Words on Words: Holiday Book Picks for 2022

14 mins read

Holiday Book Picks


Night of the Living Rez
By Morgan Talty – Publisher: Tin House

This collection of linked stories by Morgan Talty is a true tour de force, both a powerful coming of age story and a heart- and mind-searing exploration of an indigenous community. Immersing the reader in the poles of emotion, in humor and pathos, Talty’s debut is an exceptional reading experience.

Mickey 7
By Edward Ashton – Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Another book which deals intriguingly with the concepts of personal identity and time is Edward Ashton’s romp of a science fiction book, Mickey 7. Equally entertaining and thought-provoking, character- and scene-driven, this is a book sure to appeal to a broad audience—particularly Andy Weir fans.

You know, it’s funny but I couldn’t help thinking of Frank Herbert’s brilliant, but now obscure, Destination Void when I read Mickey 7, even though I thought the similarities were likely a case of parallel evolution… The idea of learning from the failures of past iterations of self is intrinsic and well-explored by both books. In any case, Mickey 7 is just the book for anyone seeking an informative diversion.

The Whalebone Theatre
By Joanna Quinn – Publisher: Knopf

If you are looking for a new historical novel written with style and depth, with characters you are attached to and a compelling setting, your quest will end in the pages of Joanna Quinn’s The Whalebone Theatre. Cristobel’s journey from a precocious orphan to a WWII espionage agent is as exciting and rewarding as anyone could wish.

Book of Night
By Holly Black – Publisher: Tor

Young adult colossus Holly Black enters the realm of adult fiction with giant aplomb in Book of Night.  Her heroine, Charlie Hall, is a survivor in a dark world where living shadows prey on the less powerful. A gifted thief and a reluctant shadow wielder, Charlie walks through a strongly-realized world built on equal parts human strength and weakness. A rewarding thriller of a dark fantasy.


An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us
By Ed Yong – Publisher: Random House

Pulitzer Prize winning science writer Ed Yongs’s premise that to see the world through the eyes of animals, of beetles, of tadpoles and whales, is the best means of self discovery is both brilliant and engaging. After all, if we don’t gain distance from ourselves how are we to see ourselves? And what more compelling approach to empathy and understanding could there be than to become an inhabitant of An Immense World .

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World
By Jonathan Freedland – Publisher: Harper Collins

It is remarkable that a book set in Auschwitz made our annual holiday book picks, but then The Escape Artist is a remarkable book. The story of Rudolf Vrba, who was the first—and one of only four Jews to escape from Auschwitz—is inspiring and galvanizing, thrilling and psychologically immersive. What is the relationship between information, belief, and knowledge? How can we measure the value of life in the shadow of real horror? The Escape Artist, wonderfully well told and researched is a rewarding and important reading experience.

Picture Books

By Sophie Blackall – Publisher: Little Brown Books

Let’s start out with Sophie Blackall’s Farmhouse. Nothing surprising in a great picture book from her, but this one is particularly good. The quiet, enduring power of Farmhouse is accentuated in all its complementary elements. The resonant palette that heightens the beauty of its illustrations is mirrored in the unexpected ending which infuses the fine writing before it with fresh poignancy. Farmhouse is an all ages experience for the heart and mind.

Pigeon & Cat
By Edward Hemingway – Publisher: Hachette

This is a charming new picture book written and illustrated by Ernest Hemingway’s youngest grandson, Edward. This tale of a solitary cat in a hostile city, who grows as a person and impacts the character of where he lives due to his caring for an injured pigeon, is a rich reading experience. Emotionally astute, the understated narrative lets Hemingway’s clever and expansive drawings accentuate the story and its subtle message. Pigeon’s speech through icons will especially delight and engage young readers. Pigeon & Cat has it all: depth, humor, wonder, and intrigue.

The Mermaid Moon
By Briony May Smith – Publisher: Anne Schwartz Books

Is a more darling, more magical friendship book imaginable than Briony May Smith’s The Mermaid Moon? No indeed. What a delight it is to be immersed in simple warmth, wonder, and a bit of adventure.

Mushroom Lullaby
By Kenneth Kraegel – Publisher: Candlewick

 I’ll share one more picture book with you, after all we should close with a bedtime book, and Mushroom Lullaby is an exceptional one. A pure wonder to wander through, the perfect precursor to the wanderings of pleasant dreams.

Maine Interest

Maine Community Cookbook Volume 2: 200 More Recipes Celebrating Home Cooking in the Pine Tree State
By Margaret Hathaway, Don Lindgren – Publisher: Islandport Press

This delightful follow-up to the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook features more great stories, photos, and recipes. What more could you want in a Maine-interest gift book?

Big Truck Little Island
By Chris Van Dusen – Publisher: Candlewick

As he did with his beloved book Circus Ship, store favorite Chris Van Dusen takes a true Maine story and translates it into a delightful picture book. Big Truck Little Island redounds with the community and ingenuity of island children who work their way around a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.


A Dish for All Seasons: 125+ Recipe Variations for Delicious Meals All Year Round
By Kathryn Pauline – Publisher: Chronicle Books

Were they playing off the classic film A Man for All Seasons when they named this cookbook A Dish for All Seasons? I’m not sure, but I do know that with its sumptuous photographs and rewarding theme it is a fabulous cookbook. Presenting core recipes such as fruit tarts and pasta with meatballs, adapted for four different seasons, makes for both an elegant and a useful approach. A Dish for All Seasons is a book for all seasons to be sure.

Holiday Book

The Christmas Book Flood
By Emily Kilgore, Kitty Moss – Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

This book, bringing the Icelandic tradition of the Christmas Book Flood to life, is a sheer delight with its charming illustrations and resonant text. Sharing this book with your loved one is literally to celebrate in the Book Flood yourselves.


Rejected Books: The Most Unpublishable Books of All Time
By Graham Johnson, Rob Hibbert – Publisher: Clarkson Potter

A big laugh is a bit like Gandalf’s description of Barliman Butterbur’s memory, “like a lumber room: thing wanted always buried.” One way to get your hands on a big laugh when you need one is to have a copy of Rejected Books: The Most Unpublishable Booksof All Time on hand. From Extreme Lawn Mowing to Flower Arranging for the Impatient, this collection of ill-advised book pitch covers is the perfect gift for anyone to whom you’d like to bestow some laughs.


Time Is a Mother
By Ocean Vuong – Publisher: Penguin Putnam

We often look to poems in times of questioning. How can we process the enormity of this emotion? What wisdom can we glean from hardship? Written in the aftermath of his mother’s passing, Ocean Vuong’s second full-length collection of poetry, Time Is a Mother, skillfully turns grief over and over again until it illuminates the prismatic wonders of being alive. Yes, we walk through the sadness of loss, the cruelties of time, the violence of the world—and, there, we also experience surprise, wit, wonder, joy. This book is a gorgeous, resonant testament to the expansiveness of our human spirit. (review by DDG’s meg willing)

Middle Grade Fiction

Only a Monster
By Vanessa Len – Publisher: Harper Collins

The monsters of this book have the ability to travel though time by stealing bits of it from normal humans. Thus, if a monster took a year from you, you would die a year earlier than otherwise and the monster could travel a year backward or forward in time with her stolen temporal segment. The book is so rich in both story and character, but it is its integrity in giving real consequences to its monster protagonist’s, dare we say, heroic actions which make it such a splendid book.

Secret of the Shadow Beasts
By Diane Magras – Publisher: Dial Books

Diane Magras is a middle grade author with the gift of writing books with real heft and dimension within a breakneck adventure story. Her newest book manages to incorporate some of her established strengths and interests and weave them into a wholly different setting. I knew from spending a pre-pandemic day with Diane in area schools that she had real command over the historical dimensions of her books and was not surprised to see her evidence that same command over the fascinating world in which she set her terrific new book. This is a story with exceptional degrees of both heart and appeal.

Young Adult Fiction

All of Our Demise
By Amanda Foody, C. L. Herman – Publisher: Tor

This young adult powerhouse of a novel completes the stellar two-part story begun in All of Us Villains. Written harmoniously by two accomplished authors, the books pit the chosen young champions of a village’s ancient evil families in a riveting tournament with shifting rules, absorbing characters, and the best sort of action and romance. As the stakes and even the meaning of the tournament evolve, the story keeps on strengthening right through to its terrific conclusion.

The Name She Gave Me
By Betty Culley – Publisher: Harper Collins

Highly accomplished Maine young adult author, Betty Culley, delivers a masterful  novel in verse with all the power she displayed earlier in Three Things I Know Are True. The Name She Gave Me, with its strong Maine setting, nuanced exploration of Maine’s foster care system, and dual parts heartbreaking and heartwarming story of sisterhood, is a book which will linger in your thoughts long after the last page is turned.


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. He can be reached at kenny@ddgbooks.com or online at www.ddgbooks.com.

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