Anyone immediately transported to a riverside pier by the lyric “So open up your morning light” will love Thea Glassman’s Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson’s Creek: How Seven Teen Shows Transformed Television. “Today’s teen shows are leading the charge when it comes to progressive, diverse, and creative storytelling,” Glassman writes, but they wouldn’t exist without the seven predecessors she covers in her impressive debut: “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “My So-Called Life,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “The O.C.,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Glee.”

In a wealth of new interviews with creators, writers, actors, crew and more insiders, Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson’s Creek shares behind-the-scenes details that will delight devoted fans and excited newbies alike. While all of the shows drew heavily from their creators’ own teenage years, Glassman points out the unique choices and approaches that made each iconic. For example, “Fresh Prince” subverted typical sitcom format and “painted a nuanced picture of the Black experience. “My So-Called Life” inspired the first online campaign to save a show, and “Dawson’s Creek” had the first openly gay character in the teen sphere.

While Glassman acknowledges controversies that touched each show, she focuses on the creativity, heart and hard work that led to a groundbreaking era of teen TV. After all, as writer and pop-culture maven Jennifer Keishin Armstrong writes in her introduction, “There is no drama like teenage drama, in life and in fiction.”

This survey of seven teen shows explores how they broke ground with creativity, heart and hard work, paving the way for the genre’s progressive and diverse oeuvre today.
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What is a man? And, still more important, what is love? These are the questions posed by Salar Abdoh’s latest novel, A Nearby Country Called Love. Manhood and the search for love bedevil Abdoh’s dispirited protagonist, Issa. Deported from the United States after years working a deadening hotel job, Issa has returned to his childhood neighborhood in Tehran, Iran. He never knew his mother, and his artistic gay brother died young of AIDS, followed quickly by his macho father. Though Issa loved them, he struggled to understand his brother, and his father’s determination to make real men out of both of them was damaging. Even after his father’s passing, a culture of crushing patriarchy overshadows Issa’s life: The novel opens with Issa and his friend Nasser ineffectively attempting to avenge a woman who found her husband so intolerable that she burned herself to death.

Into this violent, hypermasculine society, Abdoh introduces characters who quietly insist on being themselves, allowing Issa to see different, less rigid ways of being. They include Mehran, the gay man who becomes tough guy Nasser’s improbable lover; Mehran’s roommate, a trans man; and Babacar, a Senegalese man who’s always late for prayers but wants to become a Shia cleric. There’s also Issa’s formidable Turkish stepmother (who has a man’s name) and her equally formidable daughter, a doctor whose estranged husband torments her until he learns not to. Then, there’s Hayat, the young woman whose poetry Issa fell so in love with that he sojourned to Lebanon to meet her, not even knowing her real name.

When Issa and Hayat finally meet, she’s . . . not what he imagined. More trouble ensues. But Issa, a supremely loving, compassionate and accepting spirit (his very name means Jesus) fails to understand that he is already surrounded by the love he seeks. In Abdoh’s sad, hilarious, big-hearted book, the nearby country called love is the very place where Issa stands.

Salar Abdoh introduces characters who quietly insist on being themselves in a violent, hypermasculine community in Tehran, allowing his protagonist Issa to see different, less rigid ways of being.
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Two master strategists go head to head—or nose to nose—in Down the Hole, a wickedly funny picture book written by Scott Slater and illustrated by Adam Ming.

As he’s done many times before, Fox positions himself at the edge of the meadow, above a hole in the ground, ready to make his move: “There were bunnies in that hole. Not as many as there used to be, of course, but there were still a few left. He was certain of that.”

Pretending to look for help, Fox calls underground, and his yells are received with what seems at first like a friendly response. Rabbit is willing to help out poor old Fox, but he just needs a bit more information first. While Fox connives to lure Rabbit up to the surface, Rabbit puts his own plan into motion and masterfully uses stalling tactics to get Fox exactly where he wants him.

Clever dialogue, mounting suspense and humor combine to create a picture book that’s sure to leave young listeners on the edge of their seat. Careful observers will eventually be able to deduce Fox’s fate from a two-page spread that might prompt knowing squeals during what’s sure to be a raucous read-aloud.

Adam Ming’s richly hued illustrations, digitally rendered but with hand-painted textures, effectively impart the animal adversaries with winningly human facial expressions: raised eyebrows, worried grimaces and even a smirk or two. The action takes place above and below the earth’s surface—sometimes both at the same time—and rapidly changes in scale. A plethora of little details, especially concerning Rabbit and his accomplices, help maintain visual interest in one rabbit hole readers won’t mind falling down over and over again.

Richly hued illustrations in Down the Hole make for one rabbit hole readers won’t mind falling down over and over again.
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Agatha Christie fans, rejoice: Sophie Hannah brings back famed detective Hercule Poirot in the riveting Hercule Poirot’s Silent Night, the latest entry in her authorized reboot of the iconic series. 

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Edward Catchpool (Hannah’s own invention) are taking on a new case, this time brought to them by Cynthia Catchpool, Edward’s mother. Even as she invites  them to celebrate Christmas with her, Cynthia enlists their help in solving a murder—and preventing another. Catchpool thinks his mother is only scheming to spend time with him, but Poirot senses something amiss and agrees to take on the case.

They travel to Norfolk, where a well-liked and amiable man was recently murdered in a busy hospital ward. Local officials have yet to figure out how the killer was able to escape unseen, and Cynthia’s friend Arnold is due to be admitted to that very ward. Arnold’s wife believes her husband will become the next victim, so Poirot and Catchpool are asked to unmask the killer before Arnold is admitted—and possibly murdered. When Poirot and Catchpool begin their investigation, they have high hopes for a neat solution and a quick return to London. But as they unravel the mystery, the sleuths realize there’s more than meets the eye with this case, and they may be closer than they realize to the killer.

Hannah’s biggest departure is in creating Inspector Catchpool to narrate the series while Poiroit’s traditional companion, Arthur Hastings, is presumably in Argentina. The addition of a new viewpoint character allows readers to see the Belgian detective from a fresh perspective while also allowing Hannah to establish her own voice, which she does with aplomb even as she effortlessly captures Poirot’s essence. And Catchpool is a likable narrator: intelligent; bitingly funny, especially when ruminating on his complicated relationship with his mother; and devoted to Poirot.

The mystery itself is reminiscent of Christie, too—meticulously plotted and engaging, with multiple likely suspects. Readers looking for another puzzling outing with the famed Hercule Poirot will be richly rewarded with this new installment.

Sophie Hannah’s latest bitingly funny and meticulously plotted Hercule Poirot mystery effortlessly captures the Belgian sleuth’s essence.
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“Think about this: The Italians didn’t have the tomato until after 1492,” writes chef and food historian Lois Ellen Frank. “The Irish didn’t have the potato.” Let that sink in, then get a copy of Frank’s Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients. Written with Walter Whitewater, the book celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants of the Americas—corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla and cacao. The recipes are accessible, budget-friendly and entirely plant-based, such as the three sisters tamale with green chile, black beans, chocolate and chipotle; baked acorn squash with maple and pecans; and green chile enchilada lasagne. In sum, this is a fantastic introduction and tribute to Native American Southwestern cuisine.

Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants first cultivated in the Americas.

As Christina Wyman’s heartfelt and often heartbreakingly realistic Jawbreaker opens, Maximillia (Max) Plink receives distressing news from her orthodontist.

Dr. Watson says Max’s braces aren’t enough to prevent possible future double jaw surgery—it’s time to start wearing headgear known as “the jawbreaker” for 16 hours a day. It’s yet another thing that makes Max, a witty and kind seventh grader, feel like an outsider in her own life. She observes, “I basically have a shiny metal orb around my head. You could probably stand me on the roof of your house to get a better Wi-Fi signal.”

Despite this unwelcome fashion statement, Max perseveres. She’s used to trying to stay positive, because she’s already relentlessly bullied at school. The most enthusiastic participant in this cruelty is her own younger sister, Alex. Their parents routinely downplay Max’s concerns. Worried about finances, they’re having loud arguments more frequently than usual.

Thankfully, Max finds respite with her best friend Shrynn and as a writer for her school newspaper. When she learns of a journalism competition sponsored by their local Brooklyn news station, it sounds like the path to a happier future. But there’s a catch: A video essay is required for entry. “The thought of my face, my mouth, my teeth living online until the end of time makes me want to cry,” Max thinks.

Tantalizing suspense builds as the contest deadline approaches. As Max contends with all the stressors swirling around her, she wrestles with difficult questions: Should she insist her parents do something about Alex? Would it be a mistake to enter the contest and show her face to the world? Why is Shrynn acting so standoffish lately?

Wyman demonstrates an impressive ability to conjure up both the pain and delight of middle school with immediacy and empathy. An impassioned author’s note reveals that Wyman’s own background inspired this sometimes harrowing, but ultimately hopeful, story. “Sometimes finding joy takes a lot of work,” she notes. Reading Jawbreaker is an excellent and highly gratifying start.

Christina Wyman demonstrates an impressive ability to conjure up both the pain and the delight of middle school with immediacy and empathy.
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If you aren’t familiar with Scottish mystery writer Val McDermid, you’re in for a decided treat. Both longtime fans and newcomers alike will be able to jump right into the building suspense of Past Lying, McDermid’s seventh book starring Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie.

In April 2020, at the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown, cold case expert Pirie has formed a quarantine bubble in Edinburgh, Scotland, with Detective Sergeant Daisy Mortimer. The pair are living in a flat belonging to Hamish Mackenzie, Pirie’s current romantic interest, is currently in the Scottish Highlands, has bought a gin mill and is busy making hand sanitizer. Everyone’s a bit stir-crazy, including Pirie, who walks outside as much as possible, noting that Edinburgh suddenly feels “like the zombie apocalypse without the zombies.”

Pirie’s entire team is delighted—and increasingly intrigued—when an archivist at the National Library brings a strange document to their attention: an unfinished manuscript by recently deceased crime novelist Jake Stein that may provide clues to the well-publicized but unsolved disappearance of a university student named Lara Hardie. The manuscript bears uncanny similarities to the case, and seems to point to another popular mystery author, Ross McEwan, as the killer. 

It’s the perfect case for lockdown, since the first step is simply to read the manuscript. But soon Pirie and her team are deep into an actual investigation, conducting (socially distanced) interviews and tracking down leads about both authors, as well as the missing student. In the meantime, McDermid has great fun dishing out knowing commentary on writers and literary intrigue. 

Pirie is a probing, astute detective with a heart of gold and a taste for justice, even when she doesn’t get the support she needs from her superiors. Meanwhile, her relationship with Hamish is also on the line, so Pirie has plenty to ponder despite the world being seemingly on hold. Past Lying is another finely plotted Karen Pirie page turner that will leave readers wanting more.

Val McDermid’s Past Lying is another finely plotted Karen Pirie page turner that will leave readers wanting more.

Giovanni and his trusty donkey, Lorenzo, have a very important job as Specialists of Sky Repair. Each night, they load “star stuff” in packs on Lorenzo’s back and set off into the night sky, “over the Moon and out past Mars,” looking for holes that need to be filled. When they find a dark spot, Lorenzo brays while Giovanni spreads the star stuff into the dark. The star stuff sticks, then grows and glows until it becomes a star!

But as this lovable duo goes on their way, Lorenzo’s leg is caught in a nebula. Giovanni pulls and tugs, but Lorenzo doesn’t budge. Some unexpected allies answer Giovanni’s calls for help: Orion the Hunter, Cancer the Crab and Taurus the Bull. With the assistance of these constellations, Giovanni and Lorenzo might just make it home in time to watch the “best star ever made”—the sun—rise.

Writer and folk singer Rand Burkert (Mouse and Lion) and two-time Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka (The Hello, Goodbye Window; A Ball for Daisy) give life to this whimsical fable. The lyrical text evokes movement through Burkert’s meter and imagery, and the forms of rhyme vary throughout, making them unpredictable and exciting.

Raschka’s playful illustrations pair perfectly with the text and bring a dreamlike quality to the story. His vibrant watercolors capture Lorenzo the donkey’s sweet personality and the cast’s fierce determination to set him free from the nebula. Raschka brings the constellations to life with shades of blue and adds pops of yellow to show they are, in fact, made of the same star stuff the Specialists of Sky Repair are carrying.

A fun read-aloud for any setting, Star Stuff is sure to delight readers of all ages. While an interest in astronomy is not necessary to enjoy this picture book, Star Stuff can provide young readers with a lovely introduction to space, or it can simply serve as a lively tale of teamwork and determination.

A lively tale of teamwork and determination, Star Stuff will provide young readers with a lovely introduction to space.
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The Professor, Lauren Nossett’s sophomore mystery, is a deep dive into the world of academia, where ivy-covered walls hide forbidden love affairs, deadly competition and plenty of secrets.

Former police detective Marlitt Kaplan is still reeling from the events of The Resemblance, which saw her removed from the force. Living with her parents and trying to find her way, she agrees to help when one of her mother’s colleagues at the University of Georgia finds herself the subject of a Title IX investigation.

Professor Verena Sobek has been struggling. A Turkish German woman, Verena is not what her students expect in a German language professor. Every day is plagued by anxiety: Her students are distant and often cutting in their remarks, and then there’s the relentless nature of academia’s “publish or perish” mindset. The one student who shows her kindness is Ethan Haddock. But when Ethan shocks everyone by killing himself, leaving behind an apology to Verena, rumors of a scandalous affair begin to swirl.

Marlitt agrees to investigate Ethan to help clear Verena’s name—and to ease her own mounting boredom—but she finds the case to be anything but straightforward. Posing as a student and moving into Ethan’s old room in an off-campus apartment he shared with some peculiar roommates, Marlitt immerses herself in a world that is as adversarial and alienating for students as it is for professors. Although older, Marlitt finds that she, discomfitingly, has a lot in common with the students. Unmoored after her dismissal from the police force, she is also transitioning between phases of her life, and given her current reliance on her parents, she lacks the independence of most people her age.

Nossett is a professor herself, and her portrayal of UGA is immersive and filled with real-life details. A whodunit with dark academia undertones, The Professor can be read as standalone, but readers may find themselves immediately seeking out The Resemblance after finishing Nossett’s impressive mystery.

Lauren Nossett’s The Professor is an immersive and impressive whodunit with dark academia undertones.
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Sensory Time Warp Syndrome (STWS) has plagued Aimee Roh since she was a young girl. This enigmatic condition makes her physically travel back in time to moments from her past that are connected to certain smells. Her episodes are typically short and sporadic, until one lasts nine hours and raises new questions concerning her estranged mom, who left when Aimee was six. When her dad won’t give her answers, Aimee makes her way from Vancouver to Korea—where her parents emigrated from—to investigate.

Aimee’s first-person narration is augmented with journal entries, forum threads and text messages scattered throughout The Space Between Here & Now. These honest, firsthand glimpses of Aimee’s life allow the novel’s portrayal of interpersonal disconnection and heartbreak to shine. Instead of centering the magic of the syndrome, author Sarah Suk (Made in Korea) anchors the uncanny concept of STWS in the harsh reality of living with an incurable chronic condition.

Aimee feels isolated and abnormal because of her STWS, and her curiosity and impulsiveness drive her desire to find a cure. On the other hand, her father insists STWS is just a “phase,” clinging to the fact that a doctor once told him that many people “grow out of” it. He withdraws from Aimee’s cries for help and rarely reveals his own emotions or experiences as a single father. Despite grappling with realistic issues and personal flaws, both characters eventually grow in ways that feel true to life. Readers will cheer for them all the way.

The Space Between Here & Now is an intriguing mix of fantasy and realism that lures readers in with the promise of magic and keeps them engaged with emotionally resonant themes. If you’re looking for a fun, mature coming-of-age story rooted in nuanced emotions and relationships, this book is for you.

The Space Between Here & Now is an intriguing mix of fantasy and realism that lures readers in with the promise of magic and keeps them engaged with emotionally resonant themes.

Ten years after his wife’s death, an elderly man reflects on his mortality, the life he has lived and his designs for the future in this inspiring and sensitive portrayal of the complexities of getting older.

Philosophy professor Seymour (Sy) Baumgartner has much to ponder at 71. Each accident or encounter in his life sparks not only the remembrance of things and people past, but sometimes new visions and goals, such as moving forward in love, possibly with his UPS delivery person and secret crush, Molly, or finally publishing his late wife Anna’s collection of writing.

Author Paul Auster quickly establishes themes of aging, isolation, connection and the power of memories. As Baumgartner opens, Sy is on his way downstairs to find a book when he remembers that he promised to call his sister, but both tasks are diverted by a forgotten pot of water on the stove. Hurriedly removing it, Sy burns his hand, and he’s barely taken care of the burn when a man from the electric company calls to say that he will be late for an appointment Sy doesn’t even recall making.

Between Sy’s surprise at kindness from a stranger, his sense of detachment from his body, his imaginary conversations with his beloved Anna, and his recollections of his parents’ lives and their own senses of inefficacy, Auster creates a bittersweet emotional landscape combining sadness and insecurity with joy and inspiration. Auster’s narrative and observations are lucid, pithy and moving, and even some of his clichés ring true: “To live is to feel pain,” Sy declares, “and to live in fear of pain is to refuse to live.”

Nuanced, compassionate and simply eloquent, Baumgartner is a stirring portrait of a man trying to adapt to his aging body and mind.

Nuanced, compassionate and simply eloquent, Baumgartner is a stirring portrait of a man trying to adapt to his aging body and mind.

Insider deputy editor Walt Hickey won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Illustrated Reporting and Commentary. His wide-ranging, captivating You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything makes it easy to see why.

The average American spends three-plus hours a day consuming media. “Across a lifetime,” Hickey writes, “that’s 22 percent of our time on Earth!” No wonder we’re curious about how media affects us. He asserts that, contrary to those who consider our favorite media a “bogeyman, a brain melter, a violence inciter, a waste,” it actually is “complex, fascinating, and often rather good.”

Hickey fascinates as he demystifies pop culture, sharing the outcomes of his experiments and studies. He’s a data journalist, and cheeky and informative visuals—charts, graphs, maps and little photos of famous people’s heads—bolster his pro-pop-culture assertions and illuminate personal stories, such as when he subjected his nervous system to a “Jaws” rewatch to discern which scenes most affected him. Colorful charts like “Movies Make People Exhale the Same Chemicals at the Same Times” bring his research into focus. He notes that when “The Hunger Games” film debuted in 2012, USA Archery’s merchandise sales quintupled. Similarly, the premieres of 1943’s “Lassie Come Home” and 1992’s “Beethoven” were both followed by spikes in the popularity of collies and Saint Bernards.

The author’s keen eye for detail and ability to see connections across genres enliven the narrative beyond theory and talking points. From the WWE to the Tax Reform Act of 1976, Scooby-Doo to geopolitics, Hickey offers a bounty of enthusiasm for our favorite stories.

Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Hickey champions pop culture with a cornucopia of studies, experiments and visuals in You Are What You Watch.

Dear reader, when you go on a road trip, do you stop only for food, gas and bathroom breaks? Or do you embrace detours to local oddities, historical sites and scenic overlooks? 

Your answer will likely inform whether you’ll enjoy MSNBC news producer Dann McDorman’s unusual debut mystery, West Heart Kill. Will you deem it an exercise in delayed gratification with a side of lectures? Or a refreshing—nay, daring—metafictional take on the murder mystery? 

West Heart Kill is definitely ambitious and absolutely entertaining. The year is 1976, the place is the private West Heart hunting club in upstate New York, and the detective is private investigator Adam McAnnis, there for a visit with his friend James Blake. The Blakes and the club’s other member families, all beneficiaries of generational wealth, are gathering to celebrate the Fourth of July. There shall be fine dining, hunting, swimming and a smattering of adultery.

But really, McAnnis is there at the behest of a mysterious client who’s hired the detective to ferret out conspiracies against him. West Heart has conflict aplenty: the aforementioned adultery, a proposal to sell the club and painfully unresolved resentments. McAnnis observes it all and, when a woman is found dead, a dark and stormy night serves as dramatic backdrop to multiple interrogations and indignant protestations, additional deaths and scandalous revelations. 

McDorman does an excellent job of peeling the onion-like layers of his detective tale, carefully doling out surprises as the pages turn. It’s his penchant for digression that might prove controversial: He repeatedly pauses his story to contemplate literary conventions, sample different formats and interrogate the work of Sophocles, Agatha Christie, et al. He also playfully points out when he’s employing genre tropes like “the Great Detective Pondering the Case.” 

As the author notes while wearing his second-person-narrator hat (he dons first- and third-person chapeaux, too), “The mystery, virtually since its inception, has invited rule-making and rule-breaking.” McDorman embraces that notion in a way that I, dear reader, found archly amusing. The journey, while meandering and sometimes confounding, had its own pleasing element of suspense: Wherever will he detour to next? West Heart Kill is an off-roading mashup of fact and fiction that will have readers asking “Are we there yet?” with varying degrees of enthusiasm and buy-in—and thus is sure to spawn exceptionally lively book club debates.

Dann McDorman’s extremely meta mystery, West Heart Kill, is sure to spawn exceptionally lively book club debates.

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