rachel Amber eventually forces Max and Chloe to apologize to one another in a heartfelt conversation that releases the tension between the friends.
Meanwhile, original timeline Chloe, Pixie, and Tristan realize Chloe’s existence in each reality serves as the navigating source for reality-jumping. Tristan locates the Chloe in the “living Rachel Amber” string. Their joyous reunion steers the group back on to their original mission to reunite Max with her Chloe in the Arcadia Bay universe after two years of their split across the transect. In order to achieve their goals, Max and Tristan must work together and teach the new timeline’s Pixie how to hone her powers. But a fortune teller foretells an incoming storm heralding a new beginning. New beginnings aren’t unfamiliar to Chloe and Max, and unfortunately, neither are storms. These actions will have consequences.
The Life Is Strange comic series consistently excels in voice, characterization, and genuine depictions of emotion. Emma Viecelli’s artist background obviously aids her storytelling skills. Coming Home #1 showcases Viecelli’s aptitude for both story direction and pacing. Previously, I felt that the last arc dragged somewhat. Now, in retrospect, I am more appreciative of the slower pacing and expansive character work Viecelli displayed in Vol. 4. Every event and hint at Pixie’s burgeoning powers climaxes in Coming Home #1. Truly, I am astonished at Viecelli’s ability to write so contextually. All the prior foreshadowing about Pixie and Tristan’s connection, as well as Chloe’s duality in both strings emboldens the payoffs of Life Is Strange’s butterfly effect theme.
Illustrator Claudia Leonardi and colorist Andrea Izzo also return to saturate Coming Home #1 with a gorgeous, down-to-earth ambiance. Throughout the whole comic series, coloring and outfit designs prevail as paramount in timeline delineations. Similar color palettes in Coming Home can make distinguishments a little tricky. Still, the original timeline maintains a darker, looser aesthetic separating visuals from the vivid color choices in Max’s alternate universe.
Sentimentality runs high in Coming Home #1. Tears are shed, friendships are stitched back together, and astonishment threads through the issue. Leonardi draws emotion realistically with cartoonish stylism that only adds to the comics’ visible appeal. Tender moments where Max bows her head in defeat or closes her eyes with hands crossed across her chest permit reverberate with emotion. Leonardi positions faces closely in panels and often repeats images with slight alterations. Accented by Izzo’s muted colors, panels hosting close-framed profiles communicate the precise instance characters’ internal friction unspools.
Letterers Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt buoy the saccharine ambiance. Font sizes inside speech bubbles are reduced every time Chloe trails off, overwhelmed with sadness from missing Max. Whenever Chloe and Max share a scene, eye contact or an aversion thereof disseminates either tension or adoration respectively. Essentially, Izzo matches eye colors to their video game counterparts. Shining mixtures of blue hues make Max and Chloe’s pupils particularly expressive. Leonardi and Izzo translate the video games’ signature quiet beauty through thoughtful artistry.
Despite the combination of two issues into one oversized single issue, Coming Home #1 never feels tediously long. Due attention is given to Pixie, who has thus far been a background character, as she struggles to comprehend her powers. Winks at a possible love interest for Tristan add character dimensions. Even the two-page backup introducing Alex Chen, protagonist for the upcoming Life Is Strange: True Colors video game, acts as a welcome addition to the issue. The page where Max clutches Chloe’s letter to her chest as Tristan stresses the unbreakable tether between Max and Chloe is a moment readers needed as soon as possible.
Max and Chloe have been separated for over a dozen issues now. The gravity of actions taken here don’t trend toward a reconnection within this fourth arc. Nevertheless, Coming Home #1 pushes its characters and their abilities to the limit. This installment drives the story forward with a renewed vigor, insinuating the retooling of loose narrative threads sooner rather than later. Ghosts of the past transect the crisscrossing strings of the present in Coming Home #1. All that’s left is to ride the waves while an impending storm catapults Max home in the final Life Is Strange issues.
Summer solstice somehow only officially began two weeks ago. Where I live, summer heat starts around April and ends in September — if I’m lucky. Thankfully, my precious books are here to help me cope with the summers’ triple digit days. July’s Book Corner recommendations accidentally includes a theme: History! Travel back in time to the 1920s with a Great Gatsby retelling, or witness a cat’s exploits during 1500s Italy. Read a romance novel about a teenager who can see a relationship’s past — and future. Two nonfiction books portray unvarnished truths about facets of American history. Additionally, July’s list includes a bonus book that imagines an origin story for a famous sci-fi character. Whether you’re reading digitally from Kindle or online library apps, or you enjoy ruminating in the crisp scent of physical pages, crank up the air conditioner and journey through history with these books during July.
1. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo Genre: Adult Fiction / Historical Fantasy Page Count: 272
(CW: Sex, Murder, Racism, Trauma)
In the economically prosperous Western era of the “Roaring 20s,” New Yorkers relished the “a little party never killed nobody” mindset. Unfortunately, everyone knows the murderous conclusion to the party deity, Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. Nghi Vo untangles the tale of The Great Gatsby and constructs a luminous retelling that transcends the source material. The Chosen and the Beautiful is a prose novel, fashioned from the exact plot framework of Fitzgerald’s literary novel. Vo’s novel still takes place in the 1920s Jazz Era on Long Island. Now though, the protagonist is background player Jordan Baker. Vo reinvents the overlooked character, molding Jordan’s story to reflect an equally swept aside experience. As the events of the original Gatsby novel play out, Vietnamese woman Jordan Baker forges her own identity. Alongside the glittering spectacle of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby’s forbidden love story, Jordan undergoes her own magical transformation in the summer of 1927 as a bisexual immigrant who also possesses a bit of real magic.
Sometimes, you read a book and it transports your every sense inside its pages. When reading The Chosen and the Beautiful, inhale deeply. Don’t be scared to breathe in the whirlwinds of emotion that will sweep you away. Throughout the magic imbued in this novel’s pages, you will nearly smell the piercing tang of a 1920s New York summer, dripping with sweat, thrills, and a romance fated for heartbreaking disaster. Prepare for a spellbinding read that may just dance its way up to the top of your all-time favorite books list with The Chosen and the Beautiful.
2. Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice by Yusef Salaam Genre: Nonfiction Autobiography / Self Improvement Page Count: 304
(CW: Racism, Trauma, Abuse, Police Brutality)
In 1989, fifteen-year-old Yusef Salaam was apprehended, arrested, and ultimately imprisoned with four other teenagers in the Central Park jogger case. Crucified by the media, the Central Park Five — now essentially renamed The Exonerated Five — remained wrongfully incarcerated for seven years after a trial ruled them guilty of the brutal assault and rape of Patricia Ellen Meili. Yusef Salaam was one of those five. Since his release, Salaam has worked tirelessly as a motivational speaker, justice seeker, and prison reform activist. Salaam’s Better, Not Bitter is his memoir. The book serves the dual function of recounting his inspiring tale of finding purpose during his unfathomable experience and underscoring the overarching need for American prison reform. Here, Salaam writes about his life growing up, his family’s unrelenting desire for justice, and discovering spirituality behind prison walls.
Better, Not Bitter is a formative narrative about transformation. Yusef Salaam writes about identity and purpose with an intimately compelling ardor that will force readers to challenge fixed mindsets. Salaam draws upon his firsthand experiences to discuss the necessity of racial justice in a prison system that sets Black and Brown people up to fail — both inside and outside prison. No matter what your race, identity, or gender, Better, Not Bitter will probe your mind with mentalities you may have never before considered. Better, Not Bitter should be read by anyone and everyone. Salaam stresses how to reconstruct your mind in response toward the false narratives society engenders. You may have to take a few reading breaks when your heart becomes overwhelmed and your eyes fill up with tears. Every sentence in this vital memoir imprints itself on your mind forever.
3. By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution by David Talbot and Margaret Talbot Genre: Nonfiction Politics and Social Sciences / Democracy Page Count: 400
(CW: Racism, Murder, Political Conflict, Abortion)
The first American Revolution declared the colonies’ independence, shaping the country into a democratic nation. Unfortunately, this “revolution” was built to serve the elite, white, male landowners. Founded on slavery and committals of genocide against Native American tribes, those promises of freedom quickly rejected ideals they claimed to uphold. By the Light of Burning Dreams surveys key figures and movements in the radical generation of the 1960s “Second American Revolution.” Authors David Talbot and Margaret Talbot use each chapter to disseminate information about specific developments and leaders that fought for real independence for all groups of people. Leaders like Bobby Seale and Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party forged a path for Black Americans to stand up for their basic human rights against armed resistance. The book highlights the inspiring leadership of Craig Rodwell of the Stonewall riot, and feminist civil rights activist Heather Booth. Together, the authors chronicle the history of leaders against the Vietnam War, American labor revolutionaries, and many other critical figures who emboldened the Second American Revolution.
By the Light of Burning Dreams is an example of how to write a captivating history book. Reading this nonfiction narrative can be likened to watching seven short documentaries. Each sort of vignette chapter sheds light on significant moments in history and its important — yet admittedly flawed — leaders, avoiding the dreaded “information dump” reading sensation. You can skip around to chapters about the individuals or movements that most interest you without losing that connecting thematic thread woven throughout. Not only is By the Light of Burning Dreams a social sciences lesson, but the activism and reform exhibited in the American past teaches paralleled ideals that are currently relevant in the present. The book teaches the values of learning, listening, and chiefly, leading.
4. Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance / Fantasy Page Count: 304
(CW: Death, Relationships, Divorce)
Instructions for Dancing is a lovely Young Adult novel about love, friendships, and of course, dancing. Nicola Yoon, author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star returns with a new story bristling with swoon-worthy, conventional romance. Protagonist, teenager, and disbeliever of love, Evie Thomas, rejects the notion of “true love” after her father leaves her mother — and their family — for his mistress. Bafflingly for her, Evie’s mother and sister downplay this life-altering event while Evie harbors lingering resentment. One day, love-discouraged Evie receives powers: She can see the beginning and endings of a couple’s relationship whenever they kiss. Her confusing visions, a book titled “Instructions for Dancing”, some encouragement to “just say yes” in life, and a dance competition entangle her with musician and new (hot) tango partner, X. And Evie learns to say “yes” to more than just dance lessons.
Even if you are soft on romance (like me) or the YA genre, I promise that Instructions for Dancing will leave you wishing all romance books were written with such breezy eloquence. Nicola Yoon has written (in my opinion) her best work here. Personally, I loved both books mentioned earlier, but Yoon won over my heart with the strong character voices, pointed dialogue, and narrative driven by verity. Instructions for Dancing actually benefits from the YA trope of first-person dialogue in this case. Thus, we weave our way through a first-person point-of-view of Evie’s most intimate thoughts until suddenly, our eyes reach the last word as our hearts are aching from the final words’ reverberations. You’re liable to read this perfect summer novel in one sitting. Romance is my least favorite genre, yet my eyes were misty after dancing across every word from Yoon’s magical story for three straight hours.
5. Da Vinci’s Cat by Catherine Gilbert Murdock Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction / Science Fiction / Fantasy Page Count: 288
Disclaimer: Da Vinci hardly appears in Da Vinci’s Cat. Although, Da Vinci’s cat has a strong presence in this middle grade novel. Therefore, Da Vinci’s Cat proves an apt title for a timeslip story about 1500s Italian painters and an orange cat named Juno. Catherine Gilbert Murdock blends history and fantasy together, pushing real-life son of the Duke of Mantua, Sir Federico Gonzaga, to the narrative’s forefront. Unfortunately, Pope Julius II holds Frederico as a political hostage in the Vatican to maintain his fathers’ loyalty. Frederico thus spends his days interacting with artists like Raphael and Michaelangelo. One day, enigmatic cat “Juno” magically transforms from a kitten into a full cat after passing through a wardrobe. Equally mysterious, modern art collector Herbert strikes a deal with Frederico to obtain a signed sketch from Raphael. But when Bee, a girl from the present day, is vexed when discovering a painted portrait of herself from Renaissance Rome, she also slips through Da Vinci’s magic cabinet–crossing paths with Frederico. Frederico and Bee’s lives soon become endangered on their missions accompanied by their feline friend.
Honestly, Da Vinci’s Cat made this list primarily based on its inclusion of a cat. The story finds its strength through the chapters narrated by Frederico, but Bee’s character eventually finds a balance between vexing and charming. Middle grade novels can be hit or miss for readers outside the targeted audience range. Here, Catherine Murdock intertwines historical elements rooted in truth with a well-thought-out version of time-traveling inspired by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, culminating in a fascinating narrative. Readers can plausibly believe that the great Leonardo da Vinci crafted an era-jumping wardrobe. If anything, you should read Da Vinci’s Cat for the hilarious rivalry dialogue between 16th Century Italian artists. Then again, this is a light summer read if you just love cat stories.
Bonus Book:Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction Page Count: 291
GateCrashers is celebrating Star Wars during this whole month of July! Although I haven’t read many novels based on the franchise, I’ve consistently visited author Claudia Gray’s YA Star Wars books. I thought about adding the new High Republic title I also read recently, Into the Dark here, but Gray’s Leia: Princess of Alderaan features a teenaged version of my absolute favorite Star Wars character. Gray’s narrative delves into Leia Organa’s duties growing up as a princess and how she navigates life with her adopted parents. When she uncovers secrets about Breha and Bail, Leia’s relationship with her beloved caretakers begins to fracture. Additionally, her undercover excursions unknowingly present the princess as a threat the Empire itself.
Leia has always inspired me with her sharp wit and fierce independence. There’s a strange romance in Leia that felt somewhat unnecessary (especially since Han and Leia later work as the perfect pair.) Nevertheless, Leia: Princess of Alderaan is a page-turner. The novel considers the weight of political responsibilities as a 16-year-old compounded with relationship management thrust upon our beloved Star Wars princess, Leia Organa.
Delight in quenching your literary thirst amidst July’s sweltering heat with these novel novels. If you’re interested in reading more Star Wars literature, GateCrashers is reviewing several novels in the current High Republic era of the book series. Alternatively, you can dive into other Star Wars titles by the mighty Star Wars wordsmith, Claudia Gray. Prepare for five more book recommendations from your fellow book binge-reader next month!
Marvel’s infamous cat burglar attempts to take a vacation from her jewel thief heists. Unfortunately, stretching out her claws in the sun isn’t in the cards for Felicia Hardy in Black Cat Annual (2021) #1. An unscheduled layover in Seoul precipitates a meeting — and eventual caper — between Black Cat and South Korean National Intelligence Service operative, White Fox.
The Tiger Division leader busts Black Cat for entering Korea with falsified credentials. Luckily, White Fox requires an accomplice with feline reflexes for a rescue mission. The Choi Faction, a South Korean gangster family, captured Seoul’s most powerful superhero and national icon, Taegukgi. However, the Choi’s claim to have figured out a method of controlling Taegukgi’s abilities. Unleashing the superhuman’s powers would devastate Seoul and place the Choi family in a position of authority over the country. Black Cat has no choice but to cooperate since a major caveat of their caper includes White Fox implanting a nanomunition bomb inside Black Cat’s neck. Also, the Cat’s not getting her paws on any compensation for this mission.
As usual, Jed MacKay demonstrates aptness for writing comical, sharp-tongued dialogue while simultaneously staying attuned to the characters’ individualism. Black Cat and White Fox act as a purr-fect pairing in this story. Snappy remarks bounce off the two women without hesitation. Their similarities in speaking styles and manifold attitudes provide potency to their conversations. In contrast, MacKay evidences how Black Cat and White Fox’s distinctly assigned attributes — Felicia’s easygoing blitheness versus Ami’s serious evasiveness — construct ideal character foils.
Of course, banter and humor between our badass leading ladies only scratch the surface of the thrill involved in reading Black Cat Annual#1. Although, the overwriting prevalent in this issue should be acknowledged, McKay jab’s at the verbosity involved in villain monologues toward the story’s end. In context, readers could assume McKay is poking fun at his own loquacious dialogue and exposition inside Black Cat Annual. Arguably, the overwritten narrative doesn’t diminish the comic’s affability and good-natured fun. I’d rather McKay over-explain details regarding White Fox and her lesser-known cast of characters for unfamiliar readers than throw White Fox into the story and expect his audience to know about the Tiger Division, Taegukgi, and the shape-shifting Kumiho.
Illustrator Joey Vasquez flexes his artistic chops. Vasquez’s layouts and character positions on the page reflect his attunement with spatial awareness. When Black Cat, White Fox, and the other Tiger Division members all circle around a holographic image of the abandoned alps ski resort they plan to target for their mission, each person strategically populates their own space in the panel. Readers can choose to look at the characters individually. Hence, Vasquez triumphs in achieving the often problematic task comics artists face when arranging multiple (superhero) characters visibly on-page.
Fight scenes are structured to give ample room in conveying both action and facial tics. Black Cat and White Fox battle in tandem, striking blows in accordance with their canon abilities and flexible body movements. Panels vary on every page, with borders shifting and low angles revealing enemies in the shadows. Thus, panel movement always remains frantic, strengthening the impact of morphing expressions during Black Cat and White Fox’s harrowing discoveries as they work together to save Taegukgi. Letterer Ferran Delgado effortlessly keeps pace with the borders rotating continually. His lettering is marvelous, particularly clear-cut when white letters surface against the black exterior of Black Cat’s internal dialogue caption boxes.
Pages illustrating the White Tiger Faction’s combat on the streets of Seoul are particularly eye-catching. Colorist Brian Reber embellishes these scenes. Here, the Tiger Division squad receives specific colors to distinguish them in a whirlwind of action. Vasquez again stations the characters well as they fight Taegukgi. As a result, the art allows readers opportunities to digest vibrantly-colored costume designs or comprehend the enormity of the totem-appearing creature, The General, in comparison to the smaller, agile-bodied frames of Luna Snow or Auntie Ante. Colors crackle with an electric appearance. In opposition, the hues denoting Black Cat’s sleek black costume and White Fox’s aquamarine sapphire blue color scheme stand out boldly against shadowy tones portraying the ominous atmosphere inside the abandoned building.
While the Infinite Destinies tie-in may not feel clear after parsing the contents inside Black Cat Annual #1, this issue even taking part in the storyline establishes Black Cat’s role. Black Cat #3 foreshadowed Felicia’s importance when she was provided a chance to wield the Infinity Gauntlet. Moreso, the solicit cover for the upcoming Black Cat #8 shows the Gauntlet placed on the hand of our fur-tunate Black Cat. Sadly, this annual issue does not supply any further information about Black Cat’s place within the Infinite Destinies narrative.
Still, the Infinite Destinies backup presses forward. Nick Fury’s story continues as he grapples with daunting feelings looming over the Infinity Stones’ unpredictability. The last panel introduces a new contender for Fury, crucially utilizing shadows during the cliffhanger ending.
Overall, Black Cat Annual #1 proves a gratifying romp and takes readers on their own vacation. Black Cat may not have gotten the weekend getaway she had planned, but Jed MacKay and team offers a gut-punching, action-packed Black Cat story set against the backdrop of Seoul’s luster dripping with entertainment. Hopefully, we could see future Black Cat/White Fox pairings? There’s enough purr-sonality between Felicia and Ami to fill an entire comic series.
Before the debut of the M.O.D.O.K. Head Games comic miniseries, I had never heard of M.O.D.O.K., but all it took to pick up the first issue at my local comic shop was seeing Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum’s names attached to the series. Further, one brief flip through the pages vibrating with Scott Hepburn’s artwork blew my mind. Regrettably, I didn’t read the floppies about the eerie villain with a gargantuan head while they were being released on a monthly basis. It was only when Oswalt and Blum’s Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. (2021) animated television series premiered that I began to engage with any M.O.D.O.K. content. Flash forward to now, and I cannot get enough of A.I.M. leader M.O.D.O.K. Superior.
I would rank the stop-motion M.O.D.O.K. show starring Patton Oswalt as the titular antihero up with my top favorite comedy series. Immediately after finishing the show, I read Unbelievable Gwenpool Vol.1 which centers around a head-to-head mercenary matchup between Gwenpool and M.O.D.O.K. Superior. M.O.D.O.K.’s first appearance in Tales of Suspense #93-94 is worth reading for his origins and Kirby’s art. M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 proves an essential piece of M.O.D.O.K. comic lore. The series peers back into George Tarleton’s origin before he became the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. Cardinal to the Head Games comic narrative, M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 also provides hilarious insights into his tenuous relationship with A.I.M. Scientist Supreme,Monica Rappaccini.
So where does M.O.D.O.K. Head Games fit into Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. comic book pantheon? Co-written by Jordan Blum and Patton Oswalt, the trade begins with A.I.M. leader M.O.D.O.K. hallucinating images of a family who never existed inside his computerized brain. Not only does he see visions of a daughter named Melissa with an oversized head and confined to a hovering wheelchair like himself, but he also retains memories of a human wife and son named Jodie and Lou, respectively. The images terrify the terrorist organization ringleader enough to make M.O.D.O.K. mind blast his way toward discovering the menacing truth behind his “malfunction.”
Meanwhile, Monica Rappaccini recruits the bees–er, yellow-clad A.I.M. agents to murder her boss. Evading Monica and her rogue A.I.M. minions while also searching for answers about his family places M.O.D.O.K. in the company of some unlikely allies. Tony Stark and even Gwenpool aid M.O.D.O.K. in a quest to “fix” himself. Instead, he ascertains a truth about his mirage of a family — and a family member from the past — who complicates his unstable mind.
Inherent absurdity reigns in any take on the Marvel supervillain. For god sakes, poor George Tarelton’s mind was transformed into a supercomputer against his will. We actually see an image of a naked M.O.D.O.K. that will either induce nightmares or have you chuckling for a lack of proper means to fully articulate the experience. Aside from the hilarity — which this comic nails — M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games treats M.O.D.O.K. with a sort of reverence for his afflictions. If you’ve ever wondered whether he can transcend the role as a cameo or functioning punchline in Marvel comics, Oswalt, Blum, and Hepburn’s miniseries elevate M.O.D.O.K. as a character you can finally empathize with. And shouldn’t great stories impart readers with a sense of emotional investment?
M.O.D.O.K. fits a certain mold of odd Marvel villains. In Head Games, his trademark tendencies are present. M.O.D.O.K. exhibits a triptych of egomania, pontification, and sadistic love for violence. Blum and Oswalt pay homage to these trademark attributes in their script, while letting Scott Hepburn loose in his intricately detailed depictions of M.O.D.O.K.’s rage.
M.O.D.O.K. often inflicts carnage breaching two full comic pages. These graphic illustrations dangle between the line of campy and grandiose through Carlos Lopez’s Kirby-inspired colors. Splash pages or wide-pan shots in Head Games capture M.O.D.O.K.’s movement to its fullest extent as he spins around like a top to defeat his (numerous) enemies attacking from every page corner. Colors swirl around the comic with finite attention to the narrative’s tone. Even during battle scenes, letterer Travis Lanham crisply presents M.O.D.O.K.’s inner musings as dialogue inside bright pink caption boxes. Feast your eyes as M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games serves visual buffets on each page.
Dualities saturate the narrative about the usually gag-centered antagonist. M.O.D.O.K. hears a voice inside his head. Arguments between the mechanical part of his brain and an untethered voice reveal inconsistencies in the makeup of his being. When these disputes occur, handwritten dialogue protrudes from black caption boxes skewed over M.O.D.O.K.’s thoughts. The contrast stands out starkly. Later in the comic, M.O.D.O.K. faces off against Gwenpool. M.O.D.O.K.’s internal dialogue is expressed in white letters against a pink backdrop throughout, a bold color choice seeming to allude to his matchup with the famously pink-tinged Gwenpool.
M.O.D.O.K. commands A.I.M., yet he can not control his minions. He finds himself at constant odds with Monica, who prescribes sovereignty to herself. But when given the opportunity to kill Monica, he only calculates the hundreds of ways he could eradicate her instead of, you know, really killing her. Furthermore, dual color schemes divulge subtext. Purple hues engulf M.O.D.O.K. himself, as well as washing the backgrounds when he engages in contemplation. Conversely, green tones assault the page when M.O.D.O.K. faces enemies, suggestively deriving from the green color palette associated with his unwilling subordinate rival, Monica. Applause all around to the entire creative team’s synchronicity in foreshadowing plot points, and paralleling themes with color choices.
Head Games presents M.O.D.O.K. as both neurotic yet justifiably inquisitive. M.O.D.O.K. tries to accept that visions of a family are glitches in his system or merely fabricated memories. However, the possibility of the hallucination’s validity torments the human side still flickering somewhere inside his analytical brain. Is M.O.D.O.K. destined for an eternity of isolation? Or is there a family awaiting him somewhere? In Head Games, M.O.D.O.K. can’t help but gravitate toward the probability of hope, fulfilling his dueling consciousness.
The comic begs the query: Does M.O.D.O.K. have a purpose? The writers of Head Games give him one. Additionally, in order to pursue that purpose, another duality plagues M.O.D.O.K. He is forced to set aside his biases as a supervillain and enlist the help of his greatest nemesis, Tony Stark. Placing M.O.D.O.K. alongside Iron Man at a supervillain convention may be the funniest gag in the series — and gags run amok in Head Games.
M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games works because it tempers comedy with gravitas. M.O.D.O.K. acts in accordance with his previous comic book characteristics, yet Head Games literally crawls inside M.O.D.O.K’s freakishly large mind to assess his thoughts, perspectives, and motivations. Vibrant artistry plays a dominant role in distilling both the emotional and logical reasoning behind actions M.O.D.O.K. takes. Issue #3 departs from the narrative to center around Gwenpool. X-Men cameos, a visit to Krakoa, and fourth-wall breaking antics ensue when Gwenpool enters the scene.
Spread across the comic, Head Games overflows with great character cameos like Gwenpool. It’s a pleasure to see giant-sized X-Men fan Jordan Blum getting to dip his toes in the X-Men comic writing waters. M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games excels at quippy dialogue, thematic nuance, vividly illustrated action sequences, and charging M.O.D.O.K. with personality. If this be…a new introspective version of M.O.D.O.K., mind blast more comics from these guys into existence!
Jim Lives is published by Image Comics, whose silence on welcoming back known abuser Warren Ellis, who has not taken any steps to address his gross behaviour, with open arms is an absolute travesty. For further information on this situation please follow the link here.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
Undoubtedly, Jim Morrison was a man of many talents. He was a poet, a musician, and assuredly considered himself a philosophizer. But it goes without saying that he was a free spirit. Profoundly influenced from witnessing a car crash on a Native American reservation as a child, James Douglas Morrison eventually acted as his own kind of shaman. Fans worshiped Jim as a supporter of the profane, equally as intoxicated with the counterculture movement as Jim was during his short time performing with The Doors.
Uninhibited lyrics about death and morality often took center stage in The Doors’ music. During the late 1960s/early 70s, The Doors gave live musical performances where lead singer Jim would wobble around the stage erratically, his scratchy vocals enchanting the audience around him. The Doors played songs like “Light My Fire,” “People Are Strange,” and “Roadhouse Blues.” Their music, mostly written by Jim himself, blended dark, psychedelic rock and roll with jazz-infused sensibilities. And like jazz, Jim’s life and stage performances were liberating, unpredictable, and celebratory of freedom.
It’s no secret that Jim Morrison had an affinity for psychedelic drugs. His songs, free-verse poetry, and off-the-book monologues during gigs praised drugs, rebellion, and free will. As a result, Jim served as a driving force for the counterculture and youth movement of the era.
Sadly, Jim’s life was cut short. Jim fled to Paris with his girlfriend Pam in March of 1971. Subsequent to drawn-out court battles over his on-stage arrest that eventually led to a successful appeal, 27-year-old Jim decided to quit The Doors and live in Paris. Only a few months later, Jim Morrison was found dead in his apartment bathroom on July 3, 1971. Ultimately, his addiction to drugs, alcohol, and embracement of the no restrictions, “free spirit” mentality cost him his life. But Jim Lives asks…could Jim still be alive?
Jim Lives: The Mystery of the Lead Singer of The Doors and The 27 Club is an original graphic novel from writer Paolo Baron and Ernesto Carbonetti that speculates on the strange controversies surrounding Jim Morrison’s death. Jim Morrison died of congestive heart failure in 1971. The Lizard King had been away from U.S. soil at the time in Paris. As a result of Paris law not requiring an autopsy, the assumed cause of death and conflicting eyewitness reports created skeptics.
50 years on, and rumors perpetuating the myth about Jim faking his own death — or some accounts claiming Jim was murdered by his drug dealer — continue circulating. Jim Lives purports the former theory in the form of a speculative fiction comic. For more context, Jim Lives provides the second chapter for Baron and Carbonetti’s “Conspiracy Trilogy”, which explores theories about the suspicious deaths of famous rock legends. Additionally, Jim Morrison also belongs to the “27 Club”. The “27 Club” is a collective term referring to the cultural phenomenon regarding the numerous deaths of famous individuals that occurred at the young age of 27.
The historical conjecture graphic novel, Jim Lives, dispenses a relatively straightforward story. In the opening two-fold splash pages, we are introduced to journalist Jax on an assignment in South Italy. Jax peers through the lenses of his binoculars and makes a bold claim to the man next to him: The man steering the small boat in the distance is none other than the deceased musician, Jim Morrison of The Doors. Flash forward, and audiences learn that Jax has been missing since sending his father a message reading “Jim Morrison isn’t dead. He’s hiding out in Italy. I saw him with my own eyes.” Essentially, Jax has found evidence that Jim lives.
The rest of the graphic novel uses flashbacks and general plot devices to push the story forward. Jax’s father enlists a group of friends in Italy to play detective in an effort to locate his missing son — and solve the enigmatic meaning behind Jax’s final message about Jim Morrison. Clues about Jax seeking out centenarians in Southern Italy, the work of scientist Ancel Keys in connecting the Mediterranean diet with prolonged health, and a local resident spotting a man fishing on a blue skiff all lead Jax’s father and his crew on a wild goose chase.
Double-spread title pages divide the book into chapters, clearly marking time jumps for the reader. Thus, the graphic novel focuses on the mystery of Jax’s disappearance from his father’s perspective in the present day, and Jax’s own hunt for Jim Morrison a week prior. The alternating points of view work cohesively from a structural perspective. Although the reader learns about Jax’s fate before his father’s breadcrumb search shepherds any success, the mystery remains compelling.
Jim Lives seems to have several purposes. Firstly, it entertains. While the plot isn’t entirely original, boasting a generic conspiracy theory plot and fairly one-dimensional characters, most audiences relish in conspiracy stories. Whether you believe in conspiracies or not, an innate compulsion to contemplate perception versus reality proves difficult to ignore. Therefore, Jim Lives prods below the surface of the iceberg. The plausibility and execution of the conspiracy in the graphic novel may not gratify readers in the end, but it opens the mental door to the idea of possibilities. What could have happened when the music was over for Jim Morrison?
Secondly, Jim Lives supplies a story, not in novel format, but in the glorious intersecting medium of comics. I praise the comic medium in nearly all of my writing for a reason. Comics allow text and artistry to overlap with one another, each supplementing different capacities of storytelling. If Jim Lives was a novella, it would have held immeasurably less substance. Instead, we receive a visual expression of Baron’s story. Carbonetti’s art emerges as a corporeal utterance of the alternate reality these characters inhabit.
Artistically, Carbonetti’s style could be characterized as avant-garde. Experimental art choices occupy the page space. Sometimes, he paints the entirety of two pages, dousing the two-fold splashes in watercolor that shimmers like a lingering musical chord. Carbonetti’s environmental depictions of Italy drag you straight into the ivory-colored columns and domed architecture of the city. Water imagery looks so fluid against the colors reflected from the setting sun, you might imagine slipping through the borderless panels and diving into the river.
Choosing Italy as a setting for Jim Lives communicates symbolism and theme that appeared taciturn in the dialogue. The stone walls and clustered towns bordering the sea channel the idea of fluctuation. Where the expansive water Jax sighted Jim Morrison traveling upon infers the freedom Jim professed, the limited proximity inside buildings with winding staircases suggests disorientation. Silhouettes appear frequently, again functioning as a further means of conveying the plot’s thematic mystique.
Carbonetti’s art works as an expression of music. Panel structure varies on every page, and boundaries around the art are nonexistent. Jim Morrison’s music rejected limitations, as does Jim Lives. Unfortunately, where Carbonetti’s illustrations falter is in renderings of people.
Both Carbonetti’s strange visual depictions of the characters and Baron’s narrative shortcomings in character development hinder Jim Lives immensely. Any image of our main characters, including portraits of an older Jim Morrison, appear exaggerated. Faces are stretched when the characters smile in a manner that looks ghastly. Anatomical proportions remain skewed in favor of preserving avant-garde techniques. Further, the ultra-smooth coloring of skin and hair contrasts dramatically with the watercolor-splatter backgrounds — and the effect is jarring. Audience resonance with characters in Jim Lives will plummet below expectations.
The 140-page count rounds down to about 70 pages of actual story. With the addition of interlude text pages, a “Bloopers” section, and the preliminary art designs in the back matter, character and narrative are sacrificed. Jim Lives propels forward at high-speed. Hence, readers never really receive a chance to understand the characters or digest the implications of the conspiracy offered. The elderly Jim Morrison character scarcely appears in Jim Lives. Still, tangible references to The Lizard King will excite fans. Readers searching for density will enjoy mining for the subtext evident on the pages of the graphic novel.
In conclusion, Jim Lives surfaces from the Italian waters with some discordant refrains. Rock and roll legend Jim Morrison and the rest of the 27 Club are given recognition in the comic, with some members gaining a more credible mythology than others. Will Jim Lives “light your fire?” Maybe not, but it’s a comic worth reading for the artistic scenery and intriguing speculation alone. Open the doors of perception with Paolo Baron and Ernesto Carbonetti’s strange conspiracy tale about Jim Morrison. The Doors fans will appreciate the potential of Jim Lives: The Mystery of the Lead Singer of The Doors and The 27 Club. Take us higher, Jim Lives.
What do you get when you mix vinyl records, an amicable serial killer, and a Midsommar-like cult together in an underground bunker? Vinyl #1 is the debut of the six issue miniseries from Image Comics. Plastic creators, writer Doug Wagner and artist Daniel Hillyard, reunite to spin their sick horror record around on the turntable again. Eisner-award winning colorist Dave Stewart and Harvey nominated letterer Ed Dukeshire round out the Vinyl team.
The comic opens on a violent scene ripped straight out of a slasher film. Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard waste no time in setting the tone for their bloodbath comic. The readers are inserted in media res to the twisted action occurring between protagonist Walter and his friend, Dennis. Walter places a teddy bear mask upon his head before turning on a record. Music fills the air as a tied-up Dennis bargains for his life. Unfortunately for Dennis, the notes of Ella Fitzgerald’s Whisper Not induce Walter’s serial killers’ tendencies. Finally, the scene cuts away just as Walter snaps to the sound of the vinyl record, snatching a bloody axe from the hands of a grotesque inhuman woman about to hack Dennis to bits.
Wagner lends portions of the plot to characterization that charges Vinyl’s appeal to pathos. After the opening gore-fest, the story flashes back two weeks prior. Here, Wagner startles readers through an essential character re-introduction. We gain insights into the protagonists as they meet outside a coffee shop. The encounter between the two older men propounds dialogue both comedic and authentic. Walter the ruthless, yet surprisingly charming serial killer obsessed with vinyl and music, gushes over his perceived friendship with retired FBI agent, Dennis.
Tone shifts can be jarring, but Wagner’s dialogue and the the artist’s visual acuity balance the see-saw of terror and humor in Vinyl #1. Somehow, Wagner writes a psychotic murderer as an antihero readers will be drawn toward…liking? When Dennis, undercover with the FBI, confronts Walter about his crimes, Walter’s viscerally pained expression exudes regret. Immediately after spurned sunflower-farmer/cult leader Madeline forces Dennis to come along with her to face punishment in her underground horror bunker, Walter abandons everything to return his best friend to safety. Walter is a killer, yet values his interpersonal relationship with Dennis. Thus, the reader’s investment in Walter completing a successful rescue mission now threatens to displace previous feelings about his wrongdoings.
Vinyl #1 is a revenge story, but also a story that questions the division of greater and lesser evils. Walter’s character subverts expectations at every turn. Daniel Hillyard illustrates Walter effusively. The sparkle lighting up Walter’s eyes when receiving a vinyl record from Dennis works marvelously in combating the gag-worthy imagery of Walter’s misdeeds. As Walter’s crinkled-face contorts or tears slip from his corneas, emotions run wild while readers witness the visible change from vinyl-collecting elderly man to limb-hacking serial killer. Gore drenches the pages in close-frame panels, incurring a disturbing intimacy between the violence and the reader.
Effectively, narrative tone and illustrations perform a beauteous symphony with the addition of Dave Stewart’s colors. Stewart’s pastel aesthetic lightens the atmosphere outside of the murders. Panels take on a look of clarity, as if readers are viewing the comic through a fantasy-world lens. The effect is pristine, tempering the vermillion splashes of red used only to depict blood. Indeed, Stewart’s warm colors allow Hillyard’s line work to flourish further, expanding on the page like sunflowers reaching out to the sky.
Ed Dukeshire’s lettering conflates the horror and levity present. Dialogue is divided steadily across each panel for a reading experience requiring no effort or questioning discernibility. Chiefly, Dukeshire dunks his SFX in blood or offsets thick letters, exacerbating the atmosphere of torture or gunfire. Musical lyrics drift through narrow panels. Isolation and regret — coincidentally, two character traits Walter possesses — reverberate in hypnotic fashion from blues singer Robert Johnson with Dukeshire’s impressive lyric lettering style.
Vinyl #1 promises a gory extravaganza from page one; an introduction that will either entice or deter readers based on their sensitivities. The story descends further into a spiraling madness. You’ll turn each page enraptured, as repulsion over blood-spatters and chopped off body parts is assuaged by delightful curiosity. Additionally, the thematic nuances about morality force readers to think outside the constraints of binaries. If their goal was to produce a horror comic oozing with a story so entertainingly disturbing, you won’t be able to stop replaying the scenes inside your head like a catchy tune, Vinyl #1 remains a victorious enterprise. Akin to the resilient sunflower in Allen Ginsberg’s quoted “Sunflower Sutra” poem, I am certain this comic series will grow in success.
Welcome back to another month of reading recommendations. Summer is quickly approaching, so I started reading a few lighter books and/or seasonal books the last few weeks of May. In turn, I actually wound up re-working this list to incorporate a few phenomenal titles that resonated with me more than the previous novels I had considered adding to this piece. This month’s genre variety proves more homogenous than the titles found on May’s Book Corner. Due to the exemplary YA books that released in May, I started favoring novels in the YA genre over the mediocre books I read weeks prior. Included in this June edition of Katie’s Book Corner are a few fabulous YA summer reads, female empowerment autobiographies by extraordinary women, and a must-read novel in verse by the one and only poetry extraordinaire, Jason Reynolds.
(CW: Colorism, Death, Explicit Abuse ((Emotional, Physical, and Sexual)), Sexism, Slut Shaming, Sexual Assault, Trauma, Language)
Actress Asha Bromfield, famous from her role as “Josie and the Pussycats” drummer Melody Jones on CW’s Riverdale succeeds with her foray into novel writing. Hurricane Summer is Bromfield’s gorgeous debut novel about a young woman named Tilla. Eighteen-year-old Tilla and her slightly younger sister travel from Canada to visit their semi-absent father in his homeland of Jamaica for the first time. The island of Jamaica presents a culture shock for Tilla in multiple unexpected ways she could not have anticipated. Beyond trying to mend her broken relationship with her father in Jamaica over the summer, Tilla must survive abominable treatment from her impoverished relatives, backwards gender dynamics, and the threat of the island’s yearly, but dangerous, imminent hurricane.
Hurricane Summer is very much a debut novel, in that the flowery prose style writing can sometimes feel overwritten. Regardless, this is also an “Own Voices” book. Bromfield’s personal interconnectedness with the narrative is evident in the story’s authentic cultural nuances. The novel is not an easy read. Depictions of primarily negative experiences like classism, patriarchy, colorism, and harrowing sexual assault are difficult to palate, but vital to understand. Bromfield may stuff Hurricane Summer with conflicts — some of which may appear glossed over due to the vast amount of conflict portrayed. Yet, Bromfield’s sensory words will captivate you on every page as she draws upon her own experiences to depict one woman’s stormy summer on the lush island of Jamaica.
2. Tokyo Ever Afterby Emiko Jean Genre: Young Adult Romantic Comedy Page Count: 336
(CW: Racism, Bullying, Language)
Tokyo Ever After was marketed as Crazy Rich Asians meets The Princess Diaries, and honestly, that pretty much sums up the basic premise of this fluffy YA summer novel. Author Emiko Jean pens a lovely narrative where high school senior Izumi Tanaka expresses discomfort over her identity as a Japanese American in the tiny town of Mt. Shasta, California, and sadness over never knowing her father’s identity. After her best friend engages in some serious sleuthing, Izumi — who shortens her name to Izzy in an attempt to lessen the already obvious cultural divide in town — discovers that her father is a Crown Prince in Japan! Pulled between two worlds and split identities, Izumi reconnects with her father in Japan and undergoes horrific scrutiny as a now royal princess.
This book is another heartfelt “Own Voices” novel possessing a veritable level of genuineness. Tokyo Ever After highlights concepts such as Izumi confronting discordant feelings of being a ‘foreigner,’ experiencing cognitive dissonance between her identity as both Japanese and American, and the difficulties of a cultural (and royal) learning curve. Overall, the entire book reads swiftly while digging into intricate themes. An ‘insta-love’ romance between Izumi and her bodyguard will make any reader swoon. If you want an easy, breezy read full of humor, love, and Japanese representation coming off of AAPI month, this adorable novel will foster a perfect Princess Diaries nostalgic sentimentality.
You know Amy Poehler from SNL, Parks and Rec, or all those recent commercials on cable TV. But did you know that Amy Poehler had to do live television sketch comedy while pregnant (an experience she describes as like “wearing a sombrero”)? Do you know the story of how an accidental offensive SNL sketch led Amy to a wonderful friendship? How did Seth Meyers and Amy really meet? Read Amy’s hilarious autobiography, Yes Please to learn insights into her childhood, family, career, and her feelings about technology!
Yes Please is personal but detached from judgement. Respectfully, Amy remains mute on details about her divorce from Will Arnett, and this book is not a ‘tell-all, dig up all the dirt’ type of autobiography. Instead, Yes Please can almost be read as a type of advice — or for lack of a better term, ‘self-help’ book. Poehler presents an honest depiction of life in a comedy career and how she coped with misogynistic, damaging behavior as a woman in the industry. Amy’s autobiography is straightforward, contains a treasure trove of great pictures, and won’t cease in making you laugh while serving up huge helpings of wisdom.
Additional Note: I also recommend listening to the Yes Please audiobook. It features Amy laughing and riffing while she records the audiobook in her own recording studio. She is also accompanied by industry greats in the recording like Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, and Parks and Recreation co-creator, Michael Schur.
4. Becoming by Michelle Obama Genre: Memoir Page Count: 448
(CW: Racism, Derogatory/Misogynistic Language)
Becoming is the highly esteemed memoir penned by former First Lady of the United States, the superlative Michelle Obama. The memoir surveys her childhood growing up with her family on Chicago’s South Side, and how divulging the locations of her roots affected perceptions about her even during her time at the acclaimed Princeton University. Readers learn about Michelle Obama’s formative years and will eagerly consume exclusive details about her and Barack’s relationship. Notably, Mrs. Obama relates both the privileges and hardships that ensued along with Barack’s burgeoning political career and eventual presidency.
Published in 2018 (before the newest Presidential transition but after Barack Obama’s final term), Becoming is a triumph in the memoir genre. She expresses her opinions without restraint. Becoming prevails as a serious memoir, but is also not without levity. Hearing about the hundreds of disparaging remarks said about Michelle Obama during her time in the public eye remains ghastly. Contrastingly, focusing on the profound impact she made as a woman, leader, and First lady — and her courage to always stand up for herself — is why Becoming should be required reading for anyone, regardless of political beliefs.
Additional Note: I implore you to also consider listening to the Becoming audiobook. Michelle Obama’s narration is commanding of your attention. The audiobook edition of Becoming has won several prestigious awards, including the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album, the 2020 Audie Award for Autobiography/Memoir, and was named one of the top ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults by the American Library Association.
5. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Novel in Verse / Supernatural Page Count: 306
(CW: Death, Murder, Gun Violence, Gang Violence)
Long Way Down is indisputably one of author and poet Jason Reynolds’ most famous works of literature. Written entirely in free verse poetry, Reynolds tells the heart-wrenching story of a fifteen-year-old teenager coping with the loss of his recently murdered older brother. Will, the protagonist, was taught the ‘rules’ of the streets long ago — and those ‘rules’ dictate Will’s need to seek fatal revenge on his brother Shawn’s murderer. Strapped with a gun in his waistband, Will sets out to kill the man he believes killed Shawn. Will gets on an elevator to enact revenge. As the elevator stops on each floor, Will is confronted by people from his past — people who died.
Long Way Down shows the consequences of cyclical violence, bolstered by the visual impact of Reynolds’ poetry style. Each word, each line break, each enjambment, all reach through the pages of poetry with meaning. The words ‘long way down’ intertwine themselves within the narrative literally, thematically, and metaphorically, so the meaning of the words resonate. Gun and gang violence are real. People with no connection to these issues often try to talk about the subjects myopically. Jason Reynolds purges false notions with the brutally honest poetic syntax in this narrative. Long Way Down is didactic, speaking directly to the reality (albeit, this story is fictional) of one young man’s vengeful entrance into the perpetuating nature of violence.
And that wraps up June’s reading recommendations, curated by yours truly. Remember, you can purchase any of these titles, check them out physically at your local library, or read through the Kindle/Libby/Overdrive apps available through the library as well. I will return again in July with more books for you to read, enjoy, and devour. I’ve already been making a huge to-read list of June’s upcoming titles. They say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but how can I resist such beautiful cover art? See you next month!
A love of reading can stem from many sources. While many people discover a passion for the written word through the accessibility of comics or reading screenplays of their favorite movies, books have existed throughout time as a form of discovery, research, escapism, or unfettered entertainment. Unfortunately, with age comes more obligations, and less time to sit down for hours and read a 300-page novel. Some may also find themselves deterred by the vast amount of options available in the humongous world of novels. Don’t be swayed by the formidable array of titles filling up the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Each month, this column will feature five of the best titles I’ve read from a variety of genres over the past four weeks. You’ll be able to identify the genre that most interests you, read a short blurb of my personal thoughts, and will hopefully discover your next favorite book to read through this curated list! These books are available through bookstores, Amazon, Kindle, or most local libraries. Let’s crash into this expansive literary universe.
1. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley Genre: Young Adult Thriller Page Count: 496 pages
(CW: Murder, death, drug use, abuse)
Set in the early 2000s, this book covers themes like tribalism, science, identity, government/police dynamics with Native American individuals, and the calamitous effects of drug trafficking. The central protagonist is eighteen-year-old, unenrolled tribal member Daunis Fontaine because of her “outsider” birth. Firekeeper’s Daughter is marketed as a YA book, but the heavy-hitting plot about meth use, violence toward Native American women, death, and tribal enrollment are mature topics most people don’t hear about in the news.
Science-obsessed Daunis grapples with grief and belonging. The death of both her father outside the tribe, the suspicious “drug overdose” of her uncle, and the impending death of her hospitalized grandmother have further fractured her family. Several plots weave together, forming a crucial story about a mixed-race Ojibwe woman trying to fit in, and her ties to the drug-related deaths on her reservation. This novel is a vital learning experience about modern Native American struggles in the U.S. The murder-mystery element of the story will keep anyone invested. Readers will observe how meth use and trafficking affects not just the individuals involved, but entire communities. It’s human, touching, and an essential read that will keep you turning the pages.
2. The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey Genre: Science Fiction; Mystery/Thriller Page Count: 253
If you’re looking for a shorter mystery read that dips its toes in the science fiction vein, The Echo Wife is a bingeable novel. Granted, the science-based explanations about the cloning process aren’t entirely accurate, but readers will find themselves lost in the dramatic narrative about a woman and… her clone? Evelyn Caldwell is a renowned scientist for her award-winning research that produced a human clone. The clones were grown in tanks and perfected to act as body doubles, primarily for political figures, etc., then to be discarded after a few months of use. Think of a much more complicated cloning process like Scott Calvin in The Santa Clause 2 without all the authoritarian dictatorship aftermath.
This book is hard to summarize without giving away spoilers. I would recommend thriller fans to dive into the story headfirst without looking up any other details. The Echo Wife digs deep into the relationship between Evelyn and her abusive ex-husband, childhood trauma, a genetically cloned replica who has lived well past the three-month clone lifespan, and female agency. Autonomy and ethics intermix in scintillating fashion. There’s also body horror that might give you nightmares.
3. Robin by Dave Itzkoff Genre: Nonfiction Biography Page Count: 527
(CW: Suicide, death, depression, mental health)
Robin Williams, comedian, actor, and beloved entertainer, died of apparent suicide in 2014. Much controversy and speculation arose as a result of his misdiagnosed illness, his uninhibited work ethic, and the division of his assets between his family and final wife. Despite his tragic endings and struggle with mental health, Robin Williams lived a life bursting with empathy, love, and a drive to succeed. New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff outlines Robin’s life in vivid detail with hundreds of credible sources, quotes, and interview material to support his words. There are a few documentaries about Robin Williams, but none of them go as in-depth about the comedian as this 500+ page definitive biographical book. If you want to learn about Robin’s expansive career, Robin investigates the outward — and internal — undulations Robin experienced in his life.
This novel is both a sensitive but unflinching book that will challenge your preconceived notions about Robin. Another content warning: The final chapters describing Robin’s suicide and funeral are especially heartbreaking. If the page count scares you, I would also recommend listening to the Robin audiobook. The narrator is flawless and performs splendid impressions of Robin Williams and others in the comedy industry.
4. Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark Genre: Dark Fantasy / Historical Fiction Novella Page Count: 192
(CW: Language, Ku Klux Klan plot, horror, death, violence)
Novellas are marvelous for novel readers who simply don’t have the time to read a long book or for less acclimated readers. Ring Shout is a recent novella that will provide you with a swift, immersive punch to the gut. In a provocative supernatural plot twist, a group of young friends during Prohibition-era Georgia hunt and kill members of the Second Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Thomas Dixon and sorcerer D.W. Griffith use the infamous The Birth of a Nation book and a conjuring spell to spark another Klan movement and summon supernatural demons. Magic sword-bearer Maryse Boudreaux is determined to eradicate both the human disguised monsters of the Second Klan and the revitalized racism permeating the nation.
This book is an exhilarating adventure that provides a honed scope of perspective about real systemic racism in U.S. history. Additionally, reading about strong, female, Black protagonists brutally slaying and banishing white-hood-wearing demons back to Hell will kindle feelings of triumph! Poignant political allusions, badass women, and KKK monsters run rampant in this fast-paced novella.
5. Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Page Count: 608
(CW: Death, war, murder, discussions of abuse/grooming)
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read any other books in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse universe, stop reading now! Go to Ashley Durante’s lovely Grishaverse guide here, and come back later. That being said, you can read this book after King of Scars if you seriously don’t feel like reading the other six tie-in predecessors.
Rule of Wolves is the conclusion to Nikolai’s story in the King of Scars Duology. The upcoming Shadow and Bone Netflix series will most likely introduce new people to the literary side of the wide-reaching Grishaverse. Realistically, Rule of Wolves should absolutely be the last book on your Leigh Bardugo reading list. Nevertheless, I’m including this book here mainly due to its open-ended conclusion. Slight spoilers for King of Scars ahead.
Jumping off the previous book, King of Scars, King Nikolai Lantsov of Ravka faces war with Fjerda, the returned Darkling, and the task of assembling allies. His general, Zoya Nazyalensky must cope with the power brewing inside her, as well as her romantic feelings toward Nikolai. Meanwhile, Nina Zenik maintains a physical facade while mining information for Ravka inside the Fjerdan capitol.
You might be wondering how you can “crash into” this novel. Firstly, this latest chapter in the Grishaverse series ties together characters and plot lines from the original Shadow and Bone trilogy, and the Six of Crows duology. Thus, fans will definitely want to read this book for its character cameos. Secondly, if King of Scars readers were unsure whether to continue with the duology, I can assure you that this finale book is worth reading. Thirdly, fans of Shadow and Bone craving more Nikolai need to pick up this duology. Finally, (avoiding spoilers) due to the ending, Rule of Wolves proves a necessary read before the inevitable continuation of unannounced Grishaverse books. Yes, there are extreme implications that Leigh Bardugo is far from abandoning the Grishaverse. Read this book.
Next month, I will return with more novel recommendations curated from the gigantic book stratosphere. I plan on making these lists as diverse in genre as possible so anyone can and will find a book to read that appeals to them. Enjoy reading this month!