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2012 Holiday Gift Books 

This season's literary merriments, reviewed by Susan Krawitz, Jana Martin, Anne Pyburn, Nina Shengold, and Robert Burke Warren.

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Cradle of the American Circus: Poems from Somers, New York

Jo Pitkin

The History Press, $19.99, 2012

How many Westchester towns can claim a memorial to a murdered elephant? Award-winning poet Pitkin explores her hometown's unusual history in a three-ring circus of deft persona poems, "prose plaques" recalling historical signs, and frisky graphics. Where 19th-century showmen hauled traveling menageries from town to town, Pitkin sees their displaced animals as "nature's aristocrats": "Proof of God's existence, / evidence of man's bit part, / snorts in makeshift crates." —NS


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Dancing Dogs: Stories

Jon Katz

Ballantine Books, 2012, $24

The prolific Hudson Valley author and dog maven includes 16 funny, believable tales of dogs and people in his latest collection. In "The Dog Who Kept Men Away," a newly single woman rescues a mutt who proves a superior judge of character, much to her benefit. Katz respects dogs well enough to give his canine characters equal billing to his human ones, which makes these stories a rare pleasure for animal lovers. —JM 




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Jewdayo: A Daily Blast of Knowledge and Pride

Lawrence Bush

Blue Thread Communications, 2012, $21.95

Jewish Currents editor Bush offers perhaps the only "book of days" that dares to give as much ink to tragedy, infamy, and struggle as it does to glory, heroism, and stalwart progressivism. But who's complaining? When you've got the discovery of the double helix, the defiance of holy gay poet Allen Ginsberg, and the Great American Songbook to commemorate, you can afford equal time for pogroms, the Rosenbergs, and Barbie. —RBW




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Lawyers, Guns & Photos: Photographs & Tales of My Adventures with Warren Zevon

George Gruel

Big Gorilla Books, 2012, $35

Although never a superstar, wry singer-songwriter Warren Zevon influenced many icons—The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt—in both music and rock and roll outlaw lifestyle. His faithful "aide de camp" and designated drunk driver, Troy resident George Gruel, was there throughout the late '70s-early '80s glory days, photographing scenes compromising and heartwarming, star-studded and humble, all rendered here in loving tribute. Ah-hoooo! —RBW


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Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson

Mark Siegel

First Second Books, 2012, $24.99

The Hudson River Valley generates a flow of literature as broad and deep and lovely as the river herself. This vision is wildly fresh—a graphic novel for adults, done in atmospheric grey charcoal. Man meets mermaid in the Gilded Age, and much ensues aboard the steamboat Lorelei. A miraculous reimagination of our enchanted terrain, told and shown with depth and hilarity, Sailor Twain is a gateway drug for graphic novel skeptics. —AP




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Stripes: Design Between the Lines

Linda O'Keeffe

The Monacelli Press, 2012, $50

Striped or not, coffee tables will welcome this big, handsome, enjoyable book. Brilliant author and Stone Ridge dweller Linda O'Keeffe, creative director at Metropolitan Home magazine for 16 years, has been involved in design for decades. Here she focuses her formidable acumen on the nature of stripes: from zebras to battleships, sand dunes to Op Art, couches to Buddhist temples. It's a gorgeous visual journey and a fascinating read. —JM


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Susan Feniger's Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes

Susan Feniger with Kajsa Alger & Liz Lachman, photographs by Jennifer May

Clarkson Potter, 2012, $27.50

The Border Grill and Food Network chef offers a food truckload of mouth-watering recipes, served with a side of travel tales from around the world. Flavors are bright and spicy: try Malaysian Black Pepper Clams, Tamarind Date Chutney, Artichokes with Lemon Za'atar Dipping Sauce. Enticing photos by Chronogram contributor Jennifer May vibrate with color and Feniger's signature irrepressible grin. —NS


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The Tucci Cookbook

Stanley Tucci, foreword by Mario Batali

Gallery Books, 2012, $35

If you've seen the movie Big Night, it's hard to think of actor Stanley Tucci without mentally conjuring mounds of tempting Italian food. This cookbook presents a wide variety of delicious but simple recipes from Westchester resident Tucci's "food obsessed" family, and chef/friend Gianni Scapin, along with family lore, personal commentary, and wine suggestions. An extra bonus: instructions for making timpano, Big Night's uncredited star. —SK


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True Nature: an Illustrated Journal of Four Seasons in Solitude

Barbara Bash

KTD Publications, 2012 $19.95 

Sometimes quiet reflection is the best gift of all. Bash's timeless meditation on the challenges and rewards of time spent alone in nature unfolds in fluid sketches and impossibly neat calligraphy. KTD's expanded edition features exercises for fellow travelers wishing to "pick up your own sketchbook, step outside, and discover what is waiting for you—waiting to be drawn and seen." Appearing at Golden Notebook, Woodstock 12/1 at 4pm and Sky Lake Lodge, Rosendale, 12/6 at 7:15pm. —NS


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Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Mishka Petersham

Lawrence Webster, foreword by Philip C. Stead & Erin E. Stead

Woodstock Arts, 2012, $39.50

Vassar grad Maud Fuller and Hungarian emigree Miska Petersham met in New York in 1912 and moved to Woodstock during its bohemian heyday, becoming award-winning illustrators and authors of more than 100 children's books. Woodstock's Webster, who knew them as a child, depicts this loving collaboration (they drew at desks facing each other) with a sure hand in this lavishly illustrated book. The Petershams' artwork graced Chronogram's November cover, and can be seen at WAAM through 12/31. —NS


For Children & Teens


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As the Crow Flies

Written by Sheila Keenan, illustrated by Kevin Duggan

Feiwel & Friends, 2012, $16.99

"All day long you're on the go. You don't have time to watch a crow." But this husband-and-wife writer/illustrator team apparently does, and the result of their Capital District crow-watching is a picture book paean to an often overlooked bird. Playfully highlighting crows' intelligence, persistence, and skill, the clever rhyming text and engaging illustrations ensure the corvid crew will be ignored no longer. —SK


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Blackwood

Gwenda Bond

Strange Chemistry, 2012, $9.99

The mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a puzzler since 1590, provides a lush backdrop of history and place. Debut novelist Bond weaves a smart, bewitching tale of two contemporary young people, both misfits with unusual powers, who are thrust into desperate circumstances when the present meets the past. Appearing 12/9 at 4pm, Hudson Valley YA Society, Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck. —AP




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The Christmas Tugboat

George Matteson & Adele Ursone, paintings by James Ransome

Clarion Books, 2012, $17.99

Tugboat captain George Matteson and his wife Adele Ursone recount, through the eyes of their young daughter, their true family adventure bringing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree down the Hudson River. Kids and parents will love the frozen dew on the tree and the dollhouse-like interior of the tugboat cabin, brought to life in soft detail by local painter James E. Ransome. Appearing 12/1 at 4pm, Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck. —RBW


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The Diviners

Libba Bray

Little, Brown, 2012, $19.99

Banished from Dullsville, Ohio, for trying to put more roar in the roaring twenties, 17-year-old Evie arrives in New York ready to peel the Big Apple. But an evil force is stalking the city, and Evie possesses a mystical talent that both puts her in his path and offers an end to his reign. This series kick-off by a best-selling author will delight anyone susceptible to page-turners. Appearing 12/9 at 4pm at the Hudson Valley YA Society at Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck. —SK




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The Three Feathers

Stefan Bolz

Beacon Books, 2012, $12.99

Test-driven by fourth graders at Lenape Elementary School, Bolz's picaresque saga stars a plucky rooster who (literally) flies the coop to follow a magical dream toward his destiny. Lessons about loyalty, friendship, and overcoming limitations will also entice adult seekers. Whether you're in it for spiritual metaphor or adventure thrills (chasms! labyrinths! dragons and vultures!) this quest tale enchants. Appearing 12/7 at 7pm, Inquiring Minds, New Paltz & 12/14 at 7pm, Stone Ridge Library. —NS

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