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5 Under-The-Radar Reads From Librarian Nancy Pearl

Librarian Nancy Pearl occasionally joins Morning Edition to talk about books she loves that you might not have heard of. As she tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, her latest batch of under-the-radar reads includes some older books as well some new ones.

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The Diamond Lane

by Karen Karbo

"The Diamond Lane was originally published in 1990s and has just been republished by a small [Portland, Ore.,] publisher, Hawthorne Books. And what a treat for readers this is. It's a fabulously funny satire on Hollywood, on sisterly love, on marriage. ... The main characters in this book are two sisters, Mouse and Mimi. And they grow up in Hollywood, in Los Angeles. And Mouse, because of something major that happens that her sister does, leaves and moves to Africa and becomes a documentary filmmaker. Then a family emergency, after more than a decade, brings her back home and there she is faced with everything that she thought that she left behind. ... Mouse, when she comes back to California ... brings her boyfriend, also a documentary filmmaker, with her. But, of course, he loses interest in documentary films and wants to write a film script that will be magically famous. ...

"Anyone who has a sister I think will adore this book. Anybody who appreciates very smart, funny novels will like this book as well. It was one of my favorites when it first came out, and to find it again in a beautiful, beautiful presentation — beautiful cover, everything about it. Hawthorne Books did a fabulous job."

The Distance

by Helen Giltrow

"The best way of describing The Distance is to say that all the time I was reading it, I kept having to say to myself, 'Breathe, Nancy, you have to breathe; you have to breathe,' because I was so caught up in the suspense and what was happening to the characters. So this for me was ... a total escape book.

"It's the story of a youngish woman who is a socialite — a British socialite — always dashing off to parties and museum openings and wearing beautiful clothes. And that's her daytime life, if you will. [In] her other life, the other half of her life, she is a woman named Karla. ... And as Karla, what this woman does is help criminals disappear. ... Only one person knows who she is, her real existence, and that guy is a former special ops sniper named Simon Johanssen who is now a killer for hire. And he comes to her and wants her to help him figure out a way to break into this maximum security prison. And it just goes on from there. ... I think that people who love, say, the novels by Lee Child, for example, will love this book. It's pretty wonderful."

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

by David Shafer

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is one of those cautionary novels about the near future that we've seen so much of in recent years. ... It's a first novel written by a young writer who actually lives in Portland, Ore. And it's often funny and it's what I would call scarily realistic. It's a techno thriller. And it takes place, as I said, in a future that is within our sight. ... It's a future in which a cabal of very dastardly people ... have decided that what they are going to do is privatize information. So everything that we so trustingly hand over via our credit card, via the Google searches that we do, for example, what we put on Facebook, what we tweet, every online move we make is going to be privatized and it's a way of making more money for those who have it. ... But three 30-somethings rather reluctantly come together in order to try to foil the plans of these people. ...

"This is a book that I would give to people who loved Dave Eggers' novel from last year, The Circle; Don DeLillo's older novel, wonderful novel, White Noise; anything by William Gibson, including his newest book which is just recently out; and of course Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. The book has a very different plot, but the feelings that you get, the experience of reading this book, is similar to the experience that one has reading those four books."

Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot

by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

"This is a novel that came out originally in 1988 [and] was reprinted periodically. ... It's an epistolary novel — that is, a novel written in letters — between two cousins, Cecelia and Kate. ... The letters are during a period when Kate has gone to London for her debut season and Cecy, Cecelia, has stayed at home in Essex. It's set in 1817, a period that should be very familiar to readers of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

"And I would actually say that this book is marketed for and written for teens. The main characters are teenagers; and you're not going to find it with the adult books in the library or the bookstore. But I would say that anyone who loves Austen, or who loves Georgette Heyer and who doesn't mind a little bit of fantasy — hence the enchanted chocolate pot — this would be the perfect book for them. I think it captures the period; it captures the essence of life in that period, the first two decades of the 19th century, in just a wonderful, wonderful way."

The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War

by Samuel Hynes

"1914 was the start of World War I [and] this is the 100th anniversary, so this year of course we saw a lot of books about World War I. And Samuel Hynes' The Unsubstantial Air I think is one of the best that we have.

"Samuel Hynes taught English at Princeton for many years. He is in his 90s now, I believe. This is his most recent book and it's a book that talks about the war in terms of those young men who came from American colleges to fly and to fight in World Word I. ... Because that was a period when people wrote letters and journals ... Samuel Hynes was able to access just a treasure trove of journals and of letters from these young men, many of whom had never been to Europe before. And Samuel Hynes himself was a pilot in World War II. He's someone who has written about his experiences flying in other places, so he understands the excitement that these boys — and they were boys, they were 18 and 19 years old, young men — that they felt flying. He understands what it's like to have death be with you all the time.

"And he writes in such a beautiful way. ... It is very original. I mean, I've never read a book quite like this and certainly not about World War I, when we're either concerned with the details of a particular battle or the kind of overarching themes of the war or what happened at the end of the war. So the experiences of these young men is just so moving and it's so — they were so brave. And he does a wonderful job honoring them."

NPR Staff