At 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 [email protected]. We'll be posting personalized recommendations regularly.
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Q: I'm traveling to Dublin and Barcelona this summer and would love some recommendations for books that take place in these locations. I'm open to different genres but something funny would be good. –Megan
A: Dublin settings? Anything by Roddy Doyle, but the funnier ones would by Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, The Snapper, and The Commitments. They are gritty but very funny. Tana French writes excellent mysteries, all set in Dublin featuring different members of the Dublin Murder Squad. They are excellent and very evocative of the city and the social system there. In the Woods is the first in the series and a good place to start, but they all also function as stand-alones. –Kathi
You absolutely must get The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It's a literary mystery that takes place in Barcelona from the 1920s to the 1950s, and it's one of the most beautifully written things I've ever read. Read it before your trip and you won't be able to wait to get to Barcelona. –Tom
Q: I am looking for a book that takes place on the U.S. home front during World War II. Growing up, I loved reading the "Molly" American Girl books. Is there anything with a similar setting for adults? –Molly
A: John Dunning usually writes about mysteries in the world of used books, but he wrote a good book called Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime about a small wartime radio station that is part mystery, part love story. The setting is a small East Coast radio station, and the book is wonderfully detailed about life in that place and time.
There is also a title out in paperback now called The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. It's nonfiction but a fascinating look at war work on the home front. –Kathi
Q: I am a high school English teacher, and I recently learned that I will be teaching a course on literature of the sea next year. Would you happen to have any suggestions (ideally texts around 200-300 pages)? –Marco
A: What an awesome class! Depending on how classic or challenging you'd like your selections to be, there are some marvelous maritime novels out there. The first that comes to mind is Herman Melville's novella Benito Cereno, about a slave rebellion on the open seas. This was one of Melville's bestsellers, and it's a wonderful introduction to an American master and a nuanced exploration of the evils of slavery.
Another great novel — more recent — is Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Pi is a teenage boy cast adrift with a tiger after a terrible shipwreck kills his family. Life of Pi is an exciting survival tale but also very dreamy, forcing the reader to decide how trustworthy Pi is as a narrator. This has long been a Powell's staff favorite.
If your students are up for a challenge, Brian Doyle's new novel, The Plover, is a hilarious tale of a crotchety sea captain hoping for a solitary adventure but who instead finds himself sailing with a boatload of strange companions (not all human). Doyle's prose is modernist and dazzling: he plays with sentence structure, goes on tangents, and casually incorporates magic into the narrative. It's a very rich novel for teaching, but its difficulty is on par with To the Lighthouse (though, honestly, the subject matter and characters are much more entertaining). –Rhianna