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.
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