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STARRED REVIEW

December 2022

2022 gift ideas from the editors of BookPage

The BookPage editors share their favorite gift books for the 2022 holiday season.

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The onset of cold weather can only mean one thing: It’s time to head to the kitchen and cook, bake and sauté up a variety of delicious, warming meals and treats to be eaten as the early dark creeps in.

Bliss on Toast

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a person wishes to enter into the cozy state of mind, an episode or two of “The Great British Baking Show” will get you there. In Bliss on Toast, Prue Leith, a beloved judge on the show, tackles variations on that masterpiece of culinary perfection: toast. Inspired by the desire to fix something simple but elevated for a Sunday evening curled up by the television, Leith delivers on the promise of toast as an art form. If you’re looking for something creamy and warm, you might decide on a duck egg, rainbow chard and Dijon butter on multigrain toast. Vegetarians and vegans will delight in roasted red pepper hummus, avocado and zhoug (a simple-to-make Yemeni sauce) on rye. Apricots, almonds and Devonshire clotted cream on an English muffin will take you through dessert. With each recipe, there is just enough cooking to make you feel you are making something special, but never enough to complicate the simplicity of warm, crusty toast, eaten with one hand over a salad plate as you sink into a corner of the couch. What could be more comforting than that?

Discover more cookbooks by “Great British Baking Show” judges and contestants.

Modern Jewish Comfort Food

Soup, schnitzel, latkes and shakshuka: No matter your heritage, Jewish fare is always warming, filling and as nourishing to the heart as to the body. This is, after all, the culture that considers chicken soup to be one of its most revered dishes. In Shannon Sarna’s Modern Jewish Comfort Food, she breaks down the notion of Jewish cuisine as a monolith, noting that aspects of traditional dishes vary from region to region, and even from family to family. Sarna’s updates to well-known and well-loved dishes are deeply rooted in history and fully embody the wide variety of cultural influences on Jewish cuisine. As with her previous offering, Modern Jewish Baker, Sarna’s clear instructions and helpful tips for each recipe give you the ability to whip up previously intimidating but oh, so mouthwatering dishes such as sweet potato and sage butter knishes or lamb meatballs. The historical and cultural information she provides along with each recipe gives the food its soul. These dishes satisfy on their own, but the fact that you’re eating something enjoyed all across the world, across time even, lends them an extra-comforting quality.

Baking by Feel

How many times have we been guilty of eating our feelings? Becca Rea-Tucker (better known on social media as The Sweet Feminist for her social justice-themed cakes) would shrug and say, “So?” Feelings, as Rea-Tucker would like you to know, are not bad. And neither is food. A therapy session masquerading as a cookbook, Baking by Feel includes sections of serious mental health advice alongside conversion charts and lists of helpful baking tools to have on hand. Inspired by the now-infamous way the COVID-19 pandemic drove us all to our kitchens, Rea-Tucker has written an “emotionally agnostic” (read: no judgment) cookbook that acknowledges the comfort we get from creating something delicious. The recipes themselves are organized by which feeling might be driving you to bake or eat: A sunny lemon cake with poppyseed cream cheese frosting suggests itself to the cheerful; peach bourbon cake supports the heartbroken; black pepper snowballs conspire with the vengeful. Next to each recipe is a paragraph or two about the specific emotion associated with that food, and Rea-Tucker encourages her bakers to name and sit with their feelings. I have tried the buttermilk pie for stress and can confirm that the sugar and cream comfort and the advice helps parse out what exactly is going on with you.

Snackable Bakes

But sometimes, nothing is going on except that the familiar urge has hit: It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, you need something chocolatey, gooey and sweet, and you need it right now. Sure, you could pop down to the corner store and grab a Snickers, but that just doesn’t comfort you the way something home-baked would. Enter Jessie Sheehan’s Snackable Bakes. Short on time or needing that snack with some urgency? No problem: Sheehan promises that none of the 100 recipes in the book takes more than 20 minutes to assemble. Moreover, there is no creaming of butter or cream cheese and minimal need of tools (oven included), and use of the microwave is absolutely allowed. The baking might be effortless, but the end result is anything but halfhearted. Goodies such as blackberry lemon yogurt loaf cake and strawberry basil crumb bars taste like they were made during a lackadaisical Sunday afternoon, not whipped up in a spare 15 minutes. We all need to take a little time for ourselves, after all.

These recipes are perfect to eat while you’re snug as a dormouse, watching the leaves turn.
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The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza

A cat must save the moon from being eaten by intergalactic rats in this graphic novel from author Mac Barnett and Caldecott Honor illustrator Shawn Harris. Its madcap silliness and accessible artwork will appeal to the legions of loyal fans eager for more of the laugh-out-loud humor and deceptively simple cartoon-style art sure to be found in Jeff Kinney’s 17th Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Diper Overlöde.

Wildoak

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most young readers can’t resist a good animal story. Readers hoping to receive Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate’s Odder this holiday season are sure to enjoy debut author C.C. Harrington’s touching tale of a girl and a snow leopard who find each other when they are both most in need. 

Endlessly Ever After

This illustrated choose-your-own-adventure journey through fractured fairy tales from Laurel Snyder and Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat is deliciously meta, which is why it’s the perfect choice to pair with the boundary-pushing graphics and nested metanarratives that await young readers in Cat Kid Comic Club: Collaborations, the newest release from Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey.

Help your pint-size bibliophile discover new favorites by pairing one of these fun, under-the-radar reads with the popular books at the top of their wish lists!
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These six outstanding volumes of verse will remind readers of the magic of language and the marvels to be found in everyday moments.


A gift to celebrate growing older: Woman Without Shame by Sandra Cisneros

Book jacket image for Woman Without Shame by Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Without Shame is an inspiring celebration of the self. The book’s 50-plus pieces are alive with wit and wordplay, as Cisneros takes stock of the past, reflects on her Mexican American identity and ruminates on the experience of growing older. “I am Venetian, decaying splendidly. / Am magnificent beyond measure,” she writes in “At Fifty I Am Startled to Find I Am in My Splendor.”

Despite the passing years, Cisneros, now 67, displays an attitude of proud defiance. In “Canto for Women of a Certain Llanto,” she bemoans the humdrum undergarments designed for older women: “Rage, rage. Do not go into that good night / wearing sensible white or beige.” Ignited by flashes of humor, the poems in this buoyant collection find Cisneros accentuating the positive, living without regret and setting an example for us all.


A gift to provide comfort and encouragement: And Yet by Kate Baer

Book jacket image for And Yet by Kate Baer

Kate Baer shares dispatches from the domestic front in her accessible, inviting collection And Yet. In poems that explore gender dynamics and the day-to-day grind of family life, Baer’s voice is that of an intimate, confiding friend.

Across the collection, she takes her own measure as a parent and a wife, toggling between self-acceptance and self-loathing, triumphs and trials. “The weeks are long, and all my son / wants is a new skateboard and a different / mother,” she writes in “Late Summer in a Global Pandemic.” Baer rounds up snippets from horrifying headlines in “Daily Planet”: “Return to school deemed not safe for / Un-vaccinated protests rise as / Hospital beds at capacity in these seven.” To flustered mothers, the internet-weary and anyone bewildered by contemporary life, Baer’s collection will be a balm.


A gift to illuminate the poetry-writing process: Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light by Joy Harjo

Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years is a splendid survey of the career of three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo draws from a rich well of family stories and myths in poems that explore the Native American experience and emphasize the importance of place.

In many of her poems, the landscape emits a kind of language, such as in “Are You Still There?”: “hello / is a gentle motion of a western wind / cradling tiny purple flowers.” In “Somewhere,” she writes, “Our roads aren’t nice lines with numbers; they wind like bloodlines / through gossip and stories of the holy in the winds.” Notes on the genesis of each poem can be found at the end of the book.

For Harjo, “history is / everywhere,” and the past is always present. Her vision and versatility are on full display in this majestic retrospective.


A gift to spark new ways of looking at our pasts: Golden Ax by Rio Cortez

The poems in Rio Cortez’s bold new book, Golden Ax, center on a foundational concept—what the author calls “Afropioneerism” or “Afrofrontierism,” in reference to her ancestral connections to Utah and the ways in which Black people have shaped and were shaped by the region.

Throughout this ambitious collection, Cortez tangles with themes of genealogy and religion while evoking the otherworldly landscape of the American West. In “Covered Wagon as Spaceship,” she wonders “whether it’s aliens / that brought Black folks to the canyons . . . how do you come / to be where there are no others, except / science fiction?”

Through poems that probe the often painful connections between past and present, Cortez finds new ways of moving forward.


A gift to stoke a fire: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On by Franny Choi

Book cover for The World Keeps Ending, the World Goes On

A marked attentiveness to craftsmanship and the niceties of language enlivens the poems in Franny Choi’s urgent, stirring The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On. A fearless shifter of form, Choi switches moods and modes to tackle such topics as social unrest, climate change and her Korean heritage. In “Toward Grace,” she laments the digital landscape: “Online, blondes chirp tips, spin fidgets, get follows. / Old story: unequal distribution of grace.” Formidable themes like the nature of tragedy and the human capacity for renewal lend a timelessness to her work.

Choi’s collection will awaken and inspire readers. “I want a storm I can dance in. / I want an excuse to change my life,” she writes, and her attitude is contagious.


A gift to transform darkness into light: Balladz by Sharon Olds

Book jacket image for Balladz by Sharon Olds

“Who says the forms of art require joy?” Sharon Olds asks in Balladz. While joy does feature prominently in these poems, Olds’ mood is one of unease and ire as she explores national upheaval, life during quarantine and the need for intimacy. As the collection’s title implies, the ballad is her favored form, a vessel for contemplating the past and celebrating everyday pleasures.

“Amherst Ballad 6” shows the precision of her poetic vision: “The Sill Imbued with Dust – Gave Up / A Maple Wing – of Brussels Lace.” In “Grandmother, with Parakeet,” elderly women have hair “fixed in / small breaking combers, battleship / curls like works of art.” Again and again, Olds surveys the world and, through the filter of her poems, renews it for the reader. Filled with sustaining moments of recognition, Balladz is revelatory.


For a fresh way to spread glad tidings this holiday season, we suggest a collection of poetry.

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