For many, presenting a dear friend or loved one with a carefully chosen book is a sacred act. And what better time to do it than during this season of sacred observances. With Mainers soon gathering together to celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, we’ve polled our book-loving staff and freelance writers and put together a list of Pine Tree State-centric reads for those special fiction lovers, memoir lovers, food lovers and art lovers in your family or circle of friends. And might we propose that, while you’re at it, you support your local economy and do the shopping at one of the state’s many flourishing bricks-and-mortar book stores? Happy hunting, and happy holidays.

“The Island of Beyond.” Elizabeth Atkinson. Carolrhoda Books. Hardcover. 288 pages. $17.99.

Elizabeth Atkinson’s moving, enthralling new book, “The Island of Beyond,” feels like a new and ready-made Maine classic, a future beloved favorite of young readers as well as older ones. Atkinson evokes Maine’s subtly mysterious quality of place, the darkness of the woods, that particular feeling of being out of the flow of time and far from everywhere else that makes all the best Maine stories inherently magical and compelling. – Kate Christensen

“Florence in Ecstasy.” By Jessie Chaffee. The Unnamed Press. Paperback. 240 pages. $16.

“Florence in Ecstasy” is an incredible book to buy your loved one for the holidays. Is it cheerful? Not exactly. But it is hopeful. Hannah is a young woman who has fled her life in Boston to live in Florence, Italy, far from everything she knows. There, she continues to struggle with an eating disorder while gaining inspiration, wisdom and a deep understanding of herself from stories of Italian women granted sainthood who lived centuries before her. Courageous, beautifully rendered and moving, Maine writer Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel should be on everyone’s shelf. – Ilana Masad

“The One-Eyed Man: A Novel.” By Ron Currie. Viking. Hardcover. 336 pages. $26.

The protagonist of Ron Currie’s darkly comic novel finds himself in a world that “had become proudly, willfully, and completely divorced from fact.” Sound familiar? Welcome to “The One-Eyed Man,” where political correctness, fake news and reality TV collide. The award-winning Portland-based author takes us on a wild roller-coaster ride that mingles grief, outrage and absurd hijinks. The result is a satire wrapped in a tragedy inside a surreal adventure – all of it encased in gorgeous prose. The timeliness of this sendup will appeal to readers suffering from the whiplash of our current administration. – Joan Silverman

“The Salt House.” By Lisa Duffy. Touchstone. Paperback. 288 pages. $16.

The deep pathos of Lisa Duffy’s debut novel, “The Salt House,” is like a high storm tide that never ebbs. It’s anchored in the lives of the Kelly family of Alden, Maine, by the sudden death of baby Maddie, leaving Jack and Hope and their two daughters, Jess and Kat, floundering for air enough to breathe, to go on with their lives in their small fishing village. Duffy writes with sharp insight about the troubled hearts of all her characters. The alternating narratives in successive chapters weave anger together with love, longing with regret and heartbreak with hope. It is a story told with a clarity and nuance that is at times startling. – Frank O Smith

“Between Them: Remembering My Parents.” By Richard Ford. Ecco. 192 pages. $25.99.

Writing nonfiction about bad mothers and fathers seems an easier task than creating a lively memoir out of a happy childhood with parents who tried their best and usually succeeded. A well-loved only child, Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Independence Day” and “Let Me Be Frank with You,” has the talent and insight to make Parker and Edna Ford’s life stories compelling. With great compassion and tenderness, Ford traces the paths of his parents’ lives together and apart, from soft-spoken Parker’s days as a traveling laundry-products salesman to Edna’s long, lonely widowhood. Ford acknowledges the mysteries of memory and marriage, and in so doing has concocted a powerful meditation on the nature of parental love. – Michael Berry

“Night Stories: Fifteen Paintings and the Stories They Inspired.” By Linden Frederick and others. Glitterati. Hardcover. 132 pages. $45.

Belfast painter Linden Frederick didn’t write “Night Stories.” He inspired it. The book is a collection of short stories, all sprung from Frederick’s paintings of mysterious nighttime scenes. Frederick is close friends with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo, who lives in Portland. Russo recruited an A list of contemporary fiction writers to write stories or screenplays that riff on the mood, theme and overall vibe of Frederick’s paintings. Of the 15, there are three Pulitzer winners, an Oscar winner and a Newbery Medal winner, and they include many names familiar to Maine readers. Elizabeth Strout, Lois Lowry, Lily King and Tess Gerritsen all wrote stories, as did Anthony Doerr, Dennis Lehane and Andre Dubus III. The paintings are consistent. The writing is not. But that’s not a bad thing. There is mystery, humor, heartache and wonder in these pages. – Bob Keyes

“The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom.” By Erin French. Clarkson Potter. Hardcover. 256 pages. $32.50.

I spoiled myself this Mother’s Day by grabbing this May 2017 release, after the news that The Lost Kitchen, French’s highly vaunted, wildly romantic restaurant – it’s in an old mill – got 10,000 calls for reservations for its 2017 season on April 1. With those odds I figured the cookbook might be as close as I got to eating there. I’ve made about a dozen of French’s recipes now, including her famed parsnip cake twice (yum) and drooled over photos throughout. Mostly though, I’m enjoying the Maine native’s storytelling, including her recounting of the wild ride she took on the way to finding that good life. The book has been popular enough to go into its second printing and was recently restocked locally. (Don’t forget, Maine Voices Live will interview French on stage Dec. 12 at One Longfellow Square in Portland.) – Mary Pols

“Strange Weather.” By Joe Hill. William Morrow. Hardcover. 448 pages. $27.99.

For as long as writers have envisioned tales of horror and the uncanny, many have found the novella or short novel to be the ideal length for those stories. “Strange Weather” contains a quartet of those by Joe Hill, covering a disparate range of tones, from subtle menace to all-out terror. Some are unnerving chamber pieces while others are apocalyptic in scope; the antagonists range from supernatural to all-too-human. It’s a great introduction to Hill’s approach to the genre, though there’s also plenty that longtime readers of his prose or comics work will savor. – Tobias Carroll

“The Velveteen Daughter.” By Laurel Davis Huber. She Writes Press. Paperback. 416 pages. $16.95.

“The Velveteen Daughter” is that rare novel that bends the distinction between fiction and biography. It is all the more unique in that it subtly exploits the theme of another piece of fiction. Laurel Davis Huber, who lives in Maine and New Jersey, draws the aching truth of her novel out of the facts of the lives of Margery Williams and Pamela Bianco. Williams wrote the beloved children’s story, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Bianco was Williams’ daughter, who became a global sensation for her works of art at age 11. Based on extensive research, the novel is a virtuoso performance that pulls you into their crippling, intertwined lives with a sense of fidelity and won’t let you go until the last page. – Frank O Smith

“Handcrafted Maine: Art, Life, Harvest & Home.” By Katy Kelleher and Greta Rybus. Princeton Architectural Press. Hardcover. 224 pages. $39.95.

The young team behind this sumptuous, classy gift book traveled far and wide across Maine to report these stories, and each feels lovingly told, in words by Kelleher and photographs by Rybus. The concept was to profile makers of all kinds, so you’ll find a mix of stories from both the more artistic side of handcrafting, like John Bisbee’s metal sculptures, to the highly practical, like a spread on Tim Semler and Lydia Moffet, the bread-baking duo from Tinder Hearth, the much buzzed-about Brooksville bakery. – Mary Pols

Book cover image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

“The Stars Are Fire.” By Anita Shreve. Alfred A. Knopf. Hardcover. 256 pages. $25.95.

In October of 1947, wildfires ravaged Maine towns and rural areas from York County to Mount Desert Island. Shreve, whose 18 novels have, combined, sold more than 6 million copies, spent summers in Biddeford Pool for more than 20 years and had heard of the fires. Ten years ago she read the definitive account of the fires, “Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned” by Joyce Butler, and was fascinated by one detail in particular: women in coastal towns wading into the sea with children and staying there indefinitely to save themselves. That detail lead to her novel, which came out last spring, and the book’s main character, Grace Holland, a young mother whose house is destroyed by the fires, and her husband apparently lost, giving her a second chance at love. – Ray Routhier

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