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Ask a Book Buyer: Uplifting Novels, YA Trilogies, 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 We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.

Q: Help! I'm on the hunt for intelligent, thoughtful, uplifting reads that don't rely on sex and violence for their plot points. I recently read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and enjoyed it (though I pretty much figured out the "mystery" halfway through), and I'd love to read something similar. I also just read David Sedaris for the first time and loved him as well. Traditionally I'm a fan of sci-fi/fantasy and mysteries, but I'm open to all types of fiction as long as the book is good. –Pam

A: Three novels that I often recommend to people looking for intelligent, inventive, and uplifting fiction are Italo Calvino's beautifully composed If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Bohumil Hrabal's classic Too Loud a Solitude, and Mark Dunn's unforgettable Ella Minnow Pea. Each of these works also incorporates some thoughtful element relating to books, reading, or the enduring power of literacy. –Jeremy

Q: What's next for a 12-year-old girl who loved the Divergent Trilogy? Once a reluctant reader, she really enjoyed these three books! –Daphne

A: I am a big fan of young adult trilogies that feature female protagonists battling dystopian societies, and the Divergent trilogy is at the top of my list as well. Luckily, there are many more of these types of series out there. The most popular among them is The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay). If she hasn't read these, I think they would be a great choice for inspiring her to continue reading. The plotline centers around a girl named Katniss who volunteers to fight as a sacrificial tribute among the other district children in order to save her younger sister from being chosen.

There's also the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie (Matched, Crossed, and Reached, which is a star-crossed favorite among YA dystopian fans.

I'm currently absorbed in Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano, the first in a new series called the Internment Chronicles about a girl living on a government-controlled island in the sky. Give her this hot new title if you think she can handle waiting for the second and third books (and possibly more) to come out.

Another excellent trilogy in this genre is called the Chaos Walking Trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men), by Patrick Ness. Although the story begins through the eyes of a boy who lives in a town with only men who can hear each other's every thought, a central female character is introduced shortly into this gripping series and narrates throughout it as well.

Last, but definitely not least, there is the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass). This modern classic series is near and dear to my heart and a must-read for all lovers of YA dystopian fiction. True, it is considered a fantasy series and has a great deal of magic in it, but it contains the same fiercely questioning, coming-of-age youth and romance that is so loved in the dystopian genre. –Aubrey

Q: I'm just finishing Anthony Marra's beautiful book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and need some laughs. I like sharp-witted and lyrical dark comedy and in the past have loved Gone Girl, The Sisters Brothers, and Election. I would love to find some inventive, funny new titles. –Rebecca

A: Try George Saunders — his latest is Tenth of December but any of his story collections are great. You may also want to consider the essay collections of Jonathan Ames (What's Not to Love?, My Less Than Secret Life, I Love You More Than You Know, The Double Life Is Twice as Good). –Kevin

Q: I'm looking to add some books to my TBR. My favorite books of all time are Their Eyes Were Watching God and Your Blues Ain't Like Mine, and my fave books I read in the past year are The Stand, The Night Circus, The Fault in Our Stars, Tell the Wolves I'm Home, The Cuckoo's Calling, and The Age of Miracles. Can you give me some suggestions? –Nioke

A: I think author Jesmyn Ward would make a great addition to your to-be-read list. Salvage the Bones, her novel which won the National Book Award in 2011, and her new memoir called Men We Reaped are phenomenal reads. Both books deal with race, class, and tragedy in Mississippi, which is where the author hails from. Another pick that will take you on a grim journey alongside its resilient characters is A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. Also, try The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. It's about grief and longing and time travel — I can't recommend it enough. –Aubrey

Q: I loved Turn of Mind and Before I Go to Sleep. I really like chilling, psychological mysteries, especially when they're not grisly or violent and are well written. Can you recommend something similar? –Susan

A: You should try Michael Dibdin. He wrote a series set in Italy with the character Aurelio Zen, and while on the surface it's a police procedural series, the books are well written and certainly suspenseful. The first in the series is Ratking. He also wrote single-title nonseries books, and one of my favorites of those is Thanksgiving. Also, of course, there's the one that's been showing up on everyone's recommended reading list for some time, Gone Girl. –Tom

Books mentioned in this post

  1. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  2. Too Loud a Solitude
    Used Trade Paper $7.00
  3. Ella Minnow Pea
    Used Trade Paper $5.95
  4. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)
    Used Trade Paper $3.95
  5. Hunger Games #02: Catching Fire
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  6. The Hunger Games 3. Mockingjay
    New Trade Paper $13.62
  7. Matched (Matched #1)
    Used Hardcover $6.00
  8. Matched Trilogy #02: Crossed Used Trade Paper $6.95
  9. Matched Trilogy #01: Reached Used Trade Paper $6.95
  10. Internment Chronicles #01: Perfect Ruin Used Hardcover $8.95
  11. The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos...
    Used Trade Paper $6.00
  12. The Ask and the Answer: Chaos...
    Used Trade Paper $6.00

  13. The Golden Compass: His Dark...
    Used Mass Market $2.95
  14. The Subtle Knife: His Dark...
    Used Mass Market $3.50
  15. The Amber Spyglass (His Dark... Used Mass Market $1.50
  16. Salvage the Bones
    Sale Trade Paper $7.98
  17. Men We Reaped: A Memoir
    Sale Hardcover $10.98
  18. A Reliable Wife
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  19. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
    Used Hardcover $8.95
  20. Ratking: An Aurelio Zen Mystery
    Used Trade Paper $8.95
  21. Thanksgiving Sale Trade Paper $5.95
  22. Gone Girl
    Used Hardcover $9.50
  23. Turn of Mind
    Used Hardcover $10.95
  24. A Reliable Wife
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  25. The Age of Miracles
    Sale Hardcover $6.98
  26. The Cuckoo's Calling
    Used Hardcover $10.95
  27. Tell the Wolves I'm Home
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  28. The Fault in Our Stars
    Sale Hardcover $8.98
  29. The Night Circus
    Used Hardcover $9.95
  30. The Stand
    Used Mass Market $3.95
  31. Your Blues Ain't Like Mine Used Trade Paper $2.25
  32. Their Eyes Were Watching God Used Trade Paper $8.50
  33. Election
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  34. The Sisters Brothers
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  35. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena New Hardcover $33.25
  36. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  37. Before I Go to Sleep
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  38. The Double Life Is Twice as Good:... Used Trade Paper $6.50
  39. I Love You More Than You Know: Essays Used Trade Paper $4.50
  40. My Less Than Secret Life: A Diary,... New Trade Paper $17.95
  41. What's Not To Love?
    New Trade Paper $15.95
  42. Tenth of December: Stories
    Used Hardcover $14.00

2 Responses to "Ask a Book Buyer: Uplifting Novels, YA Trilogies, and More"

    Charles Frankhauser January 7th, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    This visit is my first to the Blog. I am pleased to see that my 2 novels, 2 novellas, and memoir are available from Powells. The Jan. 3, 2014 comment by Pam regarding looking for a book without sex and violence is the reason I wrote (pub. 29 Nov. 2013) the novella entitled, Last Pirate at Fort Matanzas. I wanted to write a book to entertain and inform readers of All Ages. I hope my goal is realized. Young readers will be entertained by a tame pirate story set during the Spanish Treasure Fleet era of King Phillip II of Spain; older readers will be entertained by the humor involved with life changing events caused by the theft of a silver spoon and one kiss in a Madrid garden that launched Captain Alberto Dicer of the pirate ship El Dreadful into a new vocation. Very young readers may require a few definitions of some words but not enough to interrupt the story. Charles

    the-1s January 8th, 2014 at 8:34 am

    I tried to submit a question but your link would not allow it : I am in possetion of a paperback novel titled "Union Club Mysteries" by "Issac Asimov" it is in very good condition also it is autographed by the author, I cant find one just like it anywhere, when I do a search I can find the novel however I can't find it autographed,my question then becomes is it a rare find and if so how rare and how valualble is it? What would be a realistic price for such an item ? Also where would I be able to find a seriouse buyer?

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