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Ask a Book Buyer: Epic Historical Fiction, Post–Latin American Boom, and More

Ask a Book BuyerAt Powell's, our book buyers select all the new books in our vast inventory. If we need a book recommendation, we turn to our team of resident experts. Need a gift idea for a fan of vampire novels? Looking for a guide that will best demonstrate how to knit argyle socks? Need a book for a vegetarian who loves Radiohead and Flight of the Conchords? Email your question to askabuyer@powells.com. We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.

Q: I am on the hunt for books! Historical fiction — from medieval times to pioneers — is wonderful, although I'm not a fan of war tales. Stories with a little bit of an "epic" feel to them are especially fabulous. I'm also definitely not afraid of being afraid — ghosts, mysteries, vampires, werewolves, murders, zombies? Bring 'em on! –Jamie

A: For guilty pleasure reading, you can't go wrong with the Outlander series, about a woman who travels back in time to 18th-century Scotland. More highbrow but equally entertaining are Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Tudor England), The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson (vikings!), The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (Dracula!), and Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund (19th-century America with a literary edge). For vintage, epic historical fiction, you can't beat Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. –Rhianna

For historic novels, time-travel style, try Connie Willis's Doomsday Book and her Blackout series.

Year of Wonders isn't epic; in fact, it takes place in one small town, but author Geraldine Brooks has a wonderful touch with 17th-century England. And it's a wee bit spooky.

Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael series will give you mysteries in a historic setting. Again, not epic, but she's written so dang many books in the series it seems epic!

Charlaine Harris's lesser-known Harper Connelly "Grave" series will treat you to both mysteries and the otherworldly in a modern setting. –Tracey

Q: Would you suggest some books similar to The Snow Child, The Light between Oceans, and The Magician's Assistant? –Pam

A: I think you might like Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, and The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. –Rhianna

Q: I'm going to NYC for up to four months (back and forth a bit). I have a pretty wide taste, but lately I've been enjoying historical fiction, including the Josephine Bonaparte trilogy by Sandra Gulland. Thoughts on good books? –Shelley

A: One of my "go-to" recommendations for historical fiction is Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It's magnificent, and if I ruled the world, everyone would have to read this bookif I ruled the world, everyone would have to read this book.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber is another terrific book. I tend to be a slow reader and was daunted by its 900-plus page count, but when I finished it, I wished for another couple hundred pages. –Tom

Q: I'm a 26-year-old man from Monterrey, Mexico. I recently had the opportunity to visit your store. Amazing! I stopped reading due to I don't know what, and I can't get back on track. I'm hoping you can help. I've read many of the classics; I love Latin American Boom literature and Hemingway. I'm looking for something that's super entertaining and deep at the same time. –Edgar

A: There is a wealth of post-Boom Latin American literature that may be of interest to you. First and foremost, I would recommend anything by the late Roberto Bolaño. His two masterworks, The Savage Detectives and 2666, are epic and brilliant. If you prefer to start with something less daunting, his short story collections are also exemplary of his abundant talent: Last Evenings on Earth and The Return.

I would also highly recommend Antunes's The Land at the End of the World or The Fat Man and Infinity (a stunning collection of essays and short stories). Each of Tavares's four titles in English translation are nothing short of remarkable. –Jeremy

You simply must try Mexican mystery author Paco Ignacio Taibo II. Start with An Easy Thing. –Tom

Read more Ask a Book Buyer on PowellsBooks.Blog.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. Doomsday Book
    Used Mass Market $4.95
  2. Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  3. A Morbid Taste for Bones (Brother... Used Mass Market $3.95
  4. Grave Sight
    Used Mass Market $4.50
  5. Beautiful Ruins (P.S.)
    Used Trade Paper $9.95
  6. The Language of Flowers
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  7. The Shipping News
    Used Trade Paper $3.95
  8. The Shadow of the Wind
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  9. The Crimson Petal and the White
    Used Trade Paper $5.95
  10. The Savage Detectives
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  11. 2666
    Used Trade Paper $12.00
  12. Last Evenings on Earth
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  13. The Return
    New Hardcover $23.95
  14. The Land at the End of the World Sale Trade Paper $7.98
  15. Fat Man and Infinity: And Other Writings Used Hardcover $18.50
  16. An Easy Thing Used Trade Paper $8.95
  17. Blackout
    Used Trade Paper $10.95
  18. The Snow Child
    Used Trade Paper $7.98
  19. The Magician's Assistant
    Sale Trade Paper $5.50
  20. Light Between Oceans
    Used Trade Paper $9.95
  21. Kristin Lavransdatter Classics...
    Used Trade Paper $17.95
  22. Ahab's Wife (P.S.)
    Used Trade Paper $0.95
  23. The Historian
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  24. Wolf Hall
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  25. The Long Ships (New York Review...
    Used Trade Paper $10.00

One Response to "Ask a Book Buyer: Epic Historical Fiction, Post–Latin American Boom, and More"

    Bruce September 25th, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    But..but...but Rhianna, Ahab's Wife isn't set in "colonial America'. Just because it's on the east coast and there were sailing ships, etc., doesn't make it colonial. The American Revolution -- end of colonial period -- began in 1776, while the New Bedford-Nantucket whaling boom, when Ahab strode the waves, was in the mid-19th century.

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