Longtime Powell’s readers know that every year we put out our Staff Top Fives, a big collection of employees’ five favorite books of the year. We’ll be releasing our new lists on January 1. In the meantime, we thought we'd share with you a preview of our favorite new fiction titles in case you’re looking for a good, engrossing read to get you through the holidays. Enjoy!
The concept and execution of All That Man Is is absolutely brilliant. It’s made up of nine stories, about nine men, each one progressively older and all travelling through Europe. The individual stories are unconnected, yet as a whole have the pacing and flow of a well-constructed novel. Dealing with themes of untapped ambition, suppressed emotion, and deep-seated insecurity, it’s a book that perfectly captures what it's like to be a man in the early 21st century.
– Shawn D.
Before the Feast is a slow and careful series of vignettes about mysterious happenings and beautifully written characters in a small German town.
– Lonnan R.
While I was reading it and for days after I finished, I dreamt about this book. Wang's debut novel checks off a lot of boxes for me: it's a family saga, it's a sympathetic and realistic rendering of mental illness, and it's both beautifully written and deeply disturbing. Wang's characters follow their internal compasses down paths that seem to be somehow unexpected and preordained all at the same time, and they come to devastating ends. The Border of Paradise absolutely captivated me; I can't recommend it highly enough.
– Ashleigh B.
This is the story of a not-so-Brady bunch and their 50-year journey. It’s what many would call a family drama, and they are not wrong. I love the fractured narration and the way Patchett brings a family together and takes them apart both through her story and by scattering the characters across the globe. I’ve often wondered what would happen if you asked each one of my family members to narrate the same event without fact-checking each other. I think it would go a little something like this.
– Bryanne H.
This is a big, masterfully written novel that explores mathematical genius and its high cost on the individual, spouse, and family. Within this multigenerational saga are nicely crafted themes of nature versus nurture, addiction, and redemption.
– Nan S.
In 1922 Moscow, Count Alexander Rostov is declared a non-person and sentenced to live his remaining days in the Hotel Metropol — or he will be shot by the Red Guard. Rostov's banishment includes moving from his grand suite to a remote attic room. Nevertheless, Rostov is undaunted, and life in the elegant Metropol provides him friendships, love, and purpose. His adventures in confinement are comic, enchanting, and heartwarming even as the ever-present threat of the Soviet state lingers over the inhabitants of the hotel. Rostov observes that other countries exile their citizens to other places, but Russia exiles its people to Russia. Amor Towles has written a tragic comedy of gentle power; it’s charming, harrowing, and ultimately triumphant. I was sorry to leave Hotel Metropol.
– Kathi K.
The Girls is an intoxicating read with stunning writing. Evie's pensive thoughts and bold moves lead her down a dangerous path. Chilling and haunting!
– Adrienne C.
Oof. This book hit me right in the feelings. Max Porter's debut is a beautiful story of family grieving told through poetry and fable. He shows us that grief can crack a smile after a while.
– Jake A.
Set in 1917, The Heavenly Table follows the path of three young men as they lie, steal, cheat, and kill their way from Alabama to Southern Ohio. This story is expertly mirrored by the life of a poor Ohioan farmer who is watching his family disintegrate. Pollock’s prose style is reminiscent of Southern gothic legends like Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy, but his storytelling is painterly, compelling, and freshly cinematic. The characters jump off the page and grab you by the throat while the story gives you a look into a rarely addressed period of American history.
– Kathleen B.
I have never read a book that treats family, depression, and relationships with more tenderness or grace. It’s also possible that I’ve never read a book this tragic. Adam Haslett follows a family as they grapple with the grave mental illness of their father and eldest brother, and the highs and lows along the way. While much of the book is sorrowful, Haslett is a writer with a masterful grasp of language and character, and the results are a deeply moving and powerful novel that I have urged everyone I know to read, even (especially?) as it brought me to tears.
– Tim B.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things rocked my world. This slim novel about a man on a trip with his unhappy girlfriend is a total mind-bender, and when it ended, I immediately started flipping back through it to re-experience old scenes with new knowledge. Don't risk spoiling it for yourself by reading reviews; just be brave and buckle up.
– Emily F.
Dana Spiotta is one of those writers who inspire intense devotion in readers. Once I had read one book by her, I eagerly sought out everything else she had ever written. Her newest novel, Innocents and Others, tells the interlocking stories of a documentary filmmaker, a mainstream director of "chick flicks," and a blind woman who spends her days calling random people on the telephone. It builds upon many of the themes established in her previous work — the lingering significance of the '60s and '70s in American culture, the fluid nature of identity, the inner worlds of women, and the influence of art and technology on individual lives — while also marking a newfound experimentation with form.
– Marlena W.
Alan Moore extends the alchemical intensity of his Great Work from comics and spoken word spellcasting into the zone of prose with staggering, soul-warping success. His second novel is a verbally dense, jewel-encrusted masterpiece of decadent maximalism about psychogeography, working-class magic, art, family, and the afterlife that makes other massive modern novels like Infinite Jest, 2666, and Ulysses seem relatively neurotic and pedestrian. More books like this might save the world.
– Jason L.
This is Erdrich's most compelling novel yet. As an Urban Indian, LaRose speaks to me in a very personal way about the struggles of surviving life's trials in modern-day society while being true to native traditions. However, everyone will appreciate Erdrich's lyrical storytelling about the human heart’s power to endure. Both haunting and inspiring, these characters and their journey to overcome grief has stayed with me.
– Kate L.
Can you get much better than a novel you can't put down that has beautiful cover art too?! Brit Bennett brings together a chorus of "Mothers" to share a wisdom that spans generations, boasting decades of collective experience. This novel shamelessly brings to light hot-button issues — abortion, infidelity, regret — without cliché, giving readers a peek into what it's like to go through the hard stuff. Don't miss this one!
– Carrie K.
Mr. Splitfoot is one of those rare books in which both the language and the story take center stage. I was hooked by the remarkable prose and then compelled by the inventive plot and the (somewhat literally) fantastic characters. It is a beautiful, funny, bizarre, and wholly original tale that manages to incorporate love, death, motherhood, séances, and ghost activism.
– Jill O.
I can finally relate to Harry Potter fans! With each new release of Knausgaard's autobiographical novel, My Struggle, I eagerly wait outside Powell's before it opens so I can get my copy and immediately begin reading it. Book Five is a continuation of the finest literary collection of the century. I am highly anticipating the final installment so that I can finish the series, go back to the first book, and start all over again.
– Jeff J.
Hill's debut novel, a sprawling 600-plus page epic, centers around the estranged relationship between a mother and the son she abandoned when he was a boy and alternates between three distinct time periods — present day, suburbia in the 1980s, and 1968-era Chicago. I was amazed at Hill's insights into the human psyche, since he mined some of my deepest thoughts and fears, even ones I thought might never be unearthed. Hill devotes a few sporadic chapters to ancillary characters, which helps to fully flesh out all of the intertwined narratives. I can't recommend it enough!
– Candice B.
Set in Aleppo, the novel follows one family through several generations of pain and tragedy. The plot may be a little convoluted and intricate, but the poetry and lyricism of the prose makes for an easy and compelling read. And although this is a work of fiction, the author gives us an encapsulated view of the region’s political and social history from the First World War to the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. A very timely read.
– Sheila N.
Devastating, desolate, and disquieting, On the Edge ought to rank as one of the decade's finest novels. Set in late 2010, following the economic crisis that ravaged the world economy, the late Spanish author’s novel offers an unflinching glimpse of a nation despoiled and reeling. An unemployment rate of 20 percent (and rising), poverty, prostitution, xenophobia, Islamophobia, immigration fears, human trafficking, violence, corruption, and environmental decay are the real-life milieu upon which Chirbes situates his unforgiving tale. A remarkable portrait of one man's struggle to make sense of an encompassing personal, economic, and social decay, On the Edge breathes life into an otherwise asphyxiating scene.
– Jeremy G.
Wow, what a book! The Remnants takes an intense look at the small and dying town of New Eden, Somewhere, USA. Its residents are aging — and so very, very interrelated — and New Eden is assuredly creeping towards its last days. Hill's characters are so precisely written, they feel as real as you and me, despite the generations of inbreeding, which have left them somewhere off the "normal" scale. Yet these folks love and hope and yearn like the rest of us, and their stories are magical. Hill has the silver tongue of a master wordsmith. His gorgeous prose rambles from hilarious to sly to clever, and then doubles back so it can dive right off into beautiful, heartsick, and poignant. A standout story with unbelievably effective prose, The Remnants is my favorite 2016 title.
– Dianah H.
When I was growing up, I got in trouble for the look on my face more often than anything I actually did. The Thought Police (my parents) would see my inner eye-roll no matter how much I tried to keep my face neutral. If I thought I had it bad, life is really unfair in Vyleta’s novel Smoke. Part rollicking gothic coming-of-age, part meditation on how thin the veneers of class and manners truly are — Smoke is my top pick of 2016. It’s like Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, with a little more opportunity for introspection.
– Liz V.
In a kaleidoscopic series of vignettes, O'Connor breathes life into a contentious and largely unknown slice of American history. This is bold, generous writing that eschews convenient narrative expectations, instead depicting a world full of complication, full of contradiction — a world a lot like our own.
– Justin W.
With his debut novel, The Whale, Beauregard gives us a historical romance from a seldom-seen viewpoint. This is a novel about a tortuous, tempestuous love affair between two of American literature's greatest writers, a romance found buried deep within these authors' actual letters and journals. The Whale is beautifully written, well-researched, and one of the best novels I've read in quite some time. I can't recommend it enough.
– Gary L.
If I were making a list of the best queer books of the past 100 years, I would proudly place this astounding first novel by Garth Greenwell alongside Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and The Folding Star by Alan Hollinghurst. What Belongs to You is THAT GOOD. Structurally sound, emotionally resonant, and startlingly erotic, this novel explores both lust and love in the lives of two men, as they attempt to find connection in modern-day Bulgaria.
– Adam P.