A Psalm for the Wild-Built: A Review

“The human body can adapt to almost anything, but it is deceptively selective about the way it does so.”

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersSibling Dex begins to dream of hearing crickets in the wild. Sibling Dex is very good at what they do as a monk in Panga’s city-located monastery. But have they become complacent?

Thinking the answer might be yes, Dex decides to become a tea monk. There’s nothing arcane about it but there is still a learning curve as Dex figures out how to listen to peoples’ problems and offer them a perfectly brewed cup of tea. With a self-sustaining wagon and increasing experience, Dex has everything they need.

But it turns out crickets are extinct in most of Panga.

After years of traveling the same route between Panga’s outermost villages, Dex decides their last chance to hear those crickets is to travel even farther out. Into the wild.

Then Dex meets Splendid Speckled Mosscap in the middle of the forest. Mosscap is one of the many robots on Panga who, after gaining self-awareness a century ago, chose to abandon the city and travel into the wild.

Now, the robots feel it’s time to check in on the humans and see what they need. And Mosscap has decided that Dex is the perfect person to help it figure that out. But as Dex struggles to figure out what they want for themself, the monk doubts that they can help a robot answer such a large question for all of Panga. Maybe there will at least be some crickets along the way in A Psalm for the Wild-Built (2021) by Becky Chambers.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the first novella in Chambers’ new solarpunk series, Monk & Robot.

Chambers turns her considerable world building talents to imagine a bright future for humanity where society is harmonious, sustainable, and sees robots as little more than the stuff of legend until Mosscap comes along.

The gentle, character-driven narrative gives readers ample time to get to know Dex and understand the nuances of their work as a tea monk (as well as Dex’s restlessness) as Dex travels alone and, later, when Dex and Mosscap begin to talk. Philosophical questions of how robots and humans can (or should) interact as well as discussions of where passions can fit into this future pepper the story as Dex and Mosscap begin to understand what they can accomplish together.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the bright start to a series that promises to be as thought-provoking as it is cozy. Recommended for readers looking for science fiction with a little more tenderness and a lot of tea.

Possible Pairings: Last Day by Ruta Domenica, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, All Systems Red by Martha Wells

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Darius the Great is Not Okay: A Review

cover art for Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib KhorramDarius Kellner is more comfortable talking about Star Trek than he is about his status as a Fractional Persian. He doesn’t speak Farsi very well and a lot of Persian Social Cues still mystify him (Persian Casual anyone?).

Not that connecting with his father’s side of the family is any easier. Darius isn’t cut out for their Teutonic stoicism and he is no Übermensch like his father Stephen Kellner. The only things they seem to have in common are a love of Star Trek and clinical depression. Not exactly the makings of strong familial ties.

Darius doesn’t know what to expect on his first trip to Iran with his family. He’s excited to meets his grandparents and the rest of his family in person for the first time ever. But he doesn’t know what they’ll make of his limited Farsi or his medication.

He never expects to make a new friend, let alone a potentially lifelong one like Sohrab. As Darius starts spending more time with Sohrab he learns what it’s like to have a friend and, maybe, what it’s like to be himself and embrace his namesake—Darioush the First aka Darius the Great in Darius the Great is Not Okay (2018) by Adib Khorram.

Darius the Great is Not Okay is Khorram’s marvelous debut. It was a BookExpo 2018 YA Editor’s Buzz Selection and if it doesn’t get a nod from this year’s Morris Award I will be extremely surprised.

Darius’s first person narration immediately draws readers into his world as he explains his passions (tea and Star Trek, in that order) and his frustrations as he struggles to fit in with his own family. Khorram’s writing, especially as Darius begins to discover his family and his heritage in Iran, is vivid and evocative. This book is also filled with delicious descriptions of food, so be sure to read with snacks nearby.

I love the way Khorram uses dialog and voice throughout the book as Darius struggles to connect with relatives who don’t speak English and how to express himself in any language. Darius the Great is Not Okay is a gentle, contemplative read perfect for readers looking to satisfy their wanderlust without leaving home.

Possible Pairings: In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonneblick, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

The Leaf Reader: A Review

“I did feel like I was pretending, at least at the start. I admit that. But whenever you start on something, it always feels a little like pretending, right? If you let that stop you, you might never try anything new.”

cover art for The Leaf Reader by Emily ArsenaultMarnie is halfway through high school and she’s accepted that she’ll never be popular. And if that’s true, better to give the people what they want and be really eccentric, right?

In the past year Marnie has gotten a reputation for reading tea leaves to tell the fortunes of classmates. Marnie knows it’s just for fun. She assumes her classmates do too.

But then Matt Cottrell comes to Marnie for a reading that seems to reveal more about the disappearance of Matt’s best friend Andrea last year. Marnie has never thought she could really read the future in tea leaves. But as she and Matt start looking into Andrea’s disappearance together, Marnie starts to wonder if she was wrong. It seems like the tea leaves are trying to tell her the Matt is dangerous. And if that’s true, Marnie’s growing attraction could be deadly in The Leaf Reader (2017) by Emily Arsenault.

The Leaf Reader is Arsenault’s first novel written for a young adult audience.

I went into this one with almost no expectations after receiving it very randomly from a neighbor. Marnie’s introspective narration and her fascination with reader tea leaves immediately drew me in. The story includes some basic information on interpreting leaves and their symbols which adds a fun dimension to the story.

Arsenault’s plotting and story are executed well and come to life with vivid descriptions of Marnie’s surroundings. The descriptions of characters are sometimes less vibrant and less charitable in a way that seems to suggest Marnie, or perhaps the author herself, held little fondness for some of the characters.

Marnie is a frank narrator who is immediately honest about her own status as an outsider in her small town. She is less willing to accept that she might not be the only one with secrets–something that becomes increasingly obvious to readers as the tense plot finally reaches a breaking point in the final act.

The Leaf Reader is a unique spin on some familiar mystery tropes. A great choice for fans of suspense.

Possible Pairings: The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

Tea Party Rules: A Picture Book Review

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by K. G. CampbellCub follows his nose through the woods all the way to a backyard party–with cookies! But this isn’t any party. It’s a tea party. A fancy one. And the little girl hosting the party has some very specific rules about how tea parties should go. Cub is willing to go through a lot for cookies. But how much can one bear take? And will the little girl realize a friend is just as important as a properly executed tea party?

Tea Party Rules (2013) by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by K. G. Campbell is a delightfully fun read about how sometimes breaking the rules can be just as important as following them. Both Dyckman and Campbell received the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats New Author and Illustrator Award for this title.

In her sophomore picture book, Dyckman once again uses sparse, well-chosen text to tell a whimsical story of two unlikely friends. Campbell’s detail-packed illustrations bring Cub and the little girl to life with vibrant colors.

You can also check out my interview with Ame Dyckman about this great book.

The Teashop Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Teashop Girls by Laura SchaeferIs it possible to fall in love with a book? If it is, The Teashop Girls (2008 ) by Laura Schaefer, with illustrations by Sujean Rim, now holds my heart. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, especially since I am not actually much of a tea drinker, but as soon as I  saw the cover and the illustration of The Steeping Leaf I knew this book would have my undying devotion. I know I keep banging readers over the head with what I’m trying to point out with my Chick Lit Wednesday Reviews, but really this book embodies what a CLW book should be.

But that doesn’t tell you what it’s actually about.

Annie Green and her best friends Genna and Zoe have been drinking tea at the Steeping Leaf since grade school when they founded an exclusive group called The Teashop Girls. More than a fondness of tea is required in order to be a proper Teashop Girl, there are rules:

1) Teashop Girls are best friends forever.

2) Tea is held every week, no matter what.

3) All tea and scones must be split equally at all times.

Unfortunately, somewhere between elementary school and the end of eighth grade, the girls lost track of their weekly ritual. Genna is busy trying to start her acting career and Zoe is always practicing for tennis, leaving Annie feeling very alone.

For Annie, the logical solution is to convince her grandmother Louisa to hire Annie as a barista. Just because the Teashop Girls don’t have tea every week anymore, it doesn’t mean Annie can’t spend her spare time there, right?

With a new job, and a new crush on her Barista Boy coworker, Annie finally feels as focused as her friends. It isn’t the same, but Annie is enjoying her time at the Leaf. Until the lights go out. Working with her grandmother, Annie realizes the Leaf’s future is tenuous–an eviction notice could spell the end of the beloved tea shop for good.

Luckily, another Teashop Girl rule is that “A Teashop Girl will always help other Teashop Girls in need.” So, with Zoe and Genna’s help, Annie sets out to save their beloved Steeping Leaf with varying ideas ranging from sheer genius to, well, less than successful.

Aside from saving the Steeping Leaf, this book’s main story is about friendship. Specifically, The Teashop Girls is about how Annie and her friends reconnect and realize that, no matter what else changes in their lives, being a Teashop Girl is forever.n (Just recently I was wishing for a book where romance was not central to the plot, and/or where I did not want it to be, and it wasn’t a big deal. This is that book.)

This is what I would call a middle grade book (the jacket sleeve recommends the book for ages 8 to 14 which seems spot on), which would be comfortably defined as either a children’s or young adult book. It also seemed really authentic. Annie narrates this novel as if she is talking to the reader, an affectation that often fails writers. Here, however, it worked perfectly because Schaefer’s characters were so vibrant and just real.

Another great feature was the book design. The cover was great because, as readers will learn, it totally shows Annie. I also loved the inclusion of Annie’s “handwritten” lists and notes as well as Genna’s illustrations and excerpts from the girls’ tea handbook. It was a feature that made the book feel as unique and charming as The Steeping Leaf sounds. Schaefer also includes some recipes from the girls and tea related quotes/ads that are sure to amuse tea enthusiasts while informing tea novices like myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever called a book both heartwarming and cheerful, but this one was. The Teashop Girls put me in a good mood as soon as I got and kept me in good spirits right to the end. One of the best books for girls that I have read recently.