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Books read, early May

Tanita S. Davis, A la Carte. Mainstream YA novel about a young woman who likes to cook and learns to make less crappy choices in friends. The cooking/baking stuff is all very vivid, but the (Wo)Man Who Learned Better plot is so very didactic that it’s not very much fun to read. It’s kind of like a Sarah Dessen novel that way, honestly. Not the greatest. A lot of people need to learn to make good choices as teenagers, but being yelled at by your books is…not awesome.

Alan Gratz, The League of Seven. Discussed elsewhere.

John Kessel, The Pure Product. Reread. A relief after the Dozois/Martin anthology that preceded it last fortnight. There was snap, there was forward motion, there was…oh, I don’t know what. Zany. There was a reason to show up and a reason to stick around. “Faustfeathers” was pure self-indulgence, but what are short stories for if not to have moments of wandering off into pure nerdy self-indulgence every once in awhile.

Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. Ox hoists! And other details of how they got it done in Renaissance Florence. What really startled me about this book is that they apparently had this dome, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, planned without knowing how they were going to actually make it happen. From a modern standpoint that seems, um, kind of important. It’s a crucial insight into the difference in priorities. The titular dome-builder was a goldsmith, not a mason, which is kind of awesome also. Short book, interesting, detailed and cool.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity. Discussed elsewhere.

Blair MacGregor, Sword and Chant. Discussed elsewhere.

Michael Merriam, Whispers in Space. I’ve read mostly fantasy from Michael before, so it was fun to see how he played with SF genre furniture instead. This is a short volume with short stories, so it zipped right by before I could entirely catch my breath. Zoom! Slower readers than I am will still find it fast-paced, I think.

Margi Preus, West of the Moon. This is shelved in children’s…possibly because of its length and the age of its protag? But it’s full of rickets and cholera and abuse and abandonment, so…gruesome things a lot of kids like, I guess. None of the fairy tale references are ever concrete–they’re all things that the main character knows about, not things that happen to her in 19th century Norway and on the boat to America. Interesting work, but if you have a kid who’s going to get freaked out by the gruesome, choose carefully.

Melanie Rawn, Touchstone. To be discussed as part of a larger series review.

Marcus Samuelsson, Yes, Chef. A memoir by the famous chef who is culturally Swedish, ethnically Ethiopian, and now by residence American. While Samuelsson is occasionally not as enlightened as he hopes (who among us is?), his observations about working in and eventually running kitchens around the world remain worth the price of admission.

Clete Barrett Smith, Alien on a Rampage. Second in its series about an intergalactic bed-and-breakfast in the Pacific Northwest. The plot runs on rails, and everything is pretty much as it seems. Very fast read, and I will still give the third one a chance because I liked the first well enough. Possibly will not be so obvious to its target age group–I can’t tell how much it’s because I’m a jaded reader?–but kids are smart, and there aren’t really blind alleys or red herrings in this one.

Daniel Tammet, Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind. I think Tammet thinks that he is more unusual than I think he is, or maybe I am more unusual than I think I am, and so are all the people I know, or something. Also this is probably not aimed at me, because it all read like pretty basic neuropsych stuff to me. Anyway, mildly interesting if you don’t know much about memory, learning, and neuropsych, not that great if you’ve read much of anything in the field already. A fast read.

Jo Walton, My Real Children. Discussed elsewhere.

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