Linda M. Castellitto

Jordan Manning is a crime reporter at the top of her game, but staying there is proving increasingly exhausting. When she moved to Chicago from her home state of Texas, she hit the ground running in four-inch stiletto heels—which didn’t deter her from being first on the scene of a steady stream of crimes in the Windy City. As a Black woman, Jordan is the only woman of color at News Channel 8, and she’s the only reporter in her newsroom with journalism and forensic science degrees. Her experience and savvy serve her well, as does her empathy—a trait that isn’t always present in the highly competitive news business.

Because of Jordan’s empathy, plus her finely tuned intuition, the disturbing case of Masey James—a smart, well-liked Black teenager found dead in a park—just won’t let Jordan go. She had already been frustrated by the police’s unwillingness to declare Masey missing, and now authorities are in a rush to arrest someone instead of conducting a thorough investigation. Jordan is determined to not only ethically and comprehensively report on the case but also help solve it.

Read our interview with Tamron Hall about her series launch.

As the Wicked Watch is a compellingly realistic and timely first entry in Tamron Hall’s new mystery series starring the ambitious and fabulous Jordan, a woman not unlike her creator. Hall was an award-winning anchor on NBC and MSNBC, was the first Black woman to host “TODAY” and now hosts the Emmy-winning “Tamron Hall Show.” Her fiction takes on racism, sexism, media ethics and institutional bias, offering a fascinating inside look at the intricate ballet that is a live newscast.

Readers spend much of the story inside Jordan’s very busy head. The naturalistic narrative reveals her investigative strategies, conflicting emotions and minimonologues about everything from Chicago restaurants to her quest for a healthy personal life as she works to earn the trust of Masey’s family and neighbors, and edges ever closer to the truth about the killer she believes might strike again. It’s a dangerous pursuit, but to Jordan it’s just part of “a calling and a purpose larger than myself.” As the Wicked Watch is a promising start to a series sure to appeal to fans of badass women with mysteries to solve and something to prove.

Tamron Hall’s debut is a promising start to a series sure to appeal to fans of badass women with mysteries to solve and something to prove.

YA author Kate McGovern’s first novel for younger readers is the story of a girl who has been keeping a big secret: She can’t read very well. When her secret is discovered and she is held back a year, she struggles to conceal the reason from her friends and classmates.

Secrets are an important theme throughout the book: why we keep them, how hard it is to continue them, the effects they have on our friends and family. What drew you to exploring the power and peril of secrecy?
I was interested in exploring the question of how and why we keep secrets from ourselves as much as from other people. Maple obviously knows she has a hard time reading. But she has also been hiding from this reality, by finding tricks to avoid facing her struggles head-on. I think when we don’t want to tell other people something about ourselves, it’s very often because we are afraid that saying that thing out loud will make it more real—even though of course that isn’t usually true! So keeping this secret from other people is really Maple’s way of protecting herself from dealing with her own emotions about how hard it is for her to do something that she perceives other people can do more easily.

In your acknowledgments, you note that you’ve worked in education for many years, including as a reading tutor for young people, and that this book is “the meeting of my worlds.” Will you share a bit more about that with us?
I’ve always loved working with kids. Even as a high school and college student, I gravitated toward opportunities to volunteer with younger kids, to babysit and to work as a camp counselor, that kind of thing. One of my first jobs out of college was with an incredible organization called the Harlem Children’s Zone. I should be clear that I was not a certified or even particularly well-trained reading interventionist! But I was hired to help middle school students who were struggling with reading, so that’s what I tried to do. And that kicked off a deeper passion for working within education. After graduate school, I spent a year as a teaching assistant at an elementary school in London, and when I came back to the U.S. I started working in education nonprofits. 

For the last decade or so, I’ve been writing fiction for kids in my “spare time” and working directly with students or writing about education in my “work time.” There hasn’t been much overlap. With Maple, I’ve had the chance to tell a story that deals with issues I’ve been exposed to through work, such as how and why students can get to older grades without fluent reading skills, which is really much more common than you might think.

“I want readers to understand that Maple’s experience is truly just one person’s experience.”

You do a wonderful job of immersing readers in Maple’s mind so they can experience her reading challenges, from how words and pages appear to her to her feelings as she struggles to comprehend what she sees. Can you tell us about the research you did that helped to ensure these moments felt true and real?
Since I’ve been working in education for a while, both in and out of schools, I’m lucky in that I have a lot of colleagues and former colleagues who know a lot more than I do about reading instruction! I started there, just asking them to talk to me about what Maple’s struggles might feel like, tricks she might use to hide them, what types of interventions her teachers could use to support her and that kind of thing. There are also a lot of online resources that I found incredibly useful, such as understood.org, which has these great videos that show students talking about what it feels like to have different kinds of learning disabilities. 

Through one of my former colleagues, I was introduced to an amazing reading interventionist named Trish Geraghty, who was generous enough to read the entire manuscript, give me notes and make sure everything rang true based on her and her students’ experiences. I also drew on my own experiences with students. I thought a lot about how they were gifted in so many ways, but how often they didn’t have a chance to show off those gifts in school because reading had become a barrier. I was really inspired by my former students and how wonderful and special they each were in their own ways.

Learning differences are quite common in children and adults, especially dyslexia. What stood out to you most as you learned about the range and scope of reading challenges?
That’s a really important point. I want readers to understand that Maple’s experience is truly just one person’s experience. We often tend to think of dyslexia as that thing where you flip letters around, but it’s much, much more than that. It was eye-opening to me when one of the reading experts I spoke with used the phrase “characteristics of dyslexia” to refer to this huge umbrella of reading challenges. She helped me see it as much more than just a single diagnosis.

Maple’s parents are very interested in her life and sincerely care about her happiness, so they’re disappointed with themselves when they realize they missed how much trouble she’d been having with reading. Why was it important to you to include their perspective?
I wanted to explore how Maple’s parents might have missed this big thing that was going on for their child—not to blame them for missing it, but to show how parents are human, too. We make mistakes, and sometimes we are guilty of putting our own expectations on our kids without recognizing who they really are as their own people.

Maple and her parents refer to her as a “Hin-Jew” because she’s Hindu and Jewish, and as “Whindian,” white and Indian. You’ve said that Maple’s family reflects your own. Why was it important to you that the Mehta-Cohens reflected your family? Did basing this aspect of these characters on personal reality make writing them easier, or more challenging?
I wanted to write a book that my own kids could (eventually) pick up and see themselves in. It’s a wonderful thing to watch children’s literature diversifying so rapidly, but biracial and multiracial protagonists and families are still a little bit less common. I especially wanted to write a story in which the family looked like ours, but in a narrative that wasn’t all about being a multicultural family, because in our house, our lives are made richer by our mix of cultures, but we have a lot of other things going on, too. 

Using our family as the jumping-off point definitely made the writing process easier. I was able to pull in very familiar details, and I also had readily available readers (i.e., my husband) who could fact-check for me! (I should add, though, that Maple’s family isn’t exactly ours. They’re still fiction! One fun way that we’re different is that my family has grandparents raised in four different traditions—Judaism, Catholicism, Hinduism and Jainism. I simplified!)

Read our review of ‘Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen.'

Some characters are mean to Maple when they find out she was held back a grade, but Maple’s harshest critic is often herself. Will you share a bit about why reading challenges might be so central to her identity and to how she feels about herself?
I think Maple feels conflicted internally because she identifies as a person who loves books and stories, so she feels like she should be able to read well. Her reading struggles don’t fit with her idea of who she is. Of course, her challenges with reading independently have nothing to do with her love for great stories and her own gift of storytelling. There’s no reason you can’t love stories and also have a hard time with reading fluently! But it takes time for Maple to recognize that and to embrace all the parts of who she is.

Will you tell us a little about fifth and sixth grade Kate and who she was as a reader? Do you think your teachers would be surprised to learn that you grew up to become a published author?
I don’t think they’d be surprised at all. I was a lot like Maple, actually, although I did not personally struggle with reading fluency. I used to tell myself stories out loud in my room, pacing back and forth. For years and years, my mind was constantly spinning stories. I was and still am very much a nose-in-a-book kind of person.

YA author Kate McGovern’s first novel for younger readers is the story of a girl who has been keeping a big secret: She can’t read very well.

Maple Mehta-Cohen is a bright 11-year-old with an impressive vocabulary whose artistic parents encourage her creativity. Last year, she loved her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Littleton-Chan, whose enthusiasm for teaching was genuine and whose cool bicultural surname was similar to Maple’s own “Indian-Jewish hyphenated situation.” Even so, as the school year wound to a close, Maple was raring to start sixth grade—middle school, at last!—alongside her two BFFs, Marigold and Aislinn.

But Maple’s been keeping a secret, and last April, Mrs. Littleton-Chan became the first person to notice: As Maple puts it, “I can’t really read. . . . A whole page is like an ocean. When I look at it, I feel like I’m drowning.” Diagnosed with “characteristics of dyslexia,” Maple must repeat fifth grade in Mrs. Littleton-Chan’s class to bolster her reading skills and build a better foundation for success in sixth grade.

Maple sees the logic behind this decision, but she still feels frustrated and embarrassed. She keeps the news a secret all summer, only telling her besties right before school begins in the fall. When she’s assigned to show around the new kid, Jack, she tells him she’s back in fifth grade as part of a hush-hush budget measure so she can serve as a special assistant to overworked teachers.

Alas, as the days pass, Maple’s hilariously clever fib proves difficult to maintain amid the hard work she’s putting in with her new reading group, her worries about disappointing her parents, her deep investment in the mystery tale she’s dictating into her digital recorder and her inability to decide on a subject for the big class project. Phew!

McGovern, the author of two previous YA novels, notes in her acknowledgments that dyslexia is “by far the most common language-based learning disability” and describes consulting with reading experts to ensure the book’s authenticity. Mission accomplished: Maple’s learning challenges and their impact on her emotional health are carefully and realistically rendered. So, too, is her heartwarming journey to shedding her secrets and embracing her true, flawed, wonderful self. Maple is a character that readers of all stripes will relate to, and McGovern surrounds her with kind, supportive adults who are appealing in their own right. Warmly compassionate and often funny, Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen is an inspiring and comforting read.

In this compassionate and often funny novel, Maple has been keeping a big secret, and when it’s discovered, she must repeat fifth grade.

Like il timpano, the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night alongside Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, the latter’s new memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food, is a gastronome’s delight. It has piquant surprises tucked inside and will leave readers both sated and wanting more.

When it comes to Tucci, fans always want more. The award-winning actor and bestselling cookbook author was considered a standout guy even before his swoony Negroni tutorial video went viral at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. He’s known for scene-stealing roles in movies like Spotlight and The Devil Wears Prada, as well as in foodie films like Big Night and Julie & Julia

And like Julia Child before him, Tucci’s chef skills are as impressive as his boundless passion for eating. Such is the life of a gourmand, which he revels in and reflects on in Taste. The author takes readers on a grand tasting tour, from his childhood in Westchester, New York, to his 1980s New York City acting debut to bigger roles in major movies made around the world, where he always dined with gusto.

Tucci is quite opinionated about food. Well-placed “fuck”s signify outraged incredulity (e.g., an adult “cutting their spaghetti!!!!!!!” or the travesty of turkey in an alfredo) and offer hits of hilarity throughout. There are also dramatic renderings of memorable conversations, like the gasp-inducing time a chef told him, “I make a stock . . . of cheese.” 

He shares serious stories as well, like the pain and grief he and his family felt when his late wife, Kathryn, died in 2009, and their joy and hope when he married Felicity Blunt in 2012. He writes, too, about his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment, a grueling experience during which he had a feeding tube and worried “things would never return to the way they were, when life was edible.”

Thankfully he is now cancer-free, and via the artfully crafted recipes Tucci includes in Taste, readers can join him in celebrating food and drink once again. Under his tutelage, they might even dare to construct and consume their own timpano.

Like the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night, Stanley Tucci’s new memoir is a gastronome’s delight.

It’s day one of fifth grade, and Anthony “Ant” Joplin is playing it cool. He surrenders to lots of photos and kisses from his parents but insists on walking to Gerald Elementary on his own, as befits the 10-year-old he has become.

He also wants to get there early so he can play with the deck of cards he has secreted away in his backpack. The annual Oak Grove spades tournament kicks off soon, and Ant really, really wants to win. He tried last year, but it didn’t go well (tears were involved), which is especially embarrassing since his older brother, their dad and their grandfather have all won in the past. So Ant is planning to practice hard, stay strong and stoic like his dad is always telling him to be, and uphold the Joplin men’s tradition. After all, as the warm and witty omniscient narrator observes, “bragging rights are more valuable than a packet of hot sauce at a fish fry.”

But in Varian Johnson’s winningly affecting and timely Playing the Cards You’re Dealt, Ant realizes that wanting something and trying hard to get it isn’t always enough—whether it’s winning a game, gaining approval from a parent or keeping everything the same.

Instead, in the suspenseful lead-up to the tournament, one thing after another goes awry. Ant’s spades partner, Jamal, gets grounded, and Ant’s father acts increasingly strange. He used to have a drinking problem but promised to stop, so that can’t be the reason, right? The arrival of new girl Shirley also throws Ant for a loop. Shirley is smart, won’t tolerate Jamal’s bullying and is comfortable talking about feelings. Ant is drawn to her not just because she’d be a great new spades partner but also because she’s an example of how to live life sans toxic masculinity. (He thinks she’s pretty cute, too.)

Readers will root for the good-hearted and charming Ant as he learns lessons about trust, teamwork and true strength, with some sweet hints of romance thrown in as well. They might learn a new skill, too, thanks to Johnson’s beginner-friendly explanations of the strategies—and fun!—of playing spades.

It’s day one of fifth grade, and Anthony “Ant” Joplin is playing it cool.

Career criminals crisscross Europe as they tread a perilous path to revenge, and FBI agents race to solve bizarre murders plaguing an historic Southern city. But otherworldly forces lurk around the edges, turning these two thrillers into something else altogether.

The Nameless Ones

John Connolly’s The Nameless Ones is a bleak, unflinching look at the ways in which the effects of war ripple ever outward, endlessly destructive, never truly resolved. In places where this kind of conflict is never-ending, there are some—such as Serbian brothers Spiridon and Radovan Vuksan—who might decide that crime does pay. After committing countless atrocities in the 1990s Yugoslav wars (Spiridon prefers hands-on torture, Radovan is a hands-off strategist), the men now lead a crime syndicate and have amassed money, power and influence.

But these things don’t render them invincible, especially where Louis and Angel are concerned. These fan-favorite characters, a loving gay couple who happen to be an assassin and a thief, are front and center in this 19th installment of the Charlie Parker series, though Parker makes cameos here and there. Louis and Angel are on a mission to avenge the death of De Jaager, a Dutch fixer whom the Vuksan brothers and their colleagues murdered, along with three others, in Amsterdam.

De Jaager’s death is the latest in a round robin of revenge that’s decreasing the likelihood of the Vuksans ever returning to Serbia as free men. Connolly delves into the logistics of organized crime while illustrating how escalating pressures are fraying the Vuksan brothers’ contentious relationship. Complicating matters is Parker’s late daughter, Jennifer, who appears to Louis and Angel in their dreams, plus a woman named Zorya whose presence is discomfiting and mystifying. Will she help or hinder the Vuksans as Louis and Angel, enraged and determined, draw ever closer?

Multiple characters and points of view factor into the complex plot, offering history and context for the sociopaths, narcissists and opportunists that populate The Nameless Ones. There are moments of wit and wisdom, too—and sinister questions that will leave fans eager for the next installment.

Bloodless

This November, it will have been 50 years since people first began asking, “Who the hell was D.B. Cooper?” Fans of Aloysius X.L. Pendergast will be delighted that Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have chosen to mark the anniversary of Cooper’s famously unsolved skyjacking in Bloodless, the 20th title in their bestselling series featuring the unusual and inimitable FBI special agent who’s solved more than 100 cases and counting.

The book opens with a closer look at what might’ve happened during Cooper’s fateful crime in the sky, and then it fast-forwards to the present day wherein Pendergast, his companion Constance Greene and his partner Armstrong Coldmoon are embarking on a weird new case. They’ve been called to Savannah, Georgia, where a body has been found completely drained of blood, and the residents have no insight or information to offer. (Or do they?)

In short order, there are more victims who look “like alien creatures or wax manikins” and a continued and confounding lack of clues, much to the dismay of an obnoxious senatorial candidate who pushes the FBI and local police for a quick resolution. Other complicating factors include a brash documentary crew, with dubious ethics, in town to chronicle the city’s alleged paranormal activity; rumors that the elderly Chandler House hotel proprietor Felicity Frost is actually a vampire; and kooky residents and tourists who keep things messy.

And then things get really messy, as whoever is killing people ratchets up the gruesomeness, splattering the charming historical city with blood and gore while infusing the humid air with abject terror. History, mystery, action and the unexplainable collide as the FBI team draws closer to their prey while trying to avoid being hunted themselves.

Bloodless is rife with inventive scenarios, amusing exchanges (especially between oft-impatient Coldmoon and eternally placid Pendergast) and tantalizingly spooky mysteries, topped off with a gloriously wild finale that is as action-packed as it is memorable.

Horrors both supernatural and all-too-human haunt two new installments of popular, long-running series.

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