Becky Toyne’s 2022 holiday books list spans 3 genres and all ages

Day 612:55Becky Toyne’s 2022 holiday books list spans 3 genres and all ages

If you’re unsure what to give an avid reader for Christmas this year, Becky Toyne is back with her annual list of book recommendations. 

With just two weeks left to purchase a gift, Day 6’s books columnist provides her top five list — which includes fiction, non-fiction and even a picture book — something with appeal to the whole family.

Toyne spoke with host Brent Bambury to give her top reads of 2022.


(Knopf publishing)

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

The Irish author’s most famous novel was Hamnet, a historical novel about William Shakespeare’s son, and about the life of the family. 

The Marriage Portrait is based in 16th-century Italy. Like Hamnet, it takes true historical events and imagines the story of the main character, Lucrezia di Cosimo de’Medici, and her family, and adds feelings and fear. 

“It begins with an author’s note explaining that a noblewoman was married off,” Toyne said. “She was 15. She was married off to a very powerful duke, and a year later, she was dead. Officially she died of illness, but there is a lot of opinion that her husband killed her.”

The book has a “thriller-like” quality to it, according to Toyne, because it leaps back and forth between different time frames. 

Some reviews haven’t been complimentary, but Toyne said she loved it, particularly the ending. She said that fans of Hamnet will also enjoy The Marriage Portrait, and recommends it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

(Freehand Books)

Nine Dash Line by Emily Saso

The Canadian writer’s second novel, Nine Dash Line, came out in September. 

It’s set in the ’80s and has two main storylines, with the chapters alternating between the main characters. One story focuses on an American woman in the marines trying to live up to the legend of her marine mother. The other story arc is set on the South China Sea about a man who’s basically been exiled to a tiny patch of reef, by the Communist Party. 

According to Toyne, Nine Dash Line reads like two completely different stories in two separate time frames, but they eventually come together. She added that it feels similar to a geopolitical thriller.

“We learn they have more in common than they might think,” Toyne said. “The novel explores this thrilling, fast-paced, really sort of knuckle-bitey narrative. It explores big philosophical questions about right and wrong, about war, about whose side are you on and who are the good guys and the bad guys.”

Toyne recommends Nine Dash Line because it hits many different categories for different levels of readers.

“I can imagine giving it to someone who really likes to read kind of airport thrillers. I could also imagine giving it to someone who really loves to see what’s coming out from independent presses in Canada and everything in between.” 

(Penguin Random House)

The Long Knives by Irvine Welsh

The Scottish author is still best known for writing the 1993 book Trainspotting, which was later adapted into an award-winning film.

The Long Knives is a crime novel and follow-up to Welsh’s 2008 novel Crime, which was recently adapted into a mini-series for the streaming service BritBox. Both star the same main character, a detective named Ray Lennox.

Welsh has been publishing books every couple of years since Trainspotting — “some good and some not,” said Toyne, who added that The Long Knives is one of the really good ones.

“It’s a detective story, but it does not follow some conventions of that sort of police procedural stuff. But it’s an Irvine Welsh novel through and through,” she said.

“It features some characters that if you’re a fan of Irvine Welsh, you’ve met before. And it’s really a morality tale. It is extremely violent, so buyers beware. It’s also very funny.”


(Drawn & Quarterly)

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

Toyne says author and cartoonist Kate Beaton’s latest book is a different look for her because she’s normally known for being funny.

Ducks is a full-length graphic novel that also serves as a memoir, beginning when Beaton finished university with lots of debt. Beaton, who’s from Cape Breton, N.S., decided to work in the oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alta., for two years to pay it off. 

Toyne said it’s a story about personal experience.

“It’s an interesting juxtaposition between the idea of somewhere like Cape Breton, where she has this strong sense of it as her home, that you have to go somewhere else to work,” said Toyne. “Then [move to] a place like Fort McMurray and the camps where everybody seemingly is from somewhere else.”

Beaton writes about how lonely she felt, while also dealing with misogyny; men outnumber 50 to one working in the oilsands, Toyne said.

“It’s a very human story … a snapshot of a place in the country that perhaps some of us haven’t thought about,” she added.

Toyne suggests Ducks would be a great read for teenagers and university students. She added that Beaton’s existing fans will also appreciate it, and that it would make for an excellent coffee table book.


(Tundra Books)

Kumo the Bashful Cloud by Kyo Maclear

Kumo the Bashful Cloud is a picture book about exploring the world and striking out on your own, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Nathalie Dion.

The story is about Kumo, a cloud, becoming detached from her group of clouds, nervously floating away and travelling through neighbourhoods as the weather changes. 

“She’s sort of not sure what to do,” said Toyne. “The story is this beautiful, sort of very tranquil palette — very sort of lilac and blue, and she floats around the world.”

The book can also be educational for kids, she said.

“You learn a little bit about what clouds do, like how they pick up water over the lake and then dump it down in a field. But you also, as a child, learn about how it’s OK, sometimes, to have to go out and do things on your own.” 

What books would you recommend? Tell us in the comments below.

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