The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

Last week brought some February releases, including two sequels to books I enjoyed and an intriguing anthology. Before covering the latest arrivals, here are the latest reviews in case you missed them:

On to the latest book arrivals!

Sisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins

Sisters of the Fire (Blood and Gold #2) by Kim Wilkins

Sisters of the Fire, a 2016 Aurealis Award nominee for Best Fantasy Novel, will be released in the US on February 5 (hardcover, ebook).

The publisher’s website has “Look Inside” previews from both this and the previous book in the Blood and Gold series:

  1. Daughters of the Storm (also has an excerpt)
  2. Sisters of the Fire

My review of Daughters of the Storm is here. I found it to be an enjoyable, character-focused story with interesting ties between these five sisters (although I did wish the characters had a bit more dimension).


In the next chapter of a fantasy series featuring five unforgettable sisters—the warrior, the magician, the lover, the zealot, and the gossip—an insidious threat jeopardizes a fragile peace.

Four years have passed since the five royal sisters—daughters of the king—worked together to restore their father to health and to the throne while fracturing the bonds among themselves almost irreparably. Only Bluebell remains at home, dutifully serving as heir to her father’s kingdom. Rose has been cast aside by her former husband and hides in exile with her aunt, separated forever from her beloved daughter, Rowan. Ash wanders the distant wastes with her teacher, learning magic and hunting dragons, determined that the dread fate she has foreseen for herself and her loved ones never comes to pass. Ivy rules over a prosperous seaport, married to an aged husband she hates yet finding delight in her two young sons and a handsome captain of the guard. And as for Willow, she hides the most dangerous secret of all—one that could destroy all that the sisters once sought to save.

The saga begins in . . .

A People's Future of the United States Anthology

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams

A People’s Future of the United States, an anthology of twenty-five stories, will be released on February 5 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has a “Look Inside” preview of A People’s Future of the United States that contains the full table of contents. It has an incredible lineup of authors, including N. K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, Seanan McGuire, and Tananarive Due. (The book description below lists all the writers at the end.)

The Penguin Random House website also has a schedule of related tour events with the following authors:


A glittering landscape of twenty-five speculative stories that challenge oppression and envision new futures for America—from N. K. Jemisin, Charles Yu, Jamie Ford, G. Willow Wilson, Charlie Jane Anders, Hugh Howey, and more.

In these tumultuous times, in our deeply divided country, many people are angry, frightened, and hurting. Knowing that imagining a brighter tomorrow has always been an act of resistance, editors Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams invited an extraordinarily talented group of writers to share stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice. They asked for narratives that would challenge oppressive American myths, release us from the chokehold of our history, and give us new futures to believe in.

They also asked that the stories be badass.

The result is this spectacular collection of twenty-five tales that blend the dark and the light, the dystopian and the utopian. These tales are vivid with struggle and hardship—whether it’s the othered and the terrorized, or dragonriders and covert commandos—but these characters don’t flee, they fight.

Thrilling, inspiring, and a sheer joy to read, A People’s Future of the United States is a gift for anyone who believes in our power to dream a just world.

Featuring stories by Violet Allen • Charlie Jane Anders • Lesley Nneka Arimah • Ashok K. Banker • Tobias S. Buckell • Tananarive Due • Omar El Akkad • Jamie Ford • Maria Dahvana Headley • Hugh Howey • Lizz Huerta • Justina Ireland • N. K. Jemisin • Alice Sola Kim • Seanan McGuire • Sam J. Miller • Daniel José Older • Malka Older • Gabby Rivera • A. Merc Rustad • Kai Cheng Thom • Catherynne M. Valente • Daniel H. Wilson • G. Willow Wilson • Charles Yu

Thornbound (The Harwood Spellbook #2) by Stephanie Burgis

Thornbound, which continues Cassandra Harwood’s story following Snowspelled, will be released on February 25 (ebook, paperback).

Snowspelled (my review) is a delightful, wintry, romantic fantasy novella about a woman who defied gender roles by becoming a mage instead of a politician. Though Cassandra is going through a particularly difficult time when it begins, it’s ultimately optimistic and forward-thinking with a wonderful romance and supportive family relationships.

Stephanie Burgis’ website has excerpts from Snowspelled if you want to check out the first book before the upcoming publication of book two:


Cassandra Harwood scandalized her nation when she became the first woman magician in Angland. Now, she’s ready to teach a whole new generation of bright young women at her radical new school, the Thornfell College of Magic…

Until a sinister fey altar is discovered in the school library, the ruling Boudiccate sends a delegation to shut down Thornfell, and Cassandra’s own husband is torn away from her.

As malevolent vines slither in from the forest and ruthless politicians scheme against her, Cassandra must fight the greatest battle of her life to save her love, her school, and the future of the young women of Angland.

Additional Books:

Book Description:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER–NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor and Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider

“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story,” this #1 New York Times bestseller is “both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right” (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times).

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

There’s a good chance you’ve already heard about Madeline Miller’s newest novel, Circe: it was a #1 New York Times bestseller and widely considered to be one of the best books of 2018. (It also appeared on my own list of favorite books of 2018.)

Circe is the story of the titular Greek goddess, told from her own perspective through rich, lyrical writing. It covers a large span of time that could only belong an immortal, chronicling her early years with her parents and siblings, her discovery of her sorcery and particular gift for transformation, her exile to an island, and encounters with various figures from Greek mythology. Earlier in her tale, Circe’s views of those around her are not always accurate, and she gradually comes to understand the reality of the world of the gods—particularly the ways in which the women around her must be calculated in order to grasp power of their own.

Circe is a sympathetic character with her desire for connection, and I found the novel to be beautifully written and powerful. Her time on the island could drag at times—which is why this was not higher on my favorite books list—but other than that, Circe is fantastic.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt from Circe

Book Description:

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

Foundryside, the first book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy, is a lot of fun. It’s brimming with discovery between learning about its creative magic system and the sentient key that Sancia steals in the beginning, plus there are mysteries related to characters’ pasts. Though I didn’t think any of the characters had a lot of depth, I did find them entertaining to follow and especially enjoyed reading about Sancia, a thief struggling to survive in this grim city of powerful Houses—and one who has the unique ability to “hear” magical objects that she doesn’t entirely understand.

I didn’t love Foundryside: in addition to the lack of in-depth characterization, I also found it to be rather exposition-heavy at times plus the dialogue style is a bit modernly casual for my taste (even if it can be entertaining!). However, I did enjoy it and am certainly curious about the next book—and hopeful that the story will be smoother given that the background will have already been covered in the first book.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Foundryside


Book Description:

In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection—now she’s after revenge…

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her—and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

The Heart Forger is the middle book in Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch trilogy, following The Bone Witch (my review). As with the first book, I loved Tea: a powerful necromancer whose rage and desire for justice inspired her to follow her own path rather than the one expected of bone witches.

Though I did enjoy The Heart Forger, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Bone Witch (but I seem to be one of the few who feels that way!). The main reason I preferred the first book was that I found the characterization more compelling since it showed such a huge disparity between past Tea and present Tea, and I didn’t find that these two story lines in this installment had me thinking about how they came together as much. I also felt that the worldbuilding still contained a lot of fascinating but underdeveloped concepts, and despite the abundance of lovely prose, my reading flow was often interrupted by awkward phrasing and pieces that needed to be reworded for clarity. However, I was entertained by The Heart Forger and am looking forward to The Shadow Glass (coming March 5).

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt from The Heart Forger

Review(s) of Previous Books in the Bone Witch Trilogy:

  1. The Bone Witch

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee is the latest book from Disney-Hyperion’s Rick Riordan Presents imprint, whose goal is “to publish great middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage.” I was especially intrigued by Dragon Pearl with its fusion of space opera and Korean mythology (which Yoon Ha Lee wrote about here), and I’ve been wanting to read more by this book’s author after being captivated by his short story “The Coin of Heart’s Desire,” inspired by Korean folktales about the Dragon King Under the Sea. Though I did indeed love the general idea of this book, I also felt that the story itself was far too rushed and could have been better executed. Perhaps I would have found it to be an exciting introduction to science fiction and space adventures as a middle grade age reader, but the reader I am today—the one who most enjoys character-driven stories with strongly developed interpersonal relationships of all kinds—didn’t find Dragon Pearl particularly compelling, despite appreciating its foundations.

Thirteen-year-old Min longs for the day she can leave behind the daily drudgery of maintaining hydroponic units, preparing food, and cleaning air filters to join the Thousand Worlds Space Forces, just like her older brother Jun. But Min’s dream of serving the Space Forces with her brother is threatened when an investigator comes to her family’s home bearing news about Jun: he claims that Jun deserted to find the Dragon Pearl, sought for its incredible power to terraform an entire world within a single day.

As surprised as she is to learn that the Dragon Pearl is not merely a legend, Min finds the possibility of her brother being a traitor even more unbelievable. Jun worked too hard to get into the Space Forces to throw away his career like that, and it’s not like him to make waves or bend the rules (unlike his far more troublesome sister). Min is perturbed when her mother politely offers to share food with someone who would accuse her brother of such appalling disloyalty, but she relishes the opportunity to transform herself into a table so she can eavesdrop on the ensuing conversation—even though her mother forbids the use of magic. Min noticed that her mother’s been breaking her own rules throughout this encounter, so why should she obey them?

When their visitor has the audacity to threaten to investigate their entire family, Min becomes enraged. She changes back to human form, scattering food all over the kitchen and revealing the very secret she was afraid an investigation would uncover: that she, like the rest of her family, is a gumiho. Although humans are accepting of other supernaturals like dragons and goblins, they tend to hate fox spirits with their reputation for deceitfulness, and Min suspects this man feels similarly. Assuming that he is reaching for a weapon in response to finding himself in their midst, Min responds by swiftly whacking him over the head with a nearby saucepan.

Min is tasked with cleaning up the food-based mess she made while her mother and aunties discuss cleaning up the far worse mess she made  involving the investigator currently lying unconscious upon their floor. After overhearing a suggestion that perhaps she should be sent away to stay with family friends she’s never met, Min decides to take matters into her own hands and search for Jun herself—and proceeds to Charm and shape-shift her way through the stars on a quest to prove her brother’s innocence.

Although I can’t say I found Dragon Pearl to be especially engrossing at any point, it certainly contained various elements that I liked. It has a fun premise with its blend of space adventure and fantasy and story stemming from the strong sibling bond that impels Min to undertake her journey in the first place. The opening chapters were an interesting introduction to Min, and I did enjoy learning more about her fox spirit abilities and the various supernatural beings she encountered, including ghosts and a tiger captain. I was particularly fond of her friendship with two cadets in the Space Forces: a dragon with weather powers and a goblin who could produce food from thin air with their enchanted spork. I also appreciated that there was acceptance of all genders within the Space Forces, the occasional bits of humor throughout the story, and that the ending wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting.

But despite all these good pieces, I felt that the book never quite came together as a whole. It’s not actually slow paced since there’s always something happening, yet I found it dull after the first few chapters and struggled to finish it. Once Min sets out to find her brother, she seems to bounce from situation to situation as she meets many different people and supernaturals, and there are far too many characters with too little characterization. The only character who seems at all developed is the main protagonist, and delightful as she is, Min can basically be summarized as being loyal and impulsive (too impulsive if you ask me, but then, this is the opinion of a human who doesn’t have an impulsive bone in her body).

This book also seemed incomplete to me since there were a lot of parts that seemed as though they would be expanded on later but were not, and the author has said that this was written as a standalone so there will not necessarily be more to come. I did read an early unfinished copy and it’s possible that this had something to do with that, but there were enough of these instances that I wouldn’t have expected there to still be this many loose ends in a galley. There are details that leave one wondering about what precisely happened, such as Min’s puzzlement over the hidden meaning in a letter and a sword with a scent that seems significant, and these are never explained. In these cases, I can understand a lack of explanation since these were clues for Min and knowing the full story behind them was not actually important to her overall journey in the end (even if I personally wanted more information about them!).

However, there was one instance like this I thought should have had some followup regardless. At one point, Min reflects on the fact that she has learned some conflicting information that doesn’t line up, but then this is dropped completely without any further questioning or resolution. Since she is so impulsive, perhaps it just didn’t matter to her anymore once the moment was past—she didn’t try to learn more about other curiosities she encountered along the way once they no longer mattered to her mission, after all—but I found it strange that Min didn’t so much as wonder about it again later. It was described as bothering her, and I find it difficult to believe the determined gumiho who went to such lengths to find her brother wouldn’t at the very least ask about something that troubled her.

Though Dragon Pearl didn’t entirely work for me, I did admire the author’s vision of the world and incorporation of folklore and thought it featured some intriguing aspects. I suspect this imaginative book will resonate more with younger readers and those who prefer plot-driven books over character-driven ones (and it has indeed gotten many rave reviews!).

My Rating: 5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Dragon Pearl

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (most of which are unsolicited books from publishers). 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 fell behind on this feature during the holidays and ensuing new year busyness, this post includes purchases and copies for review consideration from the last few weeks. There have been no new posts since last weekend’s holiday edition feature, but I’m currently working on a review I hope to have ready to post early next week!

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

The final book in Katherine Arden’s Russian-inspired Winternight Trilogy was released earlier this month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Winter of the Witch, as well as a list of upcoming tour events for Katherine Arden.

The Penguin Random House website also has excerpts from the first two books in the trilogy:

  1. The Bear and the Nightingale
  2. The Girl in the Tower

I loved both The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, and I’m excited to read more about Vasya!


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

“A tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, S. L. Huang, and Rivers Solomon

The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, S. L. Huang, and Rivers Solomon

Serial Box will be publishing season one of The Vela this year. It’s possible to subscribe to read one chapter at a time as they are released or purchase the entire season to read at once, and it is available for preorder. The publisher’s website also has a season one preview.

The Vela is a space opera written by Machineries of Empire author Yoon Ha Lee, Wayfarers author Becky Chambers, Russell’s Attic author S. L. Huang, and An Unkindess of Ghosts author Rivers Solomon.

You can read more about The Vela on Becky Chambers’ blog.


Orphan, refugee, and soldier-for-hire Asala Sikou doesn’t think too much about the end of civilization. Her system’s star is dying, and the only person she can afford to look out for is herself. When a ship called The Vela vanishes during what was supposed to be a flashy rescue mission, a reluctant Asala is hired to team up with Niko, the child of a wealthy inner planet’s president, to find it and the outer system refugees on board. But this is no ordinary rescue mission; The Vela holds a secret that places the fate of the universe in the balance, and forces Asala to decide—in a dying world where good and evil are far from black and white, who deserves to survive?

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3) by Sarah J. Maas

A friend read the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy a few months ago and sent me the first two books as a gift. I had mixed feelings about A Court of Thorns and Roses (I didn’t like the romance or most of the characters, yet I kept thinking about it and was curious about the next book). Then I got about halfway through A Court of Mist and Fury, which is a far better book that addresses many of the issues I had with the first, and found myself completely HOOKED. I couldn’t start A Court of Wings and Ruin fast enough after I finished the second book, started reading it immediately, and also enjoyed it immensely.

Entertainment Weekly has a brief interview with Sarah J. Maas and an excerpt from A Court of Wings and Ruin.


Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses Novella) by Sarah J. Maas

You guessed it: I finished reading A Court of Wings and Ruin and wanted MORE. A Court of Frost and Starlight is set between the end of the trilogy and the upcoming books in the spin-off series (which I am desperately hoping is about Nesta).

Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from A Court of Frost and Starlight.


Narrated by Feyre and Rhysand, this bridges the events in A Court of Wings and Ruin and the upcoming novels in the series.

New in the #1 New York Times bestselling Court of Thorns and Roses series, A Court of Frost and Starlight is a glimpse into the lives of Feyre and Rhys as they begin to recover from the war that changed their world.

Feyre, Rhysand, and their close-knit circle of friends are still busy rebuilding the Night Court and the vastly-changed world beyond. But Winter Solstice is finally near, and with it, a hard-earned reprieve. Yet even the festive atmosphere can’t keep the shadows of the past from looming. As Feyre navigates her first Winter Solstice as High Lady, she finds that those dearest to her have more wounds than she anticipated — scars that will have a far-reaching impact on the future of their Court.

The Magic of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. The Towers of the Sunset by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. The Magic Engineer by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

The Magic of Recluce, The Towers of the Sunset, and The Magic Engineer (The Saga of Recluce #1–3) by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

The first three Saga of Recluce books were recently re-released with new covers for mass market paperback and ebook.

The Tor-Forge blog has an excerpt containing the first five chapters from The Magic of Recluce. The description below is also from the first book of the three.


L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s The Magic of Recluce begins his bestselling fantasy series the Saga of Recluce, which is one of the most popular in contemporary epic fantasy.

Young Lerris yearns to find a place in the world better suited to his skills and temperament. In Recluce this means taking one of two options: permanent exile from Recluce or the dangergeld, a complex, rule-laden wanderjahr in the lands beyond. Many do not survive.

Lerris chooses dangergeld.

Lerris will need magic in the lands beyond, where the power of the Chaos Wizards reigns unchecked, and he must learn to use his powers in an orderly way before his wanderjahr, or fall prey to Chaos.

Saga of Recluce

#1 The Magic of Recluce / #2 The Towers of Sunset / #3 The Magic Engineer / #4 The Order War / #5 The Death of Chaos / #6 Fall of Angels / #7 The Chaos Balance / #8 The White Order / #9 Colors of Chaos / #10 Magi’i of Cyador / #11 Scion of Cyador / #12 Wellspring of Chaos / #13 Ordermaster / #14 Natural Order Mage / #15 Mage-Guard of Hamor / #16 Arms-Commander / #17 Cyador’s Heirs / #18 Heritage of Cyador /#19 The Mongrel Mage / #20 Outcasts of Order / #21 The Mage-Fire War (forthcoming)

Story Collection: Recluce Tales

Additional Books:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (often these are unsolicited books from publishers). 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.

Between the holidays and writing my end of the year/beginning of the year posts, there’s a bit of catching up to do! This week, I’m just highlighting books I received for Christmas, and next week I plan to catch up on the rest.

There is one book I left off this list since I’ve already written about it a few times recently: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri. I loved this book and received a finished copy for Christmas. It was my 2018 Book of the Year, and I also reviewed it here.

There have been a few reviews and articles since the last one of these posts:

  • Review of The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library #5) by Genevieve Cogman — I didn’t think this installment was quite as much fun as the first four books in the series, but I’m still looking forward to the next book.
  • My Favorite Books of 2018 — I shared the eight books I found most memorable in 2018 and why they stood out to me.
  • Anticipated 2019 Speculative Fiction Releases — This is by no means a comprehensive list of the many books coming out this year that sound intriguing, but this is a list of the ones that I think sound the most intriguing of those. It includes books by both authors I’ve read before and new-to-me and debut authors.
  • Review of Star of the Morning (Nine Kingdoms #1) by Lynn Kurland — This is the first part of a fantasy romance trilogy that I found entertaining as a fun, quick read with the secret identity trope, but the fantasy world itself was pretty standard and not particularly compelling. I’m not planning to continue the series since there are approximately 2 billion books I want to read and I thought this one was just slightly better than okay.

Without any further ado, here are the holiday arrivals!

Monstress, Volume 3: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress, Volume 3: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress has some of the most gorgeous artwork I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been enjoying this dark graphic novel series a lot.

I have already read this one, and although I found the beginning a bit slow, it wasn’t long before I was immersed in Maika’s story. Now I’m looking forward to volume 4!


Maika has spent most of her life learning how to fight, but how will she fare when the only way to save her life…is to make friends?

Collects issues 13-18 of the Hugo Award and British Fantasy Award series.

Black Wings Beating by Alex London

Black Wings Beating (Skybound #1) by Alex London

I’ve wanted to read this young adult fantasy book ever since I first heard that it featured falconers! Visiting my local bird sanctuary/nature center got me interested in raptors of all kinds, and I was thrilled to hear of this book.

Mashable has more about Black Wings Beating and an excerpt here.


The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their worwld is more revered than the birds of prey and no one more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.

Brysen strives to be a great falconer―while his twin sister, Kylee, rejects her ancient gifts for the sport and wishes to be free of falconry. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward their home in the Six Villages, and no bird or falconer will be safe.

Together the twins must journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the Ghost Eagle, the greatest of the Uztari birds and a solitary killer. Brysen goes for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and to protect her brother’s future. But both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.

In this first young-adult fantasy novel in a trilogy, Alex London launches a soaring saga about the memories that haunt us, the histories that hunt us, and the bonds of blood between us.

Sister Emily's Lightship by Jane Yolen

Sister Emily’s Lightship and Other Stories by Jane Yolen

I was excited to get a signed hardcover copy of this collection of Jane Yolen’s stories! Of course, Jane Yolen is a wonderful writer and I love fairy tale reimaginings.

The description below is from the ebook edition since it’s easier to find and had more information on the book.


In these twenty-eight magnificent tales, which include two Nebula Award winners, Jane Yolen puts a provocative spin on familiar storybook worlds and beloved fairy tale characters

One of the most acclaimed and honored authors in science fiction and fantasy, Jane Yolen has been called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” for her brilliant reimagining of classic fairy tales. In her first collection of short stories written for an adult audience (after Tales of Wonder and Dragonfield), Yolen explores themes of freedom and justice, truth and consequence, and brings new life to our most cherished fables and myths.

Here are storybook realms rendered more contemporary, and cautionary tales made grimmer than Grimm: Snow White is transported to Appalachia to match wits with a snake-handling evil stepmother and Beauty’s meeting with the Beast takes a twisty, O. Henry–esque turn; in Yolen’s Nebula Award–winning “Lost Girls,” a feminist revolt rocks Peter Pan’s Neverland and in the collection’s glorious title story—also a Nebula winner—the poet Emily Dickinson receives some unexpected and otherworldly inspiration. Sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always enthralling, Sister Emily’s Lightship is proof positive that Yolen is truly a folklorist of our times.

This ebook features a personal history by Jane Yolen including rare images from the author’s personal collection, as well as a note from the author about the making of the book.

The Merry Spinster by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

I somehow hadn’t heard of this book before I got it for Christmas, but it sounds fascinating—dark fairy tale retellings “with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief”!

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Merry Spinster.


From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from the beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, “The Merry Spinster” takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and the best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.

Readers of The Toast will instantly recognize Ortberg’s boisterous good humor and uber-nerd swagger: those new to Ortberg’s oeuvre will delight in this collection’s unique spin on fiction, where something a bit mischievous and unsettling is always at work just beneath the surface.

Unfalteringly faithful to its beloved source material, The Merry Spinster also illuminates the unsuspected, and frequently, alarming emotional complexities at play in the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, as we tuck ourselves in for the night.

Bed time will never be the same.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

I’ve heard that this young adult fantasy is wonderful and have been wanting to read it!

Bustle has an excerpt from Girls of Paper and Fire.


Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

This young adult historical fantasy is another book I’ve heard is fantastic!

Epic Reads has an excerpt from The Bird and the Blade.


A sweeping and tragic debut novel perfect for fans of The Wrath and the Dawn and Megan Whalen Turner.

The Bird and the Blade is a lush, powerful story of life and death, battles and riddles, lies and secrets from author Megan Bannen.

Enslaved in Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: her home, her family, her freedom . . . until the kingdom is conquered by enemy forces and she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father across the vast Mongol Empire.

On the run, with adversaries on all sides and an endless journey ahead, Jinghua hatches a scheme to use the Kipchaks’ exile to return home, a plan that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into an impossible love.

Jinghua’s already dicey prospects take a downward turn when Khalaf seeks to restore his kingdom by forging a marriage alliance with Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan. As beautiful as she is cunning, Turandokht requires all potential suitors to solve three impossible riddles to win her hand—and if they fail, they die.

Jinghua has kept her own counsel well, but with Khalaf’s kingdom—and his very life—on the line, she must reconcile the hard truth of her past with her love for a boy who has no idea what she’s capable of . . . even if it means losing him to the girl who’d sooner take his life than his heart.

Star of the Morning
by Lynn Kurland
336pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 5.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.91/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.87/5

Book Description:

Darkness covers the north, since the black mage has begun his assault on the kingdom of Neroche. Legend has it that only the two magical swords held by Neroche’s king can defeat the mage. Now the fate of the Nine Kingdoms rests in the hands of a woman destined to wield one of those blades…

In this land of dragons and mages, warrior maids and magical swords, nothing is as it seems. And Morgan will find that the magic in her blood brings her troubles she cannot face with a sword-and a love more powerful than she has ever imagined.

Star of the Morning, the first book in the Nine Kingdoms series by New York Times bestselling author Lynn Kurland, is also the first installment in a fantasy romance trilogy following Morgan, a fierce warrior who loathes magic, and Miach, a prince and archmage. Their story continues in The Mage’s Daughter and concludes with Princess of the Sword.

As darkness threatens the land, the king’s magic mysteriously vanishes, leaving him with a non-magical sword that seems as if it never contained any power at all. With the kingdom’s defenses on the line, he brings the weapon to his brother Miach and demands that he solve the problem. When Miach does not immediately discover a way to restore the sword’s magic, he suggests that his brother search for the mage who can awaken a second legendary sword possessed by the royal family. Their undercover mission to find the wielder sets the two brothers on the same path as Morgan, who is on a quest she finds most distasteful: delivering a magical blade to the king. But Morgan has no idea that the pompous jerk she knocked out and stole from is the very same king she set out to find—or that his far more compelling younger brother is not just a farmer who knows a few minor spells related to growing crops.

As the first of three books, Star of the Morning does not tell a complete story, and it seems as though the tale is just getting started toward the end of this novel. There’s a lot of traveling, reading about Morgan and Miach getting to know (and then starting to fall for) each other, waiting for Miach to realize Morgan is the wielder, and waiting for Morgan to realize Miach is actually Prince Miach the Archmage. The latter was quite enjoyable since I do enjoy the secret identity trope, but there were times Morgan’s obliviousness was overdone.

The secondary characters are one dimensional, and although they are certainly more complex than the others, the two main characters also do not have a great deal of depth. Most of the focus is on Morgan’s development as it delves into her past and her struggle with accepting that she does indeed have magic, which she has long despised as being inferior to strength and steel. Morgan is outspoken and doesn’t take crap from anyone—even the king, and I doubt that having known his true identity would have made any difference to her whatsoever!—and her serious nature contrasts with Miach’s easygoing nature, which makes him someone she comes to feel comfortable around. I liked both main characters and thought their budding romance developed believably, and it seems like they are well matched.

The fantasy world and elements are rather generic and there are very few surprises. Although this is partially because readers have the advantage of getting both main characters’ perspectives, there’s also a distinct lack of subtlety or originality. The kingdom, magic, and legends are all very standard and vaguely familiar, but of course, it’s possible that the setting and its history are fleshed out more later in the series.

Overall, I found Star of the Morning to be conventional and slowly paced, yet lightly entertaining as a quick read with some fun interactions between the main characters. However, it was not memorable enough for me to add the next installment to my massive, constantly expanding to-read list even though it had its moments.

My Rating: 5.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.