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 flew through Codex Alera and loved it. I got hooked on The Iron Druid Chronicles but am waiting for the next book. I stumbled upon and devoured Blades of the Old Empire (again, waiting on the next book). I am on the waiting list at the library for The Name of the Wind but am getting antsy for a good read. Can you suggest a series that isn't in fashion — an oldie but goodie, perhaps?
Q: I just finished hate-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I need that bad taste out of my mouth. I wouldn't mind starting a new series, but I'm at a loss here. I want to read something epic. I've not read much fantasy, but I do kinda like it. So... what do you think? (And don't say A Song of Ice and Fire because I've already started in on those.)
A: In this case, the answer to everything is not 42. It is Robin Hobb. Start with Assassin's Apprentice, the first book of the Farseer trilogy, and settle in for an epic reading adventure. After Farseer, the Liveship Traders trilogy is next, followed by the Tawny Man trilogy. George R. R. Martin is a fan of these books, and you'll soon see why. Assassin's Apprentice introduces Fitz, bastard son of a prince, gifted in many ways, but not especially lucky. This is some of the best fantasy writing out there, and I think it will knock your socks off.
For something equally wonderful but completely different, try Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds. Set in an ancient China that never was, you won't soon forget the adventures of Master Li and Number Ten Ox. Hughart manages to be funny and touching, and he tells a rollicking tale chock-full of Chinese mythology and culture.
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Q: I recently finished Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson and am looking for a similar read. I love everything David Sedaris has written, but I have read it all. I thought Tina Fey's Bossypants would do the trick but was not impressed. Any recommendations on where I should head next?
A: Give Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman a try. I'd also recommend Jonathan Ames's nonfiction collections, like What's Not to Love? and My Less Than Secret Life. A more obscure book in the funny memoir field is Oedipus Wrecked by Kevin Keck, which would make many readers gasp and blush.
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Q: My daughter loves Fannie Flagg books and has read all of them, including The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion. She loves books that are funny and light. What recommendations for authors do you have for her?
A: Adriana Trigiani has a number of lighthearted and funny novels. She's done both series and stand-alone books. Her first novel and the first of a series is Big Stone Gap.
Another author to consider is Alexander McCall Smith. He's best known for his series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is also the title of the first book in that series. He also has a series, 44 Scotland Street, in which he portrays daily life in an Edinburgh neighborhood in his native Scotland. Try Bertie Plays the Blues.
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Q: Greetings! I'm an English teacher and we need new books for our juniors and seniors. We're looking for either fiction or literary nonfiction titles on themes of the American Dream, success, choices, overcoming hardships, poverty, relationships, family, and discovering what life has to offer. Added bonuses: world literature, books about other cultures, books not on SparkNotes. Any suggestions would be great!
A: There are so many great novels on those themes! Here are a few of my favorites.
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris: This family saga follows three generations of Native American women in the Pacific Northwest. Each woman — Rayona (age 15), her troubled mother Christine, and Ida (Christine's taciturn grandmother) — takes a turn as narrator. The result is a realistic and beautifully rendered exploration of reservation life, minority status, the isolation and fears of adolescence, and the (often trying) centrality of family in forming one's identity. I read this wonderful book at 15 and it blew me away. It is, however, on SparkNotes.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz: Oscar Wao is an overweight, first-generation Dominican American living in the ghetto in New Jersey. He dreams of falling in love and becoming the first Dominican fantasy novelist but is haunted by the specter of the fuk, a bad-luck curse that has trailed his family for centuries. Díaz's narrative style is challenging and innovative (using postmodern tricks like footnotes and imitating the linguistic patterns of his immigrant and Dominican characters), but the book is hilarious and absorbing enough to catapult students beyond any off-putting innovation. This book dips into occasional sexuality, profanity, and violence, but nothing that your average teenager can't deal — or identity — with. Plus, it's not on SparkNotes.
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston: This is an older, complex, and marvelous memoir about growing up Chinese American in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1940s. Kingston describes and deconstructs what it means to be female in traditional Chinese culture, using stories culled from her family's experiences. Intriguingly, Kingston incorporates Chinese mythology and ghost stories into her narrative, granting the reader access to the physical, spiritual, and historical realms of the Chinese immigrant experience. This text provides opportunities to discuss gender, immigration, and the American Dream. It is on SparkNotes.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon: Chabon's Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece follows two Jewish boy-geniuses in WWII-era New York City, whose love of magic and Houdini, and hatred of Fascism, eventually lead them to create a comics empire. This wonderful novel is about coming of age, the immigrant experience (in particular, the survivor guilt of American Jews during and after the Holocaust), and the American Dream. It's tremendous fun to read, but the themes and virtuosic writing make for great discussion fodder. Very limited sexuality and it's not on SparkNotes.