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Ask a Book Buyer: Holiday Gift Ideas

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'm only gifting books this year for Christmas! Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time coming up with something new and exciting for my baby brother. He's entered his punk teenage years, and while I know Rick Riordan and the I Am Number Four series are definitely on his list of likes, he already has them. I'm at a loss. Please, I'll take any suggestions! –Jade

A: If you want to buck the series trend, two standout young adult books that I've given to my own teenage brothers are The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay and Youth in Revolt by C. D. Payne.

The Power of One is a coming-of-age story about a welterweight boxing champion in apartheid South Africa. It's a thrilling underdog sports story that also deals seriously, and very beautifully, with growing up in a racially divided country. I've never met anyone who doesn't love this book.

Youth in Revolt is the irreverent, extremely hilarious story of Nick Twisp, a sex-obsessed 14-year-old desperate to shake off the chains of school and family and lose his virginity. A cautionary note: the humor and situations in this book can be a bit risqué. This makes it a huge hit with teenage boys, but you might want to check with your parents first! –Rhianna

James Dashner's Maze Runner series is a favorite of mine. It's a suspenseful Lord of the Flies with a future-world maze. –Tracey

Q: My boyfriend is honestly not a huge fan of reading, but I got him the new Bo Burnham book and he loved it. He's really into comedy, so any suggestions in that area would be wonderful. Also, he's really into David Foster Wallace — pretty much the only author I've heard him get really passionate about. Any suggestions? –Anna

A: I suggest the work of Sam Lipsyte, who is very dark and funny (start with Home Land). Also, try Mark Leyner, who is kind of like a crazy-funny version of DFW. –Kevin

Q: My mom enjoys reading fantasy novels such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Outlander, and Wildwood. Do you have any suggestions for a book that I could buy her for Christmas? –Jennifer

A: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a very romantic time travel fantasy good for fans of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

Another great gift option is the new J. J. Abrams–Doug Dorst collaboration, S., which is a gorgeously produced adventure story wrapped quite literally within a romantic mystery, which is written into the margins of the novel. S. isn't strictly fantasy, but the reading experience is similar — very magical and story-centered.

For straight-up fantasy, I highly recommend Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, beginning with Assassin's Apprentice. It's a coming-of-age story about a bastard prince with forbidden magical powers. I felt bereft when I finished this series. –Rhianna

I love both these books with the passion of a thousand burning sunsI love both these books with the passion of a thousand burning suns — Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. They feature some of the best fantasy writing I've ever had the pleasure of reading and rereading.

Robin Hobb is another of my very favorites, especially her Liveship Traders series, which begins with Ship of Magic.

Also, keep in mind that a third Wildwood book will be released in February, Wildwood Imperium. –Mary Jo

Q: I'm buying a book or a few books for my college roommate. I would say that presently his favorite authors are F. Scott Fitzgerald, David Foster Wallace, David Sedaris, and Tobias Wolff. He wants to read more contemporary and global literature. Any suggestions you experts could provide would be wholly appreciated. –Sean

A: As far as global contemporary literature, there's an entire, uh, world of great fiction awaiting your roommate's attention (and hopefully affection). One of this year's most fantastic books is The Infatuations by Javier Marías. If he's up for something a little more challenging or unconventional, Mikhail Shishkin's Maidenhair, A. G. Porta's The No World Concerto, and László Krasznahorkai's Seiobo There Below are each unforgettably brilliant and beautifully composed. Other contemporary (but now deceased) authors in translation well worth checking out include Italo Calvino, José Saramago, and Roberto Bolaño. –Jeremy

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4 Responses to "Ask a Book Buyer: Holiday Gift Ideas"

    Carlammm December 6th, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    For my favorite Fantasy Series try.. The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher.. It is a coming of age series like Harry Potter and tells Tavi's story. It is rich in magic and roman culture.

    Pat Hampton December 7th, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Can I buy a gift card on line? Pat

    Dev December 9th, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Hi Pat,

    You can certainly buy a gift card online. If you prefer to have one of our phone representatives assist you, please call us at 1-800-878-7323 (Option 1)

    Looking forward to hearing from you...

    Jim December 11th, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I agree with your bookseller's fantasy recommendations--all good. I also agree that the Codex Alera series (like anything by Jim Butcher) is wonderful.

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