O, ye who seek the answer to that eternal question: what superb book shall I give a loved one this Holiday season? You will find the answer waiting below. And it was hard won, I tell you. Phew!
Lexicon, by Max Barry
Here we have one of the most remarkable and engaging thrillers you will ever be unable to put down or stop thinking about. A secret organization of master manipulators whose use of psychology and language make them as much a danger to each other as to others, this is a story as exciting as it is morally and intellectually challenging. Am I being coerced into praising this book without my knowing it? Decide for yourself in the pages of Lexicon!
Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
We hope to provide the pleasure of losing oneself in a dynamic and unusual story when we put a novel under the tree. Night Film is just the thing. The story follows a disgraced journalist investigating the suspicious death of an infamous filmmaker’s daughter, shifting from novel to epistolary and back to novel as it delves further into a sinister world. Pessl shows not just her knack for story-telling, but also her ingenuity as she designs a careful world filled with voodoo, false doors, and secret clubs. A rich and rewarding book that will leave many happy footsteps throughout its pages.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, By Daniel James Brown
There are successful works of non-fiction that take a mediocre story and live on the strength of their author. There are stories of such strength that they hold up some mediocre storytelling. Boys in the Boat is that rare and exceptional combination of a great story told by a masterful storyteller As moving as it is compelling, this tale of the 1936 American Olympian rowing team is the perfect gift for pretty much anyone who hasn’t read it already.
Frozen in Time, by Mitchel Zuckoff
The dual narratives of this non fiction thriller are equally fascinating. This tale of three missing WWII planes in Greenland, the search for their interrelated stories, and the quest for the planes is a marvel of discovery on all accounts. Zuckoff, on hand for the modern day search, does a masterful job of using his access to tell an intimate story without becoming personally obtrusive. This is a first rate account of an historical mystery solved under the harshest conditions, as well as being a riveting WWII arctic survival story.
Maine Voices of the Civil War, By Laurie LaBar
If you were to stop by the Maine State Museum and climb a flight of stairs you would encounter a truly amazing exhibit called Maine Voices from the Civil War. The architect of the exhibit and the museum’s chief curator of History and Decorative Arts Laurie LaBar, has written a companion book to the museum exhibit which is so exceptional that it both captures the exhibit and provides a complete visual and storytelling narrative in its own right Speaking of right, it would be wrong to deprive any history lover a copy of Maine Voices of the Civil War.
You’re Wearing That To School, Lynne Plourde
This new book by Maine author Lynn Plourde is one of her very best. A surprise ending, two likable characters, and an understated and unusual message, are wonderfully captured in text and illustration here. A great read aloud that will amuse and engage children in conversation.
The Art of Katahdin, By David Little
The Art of Katahdin is a Coffee Table companion of the first order. Compiled from a rich artistic tradition spanning 150 years, these 200 photographs and paintings are accompanied by a stellar narrative by author David Little. The intertwined currents of art and history are set against the enduring subject of Katahdin to great effect. The Art of Katahdin was a labor of love and it shows on every page.
Out of Nowhere, by Maria Padian
One attribute shared by the best novels is that they make exquisitely difficult things look effortless. Maria Padian’s Out of Nowhere exemplifies that principle. Apart from containing the most convincing teenage male narrator penned by a female author I’ve ever encountered, the book encapsulates a challenging and politically explosive theme: Somali immigration pressures transform a formerly homogeneous Maine community and high school. The conflict is brilliantly presented by a well-meaning young man whose self-awareness and knowledge of Somali culture and customs lag behind his actions. Out of Nowhere is a book which deeply explores the true price of thoughtless actions in a shifting, divisive landscape, and is conveyed with humor, warmth, and powerful realism. This book moved me deeply and stayed long in my thoughts. Indeed it is that rare thing, a book whose deft handling of difficult and important cultural themes is made all the more exemplary by being immersed in a sensational novel.
Sophie’s Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller, Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
In a year of some terrific new picture books I love Sophie’s Squash the most. After all it is a book about loving something, and learning how to adapt to keep the love alive. Filled with humor, and delight, winning illustrations and a great story, Sophie’s Squash is a book that cannot be shared enough times or with enough people.
Matilda and Hans, by Yocococo
Matilda and Hans is as clever a picture book as you will ever meet. It is so simple in its delivery that its marvelous surprise twist ending catches even adults completely off guard. A perfect toddler read aloud by any standard.
Battle Bunny, by Jon Scziezka and Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Mathew Myers
Alex has been given the drab, lifeless and utterly predictable tale of Birthday Bunny. The young lad has taken pencil to it, transforming it into the evil adventures of Battle Bunny. This was a brilliant idea for a picture book, and more importantly, a brilliant idea that worked on many levels. An immensely entertaining reading experience, a brilliant creative writing prompt, laugh out loud funny and high concept. This a book everyone except Battle Bunny’s victims can enjoy.
Journey, by Aaron Becker
This wordless masterpiece of imagination is both a dynamic tribute to Harold and the Purple Crayon and an exceptional experience in its own right. Jaw dropping illustrations convey a strong visual narrative of adventure and imagination in which a young girl’s red pen, and a guardian angel purple bird, carry the reader along from one surprise to another to a perfectly unexpected ending.
Coffee Table Book
The Gorgeous Nothings, by Emily Dickinson
This book, based on Dickinson’s envelope poems collected by Christine Burgin epitomizes the written word as art. Facsimile images of the envelopes along with transcriptions of the poems are a source of fascination even to non-Dickinson fans. You can image the effect on those already enraptured by the poet.
Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton
Stanton set out to do a photographic census of New York. The project transformed in the making. What you’ll find in the pages of Humans of New York is a wonderfully personal look into the lives of strangers within the city. This is a coffee table book whose pages capture the richness and intimacy of humanity.
The Christmas Wish, by Lori Evert; photographs by Per Breiehagen
“Long, long ago, in a place so far north that the, mother never pack away wool hats or mittens, lived a sweet little girl named Anja whose greatest dream was to become one of Santa’s Elves.” The story of Anja’s journey through a northern landscape is as magical a Christmas story as anyone could wish for. The photographs convey a strong sense of wonder, never feeling staged. This is a book sure to delight everyone who shares it.
An Otis Christmas, by Loren Long
Otis, if you have not met him already, is a beloved little farm tractor. An emergency in the horse manger on Christmas Eve! Will a heavy snowfall stop our beloved tractor from reaching Doc Baker in time? This Otis Holiday book has all the warmth, wonder and suspense readers off all ages have been delighted by in previous Otis books.
Young Adult and Middle Grade
Timmy Failure, by Stefan Pastis
That most congenial of literary institutions, the feckless narrator, has rarely appeared in a more charming form than in the person of Timmy Failure, grade school detective. Equally adroit at evoking humorous and sympathetic responses, young Failure’s less than adept detective skills leave it to his readers to puzzle out both his case load and his life. Warm, engaging and very funny Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is a story as big as Total, Timmy’s 1500 pound Polar Bear sidekick.
The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud
With Lockwood and Associates we find a clever premise which provides an excellent platform for Jonathan Stroud’s established strengths. The Problem, a sudden surge of dangerous phantasms manifesting themselves throughout England and which only certain minors can see clearly and attempt to counteract has upended the social, political and economic order in subtle and intriguing ways. The protection of children has given way to the protection of society. Economics have been deeply affected by the need for Agencies, run by Adult supervisors but using child operatives, and the producers of specialized iron chains, salt bombs, wards, magnesium flares and other paraphernalia. Lockwood and Company is the only Agency run by children, without adult supervision. Aside from the charismatic young Anthony Lockwood the Agency Operatives are the studious George and our narrator, the talented and appealing Lucy Carlisle. Terrific personal chemistry, spine tingling thrills, a conviction that true independence and integrity only come at a price, and a very intriguing alternate society await readers enjoying The Screaming Staircase.
Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell
Rooftoppers has most everything ardent young readers will want in a novel: A plucky heroine who gets by on her wits, an infant found floating in a cello case after the sinking of a ship in the English Channel, an unconventional childhood that includes books, writing on the walls and escaping to France from the Social Service Agency. From there, the adventure really takes off. Rooftoppers makes for a wonderful read-a-loud, perfect for all ages.
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
If one is going to give a book to a teenager it ought to be exceptional. That’s where Eleanor and Park comes in. A romance with grip and truth that readers will both relate and engage with, and who will live on in their thoughts long after the last page is devoured.
Whatever gifts you choose to share with your loved ones, make sure to purchase them from the stores which share a community with you.
Whatever gifts you choose to share with your loved ones make sure to purchase them from the stores which share a community with you. – Kenny Brechner is the owner of Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers, in Downtown Farmington.