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. 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.

This week brought a few books, two of which have already been discussed. Here are the links in case you are interested in reading more about them:

Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

This stand alone novel by the author of the Milkweed Triptych (Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, and Necessary Evil) will be released in December (hardcover, ebook).


Something More Than Night is a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler-inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas’s vision of Heaven. It’s a noir detective story starring fallen angels, the heavenly choir, nightclub stigmatics, a priest with a dirty secret, a femme fatale, and the Voice of God.

Somebody has murdered the angel Gabriel. Worse, the Jericho Trumpet has gone missing, putting Heaven on the brink of a truly cosmic crisis. But the twisty plot that unfolds from the murder investigation leads to something much bigger: a con job one billion years in the making.

Because this is no mere murder. A small band of angels has decided to break out of heaven, but they need a human patsy to make their plan work.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of Bayliss, a cynical fallen angel who has modeled himself on Philip Marlowe. The yarn he spins follows the progression of a Marlowe novel — the mysterious dame who needs his help, getting grilled by the bulls, finding a stiff, getting slipped a mickey

Angels and gunsels, dames with eyes like fire, and a grand maguffin, Something More Than Night is a murder mystery for the cosmos.

Old Mars by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Old Mars edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This anthology of science fiction stories will be released on October 8 (hardcover, ebook).


Fifteen all-new stories by science fiction’s top talents, collected by bestselling author George R. R. Martin and multiple-award winning editor Gardner Dozois

Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Heinlein’s Red Planet. These and so many more inspired generations of readers with a sense that science fiction’s greatest wonders did not necessarily lie far in the future or light-years across the galaxy but were to be found right now on a nearby world tantalizingly similar to our own—a red planet that burned like an ember in our night sky . . . and in our imaginations.

This new anthology of fifteen all-original science fiction stories, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, celebrates the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era filled with tales of interplanetary colonization and derring-do. Before the advent of powerful telescopes and space probes, our solar system could be imagined as teeming with strange life-forms and ancient civilizations—by no means always friendly to the dominant species of Earth. And of all the planets orbiting that G-class star we call the Sun, none was so steeped in an aura of romantic decadence, thrilling mystery, and gung-ho adventure as Mars.

Join such seminal contributors as Michael Moorcock, Mike Resnick, Joe R. Lansdale, S. M. Stirling, Mary Rosenblum, Ian McDonald, Liz Williams, James S. A. Corey, and others in this brilliant retro anthology that turns its back on the cold, all-but-airless Mars of the Mariner probes and instead embraces an older, more welcoming, more exotic Mars: a planet of ancient canals cutting through red deserts studded with the ruined cities of dying races.


James S. A. Corey • Phyllis Eisenstein • Matthew Hughes • Joe R. Lansdale • David D. Levine • Ian McDonald • Michael Moorcock • Mike Resnick • Chris Roberson • Mary Rosenblum • Melinda Snodgrass • Allen M. Steele • S. M. Stirling • Howard Waldrop • Liz Williams

And an Introduction by George R. R. Martin!

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths edited by Kate Bernheimer

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths edited by Kate Bernheimer

This anthology of retold myths will be released on September 24 (trade paperback, ebook). An excerpt can be read on the publisher’s website.


Fifty leading writers retell myths from around the world in this dazzling follow-up to the bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.

Icarus flies once more. Aztec jaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse—his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions.

Aimee Bender retells the myth of the Titans.

Madeline Miller retells the myth of Galatea.

Kevin Wilson retells the myth of Phaeton, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Emma Straub and Peter Straub retell the myth of Persephone.

Heidi Julavits retells the myth of Orpheus and Euridice.

Ron Currie, Jr. retells the myth of Dedalus.

Maile Meloy retells the myth of Demeter.

Zachary Mason retells the myth of Narcissus.

Joy Williams retells the myth of Argos, Odysseus’ dog.

If “xo” signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world’s oldest literary traditions.

Today I’m delighted to have a guest post by Emma Jane Holloway, author of The Baskerville Affair trilogy, in which she discusses incorporating plausible details and reality in fantasy fiction.

The Baskerville Affair, described on the author’s website as “one part mystery, two parts adventure and a wee pinch of romance,” begins in London in 1888 and focuses on the adventures of the niece of Sherlock Holmes, Evelina Cooper. Even though the first book will not be released until next week, there is not a long wait for a finished trilogy at all since the books will all be available by the end of this year—A Study of Silks will be released on September 24, A Study of Darkness in October, and A Study of Ashes in December.

The uses of macaroni in fantasy, at least sometimes
By Emma Jane Holloway

Baskerville Affair Macaroni Battle

I’d like to claim that Gandalf visited me in my dreams and bestowed upon me the magic gem of Zod, and henceforth I wove enchanting tales of wonder. Sadly, no. It was more like the lack of enchantment in public school drove me to read under my desk while the teacher was talking. Short of (metaphorically) chewing off my own limb in search of escape, my best option was to stealthily slip away into everything from Alan Garner to Robert E. Howard. If a book had swords I liked it, and when I ran out of stories to read I started writing them. Needless to say, I turned in some curious English essays.

And while that inspired me to dream stuff up, I probably should have paid more attention during physics and chemistry. Then at least I’d be better prepared to write about blowing things up. What I didn’t understand was that even fantasy is made up of information, and one of the pitfalls of telling lies for a living is that there is a limit to how much one can fake it. Characters are inevitably bound by what their creator tells them to do, and if the author is clueless, sooner or later it shows.

For me, this came to a head while writing my trilogy, The Baskerville Affair. The first book, A Study in Silks, was relatively easy—there is magic and derring-do, but the young protagonists are in nineteenth-century Mayfair worrying about careers and courtship because that’s what young folks do. No problem. Book 2 is darker and the physical action ramps up, but we get through it fine. Book 3—the grand finale—was different, because it truly launched into fantasy territory. Major battle scenes. Death sorcery. Crashing steampunk monsters. Airships. Multiple armies. High magic. All very groovy, if you like things that go boom.

I confess, I stalled. It was the first time I’d really tackled battle scenes on such a large scale. Furthermore, I do not have direct experience with earth-shattering cataclysms, unless you count deadlines. So there I was, all my characters staring at me with “what now?” written on their faces. The answer was beer and macaroni, and a lot of patience. The beer was for me. The macaroni was for research purposes.

Maybe I hadn’t been at an apocalyptic battle lately, but I could recreate one in miniature. I needed a tactile, visual way to work out what was happening. Sure, I did some reading about actual battles (navy battles in particular—if you think vertically as well as horizontally, they work pretty well for airships) and the 1830s in Paris is a rich source of detail about nineteenth-century urban rebellion. But the whole thing came together for me when I spread out a map of London and slowly began plotting the action move by move. I’d been to the relevant parts of the city recently, and that helped, but I needed more since I wasn’t actually there during an attack by clockwork monsters. In fact, I’d avoided most of the tourist season altogether.

Beans, pasta, lentils, and chickpeas became my forces. By moving them around the map, I got a far better sense of how my scenes should play out, and especially what would go wrong. Just try getting all those chickpeas–er, steampunk death spheres–across a bridge fast enough to cut off the rebel macaroni.

The point? Despite what I believed in school, good fantasy requires a lot more reality than one suspects. To make it good, I need plausible details. Sometimes that means research, and sometimes that means thinking a campaign through as if I was really going to fight it. I need to believe in the story, down to the smallest detail. It’s the only way my characters can figure it out. And until Gandalf shows up with some spiffy magic—or more lentils—finding the truth in my fiction will always require curiosity and a willingness to be both serious and absurd. And, occasionally, a lot of work.

So, given the importance of fact to fantasy, would I tell my younger self to get her nose out of that book and pay attention in class? Maybe some, but not completely. The other thing that any writer requires is a fierce desire that will carry a dream from page one to The End, and that doesn’t flourish without a little rebellion. So what if my memories of plane geometry are inextricably mixed with Conan the Barbarian? By Crom, it’s a consequence I’m more than willing to bear.

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

A Study in Silks
September 2013

Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society, but there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse . . .

In a Victorian era ruled by a Council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask . . .

Read about the trilogy & read an excerpt from A Study in Silks

Read the prequel short story

Emma Jane Holloway

Ever since childhood, Emma Jane Holloway refused to accept that history was nothing but facts prisoned behind the closed door of time. Why waste a perfectly good playground coloring within the timelines? Accordingly, her novels are filled with whimsical impossibilities and the occasional eye-blinking impertinence—but always in the service of grand adventure.

Struggling between the practical and the artistic—a family tradition, along with ghosts and a belief in the curative powers of shortbread—Emma Jane has a degree in literature and job in finance. She lives in the Pacific Northwest in a house crammed with books, musical instruments, and half-finished sewing projects. In the meantime, she’s published articles, essays, short stories, and enough novels to build a fort for her stuffed hedgehog.

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. 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.

This week brought three books, but I’ve already discussed two of them. Here are the links in case you are interested in reading more about them:

The Plague Forge by Jason M. Hough

The Plague Forge (Dire Earth Cycle #3) by Jason M. Hough

The final book in the Dire Earth Cycle will be released on September 24 (mass market paperback, ebook, audiobook). The first two books in the series are The Darwin Elevator and The Exodus Towers, respectively.


After discovering the first key in the wreckage of a crashed Builder ship, Skyler Luiken and his crew follow the migrating aura towers in search of the four remaining relics. But time is running out: the team learn that the next Builder event will be the last, and one of the objects has already fallen into dangerous hands…Will the survivors finally reveal the Builders’ plan?

Sci-Fi Month

Rinn from Rinn Reads is organizing Sci-Fi Month, a community event to celebrate the science fiction genre. During the month of November, her blog and other blogs will be discussing science fiction with book/TV/film recommendations, book reviews, interviews with science fiction authors, giveaways, and more! If you are interested in participating or would like more information on the event, you can read more about Sci-Fi Month at Rinn’s blog.

I will be participating in this event, which sounds like a lot of fun (and will encourage me to read some of the science fiction books I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t yet!). Now… to figure out which science fiction books to read from the many I’m considering.

A lot of books coming out next year are starting to make me excited about reading in 2014! This upcoming book by C.S. Friedman sounds pretty interesting, plus I really enjoyed both of her other books I’ve read (science fiction novel In Conquest Born and dark fantasy novel Feast of Souls).

Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman

Dreamwalker, the first book in a new series, is scheduled for release in February 2014.

About Dreamwalker:

All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien. She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica’s dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams…and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork.


As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe.

Following clues left behind on Tommy’s computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth’s darkest legends – as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.

Omens is the first book in the new Cainsville series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, best known for her Otherworld series. The second Cainsville book, titled Visions, is in progress.

Olivia Taylor-Jones, the daughter of the wealthy owner of a department store, recently received her master’s degree from Yale and does volunteer work in her spare time like her philanthropist mother. She is soon to be married to the CEO of a tech company who was voted one of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors three years in a row. However, her life falls apart when her identity is revealed: Eden Larsen, the daughter of the notorious serial killers Todd and Pamela Larsen.

Since Olivia’s parentage was only known by her deceased adoptive father, this news comes as a great shock to everyone—especially to Olivia, whose parents had never told her she was adopted as a toddler. The media constantly hounds her, her adoptive mother distances herself from Olivia after learning she’s related to criminals, and the only person who seems at all sympathetic toward her is her fiance James. Yet even he would like to postpone the wedding until things settle down, a desire Olivia suspects is connected to his recent decision to enter politics. Olivia breaks off the engagement and leaves, planning to find a job and a place to live, but these goals are hindered by the fact that everyone recognizes her as Eden Larsen and no one wants to hire the daughter of the infamous Larsens.

Olivia leaves Chicago entirely and relocates to the mysterious town Cainsville, where she rents a small apartment and gets a job as a waitress at a local diner. When her biological mother requests to see her, Olivia visits her in prison with the help of former lawyer to Pamela Larsen and former Cainsville resident Gabriel Walsh. Olivia enlists Gabriel’s aid in investigating the final murder said to have been committed by Pamela and Todd after Pamela requests that Olivia contact some organizations about appealing their case. She insists there is a reason she and Todd could not have killed the final two victims they were supposed to have killed. If it can be proven they are innocent of those murders, it’s possible they can be given a second chance to prove they are not responsible for the deaths they were convicted for.

My thoughts on Omens: Meh. The End.

That’s the review I was tempted to write, but I suppose I should attempt to explain why I felt that way about it even if reviews of books that do not leave much of an impression are the hardest reviews to write. Let’s start over and try this again…

While Omens contains some fantasy elements that I’m assuming will be explored more in later books in the series, it’s closer to a mystery/thriller/suspense novel than contemporary fantasy. The supernatural aspects are sprinkled in and are not nearly as important as the mystery plot. Unfortunately, this mystery plot, the writing, and the characters are all mediocre, and the additional lack of well-developed, interesting fantasy elements prevents Omens from being a memorable book. Since it is simply written and repetitive, it’s an easy book to read quickly, but there were times I found it dull, especially toward the beginning, and it never became any better than mildly entertaining.

Part of the reason Omens didn’t particularly excite me is personal: I’m not a big fan of mysteries by themselves and this novel is largely focused on investigating a murder mystery. However, I also thought Omens failed to succeed at much of what it appeared to be trying to do. I got the impression that Cainsville, the town Olivia moves to after the discovery about her biological parents, was supposed to be very mysterious with the hints of its history, gargoyles that protect the town from the plague, and residents who have a touch of supernatural ability. Plus Olivia’s flight to Cainsville is orchestrated, and someone really wants her there for some reason as we’re told from one of several short interludes told from the perspective of various characters other than Olivia. These sections also seemed to be trying to get me to wonder at the mysteriousness of it all, but I just found them clumsy since they both did more telling than showing and didn’t add much to the story or say much that was new.

Yet despite the great pains I felt were being taken to make me want to know more about Cainsville, I didn’t care about what was going on or find it particularly compelling. Too little information was given to pique my interest, especially since what was given was vague and generic. Thoughts by a minor character on Olivia and Eden as names and which fit her better? I don’t care. A section that confirms what was already quite obvious that someone was more than they appeared? Unnecessary. Olivia’s budding ability to see visions that went with various superstitions that could be interpreted as omens? A little creative, at least, but still pretty similar to being a seer, especially since she never used this in a way that was particularly unusual. Of course, she’s still learning about this, but her abilities were never utilized in a way that made me want to see what she could really do.

In general, the writing is quite dull, especially since the aforementioned attempts at adding suspense just added to the length of the book. Telling instead of showing is a big problem that extends into Olivia’s main narrative as well. Much of the book is Olivia’s thoughts or dialogue, and there’s not much to keep one guessing about what might be meant by what is shown since it’s all spelled out repeatedly. Furthermore, being in Olivia’s head is boring since she just spills all her thoughts onto the page without having much personality or a unique narrative voice.

The fact that Olivia did simply narrate her story without coming alive as an individual kept her from being an engaging character. She could have been an intriguing figure since she did prove to be independent and capable. Even though she came from a wealthy family and never wanted for anything in her life, she was able to take care of herself. She had no problem with going out and getting a job and a shabby apartment if it’s what she needed to do. I also thought her decision to go out on her own made sense. While Olivia had money and a handsome rich fiance, she also didn’t seem entirely happy. Her relationship with her adoptive mother is somewhat strained, and it’s quite obvious that she is struggling since her adoptive father, whom she was close to, died. Olivia also seems to feel a bit trapped since she does want to continue her education and have a career instead of following in her mother’s footsteps, and she also seems rather dismayed by the recent news that her fiance has plans to go into politics. With the cold reaction she received from her mother and her fiance’s wish to postpone the wedding after discovering her identity, I think it makes sense that she’d try to get away for a bit.

After Olivia, the most prominent character was Gabriel, the ruthless lawyer who helped her with the case. As with everything else in this novel, I felt like the book was trying to convince me he was more interesting than he actually was. He rose to a prominent position on his own, has a mysterious past, and may have some humanity hidden under that cold exterior. I suspect he and Olivia will fall in love, but there’s no sparkling dialogue between them that makes me care if they do.

Omens was a mediocre book that failed to live up to its potential. At times, it managed to be entertaining and though I have criticisms I didn’t despise it, but it was ultimately not at all special or unique since it had bland characters, writing, and fantasy elements. Cainsville is not a series I plan to continue.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from a publicist.

Read an Excerpt from Omens

Other Reviews: