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.

Before getting to the latest books, here’s last week’s post in case you missed it:

  • Review of the July Patreon book, The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason (it had a fun premise with tropes I love, but I thought the world, characters, and writing were all rather bland)

Now, for the books of the week!

Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee Hieber

Eterna and Omega (Eterna Files #2) by Leanna Renee Hieber

This gaslamp fantasy by Prism Award-winning author Leanna Renee Hieber will be released on August 9 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from The Eterna Files, the first book in the series, can be read on, as well as an excerpt from Eterna and Omega.

If you’re from the US or Canada, you can enter to win a copy of Eterna and Omega on Goodreads. The giveaway ends on August 8.

There are a couple of book events in West Chester, Ohio, and New York City in August:


Leanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy series continues and the action ramps up in Eterna and Omega.

In New York City, fearing the dangers of the Eterna Compound–supposedly the key to immortality–Clara Templeton buries information vital to its creation. The ghost of her clandestine lover is desperate to tell her she is wrong, but though she is a clairvoyant, she cannot hear him.

In London, Harold Spire plans to send his team of assassins, magicians, mediums, and other rogue talents to New York City, in an attempt to obtain Eterna for Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria. He stays behind to help Scotland Yard track down a network of body snatchers and occultists, but he’ll miss his second-in-command, Rose Everhart, whose gentle exterior masks a steel spine.

Rose’s skepticism about the supernatural has been shattered since she joined Spire’s Omega Branch. Meeting Clara is like looking into a strange mirror: both women are orphans, each is concealing a paranormal ability, and each has a powerful and attractive guardian who has secrets of his own.

The hidden occult power that menaces both England and America continues to grow. Far from being dangerous, Eterna may hold the key to humanity’s salvation.

Additional Book(s):

The Empress Game
by Rhonda Mason
352pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 4/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.75/5

The Empress Game, Rhonda Mason’s first published novel, is the first book in a science fiction trilogy sharing the same title. Although it features some tropes I enjoy and had potential to be a fun story, I found the writing and characters bland and did not find it nearly compelling enough to want to read Cloak of War, the next book, after its release in October.

Five years ago, Kayla Reunimon and her younger brother Corinth escaped their home world after the rest of their family was attacked and killed. Since then, they’ve been hiding on the seedy side of another planet, slowly saving enough credits to get Corinth the psi training he desperately needs. Their best hope of earning these credits is utilizing the fighting skills Kayla acquired as a princess from the Wyrd Worlds, and she enters the Blood Pits under the name “Shadow Panthe.”

As the undefeated champion of the Blood Pits, Shadow Panthe’s reputation spreads to other worlds—and Malkor believes she is the perfect fit when he is tasked with finding a body double who can win the upcoming Empress Game as Princess Isonde. Malkor and Isonde’s lifelong friend Prince Ardin, the Emperor’s heir, is not allowed to choose his own future Empress but must marry the woman who triumphs over all others in a fighting tournament. As the Empress Ascendant is a member of the powerful Council of Seven, Ardin, Isonde, and Malkor are willing to risk everything to ensure that Isonde ascends to this seat for the good of their Empire.

When Malkor first approaches her with his rather substantial offer, Kayla scoffs at the idea of impersonating Isonde and refuses, but Malkor vows not to give up, going so far as to track her to her home, break in, and stun her. Though Kayla still continues to refuse to take part in this dangerous plot, she quickly changes her mind when she realizes her past may be catching up with her—and she’d rather take her chances posing as Isonde at the Empress Game than be discovered by the one who seeks her.

In theory, The Empress Game sounds delightful. Switched identities and secret identities are some of my favorite tropes so the story of a princess in hiding pretending to be another princess (in a fighting tournament, no less!) could have been a lot of fun. There were times I found it readable even if not fully engaging, especially during the first half, but I was bored a lot during the last quarter. The more I read, the more every plot twist seemed orchestrated rather than natural, and I thought it was completely missing heart and memorable characters. The straightforward prose, uninspiring dialogue, and jarring use of “frutt” as a swear (especially grating considering other common English expressions and curses were still present) didn’t help. Furthermore, the worldbuilding was rather generic and very little focus was given to the universe at large.

I may have been able to overlook the bland writing and setting, but what really held it back was the lack of interesting dialogue, chemistry between characters, and compelling characterization. None of the characters had a dimension of their own, and even the main character did not have a lot of depth. She’s tough and protective and her ability to survive is admirable, but she seems to exist more to serve the plot than as a real personality. Her relationships are also mostly hollow, especially the romance: its obvious setup in the beginning feels forced and it never gets better.

The only character relationship I found intriguing was the mutual esteem that develops between Kayla and Isonde, which is, unfortunately, underutilized. At first, Isonde is hostile toward Kayla and skeptical that she’s a good fit for the role, but as the two begin to work together, they come to appreciate each other’s skills. Kayla respects Isonde’s political acumen, and in turn, Isonde respects Kayla’s ability as a fighter and lets her take the lead when deciding what’s best in related aspects of their plan. However, almost as soon as I as beginning to feel like this was a partnership to root for, plot drama intervened and separated the two. This was also disappointing because Isonde was one of the characters I would have liked to have learned more about due to her determination to see her vision for her Empire come to fruition.

The bones of the story had definite potential and parts of it were even entertaining, but I thought The Empress Game was too insipid to stand out. Keeping the story exciting seems to come first, and in my opinion, that’s its biggest issue. It prevented the characters from coming alive, got in the way of advancing one of the more interesting relationships, and failed at creating tension: I wasn’t on the edge of my seat when the characters were in danger because I just didn’t care that muchConsidering that the world and writing were also unremarkable, The Empress Game was ultimately a rather lackluster book despite some fun parts.

My Rating: 4/10

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.

This past week brought a couple of books, including one that sounds rather fun, but first here’s what happened last week in case you missed anything:

Next week there will be a review of the July Patreon book, The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason.

Now, for the latest book mail!

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity (Constance Verity #1) by A. Lee Martinez

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity is available now (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from the book is available on the publisher’s website.


Constance Verity has been saving the world since she was seven, and she’s sick of it. She sets off on one last adventure to assassinate her fairy godmother and become the one thing she’s never been: ordinary.

Ever since she was granted a wish at birth by her fairy godmother, Constance Verity has become one of the world’s great adventurers. It all began at her seventh birthday party when she defeated a snake. She has become a master of exotic martial arts, a keen detective, and possesses a collection of strange artifacts gathered from her adventures. But Constance has spent the past twenty-eight years saving the world, and she’s tired of it. All she wants is to work in an office and date a nice, normal guy. And she is finally figured out a way to do it: she’s going to kill her fairy godmother and reset her life. The only problem, though, is that saving the world is Constance’s destiny. She’s great at it, and there are forces at work to make sure she stays in the job.

Then again, it’s also her destiny to have a glorious death.

Additional Book(s):

Book Description:

Ten years have passed since the events of the Demon Child books that left the god Xaphista dead, the nation Karien without a religion or king and the matriarchal country of Medalon ruled by men. But it is in the kingdoms of the south that things really heat up. When Princess Rakaia of Fardohnya discovers she is not of royal birth, she agrees to marry a much older Hythrun noble in a chance to escape her ‘father’s wrath. Rakaia takes nothing but her jewels and her base-born half-sister, Charisee, who has been her slave, handmaiden and best friend since she was six years old. And who can pass as Rakaia’s double.

These two sisters embark on a Shakespearean tale of switched identities, complicated love triangles…and meddlesome gods. Rakaia is rescued on the road by none other than the Demon Child, R’shiel, still searching for a way to force Death to release her near immortal Brak. Charisee tries to act like the princess she was never meant to be and manages to draw the attention of the God of Liars who applauds her deception and only wants to help.

Then there is the little matter of the God of Music’s magical totem that has been stolen…and how this theft may undo the universe.

Powerful magics, byzantine politics, sweeping adventure, and a couple of juicy love stories thrown in for good measure, The Lyre Thief is classic Fallon that is sure to appeal to her fans.

The Lyre Thief, Jennifer Fallon’s latest novel, is the first book in the War of the Gods, the third Hythrun Chronicles trilogy in both publication and chronological order. Although I suspect it would have been helpful to have read the Wolfblade and Demon Child trilogies beforehand, enough background was provided that I didn’t feel lost starting here—but I do want to read them now anyway because I found The Lyre Thief thoroughly enjoyable and want to read more of these books!

From the book description, I had a feeling The Lyre Thief was going to be my type of book since I love both tropes involving false identities and meddling gods, and both of these make it delightfully fun to read. When Princess Sophany realizes the secret she’s been hiding for over twenty years—that her daughter Rakaia was not fathered by the King of Fardohyna—may soon be revealed, she ensures that Rakaia is the princess chosen to wed a Hythrun noble in exchange for trade concessions. Sophany plans for Rakaia’s slave Charisee, an illegitimate but true daughter of the king, to pretend to be Rakaia after they leave the harem, allowing her daughter to escape before the truth about her parentage is discovered. Charisee, quite understandably, has some reservations about this idea, but after Rakaia flees in the middle of the night she decides she may as well make the best of pretending to be a princess and asks Jakerlon, the God of Liars, to keep her safe. To her surprise, she later receives a personal visit from her new god, who is quite pleased by her service, and Charisee does her best to follow his advice—after all, her life now depends on everyone believing her to be Rakaia.

Although The Lyre Thief follows several characters, Charisee and Rakaia are the two most prominent, and I enjoyed their stories the most, especially Charisee’s. She tends to blurt out what’s on her mind even when it may not be wise to do so, but she’s also quite clever and learns to use some of this honesty to her advantage when pretending to be Rakaia: as Jakerlon taught her, “the best lies are the stone cold truth.” Her tale is fun but also heartbreaking since she does have to keep up this pretense and sometimes the absolute truth is the one thing that will not be believed when she does try to open up.

Rakaia is a little more difficult to sympathize with in the beginning, especially given that shortly after she’s introduced she’s being condescending toward Charisee and they don’t spend enough time together before being split up to really show the friendship the other characters reference, but her sections ended up being my favorite after Charisee’s. At first, she’s hesitant to even eat tavern food after being used to palace cuisine, but she quickly accepts that she needs to deal with things like this if she wants to survive and discovers she quite likes not being a princess.

Even though I found the book as a whole quite readable, some of the other storylines were not as compelling as Rakaia and Charisee’s. I also very much enjoyed reading about High Princess Adrina and her stepbrother Kiam Miar, an honorable assassin charged with getting “Rakaia” safely to Hythria, but I didn’t find R’shiel quite as compelling in the present (her past sounded interesting). Her goal was finding a character from the previous books so this may have been more engaging had I read them and known more about the person she was so desperate to be reunited with. There are a couple of additional viewpoint characters in addition to those mentioned, and I did find it a little difficult to see how some of those not immediately connected to Rakaia or Charisee fit in at first; I think some familiarity with the previous books may have helped that come together sooner as well. There was also a tendency to tell instead of show a lot in the writing (and sometimes tell what was already obvious), but I was so drawn in by the story and the characters’ conversations that this didn’t bother me too much.

The Lyre Thief is incredibly entertaining and currently one of my favorite 2016 releases. The first thing I did after finishing it was check to see when the next book would be following, and Retribution is a 2017 release I’m very much looking forward to.

My Rating: 8/10

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

I don’t usually do this, but since it’s for a good cause and features some great authors I’m passing along a press release about the upcoming book Unfettered II. This anthology is being published by Grim Oak Press, with all proceeds going to medical debt relief and cancer research. Contributors include:

  • Bradley Beaulieu (Song of Shattered Sands)
  • Terry Brooks
  • Jim Butcher (Dresden Files)
  • Rachel Caine
  • Sarah Beth Durst (The Queens of Renthia)
  • David Farland
  • Charlaine Harris
  • Mark Lawrence (Gunlaw)
  • Erin Lindsey (Bloodbound)
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Aidan Moher
  • Naomi Novik
  • Peter Orullian (Vault of Heaven)
  • A. Pitts
  • Anthony Ryan (Raven’s Shadow)
  • Brandon Sanderson
  • Scott Sigler
  • Shawn Speakman (Annwn Cycle)
  • Michael J. Sullivan (The Legends of the First Empire)
  • Django Wexler
  • Janny Wurts
  • Todd Lockwood (Cover Artist)
  • Don Maitz (Interior Illustrator)


Proceeds going to cancer research and author medical debt

SEATTLE, WASH., July 19, 2016—Grim Oak Press, the small press that published the bestselling anthology Unfettered, will publish Unfettered II in November 2016.

Without health insurance and diagnosed with cancer in 2011, Grim Oak Press owner Shawn Speakman accrued massive medical debt while treating the disease. Rather than declare medical bankruptcy, he reached out to fellow authors and received donated short stories in return—many from New York Times bestselling writers. The stories were collected and became Unfettered, the proceeds from the sci-fi/fantasy anthology eliminating his debt burden.

To pay forward the aid he received—and to memorialize his mother who passed away earlier this year from Stage 4 stomach cancer—Speakman has again collaborated with celebrated scifi/fantasy authors to publish Unfettered II. “My mother first put books into my life as a child. Later she helped me survive two different cancers,” said Speakman. “Having lost her to cancer, I will focus my sorrow in a way that will make a difference. Unfettered II is the beginning of that.”

All proceeds from Unfettered II will go toward ending medical debt for other authors as well as be donated in partnership to the Cancer Research Institute in New York, NY.

Such notable New York Times bestselling authors as Terry Brooks (“The Shannara Chronicles”), Charlaine Harris (“True Blood,” “Midnight, Texas”), Brandon Sanderson (“Wheel of Time,” “Stormlight Archive”), Jim Butcher (“Dresden Files”), and Naomi Novik (“Temeraire,” Uprooted) are contributing short stories to Unfettered II.

Cover art will be supplied by renowned artist Todd Lockwood, who contributed the artwork for Unfettered. Interior art duties will be handled by Hugo Award-winning illustrator Don Maitz.

Unfettered II will be available for pre-order on July 19, 2016 at the Grim Oak Press website.

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.

Before this week’s books, a few brief updates:

  • A couple of days ago, I announced the July Patreon book: The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason.
  • I’m currently working on a review of The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon, which I liked a LOT. It’s one of my favorite 2016 releases I’ve read, and I now very much want to read more by Jennifer Fallon!

On to the latest books!

Supernova by C. A. Higgins

Supernova (Lightless #2) by C. A. Higgins

Supernova will be released on July 26 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). Entertainment Weekly has excerpts from both Supernova and the previous book, Lightless.


C. A. Higgins’s acclaimed novel Lightless fused suspenseful storytelling, high-caliber scientific speculation, and richly developed characters into a stunning science fiction epic. Now the dazzling Supernova heightens the thrills and deepens the haunting exploration of technology and humanity—and the consequences that await when the two intersect.

Once Ananke was an experimental military spacecraft. But a rogue computer virus transformed it—her—into something much more: a fully sentient artificial intelligence, with all the power of a god—and all the unstable emotions of a teenager.

Althea, the ship’s engineer and the last living human aboard, nearly gave her life to save Ananke from dangerous saboteurs, forging a bond as powerful as that between mother and daughter. Now she devotes herself completely to Ananke’s care. But teaching a thinking, feeling machine—perhaps the most dangerous force in the galaxy—to be human proves a monumental challenge. When Ananke decides to seek out Matthew Gale, the terrorist she regards as her father, Althea learns that some bonds are stronger than mortal minds can understand—or control.

Drawn back toward Earth by the quest, Althea and Ananke will find themselves in the thick of a violent revolution led by Matthew’s sister, the charismatic leader Constance, who will stop at nothing to bring down a tyrannical surveillance state. As the currents of past decisions and present desires come into stark collision, a new and fiery future is about to be born.

Additional Books: