Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Slowly but surely, I will dig myself out from under this self-made mountain of a review backlog. All I can do is tackle it one book at a time. Here are some goodies I read months ago that were all released in May.

Book of Night by Holly Black
Book of Night, the newest novel from the consistently excellent Holly Black, is as mysterious as shadow itself. Or, at least, that is what I thought after first reading it. Now, I believe I did not appreciate what Ms. Black accomplished with her novel. Most of this is my fault, as I can look back and admit I was not in the right headspace for the book. I spent too much time trying to understand Charlie and her world that I got lost among the weeds.

Book of Night is a novel that needs and deserves your undivided attention. It is not a complicated story, but there is a complexity that requires a little more from a reader than usual. When the characters in a novel can make themselves look like someone else and when something as subtle as a shadow moves, you need to pay attention.

Even though I did not give Book of Night my undivided attention, I still enjoyed the story. Ms. Black does what she does best, presenting Charlie in all her morally ambiguous glory in a world where there is no such thing as a hero. It is a novel that I want to read again to appreciate better the nuances of the story and Ms. Black’s very gray world.

Tear Down the Throne by Jennifer Estep
I adore the world Jennifer Estep built for her Crown of Shards and Gargoyle Queen series. I always look forward to reading her novels, knowing that the world-building is stellar and her characters even better. As the middle story of her Gargoyle Queen series, Tear Down the Throne did not disappoint.

I am particularly impressed that while it might seem like a formulaic romantic fantasy novel, Ms. Estep keeps me guessing. I rarely know where the story is going; in this case, I have no idea how the story will end. Maeven and Leonidas remain as much of a mystery to me now as they were when we first met them in the Crown of Shards series. Plus, I adore the side characters. Grimley is charming in his rough manner, and Reiko has her charms. I find everything about the story delightful and cannot wait to get my hands on the third book!

Family of Liars by E. Lockhart
Like so many others, I was blown away by E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. It was such a gut-wrenching story that I knew I wanted to read the prequel, Family of Liars. While not as strong as the first book, I appreciate the Sinclair family much more after reading about what happened to the previous generation.

Unfortunately, most of what I would want to say would create spoilers for anyone who has not read the first book, and that is something I do not want to do. I can say that Family of Liars is just as atmospheric and that setting still captivates me. I particularly enjoyed the chance to understand the family better, and much of the dynamics that play out in We Were Liars make a lot more sense now. You do have to read that one before you get to Family of Liars, but that is Ms. Lockhart’s intention anyway, so you lose nothing by reading the prequel last. Either way, you are in for a delicious, mysterious treat!

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian is not my favorite novel of his, but that means it is still a powerful novel that others will enjoy. While I understand that it is set in an earlier time when such things were de rigueur, I struggled with the idea of these wealthy Americans coming to an African safari expecting to remain living in the lap of luxury. Again, I know that is just one of the many points Mr. Bohjalian makes throughout the novel, but it made me not want to read the story. The inanity of most of the dialogue before the action starts is cringeworthy.

Once the kidnapping occurred, I would like to say I started to enjoy the story a bit more, but I can’t say that I did. Sure, things take a much more serious turn, and more than one character surprises me with their selflessness. Yet, I still struggled with the entire concept – that people from Hollywood have enough power and wealth to influence the political situation in Africa. The part of my brain that kept telling me that the attitudes and speech fit into the era in which the novel is set kept fighting with the other part of my brain that was disgusted by the ignorance and racism the characters embody. Maybe this means that Mr. Bohjalian accomplished exactly what he set out to do, but that didn’t stop me from doing a little happy dance when I finished The Lioness and moved on to my next book.

Men With the Pot by Kris Szymanski and Slawek Kalkraut
If you aren’t on TikTok or have seen their posts on Instagram, then you probably have no idea why I jumped at the chance to look at the Men With the Pot cookbook before its release date. Kris Szymanski and Slawek Kalkraut only cook outdoors in the most gorgeous settings, and their ASMR is outstanding. Not to mention what they cook looks delicious. For long-time followers of their feed, the cookbook won’t hold much in the way of new recipes. Almost all of the recipes included are ones they featured at some point in time, which is cool. What is not cool is that the authors don’t adapt their recipes for kitchen cooking. While they say it is possible, many of their directions are for highly variable cooking by an open flame and not for ovens or stovetops. This aspect of the cookbook disappointed me because while I appreciate what they do and make as an art form, they freely admit it takes them hours, if not all day, to make one of their recipes from start to finish over a fire as they intend. I don’t know about you, but I don’t love cooking that much. While it was cool to look at the recipes, the ingredients used, and their techniques for making them, I can’t say Men With the Pot impressed me as a useful tool. Entertaining? Certainly. Practical and an excellent addition to any home chef’s arsenal? Not so much.

Nightwork by Nora Roberts
I feel like a broken record when it comes to any of Nora Roberts’ novels because I say they are all amazing. That said, I believe Nightwork is the strongest novel she’s published. Usually, her main characters are all too human with all the associated foibles, but still good. Harry Booth is not a good person. He is a burger and steals from all sorts of people to make a living. Sure, he tries to go straight, but he can’t quite shake using his talents. The fact that everything Harry, and subsequently Miranda, face are a result of his previous actions makes for a surprising and complicated story, much like Dexter without the gore…and dead people. While Nightwork does contain the romantic storyline that is Ms. Robert’s trademark, Harry himself is not your traditional Nora Roberts hero, and I am here for every minute of it.

Hide by Kiersten White
Like many bibliophiles, I cannot answer who my favorite author is because there are too many authors to limit that answer to just one. Instead, I have a special list of authors who make up my auto-buy list. Jay Kristoff, Samantha Shannon, Holly Black, and Nora Roberts are just a few of the authors who make that list for me. Kiersten White is also on that list, so it was with eagerness I picked up her latest book, Hide, and started reading. What unfolded was something I wasn’t expecting but which I enjoyed nonetheless. I wouldn’t say Hide is my favorite novel by Ms. White, but it does reiterate how well she can create spooky stories with plenty of eerie twists. Her mash-up of old-school horror, fantasy, and psychological thriller doesn’t work as well as I hoped, but I still think her writing is strong. Thanks to Ms. White, after reading Hide, I will never look at amusement parks in quite the same way again, which speaks volumes.

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