Book Recommendations for Fans of Quirky Recent TV
Many would argue that there’s never been a better variety of storytelling available on TV. With a wider variety of platforms, shows can flourish without having to appeal to absolutely everyone. And it can be great, as a fan, to discover that someone else loves a show that’s more of a niche than a giant watercooler hit. So, as a reader who also loves good TV, here are some quirky recommendations based on my favorite recent, or in some cases recently cancelled, TV shows.
The first show I want to present for your consideration is Black Lightning. I had dipped my toe into the CW network’s stable of DC Comics-based shows--Arrow, The Flash--and enjoyed them without being super engaged. All that changed with Black Lightning; right away I was hooked on its blend of super heroics, real-life issues, and heartfelt family dynamics.
It’s probably cheating to point out that DC Public Library just received new copies of the actual DC Comics Black Lightning series, so I want to highlight a few other titles for fans of this great new show. The first, and perhaps most unlikely on the surface, is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This YA novel is solidly anchored in reality, with no superpowers to be found. But Black Lightning isn’t just about superpowers--it’s about the everyday heroics of families and community members, which is also one of the major themes of The Hate U Give. In addition, Starr Carter and Black Lightning’s Jennifer Pierce are both sharp Gen Z kids who are dealing with a lot; I’m pretty sure they’d be instant Tumblr BFFs.
If you love the dynamic between Jennifer and out-and-proud older sister (and Tired Millenial) Anissa, check out Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn, in which harried 20-something Evie Tanaka handles her superhero diva best friend, her wild younger sister, a possible demon invasion of San Francisco, and her own developing superpowers. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee is another fun superhero adventure that features themes of identity and coming of age alongside the heroics.
The next show is one that I, at least, bid a regretful farewell to this year when it was cancelled after 4 seasons. I’m talking about TNT’s The Librarians, and I don’t just love it because of my job. The special effects might be a little cheesy, but the mythological underpinnings of the show are on point,and I’m a sucker for storylines where a group of damaged misfits slowly comes together to form a chosen family. And they did an episode where Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame plays Santa Claus. What’s not to love?
Though fantasy and science fiction writer Greg Cox has written a couple of actual tie-in novels for the series,here are a couple of other titles that might appeal to fans of the show’s mixture of magic, adventure and team bonding. First up is The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. While the librarians on the show archive dangerous magical artifacts and protect Earth from rogue magic users, the Library in Cogman’s series collects works of fiction from across multiple realities and tries to maintain the uneasy balance between Order and Chaos; the slow growth of teamwork and trust between stand-offish Library spy Irene and her awkward assistant Kai should appeal to fans of the series.
And then there’s Jasper Fforde. While The Eyre Affair, which introduces Thursday Next of the Literary Crimes Division (and eventually Jurisfiction, the policing agency inside books) might seem like a natural read-alike, I personally think his young adult novel The Last Dragonslayer matches the emotional tone of The Librarians more closely. Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange manages a England’s last agency of magicians; fallen on hard times, they take magic plumbing jobs and try to conceal the fact that the actual head of the agency is missing. When Jennifer gets pushed into a dragon-slaying mission she doesn’t want by a petty, corrupt king...well, getting out of this one is going to take some work.
For a change of pace, the next show is everything that made 80s and 90s family sitcoms so beloved, updated for the 21st century--it’s Netflix’s Norman Lear-approved remake of One Day At A Time, featuring a multi-generational Cuban-American family and a cast that includes the legendary Rita Moreno.
Those who love the show’s mix of humor, family-friendly vibes, and discussions of real-life issues might want to check out The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya, in which 13-year-old Arturo spends a pivotal Miami summer trying to save his abuela’s family restaurant from a shady developer and impress a cute girl along the way.
A teen-friendly take on themes of social expectations and family challenges can be found in The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera; Margot got caught “enhancing” her wardrobe with her dad’s credit card, and she’s been sentenced to spend the summer working off the bill in her family’s Bronx supermarket--social suicide if her prep school friends find out.
My final show, like The Librarians, was recently cancelled, but at least fans will be getting a two-hour TV movie to wrap up the story line. Mixing science fiction, history and adventure, NBC’s Timeless was a genuinely fun show that also wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that the past could be pretty rough on anyone not wealthy, white, or male. Plus, it had great costuming. For the Timeless fan, I’d recommend Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor.
Inspired by the quote from historian Arnold Toynbee that “History is just one damned thing after another,” it follows the adventures of Dr. Madeleine Maxwell as she joins St. Mary’s, a university which conceals a secret organization of time travelers who study history in the moment--and try not to cause potentially universe-changing incidents.
If your favorite recent show is not represented here, please feel free to fill out a Read Feed form and one of our reader’s advisory librarians will create a book list designed to tickle your fancy!