In the second Monk & Robot novella, we meet up again with Mosscap and Sibling Dex. Mosscap is a robot who is curious about humans. For a very long time, humans and robots on the moon Panga have lived separately. In the first novella, Mosscap befriended Sibling Dex, a traveling tea monk. Mosscap wants to know what humans need. In this solarpunk science fiction story, humans live simple lives, in harmony with nature, either in small villages or in The City. Dex and Mosscap travel to different communities in settings that resemble those in northern California. Dex and the reader learn more about the culture of robots, and Dex takes Mosscap to visit their large extended family, who don’t quite understand how Dex has grown and changed. Chambers’ intent with this short series is to give readers a chance to take a break, to read a story that may make you think, but without causing anxiety. The Monk & Robot series is as charming and refreshing as pausing to make and enjoy a cup of tea. I plan to reread the first novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built.
Jacqueline Bouvier, before she met JFK, spent her junior year of college in Paris. This well-researched biographical novel brings postwar Paris to life in rich detail. In 1949 and 1950, Paris is still very much in recovery mode. There is still some rationing, the food is not yet plentiful, and Jacqueline is often served soup by her host mother, Comtesse de Renty, along with bread and cheese. The apartment, shared with the Comtesse’s two daughters, young grandson and two other American students is also very cold, with the repairman unable to get parts for their heater.
Jacqueline’s family has connections in France, and she often spends weekends in the countryside, riding horses. Gradually, Jacqueline learns more about the sacrifices and suffering of the Parisians during the war, and has a political awakening as well. Described as intelligent, introverted, observant, and a bit naïve, she is also charming. Her first serious romance does not go smoothly, but she learns much from the relationship. Author Mah walks a fine, smooth line between biography and fiction, making this novel a sure bet for fans of historical fiction or Francophiles.
Other than watching movies with her friends and going running, Olive Smith spends all her time in Stanford’s biology lab. A third year Ph.D. student, Olive wants her friend Anh to date her ex-boyfriend Jeremy. To convince Anh that she’s completely over Jeremy, Olive impulsively kisses hot and grumpy professor Adam Carlsen, then convinces him to fake-date her. Olive is Canadian, and has no remaining family other than her grad-student friends. A fear of public speaking has her questioning if she can make a career in academia. Adam, who also enjoys running, is known for his blunt evaluations of his students, and has a reputation for rudeness. He is nothing but kind to Olive, and is happy to fake-date her for his own reasons, usually on weekly coffee dates, though he can’t stand the smell of pumpkin spice lattes. They are in different departments, so dating is allowed. When forced to share a room at a conference in Boston, things heat up, and Olive struggles with how to handle another professor’s harassment. Witty, snarky banter enlivens this engaging romantic comedy written by a female neuroscientist. Hazelwood’s Love on the Brain is the top Library Reads pick for August, and another book is scheduled for January. Readalike authors include Talia Hibbert, Denise Williams, Jen DeLuca, and Suzanne Park.
Please join the Tuesday Evening Book Group at 7 pm on September 26 for our discussion of The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. This compelling novel of suspense features Hannah, who finds that she knows little about her husband Owen’s past until he goes missing, leaving her to protect her teen stepdaughter, Bailey. My earlier review is here.
Copies of the book are available at the Circulation Desk. eBook and eAudiobook copies are available from Media on Demand/Libby and from eRead Illinois. Please register online or at the Computer Help Desk.
Iona Iverson, 57, is a larger than life magazine advice columnist. A former It girl who covered major social events, Iona has had an amazing life, but needs to modernize her column to keep her job. Regularly commuting to London on the train, she enjoys observing the other commuters, but never, ever talks to anyone except her French bulldog Lulu. One day there’s a (nonviolent) crisis on train car #3, and the travelers finally meet and connect. I enjoyed learning their nicknames for each other, especially teen Martha thinking of Iona as magic handbag lady. While Iona tends to steal the scenes she’s in, everyone except David and Jake gets their turn to narrate the story. Sanjay the anxious nurse, impossibly pretty Emmie, and trader Piers in his expensive suits all need Iona’s advice at some point, including Martha, who ends up getting coaching for a theatre audition from Iona and math tutoring from Piers.
Happily, the commuter train to London isn’t the only setting in this contemporary novel, letting readers glimpse homes, workplaces, Martha’s school, and the maze at Hampton Court Palace. I listened to the audiobook narrated expertly by Clare Corbett while commuting in my car; I’d love to see someone reading this on the train. While I liked the author’s first book, The Authenticity Project, I didn’t find it memorable or outstanding. This heartwarming and uplifting story about the riders on the train is one of my favorite reads so far this year. Readalikes include The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore.
On the tiny Scottish island of Mure, Flora MacKenzie is planning her wedding to Joel. They have a baby, Douglas, who is taking his sweet time learning to walk, at least according to the other MacKenzies. Flora dreams of a gorgeous wedding at her family’s hotel, but Joel wants a micro wedding with only immediate family. When former islander Olivia MacDonald, a social influencer, gets engaged, she arrives on Mure with a wedding planner to organize a lavish midsummer wedding.
When Flora agrees to share her hen night with Olivia, she is dazzled by the Alice in Wonderland themed extravaganza and rethinks her own wedding plans. Both Flora and Olivia’s maids of honor are having their own struggles. The (fictional) island is full of colorful characters, rapidly changing weather, a visiting whale pod, lots of charm, and some humor. How all the tangled plotlines get resolved make for an enjoyable summer read. While the Mure books start with Café by the Sea, a lengthy introduction brings new readers up to date. Readalike authors include Jill Mansell, Felicity Hayes-McCoy, Sarah Morgan, and Sheila Roberts.
Unexpected heroes are featured in short stories by twelve popular writers of urban fantasy. They vary considerably in tone, setting, and type of narrator, including a sprite, a troll, a werewolf, and an Irish wolfhound. If you read urban fantasy, you’ll rejoice at the list of authors; other readers may find new favorite. I regularly read Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop and Patricia Briggs, but I also enjoyed Kerrie L. Hughes’ story about a troll who works at a train station, the poignant “Train to Last Hope” by Annie Bellet and the valiant dogs in “Fire Hazard” by Kevin Hearne. Enjoy!
Four friends and longtime coworkers Billie, Natalie, Mary Alice and Helen are on a cruise to celebrate their early retirement when they spot another coworker and find a bomb. So much for a relaxing vacation! 40 years ago, when the women were 20, they were recruited to work for a nongovernmental organization that provides justice outside the law. In other words, they are assassins selected and trained to take out the very worst criminals and leaders. Flashbacks to their training and early missions make for compelling reading.
In the present, the foursome go on the run, after evacuating the ship. The only ones that could have targeted the group are the directors of their organization, known as the Museum. Boltholes in New Orleans and rural England lack the luxury of the cruise ship, and there’s tension among the group. Missions in New Orleans and the catacombs of Paris are well described, along with an art auction. As expected, there is a fair amount of violence, narrated from Billie’s point of view, along with clever detecting and planning, and an intensifying pace. This is an appealing group of very smart and dangerous women. While Helen seems a bit frail for only 60 and Billie has daily aches and pains despite doing yoga two hours every day, it’s refreshing to read about middle-aged protagonists who still move like action heroes when needed. I feel like the women probably know Elizabeth of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club. Will there be a sequel? Unknown, but I think there’d be plenty of interest. To be published September 6.
A long awaited novel of magical realism by the author of Garden Spells and Lost Lake. The residents of the Dellawisp condos on Mallow Island, South Carolina include a few ghosts. Zoey Hennessy inherits her mother’s studio and moves in for the summer before starting college. She is hired by the manager to help clear out another condo, and befriends henna artist Charlotte and young chef Mac. All three have secrets and some healing to do, as does a legendary local author. Memorable and intriguing, you’ll wish you could visit magical Mallow Island. Other Birds will be published August 30.
Giovaninno Speranza, vacuum repairman and mayor of tiny Prometto, Italy, is distraught. He has to tell the other 213 residents that they have 60 days to come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s plumbing, or else. When his cousin tells him about the sudden increase in tourism his city had when it was rumored a major movie star was there, Signor Speranza comes up with a mad scheme. Perhaps if they pretend that actor Dante Rinaldi is coming to Prometto to film a movie, the town’s fortunes will improve. With the help of his assistant Smilzo, they start casting and actually filming a movie that Smilzo writes, with his crush Antonella as co-star. Speranza’s daughter Gemma and young granddaughter Carlotta are so happy that even temporarily housing an overweight Pomeranian diva can’t dim his sudden happiness or that of his elderly uncle, who starts building an outdoor amphitheater to screen the movie. Wise advice from wife Betta, benevolence from priest Don Rocco, and comic relief from goats and miniature schnauzers all enliven this warmhearted first novel. Offbeat and often hilarious, this is an engaging and uplifting read. More, please!