Recently, Nancy Pearl has found herself in search of fast-moving stories. "I think that what I'm looking for these days is just a lot of plot," she explains. "I want the pages to turn of their own accord. I want some reason to really keep on reading."
Ahead of the July 4th weekend, the Seattle-based librarian shares a stack of recent favorites with host Steve Inskeep.
These recommendations have been edited for clarity and length.
Design For Dying
Renee Patrick is the pen name for husband-and-wife team Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. This is their first novel. In 1937, a young woman named Lillian Frost comes to Hollywood to make her fortune. She's very beautiful, and like many girls at that time, she wants to be discovered by some famous director who sits next to her at a soda fountain. Then, one of her former roommates is found dead wearing a dress that has been stolen from the Paramount Studios. Lillian recognizes the dress and decides to take on the job of finding out whodunit.
Who was working at Paramount Studios at that time? Costume designer Edith Head. So Lillian meets the great dresser for the stars and together they set off to find out what happened.
This is great fun and, at the same time, they've woven in real people so you meet a very young Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck. It's the first of a series. The second one, Dangerous to Know, is just out and continues Lillian and Edith's detective business.
August Snow is one of my favorite books that I've read recently, and I'm not just saying that because I'm from Detroit and it's set in Detroit. The main character, August Snow, was a former Detroit policeman who was kicked off the police force because he was part of an investigation into the mayor's malfeasance. August sued for being punished as a whistleblower and won. He got lots of money, spent a few years abroad, and now has come back home. Once he moves back, he gets a call from a woman asking him to investigate dirty dealings happening at the bank she owns. The plot just takes off.
This book is so good, I actually put it down when he was describing an area of Detroit and I looked for houses that were for sale and briefly entertained the notion of moving back.
Lions is a soon-to-be ghost town in the high plains of Colorado. This is the story of the last 11 people who live in that town, focusing on the Walker family. The son, Gordon, and his longtime girlfriend, Leigh, have for years planned to go away to school and escape the town.
It is a book that is so evocative of this once-active town where there's nothing left. It's a beautiful book. I think fans of Kent Haruf's novels will find this novel to their liking as well. I was just blown away by the writing.
The Year Of The Runaways
This is a book that talks about the evils of the caste system and the plight of Indian economic migrants in Britain. It's told in a non-linear style, so you might think: Dickens for the contemporary period — a lot of social commentary. But instead, what the author does is focus in on the lives of three young men: What brought them to Britain, how they live. And because each of these characters is so well drawn and their experiences are so both general and very specific to them, it feels less like social commentary and more like you're inside their lives.
It's living hand-to-mouth. It's always finding a job, finding work. How can we get through? How can we send money back to our families left in India? It's no way to live, and yet they're living that way.
It's not an easy book to read, and yet it's so worthwhile and eye-opening.
The Widow Nash
This book is set in 1904 and the main character, the widow Nash, is a young woman named Dulcy Remfrey. She's living in New York when she gets a call from her father's business partner, Victor — who also happens to be her ex-fiancé — to come to Seattle where her father is dying. When she gets there, her father is dying a not-very-pretty death. It turns out that a great sum of money that he has mysteriously stashed away cannot be found. When her father dies and Dulcy and her sister are on the train taking her father's body back to New York, Dulcy realizes that she needs to find the money on her own. So what does she do? She hops off the train. She decides to remake herself as the Widow Nash and lands in Livingston, Mont., which is the author's home town.
What keeps you reading is not just the quality of the writing, which is just absolutely wonderful, but also to find out: Is she going to do this? Can this be successful? Or is she going to be found out? Are Victor and his brothers going to track her down and, if they do, what's going to happen to her?
Joseph Kanon is one of my go-to authors when I want a good thriller, a good spy novel. Defectors is set in the early '50s, at the height of the Red Scare. It's the story of two brothers who have taken very different paths: The older brother, Frank, was the pride of the CIA and turned out to be, for many years, selling secrets to Moscow. He defects and he's living in Moscow now with his wife and other American defectors. Frank has gotten permission to write a memoir about his life and he realizes he needs an editor. So he invites his younger brother Simon, who is at a New York publishing house — whose life has been really thrown into upheaval because of what his brother did — to help. Simon comes to Moscow to help his brother write this book and nothing goes as one might expect. It's great.
This is a great thriller. The main character in this book is a young man known as Natty Dread. Natty's father is a famous civil rights attorney. Sons can rebel against their fathers in many ways, and Natty rebels by joining the Army. When the book opens, Natty has finished serving several tours of duty in Iraq. When Natty's father is murdered, Natty comes under suspicion. Enter a young policewoman named Lourdes Robles. This will be the first of a series. I just kept turning those pages.
The Legend Of Rock Paper Scissors
This is a book that begs to be read out loud. René Kirkpatrick, one of my favorite children's booksellers, introduced me to this book, and said not only do you have to read it out loud, but if possible, read it as though you were announcing a motocross race.
It's perfect for six- to nine-year-olds. Sometimes we forget once kids can read on their own — a lot of people tend to think they don't need to be read to anymore. But there is nothing better — nothing more conducive to closeness and family togetherness — than sitting with a child or two and reading a book to them.