Nancy Pearl Scours The Shelves For Books You Might Have Missed

Illustration: Nancy Pearl with a book
Andrew Bannecker

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.

Snapper

Snapper

by Brian Kimberling

Hardcover, 210 pages, Random House Inc, $24.95, published April 23 2013 | purchase
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  • Brian Kimberling

"I think it's a love letter to learning how to accept what happens in your life," Pearl says. "It's about a young man, Nathan Lochmueller, who gets a job studying birds in and around Evansville, Ind. 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. ... It's gorgeously written."

Keeping the Castle

Keeping The Castle

by Patrice Kindl

Paperback, 261 pages, Penguin Group USA, $8.99, published April 18 2013 | purchase
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  • Patrice Kindl

"Patrice Kindl ... has made her name writing for teens," Pearl says, "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 ... 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. ... And the next castle over, a new family comes to live there, and they have two nonmarried 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 someone you would want to be interested in. ...

"[Jane Austen] 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. ... It isn't Jane Austen, but it's one of the closest things to Jane Austen that I've read."

A Tangle of Knots

A Tangle Of Knots

by Lisa Graff

Hardcover, 230 pages, Penguin Group USA, $16.99, published February 5 2013 | purchase
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  • Lisa Graff

"It's a perfect book for middle-grade readers for summer reading," Pearl says. "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. ... Cady's talent is cake-baking. I was so tempted when I would get to one of those recipes to put the book down and go make the cake."

Crashed

Crashed

by Timothy Hallinan

Paperback, 356 pages, Random House Inc, $9.99, published April 23 2013 | purchase
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  • Crashed
  • Timothy Hallinan

"If you're looking for a mystery with a fresh new hero, then you want to run right out and get the book Crashed," Pearl says. "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. It's the tone for me that makes this book. ... If you have a plane trip to take, this is the book to grab. It's just fabulous."

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

The Riddle Of The Labyrinth

The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code

by Margalit Fox

Hardcover, 363 pages, HarperCollins, $27.99, published May 14 2013 | purchase
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  • The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
  • Margalit Fox

Margalit Fox's intellectual detective story follows the quest to decipher Linear B, an unknown script from the Aegean Bronze Age. Fox introduces readers to the three people most influential in deciphering the code: archaeologist Arthur Evans, who found the tablets in Crete; Alice Kober, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College who worked on deciphering Linear B as a hobby; and Michael Ventris, a young architect in England who is generally given credit for deciphering the script.

"All of this work was done basically in the first half of the 20th century," Pearl says. "So when Alice Kober sat down to work on this, she made little cards where she would write down every symbol, where it appeared in the word, where it appeared in the line that it was written on, what letters were on either side of it. And then she filed all those papers in old cigarette carton boxes. I mean there's no Excel spreadsheets ... it was all done by hand. And what Margalit Fox does ... is restore Alice Kober to where she belongs as one of the major decipherers. ... What she's done in this book with Alice Kober is show us that there are people like Rosalind Franklin — who had so much to do with cracking the DNA code ... with Crick and Watson. ... The women definitely get overlooked."

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