To help with your holiday shopping, we’ve gathered a few of our favorite new books to have come out of Maine (or writers associated with Maine) in the last year, more or less. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Maine’s literary output spans memoirs, novels, kids books, short story collections and more. Our small gift guide barely scratches the surface.

FOR THE GROWN-UPS

For the mystery lover who prefers their thrillers local, topically timely and twisty as all get out: “How It Happened,” by Michael Koryta. Little, Brown and Company. $35

This is the first novel bestselling author Koryta, who spends about half the year here, has set in Maine, and it incorporates the state’s opioid crisis as a main plot point of a tense drama. His setting is the fictional Port Hope, where a lobsterman’s beloved daughter has gone missing, and according to the confession FBI agent Rob Barrett extracts from a heroin addict, she and her summer folk boyfriend are at the bottom of a lake, killed by a well-respected local who Barrett has history with. Koryta, a trained private investigator and former journalist, has done his homework and it shows. Stephen King is a fan.

For the literate foodie with a taste for thrills: “Last Cruise,” by Kate Christensen. Doubleday. $26.95

Passengers on the once famed luxury liner Queen Isabella’s final voyage get far more than they bargained for in Christensen’s latest novel. In her customary fashion, the Portland-based writer takes us deep into the inner lives of her characters, and she lavishes attention on food. Our reviewer called “Last Cruise” “perceptive, sophisticated, propulsive.”

For the reader who loves John McPhee and fascinating single subject books about things you never thought you wanted to read about: “Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology,” by Lisa Margonelli. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $27

The Arrowsic resident takes a very deep dive into termites and the scientists who study them. It has landed her extensive coverage in the New Yorker and a rave review from the New York Times, both richly deserved.

For the music lover – and for anyone who has ever fallen in love: “Long Players: A Love Story in Eighteen Songs,” by Peter Coviello. Penguin. $16

A former Bowdoin professor uses music as the organizing principle for a passionate memoir about his seemingly happy marriage, its collapse and his efforts to remain close with his stepdaughters regardless. Our reviewer said: “Coviello writes rapturously about the art of listening to and engaging with music … Through heartbreak and joy, this is a precise map of its author’s love, loss and dedication and all of the unpredictability that accompanied them.”

For the reader who is drawn to the surreal: “Notes from the Fog,” by Ben Marcus. Penguin Random House. $26.95

This short story collection, set in some indefinite time in the future, is vivid and unsettling, and showcases Marcus’ ever deft use of language. The stories “toggle between the world as we know it and assorted hellscapes that showcase all manner of manipulation and decay,” our reviewer said. “Cheerful, you say? Actually, the author manages to instill both humor and heart in the bleakness he creates.”

For fathers of every stripe, and those who love them: “Pops. Fatherhood in Pieces,” by Michael Chabon. Harper. $19.99

Chabon, a part-time Mainer, Pulitzer Prize winner and father of four, has pulled together eight of his magazine essays on being a dad. “Few writers navigate complexity as deftly as Chabon, capturing the mood and detail of moments that rely on years of shared history,” our reviewer wrote. She described the collection as a “joyful, unidealized salute to the ties between fathers and their kids.”

For the cook looking for a smart, systematic approach: “Secret Sauces: Fresh + Modern Recipes with Hundreds of Ideas for Elevating Everyday Dishes,” by Vanessa Seder. Kyle Books. $24.95

Seder’s book, her first, is clever, good-looking and useful. She takes the 19th-century classical French cuisine structure of Mother Sauces and gives it a smart, modern update, an idea so obvious you wonder why nobody else has done it before. Seder, who lives in Portland, has ostensibly written a cookbook on sauces, but it’s so globe-trotting, so well-organized and so brimful of tempting recipes of all sorts, it really offers a far-reaching primer on cooking, period.

For the reader looking for a good psychological scare: “Tangerine,” by Christine Mangan. Ecco. $26.99

In her debut novel, Mangan takes us to 1950s Morocco and the tense, troubled friendship between two women, one of whom is newly and, unhappily, married. “Tangerine” is gripping, unpredictable and filled with “many pleasurable twists and turns,” our reviewer wrote. Mangan is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program.

For the art lover with a taste for whimsy and color: “Dahlov Ipcar: Blue Moons and Menageries,” by Sara Torres Vega. Bates College Museum of Art. $29.95

Out this week, this new book celebrates the colorful and revealing exhibition of the beloved Maine painter Dahlov Ipcar, who died in 2017 at age 99. Ipcar was known (and beloved) for kaleidoscopic paintings of animals and illustrations for children’s books, and also made collages, tapestries and sculpture. Vega, education research assistant at the Museum of Modern Art, is signing copies of the book from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Rachel Walls Fine Art, 1000 Shore Road at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth.

FOR THE KIDS

For the young sports fan with a social conscience: “Attucks! Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City,” by Phillip Hoose. Young Adult. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $19.99

National Book Award winner and Portland resident Phillip Hoose uses the true story of an impoverished all-black 1950s high school basketball team from his native Indianapolis as a lens through which to examine racial justice. The riveting “Attucks!” tells a great tale and is packed with fascinating facts. Hoose writes in fluid, lucid prose: “While the Dunkirk players moved around the court in cautious, probing patterns, as if there were square dances and ballads running through their heads, Attucks played a form on jazz.” Compelling vintage photographs and old newspaper clippings illuminate the many challenges faced by this “team for the ages.”

For the child with a discerning eye for art (or perhaps her parent): “I am Birch,” by Scott Kelley. Islandport. $17.95

Peaks Island resident and fine arts painter Kelley has written his first children’s book. “I am Birch” tells the story of a tree that has been gnawed to a stump by a malevolent beaver, who then tries to sow fear and dread among the other forest animals. (Parents: The book’s ending is reassuring.) Our arts writer said, “The book is filled with dream-like watercolors of forest animals wearing the garb of humans – decorative and beautifully detailed vests and ascots, hats and feathered headdresses. The paintings are compelling and stately, full of color and imagination and well within Kelley’s oeuvre.”

– Staff Writers Mary Pols and Bob Keyes contributed

to this story.


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