“A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking” by T. Kingfisher

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This is young adult book with a fourteen-year-old protagonist opens with a dead body on the bakery’s floor. Young Mona is a baker with an ability to magically affect dough, and her power becomes crucial to save her city. The book is plot-driven, and also emphasizes Mona’s relationships with others (without a romance!) and her embodied experience.

This quick read resonates with current events and also provides a satisfying distraction. Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“In an Absent Dream” by Seanan McGuire

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Recommended to me by: Reading Every Heart a Doorway

This is book 4 in the Wayward Children series, and it stuck with me more than the others. Katherine Lundy finds a doorway to the Goblin Market world, where everything has its price, but unlike in our capitalism, the Market ensures that the bargains are fair. Children find their way in, and the rules are more gentle for the younger ones.

To me, the ending does not seem fair. Of course, a lot of things happen to children and young adults in this world that are horrifically unfair, and sometimes we also make it look like the children had a free choice, when they did not fully understand the consequences of their choices.

Thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

I also read “Beneath the Sugar Sky” and “Come Tumbling Down” in this series. They were more plot-driven.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

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Recommended to me by: Tor.com giveaway

What happens to the kids who go through a portal to another world, and then get stuck back in this one? They might get grouped together at a school for wayward children where they can tell each other about their worlds and try to re-acclimate.

There was some unexpected violence in the plot, but there is also a deep vein of kindness in this book, as well as a deep vein of understanding for children feeling completely at sea in the world they find themselves in – this world.

Highly recommended.

The sequel, “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” has more violence and less kindness (although still some) with strong opinions about children being people, not paper dolls.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Drowned Country” by Emily Tesh

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Recommended to me by: Reading Silver in the Wood

I loved the unusual aspects of the previous novella, “Silver in the Wood.” This one was also well-written, but more stereotypical (selfish young white man protagonist) and plot-driven rather than character-driven. Oddly I found it had less tension and horror, perhaps because it moved faster. The ending is warm and fuzzy, but leaves me concerned for the non-selfish characters. I was not convinced that any redemption arc had occurred, even if I were interested in redemption arcs of selfish young white men.

When I love the world-building and character-building of a first book, I’m noticing that the second book tends to be less satisfying for me, because the author seems to say, “Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s do things.” The characters get moved around rather than developed.

On the positive side, I was pleased by the matter-of-fact inclusion of queer characters. This novella is a good diversion while stuck inside due to pandemic + atrocious air quality from wildfire smoke. I got this as an ebook from the library, and that’s a good way to read it.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Silver in the Wood” by Emily Tesh

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Recommended to me by: Becca

A fantasy story set in 19th century England and harking back further than that, with woods magic and relating with care and ultimately a positive resolution to a haunting past. The story pours swiftly forward with clear, liquid language. The characters could be stereotypical but instead are resolutely, surprisingly themselves.


Available at Powell’s Books.

“Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney

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Recommended to me by: Cathy, who mailed me her copy in this time of social distancing

This children’s book with delicate, detailed, delightful illustrations follows Miss Alice Rumphius through her adventurous life, encounter with disability, and the achievement of her life goal to do something to make the world more beautiful.

Young Alice says to her grandfather, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” Her grandfather never doubts her.

It’s wonderful to see a story take for granted that a single, independent woman can move forward with courage and determination to achieve her goals, which do not include marriage and children. It’s wonderful that the story shows her in middle age and old age, not just as a young woman. An injury keeps in her in bed for a while, and she uses a cane, all as part of the matter-of-fact flow of the story.

Miss Rumphius is white. She befriends people of color in other countries. My only disappointment with the book is that the children visiting her at the end of the book are all white.

Highly recommended! Be sure to spend some time with the details of the illustrations.

From the Powell’s listing, About the Author:
Like Miss Rumphius, the late Barbara Cooney traveled the world, lived in a house by the sea in Maine, and, through her art, made the world more beautiful.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Catfishing on CatNet” by Naomi Kritzer

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Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

This book is based on the short story Cat Pictures Please, which touches on serious issues but is basically lighthearted and positive.

The book, less so. Yes, there’s a benevolent AI (artificial intelligence) who loves cat pictures. There are delightfully depicted internet friendships, and in-person friendships. Some of the characters are non-binary, and (almost) everyone is respectful about pronouns.

There’s also an 11th grader whose mom moves them all the time to keep away from her stalker dad, and some just barely off-screen domestic violence. It all comes right in the end, and I’m glad the book addresses those topics. At the same time, it felt jarring to me to have these deadly serious issues juxtaposed with a lighthearted cat-picture-loving AI who can fix all the problems.

It’s well-written. Recommended if you don’t mind fictionalized, simplified domestic violence. For me it was too realistic to be fun but not realistic enough at the end of the book about how difficult it is to escape.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Gluten-Free Flavor Flours” by Alice Medrich with Maya Klein

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Subtitle: A New Way to Bake with Non-Wheat Flours

Recommended to me by: runpunkrun

A detailed investigation of gluten-free flours, with a chapter for each with a description plus well-suited recipes. It includes rice, oat, corn, chestnut, nut, coconut, teff, buckwheat, and sorghum flours. There’s a resource section at the end with places to order ingredients.

About half the recipes have beautifully composed photographs. The recipes look clear and easy to follow (although I haven’t tried any yet). Amounts are given in cup measures and grams.

Alice Medrich ran a bakery called Cocolat on Shattuck Ave in Berkeley. A lot of her desserts are far more fussy and elegant than the baking I tend to do. I looked through the book and marked a few simpler recipes I might try.

Recommended for the serious baker who wants (or needs) to branch out into gluten-free baking.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Minor Mage” by T. Kingfisher

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Recommended to me by: Redbird

This novella has a similar structure to T. Kingfisher’s The Raven and the Reindeer. A young person sets off on a mission through empty countryside, encounters a solitary farmhouse whose inhabitants are dangerous, has or acquires a talking animal companion, acquires a human companion, encounters a bandit camp, and eventually succeeds in the mission.

In this book, the twelve-year-old titular minor mage Oliver sets off with his armadillo familiar to bring rain to his drought-stricken village. The underlying theme of his adventures is the ethics of power and responsibility. There is some violence, which is considered and regretted afterwards, not simply ignored or taken for granted.

It’s a quick, enjoyable read. Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld

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Recommended to me by: Leah K. Walsh

A heart-warming children’s book with few words and spacious illustrations that perfectly convey emotion through body language. Young Taylor (gender unspecified) has a creative disaster, and all the animals have ideas about how to offer comfort. Finally, the rabbit sits nearby and listens, and Taylor begins to feel better.

Available at Powell’s Books.