The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

It’s been a few weeks since I did one of these posts due to moving! Since covering every book I got in that time would take awhile, I’m going to split this post into two parts with part two to come next week. I’m also only going to cover the books I bought and the books in the mail that I think look especially interesting to make it easier to get caught up, and I’m going to leave out a couple of books I think look great because I will be discussing them soon when I give them away!

I still have a lot of unpacking and setting up to do out here and less time to spend doing these things since I’m now working full time again, which is not leaving me with as much time as I’d like for reading and writing reviews. However, I have at least made some progress on a review in the last week, and I finished reading The Young Elites by Marie Lu, a dark (REALLY DARK) young adult fantasy that will be released next month. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to book two!

On to (some) of the books!

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

This science fiction book was released earlier this month (trade paperback/ebook), and I was disappointed I couldn’t find it in the first bookstore I checked. I did find it in the second one and snatched it up since I am planning to review this as part of Sci-Fi Month in November. I love both Beggars In Spain and After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress, and I was even more interested in reading Yesterday’s Kin after reading a guest post she wrote at SF Signal about why she writes so much about genetic engineering.

An excerpt from Yesterday’s Kin can be read on Tor.com.

 

Aliens have landed in New York.

A deadly cloud of spores has already infected and killed the inhabitants of two worlds. Now that plague is heading for Earth, and threatens humans and aliens alike. Can either species be trusted to find the cure?

Geneticist Marianne Jenner is immersed in the desperate race to save humanity, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Siblings Elizabeth and Ryan are strident isolationists who agree only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Marianne’s youngest, Noah, is a loner addicted to a drug that constantly changes his identity. But between the four Jenners, the course of human history will be forever altered.

Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent human extinction—and not everyone is willing to wait.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs was released in the US earlier this month (trade paperback/ebook), and it will be released in the UK on October 2 (hardcover/ebook). The cover above is the version I have, the UK edition, and it’s a rather nice hardcover.

I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about this book so I am very much looking forward to reading it! An excerpt from City of Stairs is available on Tor.com.

 

You’ve got to be careful when you’re chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past, and criminals disappear into thin air.

The murder of Dr Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent’s past, has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners. Only one woman may be willing to pursue the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

The Winter Long (October Daye #8) by Seanan McGuire

The latest book in the October Daye series was released earlier this month (mass market paperback/ebook/audiobook). October Daye is one of my very favorite urban fantasy series, and I’m quite excited about this installment since it’s supposed to reveal a lot that Toby didn’t know.

 

Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.

She was wrong.

It’s time to learn the truth.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

The Galaxy Game, a companion to Karen Lord’s science fiction novel The Best of All Possible Worlds, will be released in January 2015 (trade paperback/ebook). I really enjoyed The Best of All Possible Worlds and am looking forward to reading more set in the same world.

 

For years, Rafi Delarua saw his family suffer under his father’s unethical use of psionic power. Now the government has Rafi under close watch, but, hating their crude attempts to analyse his brain, he escapes to the planet Punartam, where his abilities are the norm, not the exception. Punartam is also the centre for his favourite sport, wallrunning – and thanks to his best friend, he has found a way to train with the elite. But Rafi soon realises he’s playing quite a different game, for the galaxy is changing; unrest is spreading and the Zhinuvian cartels are plotting, making the stars a far more dangerous place to aim. There may yet be one solution – involving interstellar travel, galactic power and the love of a beautiful game.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown

Golden Son, the sequel to Red Rising, is scheduled for release in January 2015 (hardcover/ebook). While I had some issues with the first book, I did really enjoy it and am very excited about reading the second book in the trilogy!

 

With shades of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones, debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation. Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within. A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart, Golden Son guarantees Pierce Brown’s continuing status as one of fiction’s most exciting new voices.

Sep
21
2014
I aten't dead

It’s been a busy few weeks and I still have a lot of unpacking to do, but I have officially moved to Vermont! Next weekend I will return to posting my weekly feature (I may have purchased a few more books on the way from Maine to Vermont), and I plan to at least start writing a review soon. Now that things are settling down a bit, I’m also going to try to finish reading The Young Elites by Marie Lu and start thinking a more about Sci-Fi Month in November!

Sep
04
2014

As mentioned in the past couple of Sunday posts, the site is going to be quiet for awhile since I am moving next week! I am moving six hours away from my current home and have a lot I need to finish before then, and I will be traveling most of next week since getting everything from one place to the other is going to take a few days. My recent review of the (very good) Beyond the Pale anthology will be my last post until after I have moved and gotten settled in. I’ll have to see how it goes, but the hiatus will probably end the week of September 22.

Beyond the Pale
by Henry Herz
232pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.75/5
Goodreads Rating: 4/5
 

Beyond the Pale edited by Henry Herz is a YA anthology containing fantasy and paranormal stories by some well-known authors in speculative fiction, including Saladin Ahmed, Peter S. Beagle, Jane Yolen, Gillian Philip, and Jim Butcher. It consists of an eclectic mix of writing styles and speculative fiction stories, including mythic and urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, historical fantasy, a ghost story, and a vampire tale about Dracurat. I found most of the stories enjoyable and will certainly be reading more by some of these authors who are new to me after sampling their short fiction.

My favorite story in the entire anthology is “The Children of the Shark God” by Peter S. Beagle, a lovely but sad tale about a god who falls in love with a human and the tragic consequences, including the effect this has on their children. Mirali, a young woman living on an island, is noticed by the Shark God who protects her home. The Shark God gains her favor, and the two marry and have twins, a boy and a girl. The children grow up without knowing their father or his identity since he only visits once a year while they are asleep. When they are older and Mirali reveals to them that their father is the Shark God, they do not react the way she expected—they are not honored, awed, or fearful but angry at the father who abandoned them—and her daughter Kokinja sets out to find her godly father and tell him exactly what she thinks of his actions. This is a skillfully written story with both excellent storytelling and writing. Every word seems to be crafted with care, and I would now like to read more of Peter S. Beagle’s short fiction even though I usually prefer longer stories.

Another story I particularly loved is “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela” by Saladin Ahmed, a well-written story reminiscent of fairy tales with the main character being shown that the world is not as ordinary as he had thought. A young physicker, the Caliph’s son’s personal favorite, is sent away as punishment for falling in love with a woman from a wealthy family. After he is dismissed, he spends time in a small village filled with rumors of the hermit Abdel Jameela. When Abdel Jameela hears that a court physiker is near, he sends a messenger to him to request that he aid his ill wife. Though discouraged from doing so, the physiker goes as requested since he feels it’s his duty to help if he can—and ends up performing a surgery combined with magic unlike anything he’s ever done before. While I enjoyed the writing, I also thought this story was fantastic because of the earnest main protagonist and its wondrous nature.

Gillian Philip wrote two stories in Beyond the Pale, both among the best in this anthology. I especially loved “Frost Child,” a dark historical fantasy and prequel to her novel Firebrand, even though the beginning was not compelling. It begins with the Queen’s captain, Griogair, setting out to destroy his Queen’s enemies and without having any stake in these characters, I found the fighting rather dull. However, once Griogair finds one of his people with his enemies, a rather indifferent little girl named Lilith, it became quite engaging. It’s a story of the Sithe with witches, warriors (both male and female), and kelpies and is the type of setting I find appealing, but it was Philip’s deft hand with portraying her characters that made me want to read Firebrand. Her other story, “South,” is a creepy tale in which an old man watching his grandson reminisces about meeting the boy’s grandmother—a mysterious woman who appeared out of nowhere on a remote, cold island and seemed completely unaffected by the freezing temperatures.

While I did not think any of the other stories were as excellent as those four, I did enjoy most of them, especially “Even Hand” by Jim Butcher. Despite not having read any of the Dresden Files, I had fun reading this tale narrated by the villain, Harry Dresden’s enemy Johnny Marcone. He’s an interesting bad guy since he’s not quite as hard as he appears to others, and his narrative voice is well done and contains some good humor. In addition to Marcone, there is a compelling cast of characters in his employ, including a valkyrie and a very competent man who does his job well despite his disapproval of Marcone’s actions.

The only stories I did not enjoy were the two written by Heather Brewer. “Misery” centers on a mysterious town of the same name that is more bland than miserable, and that’s also how I would describe the story: not terrible but quite bland. The characters in “Misery” do not know how they arrived in this place or have memories of their lives before then, and I found the revelation about the actual purpose of Misery predictable. Aside from that issue, I thought the story lacked emotional resonance and did not find the writing as smooth as in other stories. While I didn’t dislike “Misery,” I didn’t like it either, but the same cannot be said of “Shadow Children,” in which a boy afraid of the dark is swallowed by darkness. I had similar problems with it as the previous story—predictability, lifeless writing and characterization—but despite its short length, I found it a chore to get through since it did not have a hook at the beginning like the mystery of the town in “Misery.”

Like most anthologies, Beyond the Pale contains stories varying in quality, but it only has a couple of stories that I did not find at all enjoyable. Most of the stories had more strengths than weaknesses, and some were quite excellent. I found it worth reading for the stories by Peter S. Beagle, Saladin Ahmed, and Gillian Philip alone—and it has certainly added more books and authors to my to-read list!

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Electronic ARC from the editor.

Table of Contents

Other Reviews:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Since I spent last weekend getting things ready for moving and working on a book review, this edition covers two weeks of books. I will have a review of Beyond the Pale, a very good fantasy anthology, on Tuesday. After that, the blog will be on hiatus at least until the week of September 22 while I am packing, traveling, and unpacking.

Lowball edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass

Lowball (A Wild Cards Novel) edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass

The twenty-second Wild Cards book will be released on November 4, 2014 (hardcover, ebook). It’s a mosaic novel written by several authors, and this particular volume contains fiction by Carrie Vaughn, Walter Jon Williams, Ian Tregillis, Melinda M. Snodgrass (who also writes as Phillipa Bornikova), David Anthony Durham, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Michael Cassutt, and David D. Levine. A complete list of stories and major characters can be found on George R. R. Martin’s website.

 

Decades after an alien virus changed the course of history, the surviving population of Manhattan still struggles to understand the new world left in its wake. Natural humans share the rough city with those given extraordinary—and sometimes terrifying—traits. While most manage to coexist in an uneasy peace, not everyone is willing to adapt. Down in the seedy underbelly of Jokertown, residents are going missing. The authorities are unwilling to investigate, except for a fresh lieutenant looking to prove himself and a collection of unlikely jokers forced to take matters into their own hands—or tentacles. The deeper into the kidnapping case these misfits and miscreants get, the higher the stakes are raised.

Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and acclaimed author Melinda M. Snodgrass, Lowball is the latest mosaic novel in the acclaimed Wild Cards universe, featuring original fiction by Carrie Vaughn, Ian Tregillis, David Anthony Durham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Mary Anne Mohanraj, David D. Levine, Michael Cassutt, and Walter John Williams.

Perfect for old fans and new readers alike, Lowball delves deeper into the world of aces, jokers, and the hard-boiled men and women of the Fort Freak police precinct in a pulpy, page-turning novel of superheroics and mystery.

The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross

The Bloodline Feud (The Merchant Princes #1-2) by Charles Stross

This revised omnibus edition containing The Family Trade and The Hidden Family will be released in the US on September 9 (trade paperback, ebook) and is already available in the UK. The Traders’ War, containing The Clan Corporate and The Merchants’ War,  is available in the UK now and is scheduled for publication in the US on November 11. The final omnibus, The Revolution Trade, consists of The Revolution Business and The Trade of Queens and is also currently available in the UK. Its US release date is in January 2015.

Charles Stross wrote about the series and the omnibus editions at Tor.com.

 

Bloodline Feud: an omnibus edition of the first two novels in Charles Stross’s The Merchant Princes series The six families of the Clan rule the kingdom of Gruinmarkt from behind the scenes. They are a mixture of nobility and criminal conspirators whose power to walk between their world and ours makes them rich in both.

Miriam, a hip tech journalist from Boston, discovers her alternate-world relatives with explosive results that shake three worlds. Now, as the prodigal Countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, she finds herself ensnared in schemes and plots centuries in the making. She is surrounded by unlikely allies, lethal contraband, and—most dangerous of all—her family.

To avoid a slippery slope down to an unmarked grave, Miriam must build a power base of her own—with unexpected consequences for three different time lines, including the quasi-Victorian one exploited by the hidden family.

The Rule of Thoughts by James Dashner

The Rule of Thoughts (The Mortality Doctrine #2) by James Dashner

The second book in this YA science fiction series, following The Eye of Minds, was released last week (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from The Rule of Thoughts can be read on MTV News.

 

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Maze Runner series comes The Rule of Thoughts, the exciting sequel to The Eye of Minds. Fans of the Divergent series by Veronica Roth and The Hunger Games will love the new Mortality Doctrine series.

Michael completed the Path. What he found at the end turned everything he’d ever known about his life—and the world—completely upside down.

He barely survived. But it was the only way VirtNet Security knew to find the cyber-terrorist Kaine—and to make the Sleep safe for gamers once again. And, the truth Michael discovered about Kaine is more complex than they anticipated, and more terrifying than even the worst of their fears.

Kaine is a tangent, a computer program that has become sentient. And Michael’s completing the Path was the first stage in turning Kaine’s master plan, the Mortality Doctrine, into a reality.

The Mortality Doctrine will populate Earth entirely with human bodies harboring tangent minds. Any gamer who sinks into the VirtNet risks coming out with a tangent intelligence in control of their body.

And the takeover has already begun.

The Bully Bug by David Lubar

The Bully Bug (A Monsterrific Tale #6) by David Lubar

This middle grade book will be available on September 2 (hardcover, ebook). These are standalone stories, but the previous books are as follows:

  1. Hyde and Shriek
  2. The Vanishing Vampire
  3. The Unwilling Witch
  4. The Wavering Werewolf
  5. The Gloomy Ghost
 

The Bully Bug is the sixth standalone tale in the hilarious Monsterrific Tales series for young readers by acclaimed author David Lubar. The Monsterrific Tales series began with Hyde and Shriek, a Kids’ Indie Next list selection, and is sure to appeal to reluctant readers and fans of Lubar’s short stories collections.

There’s something strange going on at Washington Irving Elementary School. Kids are turning into monsters—literally!

Lud Mellon gets bitten by a bevy of bugs in his basement and the next thing he knows, he’s crawling up walls, drooling on his food, and rolling around in garbage. Turning into a giant insect seems fun at first, almost like having superpowers. But when his dad calls in the exterminators, Lud has to figure out how to stop his transformation before he gets squashed like a bug.

Half a King is the first book in the Shattered Sea trilogy by New York Times bestselling fantasy author Joe Abercrombie, who has also written The First Law trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country. This latest novel, his first YA book, will be followed by Half the World in February 2015. Half a War, the conclusion to the trilogy, is scheduled for release in the fall of 2015.

Prince Yarvi plans to sit beside the Black Chair of the king someday rather than on it. Born with a partial hand in a kingdom that values fighting ability, he does not feel suited to the role of king and is much more comfortable using his mind. He has been training to be part of the Ministry under the tutelage of Mother Gundring, the Minister who currently serves as an adviser to his father. Soon he will take the test, and as Mother Gundring’s brightest student there’s no doubt in her mind he’ll pass and become Brother Yarvi, giving up his place as the second son in the line to the throne completely.

In the way such things often come to pass in stories, Yarvi’s father and brother are both murdered shortly before he is to take the test and he becomes King Yarvi. At their funeral, Yarvi swears vengeance on their murderers. After the ceremony, he and his warriors sail to seek revenge against Grom-gil-Gorm, the leader who killed their king—and Yarvi is betrayed by someone close to him, who tries to murder him and would have succeeded if the young king hadn’t fallen to the rocks below and been assumed dead. Yarvi is found and presented to Grom-gil-Gorm himself as one of the attackers but wisely hides his identity by pretending to be a cook’s boy. He’s given to a slaver, who sells him to a couple of men seeking a rower for their captain’s ship—but he cannot give up his dreams of escape and vengeance against his father’s murderers and his own betrayers.

Half a King is the fifth book I’ve read by Joe Abercrombie and perhaps the most enjoyable, though I also enjoyed the others (for context, the other four I’ve read are the First Law Trilogy and Best Served Cold). It’s not an incredibly original book or one with a lot of depth, but it is one that handles familiar elements well and manages to be at least somewhat unpredictable. I think it works for three reasons: the writing is full of personality and entertaining phrasing, Yarvi is a likable underdog who is easy to sympathize with, and the book is exactly the right length for the story being told without a single chapter seeming overly long or unnecessary. Half a King was simply an engrossing book that left me glad there is not a long wait for the second book in the trilogy.

Joe Abercrombie is known for writing grim books, and Half a King is lighter than his other books I’ve read. It’s certainly not happy—half of Yarvi’s family is killed, then he’s betrayed, nearly killed himself, and made into a slave even before some of the darker turns toward the end—but Yarvi does find friends along the way and they face various obstacles together. Yarvi is also a character it’s easy to root for since he’s forced into a situation that really isn’t what he wants when he’s made king, only to end up in an even worse situation when he is no longer a king. He’s also an outcast, not just because of the way he is viewed because of his hand, but also because his personality doesn’t fit with society’s expectations for a prince or king. While his brother and father reveled in war, Yarvi is sickened by what he sees during his first wartime experience. After all, he has been training to serve Father Peace as part of the Ministry instead of Mother War.

Though it is a successful way to make readers feel connected to a character, this is not a new concept in fantasy; many books have featured protagonists who do not fit into the mold their culture creates, particularly characters living in societies in which men are expected to be mighty warriors. What I did find a little unusual for a country in fantasy headed by a patriarchy valuing fighting skill was that women did seem to have significant influence and power despite there being an obvious division between men’s and women’s roles in the society. (Throughout Yarvi’s adventures elsewhere, there is a woman who captains a ship and fights with a sword as well as a woman who leads her people so I am specifically discussing the customs in his homeland.) Often, societies in fantasy that value strength in men seem to have them at the front and center of all other important roles as well, such as advising the king or managing the country’s affairs.

In Half a King, the Ministers–who acquire a range of knowledge and skills and serve as advisers to kings–are generally women. While Yarvi’s father was clearly the one considered the primary ruler of the two as his death resulted in his son’s ascension to the Black Chair, Yarvi’s mother Laithlin seems to be far more powerful and influential in reality as the renowned “Golden Queen” whose financial skills and strong integrity made the country prosperous. When King Yarvi is betrothed, his bride-to-be’s primary concern has nothing to do with her relationship with the king—it’s living up to the example set by this Golden Queen, revered and even worshiped for her cleverness and competence at managing the entire kingdom. She isn’t in this book very much, but I hope Laithlin is in the next book more since she seems like one of the more interesting characters.

Actually, the adult characters were both numerous and compelling, which I think is unusual for a YA book. Nothing, a slave on the ship with Yarvi, is more restricted than the others because the captain learned firsthand that he can do a lot of damage on his own, and he also has quite the mysterious past. The ship’s captain, Ebdel Aric Shadikshirram, is a little too over-the-top with her constant drunkenness and proclamations of her greatest weakness being her mercy, but she is entertaining and seems like one who may have had a rather colorful past (even if roughly three quarters of it was made up or embellished).

The fantasy aspects of the world are generic and not incredibly well-fleshed out, but I did get the feeling that this was just an introduction to the setting and the world is waiting to be opened up and explored in future installments. This may be due to the skill with which the book was paced and wrapped up: it seemed just long enough for the story told, and it also concluded in a satisfying manner without closing the door to sequels.

While I find it likely that the rest of the trilogy will delve further into the world, I think this particular book is best read for narrative voice, dialogue, and the occasional plot twist. Half a King is not a terribly unique story, but the way it was told made it a very engaging familiar story—one that’s just the right length, diverting, and filled with some interesting personalities. I’m glad there is not a long wait for Half the World.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews: