Long ago, the factory robots of Panga became self-aware and left for the wilderness, and the humans of Panga returned to a more agrarian lifestyle, in small villages and The City. The setting feels Japanese-inspired, perhaps because of the importance of tea. Sibling Dex, a monk, leaves the City monastery they enjoyed visiting as a teen, to become a self-taught traveling tea monk, seeking to get closer to nature. The order provides Sibling Dex (they/them) with a bike-powered wagon, complete with a comfortable bed and an outdoor kitchen and shower. Dex has some challenges in the beginning, then learns their craft and has a circuit of small villages they visit regularly. Dex harvests and serves tea, provides a place to relax, offers advice when requested, and is welcomed into the social life of the villages. After a few years, the wilderness calls, and Dex leaves their usual routes and encounters Mosscap, a robot. Mosscap is seeking to learn what humans need. They journey together for a while, while Dex struggles to find contentment and their true purpose in life.
I listened to the audiobook of this novella, narrated in two and a half hours by Emmett Grosland, and was charmed by this engaging and reflective story. Leisurely paced with an excellent sense of place, the dedication says it all: “To anybody who could use a break.” A sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, is expected this July. Readalikes include Chambers’ The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, and the middle grade novel The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.
Carpenter, actor, comedian and author Nick Offerman narrates the audio version of his new memoir. In 2019 and 2020 he travels to Glacier National Park to hike with two famous friends and a guide, visits a sheep farm in England where he helps rebuild a stone wall, and buys an Airstream trailer and travels from California to Texas, Oklahoma, and Illinois with his wife Megan Mullally and their dog. During his travels, Offerman shares amusing anecdotes, reflects on nature, public lands and their origin, the pandemic, common sense, and food. This is an entertaining and thought provoking read, with perhaps a bit too much time on his soap box. Excellent armchair travel with plenty of humor to enliven the book. Readalikes include the author’s Paddle Your Own Canoe, A Walk in the Woods and The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson, The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, and The Longest Road by Philip Caputo.
This is the clever and entertaining sequel to the Thursday Murder Club, a mystery series inspired by the upscale English retirement village where Brenda, the author’s mother, lives. A group of four retirees led by retired MI5 agent Elizabeth, gather weekly to discuss unsolved mystery cases, with occasional input from DCI Chris Hudson, Constable Donna De Freitas, and fixer Bogdan Jankowski. The first book is to be a Steven Spielberg film, and I am picturing Penelope Wilton to play Joyce, a retired nurse who narrates her adventures with Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron to her diary. Elizabeth gets a plea for help from a dead man. It’s really from her ex-husband Douglas, who’s in a safe house with new MI5 agent Poppy after some diamonds connected to the Mafia go missing. Douglas may have stolen the diamonds, and he’s definitely in trouble. Ibrahim is injured when his phone is stolen, and the friends plot revenge on his young assailant. If you enjoy crime novels, very dark humor, and excellent writing, you’re in for a treat. Lesley Manville does excellent work narrating the audiobook. Here’s a longer list of readalikes, as I’d like to read more books like Osman’s myself: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten, Before She Was Helen by Caroline Cooney, The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Celine by Peter Heller, and The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this memoir about a Londoner who relocates to the Seven Valleys area in northern France with her husband, where they spend over a decade renovating a rundown old house. Susan Duerden narrates the audiobook (available from Hoopla Digital). While Janine and Mark live in a tiny village, their life there seems very lively, with festivals, seasonal markets, eccentric neighbors, and the antics of farm and domestic animals. Even frustratingly slow internet is humorous here. Janine is a travel writer, and often travels by train to a different region, to discover its charms, then comes home to realize that France’s Opal Coast is where she wants to stay. Readers will feel well acquainted with many of the residents in the village, and long to travel there, or at least want to try some of the seasonal pastries or local cheeses mentioned. Excellent armchair travel with warmth and humor, with wonderful descriptions of food and drink.
Camino Winds follows the faster-paced Camino Island, starting with a book party and dinner hosted by wealthy bookseller Bruce Cable, followed quickly by a hurricane. Bruce and several of his friends shelter in place on the island. In the aftermath of the destructive storm, thriller writer Nelson Kerr is found dead. Fellow writer Bob Cobb and bookstore intern Nick Sutton help Bruce investigate. When the manuscript of Nelson’s next book is discovered and the topic is massive fraud at nursing homes, Bruce thinks the book may have been motive enough for murder. With business slow while the Florida island recovers from the hurricane, Bruce travels with wife Nicole, then fires the detective agency he hires to find Nelson’s murderer. I enjoyed Michael Beck’s audiobook narration, and the Florida island setting. The plot is very different from Camino Island, but both remind me of Clive Cussler’s adventure novels. For a heartwarming novel centered around a hurricane, try The Summer Guests by Mary Alice Monroe.
I’ve long enjoyed reading and listening to the Charles Lenox Victorian mystery series by Charles Finch, and this prequel is a great entry into the series. Set in London and Kent in 1853, gentleman Charles Lenox, 26, along with his valet Graham, is learning to be a private detective, even though he doesn’t need to charge for his services. His good friend, Lady Jane, lives next door and supports his new endeavor. The Vanishing Man of the title could refer to two mysteries; the theft of a portrait of a former duke and the disappearance of the current Duke of Dorset, whose London mansion is close to Parliament and the Thames River. Lenox is in search of both, and an even more intriguing mystery relating to William Shakespeare. I enjoy the audiobook narration of James Langton, as well as a strong sense of place, very appealing main characters, and a clever plot. Recommended for historical mystery readers and Anglophiles. The first prequel is The Woman in the Water, and the first book in the main series is A Beautiful Blue Death.
Actor and film producer Reese Witherspoon has written a love letter to life in the south. Reese grew up in Nashville, where she learned to enjoy music, food, and holidays, and learned the importance of manners and community. I listened to the audiobook, cozily narrated by the author, and glanced at the photos and recipes included as a document on one of the discs. Many of the recipes are from her grandmother Dorothea who was an inspiration to Reese on how southern women can be strong and beautiful. Menu suggestions for all kinds of celebrations and events are included, from a Kentucky Derby party to a book club gathering, along with music playlists and gift suggestions (especially monogrammed items or cake plates). Reese talks about her happy childhood, how she learned that you don’t have to be good at everything or bake from scratch, but be sure to be hospitable, respectful, and have some fun, maybe even catch some frogs. This is a charming, family-friendly look at southern life.
For lighter reading, I enjoy cozy and historical mysteries, often as audiobooks. Here are some recent reads you may enjoy:
The Christmas Cake Murder, by Joanne Fluke is a prequel to the popular cozy Cookie Jar mystery series set in small town Minnesota. This is a good place to begin the long-running series, before Hannah opens her bakery and acquires a cat and two boyfriends. It’s great fun reading about how Hannah and her family get started as amateur sleuths. Recipes are also included.
Toucan Keep a Secret, by Donna Andrews. Meg Langslow is locking up Trinity Episcopal Church one night while her pastor is on maternity leave and hears a disturbance behind the building. Meg’s large extended family in Caerphilly, Virginia all help solve crimes in this very funny series that’s up to 23 books and counting.
The Darling Dahlias and the Poinsettia Puzzle by Susan Wittig Albert. This historical series is set during the Depression in Alabama, with the members of the local garden club working together to solve crimes. In this book, there are hints of corruption out at the local prison camp, and little Cupcake, Violet’s adopted daughter, might be taken away. Liz Lacey, part-time legal secretary and secret novelist, has a possible beau or two. I think it’s fine to start with any book in this series.
Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women, by Emily Brightwell is a recent book in another series that doesn’t need to be read in order. The servants and neighbors of Scotland Yard’s Inspector Witherspoon investigate behind the scenes and give their information to housekeeper Mrs. Jeffries and Constable Barnes. The group has solved many mysteries, but their latest case is six weeks old and may interfere with plans for the Christmas holiday.
Two coworkers unknowingly connect on a dating website and start chatting online daily. Merry Knight is a data entry temp at a Seattle firm, saving money to finish college. Due to a human resources mistake, her name tag says Mary. Jason Bright, nicknamed Jay, is a vice-president in his uncle’s firm, and isn’t very nice when asking data entry staff to work overtime or take down holiday decorations. Jay/Jason was a lonely rich kid sent to boarding schools and summer camps; his cousin Cooper is his only friend. Merry/Mary lives with her parents and adores her 18-year-old brother Patrick, who has Down Syndrome. Merry’s love for Christmas is contagious, but things go badly when the online pair agree to meet in person. I enjoyed the narration of the audiobook by Em Eldridge, with alternating chapters from his and her points of view, but it was confusing telling Mary and Merry apart. Light and cozy, this is a charming holiday read.
Growing up on a family apple orchard in Wisconsin, Mary Frances Lombard wants everything to stay the same. Her beloved father Jim and his cousin Sherwood will have big arguments twice a year, and their families will never get together at holidays. The scary Aunt May Hill will continue to fix the equipment and the hay will always get stacked in the barn before a storm comes. And most importantly, Mary Frances and her brother William, who loves video games and computers as well as harvesting apples, will run the orchard when they grow up. If her librarian mother makes her go to drama camp, she won’t speak to her, but will participate in the drill cart team. Mary Frances (or Frankie, Francie, Marlene, or M.F.) is quite dramatic enough without going to camp, especially when she competes with cousin Amanda in a geography bee. Readers of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries will enjoy getting to know Mary Frances. I liked getting to know the eccentric members of the Lombard family, but I wanted to read about what happens next for Mary Frances and the orchard. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed the different voices Erin Cottrell used for each character.