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 one of my most anticipated releases of next year and a debut science fiction novel that sounds quite interesting, but first, some brief updates:

On to recent books!

Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima

Flamecaster (Shattered Realms #1) by Cinda Williams Chima

Flamecaster, the first book in a new quartet set in the same world as the Seven Realms series, will be released on April 5, 2016 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook).

I am so incredibly excited about this book since I loved the Seven Realms books (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown). The first book was slow to start, but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. Han and Raisa were both memorable characters, and though all the books were great, the last book was especially wonderful. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens years after it ended!


The first in a thrilling new four-book fantasy series from New York Times bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima, set in the same world as her beloved Seven Realms series, a generation later

Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told that the mysterious magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

Set in the world of the acclaimed Seven Realms series a generation later, this is a thrilling story of dark magic, chilling threats, and two unforgettable characters walking a knife-sharp line between life and death.

The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel

The Cold Between (Central Corps #1) by Elizabeth Bonesteel

This debut science fiction novel will be released on March 8, 2016 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). I hadn’t heard of it before it showed up in the mail, but now I’m quite interested in reading it—it sounds fantastic!


Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy in this first entry in a stellar military science-fiction series in the tradition of Lois McMaster Bujold.

When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer, Commander Elena Shaw, is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer and why are the cops framing an innocent man?

Retracing Danny’s last hours, they discover that his death may be tied to a mystery from the past: the explosion of a Central Corps starship at a wormhole near Volhynia. For twenty-five years, the Central Gov has been lying about the tragedy, even willing to go to war with the outlaw PSI to protect their secrets.

With the authorities closing in, Elena and Trey head to the wormhole, certain they’ll find answers on the other side. But the truth that awaits them is far more terrifying than they ever imagined . . . a conspiracy deep within Central Gov that threatens all of human civilization throughout the inhabited reaches of the galaxy—and beyond.

The Shannara Chronicles: The Elfstones of Shannara (TV Tie-in Edition)

The Elfstones of Shannara (The Shannara Chronicles #1) by Terry Brooks

The Shannara Chronicles television show is coming to MTV on January 5, 2016. Since the first season is based on The Elfstones of Shannara, paperback TV tie-in editions of The Shannara Chronicles will be released on December 1. The Elfstones of Shannara will be available in both trade paperback and mass market paperback, and The Wishsong of Shannara will be available in trade paperback.


Thousands of years after the destruction of the age of man and science, new races and magic now rule the world, but an imminent danger threatens. A horde of evil Demons is beginning to escape and bring death upon the land. Only Wil Ohmsford, the last of the Shannara bloodline, has the power to guard the Elven Princess Amberle on a perilous quest to the save the world, while the leader of the Demon force aims to stop their mission at any cost.

I have a Sci-Fi Month confession to make: I didn’t think I liked science fiction for a long time. I once thought it was a dry and dull genre, full of flat characters who owed their existence to the need for someone to deliver tech-heavy exposition. Now I know the genre encompasses a wide variety of stories after reading many wonderful science fiction books and discovering television shows like Firefly, but the point is: had my introduction to science fiction been Karin Lowachee’s intense, character-driven Warchild series I would have been an instant science fiction fan. I cannot recommend these novels highly enough to those who enjoy character-focused books, though I would add the caveat that they do explore some heavy themes that some may find difficult to read, primarily due to a focus on the effects of war on young people. They’re not utterly grim and hopeless stories without any glimmer of light at the end, but the characters do have some rather harrowing experiences that include rape and violence—and Yuri’s tale, Cagebird, is the most candidly horrific so far.

Cagebird takes place before, during, and after the first two books in the series as it alternates between two timelines: the present one after the end of Burndive followed by the events leading to Yuri’s imprisonment, beginning with the day his home moon was destroyed by aliens when he was only four years old. On that day, he watches his childhood playmate lose an arm in the explosion, and he is later separated from his family in the resulting chaos. With aid from a kind teenager, he is at least reunited with his father and baby sister, but his mother and brother are sent to a different location when the refugees are transferred to a new planet. Five years later he is found by Marcus, a merchant captain, who hires Yuri and his friend to work on his ship—but Marcus is actually the notorious pirate Falcone…and he’s looking for a new protégé.

Cagebird is the most raw and character-driven of the three books, and it is excellent (though Warchild remains my favorite of the three and Jos remains my favorite character). Like Burndive, it takes longer to get going than the first book, and I found it difficult to care about Yuri’s situation in the present timeline after what he did in the previous book. Intertwining this timeline with his past quickly made him both more interesting and easier to sympathize with, and the first section about Yuri’s life leading up current events hooked me. His early years are tragic, and ever since he came into contact with Falcone, he’s been trapped and used. Even after Falcone is dead, Yuri can’t escape the ties created by being his protégé.

After reading Warchild, it’s especially interesting to compare Jos and Yuri’s experiences with Falcone and I’m not quite sure which is more horrifying—reading about his terrible treatment of Jos from the beginning or knowing that Falcone’s benevolence toward Yuri is false and wondering what will happen when the charade ends. At this point, Falcone seems to have learned that he has to be more careful with the boys he chooses to train if he doesn’t want them to betray him or run away the first chance they get. Yuri comes aboard his ship by choice with his father’s permission, believing he’s going to be earning money on a merchant ship, and soon after he arrives, he’s given special treatment as a protégé personally selected by the captain. By the time Yuri finds out he’s on a pirate ship, he doesn’t really care or want to believe other people when they tell him not everyone is treated as well as he since he’s much happier there than he was on the planet for refugees. It’s not until Yuri begins his geisha training at age thirteen that this life begins to fall apart and Falcone begins to show his true colors.

Like Jos, Yuri ends up with emotional scars, but the way they handle their turmoil is very different. In Warchild, Jos withholds the worst that happens to him, but Yuri’s narrative doesn’t shy away from relating his more painful experiences. While events happened in Yuri’s story, I thought they were in the background with the ways in which they shaped Yuri as a person in the foreground. Each of the three books in the series are quite focused on characterization, but this one was less about war and peace with the aliens and more about Yuri himself—the cage that was built for him and his attempts to overcome that and find his own place in the universe.

Though Cagebird as a whole is fantastic, the present storyline was weaker than the storyline of Yuri’s past, and I did not find these sections as interesting even after the first one.  They are important to his overall story and did become more compelling later, especially once some familiar faces from other books showed up toward the end (and the very last conversation in the book was priceless as a Warchild fan). I think this was not as captivating as the other timeline largely because the characters in the past were more vividly drawn, and Yuri’s interactions with Finch did not measure up to those with other characters in his earlier life.

Despite this, Cagebird is another excellent novel in what is now my favorite science fiction series of all time. Each book focuses on a different character while building on the previous book(s) and expanding to show a bigger picture, and they’re definitely books I would like to reread back to back someday because of both how they fit together and how incredible they are. Words cannot express how excited I am that a fourth novel in this series, The Warboy, is in progress.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a Christmas gift.

My Reviews of Other Books in the Warchild Series:

  1. Warchild
  2. Burndive
Sci-Fi Month 2015

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.

Since only one book showed up the week before last, this week’s post covers two weeks. Here’s what happened in the last couple of weeks in case you missed it:

I’m working on a review of Cagebird by Karin Lowachee for Sci-Fi Month, and that will most likely be going up next week.

Now, the books!

A Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica

A Daughter of No Nation (Hidden Sea Tales #2) by A. M. Dellamonica

A Daughter of No Nation will be released on December 1 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from Child of a Hidden Sea, the first book in the series, is on

Some short stories set in the same world are also available on


The second novel in the Stormwrack series, following a young woman’s odyssey into a fantastical age-of-sail world

All Sophie Hansa wanted was to meet her birth parents. Instead, she and her stepbrother found themselves transported to another world made up of giant archipelagos and people who can magically alter themselves. With her business in Stormwrack finished, it looked like Sophie had seen the last of the Fleet, until she finds the captain of her late aunt’s ship, Parrish Garland, waiting for her at her parents’ home.

Sophie finds out that her birth mother has been imprisoned by her birth father for hiding their daughter, and now Sophie must return to Stormwrack to talk the father she never knew into releasing the mother who wants nothing to do with her. Not only does she have to navigate the troubled social waters of her father’s home nation, she also finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy that could lead to open civil war in the Fleet.

Now Sophie, Bran, and Parrish must unravel a decades-old mystery if they hope to free Sophie’s mom and preserve the peace ensured by the nations united in the Fleet.

Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

Chaos Choreography (InCryptid #5) by Seanan McGuire

The fifth InCryptid book will be released on March 1, 2016 (mass market paperback and ebook with an audiobook to come later). Like the first two books in the series, this one is about Verity Price. The third and fourth books are about her brother Alex.

The previous books in the series are as follows:

  1. Discount Armageddon (my review)
  2. Midnight Blue-Light Special (my review)
  3. Half-off Ragnarok
  4. Pocket Apocalypse

I love Seanan McGuire’s books, especially her October Daye series, and the first book in this series is so much fun! (I did like the second book as well, but not as much as the first.)


Verity Price is back on the West Coast and getting back into the swing of the family business: cryptozoology. She’s rescuing cryptids from bad situations, protecting them from monster-hunters, and generally risking life and limb for the greater good, with her ex-Covenant partner/husband, Dominic, by her side. Her ballroom dance career is behind her—or so she thinks. When Verity gets the call from the producers of Dance or Die, the reality show she almost won several years before, she finds the lure impossible to resist, and she and Dominic are off to L.A. for one last shot at the big time.

Of course, nothing is that simple. When two contestants turn up dead, Verity will need every ally she can find with the investigation, without blowing her cover….

Other Books:

Sorcerer to the Crown
by Zen Cho
384pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.94/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.86/5

Book Description from Penguin Group Website:

In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite…

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Sorcerer to the Crown is the first book in the Sorcerer Royal series and a debut novel by Zen Cho, author of the Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad and a finalist for the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I was excited to read it because I’ve seen a lot of praise for it and it sounded right up my alley, but my reaction to it is rather complicated and difficult to articulate (which is why I decided to write my thoughts in a mini review instead of a full scale review).

Once in awhile, I read a book that I appreciate immensely yet do not enjoy reading immensely. Objectively, I admire its wonderful qualities and completely understand why many people think it’s amazing, yet it’s missing that special spark that keeps me eagerly turning the pages. It’s missing that magic touch that makes me invested in the characters and absorbed in the world, and since it does have such praiseworthy aspects, I’m rather mystified as to why it didn’t work better for me.  Sorcerer to the Crown is one of these books: it’s a decent enough book, but for reasons that I can’t really explain, I merely liked it instead of loving it.

The writing is verbose at times, but it’s also insightful with some humor which should more than make up for some wordiness. The characters are well developed, and I liked the contrast of Zacharias’ serious, dutiful nature with Prunella’s lack of propriety and propensity toward finding the humor in situations. Both characters are likable, but Prunella is especially delightful and her perspective kept the book much lighter than it would have been without her. The author did an excellent job of capturing the complexities of human emotion through both Zacharias and Prunella’s feelings toward the people who raised them, and it’s a very thoughtfully written book.

Though set in England, the attitudes and beliefs of other parts of the world are drawn into the story. Different cultures have different approaches to magic, and English magic was not always perfect and absolute as their sorcerers might want one to believe. As a trained sorcerer, Zacharias was more entrenched in the British traditions and more likely to find other ideas about magic foolish, while Prunella could actually see the sense in other methods and viewpoints.

Given that there’s a lot to admire about Sorcerer to the Crown, I’m surprised I was not more fond of it. The beginning was slow, some of the characters seemed a bit over the top, and I felt like it lacked subtlety at times, but these were all minor problems instead of glaring ones with this particular novel—and I’ve enjoyed many books where these were small issues with the book more than this one.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Sorcerer to the Crown, because I did. However, I’m at a bit of a loss as to why it was a book I merely enjoyed somewhat instead of a book that I found captivating. The ideas that went into the story were wonderful, and conceptually, there’s a lot done quite well. It seems like it should have been my type of book—and yet, for some reason, it didn’t completely engage me.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Sorcerer to the Crown:

Fantasy Café is now on Patreon! Patreon is a site for funding content creators, and those who support a creator receive rewards based on the tier they selected. Visit the General Questions page on their site to learn more about it.

Since moving Fantasy Café from Blogger to my own domain a few years ago, there have been costs associated with maintaining the site and help with those would be appreciated—especially since I recently switched to a more expensive hosting plan to resolve some server issues. Despite these costs, I’ve always wanted to keep Fantasy Café free of paid advertising and clear of any appearance of the conflicts that paid advertising may bring—not to mention the potentially annoying ads themselves.


In addition to the hosting costs, my much larger commitment to the site is in the form of the time it takes to run. I love it, and I’d like to do even more with the site than I have been doing over the last few years! My work hours were cut somewhat recently. While that’s not ideal financially, it does give me the opportunity to branch out and try new things with Fantasy Café. I would also like to spend some of those hours when I was previously working my day job to get more into the world of writing. That’s why, in addition to the low cost awards you might find on many Patreon campaigns, I’m offering a somewhat different reward at a $100/month tier. Although my current job at a marketing firm has primarily been focused on website development, I’ve also become a go-to person for proofreading and would like to do more of it. I’m going to experiment with offering to proofread up to 7,500 words a month—which can be a short story, a chapter, or even a series of blog posts. If you are interested in having me work on a larger proofreading project, please contact me (kristen at fantasybookcafe dot com).

Of course, there are also other rewards that do not cost nearly as much like bookmarks, voting on books to review, exclusive monthly content, and more! Below is a complete list of the tiers with the rewards that I’m offering for each:

  • $1 per month – You’ll receive a Fantasy Café bookmark and my thanks for your support.
  • $5 per month – You’ll be able to vote on a poll determining the content of a post for the following month. Most of the time this will be a poll of books, and the one with the most popular votes will be reviewed (in the case of a tie, I will select one of the books with the most votes). My plan is that most of these books will be books not covered on many review sites, such as older books, books by fairly new authors, or books released from smaller presses, with a focus on books by women—although this may not be the case 100% of the time! You’ll also receive the $1 tier reward.
  • $10 per month – You’ll be able to read a monthly post exclusive to patrons. More books are brought to my attention than I can possibly read, and this will be your chance to read about a few of the books I choose not to read and review and why! You’ll also receive the $1 and $5 tier rewards.
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  • $100 per month – I will proofread 7,500 words once per month. This can be a short story, a book chapter, a series of articles, or anything else that is no more than 7,500 words in length. This includes looking for typos and basic grammatical mistakes and checking spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. It does not include structural edits—the piece should just need the final polish at this point in the process! You’ll also receive the $1, $5, and $10 tier rewards.

Since rewards follow a monthly cycle, you will receive your first reward(s) the month after signing up. In the case of items being shipped, it may take longer to receive them depending on the destination, but I will be mailing rewards toward the beginning of each month.

In addition to the individual rewards, I have also set some goals. If specific milestones are reached, I’ll be adding the following additional monthly features to the site:

  • A book giveaway with North American eligibility
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  • An international book giveaway

If you enjoy my reviews and the other features on Fantasy Cafe, please consider contributing to help support the site. Thank you!

This Gulf of Time and Stars
by Julie E. Czerneda
464pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: --/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4/5

This Gulf of Time and Stars, Julie Czerneda’s latest novel and the first book in the Reunification trilogy, is set in the same universe as the Stratification and Trade Pact trilogies and continues Sira’s story after the end of the latter. I read it without having read any of the other Clan Chronicles books, and although it certainly wasn’t necessary to do so, I suspect I would have gotten more out of it had I read the other books first. However, I did enjoy reading it even without having read the other trilogies and am now interested in reading both the previous books and the next book in this trilogy!

For a long time, the Clan have been living among Humans, posing as Human themselves. Board Member Cartnell, the Human representative of the Trade Pact, discovered their existence after one of them destroyed the minds of three scientists, including that of the man he loves. Cartnell was horrified by the Trade Pact’s willingness to aid these strong telepaths and their naivety in believing these aliens would be grateful in return, but he has also discovered the Clan’s weakness: there are fewer than a thousand of them, and they’re under threat of extinction due to a reproductive issue. After drawing the conclusion that a war looms in the future, Cartnell calls a secret meeting with one goal in mind—destroy the Clan to save Humanity.

As Sira, the most powerful of the Clan, prepares for a surprise baby shower planned by her Human partner Morgan, she has no idea that everything is about to change—or that her search for answers and a safe haven for her people will reveal that there’s more to the Clan’s past than she ever imagined.

This Gulf of Time and Stars is a book of mysteries and secrets, the first in a trilogy written to reveal the truth about who the Clan are. For that reason, it’s difficult to discuss in detail without giving too much away, but suffice to say that it made me curious enough about Sira and Morgan’s previous adventures that I added the first Trade Pact novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger, to my wish list soon after finishing it!

Although I did enjoy it overall, the first few chapters did not work well for me, but the prelude, which focused on the group who wanted to destroy the Clan and their reasons, did capture my interest. Since I hadn’t read the previous novels, the Clan sounded quite terrifying—telepathic aliens who could disguise themselves as Human and had torn apart people’s minds! Then the first chapter introduces Sira, who is learning about the Human custom of baby showers from Morgan and is very much the opposite of terrifying despite being the most powerful of all the Clan. I appreciated that the Clan was not one big monolith of evil, and I also liked this setup as someone who hadn’t read any of the previous books and didn’t know what to expect.

However, I did find parts of the first few chapters confusing since I didn’t always understand terms and references to events from previous books. Later, this was less of a problem as I came to understand more about Sira and the Clan and earlier parts began to connect and make sense. Though it’s possible I would have gotten more out of it had I read the earlier books first, I also don’t regret beginning with this book. The bigger issue I had with the first couple of chapters was that there were several humorous scenes exhibiting just how alien all these aliens were to each other that just didn’t mesh with my own sense of humor. For instance, one of the aliens is upset that Sira and Morgan brought extra guests they did not plan for when he sees that Morgan brought a bunch of balloons to the “baby-rainshower-occasion” (Sira’s name for this unfamiliar Human celebration). After the earliest chapters, there was less of this and more focus on answering questions that I found more compelling.

The world and exploring the Clan’s past were the highlights, but I also enjoyed the sheer readability of the writing style. It’s quite succinct with short chapters and paragraphs, and it flows smoothly, making it effortless to read. There is a tendency for chapters to end on cliffhangers that made me feel like parts were quite deliberately left out to make me want to read on to find out what was happening, but it also did succeed at making me do just that!

There are several different perspectives in This Gulf of Time and Stars, and Sira’s is the only one told in first person. Many of these seem to exist to show events to readers rather than for character development, but the more prominent characters, Sira and Morgan, are likable and interesting and complement each other well. They obviously care for each other very much, and it’s great to read about a fictional couple who work well together. Even though they face obstacles that could potentially be a source of angst, drama, and relationship tension (and would be in many other books!), these two are not divided by such events and support each other. Sira is brave, determined, and uniquely powerful among her people; Morgan, a spaceship captain and trader, is generally optimistic and cheerful, artistic, and an unusually strong telepath for a Human. Though compelling, I didn’t think they were quite as multi-faceted as they could have been since I didn’t feel like I understood them as people beyond a few abilities and traits, although this reaction could also be the result of not having read previous books that established their characters more.

This Gulf of Time and Stars contains much of what I love about science fiction—aliens, telepathy, and space travel—combined with other elements I love in fiction—mysteries, secrets, and revelations. Although I struggled with the earliest chapters and didn’t think the characters were as lifelike as many in other books I’ve read, I did find it quite readable and enjoyable. It left me quite curious about both Sira’s future and her past—and it definitely made me interested in reading more of the Clan Chronicles!

My Rating: 7/10

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

Interested in learning about Julie Czerneda’s process when developing the various types of aliens in the Clan Chronicles and how it’s influenced by her background in biology? Curious about the book she read that first began her fascination with aliens? Check out my interview with her during the This Gulf of Time and Stars blog tour!

Sci-Fi Month 2015