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. 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 I got a belated birthday present, 3 review copies, and 1 ARC. There are some great-sounding books in this week’s pile!

God's War by Kameron Hurley

God’s War (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1) by Kameron Hurley

For some reason, this book took forever to show up when my husband ordered it for me for my birthday (which was over a month and a half ago now). But it’s here now, and I am really excited to read it since I’ve been curious about it for awhile. Plus I’ve been a little irritated at myself for not picking it up when I came across it during one of the Borders sales.

God’s War is one of this year’s Nebula Award nominees for Best Novel. This science fiction novel has one sequel, Infidel, and a third book entitled Rapture will be available in November. It is available in trade paperback and ebook, and there are some sample chapters available on Baen Ebooks.

Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn t make any difference…

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there’s one thing everybody agrees on–

There’s not a chance in hell of ending it.

Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war–but at what price?

The world is about to find out.

The City In the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy author Rachel Neumeier kindly sent me some of her books this week. They all sound really good, but I am most curious about this one (and it’s signed, yay!). I read the first page and really liked the writing style, and I’ve been wanting to read this ever since reading this review at The Book Smugglers.

This young adult fantasy book is available in hardcover, mass market paperback, and ebook. The hardcover version is actually available as a $6 bargain book on Amazon right now.

An excerpt from The City in the Lake is available.

THE KINGDOM’S HEART is the City. The City’s heart is the King. The King’s heart is the Prince. The Prince is missing.

Ever since the Prince disappeared, nothing has been right in the Kingdom. Something has disturbed the strange, old magic that whispers around its borders . . . something cunning and powerful. And the disturbance extends to the farthest reaches of the Kingdom, including the idyllic village where Timou is learning to be a mage under her father’s tutelage.

When Timou’s father journeys to the City to help look for the Prince, but never returns, Timou senses that the disturbance in the Kingdom is linked to her—and to the undiscovered heritage of the mother she never knew. She must leave her village, even if it means confronting powers greater than her own, even though what she finds may challenge everything she knows. Even if it means leaving love behind.

This breathtaking first novel spins a web of magic, bravery, and the power of love.

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

This is another young adult fantasy book that sounds really interesting. It was a Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Book of the Year, an ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Book, and an ALA Amelia Bloomer Recommended Title (for feminist literature).

The Floating Islands is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats. An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings.

Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain.

Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands. . . .

Filled with rich language, and told in alternating voices, The Floating Islands is an all-encompassing young adult fantasy read.

Land of the Burning Sands by Rachel Neumeier

Land of the Burning Sands (The Griffin Mage #2) by Rachel Neumeier

Books 1 and 3 in the Griffin Mage trilogy aren’t included in this post because I already received unsolicited copies of both when they came out. I’ve almost started book 1 a few times, but has always picked a different book from the list for me when it’s one I’ve been thinking about reading.

The first Griffin Mage book is Lord of the Changing Winds and the last is Law of the Broken Earth. There is also a paperback omnibus containing all three called The Griffin Mage Trilogy. All of these are available as ebooks, and the single volumes are mass market paperback.

These fantasy books are adult fantasy, not young adult. There are excerpts available from all three:

  1. Lord of the Changing Winds
  2. Land of the Burning Sands
  3. Law of the Broken Earth

Gereint Enseichen of Casmantium knows little and cares less about the recent war in which his king tried to use griffins and fire to wrest territory from the neighboring country of Feierabiand…but he knows that his kingdom’s unexpected defeat offers him a chance to escape from his own servitude.

But now that the griffins find themselves in a position of strength, they are not inclined to forgive and the entire kingdom finds itself in deadly peril. Willing or not, Gereint will find himself caught up in a desperate struggle between the griffins and the last remaining Casmantian mage. Even the strongest gifts of making and building may not prove sufficient when the fiery wind of the griffins begins to bury the life of Casmantium beneath the burning sands . . .

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

This new urban fantasy will be released in September 2012. It’s a debut novel, and after skimming the first few pages I am a bit curious about it.

What happens when The Firm meets Anita Blake? You get the Halls of Power—our modern world, but twisted. Law, finance, the military, and politics are under the sway of long-lived vampires, werewolves, and the elven Alfar. Humans make the best of rule by “the Spooks,” and contend among themselves to affiliate with the powers-that-be, in order to avoid becoming their prey. Very loyal humans are rewarded with power over other women and men. Very lucky humans are selected to join the vampires, werewolves, and elves—or, on occasion, to live at the Seelie Court.

Linnet Ellery is the offspring of an affluent Connecticut family dating back to Colonial times. Fresh out of law school, she’s beginning her career in a powerful New York “white fang” law firm. She has high hopes of eventually making partner.

But strange things keep happening to her. In a workplace where some humans will eventually achieve immense power and centuries of extra lifespan, office politics can be vicious beyond belief. After some initial missteps, she finds herself sidelined and assigned to unpromising cases. Then, for no reason she can see, she becomes the target of repeated, apparently random violent attacks, escaping injury each time through increasingly improbable circumstances. However, there’s apparently more to Linnet Ellery than a little old-money human privilege. More than even she knows. And as she comes to understand this, she’s going to shake up the system like you wouldn’t believe…. 

Bitterblue is the third novel from New York Times bestselling author Kristin Cashore, whose previous two young adult fantasies impressed quite a few readers. Like its predecessors, Bitterblue is set in the Graceling Realm. It’s a sequel to Graceling that takes place 8 years later with a different protagonist, and Fire is a companion to both that takes place before Graceling and has both a different location and a different protagonist. While I don’t think it matters if Graceling or Fire is read first, I do think reading these two before Bitterblue will make it a more satisfying book, although it’s not strictly necessary to understand the story.

There will be spoilers for Graceling in this review so if you have not yet read that book, you may not want to read on.

For 35 years, Monsea suffered under the tyranny of King Leck. Leck had a Grace (special ability) that allowed him to control people, fogging their minds with his words so they believed anything he said. Any lie Leck told became reality, at least to those who were under his spell. He could convince people they had committed wrongs against those they loved or even make them perform actions they would never do without his coercion. Even worse, he could make them truly believe they enjoyed it.

Eight years after his death, Leck’s villainy is still vividly remembered by the people he ruled, his former advisers, and his daughter Queen Bitterblue. The horrors they endured are not easily forgotten, and waking up from Leck’s control to truly realize what happened is shocking. For Queen Bitterblue, it means ruling a kingdom that needs to rebuild itself, but ruling mostly seems to mean having her advisers bury her under piles of paperwork or force her to preside over rather trivial court cases. Tired of it all, Bitterblue dons a hood to disguise herself and sneaks out of the castle one night. She wanders into a tavern and discovers people gathering to tell stories of the past. Increasingly intrigued by what she hears, Bitterblue continues to sneak out in the middle of the night and ends up meeting Teddy and Saf, two men who make Bitterblue start wondering just how much she doesn’t know about her own kingdom – and what her advisers are hiding from her and why. Bitterblue makes it her mission to discover what exactly happened in the past and what she can do to help her people.

Bitterblue was one of my most anticipated books of this year after reading Fire and Graceling, but I’m sorry to say it wasn’t everything I had hoped. I finished it with very mixed feelings because it is a very maturely written book that handles themes well, and the characterization and some of the dialogue are also wonderful. In many ways, it is better than both Graceling and Fire yet I didn’t love it the way I did Fire or eagerly devour it the way I did Graceling despite its many wonderful qualities. While it does have many strengths, Bitterblue had a major weakness in its plot, which is slow, meandering, and at times, quite dull.

One aspect of Bitterblue that I really appreciate is that it deals with the aftermath of eliminating evil from the kingdom. The story did not end with the removal of the great evil that plagued the land and ignore the long road to recovery after life dealing with a reign of terror as so many fantasy stories do. Monsea was enslaved by Leck for 35 years, and this had a huge impact on its people that they are still dealing with 8 years later. Leck was an incredibly cruel man who controlled people’s minds, and this kind of mad power is going to leave echoes even once he’s gone. Bitterblue undertakes a quest for knowledge about the past and the memories that are hiding from her due to the fog in her mind from Leck’s influence. The overarching themes of the power of knowledge, the convolution of memory, erasure of the past, and lies that grow from good intentions were all thoughtfully handled and well executed.

Likewise, the characterization was excellent. The characters were well-rounded and likable, and had a wonderful camaraderie with each other. Bitterblue herself is exactly the type of character I love, one with great inner strength and intelligence. Her strong will and determination made her shine, especially as she took it upon herself to go out and discover the secrets her advisers were hiding from her. Bitterblue had a love for truth that made her pursue it no matter how painful. Yet, she’s not perfect and she actually tells a lot of lies herself when trying to get to the bottom of happenings in her kingdom. Her reasoning is understandable, though, and she has enough self-doubt and worries to be a realistic young queen who is just learning what it means to be both an adult and a ruler. While Bitterblue is the most prominent character, each and every character comes alive – Katsa with her openness and vibrance,  Saf with his roguishness and secrets, Teddy with his love of truth and knowledge, and Death (pronounced “Deeth”) the dour librarian with a soft spot for cats.

However, the plot is a weakness that kept the book from being truly excellent in spite of having many fantastic qualities. Much of the plot is dedicated to Bitterblue solving the puzzles of the past, and there is too much time spent on all the details of how she does this and the various questions she keeps pondering. In spite of my admiration for the thought that went into this story, it was missing the forward momentum that was needed. That’s not to say it isn’t resolved by the end, because it is and there are some very satisfying scenes for fans of the other two books. It just moved so slowly that it was quite often boring, and it was hard for me remain interested in what was happening a lot of the time.

This particular feeling confused me because I am a reader who prefers character over plot. Yet when I think of all the books I loved for characters over plot, they are books where the characters and their personal journey were a big part of the plot. While Bitterblue does learn more about the world around her, have some new experiences, and lose some of her naivete over the course of this novel, she doesn’t make any discoveries that change the core of who she is. Her character is an important part of the story, but the book is still more about the story of the kingdom and Bitterblue’s discoveries and memories than a big personal transformation. Therefore, this book needs plot in addition to character to keep it engaging.

The romantic subplot is not as memorable as either Katsa’s or Fire’s was. I had mixed feelings about it in this book, but unfortunately, I can’t really discuss it without spoilers for the end.

Overall, Bitterblue was a well-written book with believable characters, relationships, and dialogue. It had some great themes about knowledge and memory that were very thoughtfully executed, and the entire book left me with the impression there was a lot of consideration put into it. Yet it didn’t have the same spark that Fire and Graceling did, and the slow-moving plot kept it from achieving its full potential. If only the plot were tighter, I think this could have been an excellent book. As it is, the plot was slow enough to be a big hindrance to my enjoyment of the novel, and this prevents me from recommending Bitterblue as strongly as I do Kristin Cashore’s other books (especially Fire!).

My Rating: 6/10

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

Read an Excerpt from Bitterblue

Other Reviews of Bitterblue:

Reviews of Other Books in the Graceling Realm:

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Now that Women in SF&F Month is over, I wanted to reflect some on why I think reading and supporting women who write science fiction and fantasy is important. I talked about this a little before the start of the month, but I wanted to elaborate on the subject some more.

In case you did miss the introductory post, I had observed before that it seemed like female authors were reviewed less frequently than men. At one point, I saw something mentioned about women who wrote science fiction and fantasy and realized I couldn’t actually think of that many of them. Most of the books that I read that came highly recommended were written by men, although one or two people occasionally recommended that I read a book by a woman. I had to wonder, does that mean there are not many women writing these genres? I found that hard to believe when I’d always known about as many women who were interested in them as men. So I started looking into it and trying to read and review more books by women since it seemed like a gap that needed to be filled.

This was all based on observations, though, and it was not until recently that I saw some stats. Ladybusiness recently did a study looking at a few science fiction and fantasy blogs that found women were reviewed less overall and composed only about 20% of reviews on blogs run by men. (I do want to note that this is a study of a small sampling compared to the number of blogs out there, though; I’m not even sure how one would begin running a study for all the blogs.) Strange Horizons has also done some similar stats, including stats for both 2010 and 2011. These also include a general idea of gender breakdown by looking at books received for review by Locus, although they do mention a couple of ways in which this breakdown may not be perfect (for example, this included reprints not just books published for the first time in 2011, the same author may have had more than one book sent out for review that year, and some authors may be using pseudonyms that are not the same as their actual gender). In 2011, 47% of books received from US publishers were written or edited by a woman, but only about 1/3 of books received from UK publishers were. Yet many places review an overwhelmingly large percentage of books written by men (and one site dedicated to getting work by women noticed also reviewed mainly women).

VIDA also composed statistics for several major publications such the New York Times and The Atlantic that showed most book reviewers were male and most books reviewed were by men. This is particularly interesting since, in general, more women read than men.

But… What Subgenres of Fantasy and Science Fiction Do Women Write?

Some people seem to default to thinking science fiction and fantasy are “male” genres despite the fact that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is considered to be the first science fiction book. Whenever the subject of SFF books by women receiving less reviews comes up, many start asking if women actually write that many books in these genres. I’ve seen claims that women don’t write that much speculative fiction unless it is young adult or urban fantasy. I’ve also seen claims that men write more science fiction and women write more fantasy. What is the truth?

The percentage of women writing fantasy and science fiction seems to vary from country to country, but I haven’t seen a detailed breakdown other than this one for Australia. It shows that women write more science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels for adults, young adults, and children with adult and children’s books fairly close to equal between genders (53% and 55% women, respectively). For adult books, 62% of fantasy books are written by women, 43% of science fiction is written by women, and only 18% of horror is written by women. (Horror was also the one of these three that had the least amount of books published overall.)

American stats seem less easily defined. Nancy Kress mentioned in her post that about 40% of the SFWA is made up of women and discussed the difficulty of breaking down subgenres of speculative fiction by gender when there’s so much disagreement over genre definitions. The percentage of women in the SFWA does not necessarily equal the percentage of books by women that come out each year, which I’ve seen ranging from 40% in 2007 on the stats page for Broad Universe to closer to %50 when books received for review were analyzed for the aforementioned 2011 count at Strange Horizons. Both of these sites were using counts from Locus, so the number of books by women in these genres may just be rapidly increasing since the stats from 2000 on Broad Horizons showed 31% of books were written by women.

From what I’ve heard the UK has fewer speculative fiction books by women than either Australia or the US, and this fits with the Strange Horizons stats.

My personal experience as a reader of speculative fiction in the US leads me to believe women writing speculative fiction are not actually difficult to find, even aside from young adult and urban fantasy. When this topic first came up again, I sat down and made a list of women who write science fiction and fantasy that is not young adult or urban fantasy (not, should I note, because I think those categories should not be considered part of speculative fiction but because I saw some comments about women not writing SFF outside of those). Without too much trouble, I came up with a list of over 100 authors. These were all authors I had read or wanted to read; I didn’t go out of my way to find names that I was unfamiliar with, although this past month has shown me there are many of those as well. Since I’ve shifted to reviewing more SFF by women, I have not had trouble finding books to review at all and there are more books by women than I can read and review.

Nothing I’ve seen makes me think there are so few women writing science fiction and fantasy that some review outlets can’t find more books by women to review than are being reviewed in the Ladybusiness study. As far as the reason for so many fewer reviews for women on some sites goes, I’m not sure what it is. Is it just that women have smaller marketing budgets than men and fewer of their books are sent out for review? Is it assumed that male reviewers won’t read as many books by women and publicists don’t send them as many books by women for review in the first place so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it because many still think of these as male genres and don’t give much consideration to the books by women? I couldn’t say, but I do think looking at stats like these and realizing this is going on is the first step toward improvement.

Why Is It Important to Support Women Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction?

First of all, I want to say it’s not that I think people shouldn’t read books by men, that books by women are “superior” to those written by men, or that women should be reading books by women because they will appeal to them more than books written by men. I don’t think anyone needs to meet a strict 50/50 gender quota when they read or worry about reading the “right” number of books by women. The reason I think reading books by women is important is not that an author’s gender should matter – but that what I’ve seen makes me think that it does matter, at least to some. There are a lot of great writers who happen to be female writing science fiction and fantasy, and I think it’s sad if people aren’t reading them for any reason.

My personal opinion is that there are two issues working together here when it comes to recommendations for science fiction and fantasy books often being so male-dominated:

1. Actual prejudice against women’s writing, or at least the assumption that women write “girly” things not applicable to certain readers.

The first time I saw someone state they actually specifically had a problem with female authors, I was shocked. I really had never thought people thought this way in the 21st century. But apparently some of them do.

It’s not just men who think this way, either, as we learned this month from both N. K. Jemisin and Sarah from Bookworm Blues. I was glad to see them both address this just because I was recently a bit horrified to discover what was lurking in the back of my own psyche when I really questioned my own assumptions about specific types of books. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who didn’t think gender mattered. When I first started noticing that women writing science fiction and fantasy didn’t seem to be talked about as much as male authors, I looked into it and started reading more books by women. I read tons of books by women and tried my best to get more of their names out there.

Yet when I really evaluated what I really thought about urban fantasy written by women as opposed to that written by men, I found that while it isn’t a factor in which I would choose to read, my initial reaction is that urban fantasy written by men is somehow more respectable. I think that’s both because it’s more likely to be read and approved by men as well as by women and because I think of it as less likely to be paranormal romance.

It has the reputation of being fluff, a genre with mystery and adventure – and maybe romance. While mystery and adventure are often considered fluff that I can read and hold my head up high for reading, romance is not. Romance has an “ick” factor. It’s sappy and so girly. But why is what is considered “women’s entertainment” given this stigma? Why should I feel that a story about two people falling in love – an experience most people, both male and female, have – is somehow a) for women b) less respectable than reading a book with magic and wizards (aka, proper male-respected entertainment)? It’s kind of ridiculous, especially that I have found myself surprised to hear about men reading or enjoying romance. Why shouldn’t they? Why is something they also experience in life considered “for women”?

Also, why should I assume a woman in a specific genre is going to write about romance? Some women don’t. Some women aren’t that interested in romance, and whether they are or not, either is perfectly fine. Our tastes do not have to be dictated by what is expected of our gender.

So I definitely think some people have ideas about books that are “for women” and books that are “for men” with the “for men” category being something people are less ashamed of reading, regardless of gender. But if even some women are ashamed of reading books “for women” or have an idea that women write “girly” things, how much harder must it be for some men to get past these ideas? (However, I do believe some men have less of an issue with this than some women, and there are also some women who think books by men aren’t for them, either.)

2. Lack of knowledge about the variety of women writing science fiction and fantasy.

This is really the part I hoped to combat this past April since I experienced it myself. Often when looking for book recommendations the names you hear over and over again are male authors – Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, etc., etc. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy books by many of these authors, but my own experience has been that women’s names do not come up as often when looking for book recommendations on the Internet (although, I do think this has been getting better than it used to be more recently, especially as more people have become aware of this issue). And this makes me sad when there are so many female authors writing great science fiction and fantasy who also deserve to be read and recommended.

It could also be in part that so many of the well-known older authors of fantasy and science fiction are men, and there’s this whole cycle of the same names being recommended over and over again. Yet it seems that I also see newer male authors discussed a lot more than newer female authors.

In any case, I do think it is both important to get their names out there and show that science fiction and fantasy are not just for men. Different people have different tastes. Some men will like these genres, and some will not. Some women will like these genres, and some will not. It’s not an equation determined by gender, although there are certain factors that may apply (such as women thinking these genres aren’t the type of thing they would like because they’re supposed to be “for men” or women not enjoying some fantasy due to the way female characters are often left out or given minor roles while all the men do stuff).

Also, it does bother me when I see statements about women not writing science fiction and fantasy other than young adult and urban fantasy for two reasons:

1. It’s lumping all women into the same category and reinforcing the stereotype that women tend to write certain things. Women write all kinds of different types of books, just like women enjoy all kinds of different books. Yes, some of these are young adult or urban fantasy. Absolutely, some of these are fantasy or science fiction with romantic elements. And some of it is not. If claims that women don’t write certain types of fantasy and science fiction continue, the women who are doing something different will continue to be ignored because many will dismiss it since, you know, women don’t write that stuff. The ones who do will be seen as exceptions, not the norm.

2. It’s lumping all women in the same category and dismissing these categories as less important. This may not be the intention of some who say this, but it’s the impression it gives me, especially when I do often see men who write in these categories not as readily dismissed (Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Jim Butcher, to name a few – perhaps this is just because they are respected authors but in any case it still stands that there’s no reason to dismiss entire categories of books). Furthermore, young adult is just a category. A book is not less fantasy or science fiction just because it is marketed for a younger audience, nor is it necessarily “bad” just because it is marketed for a non-adult audience. It is still speculative fiction, and it even has been nominated for or even won genre awards like the Hugo when written by big names like Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, and J. K. Rowling. Some young adult books I’ve read are actually better written and smarter than some adult books I’ve read. It depends on the book, not the category.

I do want to make it clear that I’m not saying just read women for the sake of reading books by women either. Chances are, you won’t like every book by a woman you read. I know I haven’t, just like I don’t like every book by a man I’ve read. I don’t think you need to recommend books by women you thought were bad just to try to get people reading more women. There’s enough of a variety of women writers out there that I do think everyone should be able to find some speculative fiction books by women they enjoy, though.

Why Is It Important to Recognize Female Fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy?

Much of the same can be applied to women who blog about science fiction and fantasy. When people started talking about favorite bloggers who cover fantasy and science fiction and not one woman came up, it concerned me because I don’t want to see the same pattern with female bloggers that I see with female authors. I have no idea how you’d even begin to measure the percentage of female vs. male SFF bloggers since I’m sure there are plenty of them out there I don’t even know about and perhaps a few different communities. But there’s not a shortage of women interested in science fiction and fantasy despite what some people seem to think, and these women have opinions and recommendations worth listening to. It may be harder to find some female bloggers who just cover science fiction and fantasy, but there’s also quite a few female bloggers I wasn’t aware of until recently who are more focused on SFF so perhaps many of them have been less visible to me as well. And even if someone does blog about other genres, it doesn’t mean what they have to say about the science fiction and fantasy books they read is any less worthwhile. They still have good recommendations, and there’s still a lot that can be learned from them.

Continuing to say “There aren’t many women out there who blog about science fiction and fantasy” just causes people to see what they think they know – all the men who do blog about these genres and none of the women. Or, if they do see a woman blogging about it, she’s an exception to the rule.

Feedback and What’s Next

Many of the questions I’ve brought up here can’t be answered effectively without a lot more thought and data. Getting a book written, published, reviewed, and into a reader’s hands requires a long process with a lot of different gatekeepers – editors, PR staff, bloggers, and the readers themselves. If there’s even just a little bit of bias at any of these levels, it can affect the whole process. Whether or not a book sells often has very little to do with the book itself, and belief may be a big part of it. If a significant number of people don’t believe women write worthwhile SFF, or they don’t believe there are that many female authors in those genres, it can potentially affect how a book is marketed or reviewed. That is why I wanted to spend April focusing on getting the names of some female authors out there and hearing what they had to say instead of trying to say a specific part of the process is to blame. If readers’ attitudes change, then that’s enough.

I’m not promising anything since this took up just about all of my time this last month that wasn’t spent at the day job and now I feel ridiculously behind on reviews, but I am considering doing something like this again next year. What I would like to know is if you think this would be worth doing again next year, and if so, what would you like to see? I didn’t have as much time to plan ahead for this as I would have liked since I wanted to do this while people were still thinking about the various review studies, but if I were to do this again next year I’d like to start thinking about it earlier.

I would like to say thank you to every single person who took the time to write a guest post for April. As mentioned above, it was somewhat short notice, and I appreciate the many people who took the time to participate. I truly enjoyed reading everyone’s post and had a great time with the event. Regardless of different opinions on the issue of women writing science fiction and fantasy, I hope that some of you found some new authors and blogs that you enjoy – because that was the main goal.

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. 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 is actually a couple of weeks worth since I didn’t have time to keep up with this toward the end of the Women in SF&F event. These are all review copies.

Usually, I’d be putting this up tomorrow, but I’m still working on my final Women in SF&F post. So I am going to put this up today, and I’m hoping that can go up tomorrow. Then I am hoping I can finally write my reviews of Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore and finish The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin so I can review that as well. Sorry for the delay – between working full time and running last month’s event, I haven’t had time for reviewing (or even reading that much, which has mostly been limited to a little bit here and there before going to sleep). But after tomorrow’s post, I’m hoping to go back to a more regular reading/reviewing schedule!

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Scourge of the Betrayer (Bloodsounder’s Arc #1) by Jeff Salyards

This debut novel was released earlier this month in both hardcover and ebook. There is an excerpt available on the author’s website.

I’m really curious about this one, especially after reading Sarah’s review at Bookworm Blues. She’s normally skeptical about books supposed to be gritty fantasy like this one, but she liked this one quite a bit.

Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies–or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon’s dire reputation may have grown in the retelling, but he’s about to find out for himself.

Hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors, Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men’s enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. A secretive, mercurial figure haunted by the memories of those he’s killed with his deadly flail, Braylar has already disposed of at least one impertinent scribe . . . and Arki might be next.

Archiving the mundane doings of millers and merchants was tedious, but at least it was safe. As Arki heads off on a mysterious mission into parts unknown, in the company of the coarse, bloody-minded Syldoon, he is promised a chance to finally record an historic adventure well worth the telling, but first he must survive the experience!

A gripping military fantasy in the tradition of Glen Cook, SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER explores the brutal politics of Empire–and the searing impact of violence and dark magic on a man’s soul.

Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica

Blue Magic by A. M. Dellamonica

Blue Magic was released in trade paperback and ebook last month. It is the sequel to contemporary fantasy Indigo Springs, which won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. There is an excerpt on, as well as one from Indigo Springs if you haven’t read that one yet.

I haven’t read Indigo Springs myself yet, but I have a copy I bought a while ago that I’m going to try to move up the TBR pile since this one showed up. The quote from Library Journal about Indigo Springs on the back cover of Blue Magic has me really curious about it:


First in a two-novel series, this ecofantasy delivers a powerful story of good intentions gone terribly wrong and introduces a promising new voice that brings a fresh vision to the genre. Recommended.

“Good intentions gone terribly wrong”  sounds intriguing! I’m also interested to read how A. M. Dellamonica handled women in the law like she discussed in her post for the Women in SF&F event last month.

The sequel to Indigo Springs, “A psychologically astute, highly original debut—complex, eerie, and utterly believable.”  —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

This powerful sequel to the A.M. Dellamonica’s Sunburst Award–winning contemporary fantasy Indigo Springs starts in the small town in Oregon where Astrid Lethewood discovered an underground river of blue liquid—Vitagua—that is pure magic. Everything it touches is changed. The secret is out—and the world will never be the same. Astrid’s best friend, Sahara, has been corrupted by the blue magic, and now leads a cult that seeks to rule the world. Astrid, on the other hand, tries to heal the world.

Conflicting ambitions, star-crossed lovers, and those who fear and hate magic combine in a terrible conflagration, pitting friend against friend, magic against magic, and the power of nations against a small band of zealots, with the fate of the world at stake.

Blue Magic is a powerful story of private lives changed by earthshaking events that will ensnare readers in its poignant tale of a world touched by magic and plagued by its consequences.

The Watchers by Jon Steele

The Watchers (Angelus #1) by Jon Steele

The Watchers, the first book in a new trilogy, will be on sale in the US in both hardcover and ebook formats on May 29th. (It is already out in the UK.) An excerpt can be read on the author’s website. This is Jon Steele’s first novel, although he has written a memoir about his experience as a news cameraman entitled War Junkie.

Meet Marc Rochat, a man-child who has devoted his life to being the bell ringer at the Gothic Lausanne Cathedral, one of the greatest architectural structures in the world. Eerie things have been going on in and around his church, including tremblings in the underground crypt and a variety of gruesomely murdered bodies showing up in nearby streets. Across the square from the cathedral lives Katherine Taylor, a beautiful young American woman who is making phenomenal money as one of the highest-priced call girls in Switzerland; she’s a bit too introspective for her own good and, unfortunately, much too observant of her clients’ peccadilloes. Rochat’s and Taylor’s lives collide with Jay Harper, a British private eye who has been sent to investigate the killings and other strange doings; alas, he has no memory of who hired him or precisely why he was chosen for the job. And now all the clues are pointing skyward, where fallen angels are said to haunt Lausanne.

Courtesy of Penguin, I have 2 copies of Bitterblue, the latest Graceling Realms book by Kristin Cashore, to give away today! Bitterblue takes place 8 years after the end of Graceling, and it’s been a very eagerly anticipated book for fans of both that novel and its companion Fire – two great books I really enjoyed!

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

About Bitterblue:
Bitterblue is the long-awaited companion to New York Times bestsellers Graceling and Fire.

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle–disguised and alone–to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Read an Excerpt from Bitterblue

Learn More:

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email with the subject “Bitterblue Giveaway” to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com. One entry per person and the two winners will be randomly selected. This giveaway is only open to US residents. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Tuesday, May 15. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the contest is over, the form has been removed.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Yes, that’s right – even more book recommendations! Your TBR might not be able to handle them at this point, but I’m giving them anyway because I’m evil like that and want everyone to have huge TBR piles like mine. Muahahaha!

There are so many wonderful science fiction and fantasy books written by women that I could mention here. Since there have been so many great recommendations already this month, I’m going to try not to repeat the ones that have already been talked about. This is why authors such as Jacqueline Carey, Catherynne M. Valente, Lois McMaster Bujold, or any of the author guests for this event will not appear on this list in spite of also being some I would highly recommend. I’ve decided to focus on books and authors that I don’t really see talked about that much (which is why Robin Hobb, one of my favorite fantasy authors, will also be absent from this list).

Here’s some authors and books I really liked – or even loved!

Wraeththu by Storm Constantine The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure by Storm Constantine The Shades of Time and Memory by Storm Constantine

Storm Constantine

Her Wraeththu trilogy and the first two Wraeththu Histories books are among my favorites ever (I have not yet read the third Histories book since then it will be ALL OVER and I will be SAD). These are character-driven books about a race of hermaphrodites created by the blood of a mutant human. They are full of character drama and relationships, but I also thought they challenged some assumptions about gender. There is some beautiful prose as well. After I was about three pages into the Wraeththu omnibus, I was riveted. I just couldn’t stop reading.

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due

I like to see authors take risks, and that’s exactly what Tananarive Due does in her first African Immortals book, My Soul to Keep. It’s really dark and she makes some choices that may be too dark for some readers, but I liked seeing the unexpected and found this one really difficult to put down. (Sadly, this is another one where I need to get caught up on the rest of the series.)

In Conquest Born by C. S. Friedman Feast of Souls by C. S. Friedman

C. S. Friedman

C. S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy is pretty well known, but I don’t think the two books I’ve read by her are talked about quite as much. Friedman’s debut, In Conquest Born, is a space opera complete with warring peoples, intelligent characters, politics, and scheming. Feast of Souls, the first book in the recently completed Magister trilogy, is a dark fantasy in which magic requires a sacrifice. Both are books I very much enjoyed.

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly

Barbara Hambly

Dragonsbane, written in the 80s, is one of those books that does wondrous things with fantasy tropes. The dragon-slayer is scholarly, and the mage is in her mid-thirties and not all that powerful. It has a brilliant bittersweet ending, and I loved the sympathetic problems Jenny had – mainly, the struggle she had with dedicating herself to her work or the one she loves and feeling that by compromising the two she’s not giving enough time to either.

Melusine by Sarah Monette The Virtu by Sarah Monette The Mirador by Sarah Monette

Sarah Monette

The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, beginning with Melusine, is another one of my favorites ever due to the way it captured the main characters. Felix and Mildmay each have such a unique voice and they’re both so different yet so much alike. Like the aforementioned Wraeththu, I recommend these more to fans of character development and writing than those looking for a plot-driven, fast-paced story.

Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse

Lyda Morehouse

Archangel Protocol is one cyberpunk book that had a little bit of everything – adventure, mystery, romance, and a terrifying future scenario where there was no barrier between politics and religion at all. In fact, it’s a crime not to belong to an organized religion in this world. It was fast-paced and interesting, and now I’m wondering why I still haven’t read the rest of the AngelLINK series (although I know why – too many books, too little time).

Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian

Vera Nazarian

Lords of Rainbow is epic fantasy set in a world without color. It also features a great woman warrior and has beautifully poetic prose. I’ve been meaning to read more by Vera Nazarian ever since reading this. (This list is making me realize how many authors I need to read MORE by.)

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

Ekaterina Sedia

The Alchemy of Stone is a steampunk book about an intelligent automaton named Mattie, who wants to be free from her creator but can’t quite manage it since he’s the only one who can keep her functioning. I rather liked both the prose style and the story.

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor

With last year’s hype over Daughter of Smoke and Bone, perhaps it may seem strange to include Laini Taylor on a list of authors who haven’t been talked about as much as I believe they deserve. However, she is my favorite young adult fantasy author and all of her books are wonderful. I think Lips Touch: Three Times especially deserves more readers. It’s a collection of three beautifully written stories, and the last one “Hatchling” is one of my favorite stories with it’s gorgeous prose and creepy premise. I mean, really, it starts with a girl who wakes up one morning and finds one of her eyes completely changed color. She soon realizes, “These weren’t her memories. This wasn’t her eye.” (Page 145, hardcover edition) Freaky.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge The Summer Queen by Joan D. Vinge

Joan D. Vinge

Sadly, this re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” set on a planet called Tiamat is now out of print. This was one I finished with the realization that I had a new favorite, a keeper book. The culture and characters fascinated me. In spite of that, I have yet to read the direct sequel The Summer Queen (it’s massive meaning I’ll need a vacation to read it unless I want the blog to be quiet for a month while I do).

Elfland by Freda Warrington Midsummer Night by Freda Warrington

Freda Warrington

Elfland was another one I loved for the characters and drama. Rosie, the main character, was someone I felt was easy to relate to because she was someone who had flaws. She made mistakes, but I also understood exactly why she was making the mistakes she did. The elegant prose style also captured my attention and made me want to read more from this author.

Are there any women writing science fiction and/or fantasy that weren’t mentioned this month that you want to recommend? Feel free to tell us authors and their books along with why we should read them in the comments!