Not to be self-aggrandizing, but the booksellers at Powell’s are known for their excellent taste, and this year’s annual midyear roundup is just further proof of that. The 33 titles include a history of method acting, a “meta take on the horror genre,” a feminist fantasy quest, a romance with a Chris-Evans-esque nemesis, poems about grief and identity and garden-thieving groundhogs, and so, so much more. You can’t go wrong with any (or all!) of the books on this list.
My goodness, this book. Set aside any misgivings you might have about reading a pandemic novel during a pandemic. These gracefully interconnected narratives have their roots in familiar territory, but their branches arc and sprawl beyond the world we know into the far reaches of Sequoia Nagamatsu’s imagination. The result is an immersive, tender, life-affirming book that left me both wonderstruck and — much to my surprise — comforted. — Tove H.
This book makes a deeply affirming argument in favor of "navel gazing." It gives us permission to tell our most personal stories, and argues that this telling, especially when done by women (or other members of groups whose stories have been historically suppressed or trivialized), is radical, healing, and transformative. I needed this book so badly, and I hope it helps others to take control of the narratives of their own lives. — Ariel K.
Read bookseller Bry H.'s spotlight on Body Work.
Honestly, in this not-yet-post-pandemic world of injustice and strife, can't we all identify as "the hurting kind" — "too sensitive, a weeper/ from a long line of weepers"? These beautifully crafted poems speak to the pandemic experience with its loss of loved ones, but also to the deep joy we encounter in observing animals and the natural world. Even a garden-thieving groundhog is regarded with love in this tender collection that speaks to the heart quietly: "a groundhog slippery and waddle-thieving my tomatoes, still green in the morning’s shade. I watched her munch and stand on her haunches, taking such pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed delight?" — Marianne T.
One of the best, most original, compelling YA reads I’ve ever had the profound luck to pick up. Hope Cassidy and her sisters, Faith and Charity, have been raised in an ultra-conservative mega-church. When Faith is outed, she runs away to avoid being sent to conversion “therapy,” and Hope finds solace in rock 'n' roll. Channeling her inner Joplin, Hope forms a band with Danny — her newly out, longtime crush — performing anti-establishment originals and directly challenging the hate speech written by Danny’s twin brother for his new band, Alt-Rite. Interspersed with excerpts from a sci-fi love story (perhaps penned by the missing Faith), this incredible novel glows with a simple, heartfelt message: hope in the face of oppression and cruelty is punk as hell. — Madeline S.
This book is challenging in all of the right ways. Ojeda's experimental use of language is well-preserved in Booker's English translation. Jawbone straddles the line between horror and pure psychological fiction, playing with symbolism, psychoanalysis, and pop culture references to weave a fascinating meta take on the horror genre. It's often gross and unsettling, and it's not like anything else I've ever read before (which is one of the highest compliments I can give). — Mar S.
I consider it my sworn duty to make sure Powell’s lists have picture books on them! So far this year, Mina has my top spot. Little mouse Mina has some suspicions about the “squirrel” her father brings home one day as a surprise. Will she be able to convince her trusting father that squirrels don’t have pointy ears and very cat-like eyes? Matthew Forsythe is vying for a top spot amongst my all-time favorite picture book makers. His deadpan humor, the colors, the dramatic irony of it all: picture-book-perfect. — Sarah R.
The Method charts the evolution of what became the dominant acting technique of the 20th century on stage and screen, tracing its journey from Tsarist Russia to HUAC-era Hollywood to the present day. Along the way, Isaac Butler dispels the numerous myths and misconceptions about The Method, but what's powerful in this book is something deeper: how an acting style devoted to the truth of the human condition came to flourish in two societies with robust traditions of censorship, and how it transformed the way we talk and think about stories. — Tim B.
Disorientation is a thrilling exploration of self and Asian American identity; a pitch-perfect satire of academia, institutions, and power; a literary mystery propelled by slightly bumbling sleuths; and (somehow) uproariously unhinged while being painfully familiar. No one is quite who they seem, as Chou expertly reveals the hidden depths and deceptions of every character in this knockout of a novel. — Michelle C.
Lee's exploration of grief and identity is as impactful as it is strange (in a good way). Her deep understanding of light and ability to inject an uncanny apocalyptic landscape into her poems create a fascinating book that relies on different modes of creative expression and scientific research to inform its content. I have never, and likely will never, read something else quite like it. It's possible that it will change your understanding of the limits of poetry and language; it's just fabulous. — Eric L.
Proving that her excellent debut novel, Godshot, wasn't a fluke, Bieker comes back with a stunning follow-up. The short stories in Heartbroke explore some of her favorite themes (life in the Central Valley of California, working class characters, coming-of-age, religion versus sexual temptation) and examine them with detailed intensity. Bieker reveals how humans struggle and how they carry on. What a performance. — Kevin S.
This book is in-depth and informative while also not being dense or hard to get through. The information on shadow work and grounding is beautifully explained and can be used by beginners or experienced witches. All in all, a beautiful and well-rounded book meant for anyone who wants to make change in themselves and in their community. — Aster A.
There has been a failure of the future in Europe, and, increasingly, no one wants to live in the unstable present it keeps creating. Instead, people decide to make a time shelter for themselves, to recapture and recreate a past in which they felt most comfortable. But how to choose the best decade? As each country in the European Union holds a referendum to figure out which period of time was most idyllic for that nation, the story gets more brilliant and ridiculous and yet poignant, becoming a dissection of 20th-century nationalism, communism, and culture. The comparison of simultaneous pasts on each side of the Iron Curtain is particularly hilarious and fascinating. Truly, I didn't think they made novels like this, anymore, full of ideas and sardonic wit — a book in the lineage of Dostoevsky and Borges. — Jennifer K.
Think about the history of bullfighting — then imagine that, but with dragons and magic and a fierce female heroine who believes there's a better way. Add a hint of romance and betrayal, and you've got yourself a fantastic summer read! — Beth C.
Victoria Chang’s intriguing new collection is mostly composed of short, symbolic poems using Japanese waka forms. The book has a unique tall, narrow trim size that makes this a literal standout in a section that’s home to no shortage of great poetry. Rarely have I been so captivated by a collection; each brief poem demands your full attention for repeated readings. Though small, these poems have an outsized gravitational pull, like that of a superdense star. — Keith M.
This story is the feminist fantasy quest of my dreams. Kingfisher crafts charming, relatable characters who you'll just want to keep hanging out with, and worlds you'll want to stay lost in forever. Her turns of phrase are wonderful and there's the perfect amount of cleverness and wit. She's my new fave! — Carrie K.
The past few years have seen some excellent books published that revisit ACT-UP's work during the AIDS crisis in the early 90s (see Sarah Schulman's Let the Record Show). It Was Vulgar & It Was Beautiful focuses specifically on Gran Fury, an affiliate group of artists in ACT-UP, their successes and failures, their iconic images and interpersonal struggles. Jack Lowery has written an eminently readable and ultimately inspiring story about the intersection of politics and art. — Adam P.
This hallucinatory, macabre, and surprisingly jubilant book about breaking free from cycles of family trauma had me laughing in the laundromat and weeping in the back of the bus. I'm certain Beilin's revenge will feel like a gift to many, but especially to the truth-tellers, the survivors, the exilic by nature — truly to anyone who has learned, at great risk, how to stay alive in spite/despite. Viva the scapegoats. — Alexa W.
Both a brutal fist to the teeth and a tender cry, Manhunt is unlike anything I've ever read. Fran and Beth are an insurmountable duo and I was locked in from the very first word. This book is a carbon-fiber arrow to the shoulder — it sticks with you and it hurts like a mother. — Stacy Wayne D.
The Art of Learning to Fly is a glorious little illustrated collection of poems, celebrating that deeply implanted desire for flight that exists in so many of us. Featuring meditations on our winged companions and our interactions with them, especially that great wordless tour guide of our metropolitan lives, the pigeon. Take off on this fabulous flight of whimsy through these poets' imaginations and be mesmerized by where your soaring journey takes you! Compiled, edited, and illustrated by PDX creative Timothy Arliss O'Brien, host of the podcast, "The Poet Heroic," and author of the poetry collections, Dear God I'm a Faggot and Happy LGBTQ Wrath Month. — Nicholas Y.
The writing in This Here Flesh is so breathtakingly beautiful. It invites quiet, thoughtful reading and contemplation and is one of those books that leaves your soul just a little bit bigger for having read it. Told as a series of stories in simple, powerful prose, it feels like sitting down with an old friend, someone who knows your deepest truths and seeks to help you rediscover them. — Deana R.
This is such a fun read. Crystal is a curvy, confident, plus-size fitness influencer (hello, goals!) with a gym nemesis who looks just like Chris Evans. The way they prank each other made me giggle so hard. And the spice? I'll never look at a locker room the same way again... — Rose H.
Fusing fantasy, fabulism, and fratricide, Manuel Astur’s Of Saints and Miracles (translated by Claire Wadie) abounds with imagination and atmospherics. The Spanish author’s tale of an improbable fugitive on the lam (following an unforgivable betrayal) brims with gorgeous prose, blending past and present, thought and feeling, light and dark, the earthen and the ethereal. Wondrously winsome, Of Saints and Miracles reads like a reverie made manifest. Call it magic, call it a marvel, Astur’s enchanting new novel is as beatific and beautiful as they come. — Jeremy G.
The central conceit of this novel — a cheap gas station map — is so enchanting and strange that it carries the whole story of how its discovery affects the lives of the group of people who find it. You'll never look at a map the same way again! — Warren B.
The Fiona Mahoney Mysteries will suck you into a gritty Victorian era London full of murders. After finding the brutalized body of her friend, Fiona inadvertently creates a new job for herself... cleaning up the blood from crime scenes. Now she's pulled into another mystery surrounding murdered sex workers, while still trying to seek justice for her friends' death. Surrounded by an eclectic cast of friends and foes, from Jack the Ripper to Oscar Wilde, will Fiona be able to stay ahead of the murderer? — Mecca A.
There's something about Blake that speaks to me. Well... not so much "speak" as "slaps me across the face with both hands before shaking me by the shoulders while jumping up and down, ranting and raving about god knows what," and I love it. Sometimes though, it would be nice to understand those ravings a little better, and luckily, John Higgs, scribe of The KLF and I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary, has admirably risen to the occasion. — Fletcher O.
My aunt recommended this read to me and I'm so glad she did. Joan is Okay by Weike Wang addresses the timely themes of pandemic living, coping with loss, and bridging the Asian American identity in a time of outward and inward crisis. Joan is a character who challenges our preconceptions of success and how we may find humanity in shared moments big and small. — Chloe M.
The writing is whimsical but transcends whimsy. The story is magical but transcends magic. Laura Stanfill's Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary is deceptively delightful, exploring real-world themes of connection, loss, feminism, death, and identity, all wrapped up in lyrical language, bountiful cleverness, and endless wit. Resplendent and transcendent. — Gigi L.
I could not put this book down! An insightful look at how global homogenization has not only shaped what and how we eat, but has ruthlessly reduced the variety as well. Saladino walks us through the rich and varied food choices of the past that were important cultural markers of the societies that nurtured them. He then describes their loss, be it due to habitat cleared for monoculture crops, war, climate change, or simply time. Saladino rounds out the cycle with inspiring stories of people determined to revive these lost foods and lost ways. Fascinating, frustrating, and inspiring. — Lesley A.
A beautifully compelling coming-of-age tale that offers an important glimpse into the immigrant experience. Tahir elegantly explores the complicated nuances of trauma with incredibly honest writing and such richly drawn characters, I felt I knew them personally after finishing. — Tawney E.
If you love a good story about reinventing yourself and found family you can’t go wrong with this slice-of-life, cozy fantasy! In it you’ll find heartwarming characters, friendship, and delightful descriptions of coffee that will have you reaching for a cup. Baldree’s debut novel is the wholesome and relaxing read I didn’t know I needed. — Laura Z.
Ed. note: A new edition of Legends and Lattes will be published by Tor Books on November 8, 2022. You can preorder your copy now.
With the help of the creators (!), cast (!!), crew (!!!), and fans (!!!!), Evan Ross Katz meticulously unpacks the seven-season run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the controversies that have surrounded the show since its debut. The result is an enchanting oral history/fan memoir/media study that is a celebration of all that Buffy has given us (so much). — Chris T.
As terrifying as it is that we once again find ourselves potentially inching towards a nuclear standoff, it's even more terrifying to consider the costs already incurred from nuclear weapons testing — a toll we will pay for centuries. This book is a disturbing read, but as the machinations of the military-industrial complex become more distant and obfuscated, it's one that needs our attention. — John H.
I did not expect this book — about a young woman who works at a mortuary, processing the loss of her mother through a BDSM community in Tasmania — to be one of the best examinations of grief and loss I've maybe ever read, but here we are. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is bleak and loving and funny and morbid. Everything you could want. I dog-eared about every page. — Kelsey F.