Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl shares her under-the-radar reading recommendations with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep. This year's picks include mysteries, nonfiction and a fantasy story for young readers.
(These recommendations have been edited for clarity and length.)
Danny Hajek and Shannon Rhoades produced and edited this segment for broadcast. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Nancy Pearl is with us once again. It's the first day of summer, and Nancy, who regularly brings us book recommendations, has some for summer reading. Hope you get a chance to check them out. Hi there, Nancy.
NANCY PEARL: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: I'm just going to go through this stack that you've sent me and start at the beginning. "Mozart's Starling" is on your stack here. Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Am I saying that name correctly?
PEARL: You are, indeed.
INSKEEP: OK. What's going on here?
PEARL: So Lyanda is a naturalist. She's an eco-philosopher. All of her books deal with getting to know nature in your neighborhood.
INSKEEP: Can I just interrupt to mention...
INSKEEP: ...the author photo on the back shows her with a bird perching on her head.
PEARL: Yes. And this bird is the starling that is the subject of "Mozart's Starling." So it turned out that she became interested in Mozart because the story is that he was walking in Vienna down the street and he heard a bird singing a section of a concerto that he had just finished composing.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) That he had just finished composing? Wow.
PEARL: Correct. Correct. And that just captivated Lyanda. So she and her husband procured a baby starling that she proceeded to raise. And so this is a book both about what it's like to have a bird in your house flying around, but also interspersed with this biography of Mozart and Mozart's relationship with his starling.
INSKEEP: OK. So we've got starlings. We also have a book here called "The Trouble With Goats And Sheep." What on earth is the trouble with goats and sheep?
PEARL: Well, I can't tell you that exactly 'cause that might give away too much. But what I can tell you is this is a fabulous first novel by Joanna Cannon, set in 1976 in a small village in England. It's one of the hottest summers on record there, and one of the women in this neighborhood has disappeared. Mrs. Creasy is nowhere to be found, and no one knows where she's gone. And two little girls, Tilly and Grace, decide they are going to find out what happened to Mrs. Creasy. So this is a little bit of a mystery, but more, it's an examination of a group of people all with secrets of their own and the fear that some of those secrets are going to come out because of the girls' inquisitiveness. But it's laced with the absolute just wonderful, wonderful touches of humor, including an absolutely priceless scene when Tilly and Grace make one of their regular trips to the library and are looking for something good to read. I loved this book.
INSKEEP: So we've got a book here called "1947: Where Now Begins."
PEARL: This is exactly the kind of history that I love to read. What Elisabeth Asbrink has done is take one particular year, 1947, two years after the end of World War II, and go through month by month talking about everything that happened during those months. And the book is interwoven with her father's story, who spent 1947 in an orphanage in Germany, and his experiences. So there's so much in here. I mean, it's one of those books that I kept marking it up with bookmarks that the book kind of grew to twice its normal size because there was all these notes that I took, and I mean, it's just one of those books that makes you want to major in history. You know? It just is the best nonfiction book that I've read recently.
INSKEEP: So so Louisa Luna is the author of a novel that you've got on this stack that you sent me, "Two Girls Down."
PEARL: I picked this one up because I'm always looking for a good thriller. The two main characters, one of them is a bounty hunter named Alice Vega, lives in California, but she's called to come to a small town in Pennsylvania where two sisters have been kidnapped. And she has had great success in finding missing children before. And she goes to work with a disgraced policeman from the town's police force. And the two of them together make this very interesting team, bringing their separate talents together to try to locate these two girls.
INSKEEP: My favorite part of your description is you say a bounty hunter named - and the mind naturally is expecting a male name. That's a stereotypically male character. But then you say a bounty hunter named Alice Vega. So she went a different direction here. And that's really interesting.
INSKEEP: Does "Seven-Day Magic" have a strong dragon character in it?
INSKEEP: I guess we should explain. There's a book here, "Seven-Day Magic," by Edward Eager.
PEARL: So there are two kinds of fantasy for children, and the one that has taken precedence is the type of fantasy where there's a magic world, where magic occurs in the world. Everybody knows that. So, you know, the "Harry Potter" books are the best example of that.
PEARL: But in the 20th century, the big kind of fantasy were books in which ordinary boys and girls find something that's magic and they have to, as you learn when you read this book, you find the magic, you tame the magic and then you use the magic. But I especially wanted to talk about this one because it's about a magic book, and these five children go to the library. They see this book just lying on the shelf. It doesn't have a nice cover. It looks very worn. When they check it out, the librarian gives them a very interested look. It's only a seven-day book. And what we do is follow seven days of what happens to them as they gradually use the magic in the book. Fabulous.
INSKEEP: So a magic book. This is pretty much a metaphor for your whole life as a librarian?
PEARL: (Laughter). It is. It absolutely is because there's a great line in this book. Every time somebody different holds the book, it becomes exactly the kind of book that they want to read. Isn't that wonderful?
INSKEEP: Nancy, thanks for sending these book recommendations to us. Really appreciate it.
PEARL: My pleasure, Steve.
INSKEEP: Summer reading from Nancy Pearl, who's a librarian and also a novelist, the author of "George And Lizzie: A Novel." And you can find all of her recommendations at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.