Since the beginning of 2016, I have been reading and reviewing one book a month based on the results of a poll on PatreonAll of these monthly reviews can be viewed here.

This will be the last monthly book review based on a Patreon poll. When I started the Patreon account last year, I knew I was doing something a bit different by offering editing services, but since that hasn’t drawn much attention, I’ve shut it down and replaced it with Ko-fi (though I will have more to say in the near future about editing services!). If you find the work I do here interesting and want to buy me a coffee, I would appreciate it.

For the final monthly poll, I decided to forego any sort of theme and just select a few books from my shelves that sounded especially appealing at the moment. This month’s book selections were as follows:

The August book is…

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Yangsze Choo’s stunning debut, The Ghost Bride, is a startlingly original novel infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, and unexpected supernatural twists.

Li Lan, the daughter of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia, hopes for a favorable marriage, but her father has lost his fortune, and she has few suitors. Instead, the wealthy Lim family urges her to become a “ghost bride” for their son, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at what price?

Night after night, Li Lan is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where she must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family.

Reminiscent of Lisa See’s Peony in Love and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s DaughterThe Ghost Bride is a wondrous coming-of-age story and from a remarkable new voice in fiction.

I’m really excited to read this one—I’ve heard it’s wonderful, and I also found it interesting to learn more about how Yangsze Choo found inspiration for The Ghost Bride and her upcoming second novel, The Night Tiger, in old buildings.


World Fantasy Award–winning author Patricia A. McKillip’s standalone novel In the Forests of Serre, first published in 2003, is among her many works that have been nominated for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Though it’s not quite on par with my favorites of her books (The Changeling Sea and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld), it’s a beautifully written fairy tale that I enjoyed immensely.

While riding through the forests of Serre on his way home from battle, Prince Ronan unexpectedly comes across a woman and her chickens, though he doesn’t notice the white hen in his path until he hears its screech as it’s trampled by his horse. Unfortunately for Ronan, the woman feeding her birds is the witch Brume, and the hen that met its demise beneath his horse’s hooves was her particular favorite.

When Ronan asks how to repay Brume, she says he can come into her house, pluck the dead hen, and drink a cup of broth made from it around her fire with his men. In the tales Ronan has heard of Brume, he’s heard that one should never ever enter her house made of bones, and he refuses to do as she asks. After his third refusal, the witch informs Ronan that he is about to have a very bad day and that after he leaves his father’s palace later that day, he will not be able to find his way back to it—until after he finds Brume once again.

Ronan does return home to receive some very bad news: he is to wed Sidonie, a princess of Dacia, in four days. Still in mourning from the recent loss of his wife and child, Ronan is not ready to marry again, but his father is adamant that he will obey. Soon after he learns the king’s plan for his future, Ronan views a beautiful bird-woman made of fire from his window and is drawn to follow her into the forests of Serre, leaving Sidonie without a groom after she’s spent most of her summer traveling to Serre to marry the prince. If the prince cannot break the enchantment and return to the palace, his cruel father isn’t going to simply return the princess to Dacia—and that may start the war between the two countries that Ronan and Sidonie’s marriage was supposed to prevent…

In the Forests of Serre is the sixth book I’ve read by Patricia A. McKillip (and the fourth novel since two of the others I’ve read are short story collections). Though it’s not my favorite of her works, it’s quite recognizably a Patricia A. McKillip book due to the beautiful writing, fairy tale quality, quiet subversion of tropes, and slight moments of charm and humor. I rather enjoyed it, but I am finding that I seem to prefer her novels when they focus on one main character instead of several. In the Forests of Serre follows four main characters, and as a fairly short book, that’s not enough time to add immense depth to any of them, despite the fact that I wouldn’t call any of them flat characters.

Of the four main characters, my favorite is Sidonie. As I noted when discussing “The Gorgon in the Cupboard” in my review of Dreams of Distant Shores, I particularly appreciate Patricia A. McKillip’s female characters, and Sidonie is no exception. Toward the beginning, especially when viewed through the eyes of others, she may seem like a stereotypical princess archetype: beautiful, kind, brave, dutiful to her father and the needs of her country even though she does not want to go to Serre to marry a complete stranger who’s still in love with his dead wife. However, she is one of the more clever, resourceful characters in the novel, and even without having any magical ability of her own, she is more successful at looking out for herself within the forests of Serre than many. One of the best parts of the novel is the subversion of the damsel in distress trope when Sidonie has a bad situation completely under control—at least, she would have had it under control if someone hadn’t completely botched up her plan with his attempt to rescue her.

In addition to Sidonie and Ronan, the novel follows two characters connected to the once-powerful wizard Unciel, the scribe Euan and the wizard Gyre. Euan assists Unciel by writing down the tales of his past adventures, although the wizard refuses to share the story of his last, the one resulting in his current frailness. It’s through these chapters that we get to see what’s happening in Dacia, and they also provide further insight into what’s happening to Gyre, the wizard the king hires to shield Sidonie from the strange magic of Serre at Unciel’s recommendation. Though Gyre brings Sidonie safely to the palace in Serre, he has a great desire for power and can’t protect himself from the lure of the country’s magic, causing further problems for Sidonie and Ronan.

The writing is poetic with vivid imagery, such as when Sidonie saw the firebird for the first time:


She saw nothing else, heard nothing, as it flew silently through the twilight, its wings trailing plumes and ribbons of flame, its tail covered with jewels of fire. Its claws and beak and eyes seemed of hammered gold that melted into fire and then hardened again into gold. It sang a note. She felt the sound fall through her heart like a pearl falling slowly, with infinite beauty, through liquid gold.
—pp. 56–57

In the Forests of Serre is a gorgeously written, enchanting story with kingdoms, mages, a witch, talking animals, and frequent use of the rule of three—and like many fairy tales, it’s both literally and figuratively about the human heart. Although I enjoyed reading about all the characters, especially Sidonie, I wasn’t quite as invested in them as in other books I’ve read by Patricia A. McKillip, but it’s still a gem I can easily imagine rereading in the future.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is July’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

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 (usually 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.

Last week brought some books by a couple of excellent authors, but before getting to the latest books, here are last week’s reviews in case you missed either of them:

Now, the latest books…

The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

This short story collection from Hugo, Nebula, Mythopoeic, and World Fantasy Award–winning author Peter S. Beagle will be released on November 7 (trade paperback). Each story has a brief introduction by the author, and the book includes two stories about Schmendrick from The Last Unicorn, including one that has not been published before titled “Schmendrick Alone,” and a story set in the same world as The Innkeeper’s SongThe complete table of contents from The Overneath can be viewed on the publisher’s website.


An odd couple patrols a county full of mythological beasts and ornery locals. A familiar youngster from the world of The Last Unicorn is gifted in magic but terrible at spell-casting. A seemingly incorruptible judge meets his match in a mysterious thief who steals his heart. Two old friends discover that the Overneath goes anywhere, including locations better left unvisited.

Lyrical, witty, and insightful, The Overneath is Peter S. Beagle’s much-anticipated return to the short form. In these uniquely beautiful and wholly original tales, with new and uncollected work, Beagle once again proves himself a master of the imagination.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin; edited by Brian Attebery

This two-volume, hardcover boxed set contains award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels and short stories set in the Hainish universe, which include her Hugo and Nebula Award–winning novels The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. This complete collection contains nearly 2,000 pages, and each volume has an introduction by the author.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories will be released on September 5.


For the first time, a deluxe collector’s edition of the pathbreaking novels and stories that reinvented science fiction, with new introductions by the author.

In such visionary masterworks as the Nebula and Hugo Award winners The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin redrew the map of modern science fiction, imagining a galactic confederation of human colonies founded by the planet Hain, an array of worlds whose divergent societies—the result of both evolution and genetic engineering—allow her to speculate on what is intrinsic in human nature. Now, for the first time, the complete Hainish novels and stories are collected in a deluxe two-volume Library of America boxed set, with new introductions by the author.

Voiume one gathers the first five Hainish novels: Rocannon’s World, in which an ethnologist sent to a bronze-age planet must help defeat an intergalactic enemy; Planet of Exile, the story of human colonists stranded on a planet that is slowly killing them; City of Illusions, which finds a future Earth ruled by the mysterious Shing; and the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning masterpieces The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed—as well as four short stories.

Volume two presents Le Guin’s final two Hainish novels, The Word for World Is Forest, in which Earth enslaves another planet to strip its natural resources, and The Telling, the harrowing story of a society which has suppressed its own cultural heritage. Rounding out the volume are seven short stories and the story suite Five Ways to Forgiveness, published here in full for the first time.

The endpapers feature Le Guin’s own hand-drawn map of Gethen, the planet that is the setting for The Left Hand of Darkness, and a full-color chart of the known worlds of Hainish descent.

Additional Book(s):

Book Description from Goodreads:

The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Nimona is an incredibly entertaining graphic novel with great characters—in short, I loved it! It begins with Nimona, a young girl, trying to convince notorious villain and scientist Lord Blackheart that the Agency sent her to be his sidekick in order to better appeal to the youthful demographic. When she’s forced to admit she can’t produce a letter from the organization, she turns into a shark and instead convinces him that a shapeshifter would be a great asset to the cause of villainy. Nimona is excited to aid him in crafting evil plans, but she’s rather disappointed to learn that Lord Blackheart does follow certain rules, such as not murdering people. Though she’s technically a sidekick, Nimona’s not one to obey orders, and she brings complete chaos into Lord Blackheart’s life—and by extension, into renowned hero Sir Goldenloin’s life, as she refuses to adhere to accepted protocol for encounters between heroes and villains.

From the start, Nimona is a fun story with a sense of humor, but it develops more depth as it delves into the characters and examines what makes one a hero or a villain. Though Lord Blackheart is considered evil, he’s more concerned with not harming people than the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics that he opposes, and he’s immediately more sympathetic than Sir Goldenloin since the first glimpse of the famous hero is from their past. When they were younger, they were the Institution’s most promising heroes-in-training and romantically involved. The first time they had to compete against each other, Lord Blackheart won the contest—but immediately afterward, Sir Goldenloin wounded him badly enough that the Institution decided he was no longer hero material. Since then the two have been nemeses, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that they have a complicated relationship and never completely stopped caring about each other.

Nimona adds a lot of life to the story with her enthusiasm for wickedness and mayhem, and her ability to shapeshift into any living creature, including a dragon, allows her to cause a lot of destruction. As the book progresses, it’s shown that Nimona has held back a lot about her capabilities, and the mystery of her true nature and power are at the heart of the story. I won’t go into detail about it to avoid spoilers, but I will add that her scenes with the more solemn, not-at-all bloodthirsty Lord Blackheart are often quite amusing and I rather liked the development of their friendship.

The art was rough toward the beginning, and although it did improve, it was still a simple style that I didn’t find particularly visually appealing, even if it did get the point across. I also would have liked for it to develop the world and lore a bit more, but the story and characters more than made up for any issues I had with it. Nimona is a delightful book that belongs on my keeper shelf since I suspect I’ll reread it some day, and I’d love to read more about Nimona and/or Lord Blackheart (and I was excited to see that a Nimona film is in the works!).

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I received it for my birthday earlier this year.

Read the First Three Chapters of Nimona

Tomorrow’s Kin, Nancy Kress’ latest novel, is the first installment in a science fiction trilogy expanding on her superb Nebula Award–winning novella Yesterday’s Kin (my review). In its entirety, this novel spans about ten years: the first part contains the previously published story, which revolves around a geneticist whose interesting (though rather unremarkable) discovery leads to her being among the first to meet aliens, and the last two thirds continues after the end of the original novella. Though I did feel that the first third was stronger than the new additions, Tomorrow’s Kin as a whole is both smart and engaging—once I started reading it, I had a difficult time putting it down!

Four months ago, humanity was divided between relief and panic: the object heading toward Earth originally thought to be an asteroid actually turned out to be an alien spacecraft. For some time, the ship remained near the moon and the aliens remained out of sight, only communicating with the United Nations via mechanical voice technology. Though the public knew little of these discussions, the visitors’ response to being asked why they came was heard around the world: “To make contact with humanity. A peace mission.”

After two months of tranquil relations, the aliens received permission to launch a floating embassy in New York Harbor in exchange for sharing the physics of their star drive. However, they continued to wait to show themselves to the world even after settling on Earth—until two months later, when they requested a face-to-face meeting with some United Nations ambassadors and Dr. Marianne Jenner, a geneticist of little renown.

After two years of hard work and research, Marianne is finally celebrating the publication of her paper on the thirty-first haplogroup of mitochondrial DNA she discovered. However, the party honoring her success is abruptly interrupted by FBI agents following orders to take her to UN Special Mission Headquarters, though they cannot provide any further information as to why. Marianne can only conclude it’s related to the aliens and her research, but she has no idea how the two are connected: while proud of her accomplishment, she’s aware that her discovery is not exactly an earth-shattering scientific breakthrough.

When the aliens reveal themselves for the first time, everyone is shocked by the revelation of who they truly are and the warning they bring—a disaster is heading for Earth, and the scientists who may be able to help only have ten months to find a solution…

Like Yesterday’s Kin before it, Tomorrow’s Kin is exemplary of why Nancy Kress is one of my favorite authors of science fiction: once again, I find myself in awe of her ability to seamlessly blend science and fiction together to create a book that’s both intelligent and compulsively readable from beginning to end. Science, particularly biological fields such as genetics and ecology, is integral to the plot and woven in without overwhelming the story with dry infodumps. As well done as this is, the novel’s biggest success is its focus on humanity and the main protagonist at its center—Dr. Marianne Jenner, a geneticist, mother, grandmother, and overall fully rounded character complete with strengths and flaws.

Tomorrow’s Kin is quite believable and thoughtfully plotted, and it’s easy to envision events unfolding as they do as a result of aliens visiting Earth. The work of scientists is essential to the plot, and scientific explanations are clear, concise, and important to the story—they are not window-dressing to make it seem more like “science fiction.” The way it’s incorporated into the novel is fascinating without being too detailed or dry, and part of the reason it works so well is that it also explores how events effect societal groups and individuals. Different groups and people have different beliefs about the aliens even if they agree on the basics. For instance, Marianne’s daughter Elizabeth and son Ryan are not fond of the aliens but for different reasons: Elizabeth is a border patrol officer devoted to American isolationism and Ryan is an ecologist who views them as an invasive species. Throughout the novel, there are different factions and responses to circumstances, including those who ignore science and the facts, and some people change their views based on new experiences while others remain steadfast in their beliefs no matter what.

In addition to its plausibleness and sheer readability, one of the best aspects of Tomorrow’s Kin is its main protagonist. Marianne is around fifty years old at the beginning of the book’s ten-year span, has three grown children and a grandchild on the way, and is a geneticist working at a second-rate university—in other words, she’s a fairly ordinary person, not an action heroine or the world’s only hope for salvation as one of the best scientists in the world. She makes a not-particularly-momentous discovery that leads to a rare opportunity to be involved in some major events, but she doesn’t even specialize in a branch of science that would allow her to save the world from the calamity it will face. I loved that is focused on a very real heroine who has successes and failures, who has struggles and makes mistakes, and continues to learn and grow, but never becomes anything other than who she is to suit the story. Though Marianne does not follow the same career path through the entire story, she still follows a path that’s natural to her background, using skills she would have learned as a lecturer to stand up for what she believes in and make her voice heard, and there’s still plenty of tension and excitement to be had when following a heroine who is the center of the story but not the universe.

Though many of them had interesting qualities, I didn’t think the other characters were anywhere near as multi-dimensional as Marianne (which is probably inevitable since she’s the only character with a lot of focus in all three sections of the novel). For the most part, this didn’t bother me since Marianne was such a fantastic character, but I did think a couple of characters’ arcs could have been handled better: there are one notable gay character and one notable black character, and it was rather glaring that both of their stories follow such similar courses.

Other than this, I just have one other criticism: the first third (the original novella) did seem a little stronger than the two parts that followed, although I found all of them rather compelling. The first section is more focused on the Jenner family as a whole, and I found Marianne’s complex relationships with her three adult children one of the more memorable aspects. In the second part, Marianne’s family does not play as big a part and that lack was noticeable, even though I did find learning about the aftermath of the aliens’ warning quite intriguing. The final section has more focus on the family, mainly following Marianne and one of her grandsons as it delves into the aftereffects for the generation of children born after this event, and this section also has more mystery and excitement than the middle portion.

Tomorrow’s Kin is a skillfully written novel: while it’s not an action-packed book, it’s extremely readable, and the science is incorporated into the novel naturally without slowing it down or making it into a slog to read. The simple but effective prose helps it move quickly, and it follows an interesting, true-to-life heroine. Though the book is not without its flaws, it’s thoughtfully plotted and entertaining, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

My Rating: 8/10

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

Related Links:

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 (usually 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.

Another week, another set of intriguing books! Though there were no new reviews last week, my review of Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress should be going up this week.

Now, the latest books!

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) by N. K. Jemisin

The final book in N. K. Jemisin’s phenomenal Broken Earth trilogy will be released on August 15 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). Both of the previous books in the trilogy, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, were Nebula Award nominees, plus The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award and The Obelisk Gate is one of this year’s Hugo Award finalists.

The Stone Sky has the distinction of being one of the 2017 releases I was most looking forward to reading, if not the most anticipated. The Fifth Season (my review) is a brilliant book, and I absolutely loved The Obelisk Gate (my review).

Excerpts from the first two Broken Earth books are available on the publisher’s website:

  1. The Fifth Season
  2. The Obelisk Gate


The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

The remarkable conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed trilogy that began with the multi-award-nominated The Fifth Season.

The Broken Earth
The Fifth Season
The Obelisk Gate
The Stone Sky

Halls of Law by V. M. Escalada

Halls of Law (Faraman Prophecy #1) by V. M. Escalada

This epic fantasy, written by The Sleeping God author Violette Malan, will be released on August 1 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Halls of Law (the “Look Inside” link below the cover image).


The first book in the Faraman Prophecy introduces a world of military might and magical Talents on the brink of destruction 

The Faraman Polity was created by the first Luqs, and has been ruled for generations by those of the Luqs bloodline. It is a burgeoning empire maintained by the combined efforts of the standing military force and the Talents of the Halls of Law. While the military preserves and protects, it is the Halls’ Talents—those gifted from birth with magical abilities—who serve as the agents and judges of the Law. For no one can successfully lie to a Talent. Not only can they read people by the briefest of physical contacts, but they can also read objects, able to find information about anyone who has ever come into direct contact with that object. Thanks to the Talents and the career military, the Polity has long remained a stable and successful society. But all that is about to change.

Seventeen-year-old Kerida Nast has always wanted a career in the military, just like the rest of her family. So when her Talent is discovered, and she knows she’ll have to spend the rest of her life as a psychic for the Halls of Law, Ker isn’t happy about it. Anyone entering the Halls must give up all personal connection with the outside world, losing their family and friends permanently. Just as Kerida is beginning to reconcile herself to her new role, the Polity is invaded by strangers from Halia, who begin a systematic campaign of destruction against the Halls, killing every last Talent they can find.

Kerida manages to escape, falling in with Tel Cursar, a young soldier fleeing the battle, which saw the deaths of the royal family. Having no obvious heir to the throne, no new ruler to rally behind, the military leaders will be divided, unable to act quickly enough to save the empire. And with the Halls being burned to the ground, and the Talents slaughtered, the Rule of Law will be shattered.

To avoid the invaders, Kerida and Tel are forced to enter old mining tunnels in a desperate attempt to carry word of the invaders to Halls and military posts that have not yet been attacked. But the tunnels hide a dangerous secret, a long-hidden colony of Feelers—paranormal outcasts shut away from the world for so long they are considered mythical. These traditional enemies of the Halls of Law welcome Kerida, believing she fulfills a Prophecy they were given centuries before by the lost race of griffins. With the help of these new allies, Kerida and Tel stand a chance of outdistancing the invaders and reaching their own troops. However, that is only the start of what will become a frantic mission to learn whether any heir to the throne remains, no matter how distant in the bloodline. Should they discover such a person, they will have to find the heir before the Halian invaders do. For if the Halians capture the future Luqs, it will spell the end of the Faraman Polity and the Rule of Law.

To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda

To Guard Against the Dark (Reunification #3) by Julie E. Czerneda

The final book in the Reunification trilogy will be released on October 10 (hardcover, ebook).

Julie Czerneda answered some questions about creating aliens in science fiction as part of the blog tour for the first book, This Gulf of Time and Stars (my review).

As part of the blog tour for the next book, The Gate to Futures Past, Julie Czerneda wrote a guest post about her experience with moving in the midst of book deadlines.


The final book in the hard science fiction Reunification trilogy, the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Clan Chronicles

Jason Morgan is a troubling mystery to friends and enemies alike: once a starship captain and trader, then Joined to the most powerful member of the Clan, Sira di Sarc, following her and her kind out of known space.

Only to return, alone and silent.

But he’s returned to a Trade Pact under seige and desperate. The Assemblers continue to be a threat. Other species have sensed opportunity and threaten what stability remains, including those who dwell in the M’hir. What Morgan knows could save them all, or doom them.

For not all of the Clan followed Sira. And peace isn’t what they seek.

Additional Books: