Independent Bookseller Picks

May Recommendations from Powell’s Books

Founded in 1970, Powell’s Books has seven locations in the Portland area. Our downtown store has over 68,000 square feet of retail space and more books than you could possibly ever read in a lifetime. Our science fiction section is one of the largest in the United States. We carry both new and used books, shelved side by side. Most of our SF readings are held at our Cedar Hills Crossing location, which also hosts a SF book group. All of our locations have staff who are avid SFF readers and are more than happy to recommend titles you’re sure to enjoy.

I’m Mary Jo Schimelpfenig, and I’ve worked for Powell’s 16 years. I’ve been the buyer for SF/Fantasy/Horror for 13 of those years. I tend to read more fantasy than science fiction, and I have a special fondness for finding young adult novels that adults will enjoy. Some of my recommendations are titles due out this month, some are spring releases that I thought were worth noting:


Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

A stellar novel from one of my very favorite writers. A wonderfully inventive plot and a real gutwrencher to boot. Her two previous works, Graceling and Fire are well worth reading, but the way Cashore shows us Bitterblue’s world and then destroys it piece by piece is both devastating and mesmerizing. Who can Bitterblue trust?



Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Even though this was released in March, I will happily recommend it in May, or any other month of the year. Until I worked at Powell’s, I had never heard of Tim Powers, and it makes me so happy to find people who haven’t read him yet. Powers is the master of combining wildly disparate subjects into a cohesive plot. He’s been a longtime staff favorite, and I’m always delighted to find a customer who hasn’t heard of him so I can recommend Last Call and start them off right. Powers is at the top of his game here.


The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Newly released in paperback, beautifully illustrated and even more beautifully written. I’m looking forward to introducing readers to Valente’s luxurious prose. If you enjoy Diana Wynne Jones, you’ll probably gobble this right up.



Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

[Read the review here.]

Night Shade is one of my very favorite publishers. They have such a finely curated selection of titles—I’ve discovered lots of great authors like Kameron Hurley, Courtney Schaefer, and rediscovered excellent new work from Martha Wells and Glen Cook. Many of our customers are very well-read, so having something like Night Shade to offer them is fantastic.



The Weird by Jeff & Ann VanderMeer

Any anthology that contains an Algernon Blackwood story is automatically a good thing in my book. The VanderMeers have edited a number of excellent anthologies, and this looks to be up to their high standards. At over 1,000 pages there’s sure to be something for everyone here—lots of well-known authors, and some delightful harder to find gems.



Black Heart by Holly Black

[Read the review here.]

This was actually released in April, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading White Cat and Red Glove, the first two thirds of this trilogy. A strong finish, and one of the more intriguing magical systems I’ve encountered. Like a good deal of recent SFF, this neatly combines magic with some elements of crime fiction.




My name is Christian Benito and I’ve worked for Powell’s Books for a comparatively short six years. I started in the trenches of genre fiction and I am a big fan of science fiction, fantasy and crime fiction. I am often the go-to guy for recommendations for literary fantasy or contemporary space opera, and I love to flog lesser known authors and difficult cross-genre titles. Here are a few titles that I’m looking forward to hand selling in May:


The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

[Read the review here.]

I’m a big fan of Paolo Bacigalupi. I pushed hard to get copies of Windup Girl onto the shelf before it started getting attention, and I’ve really enjoyed his YA books. This latest novel is a loose sequel to Ship Breaker, following a pair of young war refugees who get tangled up with a genetically engineered dog-man. Set amidst the swamped remnants of a the Washington D.C. area well after a collapse that has left the region devastated by rival warlords and their armies of child soldiers. Bacigalupi shines in these YA novels with palpable and sympathetic characters and an apocalyptic future that rings with shades of the modern. A great read for young and old alike!


The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

[Read the review here.]

I’m not really a fan of the mainstream sword and sorcery, so I was very excited to read N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. Jemisin’s strong, but not caricatured, female characters are refreshing in a genre full of bikini clad warrior-princesses. On the strength of that political epic fantasy, I am looking forward to pushing her new Dreamblood trilogy which starts with The Killing Moon in May. It has been described as magical intrigue in a pseudo-Egyptian setting and I’m comfortable suggesting it to customers unread.


A couple more books that I am excited about right now have been out for a few months, but that won’t stop me from giving them a push:


Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Here is a book that I was eagerly awaiting. Nick Harkaway’s debut, Gone Away World was wonderful and largely overlooked. Angelmaker is a science fiction novel wrapped in the shroud of a crime novel and laced with elements of pulp action and super-science. I could babble on about how good this book is, but the better advice is to just read it for yourself and pass it along.



When We Were Executioners by J. M. McDermott

This is the sequel to last year’s Never Knew Another, which I read cold and found myself wowed by its dreamy, atmospheric qualities. Set in a grimy fantasy world, it follows a pair of shape-shifting inquisitors who seek out and destroy people of demonic blood (who poison the world about them by their very existence). Much of the narrative is from the perspective of the demons themselves as flashes of memory drawn from their remains. The writing is evocative and fresh and I look forward to more from J. M. McDermott.

MaryJo Schimelpfenig is a book buyer for Powell’s Books.

Christian Benito is a bookseller for Powell’s Books.


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