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.
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.