CW: This review contains mentions of sexual assault. After the Ink Dries contains the following topics: Sexual assault, harsh language, suicidal ideation and suicide.
“Does a devastating event require a certain definition for it to be considered world-altering to the person it happened to?”
– Cassie Gustafson; After the Ink Dries
Stories about sexual assault are difficult to read. Real survivors of sexual assault are forced to live with the mental and physical repercussions of the incidents for the rest of their lives. Those who share their stories and those who never find the voice to air personal secrets for public scrutiny are both survivors deserving of love, care, and understanding.
Fictional novels discussing mental health or assault issues of women help offer those silenced a voice. Writers like Laurie Halse Anderson have been educating readers with novels about a variety of issues women face. In 2019, Anderson wrote about her own experience with sexual assault in her harrowing poetic memoir, Shout. Most significantly, her novel turned movie Speak tells the story of a teenager who survived a rape, and the aftermath of coping with the horrifying assault while facing ridicule by her school peers.
Enter Cassie Gustafson’s debut 2021 novel, After the Ink Dries. Comic creator Emma Vieceli illustrates 16 pages in Gustafson’s book in sequential art style. After the Ink Dries feels influenced by Anderson’s Speak, but takes a different approach to presenting the narrative. Gustafson employs a dual POV narrative — and one of these speakers is a male assaulter.
In After the Ink Dries, sixteen-year-old Erica Walker wakes up half-naked on a strange bed, hungover and covered in Sharpie. Her underwear and half her clothes are missing. One beloved black boot is missing. Observing herself, she comes to a gut-punching realization: A group of boys at the house party the night before wrote messages — and their names — all over her body. Erica escapes the house still full of teenage boys, memories blurring as she drives herself back home. All she remembers is the thrill she felt the day before when her crush, Thomas, hung out with her at the party that night. Unfortunately, Thomas was also present in the house with the other boys. Erica can’t find Thomas’s name before she scrubs the Sharpie and derogatory slurs from her skin in the shower. Still, she is left to wonder: Was she raped? And was Thomas, her music-loving, sweet, lacrosse-playing crush, involved in the assault?
Before the assault, Erica had been an aspiring webcomic artist. She created an empowered female superhero as an alter ego named Erica Strange, assisted by her bat sidekick Sparky. Privately, she used art and writing as a personal diary on a hidden webpage. As the suspense builds and Erica begins fitting missing pieces of the night together, Erica Strange’s story parallels the thematic tension occurring in Erica’s real life. Viecelli excels in pacing the graphic novel scenes through analogous panel work and character designs. Gustafson’s idea to include visuals pays off in dividends. Through Viecelli’s always stellar art, readers glean further insights into Erica’s personality and thought process. We see Erica how she is perceived, how she thinks she is perceived, and how she wishes she was perceived with the inclusion of Erica Strange illustrations. Erica tries to cope with the trauma of her assault, and the art charts her emotional route.
By giving Thomas his own chapters and characterization, Gustafson dispenses a voice to an abuser. Now, with Thomas, his part in Erica’s bodily marking and possible assault is unclear. Alcohol and drunkenness skews everyone’s recollection of that Night. Thomas is portrayed as a “good guy.” He faces emotional abuse from his lawyer father about his music career, in turn only perpetuating Thomas’s drive to succeed. Throughout the book, Erica and Thomas remember the highs involved in their blossoming relationship prior to the Night. Thomas finds solace in writing lyrics, making music, and giving Erica tokens of his affection. I believe Gustafson’s point in writing Thomas’s POV is this: Thomas shows how anyone, any male, regardless of their character, is capable of sexual assault. Gustafson shows how Thomas grapples with guilt and uncertainty, not wanting to face the idea that, yes, he had something to do with Erica’s harassment. He convinces himself of his innocence because he could never have anything to do with something so vile.
Gustafson deconstructs toxic masculinity and victim shaming in Thomas’s chapters blisteringly. Yet, Thomas still feels somewhat underdeveloped, with his short chapters cutting into Erica’s narrative at a few odd times. This is my one criticism of the book, but the Thomas chapters are important.
After the Ink Dries combines dual first-person-point-of-views, prose, poetry, and illustrations, to detail Erica’s heartbreaking story. I’ve been reading Laurie Halse Anderson novels since high school, and heavy topical books are stories I feel compelled to read. I strive to gain a deeper understanding about mental illness, sexual assault, and other harsh topics I may or may not have experienced myself. After the Ink Dries will definitely trigger readers. Thus, this book should be read with caution.
Personally, I read Gustafson’s novel in one sitting. She possesses an innate ability in her writing. Through experimental writing styles and comic pages, Gustafson provides an engaging, authentic voice to survivors of sexual assault. Verisimilitude abounds in Gustafson’s detailed prose.
I don’t usually “rate” books, but if I had to, After the Ink Dries receives and deserves 5 full stars. My attention was stalwart until the final page. I can’t wait to read Cassie Gustafson’s next novel releasing in 2022, The Secrets We Keep. Confront the horrors of real issues women endure by picking up a copy of After the Ink Dries.
Growing up, the Inheritance Cycle was one of my favorite book series. I was on a HUGE fantasy kick after seeing The Return of the King at ten-years-old, and to feed my obsession, I became immediately enamored with the world Christopher Paolini created. In the years that followed the release of the final book in the series, Inheritance, I hadn’t heard of any new projects.
You can imagine my surprise when, towards the tail end of 2020, I discovered that he had written his first novel for adults, the massive sci-fi space opera, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.
Intended to be the first in a new universe Paolini is calling “The Fractalverse,” Stars is set in a future where space travel for the masses has become possible. Humanity has traveled and colonized amongst the stars, and other species have become known. We focus on Kira Navárez, a xenobiologist working for The United Military Command, or UMC. Before settling down with her fiancé, Kira goes to recover a downed drone on the planet Adrasteia.
It is there she stumbles upon the Soft Blade, an ancient nanotech organism that becomes one with Kira against her wishes. Now bonded with the Soft Blade, Kira is soon thrust into a gigantic intergalactic war between humanity and a race of beings called the Jellies, and she may be the key to ending it.
I was extremely curious to pick this up, having been a fan of Paolini’s work prior. What would this world look like now that he’s operating in a different genre (sci-fi rather than fantasy)? And with this being his first adult novel, what constraints would be removed?
Once I began reading, I could not put it down. To put it quite simply: I loved this.
Paolini manages to suck you in immediately with the worldbuilding featured in the novel. The universe that he has created feels so rich and full with the sheer number of planets, communities, religions, and races introduced. It’s far vaster and grander than the Inheritance Cycle was right out of the gate. More than once, I caught myself daydreaming outside of the main storyline because my mind was too busy picturing what all the other beings and worlds looked like.
As for the plot itself, it’s your standard “chosen one being thrust into something far greater than themselves” type of scenario. In that way, it’s similar to the Inheritance Cycle. However, the reason why this spin on that story succeeds more than other novels working within this trope, is the quality of the characters.
The characters are so likable and relatable, especially the crew of the Wallfish. Essentially a ragtag group of mercenaries, they immediately come across as engaging and full of spirit. They may seem tough, but in actuality, they have genuine layers and good-natured affection underneath their rough exterior. Once the crew of the Wallfish were introduced, they immediately captured my heart.
As for our protagonist, Kira Navárez, you immediately connect with her and feel for the sacrifices she has to make on a journey she unwillingly has to take part in. Paolini’s excellent prose allow the reader to experience every struggle and moment of genuine emotion Kira has throughout the novel. Without spoiling too much, the arc of her character feels complete by book’s end…even though there’s plenty of story left to continue in the Fractalverse.
If the stories planned for this universe continue to hit these heights, then I can’t wait to see what Paolini dreams up next.
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini is out now and available at your local bookstore, library, or anywhere fine books are sold.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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!”
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.”
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
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!
Writing a book review is similar to giving a restaurant recommendation, if I don’t know what you like to eat, chances are you are walking away disappointed, or even worse, hungry. Framing my reviews that way allows me to hold up my oath to anyone willing to read it, if you aren’t a fan of the material presented, why read about it? Certainly not here to waste anyone’s time (even if this website survives on views), which is why we should knock a few questions right off the bat. Did you read the first one? If yes, continue on, if no, I would encourage you to give it a read for the warming bits of pop-culture and possibly skim over the cringe-inducing moments of ‘so nerdy, it’s cool’. Now, for those who watched the film, you may be a bit lost as the challenges in the film and book are different, and there is some backstory that is clipped in true Hollywood style, so I suggest the same, read the first one and then move on. For fans of the first one, if you are looking for more of the same, then are you in luck because Ernest Cline tries to out member berries himself in this one. Lost on the member berries reference? Google the clip from South Park, I’ll wait. See what I mean? Don’t get me wrong, Cline himself even acknowledges the difficulty of writing a sequel to Ready Player One in the section aptly named Acknowledgements, but I don’t think even he can get around the allure of another bag of cash for the rights to this future movie sequel. Weary traveler, there be spoilers ahead, so stop now or forever hold the I told you so.
The book itself is laid out very similarly to the first, we see that the original members of the High Five (RIP DAITO) are rolling deep in the cash, with Art3mis and Wade having a falling out due to Wade’s major discovery of ONI, Halliday’s last secret. Aside from the difficulties of IRL dating that the two lovebirds had to face, the implications of ONI could (do) change the landscape of the OASIS forever! WHAT IS ONI? I’m glad you never asked. It’s a super head band that links your brain directly into the OASIS, no haptic suit or visor required, YOU ARE THERE. Eat an apple? You taste it. Make love? You feel it, with the added bonus of safe sex. Aside from the inability to feel true pain, only slight dullness, you can do anything. It also allows users to basically copy experiences for others to try safely, from surfing a wave to shooting up heroin (No bullshit, it’s in the book). So, while AECH, Shoto, and Wade are all on board, Art3mis deems it too much of an unnecessary addition to a population already addicted to the OASIS. The vote to release the ONI to the masses pushes through and after the 7,777,777 user logs in, a new quest for the Seven Shards of the Soul of the Siren appears. Is there a new villain? Yes. Is there an old villain? Yes. Do you wonder how this quest is going to translate to the big screen? HELL YES!
If this taste of a summary has already got your finger on that Amazon Buy Now button, then enjoy, but if you need more, then here it is. Lord of the Rings, John Hughes, Prince, Tragic Backstory, 80s Arcade Games, 80s Music, Redemption, and the dumbest named sword in literary history are just a few of the many packed references you will find in Cline’s sequel. I for one did appreciate that this novel addresses the inert creepiness of James Halliday and his obsession with his best friends’ wife. So far to say that it forces Wade and the reader to maybe reevaluate some of the ‘heroes’ we look up to in the present time and try not to create a very undeserving pedestal for them to rest on. There were a few other bright spots, but that one definitely did it for me. Not convinced to read it? Perhaps the first trip around the OASIS was enough for you, or maybe just sit back and wait for this to hit theaters (you know it will). As JJ Abrams once said, probably as a lens flare was happening somewhere: “There’s nothing wrong with doing sequels, they’re just easier to sell” Do I think Cline wanted to write a sequel? Probably Not. Was it an easy sell? Absolutely. I’ll see you all back for my review of Ready Player Three: The Search for More Money.
Much like they’re the backbone of the Rebel Alliance, pilots are the backbone of Star Wars storytelling, having been the subject of countless books, comics, and video games. But this is perhaps the best depiction they’ve ever had.
Victory’s Price, the final book in the Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed, gives us a tense, emotional conclusion to this story of daring pilots. Nearly a year on since the death of Emperor Palpatine, the fledgling New Republic is ready to bring the war to a final end. One of their prime objectives? Defeating the Imperial aces of the 204th, Shadow Wing. Who under the command of Colonel Soran Keize, have begun a second Operation Cinder, bringing devastation to world after world.
To hunt them down, Alphabet Squadron was brought together. Consisting of a defected, traumatized Shadow Wing pilot, Yrica Quell. A sweet, sadly no longer innocent boy by the name of Wyl Lark. A Theelin with a death wish struggling after an affecting experience with a cult, Chass na Chadic. An ex-Imperial rebel pirate, now seemingly a war hero for actions against the 204th, and somehow the most put-together of the squad, Nath Tensent. And finally, the mysterious Kairos, who no one knows much about, though we do peel back some layers to her in a beautifully told sub-plot throughout the book. The entire squad has been, are going, and are about to go through, a lot.
When we pick up, Yrica Quell has defected back to the 204th, in a story that leaves us guessing at her true motives. It’s a heartbreaking look at the damage divided loyalties can do to a person. This leaves Alphabet in a rough place, though they’re not alone in the fight. They have assistance from a battle group under command of Rebels fan-favourite Hera Syndulla, giving us someone of sound-mind to center us against the turmoil our other characters are going through. Even still, Hera struggles with the responsibility of command, finding herself missing the days of being part of a small crew of rebels.
This book, and the trilogy it belongs to, are some of the most impactful stories ever told in Star Wars. Taking a look at the trauma caused by war, none of our “heroes”, and I use that term in the lightest possible definition, are doing well. They’re all hurt in their own way. How Victory’s Price goes about showing this will break you emotionally. It broke me.
Alexander Freed may well be the Star Wars author with the best understanding of the toll war can have on someone, especially those who have lost countless friends to a constant stream of seemingly endless battles. While he writes some truly engaging, edge-of-your-seat battles between the pilots of Alphabet Squadron and the 204th, it’s in the quieter moments, when there’s no battle to win, or dogfight to duel, that he hits the highest of highs. These moments, especially one specific scene of a radio conversation with the enemy that is held without malice or objective, are where the book shines brightest. When it digs into who these characters are at their core.
To keep talking about Victory’s Price would mean going into spoilers. I don’t want to do that, because this trilogy has easily emerged as my favorite piece of storytelling to come out of Star Wars, and one I hope everyone can experience for themselves at some point. I’ll finish by simply saying that when I came to the end of the book I was left an emotional wreck for at least an hour, and it’s going to stick with me for a long while yet.