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Star Wars: A Spotter’s Guide to the Legends EU

Star Wars!

A thing we all love and can totally agree on amicably!

While we anxiously await the day that there can be Star Peace, this sprawling franchise has encompassed numerous genres beyond the realms and narratives of space opera. The franchise’s genre-hopping has also spanned over multiple “time periods” throughout the storied history of the Jedi, Skywalkers, and Republic. Branching off into multiple timelines that wove themselves throughout and between the movies into books, video games, and short-form narratives.

The most famous of these timelines being the “Legends Expanded Universe”. The name given to the now-defunct chunk of history that started narratively post-Return of the Jedi which used to sustain us ravenous nerds once we had ruined our VHS tapes of the Special Editions, roving out in search of more love and lightsabers.

So in honor of the GateCrashers Star Wars Celebration (no, not that one), the wise and powerful Jedi Council of GC decided we should talk about our favorite Old EU works! The stories that were too big for movies. Too weird for TV shows. And too horny to be placed anywhere else in the main canon. 

So gather up that Calamari Flan and take a seat at the cantina as we bring you A Spotter’s Guide to the Legends EU!

Star Wars: X-Wing (Book Series)

So we are gonna start with one of the more obvious picks, but one that merits discussion all the same. Michael A. Stackpole’s intensely readable X-Wing series! For my money, one of the few aspects of the Legends EU canon that still holds the fuck up.

Set only two and a half years after the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star, the X-Wing series finds Rebellion hero pilot turned New Republic General, Wedge Antillies, building a brand new Rogue Squadron; the legendary fighter wing that took down the first Death Star and provided the fledgling Rebellion with some of its first victories.

But while the logline of the series portends high adventure and blazing set pieces, the X-Wing series delivers much more than just thrills and heroics. While centered around Wedge as the “lead”, the rest of the cast, all ace pilots from across the franchise, all get plenty of time in the spotlight, growing together as a team and experiencing the epic highs and lows of a life on the edge. More than that, Stackpole takes these missions and their stakes deadly seriously, allowing this series to finally function as a raw and real war story, set against the immense backdrop of Star Wars in general.

That means we experience loss almost as much as Rogue Squadron does. We feel their pain and their triumph in a way that the movies never really had the time to focus on. We get smaller stories and scenes of heartbreak even as the larger war against the remains of the Empire marches on. That, I feel, is the real triumph of the X-Wing series. A Series that finally put the “War” into Star Wars.

Genndy Taratakovsky’s Clone Wars (Animated Specials)

This one might be another “no brainer” so bear with me. BUT C’MON! It’s the “original” Clone Wars cartoon! And the superior one, if we are being truly honest with ourselves and The Force. (Editor’s Note: This claim is disputed).

Originally presented as much-hyped short film specials on Cartoon Network/Toonami, these high octane, smartly contained short films gave fans left feeling tepid after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones the action they so craved. Almost oppressively animated and smartly staged by the fevered mind that gave us Dexter’s Laboratory and Korgoth of Barbaria the shorts became appointment viewing during their original run and garnered all manner of critical praise for their rough and tumble action movie approach to Star Wars.

Sure, the final movie they heralded turned out to be kind of a snooze (though I’ll admit Revenge of the Sith is my favorite Prequel DO NOT @ ME). But the anime-inspired shorts still hold the hell up. Beyond just the sheer kinetic fun of the series throughout, you can tell the production staff had a real blast filtering Star Wars through all sorts of action/samurai movie riffs. Not to mention it serves as the stage to introduce many fan-favorite characters to the animated world, such as Asajj Ventress, the dreaded Durge, Kit Fisto, and literally dozens more. They even have been given somewhat of a renaissance here lately thanks to Disney+’s latest addition of the series to their “Star Wars Vintage ” collection.

Though pretty much all of the series’ stories have been wiped away by the new Clone Wars cartoons, I am still happy to live in a universe where I can queue up a whole bloody cartoon of seeing some of my favorite Jedi and Clone Troopers fighting breathlessly through the galaxy, not a single episode of a droid being kidnapped in sight.

The Star Wars: Jedi Knight Series (Video Games)

Probably the entries on this list I feel the most connected to, LucasArts’ Jedi Knight games deliver pretty much exactly what is said on the tin. And therein lies the real fun!

Set roughly between the years directly after Return of the Jedi into the opening years of Luke’s New Jedi Order (more on THEM in a bit), players usually find themselves playing as Kyle Katarn. The Legends canon’s acerbic mixture of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. A character that I lovingly refer to as a “Trash Jedi”, as he starts as a cocksure padawan, washes out, takes up bounty hunting, and then finally comes back around to being a Jedi, all over the course of the first two games, both thrilling examples of the kind of cinematic shooter early 90s PC games were capable of.

Katarn is a character that recurs a few times throughout the Legends canon and once stood as the closest the series ever got to a Grey Jedi. He is also going to recur a few times in THIS list too, if only to keep me from mentioning Dash Rendar, who is just a straight-up carbon copy of Han with great shoulder pads. I have to give General Calrissian 5 wupiupi every time I mention Dash Rendar so I try to steer clear. 

But probably the best entry in the franchise, along with the most accessible, is Jedi Knight III: Jedi Academy, which finds players taking on the role of a full-fledged EU canon Jedi apprentice, under the tutelage of Kyle and Luke. Players get to visit a number of iconic worlds and choose the path of the New Order or the Cult of Ragnos, a new Sith sect rising to meet the light of Skywalker’s new temple. It is genuinely fun Star Wars nonsense and is stapled to a game that’s surprisingly addicting to play. The lightsaber mechanics feel genuinely devastating when employed correctly and the character development, tied obviously to your moral choices, feels rewarding in a way a lot of modern SW games have yet to crack again.

If you have a Steam account and some time to kill, spin them up! I promise you’ll at least be entertained by the dozens of Stormtroopers you’ll Force fling to their ragdolled, Unreal Engine-powered doom. 

The Bounty Hunter Wars (Book Series)

Long before another War of the Bounty Hunters graced the pages of Marvel Comics, author K.W. Jeter stirred up a whole ‘nother hive of scum and villainy in the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy.

Set almost directly after Return of the Jedi, this trilogy’s biggest selling point was its promise to return Boba Fett to the saga. In the trilogy’s opening installment, The Mandalorian Armor, Jeter did just that. Just…probably not in the way we were expecting. From that kick-off, we are treated to a rollicking journey through Star Wars’ backwaters and scuzzier locales. One that feels and reads with a much harder edge than the lofty Jedi-focused stories and “blockbuster” efforts like the Thrawn Trilogy.

Better still, Jeter makes great use of the whole toybox of villains provided by Star Wars. Fett, obviously, takes the “marquee” spot but characters like Dengar, Bossk, Zuckuss, and 4-LOM all get rousing set pieces and featured positions throughout the three books, making great use of the book’s focus away from the “Big Three” of Luke, Han, and Leia. Cult-favorite character Prince Xizor, star of the N64’s launch hit Shadows of the Empire, also gets fun featured bits throughout, adding a bit of interconnected flair to the whole affair and adding the Black Sun’s rep to the already ripping yarn.

While relatively low-stakes in relation to the more well-known Legends canon installments, The Bounty Hunter Wars provided the prose with a scummy, pulp novel-esque fun the new books could stand to find a bit more of.

Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear (YA Book Series)

Did y’all know that Star Wars once did a Goosebumps? Did you also know that they fucking rule? Because both of these things are true, I promise.

Set in the weeks after A New Hope, the Galaxy of Fear series, all penned with a ghoulish glee by author John Whitman, follow Force-sensitive twins Tash and Zak Arranda who take up with their mysterious “Uncle” Hoole and his ditzy droid DV-9 after the destruction of their homeworld Alderaan. The pair then ping from one horrifying adventure to the next, trying to stay one step ahead of the Empire and meeting all manner of iconic Star Wars heroes along the way.

And when I say “horrifying” I absolutely mean it. These books are filled to the brim with nightmare fuel like flesh-eating Dark Force-powered zombies of long-dead Jedi and a whole race of aliens that are just brains in jars that walk on mechanized spider legs. THESE WERE FOR CHILDREN. 

While the clear R.L. Stein inspiration is an obvious draw, this series also stands up as a competently structured YA saga. All the books are accessible enough on their own, but they reward repeat readers with touchstones to the past books and are armed with a truly driving, morally poignant central narrative that carries it across the whole way. 

The cameos don’t hurt either. I won’t lie at the surface level glee at reading about Dr. Evazan being a part of basically the Imperial Thule Society or Dash Rendar (dank FARRIK, another 5 wupiupi for Lando…) ferrying children through a casino ship overtaken by a homicidal AI. But I think Galaxy of Fear offers a lot more than just basic thrills and chills, especially if you like your Star Wars to be a little more genre flavored. And A LOT more koo-koo bananas

Star Wars: Republic Commando (Video Game)

For my galactic credits, one of the best FPS shooters ever made and a personal (not-at-all-pushy) request for the list from Editor Ethan here at the GC Capital Ship. (Editor’s Note: Go read the book series that followed on from the game, they’ll make you cry).

Casting players in the role of “Boss”, the CO of an elite unit of Clone Troopers, LucasArts’ Republic Commando depicts the absolute thick of the Clone Wars’ fighting. Employing the diverse destructive talents of the rest of your squad, the game brings the pitched, gritty fighting of some of the better EU novels and translates it thrillingly onto consoles. 

Sure the campaign is thin compared to today’s standards and the multiplayer lobbies stand empty now (AGENTofASGARD on Xbox Live btw, in case you all wanna take some checkpoints later). But there is a reason it drew comparisons to Halo and the Spec-Ops franchise in reviews upon its release. Its combat mechanics are easy to learn, but challenging to master, and its storytelling, while driving and action-heavy, still makes the time for quiet moments amongst the player and the rest of the cast. All culminating in another stand-out first-person shooter effort amid the Legends EU video game timeline. 

Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars Titles (Comics)

Long before the Galaxy Far, Far Away returned to the House of Ideas and once again bore the Marvel masthead, Dark Horse Comics controlled almost every era of Star Wars. And did a pretty bang-up job with it to boot.

Encompassing everything from the Old Republic to the New Jedi Order, the Dark Horse Comics era of Star Wars was an embarrassment of riches. Starting in the 1990s and even supported along the way by host of The George Lucas Talk Show, George Lucas, the Dark Horse line continually offered up a wide range of Star Wars experiences. Right up until the moment it legally couldn’t anymore.

For fans that wanted stories of the heyday of the Jedi, there were titles like Dawn of the Jedi, Republic, and even a Knights of the Old Republic ongoing series. For readers that wanted stories of the Age of Rebellion and iconic Star Wars heroes, there was a Star Wars ongoing, Rebellion, and even a wonderful X-Wing: Rogue Squadron title, serving as both an adaptation and continuation of the fan-favorite prose series. And even for fans that wanted to move BEYOND all that, they offered many adaptations of famous Legends EU novels, the now-iconic Dark Empire miniseries, and its rousing follow-ups Crimson Empire I-III.

We honestly didn’t know how good we had it. Though the current “Marvel Era” of Star Wars comics have popped in a way I didn’t expect (I would die for Doctor Aphra), I will always remember fondly the time when Dark Horse Comics’ efforts graced my pull-box with just top to bottom FUN (and well-produced) Star Wars comics.

The Jedi Academy Trilogy / I, Jedi / The New Jedi Order (Books)

My final entry is a bit of a cheat, but stick with me, I promise my reasoning is sound. 

One of the most enduring concepts from the Legends EU canon is the New Jedi Order. A brand new generation of Jedi Knights, led by Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, who intends on restoring the Jedi into something new and helpful to the fledgling New Republic. This kicks off properly in 1994’s Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson, a frequent and ironclad name on any discount Sci-Fi fiction table. 

This trilogy opener really swings for the fences. It’s weird and fussy and very, very focused on establishing the flavor of Luke’s new class of Jedi. But best of all, it feels like it’s also very intent on pushing forward Star Wars canon thus far. Shaped by the success of the Thrawn trilogy and some of the other standalone books, Anderson and company start to really knuckle down and grow the universe out, dragging a lot of icons along the way. And even introducing a few of his own with the debut of the Solo Twins, Jacen and Jaina

This expansion also starts to bleed well into the standalone books too! One of Anderson’s later efforts, I, Jedi, for example. In this single volumed tale that takes place concurrently with the new trilogy, we are introduced to Corran Horn. He’s a former member of Rogue Squadron and one of the galaxy’s first new Force-sensitives. In the chaos of the ending war, Horn’s wife is kidnapped and visions of her haunt his life. Turns out, those visions are Force powered and Horn resolves himself to speed through Jedi training with Luke in order to save her. Even if he has to turn to the Dark Side to do it.

Mixing the military action of the X-Wing series and the high weirdness of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, I, Jedi finds the Legends EU bearing expansion very well while also making great use of the myriad of genres one can explore through the lens of Star Wars. It’s exciting and raw and immensely re-readable, even after all these years.

This expansion comes to a head 25 years ABY (After the Battle of Yavin) in the proper debut of the New Jedi Order. 1999’s Vector Prime from the legendary R.A. Salvatore, the man who gave us Drizzit Do’Urden. Picking up with Jania, Mara Jade Skywalker, and other Legends EU staples, this series that sustained the Legends EU until the very day it stopped is just pure fun from start to finish.

The new generation of Jedi are thriving and the galaxy is in a healthy flux. But when a new and wholly unconventional threat called the Yuuzhan Vong make themselves known coupled with reports of rogue Jedi taking the law into their own hands on the Outer Rim, our new Jedi Council is forced into a deadly game they may not even know the rules to.

It all culminates in a thrilling, but meticulously staged collection of Star Wars stories. Ones that both honor the spirit of the original movies and push the franchise into different, challenging, and unexpected places.

Conclusion

Hear some of you grousing already, I can.

“What about the Black Fleet Crisis?!” “No love for Thrawn?!” “Y NO SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE!?”

To which I reply, that’s the beauty of the Legends EU! It contained so much and employed all manner of genre riffs that any one of you could make a wholly different list and it wouldn’t necessarily be “wrong”!

The Legends Expanded Universe canon may have been pruned, TVA style, once the new movie trilogy was announced. But that doesn’t lessen its power much. Nor does it detract from the new line of novels and tie-ins produced in the wake of these new movies.

It’s all still there, in libraries and bookstores used and new all over the world, should anybody want it. I think that’s pretty crikkin’ neat. It doesn’t make it any “better” than the new books, comics, and video games. It just makes it always THERE for us. Either in their original prints or in the new reprints popping up on shelves, provided by the good folks at Del Ray.

Just like how A Galaxy Far, Far Away always is. No matter the incarnation. That matters. Then, now, and forever.

Godspeed, Rebels.

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Books

IMing about Horror in the Digital Age with Eric LaRocca

I am normally not one to read prose but something about Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca that forced me to pick it up. I devoured it entirely in a sitting. I quickly jumped on Al Gore’s World Wide Web and instant messaged Eric to learn more about their horror novella that lives rent free inside me now. That conversation transcript is below.

gateCRASHERS202: What’s your favorite sandwich?

eric_larocca: I’m not huge on eating meat; however, there’s something so appealing to me about a pastrami Reuben sandwich. I usually feel disgusted after consuming it, but the cheese and the thousand island dressing are *chef’s kiss* magical.

gateCRASHERS202: What attracts you to horror as a genre?

eric_larocca: I think what has always attracted me to the horror genre was that it’s a heavily maligned and misunderstood genre. Growing up, I often felt like I was on the outside looking in at the rest of my peers. I never felt like I fit into any special social circle. Therefore, I think I inherently gravitated toward horror because I saw myself reflected in the characters.

gateCRASHERS202: What in horror do you find yourself most often looking to explore?

eric_larocca: I find myself often exploring themes of abandonment in my horror fiction. Although I was raised by two loving and doting parents, I’ve always been fearful of being left out or being left behind. I think horror is a unique genre because it allows us to confront our fears and anxieties in a safe space. There’s something decidedly comforting about horror and I know others reading this interview feel the same way.

gateCRASHERS202: I often find that a lot of horror films and stories explore queer themes in the stories. Do you think Horror needs more queer stories? Do you think there are areas where the genre excels or fails this?

eric_larocca: Horror absolutely needs more queer stories. I’ve said this a million times before in countless interviews, but horror is an inherently queer genre to begin with. Though queer characters haven’t existed in the classics of our genre (or perhaps they were coded, insinuated, etc.), horror has always been a genre that explores the idea of “the other” — the maligned, the misrepresented. Horror is, therefore, a supremely queer genre.

gateCRASHERS202: With your story exploring some of the sexual themes of power dynamics, do you find that horror is a genre that has the ability to explore these themes in different perspectives? 

eric_larocca: Yes and no. I think almost any genre can deftly explore these themes in different perspectives. I just so happen to write horror, so my creative process works in a way that’s specific to the genre I love. That being said, I think this kind of sexual power dynamics could work just as well in a comedy or a drama depending how skilled the writer is at presenting these themes.

gateCRASHERS202: With the story dealing with manipulation heavily, did you always plan to flip the expectations of where the story seemed to be going?

I definitely always had an idea of where the story was going because I usually outline heavily before approaching any writing project. I actually typically outline long-hand, and I think I still have the papers I wrote the outline for Things Have Gotten Worse We Last Spoke somewhere in my house. Regardless, I had outlined each section of the manuscript and I knew I wanted to reach certain beats at certain points in the narrative. There were a few unplanned deviations in the narrative when I got carried away or wanted to explore some peripheral themes further. But the narrative you read is essentially what the outline covered.

gateCRASHERS202: The cover art by Kim Jakobsson… wow. Did you have any input on this piece or was it something you saw from the artist and said “That’s it”?

eric_larocca: Yes, the cover art by Kim Jakobsson is definitely one of the reasons the book has sold so well. In my estimation, at least. The publisher (Sam Richard) and I were discussing different cover art options and I decided to scroll through Instagram in search of artists with a surreal or supernatural bent. I immediately came across Jakobsson’s work and fell in love with this particular print. I believe it’s titled “Passing Oxygen.” I showed it to Sam and he agreed it would make a visually arresting cover.

gateCRASHERS202: When did the initial idea for Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke?

eric_larocca: The initial idea for the book really stemmed from my fascination with the internet and potentially coming across information that you shouldn’t normally have access to. I’ve explored this concept in other works of short fiction like, “miss_vertebrae” and “The Strange Thing We Become.” But I saw this novella as an opportunity to further explore my fears associated with the internet and how dangerous it can be when in unstable hands.

gateCRASHERS202: The novella itself is written in an instant messaging format… just like this actually. Why’d you write it this way?

eric_larocca: I’m a fan of any piece of fiction that employs unconventional methods of storytelling. For the longest time I wanted to attempt to write a book entirely in Instant Messenger chats but I worried readers might get bored with the formatting. So this book seemed like an excellent compromise.

gateCRASHERS202: The phrase “What have you done today to deserve your eyes?” Where did that come from? Is this something from your own life?

eric_larocca: I honestly don’t quite recall where the origin of that phrase began. It was something I invented to suit the narrative and thankfully it has resonated with readers. I wish I had this compelling origin story for the phrase, but it’s something I invented while writing without much explanation.

gateCRASHERS202: What has the response been to the novella? Do you feel like people have interpreted the story in the way you hoped?

eric_larocca: Although I didn’t expect the book to blow up the way it has, I definitely expected mixed reviews. Some people love it. Others vehemently despise it. That’s totally fine. It’s not my place to police other people’s interpretations of the book. They’re entitled to react however they wish to react to the book. Of course, I try to not read reviews unless I’m tagged. But curiosity often gets the better of me sometimes.

gateCRASHERS202: Bud. Why the rotten meat? The way you described it was so visceral to the point I could smell it so really thanks for that.

eric_larocca: Thank you! As I said before, I’m not huge on consuming meat. I don’t consider myself a vegetarian, but I definitely don’t consume meat regularly. There’s nothing worse than rotted meat, right? It definitely conjures a visceral reaction. That’s exactly what I was going for when writing the piece.

You can buy Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke from Weird Punk Books!

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Books Uncategorized

The GateCrasher’s Library: YA & MG Standalones

The GateCrashers Library is officially open! Ever wonder what your favorite GateCrashers are reading or what they’d recommend? The GC Library will have a monthly theme or genre and all our writers have the opportunity to provide their favorite titles. For July, we’ll be listing all our favorite Young Adult and Middle Grade stand-alones. No library card needed, just browse our titles and find your next favorite read.


Middle Grade Graphic Novels

“I loved Jo & Rus because it’s a book about growing up and all the fears that come with it; how will I manage to do what I want? Will I have to do it alone? The characters deal with serious issues that most people have, but the book never stops believing that life can also be magical sometimes!”

— Gabrielle

Jo & Rus written & illustrated by Audra Winslow

Superman Smashes the Klan uses its bright, expressive art to tell a nuanced story about alienation and prejudice for kids without sacrificing any depth for older readers. Everyone should read this book.”

— Rook

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang & illustrated by Gurihiru

Long Distance by Whitney Gardner

“A fun and funny comic that takes the tropes of princess stories and turns them on their head as Princess Max puts her budding detective skills to the test, along with her wise-cracking pony Justine, to find her missing brother.”

— Jimmy

Mega Princess by Kelly Thompson & illustrated by Brianne Drouhard


Young Adult Graphic Novels

Harley Quinn: Breaking the Glass by Mariko Tamaki & illustrated by Steve Pugh

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North & illustrated by Erica Henderson

You Brought Me The Ocean is an amazing coming-of-age story about a boy named Jake Hyde who has to deal with his sexuality, his emerging superpowers, and his fear of losing his closest friend by leaving for college as he must balance his fear of the unknown and his desire to keep those close to him safe.”

— Simon

You Bought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez & illustrated by Julie Maroh

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

“A fun and beautiful retelling of Cassandra Cain’s backstory that treats both her heritage and disability as important facets of her life.”

— Isabel

Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn & illustrated by Nicole Goux

Eat, and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo & illustrated by Lilian Klepakowsky

The Prince and The Dressmaker by Jen Wang


Middle Grade Novel

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

“Stanley Yelnats has the worst luck. Sent to the desert for a crime he didn’t commit, he is forced to dig a hole every day at Camp Green Lake. This is where the fun begins. I recommend this book to those who consider reading a chore because that’s how I felt, until I read this.”

— RJ

Holes by Louis Sachar

Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing by Briana McDonald

What If a Fish by Anika Fajardo

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

“If you’re a fan of time travel, snobby Italian painter rivalries, or curious orange cats, DaVinci’s Cat is a lovely middle grade novel for any reader looking for adventure.”

— Katie

Da Vinci’s Cat by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg


Young Adult Novels

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Meddling Kids takes the Scooby-Doo tropes everyone knows and loves and completely turns them on their head, resulting in a genuinely thrilling Lovecraftian horror novel.”

— Jon

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Disney Twisted Tales: Reflection by Elizabeth Lim

Disney Twisted Tales: So This is Love by Elizabeth Lim

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

“When I first read Some Quiet Place, the novel haunted me, changed how I think about emotional portrayals in literature, and possesses gorgeous prose that completely influenced my own writing style.”

— Katie

Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Fake ID by Lamar Giles

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

“A spunky kid in 1940s Brooklyn forms an unlikely friendship with an up and coming baseball player in the backdrop of an ensuing World War. It is laugh out loud funny, heartwarming, and possibly heartbreaking. This is one of those books that will be re-read every summer!”

— RJ

The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Dry by Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman

Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris

“In our current era where abusers are starting to be held accountable for their horrific actions, Grown sharply resonates, proving a difficult but vital read about mistreatment of young women in the music industry.”

— Katie

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Bruised by Tanya Boteju

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch

When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Girls Save the World in This One by Ash Parsons

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Categories
Books

BoomCrashers! Tales (Boom! Studios Releases for 07/14/2021)

When someone goes to sleep, they visit more places than they ever will while they’re awake. They may dream of beautiful pink meadows with a comfy cabin. Or maybe they found themselves being chased through a neighborhood by a monstrosity of dozens of legs and hands, thousands of eyes, and a single horrifying mouth. But it never matters. They wake up, eventually, in their beds, where they always sleep. But not the dreamers.

In a dispaired world where death and life are blurred concepts, the guts of an undead coincidentally form the word ”Eve”.

Again, the world broke. She slipped. A fissure fractured the liminal space between reality and dreamscape. Phosphorus light flashed, coalesced with pinpricks of darkness. Kaleidoscope images enveloped her in their embrace until time itself spun her around on clockwork hands.

Then, a voice warbled across in fragmented waves. The sound was rough. A man’s mid-range tenor spoke of an eleven-year-old girl — Eve. His daughter, Eve. She was the savior of mankind. The savior of the world. An apocalyptic world ravaged by a monstrous virus released from melted ice caps. And they waited, he said to a dissonant voice from a machine. The man told a listener, E-92, of his belief in his daughter’s triumph, in renewing the broken earth, and in reforging a planet broken by mankind’s own destruction while the fortunate few waited in space stations hovering above a tattered Earth.

A memory took shape, soft and malleable. But the woman craved answers. And she began to remember — she had a father of her own. She wished he was here, but he died long ago. Skin cancer stole him from her right as she was transitioning into adulthood. The memory was almost a question and not a fact she could recall completely. Instead of living, she retreated from the world outside that seeped into his bones and murdered him. But her self-captivity from the sun was fruitless, she thought, drifting through realities.

The man’s sonorous voice faded away into comets streaking across oblivion and black holes swallowing the night. Stars winked out before she could touch them, perforating the opaque nothingness as she fell and hit the hollow ground.

Eve #3 (Written by Victor LaValle, illustrated by Jo Mi-Gyeong, colored by Brittany Peer and lettered by Andworld Design) / Source: Boom! Studios

There, she saw her. She knew her immediately. Eve. A beautiful young woman who oozed confidence. Eve’s freckles smattered her face like the stars where her father watched helplessly from above. She saw the girl who would excise the sinister malaise corrupting this apocalyptic version of Earth. No sooner did she blink to eliminate the foggy barrier drifting over her consciousness did she remember the journal. Her hands already grasping the pen, she began to write before she could think about the horrors of a world devoid of any cleanliness at all.

Emilia’s Journal: It happened again. I have crossed over into another plane of existence. This is a new world, where magic has been replaced with a savage apocalypse. How do I return to my former life? Is there no end to the quantum leaping into disturbing unknowns full of substances, surely eating me alive from the inside out? Is this some punishment? I remembered my father now, and I wish I…didn’t. My dad’s death and my isolation are punishment enough! Alas, I will write, as this journal instructed. I dare not talk. I dare not breathe this air, tainted by poison and rotting flesh of creatures that are…not quite human? Oh, god. I need a mask. There’s a girl a little older than Eve here wearing a mask, like a badge of honor. Perhaps she has a supply around here? It looks like I’m in a warehouse or a shelter. And — fuck! A monster wearing the visage of a human — or is it a human wearing the visage of a monster? — attacked Eve and the other children in this compound just now!

She gasped in terror; her body trembled with shock. She watched the masked assassin and her tiny cronies impale the bone-white creature with spears, their aim precise as arrows shot from crossbows.

Emilia’s Journal: I feel bile rising in my throat. It’s a miracle I haven’t thrown up, but what contents do I have to purge from my body? Am I even thirsty? Hungry? After these children saved Eve from the mutant creature, I hastily followed them through the grime inside this public shelter. Heat sticks to my skin, and I would kill one of those monstrosities myself for a fiber-boosted smoothie. I can’t help thinking of fruit and food after seeing the masked leader girl offer Eve strawberries from their packed storeroom. These people are prepared for the end of the world, but I am not. The girl tells Eve of a god named Osiris. Could Osiris be a codename for Eve’s dad? I need to stop thinking about fathers and daughters…the memories are painful. I need to focus more on stopping this stomach-roiling air from overwhelming my lungs.

Stealing a strip of cloth from the storeroom, she wrapped it around her mouth. Although she was much older than these teenagers, she started to wonder about human contact again. Her rough mask matched the masked children somewhat. An aching stifled her breathing, convulsing in her chest when she heard the leader tell Eve about an automated transcontinental that can take her to god. To Osiris. The woman doubled over as an oppressive rush of homesickness for her life — her old life growing up with a father who held her in his arms as he pointed out the constellations piercing the comforting cover of night — choked her.

Emilia’s Journal: Eve and the girl left. I can hardly breathe because I want to leave too. They walk into the distance. The two of them look like dark spots against the mucky orange pallor of the sky. I want to follow them, but they will see me. That girl has heightened senses. She moves unnaturally. I can only hope for Eve’s safety because I don’t trust her. Who can you trust when you’ve been alone for so long? And I couldn’t fend off any attacks even if —

She dropped her pen. The noise vibrated like sonic waves against the ground in her hiding spot. A scraping sound shrieked outside. The children armed themselves with their weapons, still dripping with blood from their earlier kill. Protection against enemies for survival is all they had known. They lined up against the window, an armed force against the villain outside. He took the form of a stuffed bear. But the woman knew he was anything but a harmless toy.

Claws shaped like iron razors protrude from his paws, and his left eye glowed red. He was a nightmare, tattered and patched up, ready to send these children into an infinite slumber. The woman closed her eyes as he attacked. The bear’s speed was abnormal, and she couldn’t handle any further assaults to her splintering mind. Suddenly, tears leaked from her eyes as she shut them closed. Letters scratched against her thoughts. Words scrolled in her head as if being typed: “Eve has a sister. She will protect her from Wexler.” Breaking steel and childrens’ panicked screams echoed until she heard all sound evaporating for a second time.

Eve #3 (Written by Victor LaValle, illustrated by Jo Mi-Gyeong, colored by Brittany Peer and lettered by Andworld Design) / Source: Boom! Studios

In a less broken world, a little bird makes a nest with little branches that fly off with the strong wind, falling to the ground and forming the words ”Mouse Guard”.

An excruciatingly lifeless white invaded her line of sight. They thought that maybe it was light, The Light. But it was too opaque, and their time hadn’t come yet. But everything started to focus, like reality itself decided to come together, and they realized it was a room. Like a cloud or a hummingbird, Aimée was floating above the ground in a corner when someone entered the room. It took them a moment to recognize the person, but it was them, and that was their house. They observed themselves as their (past?) version went through a normal day. They stayed in bed for hours, maybe watched something if they were lucky enough to be able to distract themselves, and that was it. Work, rest so you don’t go any crazier, repeat. That was their perfect formula. The days passed, and they thought it was a loop, but the truth is, it was impossible to realize. Then, almost like they just came back to life with a deep breath, Aimée woke up from their dream.

Aimée: Wh-what? That was my life? Shit. Literally. At least my memory’s coming back, I guess.

As they rubbed their eyes to adjust to the sunlight, they started to notice their surroundings. It seemed like an old village from the medieval era. It was a place that exuded history and a little bit of desolation.

Aimée: What the fuck?! Where am I supposed to be now? The thing in the castle was a dream then? How do I know that this isn’t a dream too? As if I could do anything if it was or not. The only thing I have to do is ‘’Write everything’’ apparently. Who even wrote that?

After a long gasp, they decided it was better to wander around and explore. At least that would be interesting and supposedly mean something. They found a cozy home but discovered that the people inside were humanoid mouses. Surprisingly, they loved mouses, and the problem was trying not to hug them more than in fear. Although that sentiment didn’t stay long with Aimée, seeing as the inhabitants were facing difficult times. Following the only rule they now had, they took the journal out from their pocket and started writing everything from outside the window.

Aimée’s journal: It appears the son and the mother are tending to the father’s needs now that he’s ill. He doesn’t look good, and they don’t look hopeful. The mother insists that they stay with him, but the son is hesitant; he wants their attention to be with their restaurant. She is very disapproving of his mentality, so she’s going to tell him a tale!

As Aimée’s pen flowed in the paper like a person dancing on ice, the mother started lecturing her son. She spoke about a mouse who protected an owl. In their culture, it was common for the owls to have multiple mice as guards to defend them from other beasts and as caregivers to help their needs. But that owl chose only him.

During one unforgivable winter, the mouse returned to the owl fatally ill. There wasn’t much the owl could do to help him except being there for him, so he did exactly that. He did every single task the mouse needed help with, and when time ran out for the little mouse, his owl friend stayed with him.

Mouse Guard: Owlhen Caregiver #1 (Made by David Petersen) / Source: Boom! Studios

Aimée’s journal: I wonder if I’ll have someone to look over me like that. The odds don’t seem to be with me, though. At least I know it’s possible. The child is now sure he wants to stay for his dad because helping when needed is the correct thing. I feel like I shouldn’t be here. This moment belongs only to them.

The day was young, so Aimée kept exploring this world that seemed very much like their own. Although if you asked them, they’d probably say it was cuter. They now encountered a little mouse on top of a tower. She was writing about a book she discovered. As she was narrating out loud what she wrote, Aimée found out the book told the story of a mouse. She decided to explore the world and learn as many cultures and languages from other animals as possible. Considering her family was grieving for her sister in ways incomprehensible to one another, Aimée imagined the possibility of learning to understand other people as well as we understand ourselves must’ve been comforting. 

Aimée’s journal: I think I never got the hang of people either. Everyone’s so complex in their particular way. I guess even we are. But you’ll get there, little mouse, I’m sure.

Aimée walked down the tower into a forest. All this nature was a bit threatening for them, but this world never felt malicious; it felt normal. She encountered two mouses trying to go past some fence made of rocks when an older mouse stopped them and warned them to never go past it. He told a great story of how one mouse parted from his village with his insect friend to hunt beasts, but a wolf attacked them and kill them all except him. He would’ve been dead if it weren’t for the spirit of a mouse hunter that saved him from the wolf. He finished his anecdote by telling the two children that they should only fight beasts if they come for them or the village. Looking for a fight where there is none would’ve stripped them from any morals they might have.

Mouse Guard: Owlhen Caregiver #1 (Made by David Petersen) / Source: Boom! Studios

Aimée’s journal: He says going past the safe territory is not a good idea, so what’s left for me? It seems that’s all I do, and I don’t even want to. Shit, it’s getting dark, and I walked a lot. A part of me doesn’t want to sleep; I know what will happen. But what else can I do?

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Katie’s Book Corner (July 2021)

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

By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second  American Revolution: Talbot, David, Talbot, Margaret: 9780062820396:  Amazon.com: Books

(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

Amazon.com: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi Leia, Princess of Alderaan  (Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi) (9781484780787): Gray,  Claudia: Books

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!

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Celebrate Pride with a Good Book

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk is frequently known as the author of the revolutionary novel Fight Club. While it discusses and explores the ideas of toxic masculinity and consumerism, many readers fail to realize that the author behind the words is a gay man. For me, before I even knew what Fight Club was, Invisible Monsters by Palahniuk was the first queer novel I ever read. It’s very important to me in a way that is difficult to describe. I had only discovered it because of Panic at the Disco’s song Time to Dance, that featured quotes from the novel. 

This was the first time I had ever read about trans people and about queer lives. I was 13 and it honestly opened the world up for me. While I may not have deeply understood the various themes explored within the novel like beauty standards, acceptance, addiction, and mental health, this book remains integral for exposing me to queer fiction in general.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is a novel I connected with instantly. Our protagonist Liz already feels comfortable with herself as a queer BLPOC in a high school setting and seeing that made my heart soar with infinite happiness. When I was in high school, I was stared at whenever I had a girlfriend and I never knew how to articulate how invasive, scared, and vulnerable that made me. So much so, that I stopped attempting to date girls in high school because of how uncomfortable being queer was. I am so happy that many young adults will have access to a character like Liz in You Should See Me in a Crown to know they are not alone. I would have killed to have a book like this when I was younger. 

 Things like homophobia, racism, classism, and self-acceptance are explored in a manner that feels painfully authentic. However, Johnson still delivers a happy ending for Liz and I think stories about queer happiness are so important. This book feels like a breath of fresh air and I urge everyone to read it!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was a novel that moved me to tears. Specifically, a half hour of waterworks pouring over the writing of a bisexual woman. I identify as a genderqueer person whose pronouns are she/her/they/them and to see Evelyn Hugo’s character progression in discovering her bisexuality was deeply moving. Surprisingly, this was the first piece of prose I had read that wrote bisexuality in a way that did not seem fetishized or inauthentic. I have had relationships with both women and men and to see Evelyn consistently stand her ground within her own relationships was astounding. 

Reid cultivated a powerful story exploring Evelyn’s marriages to seven different men throughout her golden years as a Hollywood starlet. However, she writes about how love is love and marriage in the 40’s-80’s doesn’t showcase the truth of what being queer was like. Reid writes queer characters with delicate precision. The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo is a character drama that sticks to you even months after you’ve finished it.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth has quickly become a new favorite book of mine. The first in the Locked Tomb trilogy, it explored Gideon Nav as she attempts to help a member of a Death Cult become a powerful Lychtor. What is so fascinating about this read is that the ideas of gender roles and sexuality are written inherently into the sci-fi heavy thriller. In Muir’s written universe, gender norms aren’t even a concept discussed amongst it’s characters or their culture; so Gideon being a strong, butch lesbian is amazing because she is written freely as one without the pain of heteronormative culture. It was so cool to read a book where our main characters don’t have to suffer with the troubles of coming out or being judged for their sexuality or their gender expression. Muir’s writing is hilarious and poignant at times making for one of the most riveting reads about lesbian space necromancers.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

This One Summer is a graphic novel like no other. It explores queerness in a different way from other books on this list. Windy, the younger protagonist, is what Tamaki describes as queer girl isolated and finding herself. In a book about exploring the transition between young girl to woman and the in-between, it captures an experience that I think many can relate to. 

As a young adult graphic novel, it does important work in showcasing how confusing it is to learn about changing bodies, sex, pregnancy, relationships, divorce, and mental health. Told through beautiful shades of blue, this is a must read.

Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood by Trixie Mattel & Katya

Trixie Mattel and Katya are two drag queens that are more than important to me on so many different levels. Drag Race is one of few shows where I got to see a window into queer lives and culture; where the art of drag is celebrated and the concepts of gender identity made its way into my life. Trixie and Katya both helped shape and mold my exploration of gender identity and made me realize, “Hey! Maybe I’m not cisgender!” While it may have taken me a very long time to comfortably say out loud that I am genderqueer, Trixie and Katya, through this book and their many different projects together, have always been here for me. 

Their Guide to Modern Womanhood is a comedy book where Trixie and Katya give all their in’s, outs, tips, and tricks on loving yourself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, how to define your own version of beauty that honors yourself, and be able to live your life regardless of culture norms and rules. With their signature humor and lots of introspective bits about queerness, this is a fun read that feels like a warm hug.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

This is the only novel on this list that I have not read but it was a definite must buy as it came out this month! One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston is a romance about time-traveling lesbians falling in love with New York City. Maybe it is the sitcom lover in me that always feels connected and enticed by stories taking place in The Big Apple, but I find Jane and August’s subway romance to be an absolute must read. Readers will follow August as she attempts to create a new and exciting life for herself in NYC, all while falling in love with a 1970’s punk rock chick. What’s not to love?

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Race to Crashpoint Tower (Spoiler-free Review)

Welcome back to a Galaxy Far, Far Away. The Star Wars universe has been teeming with new tales as the High Republic era finds its footing across a vast collection of storytelling mediums. The High Republic, set about 200 years before the Skywalker Saga, is a generally peaceful moment in time. The Galaxy we’re familiar with later in the Star Wars timeline is less settled at this point, but the Republic & the Jedi are committed to peace; even in the unchecked Outer Rim.

Race to Crashpoint Tower is a Junior novel whose events proceed plot points established in the previously published adult novel, Light of the Jedi, and includes characters and plot from The High Republic Adventures comics. This is starting to sound a little complicated, however, the masterminds behind the High Republic era are generous with exposition. While much needed to be explained in Race to Crashpoint Tower to make sure the reader had the most up-to-date information, it never felt too heavy-handed or redundant.

Ram Jomaram

This fast-paced, character-driven adventure opens on the planet Valo, where a giant festival is set to begin. We meet Jedi Padawan Ram Jomaram in his favorite place; the garage. There’s nothing Ram loves more than using The Force to take something apart and put it back together again. He’s elbow deep in ripping apart a speeder when droid V-18 interrupts him. The security alarm on Crashpoint Peak has been tripped, and V-18 can’t find anyone else to help investigate. Ram’s not sure if the security breach is an error, or the work of the Nihil, the resident baddies of the High Republic era. This investigation gets the story moving, and Ram, V-18, and a few friends from past High Republic works, have to band together to not only protect the peace of the festival, but the whole planet of Valo.

While I am not the intended age demographic for Race to Crashpoint Tower, I found the characters and story to be interesting and engaging regardless. Any Star Wars fan and High Republic reader will find something to enjoy in this compact (compared to the adult novels) adventure. Race to Crashpoint Tower is set for release on June 29th, 2021, the same day as the second adult novel, The Rising Storm debuts. Both books will feature events that overlap in The High Republic timeline. Don’t worry, GateCrashers has you covered; you can read our spoiler-free review of The Rising Storm here. And with that, my fellow Star Wars-lover, remember to board your nearest Jedi Vector ship on June 29th and make the jump to your local bookstore to purchase both of these new High Republic novels.

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Katie’s Book Corner (June 2021)

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.

1. Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield
Genre: Young/New Adult Contemporary
Page Count: 376


(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 After by 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.

3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Genre: Humor Autobiography
Page Count: 329


(CW: Language, Sex)

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!

Categories
Books Film

Out of the Shadows (Spoiler-free Review)

Star Wars: The High Republic – Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland

The High Republic takes the Star Wars universe to an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Some 200 years prior to the Phantom Menace and the beginning of the Skywalker Saga.  With the Jedi in their prime, they find themselves up against the mysterious Nihil, a gang of pirates and marauders dedicated to wreaking havoc across the galaxy and stopping the Republic’s expansion into the galactic frontier.

The second young adult book in the series, Out of the Shadows acts as a continuation of several plot lines established across the line so far.  Jedi Vernestra Rwoh and Imri Cantaros from Justina Ireland’s own A Test of Courage, alongside fellow Jedi Reath Silas and Cohmac Vitus from Into the Dark, go up against the dangerous Nihil, with some new faces joining them too.  With ships being mysteriously torn from hyperspace and attacked by Nihil, cargo hauler Sylvestri Yarrow finds herself on a simple bureaucratic mission to Coruscant that quickly sends her spiraling into a web of political intrigue between the Jedi, Republic, and the Graf family, once renowned hyperspace prospectors.   

It’s worth noting that this book is set after the second flagship title of the High Republic, The Rising Storm, and does contain some mild plot spoilers for it.  I have not read it, so I can’t be entirely sure of the extent of those spoilers, but there are some seemingly important moments that are revisited and play a key part in Vernestra Rwoh’s motivations. 

Vernestra Rwoh

The biggest strength of this book lies in its protagonists.  Ireland has no issue bringing Vernestra and Imri from their previous all-ages book into the wider universe and Cohmac and Reath feel lifted straight from Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark.  All the new additions to the cast have unique voices that bring something new to both the book, and the wider High Republic Universe.  Despite Reath being one of our point of view characters and given a big cover focus, the chapter count is significantly shifted in Vernestra and new protagonist Sylverstri Yarrow’s favour.  Which is not necessarily a complaint, as those two are certainly the ones with the most interesting stories to tell.  When the book has the characters together and talking it’s at its absolute best.

The real problem lies in the Nihil’s point of view character, a familiar face whose identity I will not spoil.  The look into the Nihil in this book is short, perhaps only 4 or 5 short chapters throughout the story, but there seems to be a clear lack of purpose to them.  While the Marchion Ro chapters of Light of the Jedi gradually built the threat of the Nihil into something terrifying, here they merely remind us that they’re still there with the occasional check-in.  This also causes another issue, by letting the reader into what the Nihil are up to we don’t get to discover alongside our protagonists, which causes large chunks of the book to feel pointless as the characters slowly make their way towards discoveries we’ve known from early on.  This all leaves the book without a clear and compelling antagonist, as the Nihil presence looms over the book but rarely comes close enough to feeling like an actual threat.

This leads me to another big problem I had with the book; the mysteries that drive the plot.  Whilst the hyperspace mysteries are straightforward and predictable, even being given definitive answers by the Nihil chapters so early on, the political drama that our characters find themselves drawn into is often unfocused and boring, with no clear purpose other than to create confusion.  We also get teases to some mysterious Force powers and their connections to hyperspace, a plot the book drops and picks up at random despite being the most compelling part of the story.  The pace at which these mysteries develop is also glacial, with the book spending most of its time building up to a big event before shifting pace rapidly into a rushed and unsatisfying climax.

The Nihil

Although the book isn’t action-heavy, Ireland excels at the few scenes that are there.  The fights are clear and exciting, using the tools of the Jedi in ways I find only books can in order to really showcase how impressive lightsabers and the Force can be.  There’s still dramatic weight to the action though, with the Jedi feeling in real danger when they’re overwhelmed.  It avoids making them feel like unstoppable gods while still providing that essential cool factor.

One of my personal favourite parts of the High Republic thus far has been its worldbuilding, and this is another area where Out of the Shadows is a success.  The book features a wide variety of species from across the Star Wars universe, including many familiar species from both the original films and some of the more recent additions.  There are also a couple of new species introduced that were fascinating and unique, including the volka, a race of strange electric cats that I’d love to see more of (or have as a pet).  We discover more of the history of the Galaxy here too through the Grafs and San Tekkas, something I’m always happy to learn more about.  There are even a few familiar names thrown in that I was very excited to see.

As far as its importance to the larger plot of the High Republic, I was surprised to see Out of the Shadows pick up some major plotlines from Light of the Jedi.  This book has some big ramifications for the various factions of the High Republic and is an essential chapter in its larger story.  It also sets up some very interesting future plots and introduces a couple of new Force abilities that were very interesting, and I could see being important down the line.  

Out of the Shadows had a difficult task ahead of it, taking in characters and plots from across the High Republic.  And while it stumbles at times and drags in the middle, it is for the most part genuinely enjoyable.  The action scenes, while few, are exciting, and pull you right into the action.  The characters are likable and the central romance of the book is compelling.  And it leaves me genuinely excited for what’s next in the High Republic, from Justina Ireland, and the other writers.


Early review copy provided by Disney-Lucasfilm Press. Out of the Shadows releases 07/27/2021 in all good bookstores and digital storefronts.

Categories
Books Film

The Rising Storm (Spoiler-free Review)

Star Wars: The High Republic – The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott

Kicking off the next wave of the burgeoning High Republic publishing line of Star Wars media, Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm had a heavy load to lift. It shoulders it in the end, but not without some effort and some bruising on the way. 

For those who have not been following the Star Wars literary line in 2021, The High Republic is an ambitious initiative spanning books and comics for all ages set in the golden age of the Jedi Knights, some two hundred years prior to the Prequel Trilogy. The Jedi are at the peak of their power and not yet the more ethically compromised characters we see in the fading years of the Galactic Republic, while their assorted foes are all very different to the Dark Side wielders with which we are so familiar from the films. 

The Rising Storm tells the story of the continuing conflict between the Jedi of this era and the most fascinating of these new enemies, the marauding Nihil. The focus of this second wave of titles is the Republic Fair, an event intended by the Supreme Chancellor to act as a symbol of prosperity and possibility to the Galaxy. 

While theoretically a standalone novel, The Rising Storm is in practice a direct sequel to the initiative’s debut in Light of the Jedi, picking up the vast majority of its expansive cast where author Charles Soule left them off in January 2021. Unfortunately, the invited comparison is not always a flattering one for this book. Where Light of the Jedi balanced a tremendous amount of worldbuilding with a fast-paced, propellant plot and instantly compelling characters, The Rising Storm becomes bogged down with an over-lengthy set-piece that loses all cohesion thanks to erratic jumps between an overwhelming number of character perspectives. 

With the already-expansive cast of Light of the Jedi only growing and the tangled web of connections between them becoming ever more intricate, few novels have ever cried out quite so much for a Dramatis Personae like the ones so commonplace in the pre-Disney canon. This problem is not helped by the novel’s rapid pace and fleeting chapter length, which allows the reader very little time to sit with any particular Jedi character before they are on to the next, and the next. 

A few members of the sprawling cast do manage to stand out in spite of this lack of focus, in particular newer characters such as the charismatic Stellan Gios and the very human Elzar Mann. Both have multiple memorable scenes that leave an impact on the reader long afterward, and the relationship between them is one of the few that is given the space necessary to flourish. However, most of the characters feel drowned within a story that is trying to do too much at once and repeatedly cuts itself off before it can settle into a rhythm. This is perhaps most regrettable with the intriguing new ‘saber-for-hire’ Ty Yorrick, who is never quite allowed the room to live up to her promising introduction. 

This is really a shame because when the book is good, it’s often very, very good. The strengths of the novel reflect the strengths of the High Republic as a whole, above all a compelling world that feels both related to the Star Wars Universe we know yet also wholly fresh. Scott is especially talented at weaving together references to the broader galaxy in ways that add multiple layers of richness. There are continual winks and nods to all aspects of Star Wars from the films to Legends continuity to the broader High Republic project, but they are carefully presented in a way that makes the world feel bigger and never makes even the casual reader feel that they are missing something. By the novel’s end, the Galaxy of the High Republic feels more full of promise than ever – and more full of danger for the Jedi. 

And the source of that danger is one of the book’s highlights. The villainous Nihil deserve special mention, once again managing to steal the show from the protagonists as they often did in Light of the Jedi. These chaotic space Vikings feel like nothing else in Star Wars, in large part due to an ingeniously constructed and vividly depicted political structure and internal culture which makes their every scene crackle with tension. Indeed, one of The Rising Storm’s greatest accomplishments is the unique impression it crafts of a group who see themselves as the lead players in a tangled family drama with the Jedi featuring only in occasional walk-on parts. It helps that the number of Nihil character viewpoints is kept low, allowing the reader to become familiar with a core set of characters in a way that doesn’t happen enough with the Jedi protagonists. It’s easy to see why Scott will be returning to the Nihil with August’s Tempest Runner audio drama focusing on the character of Lourna Dee, one of the more memorable antagonists here. 

Following up an opening as well-received as Light of the Jedi was never going to be easy, and The Rising Storm often falls short of the bar that had been set. Through it all, with such a refreshing premise, the strength of solid worldbuilding, and original antagonists, The Rising Storm is an entertaining and worthwhile journey to an even longer time ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.


Early review copy provided by Del Rey Books. The Rising Storm releases in all good bookstores and digital storefronts 06/29/2021.