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!


Katie’s Book Corner (May 2021)

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

(CW: Domestic violence/abuse, murder, death, ethical considerations)

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!