Critics' Lists: Summer 2013
3:05 am
Fri June 21, 2013

Nancy Pearl Scours The Shelves For Books You Might Have Missed

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 4:06 pm

If you'd like your summer reading to take you beyond the beaten path, librarian Nancy Pearl is here to help. NPR's go-to books guru joins us regularly to reveal "under the radar" reads — books she thinks deserve more attention than they've been getting. Pearl talks with NPR's Steve Inskeep about some of the titles she picked out for the summer reading season.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Librarian Nancy Pearl is with us again. She joins us regularly to talk about under the radar reads, as she calls them - books she thinks are deserving of more attention than they've been getting. And she sent us a hefty new stack just in time for the summer reading season. Hi, Nancy.

NANCY PEARL: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: You've sent us on this stack here a book called "Snapper". And I'm very excited that you sent this book because I see that it's been reviewed at npr.org by our own colleague Petra Mayer who includes the lines: "Snapper" is a love letter to the state of Indiana."

PEARL: Oh, I might disagree with that a little bit. I think it's a love letter to learning how to accept what happens in your life. It's about a young man, Nathan Lochmueller, who gets a job studying birds in and around Evansville, Indiana. The book is then composed of a series of interconnected short stories about Nathan's life.

You get a picture of Nathan from the time he's a teenager to the time he's in his middle 30s, awaiting the birth of his first child. And the two through lines that pull these stories together are his love for this unattainable woman that he meets when he's in college named Lola and also his great love of birds. It's gorgeously written.

I just wanted to read a really short passage. In this passage he's comparing the oven bird to the Kentucky warbler and he says: (Reading) If you do spot the oven bird away from her nest, she pretends her wing is broken and hops along the nearest ravine, hoping you will follow. The Kentucky warbler is more sadistic. She doesn't feign injury, but she leads you away from the nest until you are ankle-deep in mud or rattlesnakes or both.

The only way you will find her nest is if she shows you. And she won't show you if she knows you are there. It's like staking out the girls shower block at summer camp; it can be done but it takes skill.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Oh, you got to watch out for those Kentucky warblers in life. You have also sent us a book called "Keeping the Castle". What's that about?

PEARL: "Keeping the Castle" is a book that is marketed to teens. Patrice Kindl, the author, has made her name writing for teens, but this is the kind of book that has great crossover appeal to adults - especially adults who love Jane Austen. This is a young woman who is, in this case, holding her family together.

She has two stepsisters who are kind of wicked, her mother is pretty ineffectual, and they live in a very crumbling castle, I think on the edge of the North Sea.

INSKEEP: OK.

PEARL: But it's never made exactly clear where this is. And the next castle over, a new family comes to live there, and they have two non-married young men of just the right age. And, of course, one is dashing and funny and handsome, and the other is a little bit snarky and not somebody you would want to be interested in. And she has to sort of maneuver her way to try to marry the handsome, dashing man. And then of course, life intervenes and shows her that things are not always as they appear to be.

INSKEEP: Now, lots of people have written in the style of Jane Austen, but are there dangers in trying to attempt this form from another century?

PEARL: I think that the major difficulty is trying to get the same tone that Austen had and how hard that is. She's made it look so easy, and it's very hard to get that exact wryness and humor and these little tart observations that she makes in "Pride and Prejudice". But I think in this, sure, you're going to find differences. It isn't Jane Austen, but it's one of the closest things to Jane Austen that I've read.

INSKEEP: Well, let's move on in our selection here. You've also got on the stack a book called "A Tangle of Knots" by Lisa Graff.

PEARL: It's a perfect book for middle-grade readers for summer reading. And the main character is a young orphan named Cady, and she has no idea who her parents are. She comes to live above the lost luggage emporium in this strange city. And there she meets a lot of odd and interesting people, all of whom seem to have something to do with her background. And so in this quest to find out who she really is, we move forward in the plot rooting for Cady all the time.

The other wonderful thing about this book, and the reason it has pride of place on my bookshelves at home, is that after many chapters there are recipes for the most luscious-sounding cakes that you will ever know.

(LAUGHTER)

PEARL: And that's because everybody in this world that Lisa Graff, the author, has made up has a special talent. And Cady's talent is cake baking. And I was so tempted when I would get to one of those recipes to put the book down and go make the cake.

INSKEEP: That sounds great. And really, you had me at lost luggage emporium.

PEARL: Yes. Yes.

INSKEEP: What a great metaphor for a kid who's looking for her parents and for her identity.

PEARL: Isn't that wonderful?

INSKEEP: That's really tremendous. That's really great. Let's do one more if there's time. Timothy Hallinan.

PEARL: OK.

INSKEEP: "Crashed".

PEARL: Oh, my gosh. If you're looking for a mystery with a fresh new hero, then you want to run right out and get the book "Crashed". It's the first in a new series that features a burglar named Junior Bender. In addition to being a burglar, he is a fixer for other criminals when they get in trouble.

So, Junior Bender gets more or less blackmailed into working for one of the crime bosses in Los Angeles. And it's the tone for me that makes this book. And here's just an example. He's talking to the person who's going to send him to this mob boss. She's kind of the middle person. And she says: (Reading) If it weren't for your constant focus on negative energy, your marriage might have gone better. God, the things...

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: I love it already. Go on, please.

PEARL: And then it goes on: (Reading) God, the things women think they have the right to say. My marriage went fine, I said. It was before the marriage went that was difficult.

(LAUGHTER)

PEARL: So this is a book, I mean, if you have a plane trip to take, this is the book to grab.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is the author of many books with the phrase book lust in the titles. You can find all of her under the radar recommendations at npr.org and get the latest news from NPR Books. Follow them on Twitter, @nprbooks. You can also follow this program @morningedition and @nprinskeep. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. And Steve, you'll be spending the summer writing your own book, so I just want to say we'll miss you here on the show.

INSKEEP: Thanks. I'll be back as soon as I can. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.